#internationalwomensday – instead of platitudes take action

A few weeks ago, I helped to prepare a document for my school. The document had lots of photos of children. As part of the final proof, the principal went back and counted up the children appearing to check for gender diversity. It was a small action but something that communicated a bigger idea – equality matters to me.

I have often wondered about the disconnect that happens in education. It’s a workforce dominated by women. Yet when I look at conference keynotes, heads of school, educational ‘thought leaders’ featured in the media and yes, even on twitter, there are a lot of men sharing their thoughts and, more importantly, having their thoughts shared.

Instead of appreciating women once a year on women’s day – why not take action for the rest of the year?

Follow female educators* on twitter, share blogs written women educators, particularly those from different backgrounds. If you notice a lack of diversity at a conference, let the organizers know that this a problem they need to fix. If you’ve got a lack of women in leadership positions, give time, space and encouragement to sharing their expertise.

Because here’s the thing.

If you are the one worrying about equality, then you aren’t the one with the power. Having to monitor, agitate and aggravate just to get a seat at the table “counts” as having to do “extra” work just to get your voice heard.

But if we all do a little bit, well we might find things go ‘zoop’ in the other direction.

Here’s a list of awesome educators to get you going:

@carolynstuart@whatedsaid@BrownCathybrown@ClaireAmosNZ@sarahmartin74,

@kellijelli@RafranzDavis@KristinZiemke@ToscaKilloran

,  ,

 @feetetweet

@PanaAsavavatana@gitaneee@TaraLinney

The bothersome business of the boys education debate #28daysofwriting

Every few weeks an article like this appears in my twitter feed about the state of boys education. These often-well intentioned often have an undertone that the female-dominated teaching workforce clearly know nothing about how boys learn.

The problem with these articles is that they often rely on sexist stereotyping rather than sound pedagogy.

Boys like to run around and be loud.

What about the quiet boys who enjoy reading?

Boys can’t sit still and concentrate for long periods of time.

Yet video games require hours of doing just that.

Because biology.

Well science changes.

It wasn’t too long ago that scientists  thought girls wouldn’t be able to cope with being educated as it might melt their feminine brains. Our society expects our educators not to rely on stereotypes when it comes educating our girls or students from different cultures yet when it comes to boys too many educators are quick to swallow cliches without stopping to think about the wider context.

Boys are different you will tell me.

My question is from whom?

Each other?

Nope.

Girls.

Boys aren’t girls.

And there in lies the problem.

Too often discourse of boys education is centred around a very narrow stereotype of the loud, sporty alpha boy. One that loves rugby and hates reading or anything ‘girly.’ While that stereotype might fit some boys in a class what does our construction of masculinity say to the boy who enjoys painting or baking?

That you aren’t a real boy.

This attitude limits learning.

A couple of years ago I introduced my class to the blokey hobby of cake decorating. To a 12 year old cake decorating = art you get to eat. As far as the kids were concerned this was the best thing ever. Yet at some point the boys are going to get a message that cake decorating is for girls. They’ll forget how much they enjoyed making and eating their cupcakes. They’ll scoff it at as a ‘girly activity’  in a desire to fit in.

Do I shy away from an activity for fear it might be seen as being ‘girly?’

Not read a book because it features a girl in the main character?

Or do I make sure the classrooms draws in a wide range of perspectives, learning engagements and fostering a culture of mistake making to help kids find their true passions?

Perhaps it this narrow construction of boys’ identity which is viewed in opposition to femininity that makes boys feel like they don’t fit at school.

We’ve created an environment that makes boys go out and prove they aren’t girls as a way to gain social acceptance and we do so with one damaging phrase.

“Boys will be boys”

This phrase assumes:

1. all boys are the same.

2. boys have no control over their actions because they are boys.

If we look around at the toys we give to our children and the play with and the gendered qualities adults notice in name in our children before they are even born, I think boys are socialised to be less compliant of bad pedagogy (sit down and listen while the teacher explains boring stuff). That’s a good thing. Having active classrooms where children’s interests are respected and nurtured isn’t something we should demand for our boys but our girls too.

Do I think there needs to be more male educators in schools?

Absolutely.

But not for the narrow purpose of ‘manning up’ education but rather because teaching kids is an awesome and worthwhile job.

As a child my father was a stay at home dad which in the 1980s wasn’t all too common.

I remember how often the teachers would comment about how nice it was for the boys to have a male role model to run around with on the school trips. 30 something years later what I wished they had said was how nice it was that my Dad was taking an interest in his daughter’s which was the real reason he was there.

In my opinion showing up was what made my Dad a powerful role model.  He was bucking the narrow definitions of gender roles by showing that childcare can, and should be, the responsibility of both genders.

Conforming to stereotypes is easy, finding your true passion in life is hard. We owe to our boys and girls to ensure their education draws out the best them they can be.

The most important lesson the boys in my class could leave with?

That you can love rugby, reading as well as my little pony and you are still a boy.

Why are there so few women in ed tech? #28daysofwriting

I am elementary school teacher. One the things you quickly notice as you wander around an elementary school is that the vast majority of the teaching staff are women.

I am also an edu tech geek. One of the things you quickly notice when you go to educational technology events is that the majority of speakers and a huge chunk of the attendees are men.

The same goes for twitter and blogs.  The vast majority of the teaching workforce is women. Yet when it comes to being connected, there is a disconnect between the gender of the gender of the practitioners and the online network that supports it.

But it’s not just an online problem.

So many of the books about education are authored by men that we need lists like this to remind us of the women leaders in our field. My experience of the Apple Distinguished Educator and Google Certified Teacher communities is that they tend to have large numbers of men in comparison to the teaching workforce. And I am sure I am not the only ed tech person who can go to tech conference after tech conference and not see a single woman keynote.

For many people this is no big deal.

After all, the men  hired are highly competent. They speak up at conferences, share their ideas online and put themselves out there for opportunities. It’s logical that this situation spills over into our schools where so often the digital/tech positions are often held by men.

Then I read this update.

It’s sad that when it comes to technology, the schools of today are sending our kids signals about the nature of work. And when it comes to technology I’m not sure it is a message we actually want to be sending out.

You can’t be what you can’t see.

Am I wrong here? To be sure I know many awesome women in ed tech including the wonderful @msemilymaclean. But I know so many more men. Where are all the women tech teachers? Why is ed tech so male dominated?

I wish I had the answers.

But instead I get my teaspoon out.

I share when there’s an opportunity to do so. I quietly encourage awesome women educators I know to put themselves forward for opportunities like Apple Distinguished Educator and give what help I can during the process.

Perhaps if everyone – conference organisers, teachers, principals, ed tech directors – got out their teaspoon, things might just go zoop in the other direction.

A great to start the day – dance 22/365

One of the great joys of teaching in New Zealand schools is a programme called jump jam.

It’s an aerobics programme that mixes catchy popular music with kid appropriate aerobic moves. A huge number of schools back in the land of the long white cloud use Jump Jam in the morning to get kids moving before they start their day.

As part of a Unit of Inquiry into making health choices, I put on some Jump Jam videos for the kids to enjoy before ‘learning time’ officially begins. At first many of the children, especially the soccer-mad boys, were hesitant to take risks.

Silently waiting for peer approval I realized I had a problem. I went in search of songs from the soccer World Cup told the kids how the French Rugby team joined some of the classes at my gym when I lived in New Zealand.

All to little interest.

Then I found a video that a group of boys had recorded of an all male jump jam and the boys were in.

As the unit went on, the boys’ enjoyment increased. A number of parents remarked how impressed they were that their sons were dancing for enjoyment. A few went out and did a flashmob for the primary school.

Away from the judgement of the older boys, my students moved for enjoyment of the younger ones.

A sure sign of the success is that the class is still bopping along long after we were officially finished with the unit.

It saddens me how quickly boys turn their noses up at so many fun activities due to a perceived hint of girliness. The boys are not at fault there merely reflecting the society in which they live.

I can’t change the big forces outside the classroom, but I can give my students joyous experiences to counter those narratives.

The rest is up to them…

The ongoing ‘problem’ of a lack women at tech conferences #nethui

Knitting behind the computer

Image used under creative commons licence

I attended nethui, a community-based conference for users of the internet run by internetnz, last year and thoroughly enjoyed the event. One thing I quickly noticed was the gender balance, or rather, imbalance – there were far, far more men than women. This imbalance was even more noticeable in the speaker and facilitator line up.

This year the organizers tacitly acknowledged the need for increased gender diversity in the programme. There was a Women and the Net breakfast which I thoroughly enjoyed and there seemed to be far more women speaking and facilitating sessions than last year. Nevertheless while three out of seven of the keynote speakers were women, I counted up six women facilitators out of thirty with only one female facilitator in the education stream.

To be fair on the organizers of Nethui the education sector itself isn’t much better on the gender diversity on the leadership front. The NZEI (primary school teachers union), PPTA (secondary teachers union), NZPF (New Zealand Principals Federation), New Zealand Association of Middle Schools Association are all headed men. Despite teaching being a women-dominated workforce there are slightly more male principals than female ones, more men holding senior teacher positions and your local school’s Boards of Trustees is more likely to be headed up by a man than a woman.

In short men are the ones making the educational policy arguments and pronouncements, hosting the communities and commenting in the media. Women are carrying out the policy orders, making the National Standard judgements, feeding kids who come to school hungry so that they can achieve learn. Surely I can not be the only one out there who is not ok with this?

To be clear this problem is not limited to nethui nor limited to education. But the reason I’m writing this rant is that I hate that the lack of women conference speakers is forever my problem to sort out, my issue to raise. Because here’s the thing; if you are the one worrying about equality, then you aren’t the one with the power in relationship. Having to constantly monitor, agitate and aggravate just to get a seat at the table “counts” as having to do “extra” work just to get your voice heard.

And this stuff gets tiring.

If you are sick of hearing women complaining about the lack of women speakers/facilitator at your conference imagine how sick women are having to monitor this problem. I wish I wasn’t the one having to email, to blog, to even think about this problem. I hate the risk of being insulted, ridiculed or having to constantly play nice in order to not offend someone just to ensure a modicum of female representation. Which is why sometimes it’s easier just to shut your mouth than have to deal with the nasty backlash and condescension that comes from pointing out *this* particular problem.

To quote REM, withdrawal in disgust is not the same thing is apathy.

So here’s a plea. If you are organizing a conference and working on your speaker line-up, think about going outside the usual male suspects and considering some female speakers too – on merit, naturally. You go and ask for a whole bunch of women because just like male speakers stuff sometimes comes up and your first pick for women speakers might not be available so get some back ups! If you don’t know people then ask woman in your network for recommendations. Start thinking it’s not that hard. If you’ve found that your proposed speaker list has ended up with no women, go and ask for more recommendations.

Yes women need to be more aggressive in promoting themselves and submitting ideas but conference organizers need to do their part too and share the responsibility.

Because not thinking about this problem is actually part of the problem.

To this end here are some social media links to awesome women educators who I think could make an awesome addition to any conference line up. I’m sure I’m not the only one who is sick of hearing the same excuses; that it’s hard to find women speakers or that the lone women a conference organiser had lined up wasn’t available.

For anyone else out there who wants to ‘be the change’ on this issue I have a challenge for you. Recommend an awesome women teacher who you think would rock a room when talking 21st century learning in the comments section.

The importance of educating girls

Since it March 8 is International Women’s Day consider this:

  • Worldwide for every 100 boys out-of-school there are 122 girls. The World Bank
  • Girls still constitute 55% of the 75 million out-of-school children globally in 2006. The World Bank
  • A girl growing up in Chad today has nearly the same chance of dying in childbirth as she has of attending secondary school.
  • 2/3 of the world’s 875 million illiterate adults are women. United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, 2005
  • It is estimated that women constitute only slightly more than one-quarter of the world’s researchers. UNESCO
  • Women earn only 10 percent of the world’s income and own less than one percent of property worldwide. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
  • Women hold only 14% of the world’s parliamentary seats. Unifem

Yet according to the World Bank:

  • Women with formal education tend are less likely to become pregnant at a very young age, tend to have fewer, better-spaced pregnancies, and seek pre- and post-natal care.
  • It is estimated that an additional year of schooling for 1,000 women helps prevent two maternal deaths.
  • The infants and children have higher survival rates and tend to be healthier and better nourished when their mothers have some form of formal education.
  • Education is the most effective tool in reducing rates of HIV infection in girls.
  • Each additional year of formal education completed by a mother translates into her children remaining in school for an additional one-third to one-half year.

That is why we need to keep educating our girls.

“Study after study has taught us that there is no tool for development more effective than the education of girls” – Kofi Annan