Let’s fix our broken education system

June 27, 2014

I’ve got some fun news to share. I’ve been invited to write a regular column for Troy Media. My job is to write provocative, edgy, thought pieces on education in Canada. They’ve just published my first column:

“Let’s fix our broken education system: How to go from B-roken to A-wesome while there’s still time”

Canada was recently ranked against 15 other countries around the world for the quality of its education. How did we do? Read more…

____________________________________________________

If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Share or Tweet this: Let’s fix our broken education system http://wp.me/pNAh3-1It

If you are interested in booking me (Sarah Eaton) for a presentation, keynote or workshop (either live or via webinar) contact me at sarahelaineeaton (at) gmail.com. Please visit my speaking page, too.


Language Teaching and Technology – EDER 669.73 Summer 2014

June 17, 2014

I am so excited to be teaching “Language Learning and Technology” this summer in the Master’s of Education program in the Werklund School of Education at the University of Calgary. The course combines theory and practice, looking at a variety of topics around technology and language pedagogy.

One of the elements I am most excited about is that some of the course content will be decided up on and driven by the students themselves. They get to choose what articles they read, as well as facilitate and shape the online dialogue we engage in. I’ve organized some broad general topics that we’ll follow, but the students will have the opportunity to co-create the course with me throughout the summer semester. We’ll customize much of what we do to their interests and let them drive their own learning process.

Here is a copy of the course outline:

View this document on Scribd

This course combines two of my favorite topics: language learning and technology. I’m so excited to engage with the students during this learning journey.

____________________________________________________

If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Share or Tweet this: Language Teaching and Technology – EDER 669.73 Summer 2014 http://wp.me/pNAh3-1Ii

If you are interested in booking me (Sarah Eaton) for a presentation, keynote or workshop (either live or via webinar) contact me at sarahelaineeaton (at) gmail.com. Please visit my speaking page, too.


5 Lessons I’ve Learned as an Educational Consultant

March 24, 2014

I’ve spent the past 15 years or so doing contract and consulting work in the non-profit and educational sectors. Over the past year, I’ve answered questions for a few dozen people who are eager to learn more about what’s involved in this career. Here are some lessons I’ve learned that I’m happy to share:

Sarah Eaton, keynote, speaker, presenter, education, languages, literacy

 

Lesson #1: It’s not about you

When a potential project or job comes your way, the first thing you need to remember is that it is not about you. The organization contacting you needs to have work done. They have goals and needs that they need met. Even if they’re not too clear on what those needs are, don’t be fooled… They still need to have work done.

The precise moment you get bedazzled by the pay cheque is the precise moment you’ve ensured you’ll never be hired again. Keep your eye on the prize — and your prize is the client, not the paycheque.

Lesson #2: Never negotiate via e-mail

When you are trying to figure out the details of a contract, it is a bad sign if the other party wants to negotiate via e-mail. In my experience, it indicates either a lack of deep interest in engaging with you for a sincere negotiation, or an alarming naiveté about how  business is done.

If you can, figure out the details face-to-face. If that isn’t possible, pick up the phone or arrange for a Skype, web conference or video conference meeting. This gives you the chance to listen carefully, ask intelligent questions, understand the other party’s position and then figure out a solution that works for both of you.

More than once, I have walked away from a deal where the other party only wants to negotiate via e-mail. It throws up too many red flags before the work even gets under way.

A successful contract starts with listening, not demanding.

Lesson #3: Know your sector

It may seem obvious, but the education and non-profit sectors differ from the corporate and industrial sectors in many ways. Not only is the ultimate goal not profit, but very often the cultures and values are different, too. Non-profit and educational contexts are often messier and more nebulous. The work can be — and in fact, may need to be — more iterative and flexible. 

Some of my friends who do corporate consulting will slide their reading glasses down their middle-aged noses and advise, “The contract must include clear and precise deliverables.” That is true — to some extent.

In my experience, consulting in the educational and non-profit sectors means you need to be nimble and adaptable. Yes, every contract needs a “Schedule A” of deliverables, but that doesn’t mean you need to articulate those with militaristic precision. It depends on your sector, your client and your mutual understanding of the work.

Lesson #4:  Not every “opportunity” is an opportunity

It is naive to think that every prospective project is an “opportunity”. In my early years of consulting I would get phone calls, e-mails and LinkedIn messages from people I didn’t know offering me an “opportunity” of some kind or another. I quickly learned that this was a euphemism for “volunteering to promote their cause”. Whether that cause was a start-up project they wanted to get off the ground or some other endeavour, what it boiled down to was me working for free (or for the promise of money, but without an actual contract) to “help” them advance their work.

Besides, you want to be suspicious of any “opportunity” that sounds too good to be true or comes  as a “limited time offer”. Be even more suspicious when someone you have never met before insists on a phone call or Skype meeting to tell you all about said “opportunity”. More than likely, it’s a sales pitch… They want to sell you an opportunity to give away your time for free. 

The correct response to these offers is, “No thank you”. Every hour you spend working for free is volunteer time, plain and simple. Be choosey about how you spend your time. Volunteer only for causes that make your heart sing.

Lesson #5: Time is a limited resource

There’s a culture of giving in the social sectors that is embedded in the work we do. That’s a good thing. What’s not a good thing is when a working person’s commitment to volunteer activities interferes with their ability to earn a living, spend time with their loved ones or fulfill other responsibilities.

I know numerous freelancers and consultants who work themselves to the point of break downs, break ups, or just general exhaustion because their time is stretched too thin.

It is important to give back to society, but not at the expense of your own health or relationships.

I find the 80/20 rule helpful here. Decide how many hours you want to put into work in a week. For this example, “work” includes paid hours and volunteer time. Let’s say that’s 60 hours a week. Before you balk at that number, it’s not unusual for a freelancer, entrepreneur or contractor or even a salaried employee to put in that many hours or more per week working.

Let’s assume you are smart enough to take one day off per week to recharge your batteries and spend time with people you love. That leaves you 10 hours per day, six days a week, to dedicate to paid hours and volunteer work. If we use the 80/20 rule, you’ll spend 8 hours a day putting in paid hours and doing a maximum of 2 hours of volunteer service. Or put another way, you’ll have 48 hours a week available for billable hours and 12 hours a week for volunteer commitments. That’s more than enough for most mortals.

You need to set aside enough time for billable hours that you can meet your financial obligations and goals. Don’t be misled into thinking that volunteer work automatically leads to paid work because of “networking opportunities”. (There’s that word again — (or a variation of it…): “Opportunity”.)

If you’re volunteering with the ultimate hope of it leading to paid work, you’re doing it for the wrong reasons. The time we spend volunteering is time we give awayfreely and without expectation of anything in return. Besides, if you’re exhausting yourself doing unpaid volunteer work, you won’t have enough time or energy left over for billable hours. Your mortgage doesn’t care that you put in so many hours volunteering that you failed to pay attention to the need to do paid work, too.

It’s one thing to be independently wealthy enough to be a philanthropist. But even philanthropists believe in self care. Find a balance that keeps you energized, not exhausted.

Learning how to balance the demands of a career as a consultant, freelancer or contract professional is tough. Learning what works for you is half the battle. Learning to  stick with it — consistently and without apology — is the other half.

____________________________________________________

If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Share or Tweet this: 5 Lessons I’ve Learned as an Educational Consultant http://wp.me/pNAh3-1I2

If you are interested in booking me (Sarah Eaton) for a presentation, keynote or workshop (either live or via webinar) contact me at sarahelaineeaton (at) gmail.com. Please visit my speaking page, too.


Tutoring scam targets teachers

March 12, 2014

This morning I received an e-mail from a man calling himself “Michael”. The man claimed to want to hire me to tutor his son.

I haven’t done tutoring for about 20 years, so I was both skeptical and fascinated. As I read the e-mail, I realized that it was a new twist on an old scam.

The e-mail promises to pay me whatever rate I want for 12 tutoring sessions. It also says that I can choose the dates, time and location of the session.

Well, that raises some red flags right there. Unless things have changed a whole lot in the past 20 years, most parents want to talk about the pay rate and also want a conversation about the scheduling for the tutoring. In my experience, parents want to know as much (if not more) about me, as I do about their child. They want to know if I am trustworthy and that my home is a safe place.

In my (dated) experience, more often than not, parents want the tutor to go to their home, not the other way around. Unless there’s a really good reason why you, as the tutor, can’t go to the child’s house to offer the lesson (as in, it’s tough to schlep around your piano from house to house), many parents are willing to pay a bit more to avoid the hassle of driving. Besides, they can keep an eye on their child (and you) while they have some much-needed time to do other things at home. There’s something fishy about this e-mail…

The message then goes on to say that I should send the writer the following information:

  • My full name
  • My home address
  • My home phone number
  • My mobile phone number

By now, the metaphorical red lights should be going off in your head, along with an inside voice (using a megaphone) screaming, “Scam alert!”

Here is a copy of the e-mail:

_______

Hello,

    I’m Michael, During my search for a lesson teacher that would help in taking my son (Kenneth). During is stay in USA. I found your advert and it is very okay to me since you specialize in the area I’m seeking for him. My son would be coming to your city before the end of this month for a period of time with his friend,

  I’ll like to know if you can help in taking him for the lesson? just to keep him busy. Kenneth is 14 years old, So kindly let me know your charges cost per hour/lesson in order for me to arrange for his payment before he travels down to your side.

 He will be staying there for one months.

Please Reply back on:

 (1). Your charges per 1 hour (3 times a week for 1 Month):starting from 17th March until 17th April 2014

 (2)  Total Cost For 12 class/12 hours lessons  in 1 month

 (3). The Day and time you will be available to teach him During the week:

  Well am very happy that i see you as my Son tutor,about your years of Experience there is no problem about the lessons,my caregiver lives very close to the Area.

 So there is no problem for the lesson OK my caregiver will be bringing him to your location for the lessons and you can teach my him Anywhere around you if that is OK by you so i will like you to teach my Son the best of you when he get to the USA for the lessons.

 I will like you to email me with your schedule for the lessons, I will like you to email me with the name on the check and Full mailing address where the check will be mailed to and including your Home and Cell phone number because my attorney that want to issue out the check is leaving the State by this week okay and also Kenneth is a beginner lessons learning, Await  your response asap.

  Also the lessons will commence by 17th March until 17th April 2014  is this okay by you?

I will be awaiting to read from you.

Best Wishes,

 ____________________

Teacher scam

As with many scam e-mails, the grammar is terrible and the content is generic. There’s no mention of what subject I might tutor. The writer also talks about an attorney who would manage the transaction. That always makes things sound legit, right? Oh, and the writer assumes I live in the U.S., too.

A while ago I posted a blog about the life of a contract teacher and why it is important to feel a sense of empowerment over your career, even if it does not follow a traditional path. There are hundreds of thousands of us around the globe who work in the education field, but who don’t have a full-time job with a pension or health benefits. Personally, I am more productive when I have high levels of flexibility and variety in my work and I enjoy my work as an independent education professional. But not everyone feels that way.

In general, it’s fair to say that teachers are smart people who care deeply about their students’ well-being. But they are also human beings with mortgages other bills to pay for. There are more and more trained and qualified educators who don’t work in the sector at all because they can’t find a job of any kind. So instead they work in coffee shops, run day homes or work in retail, just to pay the bills.

The chance to work in their beloved field of education by tutoring the child of a rich foreigner right in your own home sounds seductive. When you add to that the almost unbelievable terms that you set the time, location and rate of pay, it makes it seem almost irresistible.

Most would do anything to work in their chosen profession. 

Well… almost anything.

Don’t be fooled, folks. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Sadly, this is the second such financial scam I’ve seen directed towards educators in the past year. I wrote about the first one, here.

These financial scams are a sign of the times, as more qualified educators become part of the unemployed and (largely hidden) under-employed categories of workers.

Stay smart, teachers.

____________________________________________________

If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Share or Tweet this: Tutoring scam targets teachers http://wp.me/pNAh3-1HB

If you are interested in booking me (Sarah Eaton) for a presentation, keynote or workshop (either live or via webinar) contact me at sarahelaineeaton (at) gmail.com. Please visit my speaking page, too.


A new kind of Loyalist: “Public” ESL education takes on a whole new twist in Canada

February 18, 2014

For more than a decade I have been fascinated by the links between English as a Second Language (ESL) programs and business. Public school boards, private schools and post-secondary institutions use ESL programs to generate revenue for their organizations. This topic fascinated me so much, I wrote my Ph.D. research on it.

In education, we don’t call the money generated by fee-paying ESL students “profit”. That word is pretty much a profanity in the social sectors. But essentially, that’s what it is. The revenue generated from ESL programs comes in to institutions mostly as unrestricted money. That means that the organization can direct the funds wherever they see fit. They can’t dole it out to shareholders, because there are none… but they can use it for salaries, renovations, perks or whatever they want.

I’ve never thought that was a particularly bad thing — providing that students get a quality educational experience and institutions don’t make promises they can’t keep.

Private ESL schools have often been regarded as shady or disreputable, precisely because they generate profit. They can use that profit however they want.

In Canada, it’s really getting interesting. A company called Loyalist Group Ltd. has created a public company that buys up ESL and college prep schools. They own schools in Vancouver, Toronto and Victoria. Unlike other, private schools, this business is public. That means that they trade on the Toronto Stock Exchange (TSX). The average joe can buy stocks in the company — and share in the profits.

A few days ago, Loyalist Group Ltd. was named to the TSX Venture 50. That’s a list of some of Canada’s strongest and most promising public companies. It’s a major coup for an educational company to be named to this list. And Loyalist has done it for the second year in a row. 

What we call “public education” is paid for through our tax dollars. We trust the government to administer those dollars in a wise and honest way.

Interestingly, one of the findings of my Ph.D. research was that when it comes to ESL programs in public education and universities — at least in Canada — there’s often a reporting loophole. Public educational institutions never have to explicitly disclose how much revenue they generate specifically from their ESL programs, what their enrolments (essentially their “sales”) are, or how well they do from one year to the next. That information is kept tightly under wraps and never disclosed publicly. I tried in vain to get revenue reporting results from numerous ESL programs during my Ph.D. research. Doors quietly closed and conversations ended. Ultimately, I had to re-design my entire study so I considered factors other than revenue. Getting my hands on financial data was impossible. Why? Because ESL programs at public institutions are under no obligation to report their financial information to anyone.  ESL programs fall through the reporting cracks, while generating millions (or even tens of millions) for public institutions…

Public education companies, on the other hand, could never get away with that. They’ll report their earnings and spread their success among their shareholders. If they’re not successful, they’ll fail. Success in education is based on outcomes and results. 

But there’s a new form of “public” education on the block and it is not to be ignored. Educational companies that are publicly traded on the stock market are drastically different from private companies. Public companies are obliged to share financial information with shareholders and investors. The accountability to the people who choose to put their dollars into the company is significant. Shareholders can ask questions — and demand answers. If their students are not happy or successful, they’ll leave. Sales will drop and they’ll close their doors. Their very existence depends on their students’ success.

Private educational companies never have to disclose details of their operations or finances. That should make us skeptical.

But public companies put it all out there for anyone to look at, scrutinize and ultimately judge. That’s a good thing. When it comes to ESL, it’s more transparent than what we see in public institutions. The very nature of accountability and reporting in education in Canada is changing… It’s strange, but true that when it comes to ESL, publicly traded companies like Loyalist Group Ltd may turn out to be more transparent, more accountable and more responsive to questioning from outsiders than some “public” institutions.

If you’re an ethical investor who values education, keep your eye on Loyalist Group Ltd. They may be the first of their kind in Canada, but they probably won’t be the only one… at least not for long.

Disclosure: Do I own shares in Loyalist Group Ltd.? Just a few. And I’ll be buying more soon.

_____________________________________________________

If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Share or Tweet this: A new kind of Loyalist: “Public” ESL education takes on a whole new twist in Canada http://wp.me/pNAh3-1Hp

If you are interested in booking me (Sarah Eaton) for a presentation, keynote or workshop (either live or via webinar) contact me at sarahelaineeaton (at) gmail.com. Please visit my speaking page, too.


“Math Wrath”: Are parents pushing for a return to tradition?

January 13, 2014

Recently, Canada’s national newspaper, the Globe and Mail, published, “Math wrath: Parents and teachers demanding a return to basic skills.” The article talks about a movement by some Canadian educators and parents to put greater emphasis on developing concrete math skills such as addition, subtraction, multiplication and division and less focus on discovery and creative strategies.

I find myself fascinated by this debate. I have long wondered about “creative strategies” in education. At the very beginning of my teaching career I took the Gregorc learning styles test. I came out perfectly balanced between all four quadrants: concrete, abstract, random and sequential. Apparently, that’s not particularly common. What it means though is that I can see and appreciate a variety of different learning styles.

Over the past 20 years or so (about the length of my teaching career), I have noted a distinct shift away from concrete sequential learning. Order, logic, learning to follow directions and getting facts seem to have diminished in value, while experimentation, risk taking, using intuition, problem-solving, learning to work in teams and focusing on this issues at hand all seem to fit with the creative learning strategies that have become popular in recent decades.

There has been a notable shift away from valuing sequential learning, structure, learning to follow precise directions and memorizing. In decades past, educational structures and systems may have favoured the concrete sequential learner. Today’s educational systems favour a more random or exploratory approach.

The debate has become almost vicious in some educational circles. Those who favor teaching methods that are concrete and sequential have been poo-poo’ed or dismissed by colleagues who insist vehemently on the random nouveau. I have known colleagues who have been quietly yet unapologetically exited from their teaching jobs because they continue to insist that their students follow directions, do activities in a particular order or memorize.

I worry a bit about the defiant horror expressed by some educational experts and parents at the idea of memorizing. While I agree that rote learning may not employ the highest levels of our cognition, memorization has its place. Learning to say, “Please” and “Thank you” are largely memorized behaviours. Learning to stop at a red light and drive on a green light is also a memorized response. Memorizing how to do CPR could save someone’s life.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I believe that we need to go back to the days of corporal punishment for an incorrect answer based on memorization. What has always puzzled me though, is how quickly methodological fashions change in education. When a new way of learning or teaching is introduced, old ways seem to be immediately, unequivocally and vehemently dismissed. Really good teachers whose background are more traditional than fashionable are thrown out along with their teaching methods.

Do we need to take a step back and look at models that integrate and value a variety of approaches? Would it be wise to hesitate… just a little bit… before we denounce traditional methods as being heinous and abhorrent, with only newer and more fashionable ones as being worthy?

I wonder if the obsessive focus on creativity, exploration and problem-solving might be doing some harm that we can not yet predict? Perhaps a small dose of memorization, learning to follow specific directions and learning systematically might be helpful?

Personally, I give both children and adults more credit than some educators or policy makers who insist on a singular approach to learning, regardless of whether it is systematic memorization or exploratory problem-solving. Being the utterly complex and capable creatures humans are, surely we can cope with both memorization and developing creativity simultaneously?

It’s the drastic swings of the policy pendulum that should worry us. The unflinching insistence that exploratory methods are the only legitimate or credible ways of learning should make us nervous. Polarized and uncompromising opinions on the singular “best” way to learn should be considered suspect.

There is almost always more than one “right” way to learn.

_____________________________________________________

If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Share or Tweet this: “Math Wrath”: Are parents pushing for a return to tradition? http://wp.me/pNAh3-1GY

If you are interested in booking me (Sarah Eaton) for a presentation, keynote or workshop (either live or via webinar) contact me at sarahelaineeaton (at) gmail.com. Please visit my speaking page, too.



Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 5,101 other followers

%d bloggers like this: