Wednesday, August 31, 2011

What I've learned about teaching IT by climbing Swiss mountains

This is now my third year in Switzerland and of all the 7 countries where I've lived it's definitely the most beautiful.  I really appreciate being able to get out at weekends, walk in the mountains and get a fresh perspective on life.  Last weekend I hiked from the Fronalpstock to the Klingenstock - it was a hike I've wanted to do for many months but one that I knew would not be an easy one.  There are a lot of ups and downs on this route and even the flat ridge section is quite difficult because of the sheer drops on either side.  It's definitely not a hike for anyone who is afraid of heights.

At times the hike seemed quite daunting.  When I was down in the valleys looking up at the peaks, I thought to myself "I'll never get up there" - but I did.  The secret was to take the uphill sections in short, slow steps and to focus on the bits that were right in front of me, rather than looking up to the peaks themselves.  Along the way I decided this was also a metaphor for dealing with the tough, rough parts of life too.

Think big and start small:  for the past couple of years I've been looking up to the top of the mountain in teaching - specifically where technology can take student learning.  I've been comparing where I am now to where I've been in previous schools.  I've been thinking about what a long, hard slog it will be to climb this mountain, to get the teaching and learning with technology to the point I want it to get to.  As I was climbing up this peak at the weekend I realised that in order to get up it I had to slow down and take smaller steps.  Sometimes the fastest way to do something is to go slowly.  With the IT programme I'm often impatient - I want to do things quickly to get the students here to the same level the students are at in other schools.  I'm thinking big, but without the proper support, I know need to start small.  On this hike many people passed me, but for me that didn't matter.  They could maybe climb this mountain in 2 hours, for me it might take a lot longer.  The important thing was that I did it, that I was moving forward, that I was enjoying the journey.

Realise that others are also carrying a heavy load:  the photo shows part of my weekend hike - I had to get up to the top of that peak in order to get onto the ridge between the mountains.  Right up on the top there's a cross and as I was hiking up I could see someone standing right next to the cross - and I could hear him playing the bagpipes!  It was a great encouragement to me to know that someone else had made it up the mountain before me - and that person was also carrying a heavier load - if you click on the photo you'll see a bigger version and will be able to see him better.  For myself I think I often fall into the trap of comparing my teaching load with that of others.  This year I've started the year with 627 students as one of my colleagues is off sick and I'm supporting his classes as well as my own.  Last week I was asked to do 3 sessions of after school training on top of this.  For me it was too much.  The load was too heavy.  I started to think to myself "How is it that I have to teach 627 kids across 7 grade levels and 2 campuses, when some of the other teachers are just supporting one grade level with maybe 20 students who need their help?"  I know this is extremely negative, it's not a productive way to think.  Rather I need to think that there is no shame in saying no, it's too much, I just can't do it, I don't have time.  The shame would be in saying "sure I'll do that" and then not being able to do a good job of it because of being too busy doing everything else.

Stop and look back - appreciate how far you have come:  another thing I have come to recognise is that you need to stop and look back to see how far you've come.  Sometimes we're so focused on getting to the end of the journey we forget to turn around and look at the view.  This photo shows the other side of the peak that I climbed - at this point I was a lot further on, on the ridge section.  It was a real sense of achievement to turn back and to think - Wow! I made it up there, right to the top!  In IT while I'm impatient to move on I need to think about the achievements of the past few years.  We now have a flexible IT schedule so that we can integrate into all the PYP units of inquiry.  We now have more collaboration between the class teachers and the IT teachers.  There are more opportunities for the students to use technology in the classroom as we have carts of laptops.  We have more emphasis on 21st century skills and on students using Web 2.0 tools that they can access any place, any time.  We are working closely with our librarians to develop information literacy skills in our students.  All of these are significant achievements - I know I need to be proud of them.

Don't lower your goals - increase your support:  One of the biggest things I have to deal with on a daily basis is the feeling that my knowledge and experience is not valued.  In a situation like this it would be easy to lower my goals.  In the hard parts of this hike there were steel chains hanging down to grab onto to help pull myself up.  In some places rough steps had been cut into the sides of the slopes.  At a couple of points there were flat rocks where I could rest or sometimes even sit on a bench.  I needed those supports to get me through my hike.  My supports in my job are the many wonderful colleagues I work with, and the amazing members of my PLN.  When I'm feeling low, their encouragement helps me to carry on.

It's important to have balance:  The ridge section of the hike is fairly flat, so not hard to walk along - but it's important to have balance.  In life it's important to have balance too.  Currently I know I'm in danger of working myself into a situation where I become sick - I know many colleagues who do this too because they put themselves last all the time - they struggle to go in even when they are not feeling very well.  Someone once said to me "a one legged chair, or a two legged chair doesn't balance very well".  That's true.  To be a good teacher, I need to be more than a just a teacher. I need to have a life, to look after myself, to find the time to relax and to rejuvenate.  I need to say yes a little less.  I need to say no a little more.  I need to think about my family more and especially, in my daughter's final year of school, the tough year where she's doing the IB Diploma, I need to be there for her a little more too.  For the past 2 years I have not been balanced - now I'm in danger of falling over the side of the cliff.  I need to stop for a bit, get back onto the ridge, regain my balance and slowly start moving forward again.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Evolution or Revolution, Reformation or Transformation?

What are we currently seeing happening in education?  The world is changing, but in many cases our schools still stay the same.   It seems that we have the knowledge to bring about a change in the way we teach our children, to overthrow of the old "factory" system of schooling, to embrace a new way of learning.  We talk about the skills that will be needed in the future being very different from the skills that were needed in the past.  We know that there are going to be dramatic and wide-reaching changes in the way our students will work, how they will live their lives and the ways they will view and use technology.  But do we want a revolution, or are we happy with an evolution?  Can we afford wait for the gradual rolling out of the changes in our schools that we know need to happen?

When I started writing this blog, I called it Tech Transformation because I believed in the necessity of a thorough and dramatic change in our education system and because I believed that this could come about through technology.  Teachers would no longer be the "fountain of all knowledge", they would be helping students to inquire, to construct their own meaning, to be responsible for their own learning.  I am seeing a lot of reforming going on - there are changes, things are improving - but I wouldn't say it's dramatic enough to be called a transformation.  I'm constantly asking myself how technology can transform learning. I'm thinking about this in terms of the IB Learner Profile and how technology can promote these attributes.

We want our students to be inquirers and we want them to be knowledgeable:  technology can help them with their explorations, they can connect with others around the world and explore concepts, ideas and issues that have both local and global significance - the connections can help them to look at these issues from different perspectives, and in doing so they will become thinkers who can truly understand these complex problems, make reasoned and ethical decisions and who can come up with creative solutions to them.

We want our students to be communicators:  technology can help them to express their ideas confidently using a variety of modes.  Using technology to collaborate with others around the world can also help students to become more open-minded to the values of others and develop a sense of fairness and justice and of respect for different points of view.  Understanding the needs and feelings of others will encourage our students to be caring, to show empathy and compassion and hopefully to go on to act in ways that make a positive difference.  Our students should be principled and should act with integrity and honesty.

This is my 30th year of teaching.  The teenagers I started teaching all those years ago are now in their middle 40s.  Most of them are probably parents - and their children have probably already left school.  Some of my first students may even be grandparents now, with their grandchildren in our primary schools.  And I'm asking myself, after 30 years, is their experience of education any different from when I first started teaching back in the 1980s?  There hasn't been a revolution, but has there been an evolution?  There hasn't been a transformation, but has there been a reformation?  Am I too impatient for change?  Can we really afford to wait much longer?

Photo Credit:  Handel's Water Music by Rhino Neal AttributionNoncommercialNo Derivative Works 

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Meetings, Professional Development and Learning

Like many teachers worldwide, I've started back at school again for a new school year.  The first week or so has been characterised by a number of sessions devoted to meetings, professional discussions around a book we all read over the summer, goal setting, instructions on how to do various things such as use the SMARTboards or add onto the school website, collaborative planning and some team building.  Phew - what a lot of different things we've been involved in - and the students haven't even started yet!

Towards the end of my holiday, I had participated in the Reform Symposium Conference (RSCON3).  This gave me the opportunity to "meet" many of the amazing educators that I've been following (through blogging and Twitter) and to connect with others that until a couple of weeks ago had not been part of my PLN.  I guess that many of us who were involved in the wonderful learning that was going on at RSCON have reflected on it since and compared it with our experience of traditional PD carried out in schools, through presentations, workshops and courses or at large physical conferences.  Many of us have also come to question the effectiveness of this traditional professional development.

Last week I read Edna Sackson's post about effective professional learning.  As I participated in the activities of the first few days of school, I could definitely notice some of the behaviours she mentioned in her post from both ends of the spectrum.  There were some sessions where clearly teachers were disengaged, there were others where teachers were very involved, were collaborating, sharing ideas, exploring new ways of doing things and reflecting on past experiences.  At the end of her post Edna started a list of ways to ensure effective professional learning - read through the comments for more ideas.

Last week I also read a post by Lyn Hilt, another presenter at RSCON3 entitled out with professional development, in with professional learning.  Lyn also writes about the importance of being engaged in learning in order for professional development to be successful.  She highlights the necessity of shifting the focus from development to learning.

Both Lyn and Edna have written about the importance of educators being responsible for their own learning - the need to take an active role in their own development.  Both have also highlighted the importance of differentiated learning and choice - that teachers need to determine both what they learn and how they learn.

For myself, I have come to realise through being a teacher and working with students who have auditory processing problems, that I too suffer from a difficulty in processing verbal information.  In my case, if I sit in a lecture it is very much a case of "in one ear and out the other".  Over the years I've found different strategies to help me cope with this.  For example at school I learned Pitman's shorthand which enabled me to write down everything that was being said.  By typing up these notes later I was able to process the information and learn.  At school I was channelled into the secretarial route, my teachers thought of me as being someone who would make a great shorthand typist - and of course I did that and as a result realised that in fact I wanted to do more than that and that I had now found a strategy for helping me to cope with going to university and sitting in lectures.

At the PYP Workshop Leader training I did last November we did an activity that highlighted for me the different ways we learn.  We moved to various groups around the room according to the things that helped us learn, and the things that hindered our learning.  Some of us needed noise in order to learn.  Some of us found it a distraction.  Some of us needed to be doing, some of us needed to be reading.  So while I know that for me to take in the information that is being imparted during a meeting or lecture I need to type it up, I also know that for others in the room my typing can be a complete distraction to them (I've shifted to making notes on an iPad now as it seems less of a problem) and others again are possibly put off by the fact that I seem to be paying more attention to my computer than the person talking - perhaps they think I am reading my emails or chatting.

In her article Lyn writes:
Teachers, like students, are first and foremost individuals who have passions, interests, and an inherent desire to learn.  The goal for administrators should then become how to foster the learning spirit in each and every one of our teachers through a system of learning opportunities that cater to their individual needs.  This, in turn, will ignite a true excitement for learning in our teachers, which will transfer int their practice.  The result?  Students who spend their days with teachers who exhibit a true desire to grow professionally and who model that learning matters.
In the past 2 years, being part of a PLN has given me the opportunity to discuss my learning with other educators who share my passion and vision.  Every week I am eager to see what the subject is for the Tuesday #edchat on Twitter.  Reading and writing are my ways of learning.  Writing is my way of reflecting on what I'm learning.

Lyn's post outlines the conditions needed for successful professional learning:  it involves teachers taking ownership of their own learning, deciding for themselves what they will learn and how they will best learn it.  It involves them collaborating with others and reflecting on their learning in supportive communities or networks.

Photo Credit:  Cultivate & Consider by Denise Carbonell Attribution

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The conditions that support learning

Today was the first day back at school for all staff and it was full of meetings (mostly organisational ones), but I'm still thinking about the first meeting of the school year that I attended as a team leader last week on Friday because this meeting was about the conditions that support learning.

Drawing on the work of Professor Richard Elmore, from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, we discussed what educational leadership involves:
Leadership is the continuous improvement of instructional practice and student learning over time.
We discussed the conditions that support learning in a classroom or a school as a whole - just as the classroom should be a learning community, the school and everyone in it should be too - so the same conditions that support learning will apply at each level of the organisation.  These were defined as:
  • transparency of practice:  knowledge is shared. To me this implies that students are working collaboratively and sharing their ideas and learning from each other.  It also implies that teachers and administrators are working collaboratively and sharing their knowledge too.  The classrooms are not separate "islands", the team leaders are actively empowered to be instructional leaders and the administrators are actively involved in what is happening in the classrooms and with the student learning.
  • effective group practice:  we are part of "real teams" which have a clear purpose, strong norms, resources and access to expert coaching.  This year we will focus more on building our teams - this could be as subject area leaders or as grade level leaders.  We talked about the fact that we need to be working not with a "power over" model, but with a "power to" model.
  • developmental mindset:  the focus needs to be on growth, on effort leading to growth and on persistence rather than on ability.
  • clear and detailed feedback is needed for us all:  giving feedback to students was the focus of our summer reading.  Today we met in groups to discuss the book.  In our group one of the teachers talked about 360 degree feedback that would also involve the students giving feedback about the lessons, and the teachers giving feedback about the administration.  Feedback shouldn't just be "top down".  This was also mentioned in a comment to one of my posts about feedback last week:  that teachers should also use feedback they get back from their classes to help them decide how they should go further with the next lessons.
  • lateral accountability:  to each other and the team.  This is different from the traditional view of accountability where teachers are often looking upwards and doing what administrators require of them or where students are doing things because that is what the teacher requires.  Instead it involves being accountable to our colleagues, the other teachers on our teams, and the students being accountable to other students they are working with in groups too.  
This year I'm feeling that there is a refocusing, that the emphasis is changing.  I'm happy to be part of a group that is discussing how we can create the best possible conditions and how all of us, students and teachers, can be more supported on our learning journeys.

Photo Credit:  Teach/Learn by Duane Schoon AttributionNoncommercialShare Alike

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Compass Points - preferences for group work

We did a really interesting exercise this morning called Compass Points.  We had to decide which of these styles sounded most like us and then move into a group with others that had made a similar choice and discuss the strengths and limitations of this particular style, which style we found most difficult to work with, and what we most valued about the other three styles.  We also talked about the best combination of styles for a group or team to have and how understanding the other styles of the members of our team could help us to work together more productively.  Here is a description of the styles:

North:  Acting - likes to act, try things, plunge in
East:  Speculating - likes to look at the big picture and the all the possibilities before acting
South:  Caring - likes to know that everyone's feelings have been taken into consideration and that their voices have been heard before acting
West:  Paying attention to detail - likes to know the who, what, when, where and why before acting

I joined the North group and we talked about what the strengths were of our style.  We described ourselves as "movers and shakers" - we said that we got things done.  We had vision, were dynamic, were risk-takers and were often reflective (acting first but then going back and thinking about the consequences of these actions later).  We talked about some of the problems that this could cause, for example we can be impulsive and this can alienate others, we ask others to trust us a lot, and we could appear to be disorganised.  We talked about the quotation "imperfect action is better than perfect inaction".

Generally I thought the style I found most difficult to work with was the South style.  Sometimes I'm very impatient with people not getting on board with all the things that need to be done and changes that need to be made.  At times I certainly feel that I am putting too much effort into the "late adopters" and I need to put more into the "early adopters".  I recognise that the one dissenting voice, the one who doesn't want to change, might actually be the right voice in some situations.

Of course no-one is only one direction.  For myself although I joined the North group, I feel I'm actually more North-East as I think I am a big-picture person.  I also think I like working with people with the West style.  I think I like to leave the small details to others and so appreciate having them on the team.

Photo Credit:  Compass Zoomed by Gwgs AttributionNoncommercialNo Derivative Works 

First day back, new school year

Today was the first day back for me this new school year.  Today only the new staff and the teacher leaders were back (the grade level and subject leaders) - other teachers will start next week - and the focus of this morning's presentation was on developing and empowering us to be instructional leaders - to encourage us to be more of a professional learning community at school.  This meeting was an interesting one.  We discussed the various facets of our leadership role:

  • carrying out our duties with a high degree of professionalism
  • communicating in a respectful and open way
  • developing a collaborative team culture
  • embracing change and continual professional learning to improve teaching practice and enhance the learning of all students
When I got home I decided to try to find out more about the various things we discussed in the meeting (transparency, teamwork, a growth development mindset, feedback and lateral accountability - more about these in another blog post) and I came across this Edutopia article by Eric Sheninger about leadership strategies for making change.  These support the fourth area of our leadership role (change and professional learning) and therefore I felt were a good way to move forward in this area. Briefly here are his suggestions:
  • A no-excuse attitude:  challenges and complications should not be used as excuses not to push forward - we need to focus on solutions and the changes that are needed to improve teaching and learning and not on the problems.  We need to be catalysts of change - we can make a positive difference every day.
  • Model a vision for excellence:  which will involve collaboratively working with staff to transform the classrooms into learning communities where all students are engaged.
  • Embrace 21st century pedagogy and curriculum:  action is needed to turn the talking into reality.  Students need to be digital citizens and to develop skills to live in a global society such as creativity, critical thinking and problem solving.  Teachers need to have the freedom and encouragement to take risks and use innovative teaching strategies and therefore principals and teacher leaders need to promote and support 21st century pedagogy.
  • Inspire teachers with professional development that taps into their interests and passions: this will involve them working with others in professional learning communities in school, and building up their professional learning networks with others who share their passions worldwide.
  • Connect with other leaders/principals: there are a lot of ways of getting and staying connected such as blogs, educational chats on Twitter, nings and online conferences and "unconferences".
Photo Credit:  Free colorful Happy Rainbow Valentine Love Heart by D. Sharon Pruitt Attribution 

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The art and science of learning

When I first started teaching almost 30 years ago, I was given a book called "The Craft of the Classroom" by Michael Marland by someone whose official title at the school was the Senior Master (his job was basically to be in charge of discipline, and in a tough comprehensive school on the Yorkshire coalfield in the middle of the miner's strike in 1984 this job was not one for the faint hearted).  I was told to read the book and that it would be my "survival guide".  It dealt with all sorts of things that a new teacher might want to know about, such as keeping registers, keeping student records, writing reports, writing on the blackboard (amazing to think I haven't seen one of those for over 20 years!)  Basically this book dealt with the methods and practice of teaching - the pedagogy.  Pedagogy is the form of instruction that dominates in most schools - it involves the teacher making the decision about what will be learned, how it will be learned, when it will be learned and, by using assessment, if it has been learned.  Basically pedagogy is teacher-directed learning focused on content.  In this system, if a child fails to learn or to pass exams, the teacher is seen to be responsible.

But learning today is changing.  We talk about our students owning and being in control of and responsible for their own learning.  We talk about wanting our students to be lifelong learners - to continue learning even when they don't have someone actually teaching them.  Today the emphasis is shifting from pedagogy to andragogy:  away from the art and science of teaching and towards the art and science of learning.  With andragogy, according to Wikipedia, the role of the teacher as an instructor is minimised.  The teacher is more of a facilitator, the emphasis is more on the process of learning and the resources and skills that are needed, than the content.  If someone fails to learn, it is not the fault of the instructor.

When I'm thinking about what is needed in our schools today to prepare our students for their futures, I see the emphasis being more on andragogy than pedagogy.   For example pedagogy would seem to imply that learning was formal and possibly competitive in the way it is assessed and graded, whereas andragogy would seem to be more collaborative, open and informal.  Pedagogy would imply that the learning objectives would be set by the teacher, andragogy would seem to involve more pupil participation in these objectives and setting their own learning goals and most important of all it will involve inquiry and real-life hands-on experiences.

Today on Twitter I got a tweet from a teacher moving from the English National Curriculum to the IB Primary Years Programme.  He said:  "Such a different learning environment.  10 years of ENC and I'm remembering why I went into teaching."  I can remember that feeling myself as I moved into an inquiry based approach to learning.  Good teaching is good teaching - sure - but the focus needs to be different - it needs to be off the teaching and onto the learning.

Photo Credit:  Goodbye by Woodleywonderworks AttributionNo Derivative Works 

Monday, August 8, 2011

Seven Million Minutes

Everyone at RSCON3, it seems, was raving about the keynote by Salome Thomas-EL (Principal EL) and although I missed it because it was in the middle of the night here in Europe, I managed to catch it on the archives.  All through the keynote the importance of caring for and believing in students so that they could reach their potential was evident - and this was especially powerful given Principal EL's experience with children who have serious barriers to achieving their dreams such as poverty, violence, neglect and low expectations.  His message is that every child will learn, as long as we don't give up on them.

It's not possible in this blog post to cover everything that was said during the keynote (it seemed like every sentence was absolutely VITAL) or to express the passion with which it was delivered, but here are a few of the ideas I took away from it:

  • To be a catalyst for change you have to have a vision of what we do with the 7 million minutes we have students in our care from PK to Grade 12.  However a vision is not enough.  A vision without a plan is just a hallucination.  We cannot waste any time developing this plan - time is so important because we cannot wait even a day to make a difference in students' lives.  It's better to waste money than time - you can never get back time that is wasted.
  • Teachers have to participate in school communities:  there is no room for passengers on the ship, only crew.
  • Young people must believe in themselves and take responsibility for themselves and their learning.  And we must believe in them and help them become successful.  Self efficacy is about teaching students how to respond when they are not successful.  Failure is a part of life - students must learn to move on and become stronger.  Setbacks should be seen as temporary and students must believe that they can become successful when they work hard.
  • We reach students through great teachers who are supported by great principals.  If the teacher is not successful, the principal is not successful - both need to work together with the students.
  • Do not be afraid of conflict:  make tough decisions for the children and embrace conflict as the price of leadership.  Do not be concerned about being popular - be concerned about doing what is right for the students.
  • In education there are short-term gains and long-term gains.  A test is a very short-term thing in the life of a child.
  • If students are cared for and supported they will become successful.  When this happens be there to celebrate with them.
Photo Credit:  Chi ha tempo non aspetti tempo by NuageDeNuit AttributionNoncommercialNo Derivative Works 

Saturday, August 6, 2011

The learning goes on and on

Last weekend I participated in RSCON3.  This amazing global online conference had over 60 presentions from educators around the world.  Obviously because of the time difference I missed some of them - but because all these presentations were recorded and archived I've been able to go back to listen to the ones I missed.  One of the ones I participated in this morning was George and Alec Couros's closing keynote for Day 2 of the conference which took place on Saturday evening in Canada (and the middle of the night here in Europe!)

One of the interesting links shared during this keynote was to a Prezi by David White of Oxford University who talks about digital visitors and digital residents.  This is not quite the same concept as Marc Prensky's digital natives and digital immigrants.  When the focus is more how how students are using technologies rather than what they are using, then how they see their online lives differs - some see it as a place to live (residents), others see it as a collection of useful tools (visitors).  It's not about academic or technical skills, it's about culture and motivation.

Digital Residents:  live part of their life online - it is a projection of their identities and a place where they carry on their relationships.  Digital residents "live" in social networking sites, blogs, image sharing services and so on and the internet is a place for socialising and expressing themselves.  All aspects of their lives are conducted using the internet:  work, study, leisure.  Residents are social and visible on the web.

Digital Visitors:  use the web as a tool - for example for researching something, booking a holiday, banking. It's not seen as a social place so they don't develop an online presence.  Visitors are individual and private on the web.

I've been thinking about this difference and reflecting on whether I'm a resident or a visitor.  When I think about Marc Prensky's definition I'm definitely an immigrant - the first time I ever saw a computer I was at university, the first time I owned one I was 30 and working at my first international school - but looking at the definitions from David White I would say I'm definitely a digital resident.  How did I move from being a visitor to a resident?  Why did I move?  Well I think that happened as a result of physically moving from Thailand to Switzerland.  Suddenly I was out of a "high tech" environment and I needed to keep in touch with friends who were still in one.  Before leaving Thailand I'd started a personal blog and started using Facebook to connect friends and family with our physical journey.  Then I started using Facebook to keep in touch with people I'd met at the Apple Asia workshops I'd been on and Twitter to connect with new educators around the world who could push my thinking forward.  Then I started a blog where I could really dig down deep into what I was thinking about teaching and learning - and how technology could transform these, and as a result of this I connected with more people and was presented with more ideas and perspectives.  Without even planning it, I found I'd built up a personal learning network, and because I was learning more from these people than anyone I've ever worked with before, these became the people I chose to connect with and learn with on a daily basis.  I became a digital resident because online, in social networking sites, was where the important people in my professional life were "living".

One of the messages from this keynote is that some of the best learning is social.  How do we help our children to learn?  One of the interesting statistics quoted was that in Canada, the USA, UK, France, Germany and Spain 81% of children under the age of 2 have a digital footprint.  One slide from the presentation is below and asks:  Can a playground be too safe?

The argument was that this can be the same for social networks - we need to introduce children to these early on, so that they learn how to use them safely and responsibly over the years.  One of the participants in the session made an interesting point:  because a child has been a passenger in a car, doesn't mean that he or she knows how to drive it.

This weekend I'm looking forward to doing more "catching up" on some of the great sessions I missed last week at RSCON3.  The learning just goes on and on ......

Photo Credit:  Webtreats 3d Glossy Blue Orbs Social Media Icons Attribution 

Friday, August 5, 2011

Creativity comes from being connected

Last year we had two visits to our school from Aric Sigman who told students, teachers and parents that the increasing use of technology and social software is damaging students' minds and undermining learning.  He talked about the consequences of increasing social isolation from spending too much time socialising with online friends and not spending enough time with "real" ones.  How pleased I was to see the evidence presented in the Pew Research Centre report today which totally contradict his theories.
  • 59% of internet users use social media.  Over half of all social network site users are over the age of 35. 
  • Facebook dominates social networking - 92% of users are on it.
  • Facebook users have more close relationships and report more social support that others. The average Facebook user has 229 friends which include people from high school and college, immediate and extended family, coworkers, people from voluntary groups and neighbours.  Facebook seems to support intimacy, rather than undermine it.  Users of LinkedIn and Twitter have larger networks than Facebook users (this appears to be related to them being more educated). Mobile phone and IM users also have larger social networks.  There is no evidence of a relationship between social media/technology use and loneliness, and education is one of the strongest predictors of having more close social ties.
  • Only 7% of Facebook friends are people users have never met in person and only 3% are people who have met only one time.  The remainder are social ties, some of which are dormant but are still important sources of information.
  • There is a relationship between the use of social networks and the ability to explore multiple points of view - particularly marked in the case of MySpace users.
Being connected, it seems, has many more advantages than disadvantages, not least in the field of creativity as Steven Johnson argues in this RSA Animate video:

Photo Credit:  Get Connected by Paco Paco AttributionNoncommercialShare Alike 

Who's more important - the leader or the follower?

Yesterday I started reading Richard Byrne's series of posts on 10 Common Challenges We'll Face This Fall.  Yesterday's post was about access - the challenge teachers face when they find that the websites or tools they need are blocked.  Richard shared tactics he had learned about how he got access to the websites he wanted to use.  I was really interested in the last one (recruit supporters) and in the TEDtalk he went on to share.

In this Derek Sivers talks about how a leader first needs the courage to stand up and potentially face ridicule, but it's important that what the leader is doing is easy for others to follow.  Sivers, however talks more about the first follower - this is the person who will show everyone else how to follow.  He says the leader should embrace the first follower as an equal - so the focus is not on them but on what they are trying to achieve.

Sivers says that being the first follower is actually a form of leadership in itself - it takes courage to stand up with someone who is doing things a little differently.  He says:
The first follower is what transforms the lone nut into a leader.
Another important thing he goes on to say is:
New followers emulate the followers, not the leader.
The early adopters lead to the "tipping point":  as more people join in it's less risky.  Eventually "late adopters" join in - they want to stay with the crowd and are more concerned now about how it will look if they don't join in!

I started thinking today about how this could apply to teaching - specifically how this could apply to a movement we've seen take place at school over the past year - blogging.  At the start of the school year three teachers approached me and asked me to help them set up a blog or their class or after school activity.  These were the first followers at our school - they were all interested in using blogs and using them in different ways and for different reasons.  Sivers says:
Nurture your first followers as equals - it is about the movement - not about you.
One of these teachers went on to introduce blogging to her entire grade at school.  Another posted photos and videos of what her class were doing on an almost daily basis - during the course of the year her class blog had over 3,000 visitors from around the world.  She later turned this blog into a class yearbook.  Another teacher, who started blogging a little later in the school year, showed her class blog to her husband (who is also a teacher) and he not only started his own class blog, but started writing a professional reflective blog as well (click here to go to his Global Initiations blog).  It's certainly true that teachers were encouraged to blog by seeing other, ordinary, non-techie teachers blog - seeing that I could do something did not give homeroom teachers the confidence to try it themselves - after all I should be able to do all the "techie stuff" as I'm head of the department!

The biggest message is that leadership is over-glorified - it was the first follower who was the most important - who had the courage to follow and to show others how to follow - who transformed what was happening into a movement.

This coming year at school, we're all going to be blogging, I think!

Photo Credit:  Pigeon Study by Craig Cloutier  AttributionShare Alike 

Thursday, August 4, 2011

I get to make a difference, even when it feels like I’m not making a difference.

During my first year in my current school I reflected on how as an international teacher I had gone about searching for a new school.  I was discussing the criteria that good teachers use when considering where to move next with a friend last week who has just moved from Japan to another school in Switzerland.  Both of us concluded that we are ambitious:  not at all ambitious to move up the career ladder and take on extra responsibilities that take us out of the classroom and into offices, but very ambitious to work in great schools in fabulous locations.

  • Location - this was number 1 on my shopping list for a new school 3 years ago.  At that time location to me meant Europe as our son was moving to a university in the UK and it seemed an easier place for my husband to look for work than Asia.  Now I have to say I love Switzerland - it is absolutely gorgeous and right in the middle of Europe so easy to get anywhere, but we haven't really seen our son any more being here than if we'd stayed in Asia (he's actually spent the summer at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology and is now holidaying in Thailand) and my husband hasn't found it at all easy to find work as a foreigner in Switzerland.
  • Curriculum - this was number 2 on my list as I wanted to work in an IB World School that did all 3 programmes.  In my last school I taught both PYP and DP.  Our daughter was coming up for her last year of MYP and wanted to go onto DP.  My current school does offer all 3 IB programmes and in my first year here I did teach PYP and some MYP, however the school wasn't authorized for MYP when we first arrived so in fact our daughter didn't end up with the MYP diploma, and last year was the first year students did the DP.  Because they are so new here, the MYP and DP programmes are not as well established as in my previous 2 schools and although this year's DP scores seem to be moving in the right direction I worry that next year she won't get as good grades as she would have done at either of her previous schools.  On the plus side, however, since being back in Europe I have trained as an IB Workshop Leader and did my first workshop in Paris this summer.  I'm also hoping to be able to do an in-school workshop in Spain later this year.  I'm grateful that I've been able to professionally develop myself in this way.
  • Welcoming to families with dependents - Although this was number 3 on my list I only looked at schools that offered free tuition as a benefit.  In this respect my current school is excellent  - there are over 100 staff children in the school and that's by far the biggest number of children with tuition benefit of any school where I've ever worked.  Not all of them are on 100% tuition benefit though - and I know that is a big issue for some of our teachers.
  • Job description - This was number 4 on my priority list.  I wanted a job description that allowed me to coach and mentor classroom teachers, to empower them to use IT to support student learning and their development of 21st century skills.  At the moment I still don't have a job description that I find useful.  This is the most understaffed IT department I've ever worked in and so I don't have the time to work with teachers on their skills (and they don't seem to have the time to work on these either).  Up to now my feeling is that I've been too much lab based.  Next year with the loss of a lab I will be forced to work more in the classrooms, though this role is more time consuming and laptops seem to need much more technical support.  Currently I'm also worrying about the increase in the number classes, but no extra increase in IT staffing - we will be stretched even thinner.  On the other hand I'm as delighted as I can be to be working in a Mac school again but sad that we're not buying any iPads for our students to use next year but purchasing more SMARTboards instead.
  • Salary and benefits - This was the last on my "shopping list" and I can truly say I have no problems with the salary here, only the placement on the salary scale which does not recognise my experience.
Times change, circumstances change.  The list I would write today would be in a different order.  I've decided that for me doing a job that I love is just as important as location.  I've decided that being in a good school where teachers are happy, supported and valued is probably the number 1 priority for me these days.  I'm no longer concerned about tuition benefit - by this time next year both our children will be in university.  Salary will of course continue to be important to pay for these university educations!  I'd like to stay in a PYP school, but I have also come to see that there are other great programmes being taught in international schools too.  I would say I'm more open to other possibilities including that of working with PCs again.  I'm even open to not working in a school at all.

Now I'm facing another school year.  In the past I've blogged about how dissatisfied I've been with my own performance as a teacher in the past couple of years.  I also know that the way I view my own performance is not the same as others see it.  I've had so much encouragement from my colleagues who have told me what a great support I've been to them and how I've helped move them forward on their learning journey.  So while I think I'm not doing great, others think I am, which is what this blog post is all about.  Next school year I'm giving some things up.  I cannot continue to work at the pace that I do and then be dissatisfied with the fact that I'm not achieving it all to the standards I am used to.  I need to keep reminding myself that in the past I had assistants to help me as well as more technical support staff and fewer classes.  I need to keep telling myself that I cannot do the jobs of three people, I just have to focus my own.  I need to tell myself over and over again until I believe it that I am making a difference, even though it doesn't feel like it to me.

The title of this post was based on a post on the Cooperative Catalyst blog.

Photo Credit:  Make love not war by Stelios (snick38) AttributionNoncommercialNo Derivative Works 

Differentiated Feedback

I'm on the final chapter of our holiday reading now.  It's about giving feedback to different sorts of learners.  This got me thinking about teachers as different types of learners too and how perhaps a one-book-fits-all approach doesn't really meet our needs.  It's great to have a common book that we are all reading and that we can discuss on our return to school, however the needs of the teachers just a few years into teaching and those who have already been giving the type of feedback advocated in this book for 20+ years obviously differ too.  Perhaps a selection of good professional reading on feedback would have been better - giving us the choice of what book we wanted to read - we could still have had great discussions based on the different books we had read and perhaps used the discussions more like a jigsaw activity.  Choosing which book to read for professional development can be very powerful.  For example at ISA we used to get "Birthday Books".  On our birthday we went to the Lower School Head's office and she had a box of professional books for us to choose from.  I loved choosing those books - I have all of them still, signed each year by our Head - and I go back and dip into them often.  These are the books that I chose based on what was relevant for my professional needs at the time and for the goals that I wanted to work on.

Anyway, back to the reflection on Chapter 7!  This chapter refers to the fact that good communication depends on the sender, the receiver and the message itself.  If students don't hear and understand the message then they can't use it for improvement.

Giving feedback to successful students:
Students who are interested and engaged in learning need feedback about the task, the process and the specific knowledge and skills they have demonstrated.  From this they can do their own self-assessments and draw their own conclusions about how best to study or work on an assignment.  They are in control of their own learning and this feeling of empowerment is very motivating.  Focusing on the process is best for successful students.

Giving feedback to struggling students:
These students also need feedback on the process - they need to see how it connects to the results they have achieved.  These students need to be able to compare their work with the learning targets so that they can continue to make progress in achieving their goals.  The focus for struggling students should be on what they are doing, not on what they haven't yet managed to do:  this gives the message that improvement is possible.  One good way of doing this is to compare a student's current work with his or her previous performance.  These students need to focus on small steps for improvement.  Even if they need to improve in many areas, these need to be broken down into small, manageable goals.  Focusing on the big picture may just leave these students overwhelmed or cause them to give up.  Some struggling students lack self-confidence and the feedback will need to deal with these negative feelings first otherwise the student will not really "hear" or be able to understand or use the feedback.

Photo Credit:  ♫ ♪♪ by Piulet AttributionNoncommercialNo Derivative Works 

The Transformative Technology Debate

Another great session I was able to participate in at RSCON3 was the transformative technology debate about what technologies best support education transformation with Tom Whitby, Steven Anderson, Joquetta Johnson and Naomi Harm.

The debate was about what kind of learning we want, what kind of environment we want and how technology can make this more powerful.  Because technology is changing so quickly it's not possible to say what will be around in the future, but it seems clear there will be a shift towards blended and online learning environments rather than just face-to-face teaching.  Steven Anderson made the point:  Good teachers teaching good content is going to save education.  He provided a link to TPACK (Technical Pedagogical Content Knowledge required by teachers for technology integration in their teaching).

Tom Whitby talked about how social media will begin to change things.  Currently only a small percentage of educators use social media today, yet collaboration, communication and critical thinking are important skills for lifelong learning.  Today's lifelong learners are those who are on social media and who are continuing to learn.  Obviously everyone participating in RSCON was comfortable with social media - Tom asked: What makes us different?  Why do we use social media?

Joquetta Johnson attempted to answer this.  She said many teachers say they don't have enough time to explore how social media can transform their teaching - we make time for it because we are passionate about it.  She said we need to have some non-negotiables and educators need to be held accountable if they are not using these tools.  Time cannot be an excuse - but schools and teachers need to prioritize what they do with the time available.  Another difference between teachers using social media and those not using it is that we are risk-takers.  We can see the changes that it makes when we use technology with our students.  She suggested pairing up those educators who were reluctant to take risks with someone else globally online.  Cost is definitely not an issue - most Web 2.0 tools are free.  We have to be the ambassadors for teacher learning as well as student learning.

In today's world teachers are no longer the experts - our roles are changing to facilitators and moderators of learning.  We cannot keep up with the way content is changing, but in fact we no longer have to deliver content: we have to guide the students to find it.

There were discussions about how school leaders need to be more involved with their faculties:  too many administrators are trying to lead from their offices. Professional development is often not meeting teachers' needs.  Tom Whitby pointed out that social media is a literacy and that when it comes to literacy many of our educators are illiterate and this must change in order for education to move forwards.  A link was shared to the 21st century fluency project.  The unconference and edcamp models are the ways PD should be moving.

Finally it was discussed that we perhaps shouldn't be referring to "social" media - perhaps instead we should be calling it "learning" media.

Photo Credit:  My wifi hotspot is cooler than yours by Woodleywonderworks Attribution 

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Building by example: building a more positive relationship between administrators and teachers

Another great session I attended at RSCON3 last week was Akevy Greenblatt's presentation about creating more positive relationships in schools.  Akevy is a lower school principal of a Jewish orthodox day school in Memphis, Tennessee and since the school is a small one he also doubles as a Grade 5 teacher.  He brought to this presentation his perspective from being on both sides of the desk - as an administrator and as a teacher.

The session opened with an Xtranormal movie about teacher evaluation:

He went on to talk about different models of leadership - the traditional method and a new model that builds better relationships.  The old method is all about power and control - because the administration does not want to give up control the teachers are not empowered.  It's very rigid and there are no common goals.

The new method has the goal of meeting student needs and creating better learning.  If we put students first then it's not so much of a power struggle.  Teachers and administrators come together to benefit students so there is more conversation about the common goal.  Doing things together as a team builds trust and promotes growth.  Teachers need honest feedback - which doesn't always mean praise.  This feedback helps teachers to grow into leaders themselves.  The goal of a good leader should be to produce other leaders, not just to have followers.  The goal of any good school administrator should be to produce more teacher leaders.

How can we do this?  The main idea behind this presentation was that administrators should lead by example and model what they want teachers to do.  To do this it's necessary for them to put themselves into the hot seat - in the classroom.  Good leaders encourage risk taking - failure is an option and can lead to success.  There should be open, two-way lines of communication and teachers need to be given space and freedom - they need to be empowered and shown that school leaders have confidence in them.  Administrators need to be there to help their teachers grow.  Another piece of advice is to listen more and talk less - this shows teachers that you value them and their concerns.

In the case of teacher evaluation Akevy Greenblatt pointed out that what is good for students is also good for teachers - if administrators want their teachers to be facilitators of learning, then they themselves should be facilitators of teachers growth.  The only way to do this is with two-way communication and teacher feedback.  The focus of all teacher evaluation needs to be student learning.

Akevy Greenblatt shared Kim Marshall's Rubric for teacher evaluation which is divided into 6 areas:
  • planning and preparation
  • classroom management
  • delivery of instruction
  • monitoring, assessment and follow up
  • family and community outreach
  • professional responsibilities
Kim Marshall has a rubric for principal evaluation as well.  This rubric is also divided into 6 areas:
  • diagnostics and planning
  • priority management and communication
  • curriculum and data
  • supervision and professional development
  • discipline and parent involvement
  • management and external relations
Photo Credit:  Two by Ferran Jordà AttributionNoncommercialNo Derivative Works