Monday, October 31, 2011

Professional development using social media and peer-to-peer coaching

This weekend I've been reading the Tweeting for Teachers publication that has recently been produced by Pearson and NoTosh.   This report is not just about Twitter, but about other social media used by teachers as well.  There are many findings in this report, but I've chosen to write about a few here that I feel are important for the teachers I work with.

A large part of the report deals with professional development.  This is an area that I know many teachers feel quite strongly about.  Often they are compelled to attend PD sessions because it's a requirement of their school or perhaps the programme they are teaching, and all too often the sessions seem irrelevant and the presenters in some cases appear out of touch with what's happening in their classrooms.  Teachers don't just want to listen to presenters - more and more they are wanting to contribute themselves,  to share their knowledge and expertise with others, and the way they are choosing to do this is by using social media such as blogs and Twitter.

The report has found a number of benefits of using social media for teacher professional development:

  • keeping up-to-date with current debates in a way and at a time that suits them;
  • drawing on ideas from around the world, challenging their own perspectives and inspiring new ways of thinking;
  • connecting with others in similar positions in order to share plans and approaches and for support and reassurance;
  • encouraging them to reflect on their own practice, and to shape ideas through discussion of this practice
The report goes on to discuss how more and more school leaders are seeing the potential for improving thinking and classroom practice through a public and continuous reflection on their own teaching.  This is a valuable form of professional development and without the support and facilitation of school leaders such opportunities are often lost.  School leaders therefore should:
  • learn about and engage with the social platforms that their teachers, parents and pupils are using every day;
  • use a social media tool as part of their communications with the school community;
  • validate and support their staff in using social media tools for ongoing professional development.
Another part of the report is concerned with peer to peer coaching as there is a lot of evidence that indicates that coaching leads to a 95% transfer of skills and knowledge to classroom practice, as opposed to traditional PD which results in less than a 5% transfer.  Mentoring and coaching take time - often the existing beliefs, values and understandings that teachers have are not quickly given up, even in the light of new learning.  New understanding takes time to develop and teachers need a lot of encouragement to take risks and try new things that put this understanding into practice.

I'm currently in year 3 of what I originally intended would be a 4 year push to develop teachers' confidence in using digital technologies to transform teaching and learning at my school.   When I arrived at the school I put up a sign that said:
I do, you watch
I do, you help
You do, I help
You do, I watch
In my first year here I did all the teaching, and expected that teachers would develop their skills alongside those of their students.  In my second year I introduced the SAMR model, where the teachers were responsible for the S and A in the model (with me helping them with the A), and me continuing to push the technology forward by leading the M and the R.  Last year was a revelation to me because some teachers wanted to go straight to the M and the R parts of the model and were actually prepared to take on much more.  This year I feel we are very much in the 3rd phase - especially as at the start of the year I spent several weeks only supporting the new teachers to the school, and those who had been here for the past few years were leading their own IT lessons - all of them - with just me attending the planning meetings to discuss what they were doing (this wasn't that successful - it was clear to me I still need to be in there helping, which is what I've been able to do now that I have more time).  I'm still predicting that by the end of the year these teachers won't really need me much at all though.

Next year isn't going to be a year 4 for me - except virtually perhaps.  The teachers will all be doing, and hopefully I will be watching from afar, as they are blogging and tweeting about what they are doing using technology to transform student learning.

Image Credit:  A Conversation by Khalid Albaih Attribution 

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Moving forward one conversation at a time: our professional book group

Last year our librarian and myself decided we wanted to start a professional book group.  We chose the book and put the word out, but the end of the year was crazy busy, so we decided we'd launch it in the new school year.  Our first book was The Element by Sir Ken Robinson and we had our first meeting last week (which gave people time during the recent holiday to read the book).

Right from the beginning we knew we wanted to open the group up to our other campuses and to teachers in other schools so that we would have a variety of perspectives and, we hoped, more interesting discussions - therefore we decided it wasn't going to be a school-based club.  Word spread to teachers in other schools just through personal conversations with people we knew there.  We knew we wanted to keep the group to a manageable number and also that we needed to find a place to host it, as once numbers grew it wouldn't be possible to do this at people's own homes.  We also knew that as the schools and where people live are fairly far apart, we needed a central location.  Therefore we decided to meet in the back room of a local wine bar so that this was also a social event.

I loved our first meeting, the discussions we had, the questions we asked each other.  What I also liked too was our diverse backgrounds.  Between us we had taught all grades from Pre-School to Grade 12 in both national and international schools as homeroom teachers and as specialists.  We'd taught in schools in 10 other countries as well as Switzerland - in North America, both Eastern and Western Europe, Asia and Australasia.  Our own education and the national systems we came from also influenced our discussions.   As international teachers we wondered how relevant some of what we read was to our students.  We asked - where is change most likely to occur?  In state schools, in private schools, in international schools following the IB curricula?  Where are we most likely to find the freedom to experiment?  How is this influenced by funding, by parents' or governments paying and therefore by perhaps having different expectations of what teachers' jobs involve?

Our next book is Curriculum 21 by Heidi Hayes Jacobs - we'll be discussing this after the Christmas holidays.  I'm excited to be part of this group, to see us moving forward, one book, one conversation at a time.

Is anyone else a member of a professional reading group?  What books would you recommend to us?

Photo Credit:  Poesia by Guilio Bernardi Attribution

Knowledge of the parts -v- wisdom of the whole

Psychiatrist Iain McGilchrist talks here about the differences between the left and right halves of the brain.  He shows it's not as simple as we have been led to believe, with a simple division between emotion and reason.

The left hemisphere is used for a narrow focus on something you already know.  It leads to a sharp focus on details and to clarity.  It lets us manipulate things that are known, fixed, static, isolated and lifeless.

The right hemisphere is more aware of new things and of making connections.  It is sustained, open, vigilant and alert and lets us look at a situation that is individual, changing, evolving and interconnected.

Our frontal lobes let us stand back from the immediacy of experience and allow us to empathize.  This also allows us to interact with and manipulate the world.

It's not a simple split - the different parts of the brain work together.  For imagination and for reason you need both hemispheres.  We are offered two version of the world and we combine them in different ways all the time.  We need to be able to manipulate the world using the left hemisphere, but to understand the world we need to use the right hemisphere.

Today our pursuit of happiness in fact leads to resentment and unhappiness and mental illness.  We want freedom but are now governed by rules that strangle freedom.   In today's society we feel the need to govern and control everything.  We have more information but are often less able to use and understand it - to be wise.

At the end there is a final statement that I have thought about a lot as a technology teacher.  Iain McGilchrist says that today, as technology becomes increasingly important, we prioritize the virtual over the real.  I'm not sure about this.  What do you think?

Camera or Phone?

Throughout this year I've been trying out different apps on my iPhone and contrasting this with the photos I've been able to take on my camera.  A few months ago I posted about different panorama apps and which one I found the best (I currently use AutoStitch the most).  Now I thought it was time to compare our Canon Ixux cameras with the iPhone.  My favourite iPhone app is Pro HDR - I find the photos I take on it are more closely matching what the eye sees than the camera.  So here are the two photos I took this evening as the sun was going down over the lake.  The camera allowed me to zoom in more on the boat, but I still think the colours on the iPhone were much truer to reality - Pro HDR actually takes two photos which seems to balance our the light and dark parts of the photo and to adjust better to the light when taking the photo into the sun.

Photo taken on camera

Photo taken in the same place a few seconds later using Pro HDR on the iPhone

I'm almost at the stage of thinking I don't really need a camera anymore and am wishing we had a few of the new iTouches so that we could try out different photo apps on them with our students - our ones unfortunately don't have a camera on them.  With our youngest students I think they would find Pro HDR too hard as they would have to keep completely still while the two photos were being taken.  For them I guess a point and shoot camera is still the best.  For our Grade 4s doing their How We Express Ourselves unit of inquiry, though, I'd like to experiment with some iTouches and compare them with the photos they can take using the class sets of cameras.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011


The final chapter of Sir Ken Robinson's The Element is about mentors.
Finding our element often requires the aid and guidance of others.  Sometimes this comes from someone who sees something in us that we don't see in ourselves.

The role of mentors:
  • recognizing the spark of interest or delight - they can help an individual drill down to the specific components of the discipline that match that individual's capacity and passion.
  • encouraging - mentors help us believe we can achieve something that seemed improbable of impossible to us before we met them.  They don't allow us to succumb to self-doubt for too long, or the notion that our dreams are too large for us.  They stand by to remind us of the skills we already possess and what we can achieve if we continue to work hard.
  • facilitating - offering us advice and techniques, paving the way for us and allowing us to falter a bit while standing by to help us recover and learn from our mistakes.
  • stretching - effective mentors push us past what we see as our limits.  They don't allow us to succumb to self-doubt and also prevent us from doing less with our lives than we can.
Mentors take a unique and personal place in our lives.  Mentors open doors for us and get involved directly in our journeys.  They show us the next steps and encourage us to take them.

Reflection:  Have we been mentored by others?  Are we in turn acting as mentors to encourage our colleagues and students?

Photo Credit:  Helping Hand by Popofatticus Attribution 

Lucky people: a matter of perspective?

Chapter 7 of Sir Ken Robinson's The Element is about attitude and perspective.

The element is also a matter of attitude.  Good and bad things happen to all of us, it's not what happens to us that makes the difference in our lives it's our attitude towards what happens.  We create and shape the realities of our own lives - getting lucky is a combination of attitudes and behaviour that leads you to opportunities and gives you the confidence to take them.

Perspective:  the ability to look at situations in different ways.  There's a difference between what we are able to perceive and what we actually do perceive.

Lucky people have 4 charactaristics:
  • they maximize chance opportunities - they create, notice and act upon opportunities when they arise
  • they are very effective at listening to their intuition and do work that is designed to boost their intuitive abilities.
  • they expect to be lucky, creating self-fulfilling prophecies because they expect a positive outcome
  • they have an attitude that allows them to turn bad luck into good.  They don't allow ill fortune to overwhelm them, they move quickly to take control of the situation when it isn't going well for them.
Lucky people have the ability to reframe - to look at a situation that fails to go according to plan and turn it into something beneficial.

Reflection:  are our attitudes and behaviours leading us to new opportunities or letting us miss out on them?

Photo Credit:  Good luck and happiness by Pierangelo Rosati AttributionNoncommercialShare Alike 

Barriers and Resistance

Chapter 6 of The Element talks about barriers to finding your element.  These are also discussed by Seth Godin in Linchpin where he refers to the resistance.  This is what Sir Ken Robinson says about barriers:

Personal: attitude - most people have to face internal obstacles of self-doubt and fear as much as any external obstacles of circumstance and opportunity.
Social:  fear of disapproval - especially from family - who have strong views on what you should and shouldn't do with your life.  Many people don't find their element because they don't have the encouragement or confidence to step outside their established circle of relationships.  The decision to play it safe, to take the path of least resistance, can seem irresistible, particularly if you have your own doubts and fears about the alternatives.  Even stronger influences are our friends - we choose our friends as a way of expanding our sense of identity beyond the family.  Pressure to conform to standards and expectations of friends and other social groups can be intense.  Groupthink:  members strivings for unanimity override their motivation to realistically appraise alternative courses of action.  The element is about discovering yourself and you can't do this if you are trapped in a compulsion to conform.
Cultural:  values and forms of behaviour that characterise different social groups.  Culture is a system of permissions.  It's about the attitudes and behaviours that are acceptable and unacceptable in different communities, those that are approved and those that are not.

Reflection:  Are we putting up barriers for our students, preventing them from finding their element?  Are we helping them to break down these barriers?

Photo Credit:  Trapped by Lincolnian (Brian) AttributionShare Alike 

Connection: Finding your Tribe

As well as reading The Element recently, I've also been reading Seth Godin's Linchpin.  In this Seth refers to another book he has written called Tribes.  Sir Ken writes about the importance of finding your tribe in Chapter 5 of The Element.

Often being in your element involves connecting with others who share the same passion.  "Tribe" members can be collaborators or competitors, can share the same vision or have different ones, but there is a common commitment to the thing they feel born to do.  Meeting up with the tribe can be very liberating  - better than pursuing your passion alone.

Tribe involves domain and field:
Domain - activities and disciplines that people are engaged in
Field - the other people who are engaged in it
Often breakthrough ideas come about when someone makes a connection between different ways of thinking, sometimes across different domains.

Connecting with people who share the same passions affirms that you are not alone - it doesn't matter if you like the people as individuals or even the work that they do.  What matters is having validation for the passion you have in common.

Finding your tribe also provides inspiration and provocation to raise the bar on your own achievements.  In every domain, members of a passionate community tend to drive each other to explore the real extent of their talents.

Why can creative teams achieve more together than they can separately?  It's because they bring together 3 key features of intelligence:
Diversity - different people with different but complementary talents
Dynamic - different ways of thinking can be an obstacle to creativity.  Creative teams find ways of using their differences as strenghts, not weaknesses.  They have a process through which their strengths are complementary and compensate for each other's weaknesses too.  They are able to challenge each other as equals and to take criticism as an incentive to raise their game.
Distinct - (not a committee which has members that are interchangeable and represent specific interests)  Creative teams have a distinctive personality and come together to do something specific - they stay together as long as they want to, to get a job done.

Reflection:  As teachers have we found our tribe?  How are we helping students to connect with others and find their tribes too?

Photo Credit:  Connecting Communities by Shawn  AttributionNoncommercialShare Alike 


Another reflection based on The Element by Sir Ken Robinson:

Being in the element, especially being in the zone, doesn't take energy away from you - it gives it to you.  This is also our mental or psychic energy.  It is not a fixed substance but rises and fills with our passion and commitment to what we are doing at the time.  Being in your element is empowering because it's a way of unifying our energies.  it's a way of feeling deeply connected with our own sense of identity and it comes about through a sense of relaxing, of feeling perfectly natural to be doing what you're doing.  It's a profound sense of connecting to your own internal pulse or energy.  When we connect with our own energy we're more open to the energy of other people.  The more alive we feel, the more we can contribute to the lives of others.  Being in the zone is about using your particular kind of intelligence in an optimal way.

Reflection:  as teachers isn't it important for us to be in our element, so that we can contribute to our students' energies and help them find their element?

Photo Credit:  Fluid Painting Explosion by Mark Chadwick AttributionNoncommercialNo Derivative Works 

Intelligence, Imagination and Creativity

Another post based on notes and thoughts from The Element by Sir Ken Robinson.

Most people believe that intelligence and creativity are different things, however you can't be creative without acting intelligently - the highest form of intelligence is thinking creatively.  Most people have a narrow view of intelligence, tending to think of it mainly in terms of academic ability.  

  • Creativity is very much like literacy - if a person can't read or write you don't assume they are incapable of it, just that he or she hasn't learned how to do it.  The same is true of creativity - when people say they are not creative it is often because they don't know what's involved or how creativity works in practice.
  • It's a myth that creativity is part of a special domain like the arts - they do involve a high level of creativity but so can science, maths, running a business, being an athlete .... you can be creative at anything at all that involves your intelligence.
  • It's a myth that creativity is a fixed trait.  It's entirely possible to become more creative in your work and life.
Imagination underpins every uniquely human achievement.  Imagination is "the power to bring to mind things tht are not present to our senses".  Through imagination we can create.  When we release our mind from the here and now we are free.  Imagination is the foundation of everything uniquely and distinctively human - it's the basis of language, the arts, sciences, philosophy and the vast intricacies of human culture.

Imagination is not the same as creativity.  Creativity takes the process of imagination to another level.  "The process of having original ideas that have value"  A creative person has to do more than imagine - they have to DO something - put their imagination to work to make something new, to come up with new solutions to problems, even to think of new problems or questions.  Creativity is applied imagination.

Creativity is a process - generating new ideas, imagining different possibilities, considering alternative options, developing those ideas by judging which works best (evaluating) and refining them.  Creative work involves using media of some sort and tapping into your talents.  Creative people love the media they work with.  To develop our creative abilities we also need to develop our practical skills in the media we want to use.  Being creative is about making fresh connections so we see things in new ways and from different perspectives.  Creativity uses much more than our brains - in many instances (dance, song, performance) we are the medium of our creative work.

With group work success is not because they all think the same way, but because they are all so different.  Members have different talents and interests and these differences stimulate each other to create something they couldn't have come up with individually.

Reflection:  Are we focusing too much on intelligence and not enough on imagination and creativity?

Photo Credit:  Fingerpaint by Sandor Weisz AttributionNoncommercial 

Aptitude, Attitude, Passion and Opportunity

As posted before, I'm a member of  a professional reading group and our first book is The Element by Sir Ken Robinson.  The following series of posts will be based on notes taken from the various chapters of the book and will form a basis for our discussions.

Chapter 1 deals with why many people never connect with their true talents.  Because of this they

don't know what they're really capable of achieving.  In that sense they don't know who they really are.

The element is the meeting point between natural aptitude and personal passion.  When people are in their element they connect with something fundamental to their sense of identity, purpose and well-being.

The element has two main features and there are two conditions for being in it.  The features are aptitude and passion.  The conditions are attitude and opportunity.
Aptitude - a natural facility for something
Passion - loving what you do
Attitude - our personal perspective on our selves and our circumstances - high achievers share similar attitudes:  perseverance, self-belief, optimism, ambition and frustration.  How we perceive our circumstances and how we create and take opportunities depends largely on what we expect of ourselves.
Opportunity - whether or not we discover our element depends on the opportunities we have or create and if we take them.

My reflections:  As teachers are we tapping into our students' aptitudes and passions?  Are we encouraging the attitudes that will help them to succeed?  Are we giving students opportunites to discover their element?

Photo Credit:  Question of passion  by Emily's mind AttributionNoncommercialNo Derivative Works 

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Following the Map: values, opinions, policies, procedures, practice and change

People disagree for a plethora of reasons, but mostly because they have different sets of values and they are then put into a collaborative situation in which these values are subjected to scrutiny by the other groups or individuals ... Unfortunately, the non-educators who assume leadership roles in the "realm" of education tend to have their opinions turn into options and then into policies, procedures, and practice.   Alfie Kohn

Policies and procedures are what Seth Godin calls "the map".  Or rather he says "There is no map".  The whole point is that you should forge your own path and draw your own map of how to get there - but before you decide where you're going and how you're getting there, you first need to know where you are.  This leads me to probably the most powerful two sentences that I've read so far, the one where it feels like Seth is actually looking over my shoulder or right into my head:  
The ability to see the world as it is begins with an understanding that perhaps it's not your job to change what can't be changed.  Particularly if the act of working on that change harms you and your goals in the process.  
Basically what he is saying is leave the unchangeable alone, don't kill yourself trying to bring about change.  Learn what you can learn;  then move on.  

He goes on to write about 4 different kinds of people and how they respond to change.  Of these only one, the linchpin, is focused on outcomes and passionate about bringing about change, the rest actively or passively resist it:

  • The fundamentalist zealot:  change is seen as a threat, so is curiosity, so is competition.  Huge amounts of energy and passion are invested in maintaining his own view.
  • The bureaucrat:  follows the rules but brings little effort or passion to his job.
  • The whiner:  fears change, even though he has no passion for what he is currently doing so puts no effort into making things better, instead stays focused on keeping things as they are.
In situations where value is put on being a team player, it's often difficult to speak up and upset the status quo.  The three characters above are map followers, not map drawers.  Mistakes are seen in a negative light, detours are prohibited, policies and procedures continue to be drawn up, round pegs continue to be pushed into square holes and learning comes lower down the list of priorities than teaching to the test. 

Many schools today are a bit like this.  For a variety of reasons, some connected with government policies and funding, many schools cannot make changes to their programmes.  There are national curriculums, standardized tests, league tables, inspections.  There are also some educators and schools who are questioning these things, asking what is the purpose of education.  These people have realized that it's sometimes possible to get a new job without having to leave your old one, just by doing your old job in a new way, by focusing on the areas where it is possible to make a difference.  Sometimes you don't have to have permission to do your old job better, you just have to decide to do it.  Sometimes, though, it's just not possible, sometimes all you can do is to tear up the map and head out in a new direction.

Photo Credit:  Stuff close up:  where to go now? by Jeroen Bosman AttributionNoncommercialShare Alike

Sunday, October 23, 2011

My Sentence

I've met Daniel Pink, been to one of his workshops and read his books.  Today I decided to try to answer the question he asks in the following video:  What's your sentence?

I started off with a lot of words which I arranged into 4 sentences.  This seemed like the wrong approach as the sentence was turning into a paragraph.  Then I pulled out the really important words:  students, learning, teachers, transformation, support, model, mentor, coach.  There were some things I decided to leave out that I'd originally put in (co-planning, co-teaching, co-assessing) as they just seemed too cumbersome to include.  I also started with the 6 strands of ICT in the PYP (investigating, creating, communicating, collaborating, organizing and becoming responsible digital citizens) which I then combined together into 21st century skills.
She supports, models, mentors and coaches teachers, giving them the confidence to use digital technologies to transform learning as they prepare their students for the 21st century.

I'm not really sure about the final sentence - I'd love some feedback.  Is there too much emphasis on teachers and not enough on students?  At the moment I do spend a lot more time with students than I do with teachers, though I know the balance is wrong as I believe teachers need to be empowered to use technology themselves with their students and to rely less on me leading the lessons.  We do co-plan everything, but most of the time and for most of the teachers it's me modelling how to use the tools.  Should there be more emphasis on learning (maybe for both students and teachers)?  I'm also not sure about the word model or where it is in the sentence - how can I rework it?

Another thing I'm thinking about is whether or not this sentence is unique enough.  Aren't there lots of educators out there with sentences like this?  Is that a problem?

Thanks in advance to my PLN - you are awesome!

    Technology -v- Nature: What are we missing out on?

    I came across this video on the Using ICTs @ ISOCS website and thought it worth posting here to amplify the message.  The video questions what students are missing out on when they spend more time in the virtual world than in nature.  Thanks for sharing this Kathy.

    Saturday, October 22, 2011

    Digital Gifts

    Last night I Googled my name.  Since mine is a pretty unique name, I'm sure that all the 25,000 plus hits were related to me.  I started to realise this is a very large digital footprint - it's made up of posts I've written, comments I've made on other people's posts and a lot of things that other people have written about me based on different posts, presentations or things I have done such as different committees or groups I belong to now or have been a part of in the past.  I even found online forums I contributed to as early as 1994.

    I've started to think about how important the internet is in spreading ideas very quickly at virtually no cost, something Seth Godin refers to as "digital gifts".  I've also started to think more about whether or not we are doing our students a disservice by keeping much of what they are doing within the "walled garden" of the school domain.  Many of the excellent things they are doing with technology should really start to form part of their own digital footprints.  I wonder, if by insisting on anonymity when we publish student work, we are actually hindering the creation of their digital footprint.  If the only things that are found about them are inappropriate photos on Facebook, for example, rather than evidence of real work and achievements that have been completed at school, what impression are these students making on their digital footprint?

    There is a lot of talk about keeping children safe online and therefore not publishing names and photographs.  Recently I've also read a number of reports about how the dangers of online predators has been over-exaggerated.  Of course, there is some danger, and one of the things we do as teachers is to educate our students how to stay safe and to keep others safe.  But compared with the dangers of teen drink-driving or drug taking, for example, or even being hurt or abused by someone they actually know, I would imagine the chances of being harmed by an online predator is much less.

    When I first started teaching I was involved in the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme at a school in England.  Students who completed their gold award got to go to London and be presented with it by Prince Philip.  The school was very proud of these achievements and the full names and ages of the students and where they lived was always published in the local papers.  Their photos appeared too.  I can't remember anyone at that time thinking that it was dangerous to publish this information to the local community or that this would increase the chances of these students becoming targets.

    Getting back to the idea of digital gifts, I started to think about all the positive things students can do online and the audience that they can reach.  A gift is something that is given away for free.  Godin writes about how the artist Monet gave gifts of his paintings to his friends, and other paintings he sold, yet now these paintings are hanging in art galleries and museums where they can be seen for free or for a small donation by millions.  It is these millions appreciating the art that means we now call Monet a great artist and we can all share in his gift.

    Godin writes about trade (for money) and gifts (for free).  A good example is open source software, used now by millions of people for free.  Another example could be Wikipedia or even Facebook.  I know I appreciate the digital gifts I receive when I look at photos on Flickr or watch music videos on YouTube.  Godin says "the power lies in the creation of abundance", for example the more people who use the internet, the better it works.  He also writes that the giver usually comes out further ahead, which is surprising because he also says it's not necessary to reciprocate a gift as this involves keeping score and monetizing the gift - but gifts don't have to cost money, most of the time they just cost time and effort.

    Why do people spend so much time and effort creating digital gifts?  Most probably do it because they want feedback, they want to connect with others.  They do it because it's fun and they enjoy it.  When I think about most of the things I do outside of school, yet connected with education, these are not things that anyone has told me to do.  When I skype with a teacher in another country and help him or her with something, I'm happy to do it for free.  When I present at conferences, nobody pays me to do it, but I enjoy connecting and sharing what I do with others and learning from them in turn. When I make a website with resources on for students to use, I'm happy to give them something useful.  When I write a blog and share tools with the teachers at my school I'm pleased when they find them helpful for their students.  Basically I'm motivated to do a good job, even when these things are not recognised as my job and I'm always amazed at the wider impact.  The small resources blog I update for our teachers weekly has been viewed thousands of times - and more than half of these views are by people who are not even living in the country where I teach.  This audience creates the chance to share a digital gift, and this audience then amplifies the gift by sharing it with others.

    The interesting thing I've gone on to read is that it doesn't matter if people don't want your gift.  Godin talks about buskers.  Many people walk by them who don't want or value the gift.  The busker carries on performing - he or she doesn't change what he's doing or run after the passers-by.  Other people choose to stop and watch or interact with the performer.  Godin writes "Great work is not created for everyone.  If it were, it would be average work."  What does the audience give back to the busker - well sometimes money, but often just time or thanks and respect, the things money can't buy.  I'm sure this is why lots of people blog - it's for the feedback, for the connections, for the respect - when you get those things you continue to blog, to tweet, to share your gifts, to amplify others' gifts.  In the real world, if the busker, who is giving away his or her gift for free, does not get respect or thanks, then clearly it's time to move on to a different street and find a different audience.

    Update:  What a coincidence - right after I'd published this post I noticed the upcoming #elemchat was about digital footprints.  I'd now like to add on the comment from @whatedsaid which I think is important to consider as we teach students about their online presence:
    if teachers don't have a digital footprint themselves, how can they teach students to build positive ones?

    Photo Credit:  African musicians by Jason le Froy AttributionNoncommercial 

    Could have, Would have, Should have, Didn't: The problem of procrastination

    When I was younger I was much more spontaneous - when I decided to go and work in the USA, for example, I didn't think much about the decision, I just went down to Victoria train station and booked a stand-by ticket on Freddie Laker's Skytrain, which was probably the first of the low-price no-frills airlines. It cost me about thirty pounds.  I suppose at the time I thought that if things didn't work out I'd just buy myself another cheap ticket and come home.  At some point however, I started thinking more about the consequences of my decisions - this was probably around the time I had children and couldn't just consider myself.  Last year, when I considered moving schools, I spent months weighing up the pros and cons - and then eventually didn't move after all.  With hindsight I probably should have made a different decision.

    As I'm reading on through Seth Godin's Linchpin, I'm now at the chapter where he writes about resistance, something he calls the lizard brain.  This is the part of you that wants to stay safe, and as such resists change.  It comes from our very early ancestors - from the time when survival was the most important thing.  What this chapter addresses is that survival and happiness or success are in fact two very different things.

    Godin writes that the lizard brain is encouraged by schooling, where you are taught to be obedient and to fit in and to get good grades.  It's then further encouraged by working in places where you have to follow the rule book, where you do things because "that's the way we've always done it" and because you fear what might be up ahead.  Schools encourage the lizard brain because they encourage a fear of failure.  However successful people are successful because they don't fear failure, they know it is something to learn from:
    They don't learn that they shouldn't have tried in the first place and they don't learn that they are always right and the world is always wrong and they don't learn that they are losers.  They learn that the tactics they used didn't work or that the person they used them on didn't respond.  You become a winner because you're good at losing.  The hard part about losing is that you might permit it to give strength to the resistance, that you might believe you don't deserve to win, that you might, in some dark corner of your soul, give up.  Don't.
    Failure isn't easy.  Change is hard.  You have to let yourself get comfortable with being uncertain and uncomfortable.  But this is what Godin says about discomfort:
    The road to comfort is crowded and it rarely gets you there.  Ironically, it's those who seek out discomfort that are able to make a difference and find their footing.  Discomfort brings engagement and change.  Discomfort means you are doing something that others were unlikely to do, because they're busy hiding out in the comfortable zone.
    Later he goes on to write:
    Fear of living without a map is the main reason people are so insistent that we tell them what to do.  The reasons are pretty obvious.  If it's someone else's map, it's not your fault if it doesn't work out. 
    When I left Amsterdam with my family and moved to Thailand we'd planned this move for 18 months and the children and myself had even started learning Thai. But we didn't sell our house in Holland and we made sure that we'd have a job to return to if we wanted to come back.  This is what Seth Godin calls Plan B.  As it turned out we didn't need a Plan B, Plan A was a great success - it was actually the making of my children.

    At the crossroads in our lives it's often hard to make a decision.  Sometimes you reach the crossroads having travelled down a hard road, and still the lizard brain is saying " Don't be stupid, why change, why move again, why take the risk, why not stay somewhere comfortable, who cares if you have a lousy job, why not stifle all your ideas and principles, sit down, shut up, just fit in and stay safe?"  But what this chapter is about is not giving in to the resistance, not selling yourself short and slowly dying inside.

    As a technology teacher it's easy to reject that way of thinking.  We have to change.  Each year technology is moving so fast that if we don't jump into the stream and swim with the current we will be left very far behind.  Yesterday I looked at a school website and found their IT programme - I saw that they were still teaching PowerPoint.  I quickly closed the window and moved on.  Change means moving from the known to the unknown.  That might be dangerous - but it might also be exciting.  Certainly I don't remember my students ever getting excited about PowerPoint in the past, but I do see them getting excited by some of the different Web 2.0 presentation tools they are using now.

    In this chapter Godin makes a list of things that people do when they are procrastinating instead of moving forward.  These include:
    • starting committees instead of taking action
    • producing average work that will fit in and be ignored
    • not asking questions
    • asking too many questions
    • criticizing anyone who is doing something differently (because if they succeed you will have to do it differently too).
    The image that accompanies this post was taken from a friend's Facebook wall.  As I read it last week I started to think about why, when people say "If I'd known then what I know now I'd have done it all differently" they then keep going with the same old thing.  Again, it's the lizard brain, the fear taking over.  The final part of the most recent chapter I've read in Linchpin is all about fear and anxiety (and the difference between them).  Godin says "Anxiety is practicing failure in advance".  A very good friend of mine suffers terribly from anxiety.  She tells me she sometimes wakes up suddenly in the night worrying about anything and everything - did she lock the front door, did she turn off the pump in the garden pond? - she is anxious about all the things that could possibly go wrong or as Godin puts it "the future that's not going to happen".  Godin writes about the difference between fear and anxiety - fear is of a real and present threat and you should pay attention to it, anxiety is fear of an unknown threat or future and doesn't protect you from danger but paralyses you and stops you from doing great things.

    So how do you deal with procrastination and with the anxiety that is stopping you from doing all the things you could or should do?  Godin tells us we need to sit with it, acknowledge it and let it burn itself out.  He says we should not scratch the itch.

    So, after all these thoughts, where am I now?  For a start I think I'm done with procrastination: I realise I need to make a brand new ending and move in a different direction.  It seems that for a couple of years now I've been pushing a rock uphill.  I get it a little way and then it rolls back down again.  I'm worried that pretty soon this rock is going to roll right over me and flatten me!  Now I know I need to start in a different place.  I need to start at the top of the hill and to push the rock down so that it gathers momentum as it moves.  And to do that I need to go and find the right hill to push it down and the right people to help me push it.

    Friday, October 21, 2011

    The art of teaching, the gift and the passion

    In my last 2 schools I've been a member of a book group.  This group met every month to discuss a novel that we had chosen as a group - certainly some of the books I read in these groups would not have been books I'd have chosen myself, and yet reading something new and different was interesting.  I enjoyed the social side of it too - having discussions with people in very different areas of the school (and some not even at school) often gave me a different perspective on things.  At my last school I was also a member of a group that read professional books.  When I moved to my current school such a group did not exist, but last year a colleague and I discussed setting one up and chose the first book for the group, The Element by Sir Ken Robinson.  We wanted this to be a very open group, not just for the teachers at our school but also one that would be open for other local teachers to join.

    Recently I was recommended another book to read, Linchpin by Seth Godin.  This book, not really about education, has been a bit of a revelation to me about the value of work and the institutions and people we work for.  The last chapter I've read has been about artists.

    Seth Godin doesn't define an artist in the traditional sense, but as someone "who uses bravery, insight, creativity and boldness to challenge the status quo."  He writes that art is "a personal gift that changes the recipient.  The medium doesn't matter.  The intent does.  Art is a personal act of courage."  This got me thinking about teachers as artists, learning as a gift to students, and the art of teaching in general.  Godin says  "An artist is an individual who creates art.  The more people you change, the more you change them, the more effective your art is."  When I think about teachers creating the conditions for learning and how powerful this is, it makes me realise what amazing artists teachers can be and how each day they can create the gift of learning and give it to their students.

    Later on in the chapter Seth Godin asks:  "Would Shakespeare blog?  Does the technology used by the artist appear on the scene to match what the artist needs, or do artists do their work with the tools that are available?  Shakespeare didn't invent plays, he used them.  Salinger didn't invent the novel, he wrote a few."  Today there are lots of teachers, principals and students blogging, reflecting on their practice and their learning - hundreds of thousands of people are reading these posts, interacting with the writers and learning from them and maybe changing their ideas and therefore these writers are also artists.  How did these individuals reflect before they blogged?  How are teachers, principals and students who don't blog reflecting?  Reading back over the chapter it seems that the most important aspect of art is that is is often given to us freely.  We can all enjoy walking around an art gallery admiring the paintings, we can all enjoy listening to music on the radio. What about if an artist or a musician kept their art to themselves?  The world would be a poorer place.

    Reading further, Godin writes about how art is a gift.  He says "the gift is as much for you as it is for the recipient" and because of this he says it's important to know who you are giving to as this allows feedback which helps you improve.  It also helps you to ignore those who don't want the gift.
    It's impossible to make art for everyone.  There are too many conflicting goals and there's far too much noise.  Art for everyone is mediocre, bland and ineffective.  If you don't pinpoint your audience you end up making your art for the loudest, crankiest critics.  And that's a waste.  Instead, focus on the audience that you choose, and listen to them to the exclusion of all others.  Go ahead and make this sort of customer happy.
    According to Godin, artists don't need someone telling them what to do.  He says:  "An artist's job is to change us.  When you have a boss, your job is to please the boss, not to change her .... the moment you treat that person like someone in charge of your movements and your output, you are a cog, not an artist."  I think this is why many teachers become disillusioned - they are teaching to the test rather than allowing students' own curiosity to drive the learning.  For me, a school where inquiry drives the curriculum seems one that is most likely to produce artists.

    In our first reading group book, the Element, Sir Ken Robinson talks a lot about passion.  Seth Godin talks about it too.  He says that passion is caring so much about your art that you will do almost anything to give it away.  He talks about the passion for spreading your art, surrendering some of the elements that you love in order to help the other parts to thrive.  Passion is also about not surrendering the parts that are truly essential.

    In my very first year of teaching I worked with teenagers who had learning and behaviour difficulties (in those days the schools were streamed and I taught the "bottom" class).  At the same time a colleague of mine, who worked with students who were excluded from these regular streamed classes, was in her last year of teaching.  She was quite an inspiration for me, as she was dealing with the students that were even more difficult to deal with than the ones in my class.  She retired at the end of the year and went to live on an island in the Indian Ocean where she worked for VSO teaching the local children.  I have no idea what the conditions were like for her, but I have often imagined her sitting under a palm tree with a blackboard surrounded by children who were eager to learn.  She was passionate about being a teacher and giving the gift of learning away.  I'm sure she didn't feel the need to teach to standardized tests.

    Recently our daughter returned from Kenya where she had spent a week in a village school.  She also talked about how the girls there were passionate about staying on at school, about learning, about how they would do anything, including prostitution, to raise the money needed to pay the school fees.  It's a big contrast to the life she has led, in fairly privileged international schools.  While there she painted 2 big murals on the school walls, one of which was about the common values that are shared by the students there and at her own school.

    All around the world I see there are wonderful teachers, passionate about what they do, giving the gift of education.  It makes me realise how proud I am to be part of such a idealistic and principled profession.  And this also reminded me of another blog post I read a couple of months ago by Zoe Weil who wrote:
    Teachers are the agents of the future. Will our world be populated by people ready and able to meet that future as creative and critical thinkers; as wise, compassionate and knowledgeable citizens; as skilled and motivated solutionaries within their professions? The answer to this question lies with teachers. More than any other profession, teaching has the power to create a healthy, just, and peaceful world (or not). It has the ability to seed our society with informed, caring and engaged citizens (or not). It has the capacity to inspire lifelong learning and a passion for knowledge, understanding, and innovation (or not). Is there anything more important than this?

    Photo Credit:  Yay! 999th! by Gabriela Camerotti  AttributionNoncommercial 

    10 of the best: The IB Learner Profile - Caring

    This is another post in the 10 of the best series.  This one was first published in July 2010 and created a lot of interest at the time and since.  Again I'm sharing this for my new readers.
    I've just read an excellent blog post today on Caring in Education which I found following a tweet from @vickyloras.  I was so excited, as I finally managed to meet Vicky in person yesterday afternoon after following her on Twitter for a while.  We are both teachers, we both arrived in Switzerland at the same time last year and by a strange coincidence both ended up living in the same place, and while we have had different experiences we have a lot of common ground too.

    Caring is one of the attributes of the IB Learner Profile.  The IB programmes "promote the education of the whole person, emphasizing intellectual, personal, emotional and social growth through all domains of knowledge ..... educating the whole person for a life of active, responsible citizenship."  The IB Learner Profile applies to everyone at the school:  students, teachers, administrators and parents, who are expected to support the learning.  Caring, therefore is something that teachers have to do explicitly.

    The IB describes a caring person in the following way:
    They show empathy, compassion and respect towards the needs and feelings of others.  They have a personal commitment to service and act to make a positive difference to the lives of others and to the environment.
    Nel Noddings' article discusses the reciprocal nature of caring.  Most teachers are hard-working and care about their students, they have goals and try to encourage the students to reach these goals.  Sometimes these goals may be set by the school or an outside examining body.  From the outside, Nel argues that these teachers appear caring, but this is not the whole picture as it does not take into account the students' feelings of being cared for (or not) and the students' views of whether they think the teacher is a caring person.  In fact Nel mentions that some students confuse class control and hard work with caring.  Although in these classes the students may be working hard and doing what they are told, they may have little interest in what they are doing - the teacher has not really engaged them or explored topics of mutual interest and therefore they do not really feel cared for.

    Caring does not happen in isolation - it is a two-way process that involves the teacher paying attention to the feelings and expressions of the students and getting feedback.  It is empathetic, rather than sympathetic and it involves responding to the actual feelings of the students in a positive way whether or not the teacher shares those feelings.  It also involves a response from the students so that the teacher can see the caring has been received.  Nel says:
    Without an affirmative response from the cared-for, we cannot call an encounter or relation caring.
    When a teacher is caring, he or she is automatically differentiating as s/he knows the needs of each individual student and helps each one to achieve their goals.  It's important to engage in dialogue to discover their needs, interests, strengths, weaknesses and how they best learn.  Once the students feel listened to, that their feelings are accepted, they will begin to trust and accept what the teacher is trying to teach.  The teacher also benefits as he or she has a greater understanding of how to plan lessons to reach all the students - thus by caring the teacher becomes a better teacher too!

    Earlier this morning I also read a guest post on Ken Wilson's blog by Sue Lyon Jones.  I urge you to read her whole post, as it is fascinating.  In a nutshell, without any teacher training at all, Sue took on a group of "unteachable" kids who had either dropped out or been excluded from school because of disruptive behaviour.  The most important thing Sue did at the outset was to talk to them and show a genuine interest in them.  The students realised she cared, and they started to shape up, behave and care about themselves too.  Sue describes this job as the most rewarding job she'd done - so she got a lot out of it as well!  Sue lists what she learned from this experience:
    • There is no such thing as a “one size fits all” lesson. Students are individuals and need to be treated as such.
    • Find out what your students’ interests are and what motivates them, and work those things into your lessons.
    • Listen to your students and be sensitive to their needs.
    • Create a positive classroom atmosphere and make opportunities for fun – students who are having fun rarely (if ever) misbehave.
    • Praise your students sincerely and often for good work done.
    • Don’t spoon-feed your students – they need to be challenged and encouraged to think for themselves.
    • Be a mentor to your students; nurture their hopes and dreams and encourage them to aim high – if you have low expectations of your students, then they will live down to them.
    And finally (and perhaps most importantly)
    • There is no such thing as an unteachable student. All students have potential – the key to unlocking it is making a connection with them and finding out what makes them tick.

    My final thoughts on this can be summed up in another tweet I read earlier this week:
    If we truly are caring teachers, if we are engaging in dialogue with our students, listening to them and planning our lessons accordingly, and we are already getting feedback from them in order to inform our planning, then we are making a positive difference in their lives.  So what on earth would we have to be afraid of with students evaluating us in return?

    Photo Credit:  The Joy of Teaching by J.C. Rojas

    Saturday, October 15, 2011

    Show, not tell.

    Yesterday I read another chapter in Seth Godin's Linchpin.  This was about the pain of being mediocre.  Although Godin has argued that many employers are looking for employees who are inexpensive, reliable and present, people who don't stand out, employees who follow the rules and end up merely mediocre, he goes on to look at this from the point of view of the employee.  When you are just a cheap drone that can be replaced and disrespected, he says, then there is little job satisfaction.  He writes about how "finding security in mediocrity is an exhausting process."  When you fit in, you can always be replaced by countless others who will also fit in.  Fitting in is no guarantee of security, especially if you are fitting into a company run by people "indulging their egos by hiring people dumber than they are."  Of course, in such a company being smarter than them is certainly not going to lead to job security either, so really you are in a no-win situation if you are working in an organisation where knowledge and experience are seen as threats.

    In the second half of this chapter Godin writes about what is needed today to find a rewarding job.  He says you need more than a resume:  "Great jobs, world-class jobs, jobs people kill for - those jobs don't get filled by people emailing in resumes."  Nowadays you need "to show, not tell.  Projects are the new resumes ...  You are not your resume, you are your work".  Reflecting on this I'm thinking about how teachers today who are looking to work in great schools often need a professional blog or a class blog - a sort of ePortfolio of what he or she has achieved and of what he or she is thinking as a teacher.  I'm thinking that a traditional resume, or a half hour interview probably don't give a very good idea of someone's 21st century skills - or how that teacher is developing those skills in his or her students.

    I was really interested to read the survey of 20,000 creative professionals who were asked what motivates them.  The top 5 answers were:

    • challenge and responsibility
    • flexibility
    • a stable work environment
    • money
    • professional development
    Clearly the environment you work in and the values that people bring to their work are what motivates them to do well.  Money, as I've written about before after reading Daniel Pink's book Drive, is an extrinsic motivator and often doesn't lead to better work.  Most people would be happy to work for less money in an atmosphere that was more positive, challenging and where they were respected.  The final paragraph of this chapter sums this all up nicely:
    If you need to conceal your true nature to get in the door, understand that you'll probably have to conceal your true nature to keep that job.  This is the one and only decision you get to make.  You get to choose.  You can work for a company that wants indispensable people, or you can work for a company that works to avoid them.

    Photo credit:  Some people are such followers by Nina Matthews Attribution