Saturday, June 11, 2011

Highs and Lows

At the end of the school year it's a good time to look back and reflect on what we have done.  This week has been a particularly stressful one for me, so this weekend I have found it even more important to focus on the positive things that have been achieved, instead of drowning in the negativities of what has not been possible.  I want to end the school year on a high note.  I don't want to go into the holiday feeling exhausted and despondent.

So here are some of the highs:
In September I went to Hong Kong and was part of a curriculum writing group.  We produced a draft of a new document "The Role of ICT in the PYP" which was finally published this week.  I am tremendously proud of this because for years schools have been crying out for more guidance on how to integrate IT across the curriculum (the previous guidelines were just a couple of paragraphs).  During the 3 day meeting in Hong Kong we were able to discuss our beliefs and values about the role of ICT and the place it plays in inquiry, which is central to our programme.  We talked about how ICT practices are evolving, which practices needs to be increased and which needs to be decreased, and we came up with guidance for schools about developing an ICT policy.  It was hard to travel all the way from Europe to Hong Kong for just 3 days - the hardest part was actually flying back all night and even having to change planes in order to arrive in Switzerland at 7am in the morning so that I could teach that day - but I did it and feel that I benefitted enormously from the experience.

In November I went to Florence to do PYP workshop leader training.  This is something I've been wanting to do for a few years, but missed the opportunity both the last time I was in Europe and also during my time in Asia because of having to commit to being in the region for a certain time after doing the training.  Once again this was a time to refine my thinking, once again my understanding of the programme improved and this has had a knock-on effect on my teaching during the rest of the year.  Currently I'm preparing for my first workshop, which will be held in Paris later this month.

I love presenting, and I was happy to present at the ECIS IT Conference in March this year.  It was a great time to connect with other IT teachers and coordinators in schools around Europe, and it was wonderful to meet Silvia Tolisano and attend her presentations there.  It's strange to meet someone face-to-face for the first time but to immediately feel as if you have known them for years.  Of course I do feel I have known Silivia for years as I "hear" from her on a daily basis by following her on Twitter and reading her blogs, and during the past year we have skyped together a couple of times too.  I'm very excited I have now met her in person.

There have been some highs at school too.  For example one of the new initiatives I've been involved in this year was a round of quad blogging with 2 of our Grade 3 classes who spent a month connecting with schools in other countries.  I found it an incredible experience - and it was one of the best ways of teaching the students how to write quality comments on blog posts.  Another area I feel really good about at school is how closely our library and IT department have worked together in primary.  We have discussed common learner outcomes and have weekly planning meetings where we talk about how we support the units of inquiry.  There are a number of occasions where we have team taught the same classes too.  As the new document "The Role of ICT in the PYP" states:
The internet, one of the greatest technological innovations in the last 50 years, facilitates the finding and creating of information, as well as building and maintaining relationships and communities.
Since both areas are concerned with these information/digital literacy skills it has made sense for us to work much closer together and again I feel I have moved forward as a teacher because of this.

This year has also seen the introduction of Google Apps for Education in our primary and middle schools.  Both teachers and students have seen the benefits of using Google Docs, Mail and Calendar for collaboration.  In addition many of our teachers have now started their own class blogs using Blogger and all of our Grade 4 and 5 students have their own blogs too, which are now evolving into their own ePortfolios.  Some of these blogs have had upwards of 3,000 visitors this year alone from around the world.

The middle ground:
These are the initiatives that we started but which I don't feel were overwhelming successes.  Last summer saw the introduction of SMARTboards into all our classes from Grade 2 upwards.  At the beginning of the year we discussed how best to train the teachers to use these, and came up with the model of one teacher per grade level becoming a mentor.  This teacher received extra training and support at the start of the year and was responsible for being the go-to person for that grade level.  At the start of the year I made a point of doing walk-throughs at least once a week to check that everything was working properly, later this changed to me looking to see how effectively the boards were being used.  I have to say I'm disappointed.  Many teachers are using them merely as giant projectors to show movies and I see little student use of them.  Some teachers have returned to using flip charts on small stands for their actual instruction.  The fact that teachers are not able to attach their laptops to the boards has certainly led to them not being used optimally.  This morning as I was thinking about this, I was wondering whether or not this was just specific to our primary school, so I checked with my daughter who is in secondary.  She told me that as a student she has never used a SMARTboard in any lesson this year, and that some of her teachers had not used it at all in any lesson she'd been in (though she said some others used it every time).  As I'm reflecting on the use of these boards I'm asking myself what went wrong.  Was it a lack of support?  A lack of training? Was it to do with where they have been placed in the rooms?  The fact that they are very much at the front (with the computer behind the teacher's desk in most cases) and therefore not seen as a centre for students' use?  Perhaps it's also the size of them?  In the IT lab we mounted them low and we have got steps the students can climb up to reach the top of them, but in most classes this is not the case.   I'm asking how can we ensure the same mistakes are not made when we roll them out to Grade 1 and Kindergarten next year?  This is a challenge for me because I know quite a few of the teachers who have had them this year are not really very enthusiastic about their use.

Professional development is another area where I feel we have done a lot, but not really been effective enough.  We have tried many different models:  before school, after school, lunchtimes, drop-in sessions, scheduled sessions for specific things.  Actually this is connected with the previous issue about SMARTboards.  What our teachers really need is mentoring and coaching, they need someone whose entire job it is to help them use and integrate the technology when they need it.  However this is not what they are getting, as the IT teachers don't have the time to do this.  Our time is very much spent teaching students, either in the labs or in the classrooms, and not really working with the teachers while they use the technology.  As I reflect on this more and more I realise that we are like a mouse in a treadwheel.  We are developing good skills in our students, who then move on, and the following year we develop these same skills again with a new group of students.  With the teachers, if we use a "just in case" approach, we find we are having to re-teach these skills in a "just-in-time" way when the teachers actually want to use the technology.   If we actually concentrated on developing the teachers skills as and when they were ready for them, we would be developing a lot of skills and knowledge that could then be built on in the future.  As an example of this, I have spent time with each teacher this year setting up class blogs, and they have spent time with their students showing them how to use the blogs.  Blogging has been a resounding success this year, yet we haven't really done any "official" PD on blogging.

The lows:
Although I feel we have made a lot of progress in some areas this year, the lows for me centre around not being really effective in my job.  Although if you were to ask any teacher about how we have moved forward this past year they would be positive (they have all moved forward a lot), I am still dissatisfied with the way I am spending my time.  Currently I am trying to be a teacher, a tech integration specialist and a web-master and at the same time I'm dealing with the myriad of small "techie" problems that arise on a day to day basis.  Trying to be too many things to too many people has been frustrating, a lack of focus has led to me doing a far poorer job than I know I am capable of.  I have tried to find a solution to this frustration by applying for other jobs at school.  The fact that I have been unsuccessful in getting these jobs has led to even more frustration, and this has been compounded by the fact that this year I have been approached by other schools/organizations/people and offered jobs that I would love to do.  But I can't leave right now, the time isn't right.  I have a 17 year old daughter who has one more year of school to get through.  It has broken my heart to turn down these opportunities, but I know it is the right decision, nothing is more important than family.  Other opportunities will, no doubt, appear at some point in the future.

Last week I read a blog post by Vicki Davis, who wrote about the Care and Feeding of Dreams.  She wrote about how hard it sometimes is to hang in there, no matter how worthwhile the thing is you are doing.  She wrote about the importance of not quitting.  I re-read this post again yesterday when I felt I hit an all time low.  This is what Vicki said:
Don't quit, my friends. If you plant the seed of a dream and water it with your tears and tend it with your time you will eventually reap a harvest that is due you.
Last week I also got sent a video about the necessity of patience and persistence - the message is similar.

Another friend sent me a message of hope.  She has told me before that what I really need to do is to concentrate on the things I can change and to let go of the ones I can't.  This is what she wrote to me this week:
Great is a matter of perspective and subjectivity. Write down all the things you'd like to do if you had carte blanche.  Then circle the things you can do now that won't 'cause ripples'.  Then look at where and how you can do the other things.  Call it a five year personal plan.
I do believe that when times are tough, you grow as a person.  I do believe in something bigger than myself, that there is a purpose to everything in life.  I do believe it was the right decision to move to Europe 2 years ago for my family.  I did want to be a part of building an excellent school.  Perhaps I just need to be a bit more patient.  Perhaps I have not yet seen the purpose for being here.  Perhaps I need to water the dream with yet a few more tears.

Photo Credit:  Vanishing Point by Paul Bica  Attribution 


  1. Wow, Maggie. What a powerful post! I always enjoy reading your blog but this is the first time that I have felt compelled to comment. I think your thoughts here probably echo the sentiments of every educator who is passionate about what they do and are trying to achieve. I have also found it so important to focus on the things that have been achieved rather than the things that are still yet to be achieved. Hang in there...I'm sure that you have had a far greater impact than you realise. I have learned so much from reading your thoughts and I have often followed up on resources to which you refer. Thank you for being a great mentor to me...someone who you have never met personally.

  2. Well you know the impact you've had on me, Maggie, and we don't even really work that closely together (hopefully that will change next year). Apart from this site, one of the best things for me this year has been the IT learning blog you update for our school. Just like Sue, I have followed many of the resources you've presented and found them to be very helpful in my classroom. I hope your patience lasts for a few more years!

  3. Thank you Sue, thank you Dave. Your comments and support mean a lot to me.

  4. Maggie, are you committed to expanding your IWB installations? If I was installing now instead of four y ears ago I would connect a computer to a project and control it wirelessly with an iPad using Air Display and Ink2Go as described by Tim Tyson. It is a cheaper, more flexible solution if you have wifi. Teachers would use it for so many more tasks and it has more potential to impact students.

  5. Maggie, I've really enjoyed reading your blog and have got a lot out of it. You honest appraisals and thoughts throughout the year have helped guide my practice. I too am looking forward to using ICT in the PYP document that we helped develop in HK. I also took a step towards making it happen by moving into the ES IT coordinator and integrator role next year at HKA and the document will provide the framework of what I try and achieve.

    The end of year can be a hectic time when we view things in a different way that perhaps would not have affected us at the beginning of the year. Tech roles can be chaotic, hectic and too many things, I hope you find the right balance.

    Andy Birch

  6. Congratulations on your new role Andy, and thanks for your comments.

  7. Hi Maggie

    Well, this brought tears to my eyes. Sometimes we are so engrossed in what we do that we can't see the wood for the trees.

    As a classroom teacher I sometimes feel this way too; when I feel my students aren't making the progress I feel they should/ought to be making. When I step back from the situation and talk with the support teachers be they EAL or LS and listen to them talk about the progress/growth they see in my students it helps me put things in perspective. I realise that I have been so engrossed on a day to day basis I haven't seen the bigger picture. It helps me recognise their achievements. I liken this to not noticing the changes in my own children's physical growth until I see them with their friends outside of the home environment or when we meet up with family who haven't seen them in a while.

    You have made a difference where it counts - in the classroom!! So, the holiday's are coming up - a forced time to 'step back' and re-energise.