A Collection of Online Reports for Educators

Education in a Changing World: Flexibility, Skills, and Employability, 2012

Report from The World Bank

Literature Review on the Impact of Digital Technology on Learning and Teaching, November 2015

This literature review was commissioned by the Scottish Government to explore how the use of digital technology for learning and teaching can support teachers, parents, children and young people in improving outcomes and achieving our ambitions for education in Scotland

Training the 21st-century Worker: Policy Advice from the Dark Network of Implicit Memory, November 2015

The series IBE Working Papers on Curriculum Issues is intended to share interim results of ongoing research and to increase access to a range of unpublished documents, reports, reflections in progress and exploratory studies produced at UNESCO-IBE

The Web at 25. February 2014

The overall verdict: The internet has been a plus for society and an especially good thing for individual users

A Collection of Books Available on the Web

Davidson, C. N., Goldberg, D. T., & Jones, Z. M. (2009). The future of learning institutions in a digital age. Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press. https://www.dropbox.com/s/wo8j25ddei3w94g/8517.pdf?dl=0

Dorner, H., & Kárpáti, A. (2010). Mentoring for innovation: Key factors affecting [participant satisfaction in the process of collaborative knowledge construction in teacher training. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks 14(4): 63-77. PDF

Ito, M., Gutiérrez, K., Livingstone, S., Penuel, B., Rhodes, J., Salen, K., … Watkins, S. C. (2013). Connected Learning. Cork: BookBaby. https://dmlhub.net/wp-content/uploads/files/Connected_Learning_report.pdf

Hofer, Mark J.; Bell, Lynn; Bull, Glen L.; Barry, III, Robert Q.; Cohen, Jonathan D.; Garcia, Nancee; George, Marshall A.; Harris, Judi; Jacoby, III, Albert (“Bert”) Henry; Kim, Raina; Kjellstrom, William; Koehler, Matthew J.; Lee, John K.; Mann, Lori; Mishra, Punya; Patel, Yash; Shoffner, Melanie; Slykhuis, David A.; Strutchens, Marilyn Elaine; and Zellner, Andrea L. (2015). Practitioner’s guide to technology, pedagogy, and content knowledge (TPACK): Rich media cases of teacher knowledge. Books. 1. http://publish.wm.edu/book/1

On Facts

“Facts,” we know, have been the focus of public debate and discussion in recent months. It seems strange that such a simple word would be the cause of so much disagreement, but perhaps we should not be surprised.

Typically, we apply the word “fact” to that which is true. Implicit is that truth is objectivity, which means everyone agrees on the truth of a fact. If that definition of “fact” was accurate, then each individual having his or her own “facts” would not be possible. Because the disagreement is real (and politically quite powerful individuals are claiming the right to their own facts), I can only conclude the concept of “fact” as an objectively true statement is not accurate.

A more sophisticated concept of “fact” has been emerging for some time, and it is time for it to gain more widespread usage. Let’s take a closer look at “fact” and see if we can understand the disagreement over “facts.”

First, let’s begin by recognizing all “facts” are either supported by objective evidence or they are not. This leads to the counterintuitive, but correct, conclusion that there are “true facts” (those supported by objective observation) and “false facts” (those that are not). In the ideal world, and when science operates as it should, false facts are discarded and true facts are kept. True facts can become false facts when more accurate observations are made or are discovered.

Second, the observations used to support our facts are based on assumptions, and those assumptions can be correct or incorrect. Consider the question, “How much rain did I get at my house in the last 24 hours?” and my answer “one inch.” I can provide evidence from the rain gauge I keep attached to my garage to support my conclusion that my fact is true. Evidence that my gauge also collected rain that splashed off the roof or that my gauge is incorrectly calibrated can demonstrate that my fact is actually false.

So, the defining characteristics of “fact” is not truthfulness, but testability. “Facts” are those statements that can be demonstrated to be true (thus they can also be demonstrated as false). This more sophisticated definition of fact has unavoidable (and troubling for some) implications.

The quality of your facts depends on the quality of your evidence; they are inseparable. Even the facts we want desperately to be true may true out to be false; this is true even for those facts for which the falsifying evidence takes a long time to become obvious. Once evidence proves a fact to be false, it must be discarded and replaced with a new fact.

Once an individual comes to accept the truthfulness of a fact, he or she is likely to hold that truthfulness even in the face of growing evidence the fact is false. We can see this in those who hold any variety of supernatural beliefs, those who are deeply committed to a cause or a person, and those who hold other delusional or confabulatory beliefs. In these individuals, we see a tendency to valuable particular facts, but not facts in general. These individual hold their facts to be true in the face of indisputable evidence. Imagine the child with a frosting-cover face sitting in front of the pile of cupcake crumbs, some falling from his face as he denies eating the cake; he is an adorable and harmless example of these individuals.

It is an unfortunate reality that in many social groups, changing one’s mind, even in light of new and overwhelming evidence is perceived a s a weakness. The norm in these groups is to defend one’s first true fact, and abandoning it is a sign of weakness. In many cases, those whose first true fact will deny new evidence or will reinterpret both the old evidence and the new evidence to reaffirm the first true fact.

This of course leads to one final aspect of fact; all facts can be interpreted. Humans place facts in greater or lesser context and they assign different meanings to the same situations. And these are often presented as facts. Because these interpretations are based on values and meaning assigned by subjective humans, they cannot be facts which must be testable (and found true or false).

 

 

 

 

The Realities of Our Digital World

Distracted Mind coverThis review as a PDF file is available: download the review.

A review of The Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains in a High-Tech World by Adam Gazzaley and Larry D. Rosen

by Dr. Gary L. Ackerman

http://www.hackscience.net/ | @garyackermanphd

https://mitpress.mit.edu/distracted

Those familiar with the research on the effects of digital devices in humans (as individuals and as groups) will recognize Adam Gazzaley and Larry D. Rosen, the authors of The Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains in a High-Tech World. Both have contributed to the scientific, professional, and popular literature and media in the field. This book makes a significant contribution to that literature, and it is a work that blurs the boundaries within that literature. The argument is grounded in theory and supported by reference to the scientific research, while it both informs educational practitioners and analyzes products and practices marketed to improve brain health.

When they first evolved, our brains (the feature that differentiates us from other animals) were threatened by jaguars hiding in wait (a character Gazzaley and Rosen introduce to illustrate the nature of our natural environment). Those same brains, and their tendency to perceive and attend to certain aspects of the environment now live in an environment not generally inhabited by jaguars but filled with smartphones and information technology networks. In the prologue, Gazzaley and Rosen note, “It is clear that our interruptive technologies are only going to become more effective in drawing our attention away from important aspect of life… (p. xiii).  From this pessimistic stance towards our devices, Gazzaley and Rosen proceed.

Distracted Minds Explained

Cognition is a goal-oriented activity; we seek to perceive and make sense of information in the environment to make decisions so we achieve our goals. Both internal and external factors distract us and interrupt us from this activity. Digital devices provide “enticing sounds, compelling visuals, and insistent vibrations that tug at our attention while our brains attempt to juggle multiple streams of competing information” (p. 10). As creatures who depend on information and whose brains evolved to understand and share information, the rich information sources we carry in our pockets are both an opportunity and a challenge.

Despite our knowledge that multitasking interferes with performance (we all know that texting while driving can be very dangerous), we continue to allow our devices to distract us. That behavior can be explained by marginal value theory (MVT), which was originally elucidated by biologist Eric Charnov in the 1970’s. Marginal value theory explains the behavior of animals who forage patchy food sources; it also appears to explain humans’ foraging for information on our digital devices.

Marginal value theory posits there is an optimal time that should be spent at a source of food or information. Leaving a source too early results in leaving benefits “ungathered,” while leaving too late results in diminished returns. Once a resource has been depleted (the food is gone or the information is gathered), then one benefits from moving on to another source. Successfully navigating the environment requires a forager negotiate sources and make judgements about the value of separate sources and the time needed to move from one to another. Our digital devices change those dynamics as we carry effectively infinite sources of information and the transit time from one to another is nearly instantaneous as we tap and click from app to web to email to social media.

For about 100 pages (a little less than half of the book), the authors explain how digital technologies interfere with:

  • our ability to select what is sufficiently important to hold our attention;
  • our ability to hold information in our working memory (both the amount of information we can process and the fidelity of our memories);
  • our ability to accomplish goals.

Gazzaley and Rosen do suggest “multitasking” is an inaccurate description of what we do when we try to accomplish multiple goals at once. Human brains are incapable of the parallel processing that allows computers to complete multiple tasks at one time.  Humans task switch; we focus on one task, then focus all of our cognition on another. Each time we switch our attention from one task to another, there is a delay and a loss of fidelity, which explains our decreased performance.

Effects on Humans

Gazzaley and Rosen suggest “three major technology breakthroughs have been monumental games changers in our current lifetime: the Internet, social media, and smartphones” and they define game changers as “technologies that drive our interference-inducing behavior—both internally and externally—and which ultimately aggravate our Distracted Minds” (p. 105). Our digital devices contribute to continuous partial attention and encourage us to task switch which interfere with our capacity to be productive in the work place and successful in academic situations.

In addition to adversely affecting workplace and academic performance, the authors summarize findings that our Distracted Minds can reduce our safety (distracted drivers again being the archetypical example) and have negative effects on our health (digital devices interfere with sleep patterns for example). Further, they summarize findings that the negative effects of the Distracted Mind are exacerbated in diverse populations. For example, Gazzaley and Rosen conclude, “Study after study has indicated that too much technology use, whether it be watching television, going on the Internet, using smartphone or tablet, or playing video games, is associated with deleterious effects on the health of children” (p. 147). They do caution, that this correlation does not mean causation, and that it is unclear if health problems motivate greater media use or if media use leads to health problems.

After reviewing research on the effects of technology on older individuals as well as those with clinical conditions such as ADHD, depression and anxiety, and autism spectrum disorders; Gazzaley and Rosen are led to conclude “that the use of modern technology exacerbates the preexisting challenges these individual face in effectively interacting with their environment” (p. 157).

Our digital devices are determining the information landscape in which we live, and humans are information foragers. Marginal value theory explains much that we observe in Distracted Minds. Boredom is a difficult concept to define and study, but it is clear that boredom is a condition that leads individuals to forage for information online. Gazzaley and Rosen conclude, “We see the impact of boredom is not just to make us switch between information patches; we also seem to have lost the ability to simply do nothing and endure boredom” (p. 170). Humans also feel a compulsion to interact with information on their digital devices, and when devices are not available, we feel increased levels of anxiety. Perhaps the greatest threat to our cognition due to these devices is our lack of metacognition; we appear unable to recognize the negative effects of our devices and we are likely to continue using devices even when we are aware of the interference.

Adapting to Digital Distractions

While the book does lead to the rather distressing conclusion that our digital inventions are affecting our cognitive abilities, Gazzaley and Rosen do end the book with a review of some strategies that seem to reduce the negative impact of our Distracted Minds.

  • By increasing metacognition, thinking about what we are doing and taking steps to minimize the adverse effects of our digital, we can bring greater focus to our work and recover the efficiency and effectiveness of non-distracted cognition.
  • By decreasing accessibility, limiting our access to devices to specific times, we—in effect—increase the time needed to move to new sources of information, thus motivating us to complete tasks before being distracted.
  • By reducing boredom and anxiety, we can increase the probability that we complete tasks before distraction. Of the strategies recommended by Gazzaley and Rosen, this reduction seems to be the most difficult to achieve, but they suggest how both technical and non-technical interventions can reduce these factors.

Conclusion

Until I was an undergraduate student in science education, I had little interest in computers. When I discovered they were tools to help me understand and manage information, I became convinced of their role in my life (and my students’ lives). After 10 years teaching science and math, I started teaching computer courses for middle school students; in the decades since, I have been an educational technologist who advocates for greater use of digital devices and information in our schools.

In recent years, I have been reading the literature on our inability to multitask which has caused me to think educators need to take a more active role in modeling and recommending appropriate use of digital devices. Coincident with reading this book, I was working with students in a device-rich classroom (the students were given laptops under the school’s one-to-one initiative and probably 75% of the student also had a smartphone). The negative effects of these devices of attention and distraction was noticeable, and the better quality of the work done by students who were rarely using their devices for distracting purposes was noticeable.

While I recognize that my observations of the students were informal and in all probability influenced by my reading of this book, my observations seem to support the conclusion that ends the book, “We have been susceptible to distractions and interruptions for our entire lives, but technology’s impact on the Distracted Mind has caused us to overindulge” (p. 238).

Despite the rhetoric of integrating technology into our courses and our assumption that students are engaged with their digital devices, educators must follow the lead of this book and be more sophisticated in how we understand digital devices in classrooms. Changing our behavior to minimize the negative effects on our cognition and supporting our students as they do the same is a new lesson we must teach.

Three Questions and Measures for Assessment

“Assessment” has been an important aspect of teaching and learning (or perhaps more accurately, it has been a buzzword garnering much attention) for most of my career in education. Advocates for many positions (political as much as pedagogical) argue the role of assessment in achieving their vision, thus “fixing the broken educational system” once and for all.

The reality, of course, is that assessment is a much more sophisticated and nuanced part of the educational experience than is allowed by these advocates. Clearly, educators must determine what has been learned by the student, and (for many reasons) that learning must be reduced to a number of proxies; each proxy designed to capture and reflect what the student has learned.

In many ways, the summaries we use to assess students’ learning are an attempt to reify what happens in schools. We reason, “my methods must work, because I observed these changes on these assessments.” Educators do not admit, however, that our instruments are weak (“aligning your assessments with your instruction” is worthwhile, but dubious), subject to misuse (students don’t bother reading questions, educators’ biases affect their assessments), and we can be quite unskilled at understanding results.

The problem of defining and implementing appropriate assessment in schools is becoming more challenging as well. When print dominated, educators could be relatively certain of the skills that students needed. I have some of my grandfather’s college textbooks next to mine. We both studied science, which had largely changed in the 49 years between our graduation dates, but we both learned by reading textbooks and taking notes in those books. Today, students carry laptops, digital textbooks, and are as likely to use video to study as they are to use textbooks. “Becoming educated” has been a more sophisticated endeavor for my children than is was for my grandfather and me. My experiences as someone who has succeeded in both of these worlds are interesting, but the topic of another post.

Largely because information (and other) technology is changing how individual humans understand, how we organize our institutions, and the norms society holds; educators cannot predict with the same certainty what students must learn and which proxies are appropriate for assessment purposes.  This is a problem that has occupied my professional attention in recent years, and thanks to continued efforts to collaboratively design a comprehensive assessment method, colleagues and I have a much clearer, complete, and simple system for answering essential assessment questions.

First, we conclude three questions are relevant to understanding what matters in students’ learning, and each has equal value:

  • Does the student have the habits of effective learners and workers?
  • Can the students produce polished solutions to sophisticated problems?
  • How does the student compare to others?

These questions are answered in different ways, and all three comprise a reasonable and complete system for assessing students’ learning.

three assessment tools

 

In course grades, we answer the question “Does the student have the habits of effective learners and workers?” Consider the typical classroom. Over the course of months, students participate in a variety of activities and complete a range of assignments and tasks. Teachers’ make professional judgements about the characteristics of the students the degree to which he or she has mastered the material and is prepared to learn. Just as we do not always expect a supervisor to follow an objective instrument when judging workers’ performance, we should not expect educators to being completely objective.

Of course, as subjectivity enters the grading process, educators will find it necessary to defend decisions, which will motivate them to more deeply articulate expectations, observe learning, and record that learning. All of these are benefits of including educators’ judgments in course grades.

A performance is an activity in which we answer, “Can the student produce polished solutions to sophisticate problems?” Performances are those projects and products that working professionals would recognize as a familiar outcome and professionals would be interested in the motivation of the performance, the nature of the work, and the quality of the performance. Questions regarding a performance are best directed to the student because it was selected, planned, and carried out by the student.

Teachers do have a role in setting to context of a performance, guiding decisions, and facilitating the student’s reflection in the activity; but through a performance, a student demonstrates the capacity to frame and solve complex problems and complete complex communication tasks. While “projects” that are included in course grades contribute to students’ ability to complete these assessments, performances are typically independently constructed and are outside of traditional curriculum boundaries.

Tests have been at the center of intense interest in educational policy for the 21st century. The political motivation for these test have been challenged and is beyond the focus of this post. For the purposes of this essay it is sufficient to recognize that large scale tests (think SAT’s, ACT’s, SBAC, PARC, AccuPlacer, and the like) can be used to determine how a particular student did in comparison to all of the others who took that test.

A few details are necessary to complete the picture of what these tests show. First, standardized tests were used almost exclusively for these purposes in the 20th century. This century, standards-based tests have become more common. A standardized test is a norm-referenced test, which means the scores are expected to follow a normal distribution (bell curve) and an individual’s score is understood in terms of that distribution for comparison. When taking a standards-based test, and individual’s score is compared to those that he or she is expected to answer if the standard has been met.

Regardless of the exact nature of the tests, those interested in assessment of learning must recognize that these tests are administered for the purpose of comparing. Also, these tests are of dubious reliability. One of the fundamental ideas of all data collection is that measurements have errors, so a single measure taken with one instrument administered once is really meaningless. While the test results of a large group of students may allow us to draw conclusions about the group as a whole, a single student’s score cannot be used to draw reasonable conclusions about that student.

If we consider assessment as a method whereby educators can understand their program as much as they can understand students’ learning, then we see the three questions and the three types of assessments forming a meaningful and informative assessment system.

What to Video Stream from Your School

blurred classroom for decorationVideo streaming is a new tool for educators, so they are likely to respond to the suggestions they adopt video streaming with, “What do I have to stream?” Here are a few suggestions:

  • Announcements;
  • Reports of sporting events–or the sporting events themselves!;
  • Tours of art exhibits;
  • Plays and concerts (as long as you have licensed the performances);
  • Book trailers;
  • How-to’s for procedures.

What not to stream:

  • Video from unattended cameras;
  • Children without explicit permission from parents or guardians;
  • Lectures.

 

Educational Adjectives

Perhaps it is the many advertisements that have found there way through my spam filter recently. Perhaps it is that I have been reading (actually browsing) equal amounts of vendor-created content in trade magazines and peer-reviewed book chapters and articles from academic authors. Regardless of the origins, it is coming clear to me that there are three terms that seem to be synonymous to some writers, but clearly differentiated to others.

As the terms (student-centered, differentiated, individualized) have important implications for classroom practices and the nature of students’ learning experiences, this is my attempt to introduce some dimensions to define and differentiate these terms.

It must be recognized that the three terms have been introduced in recent years to encourage educators to recognize that students are different; therefore different learning objectives and different rates of progress through the curriculum are appropriate for different students. In general, we can recognize that the pace at which a student works through the curriculum can be determined by the student or by the teacher. Also the learning outcomes may be different for different students.

Together, these two dimensions lead to four types of instruction:

  • Teacher controlled pace and common objectives for all students can be accurately labeled as instructionist education. In this model (familiar to by schooling in the 1970’s and to my children in the 2000’s) teachers decide what is taught, when it is taught, and all of the students either keep up or fall behind.
  • Teacher controlled pace but student specific objectives are commonly called differentiated instruction. What is taught to different students (and how it is assessed) may be different for different students, but the teacher is the primary evaluator and judge of when to proceed to the next topics.
  • In classrooms where the students progress through the curriculum at their own pace is individualized instruction; the current interest in competency-based education and the mastery learning of previous generations are examples of this model.
  • Finally, in those classrooms in which students play an active role in defining what is to be studied, how it will be assessed, and when to move on to the next topic; we can properly label the curriculum student-centered.

While there are other relevant dimensions of teaching and learning, these terms seem to be defined through these two dimensions. Clearly, as well, there are situations in which each of these are appropriate (or inappropriate). In my experience, good teachers understand these differences and use the correct model for the purpose. Further, good teachers will ensure students have the opportunity to experience each during each course they complete.

Observations of Narcissist Educators

The label “narcissist” has become relevant in the United States in recent weeks and months. I will avoid comment on current events, but I will observe the concept is useful in understanding the actions of some educators.

For the professional psychologist familiar with the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, a diagnosis of Narcissistic Personality Disorder has a very specific meaning and is made only when certain criteria are met. For the layperson, the label narcissist can be applied much more liberally. In both cases, however, one who is a narcissist has an elevated sense of self-worth and importance which is manifest in several characteristics; we recognize a narcissist as one who:

  • Expects constant attention and validation;
  • Expects special attention and recognition;
  • Is arrogant;
  • Believes himself or herself to be beyond criticism;
  • Lacks empathy.

These are all variable personality characteristics, and depending on a range of factors everyone demonstrates these on occasion. When we recognize these characteristics are displayed frequently and consistently, an individual earns the label “narcissist” by laypeople. When the antisocial behaviors demonstrated by the narcissist exceed normal limits and adversely affect relationships, a professional may apply the diagnosis of Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

The association between self-esteem, narcissism and the teaching profession is interesting. In general, teachers need greater than normal self-esteem; this allows us to interact with students, colleagues, parents, and other stakeholders as we do. The current thinking surrounding narcissism suggests that it arises from excessively weak self-esteem; the elevated sense of self-worth is an unconscious and misguided attempt to strengthen one’s sense of self. Differentiating one with a strong self-esteem who is having an extreme day and a narcissist can be difficult.

At several times during my almost 30 years in education, I have found myself working for narcissistic leaders and working with narcissistic teachers. My experience and the reading that helped me understand those people led me to the observations described here. Look for these actions or reactions to identify the narcissist in your midst.

Ex officio authority

Educators are in positions of authority. Teachers plan how students will spend hours, days, weeks, and school years. Administrators have even greater authority, as their decisions affect teachers’ careers and children’s (and their family’s) lives in important and permanent ways.

On occasion, every educator uses his or her authority to justify decisions. When educators are transparent and admit they are using authority and the rationale for it, students usually understand. Students will often comply with the use of authority to mediate conflicts, give direction to groups that need it, and maintain order. The teacher who decides “Jimmy will pitch this inning and Sally will pitch next inning” is using authority to stop the argument and allow students to play in the few minutes they have a recess rather than argue. Those educators who take time to explain their rationale to students when using authority have more credibility with students, and they are more likely to follow unexplained authoritarian decisions from those teachers.

Narcissistic educators use the authority of their positions as the default rationale for decisions, and the explanation is simple, “You will do this because I am the teacher (or principal or superintendent or whatever), and I decided it.” There tends to be little recognition of other circumstances, and the unspoken demeanor is “all must defer to and recognize my greater expertise.” Teachers who adopt this stance lose credibility with students, and administrators who adopt this stance towards teachers lose credibility as well.

A corollary to ex officio authority is narcissists’ expectation that all will use his or her formal title. Students refer to me by many names and nicknames (gackerman which is my network user name is frequently used), but if I insisted on being called “Dr. Ackerman,” I would be demonstrating the narcissistic characteristic. If an adult insists other adults refer to him or her with a formal title, then one is most assuredly are naming a narcissist.

Pollyannaish

Education is a complex endeavor and initiatives, projects, and lessons fail and fail frequently. The reasons are many and diverse and in many cases unpredictable. Most educators are able to recognize those failures as a part of the process of designing and refining their practice. In the jargon of organizational leadership, those educators “own” their role in the failure accept a role in improving further effort.

The narcissistic educator is decidedly Pollyannaish regarding failure; the excessively optimistic stance is demonstrated in several ways. First, failures are denied. Even when there is strong evidence that the individual narcissist was responsible for bad decisions, they will reinterpret the outcomes in a positive manner. Second, others who maintain there was failure are blamed for it and become the targets for future blame.

Third, in the face of persistent calls to recognize failure, the narcissistic educator will commonly feign ownership in a sarcastic manner. One particularly narcissistic administrator for whom I worked was known to respond, “Well, I’m sorry I’m not perfect…” and then walked (actually storming away is a more accurate verb) away when others refused to accept his Pollyannaish interpretation. He missed the point that whoever was challenging him was not seeking perfection, but they were seeking to understand the situation and find which part of the system failed.

Narcissists Flock Together Until They Don’t

“Birds of a feather flock together,” is an adage that applies especially well to narcissistic educators. They tend to form tightly closed cliques and support each other’s sense of self-worth with a style of groupthink that supports the members. These groups have tight boundaries, and the insiders regard outsiders with disdain.

The interesting characteristic of these groups, and the narcissistic individuals who belong, is that they tend to dissolve at a moment’s notice. Most frequently, a disruptive event will trigger the dissolution, and the group seeks to reorganize groups. In many cases, the reorganization is relative to an individual, and the groups are “for” and “against.”

In the 21st century, social media plays a part in this phenomenon. Facebook is full of groups that seek to organize in support or opposition to an individual or a program. The educators who participate in them (frequently covertly) are almost certainty narcissists.

Narcissists Challenge Competence

The narcissistic educator has a decidedly adversarial reaction to competence. Competent professionals tend to be:

  • Stable because they can justify their actions with a well-articulated rationale;
  • Insightful because they are constructively critical of themselves and others;
  • Humble because they have internalized their competence;
  • Confident they can adapt to new situations.

The narcissistic educator is likely to perceive these qualities in him or herself, but few others (except for other members of the clique) recognize these characteristics in the narcissist.

Narcissistic educators do identify competence in colleagues and will actively attempt to weaken those individuals, although they will not admit it. A narcissistic administrator will:

  • Disempower competent teachers by assigning others to roles of formal leadership (the competent science teacher will be replaced as the chair person of the curriculum committee, for example);
  • Diffuse competent teachers by separating them in time and place (interdisciplinary teams of competent teachers will be broken up);
  • Deflect changing the focus of the school away from their areas of competence (the competent literacy teachers will find the school begins math initiatives).

While the changes to disempower, diffuse, and deflect are supported with an independent rationale and justified with Pollyannaish reasoning, these actions are familiar to those who work for narcissistic administrators.

Instructionism Dominates

Teachers who are narcissists rely on lecture and instructionism as their pedagogy. This seems to follow from their elevated sense of self-importance, which contributes to their perception of themselves as the expert with the correct version of the curriculum.

An interesting corollary appears to be the narcissistic teacher’s reliance on a single explanation. When a student asks for clarification, the narcissistic teacher will respond with the same explanation that has been given previously. This is grounded in the assumption that his or her understanding is complete and clear, and that the difficulty in learning must be with the students’ attention or effort or capacity to learn. Teachers with minimal narcissistic tendencies will recognize that different individuals may need different explanations and will quickly different approaches and see that as posing no threat to their abilities.

A similar effect appears when a narcissist is a principal (or other administrator). The narcissistic administrator becomes a strong advocate for a single approach to teaching (typically method of instruction, less frequently a student-centered approach); regardless of the nature of the method, the administrator imposes it and prescribes how it is to be implemented.

Excessive Demands on Others

Schools cannot operate without the work of support staff, and this includes both licensed professionals such as librarians, technology specialists, art and physical education teachers, as well as unlicensed professionals, including janitorial and secretarial staff, computer technicians, and others. The narcissistic teacher keeps students late, expects them to miss other classes (especially classes like art and physical education—in an much earlier version of this essay, I included shop teachers, but they are exceedingly and distressingly rare today). All narcissistic educators expect support staff to immediately attend to their needs regardless of the other demands.

Reactions of Convenience

Another corollary to ex officio authority is a seemingly random reaction to proposed changes in pedagogy. All educators are familiar with the endless series of new teaching methods that are advocated by leaders. While we find it tiresome, most educators are willing to try new practices (within reason) if they feel supported and if they feel they are empowered to assess the new practices. Teachers will formally (and informally) apply the test “Is it helping students?” to judge new practices. When teachers are convinced about the value, they are generally quite flexible and accommodating to new ideas.

Compared to other educators, who exercise precaution and quickly adopt new practices that are reasonable, narcissistic educators adopt a rationale of convenience when deciding how to react. As a result, they (paradoxically) tend to both adopt new practices more quickly than colleagues and they tend to show more inertia than others.

Narcissistic educators tend to adopt new practices with little reflection or evaluation. This appears to be done with the desire to be perceived as “on the cutting edge,” and they are more likely to adopt these methods if it will help disempower, diffuse, or deflect competence. The administrator who attends a conference and returns having spoken with a vendor, thus “discovering” the next great curriculum initiative of the school is a narcissist. Narcissistic educators appear to be easily swayed by the self-serving research done by vendors.

The narcissistic educator will remain pedagogically unchanged in the face of reason and evidence that their practice is flawed. In recent decades, a growing body of research has supported “student-centered” practice in which students’ previous experience is an important factor in determining instruction and students are given an active role in deciding some detail of curriculum. Narcissistic educators will frequently listen to the reasoning for adopting the practices, and then conclude, “Well, I want my students to do well, so I really am ‘student-centered.’” This is an example of how the narcissistic educator regards his or her own work with a Pollyannaish perspective. They are very positive about their work, regardless of the true experience for students.

Conclusion

The narcissism is damaging to the cultures we need within school communities to promote out diverse student populations to become the flexible and innovative thinkers that they need to become and that our society desperately needs. I hope this conclusion has been established in my brief observations of this subpopulation of educators.

The question, “How do I respond if I find a narcissistic educator?” is easily answered: “Leave.” What leaving looks like depends on many factors, but narcissists prevent teaching and learning, isolate yourself from those individuals, but if they do not leave (voluntarily or forcibly), then you must.