Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Different roles

I've had a number of conversations recently about what exactly I do in my current role.  I was employed as a teacher and then as a coordinator, but there are many other roles that it's necessary to take on to successfully transform student learning through technology.

A collaborator:  collaborative planning is at the heart of the PYP and I work with teachers to plan, teach and evaluate student learning.  My job has to start with being a collaborator - without this I couldn't do any of the rest of it.
A finder of resources:  often as a result of the discussions we have during collaborative planning sessions, teachers come to me with questions about how to do things and I try to find resources to help them.  As well as this I try to help them find resources to support student learning.  These could be YouTube videos, websites, Web 2.0 tools or apps.
An innovator:  as a way of carrying out the previous role, I often try out new things.  If teachers want to do something, I ferret out a few different tools or apps, try them out and report back to the teachers on which ones I think will be best suited to their needs.  I'm constantly looking for better ways of doing things.  I like finding creative solutions to problems that the teachers have.
A learner:  I love to learn.  Technology is constantly changing, and as I'm always saying "even if you are on the right road, if you sit down in the middle of it you will get run over".  I like to learn about new ideas, new ways of doing things and new ways of thinking.  I believe teachers should model lifelong learning for their students, and I think that technology teachers/integration specialists/coaches should in turn model it for the teachers they are supporting.
A provider of professional development:  sometimes I think that every lesson I teach provides professional development to the teachers, as if the technology or the tool or the app is something they are already familiar with then they don't need me in their lessons.  I'm only there to push the learning forward.  I've tried many different models of professional development, but the one that makes the most difference to classroom practice is one-on-one coaching.
A teacher:  I've put this one last as I think I'm gradually moving away from this, but in some ways it should be first as I spend more time doing this than any of the other roles mentioned above.  I work with students in their classrooms, in the lab and in the library to help them become digitally literate and responsible digital citizens.

Photo Credit:  More glowstick fun by Sharyn Morrow AttributionNoncommercialNo Derivative Works 

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A November Day

Today I've got to Chapter 11 of Curriculum 21 and it's by Alan November.  I'm lucky to have meet Alan in person, many years ago at an ECIS IT Conference, and I always enjoy listening to him speak or reading what he writes.  This chapter is about how students often have to power down when they go into schools as many things are blocked or forbidden.  Of course smartphones, skype, social media and other tools can be very disruptive to education - or at least to classroom management - but they can also be used to transform the learning experience for students.

Alan November writes:
This is the first time in history when many children are learning to use powerful tools outside the range of adult supervision.  What concerns many of us is that our worst fear of students abusing these tools has a much higher change of happening without teachers and parents providing appropriate role models   ....   What about if we were to transform the culture of teaching and learning to adapt to the power of these tools?  After all, our children are growing up at a time when they have instant access to the Web for information and global communication in their back pocket.  And it is nearly free.
This is something that educators should be talking about and planning for.  Several years ago I often gave advice to parents to have their computer in a family room, not to let children have it in their bedrooms where they could access anything completely unsupervised - both good and bad.  And then in 2005 my own children started with a tablet programme at school and this advice seemed redundant - they had their tablets with them all the time.  They used them for their homework - which they did in their bedrooms.  Suddenly it became imperative to talk with them about the use - and abuse - of these devices.  Our conversations were not about what they should not be doing - we turned the conversations around to how to be responsible digital citizens.

This year we stared a 1:1 programme with our Grade 4 and 5 students on one of our campuses.  It's interesting to compare the different campuses, one of which has carts of laptops that are shared between a whole grade and the other where the students have their own laptop in their classroom.   I was talking with the campus head today about how empowering it is that the students all have their own machines.  I'm interested in the fact that it's on this small primary campus that the greatest leaps forward seem to be being made.

A couple of days ago I was looking at an acceptable use policy for another international school and discussing it with one of my colleagues.  We noticed that there were many rules about what not to do and the consequences that would happen if these rules were broken.  I started to think about something I was told when I first started teaching: to talk to students about the behaviour you want to see, not the behaviour that you want to stop.  For example if a student is talking loudly and distracting others, the positive thing to say is "please talk quieter".  If a student is using a laptop inappropriately, I'm not sure that taking the laptop off the student is going to change that behaviour (though it will obviously stop him/her doing it during that lesson).  Perhaps a better way of dealing with this is to give the student something positive to do with the laptop - a role or job that is valuable for the rest of the class, for example a scribe or a researcher.  At the end of this chapter Alan November also writes about this.  Rather than asking students to stop using certain things or blocking certain websites, we should be asking how we can empower students to be more responsible for their own learning, how we can encourage them to contribute to the learning community.   To do that we need to change the culture of teaching and learning away from one of control and towards one of empowerment.

Photo Credit:  I took this photo at the end of the day from the staff room, before leaving school to drive home.  It doesn't really fit with the post at all, except that it was a beautiful November evening, and as I'm leaving the school this year I treasure the one day a week I spend on this remarkable campus with an amazing set of educators.  The photo was taken on my iPhone using Pro HDR. 

Three Coaching Models

As I read further in the ISTE publication Technology, Coaching and Community, I'm reading now about different coaching models.

Cognitive Coaching
This type of coaching is targeting ways of working that lead to shaping and reshaping thinking and problem solving.  This model was originally developed by Art Costa and Bob Garmston.  The section  that I read on this was interesting but I don't think I'm really going to be involved much in this type of coaching.

Instructional Coaching
This type of coaching targets teaching practices that impact on how students learn.  Specifically this type of coaching focuses of classroom management, content planning, instruction and assessment for learning. I found this section more useful as using technology in the classroom certainly requires a different way of managing the classroom, and I feel that during our collaborative planning meetings I do have an input into the content, instruction and assessment.  However it is the third sort of coaching that I find most relevant to what I'm attempting to achieve this year.

Peer Coaching
This involves training teachers to help their colleagues integrate technology.  I think I like this model the best as the focus here is on collaboration and on the needs of the teachers within their teams.  We don't much time for professional development, and this way the coaching is embedded into the job that teachers are already doing and the people who are already in their teams.

In my first year at my school I ran "Techie Breakie" sessions for one teacher per grade level.  These teachers were ones who had already shown an interest in using technology more effectively and who were prepared to be a mentor to others in his or her grade level.  On reflection I feel this was a bit of a slow and indirect way of transforming the use of technology at school and perhaps some of these teachers were not really ready to fully jump into the social media tools that I was showing them - now though, two years later, I find they are using many of the tools that I introduced to them during these sessions and advocating their use to others in their teams.  Over the past 2 years the culture of the school has changed so that Web 2.0 is just seen as a normal tool of learning.

Further on in the ISTE publication are the words that made the biggest impact on me:
Learning with technology is more important than learning about technology
Teachers who are starting to use social media as a form of professional development are already learning with the technology as they collaborate with others around the world.  This is much more effective than me running "How to" sessions about the use of different software, hardware or Web 2.0 tools - and they do get professional development in these with their students during the time I am supporting their classes.

Another tip is to share your progress.  It would be great to have time during staff meetings for teachers to do this, but unfortunately our schedule is already very heavy.  Sharing is more likely to happen within teams, but I feel it would be even more powerful if it could be across teams - with teachers seeing what is happening in many different parts of the school.

Photo Credit:  Arrow found the target by Melilab AttributionNoncommercial 

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Digital Portfolios

Last week I was in a couple of meeting where portfolios were discussed.  From an IT point of view, the only portfolio I  really find useful for my students is a digital one.  It's not possible to print-out an audio file or a movie or an animation, so it's not possible to put many of the multimedia projects the students have created into their paper portfolio that gets sent home twice a year.

A digital portfolio, however, is a great way to collect the work students have done on a computer or using Web 2.0 tools as it is a multimedia collection that provides evidence of a student's knowledge, skills and understanding.  A digital portfolio can be continued by a student from one school year to the next.  This year our Grade 4 students who moved up into Grade 5 "took" their blogs (which are similar to ePorfolios) with them and continued to add on their work - this means that now the digital portfolios are also demonstrating their growth through time.

In Curriculum 21, David Niguidula writes:
When done well, a digital portfolio outlines a student's learning journey in much the same way that a curriculum map describes a teacher's teaching journey.
He goes on to ask the following questions, which are at the heart of all portfolios, both paper and digital:

  • Why do we collect student work?
  • What audiences are important to us?

These questions in particular are important for helping students and teachers to focus on what they want to collect and select for their portfolios.

In an international school setting, it's great for students to be able to share their portfolio with their extended families.  Often it's hard to do this with a paper portfolio, but again this is where ePortfolios have a decided advantage.  Students can send the URL of their blog or ePortfolio to their friends and relatives back in their home country.

Many schools still rely on paper portfolios, however, so how can we get all the great multimedia projects our students are creating into them?  This week I saw a great solution - turn the URL of the student's work into a QR code, which can be printed and then added into the paper portfolio.  When families receive these paper portfolios at home they can then scan the QR codes and be taken straight to the Web 2.0 projects the students have made.

Eventually I'm sure that all student portfolios will become digital, but for now this seems a good solution that allows both paper and electronic work to be collected and displayed in the students' portfolios.

Photo Credit:  DSC07282 by Phillip Torrone AttributionNoncommercialNo Derivative Works

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Connecting coaching, community and technology

Since my goal setting meeting last week I've been reading the ISTE White Paper on Technology, Coaching and Community.  The introduction to this paper states that effective professional development most often occurs as teachers connect and collaborate with colleagues in an atmosphere of trust to solve the problems they are facing in their classroom.  In my experience it's certainly true that teachers will be more willing to use technology when they know they are being supported by a coach or mentor as it allows them to try out new ideas in an atmosphere of trust and mutual respect where they feel comfortable.  I respect the teachers' knowledge of the subject matter and of the individual students in their classes, the teachers respect my knowledge of how technology can transform the learning.

The White Paper goes on to quote from Harry Wong:
Coaching is customized and focused on providing instruction on what needs to be accomplished.  Coaches tailor support, assess each teacher's progress with observations, use interviews and surveys and have follow-up visits.  Teachers feel more motivated and responsible to act on new skills because coaching makes them personalized and customized on an ongoing basis.
Effective coaching has 3 components:  context, relevance and ongoing.  In previous schools I've coached teachers to take a leading role in using technology within their units of inquiry.  The coaching happens during the planning stages where we have discussed what might be possible, immediately before the lessons so teachers feel comfortable with the technology and tools they are using, during the lessons when they are using the technology with their students and after their lessons as we discuss what went well and what could be improved upon next time.

Teachers who use technology for their own professional learning are more likely to use it in their classrooms to improve student learning, so another aspect of my role since coming to the school has been to try to connect teachers with one another using social media (mostly through blogging and micro-blogging) .  Social media is a powerful tool for professional development:  building a community with others who have similar interests, perhaps teachers who teach the same grade level or subject or teachers in other PYP schools who are doing similar units of inquiry, is powerful professional development.

As I read through the White Paper I'll be blogging more in the next few days about my ideas on how I can provide more effective professional development to our teachers through coaching.

Photo Credit:  23rdian by  bitzi ☂ ion-bogdan dumitrescu AttributionNoncommercial

A Five Year Building Site?

After being in Thailand for a year and a half where we lived in a 9th floor apartment, my family moved to a house.  On our soi (street) most of the old Thai houses had been knocked down to make way for large apartment blocks, hotels, serviced apartments and so on.  We were lucky to be able to rent one of the few remaining houses.  When we moved in, there was building work going on right behind our house, renovating the Dream Hotel.  We only chose to move there because we knew the hotel was almost finished and we wouldn't be living next to a building site for long.  It was a good decision - within months the hotel was finished and as the neighbours of the hotel we were able to use its facilities such as the rooftop pool.  We'd definitely not have chosen to move if we'd expected the building work to go on for years.

I'm thinking of a conversation last week about how long it takes to change a school or to build a new culture - the figure mentioned was 5 years.  This is a really long time.  It's twice as long as the time that I've been living in Switzerland, it's longer than the entire time we lived in Thailand.  When I think about my children, 5 years is over a third of their school lives and I think that's way too long to wait for change.  For myself this reminds me of my decision about moving to a house in Thailand.  I was happy to put up with a bit of short-term discomfort to reap some long-term benefits.  However I would not have been happy to live for 5 years next to a noisy and dirty building site.  In the time we lived in our house, far more of it was pleasant than unpleasant.  Now let's think about schools:  if the average turnover time for an international school is 5 years and changing the culture of a school also takes 5 years, how many international teachers would be prepared to go to a school that was at the start of the building and changing process, knowing they'd probably already be moving on before seeing light at the end of the tunnel?

The more I think about it, the more I question how accurate this time frame might be.  Schools can change, for good or for bad, in a very short period of time.  I've lived through one such change at a previous school, which moved from being fairly average to being excellent, and it didn't take anywhere near 5 years.  In my own subject I think that change in fact can be rapid as most teachers are keen to take on new things.  The IT departments I left after 5 or 4 or 3 years were completely different from the ones where I'd started - the philosophies, the hardware and software, the visions of how technology would be used, the schedules and so on.   I have also seen schools completely turn around with a change of just one person.   An inspiring Head, who values his or her staff, can have a real impact on morale in just a matter of months.

This morning I read a post from the ASCD which was about avoiding teacher burnout.  One of the things recommended was to take a long view of your teaching career and to look at the trends.  Don't judge your career by your mistakes.  Look at the mistakes you made and see how much you have learnt from them and then move on.  Living a few months beside a building site eventually led to us having a better life than staying in a high-rise apartment building.  Spending a couple of years in a school that is changing and building can also bring some valuable lessons though it might not be a comfortable place to stay for much longer than that.

Photo credit: Construction site by Tanakawho AttributionNoncommercial 

Leading -v- Coaching

I've been in two very different meetings this week and have been trying to clarify in my own mind what I believe the next steps for me are.  The first meeting I was in was one for team leaders and I sat through that meeting feeling fairly uncomfortable by the mismatch between my vision of what team leadership could be and the reality of what we are expected to do or be.  I definitely agreed with the sentiments expressed by  one of my colleagues in the meeting that what we really need as leaders of our teams is empathy with those in them.  Change is not easy and many are struggling.  For me I find change exhilarating, but I know that others find it stressful.  While I understand that as leaders we set a certain tone, so shouldn't walk around complaining about things, it's also no use being overly upbeat and negating the feelings of others.

The second meeting made me feel totally different.  In this meeting I was discussing my goals for the year.  This year I'm focusing on coaching, on empowering all our teachers to take on the ownership of technology.  I feel a sense of urgency in this as I know I only have a few more months until I leave and I want to give our teachers the confidence and skills to go forward by themselves in empowering students to use technology.  As this feeling is at the base of almost everything I am doing these days, it was good to talk about how this could happen.  I know that for many teachers, the year they decide to leave is a fairly "dead" year with very little of their energies invested in a school whose future they will no longer be a part of.  In my case I feel totally the opposite.  I feel a total commitment to the teachers that I work with. As my time with them is getting shorter, I'm investing more and more into what I do with them. I'm trying to make every single day count.

Only a couple of weeks ago I was reflecting on one grade level this year that didn't yet have class blogs.  Yet during the past week, three of these teachers have started blogs and have independently posted student work on them and designed them in ways that uniquely reflects them and their classes.  I'm really excited by this.  I'm really proud of them.

Getting back to my goals:  since technology is now at the heart of our daily lives, I'm concerned that students will miss out if technology isn't effectively integrated into all aspects of teaching and learning.  Students need to be prepared to be productive and responsible digital citizens, they need learning experiences that will encourage collaboration, creation and innovation.  My goal this year is to support teachers to design technology-rich learning environments.  In the past I've tried various methods of professional development, from techie-brekkie sessions, to scheduled classes and drop-in sessions, but it's very clear to me that the most powerful form of professional development has happened one-on-one, in the teachers' own classrooms, during the school day.  The majority of staff have moved forward with a simple explanation or demonstration by me, and then me just sitting back, encouraging and watching them use the tools.  After that I need to give them time to play and experiment with technology and practice their new skills and then I need to come back and check to see how they are doing.  Do they need some reinforcement or a recap, do they need to be taken further to the next level?  This form of professional development is powerful and leads to lasting change.  It gives teachers ownership of the learning opportunities for themselves and their students.

At the end of the year, when I'm actually at the point of saying my goodbyes and leaving, how will I measure success?  First of all I will know I've achieved my goal by seeing teachers using the technology they have as effective tools for their own professional learning - learning they will carry on with independently regardless of whether I am there or not.  I will be seeing teachers making choices to use technology to improve student learning.  I will see them connecting with other teachers in professional learning networks to share their ideas and to get new ideas to take student learning forward.

At my goals meeting this week I was given a lot of support and ideas for how to move forward, and also resources to help me.  One of these was started me thinking about the difference between self-focused leadership and people-centred coaching.  I'm sharing these now and reflecting on them.

Often the focus of leaders is on themselves, whereas the focus of coaches is on others:

Leaders often want to do things their way - they are the boss and their way is the right way.  All too often I've heard the expression "if you don't like where the bus is going, then you need to get off the bus."
Coaches often want to support others to do things their way but do them better.  They are more willing to listen to others' perspectives, or perhaps to move people forward at a more individual pace.

Leaders are often very task focused and tell people what needs to be done.
Coaches often ask people what needs to be done and try to get everyone aligned to the vision.

Leaders are often very competitive which means they may keep a lot of things to themselves.
Coaches are more likely to share best practice and to collaborate.

Leaders often have the answers and don't like being questioned.
Coaches often encourage others to come up with their own solutions by using questioning techniques.

I'm not sure all of the above are true - or maybe it's only true of poor leaders!  However throughout much of my teaching career I've been lucky to work with wonderful leaders.  When I think of these people they were definitely more like coaches.  I've been blessed to have been mentored by great leaders who have been supportive and encouraging, who have actively questioned what they were doing and the direction the school was moving in and invited others to question it too. These leaders are the ones who have made me into a better teacher.   If I'm going to be a leader, these are the people I'd like to model myself on.  But if I'm in a school where the leadership style is one that I don't want to emulate, in those cases I want to be a coach.

Photo Credit:  *marguerites*daisies* by âœ¿ nicolas_gent ✿  AttributionNo Derivative Works 

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Driving Forwards, Looking Backwards

We drive into the future using only our rear view mirror - Marshall McLuhan

Recently I was reading a blog post about the things that get in the way of technology being used to transform learning.  Now I'm using this to reflect on why I feel we are not often moving forward in the most appropriate way for our students' futures.
  • Lack of vision:  Cathleen Norris and Elliot Soloway cite this as the number 1 barrier to tech transformation.  This past weekend it was such a delight to meet up with tech teachers, coordinators, facilitators and coaches from schools that do have a vision - and not just a vision but who are putting that vision into practice.  I'm heartened to see the number of schools that now have iPads in every classroom.  It was wonderful to attend workshops by educators who are putting iPads and other mobile devices into the hands of their students, who realise that this is not the future, this is the here and now for our students.  I am still struggling  to understand why 20th century tools with a 20th century pedagogy have a place in our 21st century classrooms when there are better and cheaper options available that would place more technology into the hands of the students.  To me it feels like some schools are trying to drive forwards, but are looking in the rear view mirror the whole way.
  • Lack of leadership: this was the number 2 barrier to tech transformation but in my experience it is tied with the first barrier.  If there is no vision, there can be no leadership.  In the past few months I've talked with schools that are creating new positions as they see the need for a different role for their tech teachers. I've talked with teachers, tech directors, principals and directors.  Any school that is still teaching set IT lessons every week doesn't even make it onto my shortlist of a place I want to be.  Any school leader who cannot articulate how they want technology to be used for learning doesn't get onto the shortlist either.  Right now I'm questioning whether I can seriously consider working at a school that I've not seen with my own eyes, or a school leader that I've not met and spoken with at length.  What I'm looking for in a school leader is someone who is walking the talk and modeling the best practices they want to see in others.
  • Lack of money:  Most of the time it's not really a lack of money.  What I've found is that the real problem is how the money that is available is spent and who makes the decisions about how it is spent.  Is the decision made by people who are not in the classrooms and who are not using the technology, or is this a joint decision in which many people have a voice:  students, parents, teachers and administrators?
  • Lack of PD:  The "old" ways of "doing" PD need to change.  Workshops on specific tools that might at some point be used need to go.  Effective PD needs to be ongoing, and often one-to-one.  It doesn't neatly fit into an hour after school or an in-service day.
  • Lack of time:  Most teachers would cite this as being the number 1 reason why they don't embrace new technology or change the way they do things.  They need more time to play with technology alongside their students.  
Photo Credit:  July 7, 2011 by Mike Demers AttributionNoncommercial 

Monday, November 21, 2011

500, 100,000: Design, Re-sign, Resign

Today I'm writing my 500th post and by coincidence this is the day that the readership of my blog has passed the 100,000 mark.  It's been an interesting journey over the past two years, one which has enriched my life tremendously.  Earlier on this week I started to think about what I wanted to write about for my 500th post but in the end I decided I'd just change the design a little instead.  What I really want to say, though, is a very big thank you to all the people who have supported me through the various posts, and who have pushed my thinking in new directions.  It has been so tough to continue to write my blog at times while working at a school that has actively discouraged it, but the rewards have more than made up for it.  Being part of a community of bloggers who think, and then write, and then rethink has been wonderful.  I would never have connected with these exceptional educators without my blog.  Reading their blogs and their thoughts, following them on their journeys, has been the best professional development I've ever received.  Thank you all - your thoughts and words have made me a better teacher.

How do I know what I'm thinking, until I hear what I say?  (Irish quotation)
As I've mentioned before, the number 1 person I write my blog for is myself.  I have lots of ideas milling around in my head, and of course I talk about these ideas with the many wonderful colleagues I work with, but these ideas only really become something I can act upon when I write them down.  Writing them down gives them structure and helps me organize them, helps turn the thoughts into actions.  Feedback on my thoughts from those people who I don't work with and most of whom I have never met, lets them develop in a deeper way.  It gives me new perspectives.  It shows me there is light at the end of the tunnel.  It gives me hope that even if I can't make a difference and move forward where I am right now, there are plenty of other educators out there who believe what I believe and are moving in the same direction as I am.  It shows me that there are better ways of doing things.  That there are educators who value reflection and critical thinking and that there are schools where I can really make a difference - schools that will encourage me to become the best educator I can be.

At the end of a teacher's first contract at our school they are asked to re-sign.  This changes their contract from a temporary one to a permanent one.  This is the time of year when teachers are thinking about whether they want to re-sign or resign.  It's strange that these words, which mean totally the opposite of each other, actually sound the same.  That when I hear a teacher say "I've decided to re-sign/resign" I have to ask if this means they are going or staying.

For me I'm definitely going.  I'm happy and excited about the future, even though I don't yet know where I'll end up.  I'm ready to move onto something new.  I want to be somewhere different and do something different, and I'm really excited by all the new IT jobs that are coming up in schools that are not just looking to the future but who are actively embracing it.  I want to be part of it, not just someone watching from the sidelines.  I feel like I've been away from the cutting edge of technology for far too long.  I'm very happy to be setting sail, even though I don't yet know what's over the horizon.

On the move: sharing the journey

This past weekend I've been at the European Council of International Schools (ECIS) Conference in Lisbon, Portugal.  This was the first time I've been to Lisbon and I enjoyed it a lot.  It's a place where, hundreds of years ago, many famous explorers and navigators set sail into the unknown.  One of these, Vasco da Gama, wrote:

We know we are on the move - we are not sure of our destination.

It's a similar situation with technology.

I attended the Pre-Conference facilitated by John Davitt.  His opening presentation struck a nautical theme:  he said we haven't yet found our digital longitude, though technology does allow us to cover great distances.  He asked, do we want to just talk about what is technically possible, or do we want to surf the waves of our connected possibilities?

I made a presentation on Saturday afternoon about the role of ICT in the PYP.  I'd made this presentation before at the ECIS IT Conference last March, but this time the audience was more diverse with classroom teachers and teachers of different subjects.  I'm embedding the Prezi I used below for the participants (or anyone else) to use back at their schools.  In this I have tried to chart the personal journey I've taken in the 3 schools where I was teaching IT, from using technology as a set of applications or tools to where we are today using technology to investigate, organize, collaborate, communicate and create.

One of the things I took away from John Davitt's presentation was that ephemeral is OK.  Things don't have to last forever.  The tools we are using, that we are building our curriculum on today, probably won't exist in their current form in 5 years time.  There will be new opportunities.  We have to move on, even though we are not sure where we are going.  It's good to be able to share this journey with others along the way.
It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent... It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.  Charles Darwin

Photo:  Discoveries Monument (Padrão dos Descobrimentos), Lisbon

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Moving Forward

Yesterday I was reading Edna Sackson's first blog post, Disturbing the Calm.  She started writing her learning blog in October 2009, about a month before I started writing mine.  Although we live half a world away from each other, we both work in PYP schools and are both focused on learning and inquiry.  Although I have never met Edna, I feel she is a kindred spirit.  She starts her first blog post with:
‘ A teacher’s job is to calm the disturbed and to disturb the calm’ (unknown author)
Disturbing the calm is definitely my preference! 
My current goal is to disturb the  status quo of classroom teaching.
Now as it happened, this weekend I also read another blog post by Scott Belsky, the author of Making Ideas Happen, where he was also writing about questioning the norm.  He was describing a new type of 21st century professional that he dubbed the "free radical".  He described how, in the past, these people would either have been freelancers, working for themselves, or if they were working for organisations, would probably have been regarded as mavericks as they were not prepared to "surrender to the friction of the status quo".  Belsky listed the characteristics of these free radicals, and several of these brought to mind members of my PLN - teachers who are pushing for change.  For example:
  • We are all doing our job because it is intrinsically rewarding - we do our job because we love it.   We see education as a way of making a lasting impact in the lives of children and in the world, we know we are making a difference.  
  • We want to experiment and try out new ways of doing things - we are not satisfied with the old "factory model" of schooling and so are involved in action research to develop the new skills that are needed in the 21st century. We are blogging about the new things we are doing, sharing our ideas, getting feedback and moving forward.
  • Because of this we only thrive in schools that are looking to the future and encouraging us to try things out, make mistakes and learn from them.  It's interesting to me that many of the members of my PLN have actually moved into new positions in their schools, moved to new schools or moved out of schools altogether in the past 2 years.  If we feel we are not in an organisation which values us, or if we are in an environment where we are not learning, then we leave.  We are not satisfied with being mediocre, with not being able to do our best.
  • We believe in contributing to the "collective knowledge", of sharing our ideas with others rather than keeping them to ourselves.  We know that information is not like "things".  If you give an apple to someone else, it's still the same apple.  If you give an idea to someone else and work on it together, you both end up with a better idea.
For the past year or more I've been mulling over what I want to do next.  Belsky says "we believe in meritocracy and the power of online networks and peer communities to advance our ability to do what we love".  So I'm open to suggestions from my PLN, but this is what I know:
  • I want to work with teachers and help them to grow in confidence in how they use technology to transform teaching and learning.  I called this blog Tech Transformation 2 years ago because I passionately believe technology can transform learning as long as teachers empower their students to use it.
  • I want to work in a school that inspires me with its vision of the future and one that is committed to the learner in us all:  teachers as well as students.  A culture of learning is very important to me so I want to work in an atmosphere that encourages me to grow beyond where I am now in my thinking and understanding.  I want to be the best I can be.
  • I want to work in a school where relationships are important, where it's OK to ask questions and to try different things, where teachers are trusted to do a good job and where their contribution is valued.
Photo Credit:  Warm Sand by Mr eNil AttributionNoncommercialNo Derivative Works 

Friday, November 11, 2011

Transforming the culture, expanding the learning

As a connected teacher, every day brings me new perspectives and new ideas to mull over, pushing my thinking in new directions.  This morning I was talking with another educator on skype about moving forward and transforming the culture of learning.  This afternoon I came across an amazing blog post by Jabiz Raisdana (@intrepidteacher) about why some teachers find it so hard to blog about their thoughts and wonderings.  In many schools with a "top down" culture it's often hard for teachers to believe that what they are writing is interesting to others.  In some schools blogging is actively discouraged by leadership who feel it is bringing down the good name of the school to have teachers questioning their practice, or perhaps even a breach of confidentiality clauses in their contracts.  Jabiz, however, asks some different questions:
What if we gave teachers time to blog throughout their work week? We spend so much time and energy on reports, what if teacher reflection and blogging was considered as important to the administrations of schools? What if we allowed our teachers the freedom to be learners? .... What if this wasn’t considered a luxury, but an expectation?
It occurred to me reading that that we have double standards - we actively encourage our students to reflect publicly on their work, but the same expectations do not apply to our teachers.  This afternoon I was in a class of Grade 4 students and they were setting up their own individual blogs.  They were posting their work and adding their own comments and reflections.  I remember saying to them "The last thing we do when we have posted work, before we hit the publish button, is to reflect on what we have done."  I gave them some things I'd like them to reflect on, for example two stars and a wish (two things they really liked about what they'd done, one thing they would like to improve on), and I asked them to think and write about what new things they had done and how their learning had moved forward.  And I found myself thinking, how often do we give our teachers the time to reflect like this?  To celebrate the things they think they are doing well?  To discuss or maybe even ask for support in the areas they'd like to improve on?  In an IB school, where we are all supposed to be inquirers, how often do our teachers engage in inquiry?  How often do they share their learning? And more to the point, why don't they?

Later, when I got home, I continued to think about these things and about how as teachers we should be modeling authentic reflection and sharing for our students.  How can we expect our students to be responsible digital citizens, if we are not leading the way ourselves.  How can we change the traditional culture of teaching and learning so that both teachers and students are empowered to contribute to their own learning and that of the community?

Photo Credit:  Exploding Stars by LadyDragonflyCC - Edmund Fitzgerald Anniv. 36years Attribution

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Let people live in your heart: teaching caring and empathy

Caring is one of the attributes of the IB Learner Profile.  Students are expected to "show empathy, compassion and respect towards the needs and feelings of others.  They have a personal commitment to service, and to act and make a positive difference to the lives of others and to the environment."

Empathy is one of the attitudes that is an essential element of the PYP programme.  It is defined in Making the PYP Happen as "imagining themselves in another's situation in order to undestand his or her reasoning and emotions, so as to be open-minded and reflective about the perspectives of others."

Teaching young children to be truly caring and empathatic is not an easy task.  How can teachers do this?

I came across the documentary series Children Full of Life through the blog of a colleague.  Dave was writing about empathy and about cyberbullying and linked through to this remarkable series of videos, filmed over a year in a Grade 4 class just outside Tokyo.  Throughout the year their teacher, Mr Kanamori, deals with issues of trust, respect and friendship.  His motto is, "Let people live in your heart".

Part 2 of the documentary deals with bullying.

In Part 3 of the documentary you see students standing up for a member of their class - against a decision that the teacher has made.  You can see how students have built a sense of empathy and personal responsibility.  At the end one of the students says, "You come to school to be happy, everyone must be happy.  If one person is unhappy, everyone will be unhappy."

Parts 4 and 5 deal with how the students react to the deaths of the fathers of two of their classmates and how they support the students through these difficult times.

As a teacher I feel I have learned a lot from watching these videos.  Thanks to Dave for linking to them on his blog.

Photo Credit:  Have a Heart by Pink Sherbert Photography Attribution 

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Media Literacy: the language of sound and images

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about information literacy, digital literacy and digital citizenship.  As I'm reading on in Curriculum21 I have now come across a chapter by Frank W. Baker about media literacy.   Frank describes how we are surrounded by "a culture filled with visual images and messages" and explains that literacy is not just words, but also still and moving images.  Even if we are looking at words, students need to know how to do more than just understand print - they need to be able to use wikis, blogs, nings and so on.  Yet, as Frank Baker points out, "few educators have been trained in the effective use of media in instruction".  This is in contrast to students who are often already able to do things like text and instant message; connect and communicate via social network sites; upload, download and mashup music, photos and movies; create blogs and podcasts; play video games and participate in virtual reality worlds, and so on.

Although students are surrounded by media, they receive little training in how to analyse or evaluate the messages contained in this media, or how to communicate effectively using it.  Many teachers still don't really understand how useful some of these new tools are, though it's clear that that media literacy is interdisciplinary and can be used across many different subjects and in many different ways.  Media literacy, in fact, is about the analysis of the message as well as the process of creating media.

Frank Baker quotes George Lucas who says:
If students aren't taught the language of sound and images, shouldn't they be considered as illiterate as if they left college without being able to read and write?
He goes on to list ways in which media can encourage students to develop their critical thinking skills, as they ask questions.  I've been thinking about how the key concepts of the PYP can be applied to media literacy and how becoming media literate can be inquiry based.  Using the key concepts of form, function, reflection and perspective students, for example, can ask:

  • Who created or paid for the message?
  • Why was it created?
  • Who is the message designed to reach?
  • How does the message capture the audience's attention? 
  • How might different people understand this message differently?
  • What values or points of view are included or excluded and why?  
  • Where can I find out more to verify the information?
  • What can I do with this information?
Photo Credit:  Face the Music by JD Hancock Attribution 

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Going Public

Most of the teachers at school now have class blogs, but there is still one grade that doesn't.  Last week in a planning meeting I brought this up because the students are making multi-media presentations about communities and I wanted to know how these were going to be seen outside of school.  Some of the work the students have done is graphics - these can be printed out of course  - but what we wanted was to move onto adding audio.  I tried to explain that a Web 2.0 presentation has to be viewed on the web, and the power of students making presentations that are going to be viewed by an audience greater than one.  If the students own their learning, they need to be able to access it, to share it with others, to get feedback.

Reading on in Curriculum21 I'm now at the chapter written by Tim Tyson about making learning irresistible.  He documents the changes that took place in his middle school, as students were expected to produce work that would be completely public.  He explained that as students took more ownership of their learning, their interest in learning created the desire to learn more.

One of the discussions we had last week was about parents being able to access the work of all students and whether or not this would lead to comparisons between the students.  Another concern was that if some classes in a grade were blogging and others weren't, would this lead to pressure on the teachers from the parents of students in the classes that did not publish work on a class blog.  The teachers were also concerned about the amount of extra work that would be involved in blogging.

I had a class webpage in 1995-6 and I can certainly empathise with some of these concerns.  Yes, it was hard work (though I feel that blogging today is easier - in those days we had to write the HTML code ourselves!) and yes there were comparisons between my class and those of the other Grade 5 teachers.  However I never had a problems with parents comparing their children with other students.  When I asked a mother about this, she said that she did look at other students' work, but that was to help her have a more meaningful dialogue with her own son about the quality of work he was producing and to celebrate the achievements he was making.  It helped her to put his work into perspective and at times helped her to know if her expectations were too high or too low.  The students universally loved our class site - they were proud of their work and wanted to share it with their families around the world - and because they knew that this work was public it also lead to a greater excitement about their work and more effort into making it good quality.

Tim Tyson writes about how going public with students' work improves literacy.  He asks:
Our society appears to be moving away from passive consumption, away from models in which the few broadcast to the many.  People want a greater sense of participation and involvement, of community, of network.  People innately want to interact.  How are schools supporting this desire to contribute, to create and share?
Photo Credit:  Hand in Hand by Brandon Doran AttributionNoncommercialNo Derivative Works 

Saturday, November 5, 2011

International teacher -v- global educator

Chapter 6 of Curriculum21 is entitled "A Classroom as Wide as the World" and is written by Vivien Stewart.  When people ask me to say something about myself I often use the words "international teacher".  Yet what I've been coming to see more and more over the past 2 years, especially as a result of the connections I've made on Twitter with teachers who have only ever taught in their home countries, is that being an international teacher is not the same as being a global educator.  It's possible to be a global educator without ever leaving your home, as a result of reaching out and connecting with other educators worldwide who often have many different perspectives.  In contrast, some international teachers tend to live in an expat bubble - a sort of hall of mirrors or echo chamber - and sadly many of them never take the opportunities to connect deeply with those in whose countries they are living.  While global refers to the whole world, international can in fact have a much more narrow focus.

And yet at the heart of the 3 IB programmes is "international mindedness".  In the PYP, for example, there is the commitment to transdisciplinary learning, where themes of global significance that transcend the confines of traditional subject areas frame the learning.  These themes, which are explored by students from their different perspectives, lead students to the understanding that there is "a commonality of human experience".  International mindedness is about what the students are learning, how they are showing their understanding and how they are connecting what they are learning at school with their experiences at home and in the world.

In Chapter 6 of Curriculum 21, Vivien Stewart asks "How can we get all of our students globally ready?"  She points out that the line between domestic and international issues is blurring and that the only way to solve today's challenges will be through international cooperation and the understanding of other cultures.  She writes that students need to be prepared to compete, connect and cooperate with their peers around the world.  They need a knowledge of cultures, economies and global issues, as well as the language skills to communicate and work in cross-cultural teams and to assess information from different sources around the world.  Above all, I think, they need to be able to respect others and others' viewpoints.  The IB mission statement refers to this as  understanding that "other people, with their differences, can also be right". The IB learner profile also represents the qualities of effective learners and internationally-minded students - it is a profile of the student who will graduate from the IB programmes and as such becomes "a compass for all school work" so that the curriculum is designed to enable students to meet the learning outcomes that the profile defines.

At the same time it's important to have an international faculty.  Many international schools, who proudly state on their websites that they draw students from over 50 different nationalities, still have a very limited hiring policy - mostly taking teachers from the USA, UK, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and South Africa.  And while some of the leaders and teachers in these schools have certainly been around and lived in many different countries and continents, others have only lived in one or two.  How much of a "global perspective" do many of these educators have?  While students working with other students in the same class with very different perspectives may develop international mindedness as they learn with and not just about their peers from other countries, how often do teachers get to work with other teachers with completely different points of views?

Web 2.0 tools are allowing us to connect and collaborate with other teachers very easily.  They have allowed me to  connect with teachers around the world who are working in very different conditions from myself - in the "real world" as opposed to the gated communities and compounds of some expat worlds.  Twitter is abuzz with these educators sharing their ideas.  They may not be working in international schools, but for sure they are global educators.  Steve Wheeler of Plymouth University refers to these as connected educators in a recent blog post.  He says " they tend to reflect more deeply on what they learn, simply because they have had to make the effort to connect with new knowledge" and goes on to quote Steven Anderson (@web20classroom) who says:
They are transparent in their thinking ... and that means that they are not shy in sharing their ideas or giving away their content for free. Connected educators know that in doing this they become global educators, with their content being amplified across a worldwide community of practice.
So although I've been an international teacher for 24 years, I would only regard myself as being a global educator for perhaps 3 or 4 of those years.  But those 3 or 4 years have completely changed my perspective on teaching, and on life.

Update:  I have come across a great blog post by Tom Whitby entitled:  What's a Connected Educator - well worth reading about the benefits of being connected.

Photo Credit:  A Child's World by Pink Sherbert Photography Attribution 

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Learning by doing: the tree and the cloud

Today I'm on Chapter 5 of Heidi Hayes Jacob's book Curriculum 21.  This chapter, by Stephen Wilmarth, is about socio-technology trends and what the implications are of these for teaching and learning.

Students who are in school today have always been at school in the 21st century, it's just their teachers who haven't.  Unlike most of their their teachers, these students were not alive in a time when the internet didn't exist.  Google has always been around for them, and they have been educated in a time where learning is becoming increasingly social, and social media invites participation.  Publishing, reaching out to millions of people at virtually no cost, has changed the roles of students from consumers of information to producers of information.  The vast majority of web content is produced by "amateurs", people who do it because they want to, not because it's part of their job or because they are paid for doing it.  And what they are doing is good.  Today, for example, a Grade 4 student created an animation about how a pulley works, as part of the How the World Works unit of inquiry, after observing the flag being raised and lowered on the flagpole at the front of the school.  Later today his animation was tweeted out by DoInk, the company that designed the animation tool:

This boy is 9 years old and social media is allowing his work to be viewed by potentially millions of people around the world.

In Chapter 5, Stephen Wilmarth writes about the tree of knowledge being replace by the knowledge cloud, with "ever-changing shapes and patterns" as "learning takes on a more active role rather than the traditional passive mode." Everyone who writes a blog post, or comments on one, who adds a photo to Flickr or to Facebook, who tweets, podcasts, makes a movie for YouTube or an animation using DoInk is producing content and adding to our collective knowledge.  Stephen Wilmarth refers to this as the apprenticeship model of learning - learning by doing.  It's just-in-time learning.  And it's learning that both teachers and students are involved in.

For example, once I saw this tweet from DoInk, I emailed the class teacher so he could tell the boy who had made the animation that his work had been featured today.  I got an email back from this teacher telling me that he'd spent some time with his class today, after they'd made their animations, working with the students so that they could add them onto the class blog.  Now because this teacher is using as his blogging platform, embedding work so that it displays nicely, rather than just appearing as a link, is a bit of a challenge.  It involves tweaking the HTML code.  We discovered how to do this recently when, during the last unit of inquiry, he'd wanted to embed glogs into the class blog, and to be able to display the eBooks his students had made in Issuu.  What he did, he told me in his email, was to look at an email I'd sent him some time ago about how to change the embed code.  Then he and his students just "played around" with the DoInk code until they got it right.

Today I also read a blog post by George Couros.  George was writing about how blogging has brought more depth to his thinking.  And connecting with others through his blog and the comments his readers make allows him to go one stage further.  He writes:
Through the writing process, I have the time to develop my thoughts, but once I hit “publish”, that is an opportunity to further advance them.
Today we are all learning by doing.  And by connecting with others, we are doing it better.  It's not about the technologies we are using to help us learn, it's the relationships we are building as a result of this new social learning that are really pushing us forward.

Photo Credit:  The lonely tree and the ray of light by Bernat Casero AttributionNoncommercialNo Derivative Works 

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Building relationships: using technology for classroom connections

A guest post by Joseph Baker

A new dimension has been added to connections an instructor has with his or her students. Neutral until human application occurs, technology is now a well-established component of learning in the 21st Century. Its role in what educational researcher Robert Marzano describes as one of the most commonly cited variables associated with effective instruction – the nature of the relationship between a student and a teacher – has not been fully defined, yet the implications are profound. With much of what college students now experience taking some form of online education, understanding how to build and maintain a positive, professional relationship with students is well worth exploring.

Social Media as a Resource

The concept of technology being neutral is important, and some would argue, unfairly discounted. Cyber bullying is but one example of where the intolerable behavior has been eclipsed by the medium in many cases. For the professor striving to form a supportive relationship with members of a course, online communication can just as well serve a positive end as bullying serves a negative goal. It’s fair to say that most students use social networking platforms for positive exchanges with their chosen connections, and while instructors don’t often have the luxury of selecting which students they serve, the principles of how technology can help build supportive relationships remain.

Conveying the intent

Returning to Marzano’s research-backed emphasis on relationships between student and instructor, his finding cite that the perception a student has as to the degree a teacher is invested in his or her academic success is paramount. This isn’t to suggest that fakery is the key to a professional level of support for a student, but it does mean that behavior really does count.
Each student has a very individual level of need for at least acceptance by an instructor. For the instructor, setting high expectations and standards can be underscored by the way in which a student believes that instructor has faith that each is capable of rising to those expectations. By following most any online forum or blog thread, it’s not hard to spot relationships by which participants are respectful to others and which are ignored or belittled. Social networking sites, again, generally restricted by choice of contacts, can offer plenty of examples of how contacts convey good intent.


Most instructors have had a colleague or supervisor spend some time observing classroom instruction for the purpose of genuine improvement. One common practice is to map the seating arrangement and then track instructor interaction with students. Sometimes, the results are downright embarrassing. Professors reviewing the findings discover that, unintentionally, they’ve limited their questioning or student responses to the same cluster of students, ignoring many to varying degrees to include complete isolation from class interaction. With this in mind, technology may actually help lessen this very human, but ineffective habit by providing a visible record of interaction.

Fire prevention

Online learning, from the communication features to the administrative capabilities, can help identify when a relationship with a student needs some supportive intervention. Just because you might not actually see an expression of frustration or even hopelessness, a change in performance or participation can signal the educational professional that an offer for tutoring, group remediation or re-teaching is needed. Don’t forget, this response is predicated on the understanding that you’ve already established clear, high standards, do supporting a struggling student is not synonymous with lowering your expectations. In fact, it means quite the opposite and for the student, that consistent conveyance by the instructor that he or she believes the student can succeed is the cornerstone of not just that relationship, but of all good student-instructor connections.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Schedules, Groupings and Spaces

The last post was about Heidi Hayes Jacob's recommendations for redesigning the curriculum for the 21st century.  As I read on to her final chapter in her Curriculum 21 book, I realised that this is part of a much larger picture of questioning and reforming the traditional way things have always been done at school.

Reforming the curriculum is not enough if we are limited by schedules, grouping patterns of learners and professionals and space.  In the long term, Heidi argues that there is no reason why every student should spend 13 years in school between kindergarten and graduation.  Some students might need a couple more years, some are ready to move onto higher education earlier.  In the short term, Heidi also looks at daily and weekly schedules that often rule the activities and learning, and claims the form is often leading the function as most learning doesn't fit neatly into 40 or 80 minute time slots.  Nowadays, she argues, it doesn't have to, as the physical space of the school can be joined by the virtual learning space, anytime and anywhere so that students could work choose to learn at home in their own time rather than just at school.

Heidi also goes on to look at groupings by both grade levels, spans (primary, middle, secondary etc), type of school and proficiency of students.  She recommends looking into different sorts of groupings, for example multi-year maths programmes where girls come together for some of the maths instruction, or where students can work though online courses at home or during the holidays and then spend afternoons doing internships in the community.

Another question Heidi has is about teacher groupings, most often in departments or grade levels.  She suggests other forms of groupings, for example in vertical teams and in a variety of communities and networks both in and outside of school - including global teams of educators who are all interested in a particular issue (I'm thinking here that this is exactly what does happen in the weekly #edchats on Twitter).

Heidi also writes about virtual and physical space, about how the 21st century classroom involves students connecting with peers around the world.  She also asks how the space in traditional classrooms could be used differently.

This is her essential question:
Could [you] ... generate a version of school that had both flexibility and regulation in long-term and daily schedules, supporting multiple professional affiliations, offered a wide range of student groupings, and used physical and virtual space in direct response to the actual students you have been charged to educate?
Heidi's aim in pulling together a collection of educational essays is to question the structures, which she says are dated and lead the learning.  She calls for us to create "new types of learning environments for a new time and for various types of teaching and learning."  She calls for risk-taking educators with bold ideas to transform schools.  She calls for new solutions for a new time.

(I have to say I am so looking forward to reading the rest of this book!)

Photo Credit:  Pipe Abstract by Steve H AttributionShare Alike