Stepping forward into growth

Half term, February 2021. Right now, many teachers are feeling exhausted by a school year has already been the hardest they have ever faced.

Teaching used to mean groups of young people learning together in a classroom, or perhaps for you that’s a lab, workshop, gym or sports field. By now, half way through the year, we would know these groups we would have established familiar learning routines and feel secure in our shared space.

This year, all that has been different. Teaching has meant juggling face-to-face and remote teaching, while often looking after children at home and worrying about older or vulnerable relatives and friends.

I hope that the half term break will be a chance for you to pause and rest. Take a moment to reflect on how much you have grown and what you have achieved. You have learned to teach in different ways. You have mastered technologies many of us hadn’t even heard off in 2019. Above all, you have enabled those children and young people in your care to continue to learn and grow, while all the time providing the reassurance of continuity and stability in hugely uncertain times.

The psychologist Abraham Maslow said that at any moment we have the choice to step forward into growth. You made that choice to grow when challenged by the most difficult of moments. That deserves to be celebrated.

If you like the quote I used here, you can find more like it in my posts on Motivation for Mondays.

Safer internet day: four steps for checking reliability

Safer internet day is on 9 February 2021. The theme this year is ‘An internet we trust: exploring reliability in an online world’. You can find out more, and download resources for different age groups, on the Safer Internet Centre website.

At a time when both teachers and children are working remotely over the internet, it is more crucial than ever that we can rely on the information, and sources of that information, that we encounter online.

In my role within the Education Team at the Bodleian Libraries, I deliver sessions on academic study skills, including evaluating online sources. You can find resources for this (and other course topics) on the OxLibris website. The guidance is aimed at students researching for the Extended Project Qualification (EPQ) and other coursework, but it applies to any online research.

1. What is the purpose of this site?

Ask yourself why the information has been put online. What is the intention of those who created the site, or posted the information? Is it to inform or educate? To entertain? Perhaps it’s to persuade or promote a particular opinion or point of view? Maybe the aim is marketing: to sell a product.

While information about the site can be useful in deciding this, it is also useful to look at any adverts on the site. While many sites will carry adverts that are unconnected with the information, ask yourself if the advertisers could be influencing the site content. This could be directly by paying for the content, or indirectly because the site avoids publishing anything that they think advertisers will not like.

2. Who has provided this information?

There are several ways we can find out who is behind a website and the information it contains. A well-run website should make it easy for users to find this out.

  • An ‘About’, ‘About Us’ or ‘Who We Are’ tab in the menu or navigation bar is a good place to start. This should provide information about who is behind the site and their reasons for creating it.
  • Contact details can often be found on a ‘Contact Us’ page or link. Ideally, this should provide as much contact information as possible, not just a web form or email address. Look for a registered telephone number and a postal address.
  • Organisational information. If the site is a business or charity this should be obvious. In the UK, companies, including non-profit companies, should be registered. Their company number will allow you to look up details of the company and its directors. Charities should be registered with the Charities Commission. Their registration number should be present and can be checked to verify their charitable status.
  • If the website collects information about you, perhaps through a sign-up form for news updates, it should include a Privacy Notice saying how they will use any personal information they collect, the legal basis for processing your information, how you can opt out, and who you can contact if you have any questions about this.
This homepage has an ‘About us’ tab, contact details, charity and company registrations, and a link to a privacy notice. Image credit: fullfact.org

If you can’t find this information, ask why this might be. While it may just be poor web design, it could be because the creators want to remain obscure.

3. Are there references for primary sources?

A primary source of information is written by the person who first produced the data, information, idea or opinion. Websites often summarise this information. This may be to disseminate it more widely, or to make it more accessible for non-specialists. It may also be to support the author’s own ideas, or to place a particular slant on the original information. In extreme cases, it can be used to create ‘fake news’ by surrounding a kernel of fact with misinformation.

You should be able to trace the original source of information by looking for references. These should detail where to find the source, which could be a book, published article, news item, or online publication. Wherever possible a link to the source should be included.

It’s important to check sources, especially for controversial topics. This enables us to verify not only whether the information is accurate but also whether it has been interpreted in an accurate and unbiased way. It’s particularly important to check sources for claims made on social media.

4. Has the information been fact checked?

Following up references enables us to check facts, but this isn’t always possible, particularly for fast-developing news stories, or information communicated over social media platforms. Fortunately, information may already have been fact-checked. A number of organisations have arisen in recent years to meet the need for objective fact-checking of claims that are made online and in the news.

When using such sites, we need to be as careful as we would with any site over who is running it and why, because some sites which claim to be objective in fact promote a particular viewpoint. Two sites which are both independent and reliable are fullfact.org and fact-check.org.

Full Fact is a UK-based charity and non-profit company that provides a fact-checking service for topical news items.

Fact Check is based in the United States and focuses on US politics, although there is some coverage of international topics.

A particular favourite of mine is politifact.com. While its scope is largely restricted to US politics, I do enjoy the six-point ‘truth-o-meter’ ratings it gives to statements, which range from ‘True’ for verified facts, to ‘Pants on Fire’ to outright fabrications!

When attempting to navigate the myriad of information available online, taking a little time to go through these four steps will go a long way to ensuring that the sources of information you use are reliable.

If you are interested in online safety, you might like my post on Lessons from a Ransomeware Attack.

We make the weather

This is one of my favourite educational quotes. I think it applies as much to remote teaching as when We are in the classroom.

Sometimes we feel a loss of connection during remote lessons, especially if students are on mute with cameras off, but it’s important to remember that we can still ‘set the climate’. In this situation, I think it’s really important to use the same interpersonal skills we would in class. Use tone, expression, and humour. Smile and look directly to camera as you would to a student. We may be looking at a little webcam lens, but our class will feel the connection we are making with them. It will still be our mood that makes the weather.

You can find more inspiring education quotes in my posts on Motivation for Mondays.

Image: Rodger Caseby

Holocaust Memorial Day 2021

Holocaust Memorial Day is on 27 January. It’s an occasion many schools mark each year and build into their teaching.

On the day, people all over the world remember the victims of the holocaust in Nazi occupied Europe during WW2, and victims of genocides that have taken place since then, including those in Cambodia, Rwanda, and Bosnia.

This year, the theme is Be the light in the darkness. It explores the ways individuals resisted the darkness of genocide to be the light before, during and after horrific events. You can find more information and resources for schools on the HMDT website. For HMD2021, the Trust asked young people to submit photos on this theme, the best of which will be used in an online exhibition to be launched on 27 January.

A couple of years ago, I ran a similar in-school competition that drew on the work of Gregory Stanton of Genocide Watch. The aim was to encourage young people to think about the part they could play in countering the ten stages of genocide, including the denial of historical events.

The ten stages of genocide

  1. Classification: all cultures have categories that distinguish different groups of people, but these can become the basis of discrimination. A first step can be the denial of citizenship to a group. We can prevent classification by celebrating our shared humanity.
  2. Symbolisation: different groups are distinguished by symbols or colours, for example the yellow star worn by Jews under Nazi rule before and during WWII. We can prevent symbolisation by rejecting racist and derogatory language and attitudes.
  3. Discrimination: A dominant group, driven by an exclusionary ideology, uses custom, political power and the law to curtail the rights of other groups. We can counter discrimination by ensuring full citizenship rights, political engagement, and legal redress for all groups.
  4. Dehumanisation: the humanity of members of a group is denied by equating them with animals, vermin, insects or diseases. They may be vilified through hate propaganda in print, on radio & TV, and in social media. This subverts the normal human revulsion against murder. We can prevent dehumanisation by challenging such speech across all media platforms, and in everyday interactions.
  5. Organisation: genocide is organised by a state either directly or through militias or decentralised terrorist groups which allow deniability. This can be countered by national and international scrutiny, sanctions, and prosecution.
  6. Polarisation: extremists drive groups apart and target moderates who speak and work against genocide. Polarisation can be prevented by supporting the work of human rights groups and the legal challenge of extremist actions.
  7. Preparation: Leaders of the perpetrator group plan for genocide, perhaps using euphemisms for mass killing such as ‘Final Solution’ or ‘purification’. This may only be prevented by international action such as arms embargoes.
  8. Persecution: victims are separated because of ethnicity, religion or other factor. They may be confined to ghettos or concentration camps and subject to extrajudicial killing. Perpetrators watch for international reaction and accelerate their actions if it is ineffective.
  9. Extermination: the mass killing that defines genocide occurs. It is referred to as ‘extermination’ by the perpetrators because they do not regard the victims as fully human. This can only be halted by rapid international intervention to protect victims.
  10. Denial: this occurs during or after genocide. It includes attempts to cover up or discredit evidence, denial that genocide occurred, or even attempts to blame the victims. Denial can be countered by prosecution of perpetrators, and continued school and public education.

Where we can all most readily play a role in countering genocide is in the early stages, and in working against the denial that occurs following genocide. That’s why I believe that it is so important for educators to embrace events such as Holocaust Memorial Day. Steps like commemorating past victims of genocide, challenging the use of language to describe those who are ‘other’ today, and standing up for human rights, all help to guard against any future genocide.

The goal of true education

The third Monday in January is celebrated in the United States as Martin Luther King Day, close to his birthday on 15 January. This year it falls on 18 January.

The day celebrates Dr King’s activism for the Civil Rights Movement and his leadership of the successful campaign against racial discrimination.

He was a powerful advocate for education and this is one of my favourite education quotes. You can find many more in my posts on Motivation for Mondays.

Things to look forward to in spring 2021

This spring term may be more uncertain than any that have gone before. Teachers deserve a big thank you for all their hard work during 2020 but, as I write, there is still a lack of clarity over exactly how the new term will start, which students will return and under what conditions, and whether school staff will be prioritised for vaccination. Despite this, there is still plenty to look forward to this spring and perhaps the familiar events of the school calendar may help us look towards a brighter future in uncertain times.

January

The first half of this term is time to take part in the annual RSPB Big Schools Bird Watch – now in its 20th year. This six-week window provides plenty of time for pupils to get involved in some citizen science by surveying the birds visiting your school site. You can find out more and get class resources from the RSPB website. Registration is open now. Pupils who are learning remotely from home could take part in the Big Garden Bird Watch on the weekend starting Friday 29 January.

Registration for the Show Racism the Red Card Schools Competition 2021 is open from the start of January until 19 February. 2021 marks the 25th anniversary of SRtRC and young people can enter work about fighting racism in any medium – art work, creative writing, song, and film. You can find out more on the competition pages of the SRtRC website. The deadline for entries is 5 March.

Wednesday 27 January is Holocaust Memorial Day, an occasion many schools mark or build into their teaching. This year, the theme is Be the light in the darkness and explores the ways individuals resisted the darkness to be the light before, during and after genocide. Young people are asked to submit photos on this theme, the best of which will be used in an online exhibition. You can find more information on the HMDT website. Update, 27 January: The selected photos can now be viewed in the online exhibition.

February

Tuesday 9 February is Safer Internet Day when many UK schools will focus on cyber safety. The theme for 2021 is An internet we trust which explores reliability in the online world. You can find out more, and download resources for different age groups on the Safer Internet Centre website.

Friday 12 February is Chinese New Year, celebrated by Chinese communities throughout the world, which this year ushers in the Year of the Ox.

16 February is Shrove Tuesday (or ‘Pancake Day’) when, in the UK pancakes are traditionally made to use up eggs and sugar before the start of Lent, in the Christian calendar, on the next day, Ash Wednesday.

Monday 22 February is the start of Fairtrade Fortnight which runs until 7 March. The theme for 2021 is Climate, fair trade and you which focuses on the links between climate action and fair trade. You can find out more, order school resources, or request a virtual school visit from a speaker, from the Fairtrade Foundation website.

Thursday 25 February is the first day of the Jewish festival of deliverance, Purim, marked by shared food and gift-giving.

March

Monday 1 March is St David’s Day, the feast day of the patron saint of Wales. While not an official Bank Holiday in Wales, some schools may have a half-day holiday.

Thursday 4 March is World Book Day in the UK. You can find out more about this day, events throughout the year, and resources for different ages from the WBD website. A selection of £1 books that can be purchased with WBD tokens has already been announced.

British Science Week, the ten-day celebration of science, technology, engineering and maths, runs from Friday 5 to Sunday 14 March. The theme this year is Innovating for our future and will include a poster competition. You can find out more from the British Science Week website.

This year 14 March is also the date for Mothering Sunday in the UK, although the date varies internationally.

Tuesday 16 March is Young Carers Action Day, with a change of focus from the previous Awareness day and a move from its previous date in January. Championing the needs of Young Carers, the theme this year focuses on Protecting Young Carers’ Futures. You can find out more from the Carers Trust website.

Wednesday 17 March is St Patrick’s Day when a quite extraordinary proportion of the world population discovers its Irish roots. It’s a bank holiday in Eire and Northern Ireland.

Friday 19 March is Red Nose Day, the biennial fundraising event for the charity Comic Relief which raises money for vulnerable people in the UK and abroad. This year, in response to environmental concerns, the red noses are entirely plastic-free. You can find out more, and order red noses for school, from the Comic Relief website.

The Jewish festival of Pesach (Passover) begins at sundown on Saturday 27 March and ends at nightfall on Sunday 4 April, coinciding with the Christian Easter Sunday.

By now we will all be noticing the hours of daylight lengthening and the clocks go forward by an hour early in the morning of Sunday 28 March, marking the start of British Summer Time. This day is also Palm Sunday in the Christian calendar. For some schools this week will be the first of the Easter holiday: others will break up during the week.

Monday 29 March is the Hindu and Sikh festival of Holi, or ‘festival of colours’ celebrating the coming of spring.

World Autism Awareness Week runs from 29 March until 4 April. This year the week will include virtual and home-based activities. You can find out more and register for the schools’ newsletter from the National Autistic Society website.

April

Thursday 1st April is April Fool’s Day, which will make for an interesting last day of term for some schools, so watch out for practical jokes!

The Good Friday bank holiday is on 2 April this year, with Easter Sunday on 4 April, and the bank holiday on the Monday. Last year, Easter celebrations were muted by the first lockdown. Let’s hope that by this point in the year in 2021, a successful vaccination programme will be in full swing and we will be able to share the holiday with friends and family.

This list should contain something for everyone and plenty to look forward to. Let me know if I have missed any important dates and I’ll add them.