Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Why education isn't broken, but why you should still fix it; an interview with Tosca Killoran

My interview with Tosca was everything, fun, silly and she would frequently challenge my way of thinking (so maybe even a tinge uneasy :).  Among many good experiences, she asked me to break the rules of my interview (which I did) and made me crack up at her jokes or mischief on several occasions. I believe this educator really can change the world.  From across the world, for me at least, I give you Tosca Killoran a human who knows a thing or two about evolved education.

By Ty Hallock

Can you tell us about your company ED-ucation Publishing and what the mission of this company is?

Sometimes you just meet someone that you gel with. Like there is a Vulcan mind-meld that happens, and you just get one another. That’s what it was like when Jeff Hoffart and I met. We were two passionate, driven teachers that shared the same ideas about education. Our company organically grew out of our friendship and collaboration. The ‘official’ mission of ED-ucation Publishing is to contribute to the quality of life in our global community by developing innovative products and services for educational stakeholders to use in the face of an educational paradigm shift. In doing so, we aim to support the development of citizenship throughout classrooms and learning environments, as well as aid in the growth of social entrepreneurship. These foci contribute to a positive social impact in making our world a better place.

Phew, after all that mumbo-jumbo, what we really want to do is change the world. To make it more creative, open minded, and connected.

You know, leave it a better place. Easy right?

Tell us about yourself.

A long time ago, in a cold, and desolate, galaxy far, far away- well not really that far- but Canada, I did an undergrad in Fine Arts. Soon I discovered that ‘starving artist’ was a literal term, so I made my way to Korea to teach for eight years. During that time, I obtained my MEd with a focus on the International Baccalaureate from George Mason University in VA. Feeling like I had my fill of Kimchee and K-pop, I hopped over to China and taught for several years in the smoggy, hustle n’ bustle of Shanghai. For the past four years, I have been in the green and fertile, sleepy Sundays of Germany at Bonn International School. Currently, I am also in my doctoral program at the University of Bath, UK. My research focus is on the ReBranding of teaching and the educational paradigm shift.

It’s weird, I have been out of Canada for over a decade and now no longer view myself as Canadian. In fact, it’s hard to say who I am. I can label myself, artist, teacher, learner, traveler, TEDx organizer, and vegetarian but perhaps what defines me, is less about those labels and more about what I do. Action is what defines us as humans. I choose to be a change-agent because I am dedicated to making a difference to and in the world. My impact may be small- but it doesn’t matter. I wear many labels, and they are all valid, but I view them through the lens of a call to action. You can learn more about me at ToscaKilloran.com.

What is different about International Education and the US system?  What can the US learn?
There is recurring rhetoric I hear when speaking to those who are interested in educational reform but are not educators. The dialogue usually revolves around education as static, non-dynamic, old fashioned, and irrelevant. Students are cited as bored, unengaged, and unchallenged. This always gets me a bit heated. Because it is very important to remember when we are talking about education we must be clear about the system which we are discussing. In my own context, all of the aforementioned negative press is foreign to me, as foreign as when I first stepped off the plane in Korea into the warm rain of the monsoon. So incongruous is it with my personal experiences over 14 years of teaching and learning that it leaves me speechless.

But don’t worry, not for long.

I am an IB Primary Years Program (PYP) practitioner. The IB was created in 1968. The concept driven curriculum is therefore not a fledgling idea but a compilation of best practice and research over nearly a half a century. The program is designed for students aged 3 to 19. It is underpinned by the Learner Profile and focuses on the total growth of the developing child, touching hearts as well as minds and encompassing social, physical, emotional and cultural needs in addition to academic development. The IB draws on research and best practice from a range of national systems with a wealth of knowledge and experience from international schools to create a relevant, engaging, challenging and significant educational framework for all children.

The State system in the US public schools largely, but not exclusively, focuses on a content driven curriculum, benchmarks, such as the Common Core and standardized tests. And before you get all defensive about the crazy Canadian dissing the American public school system, please remember, I hold license to teach in 42 States and my Master of Education was in the US. I am knowledgeable about both educational systems and see the benefits and flaws within each.

Honestly, I have observed a reactive step backwards in American education over the last 10 years. I say reactive because from the outside, it seems to be generated by the fear of not succeeding. Success, as measured by grades and scores and papers with little bubbles filled in.

How Does the American Public Feel About Marquee Education Issues?

But life is not like that, why should learning be? What we really need to look at is developing life-long learners, children and young adults who have the skills, knowledge, attitudes and aptitudes to make changes in and to the world.

After all, we live in a quickly evolving time, in which we are teaching children who are learning for jobs that don’t even exist. Kids who have connectivity with the entire world and who, by the time I had mastered tying my shoes, will have learned to make their own apps and code programs. As educators we must alter our focus and view our learners as much more than recipients of knowledge, but the creators of content.
But, it’s not all bad. There are good teachers within that broken system. There are those frustrated, burnt out, underpaid and still working their asses-off to advocate for what they know is best practice. Indeed, I have met amazing teachers around the world that work within many different systems of education. The trick is to bring those thinkers together and begin an education revolution.

As an educator how do you engage the learners you work with?
There is no secret, magic spell to cast in order to engage learners. It is fairly simple in it’s philosophy. When children are invested in their learning, differentiated for their understanding, challenged in their thinking, celebrated in their ideas and provided opportunities to take action from their findings they become fiercely engaged in the ‘product’ of learning. That product is not paper, or art, or writing, or a test… but themselves.

Although driven by the PYP, I am inspired by the Reggio Emilia educational philosopher, Malaguzzi, who stated,
"Each child is unique and the protagonist of his or her own growth. Children desire to acquire knowledge, have much capacity for curiosity and amazement, and yearn to create relationships with others and communicate.”

Humans strive to understand the world; it is one of the ways in which we are unique. Children need a teacher as a guide, a listener who helps drive their inquiry into deeper realms of understanding. My own practice is an ever-evolving organism. I am willing to try out new ideas, explore possibilities and throw-out what doesn’t work. Kath Murdoch’s inquiry cycle guides our learning journeys and often I incorporate Visible Thinking Routines into the teaching and learning cycle in order to encourage children to develop the skills needed for creative, divergent, collaborative and principled thinking.
However, Understanding the design behind a learning experience is difficult. Finding the sweet spot for each learner, knowing when to push and when to step back, discovering the tools to augment the learning, exploring the ways to build communication and love between the learners in your care- that is the tricky part that is mastered through the experience of being a teacher.

Your doctoral studies are in international education and you are researching the concept of re-branding education, what is the biggest insight you have come away with from your work in this area?

I was sitting amongst 500 of the ‘most innovative’ educators at a very influential international educators’ conference November 2012. One of the students from the host school got up to speak and in his Prezi he dropped a few Philosoraptors, a Good Guy Greg and a Gangnam Style. I was totally laughing, dancing and tweeting out the moment. Then I looked around me.
It was clear, the predominantly seated, silent, over 40 crowd, dressed in suits and dress suits had never heard of a meme and certainly had no clue was a ‘PSY’ was.
It was slap in the face (what teachers would call an ‘a-ha’ moment).
This? This is it? This is the best of the best? How we connect to kids if we are so far removed from them? How can ‘we’ be at the forefront of education when I am the only one with my smart device out, connecting to the world? How can we be collaborators when this conference is not live-streamed because it cost 500 euros to attend and god-forbid we should share information and ideas for free? What the what?

Education needs to drop the extended remix and pick up fresh beats.

ReBrand Teaching was born out of that disconnect with my profession. The name was inspired by the aptly named InspireTeachers posters that were created by and used with kind permission from Hyperakt. In this study I seek to engage in open dialogue about
education in a global forum. One interesting aspect of my research is examining how education can leverage the philosophy of start-up culture to reform learning communities. The site is a data collection tool for my doctoral research in order to gauge the temperature of the water of change.

What are the benefits of educators collaborating in a transdisciplinary manner with entrepreneurs, scientists or technology innovators?

No teacher has encyclopedic knowledge of the world, but the Internet does. The world is now our village, the globe our community. Collaborating with experts and creating a personal learning network fosters student discovery in new and interesting ways that teachers in their segregated ‘pods’ (you know them as classrooms) simply can’t. New information and ways of looking at the world can only act to enrich learning. Citizen Schools are unrolling programs that explore this model. Open source learning communities are working to utilize technology and expertise to create flat classrooms and spaces that engender experiential learning and innovative approaches to pedagogy.

You spoke of a tsunami of change that is coming in education, what are some of the elements of this that you see being pivotal for positive change?

It is true, I think a tsunami of change is coming. But I also think if educators are not careful they will drown under that wave rather than riding the cusp.
Don’t despair. We have power in three simple ideas.
1. Community-

As teachers, who are also co-founders of a start-up company, Jeff and I make connections that are much deeper than our brand. The people we crowd-source to work with us, often provide in-kind donations of time and skill to help us actualize our ideas. They are international and span the globe. They believe in what we are doing not because we have sold them a product, but because we have shared an ethos. Without being open-minded, and taking the risk to develop these friendships and relationships of trust, we would have simply failed as a company. We acknowledge our debt to our community and work to give credit where credit is due, celebrating the amazing people we work with each day.

In the context of education, getting on board with the Globalization of learning is a first step in establishing an international community. And from those connections it becomes easy to collaborate with a myriad of experts in various fields. I use Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Youtube, Vine, and websites to develop my personal learning network.
To start connecting to the global educative community follow:
Engage in conversations that matter on:

In fact, I invite you to join me December 14th 10:00 - 11:00 UTC as I moderate a twitterchat and discuss how and why educators can integrate significant global issues, such as children's rights to education, environmental protection, sustainability, climate change, hunger, international peace, etc into their K-12 curriculum.

2. Innovation-

Leveraging technology such as blogs, augmented reality apps, and games enables teachers to help students’ craft their future using the best tools available to them. Not only that but, from your crazy amazing community you just created you can now crowd-source and find someone to develop that awesome app you have had in the back of your mind, or someone to publish that book that has been collecting dust in that 3 ring binder on the shelf for the last six years.
To get started building your tech toolbox checkout:
But in order to help you build innovative thinking check out:
3. Action-

Educators who collaborate with or integrate organizations, resources, and platforms such as,
HelpTakeAction, Taking it Global, iEARN  and more  into their learning communities provide opportunities for kids to take action and make a difference to and in the world. Teachers need to become change-agents ourselves and strive to model the same behaviours, attitudes and aptitudes we desire from the learners within our care. Only then will we be at the forefront of educational change and lead the education revolution.

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