Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Save the Last Word for Me

This week I've been at the PYP Regional Workshop in Paris co-leading the workshop Making the PYP Happen.  One of the sessions was on international mindedness and we asked all the participants to bring with them an artefact that would say something about themselves as a cultural being.  The idea we wanted all the participants to grasp was that international mindedness is encompassed by the IB Learner Profile.

To discuss our personal artefacts we used a strategy called Save the Last Word for Me.  The participants worked in groups of 5s and the artefacts were placed on a table one at a time.  Everyone, except the person who placed the artefact, discussed what they thought these objects said about the person.  Finally the person who has brought them got the last word and shared how the artefact reflected his or her identity.

I brought a crystal oyster with a pearl in it.  When it was my turn to explain how this was a reflection of me I explained that I was named after my grandmother and that my name means "a pearl".  I have come to see that there is a message in this:  an oyster makes a pearl to help it deal with an irritation, such as a grain of sand.  The oyster knows it cannot get rid of this grain of sand, so it has to live with it, and so gradually begins to cover the sand with mother of pearl.  Over time this ugly little grain of sand grows into something beautiful and valuable.  I feel I have to learn from this pearl, the thing I was named after - I need to think again about problems and irritations that are coming my way.  If I can be patient and accepting then I can change the challenges and irritations into something positive.

I think there is another message here too.  Sometimes to create something beautiful there has to be a struggle.  Sometimes there has to be an irritant, a grain of sand.  Something I think I am that grain of sand, the person who questions the status quo - and I have come to see that that is alright too.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Meetings -v- #edchat

I spent an hour tonight participating in #edchat on Twitter.  The ideas come fast and furious, and it's hard to keep up.  These sessions always end with me feeling very energetic and enthusiastic about moving forward and changing my practice in the light of some of the interesting discussions with educators from around the world.  Tonight the #edchat was about faculty meetings.  We started with a question:
What do you believe a worthwhile faculty meeting consists of?

There were many, many ideas and this post is just an attempt to put them into some sort of order.  First of all there was the comment that all faculty meetings are one of the few times that teachers gather in whole groups, therefore the time should be treated as incredibly valuable.  Clearly though, many meetings are not very effective and involve active participation by only a few of those present.  Some of the comments about this were :

  • Staff meetings should be reserved for group learning - anything that can be communicated in email should be. Any meeting that does not allow conversation should be an email or video.
  • Staff meetings are often too much talking at and not enough talking with. 
  • Once you get past 10 people, the meeting doesn't allow for real conversation.
  • Listening keeps popping up! How can faculty meetings effectively make all staff feel as if they are being listened to? 
  • I'd like faculty meetings to be more two-way, interactive, instead of "don't talk and let me tell you."
  • Faculty meetings are often a clinic in poor instruction: passive audience. We teachers need to be more actively questioning and commenting.

There were also many suggestions for making faculty meetings more effective:
  • How about posting the meeting agenda and a brief description before hand so we have a chance to get our thoughts together?
  • Let educators use that time to work together - "flipped" meetings.
  • Using meetings to start PLCs 
  • Some schools are playing with the idea of making their faculty meetings mimic the #edcamp model.
  • Maybe we should develop rubrics for meetings to access their effectiveness. 
  • Meeting notes should be sent out very shortly after the meeting has ended so everyone has same message, not left to interpretation.
  • Let's split the meeting in half and give us the second half to work on whatever we talked about during the first half: ideas into action
  • Do a talents and interests inventory of your staff - find out who is good at what and share.
  • Maybe we should change "meeting" to faculty "collaborations". I'd rather get stuff done than digest lots of info.
  • It seems a common theme is making sure faculty members are engaged - engagement will add value.

There were a couple of comments that made me realise what the main difference between faculty meetings and #edchats are.  First of all my attendance at the weekly #edchats is voluntary:  if I'm not interested in the topic, or if I don't feel it is going to move me forward, I don't need to participate.  Therefore when I do participate I'm ready to contribute and share, and I'm open to the suggestions of others.  I'm sure that for most teachers, however, staff meetings are mandatory.  You have to be there whether or not what is being discussed is relevant or interesting to you, and often you can't really contribute much or have a lot of input into decisions (often the decisions have already been made and the meeting is a vehicle for communicating them).  During the #edchats everyone contributes - all at the same time - it's fast and furious but you get the feeling that your voice is being heard and that others are interested in what you have to say.  You can engage in dialogue and respond directly to some of the other participants in a way that you could not easily do in a meeting.  Finally I read a tweet that mentioned effective ways to run classrooms - these are the same attributes that lead to feeling satisfied by meetings:  they are open, safe, productive, learning and collaborative.

Links were shared to the Making Meetings Meaningful post on the Connected Principals blog which contains more fantastic suggestions for running great meetings.

Photo Credit:  Flickr Vietnamese meeting by Büi Linh Ngân Attribution 

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Dissent -v- The Echo Chamber

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a blog post about multiple perspectives and reflected on the fact that some of the best committees and teams I've ever been on have been those where the members thought very differently from each other.  We had lively debates, we pushed each others' thinking.  The important thing, of course, was that we were allowed to have these diverse opinions about the best way forward, that these opinions were respected and were not seen as threatening to the other members of the team.  Sometimes we agreed to differ, sometimes we came up with consensus.  We didn't have to all have one "right" answer, one type of "group think", our main job wasn't just to praise or support the initiatives of the person heading up the team.

Today I was reading a blog post by the Canadian educator Joe Bower entitled Seek dissent.  He writes about how he is pushing his students to think for themselves and he shares the following video which talks about dissent liberating discussion.

Joe also links back to one of his earlier posts, Mandated Optimism.  In this one he writes about the dangers of being compliant and mentions a poster that states "Only positive attitudes allowed beyond this point".   I've been thinking about attitudes recently, and as a friend said to me recently "attitudes are a matter of perception".  Some people may think having or voicing independent thoughts and opinions to be a sign of a good attitude, others may think differently.  Some people may think that a "smile and don't complain" attitude shows positive thinking, others may think it shows no thinking at all!  And of course attitudes can change as circumstances change.  I have seen many students who apparently had a "bad attitude" in some lessons or with some teachers, but who flourished with others.  I have seen the same thing with teachers too who have grown professionally in some teams that encouraged action research, but who were frustrated in teams who didn't like anyone questioning the status quo.

The IB Learner Profile encourages thinking and open mindedness.
Thinkers "... exercise initiative in applying thinking skills critically and creatively to recognize and approach complex problems, and make reasoned, ethical decisions."
People who are open minded: "... are accustomed to seeking and evaluating a range of points of view, and are willing to grow from the experience."

The PYP Attitude independence also encourages: "thinking and acting independently, making their own judgments based on reasoned argument, and being able to defend their judgments."

As teachers, as colleagues, as administrators I think it is important to model the learner profile and the attitudes.  If we do so then we are encouraging everyone to think for themselves and to join in with and contribute to the discussion.

Photo Credit:  Speak no evil, See no evil, Hear no evil by Rose Robinson  Attribution 

Inquiry, Collaboration and Reflection

For the past couple of weeks I haven't blogged much.  Partly this is because we're coming up to the end of our school year - there is just so much to do.  There are orders to be put in for next year, reports to be written,  rooms to be packed up and so on.  On top of that I've pushed myself to finish my second book about living in Switzerland and have been preparing for my first workshop as a PYP Workshop Leader, which will start in Paris later this week.  Oh, and did I also mention that I've been planning a tour of Scottish universities with my daughter too, starting the day after I return from Paris.  Phew!

Anyway, back to the title of this post.  As I've been preparing for the Paris workshop, I've been planning a number of different sessions.  There are 12 sessions in total spread out over 3 days and each of them has its own central idea.  For example here are a couple of them:
  • Responsibility for learning is shared within a learning community through collaborative and reflective planning
  • An inquiry process allows students to revisit and revise prior knowledge in the light of new experiences in order to extend their learning
The more I'm planning this workshop, the more these three words keep coming up - inquiry, collaboration and reflection.  To me they represent the heart of what we are doing.  They've moved on from just words in our curriculum framework documents,  to being a deeply embedded part of my professional life - I cannot do my job without them.  All of the units I support through tech integration, 49 different ones in total this year across the 2 campus where I work, are driven by inquiry.  It's only possible to support these inquiries through collaboration with the homeroom and specialist teachers.  This process cannot be successful without reflection:  thinking deeply and carefully about what we are doing.

Photo Credit:  The Dance of Joy by Garry Schlatter AttributionNoncommercialShare Alike 

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Successful inquiry leads to responsible action

Action is one of the five essential elements of the PYP written curriculum and it is often one of the hardest for teachers new to the PYP to get to grips with.  The action may extend the learning, or it may have a wider social impact.  Making the PYP Happen states:

PYP schools can and should meet the challenge of offering all learners the opportunity and the power to choose to act; to decide on their actions; and to reflect on these actions in order to make a difference in and to the world.

Often the end of a unit of inquiry is quite fast-paced.  We know we need to move onto the next unit at a certain time and sometimes there is only a little time for reflection.  However it's important for students to think about what they have learned and what they will carry forward from the learning.  If we believe that something is worthy of study, then it should make a difference in students' lives - they should be able to do something with this information so that it moves from "school-knowledge" to being part of them and their lives.  Even very young children often reflect on what they want to do differently in school or at home as a result of their inquiries, and their actions can demonstrate their growing sense of respect and responsibility for themselves and others.  Making the PYP Happen goes on to state:

The actions that the students choose to take as a result of the learning may be considered the most significant summative assessment of the efficacy of the programme.
This is because the actions students choose to take are often the way they demonstrate the attributes of the learner profile and the attitudes we are aiming to develop.

Photo Credit:  Liquid dream by Giovanni Orlando 

Using IT for Assessment: For Learning, As Learning, Of Learning

About a year ago I wrote a post about Assessment FOR learning -v- Assessment OF learning.  Recently I dipped into the new document from the Toronto District School Board on ICT Standards entitled Digital Learning for Kindergarten to Grade 12.  This important document deals with the importance of integrating ICT into the curriculum and has been guided by the ISTE NETS for Students, Bloom's Digital Taxonomy and the Human Resources and Social Development Canada government department.  The document deals with ICT standards, curricular connections, resources and a skills continuum.  What I found really interesting was how ICT can be incorporated into all areas of assessment and evaluation.

Assessment FOR Learning - At the beginning of a unit teachers collect information about what their students already know and decide what they need to know.  This type of assessment is also referred to as diagnostic.  IT can be used for this type of assessment, for example using online surveys or clickers.  The results can be used to let the teachers know where they need to start the unit or to come up with provocations into the unit.  A little later in the unit, assessment can be used formatively in order to provide feedback aimed at improving achievement.  Suggestions for this include online quizzes, simulations such as virtual worlds and tutorials.

Assessment AS Learning - This is a new type of formative assessment for me.  It involves students monitoring their own learning by setting goals and reflecting on feedback from teachers and other students to determine where to go next with the learning.  Suggestions for this include blogs, audio and video files.

Assessment OF Learning - This type of assessment is often referred to as summative assessment or evaluation.  Often IT can be used to create good summative assessments such as movies or podcasts.  In this case it's possible to assess the students' understanding of the content, as well as the students' IT skills.

Photo Credit:  Pudú Introducing OLPC by Lizette Greco AttributionNoncommercialShare Alike 

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Time for a Pause

As I'm preparing for the Making the PYP Happen workshop in Paris (which is now less than 2 weeks away - yikes!), I've been thinking about the power of good questioning techniques.  I've been reading an excellent article entitled Motivating Through Good Questioning Techniques and Response Behaviour - though try as I might I can't seem to find who wrote this (I just have a typed out version of it).  There are many great suggestions for effective questions, but one of the most important things I've been reading is about the importance of pausing.

Often teachers have very little wait time between asking a question and calling on a student to answer it, and this limits the type of students who can respond to it.   Pausing for longer - even longer than 5 seconds - will allow more students to participate as they can think about their answer more carefully and have the time to gain confidence that their response is worth listening to.  Research has shown that in a classroom where there are short pauses, only a few quick-thinking students dominate and the answers are low-level, whereas in a classroom where teachers pause for longer, students are able to hear the questions, think about them and formulate a meaningful response.  What happens in this situation is that the length of the students' responses increases, that weaker students contribute more, there is more variety of student responses and that the responses are more creative.

It's important to pause after students have responded to the question too.  Oftentimes a teacher will say "good" and move on.  However this doesn't give the other students time to comprehend the response and decide if they agree or disagree with it.  Sometimes a teacher will repeat the answer the student gave, perhaps rephrasing it.  Again this is not very helpful as it tells students that the teacher has the "right" answer and that they should listen to the "teacher talk" and not the "student talk", which in turn discourages students from listening to or talking to each other.  In addition judging an answer as good is telling students that the answer given is the only one needed, and there is no need for further thinking on the matter.  If the teacher is non-judgemental when accepting answers, it gives the students the freedom to continue to think and to decide if they agree of disagree with the answer that has been given.

Another "pausing" technique is to follow up the answers given with the question "why?".  This helps students who didn't know the answer to the first question to find out how the answer was reached.  Another way I've noticed of involving more students is to ask the rest of the class "do you agree?"  This is especially important when a student has answered incorrectly - you don't want to discourage that student, but you hope that through further dialogue he or she may come to revise his or her initial response.

The best questions, of course, are probably those where there is no single right answer.  The motivation behind these questions is to provoke a discussion which leads to greater understanding on behalf of all.  Both students and teachers need to pause, to really listen, to formulate their thinking, and then to respond.

Photo Credit:  Who's pushing your buttons? by Krikit  Attribution 

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Highs and Lows

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo Credit:  Vanishing Point by Paul Bica  Attribution 

Becoming a Blogger

One of our Pre-Kindergarten teachers today was talking to me about how writing her class blog this year has been the best professional development she's had.  She's keen to turn this whole year of blogging into a book that parents can order and purchase online.  She was saying that she takes upwards of 25 photos of her class activities each day and her only tech request for next year is for a better class camera than the one she currently has.  This year she's had over 3,000 visitors to her class blog.

One of our administrators was talking to me today too.  She and I are working together to create a 3-day PYP workshop and we have started a blog for the participants to document the sessions, provide easy access to the resources we will use and to provide a place for the learning community to come together and share the learning journey.

More and more I see teachers turning away from the business models of reform such as Good to Great, which most educators admit have little impact on student learning, and a turning towards collaborative learning and shared reflections.   My Google Reader and Twitterstream are full of wonderful educators blogging about teaching and learning and reflecting on their practice.  They are at the cutting edge of education and often question the status quo and challenge assumptions.  They are the people I turn to for advice - with their combined experiences I know I will find a good solution - and because these bloggers are from all around the world I get answers to my questions fast - at all times of the day and night.  Each morning as I eat my breakfast I look through my favourite educational bloggers to see if they have posted anything new and I skim through Twitter to find any interesting links.   Before I even leave the house, I often have new ideas that I can mull over on the drive to work.  Some of these bloggers are colleagues I used to work with, some are people that I've started following and have then got to know in person by meeting them at conferences and workshops - most however I doubt I'll ever meet in person, but none the less they are giving me more professional development on a daily basis than I get in a year of in-school PD and meetings.  These bloggers are challenging my thinking and making me reflect on the hows and whys of what I am doing.

Writing a blog pushes me too.  Every time I sit down to write a new post I am thinking more deeply about what I am doing.  Every time someone sends me a comment or a question it forces me to think a little more too.  I enjoy the connections, I enjoy the fact that my thinking is getting more interesting.  This week I started my 5th blog and I'm looking forward to making new connections with that one too.

Next year I'm hoping that more teachers will start a blog.  The ones that are doing it and posting on a regular (daily!) basis will never go back now.  We do have a school website, which is a fabulous marketing tool, but not very useful for parents who are already in the community or for teachers to use to communicate with those parents (as a parent myself I never use it - I asked my daughter and she says she never uses it either).  We also have a student website where we publish resources that support the units of inquiry and where we showcase students' work - but these are just static websites.  The joy of the class blogs is that they are interactive, what is going on in those classes is transparent, the thinking in those classes is visible and it's being shared with the wider community.

Photo Credit:  Blog With Authenticity Without Getting Fired  Attribution 

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Sharing - the new way we define ourselves

In the 20th century you were identified by what you owned.  In the 21st century we will be defined by how we share and what we give away.  This is why the web matters so much.  It will allow us to share and so to be creative in new ways.
Charles Leadbeater - We-think

Photo by Mani Babber AttributionNoncommercialNo Derivative Works 

I - They - We: Multiple Perspectives -v- Group Think

One of the things I've been thinking about recently is the idea of multiple perspectives.  Last week when I was thinking about the sort of person I would ideally like to work with as Tech Director at our school, I decided one of the most important attributes of this person might be the ability to embrace diversity and dissent, to be a real communicator and to open up the channels of dialogue and discussion.  What I have come to see in recent months is how important multiple perspectives are as opposed to group think.  Having a  lot of people in a committee or in a department who all think the same is like being in an echo chamber and is not the best or most intelligent way to move forward.  In the past I've been on IT committees and have headed up an IT Action Team, and one of the best things about these were the discussions we had as we all came with different viewpoints and perspectives.  Because of this we were able to anticipate many of the problems that might arise and because we were looking at them from different vantage points we were able to come up with more creative solutions for them than if we were all of the same mind.

Last week I was part of a workshop on evaluation, compensation and school climate.  The idea of multiple perspectives was raised again at that meeting as many of the participants had different views about what good teaching looks like.  We were presented with the idea that the best teacher evaluations were done by teams of a minimum of 3 people who observed at different times of the year - not all planned visits.  These teams should have one administrator, but should also include colleagues who may well be looking at and appreciating different aspects of a person's teaching.

Having multiple perspectives, however, is no good unless they can be brought together in a constructive way.  Two years ago I attended a presentation by Tom Kelley at the Apple Leadership Summit in Hong Kong about the Ten Faces of Innovation.  He argued that organisations need lots of different people to be a success, one of which is a cross-pollinator.  In organisations where there are people with very different ideas, a cross-pollinator is vital for connecting these people and ideas together and facilitating open communication.  People often think in different ways because they have different values - they place importance on different things and therefore often find it hard to agree on the way forward.  At our school we obviously have people in the Aric Sigman camp, who believe the increasing use of technology and social software is damaging students' minds and undermining traditional methods of learning,  and we have those with the totally opposite view who feel that technology will completely transform the learning environment for the benefit of all.  Although diverse ways of thinking are beneficial, diverse values can lead to problems.  This is one reason why I think anyone who takes on the role of Director of IT will need to have superb interpersonal skills - to be able to pull all these diverse opinions together into a vision for the future of IT that is shared by all.

At the ICT in the PYP curriculum meeting I attended earlier this school year, we talked about the I - They - We continuum of the way students see and use technology.  The We part of this is very much collaboration and social creativity.  We will need to work hard on the We to come up with a shared vision for the future of technology and how it can transform the learning environment, we will need to get away from the idea of technology as merely a tool-set and a skill-set, something that students have or do that simply enhances the learning (the I part of the continuum).  We will need someone to focus on technology as a mind-set that redefines the way "We" teach and learn.

Photo credit:  More perspective combining tests by Tiemen Rapati

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Freedom -v- Privacy

Everyone knows what I think about social media and the internet.  For me as a teacher it has totally transformed the way I teach, how I learn and how I communicate and collaborate with people around the world.  In general all my experiences have been positive as I have come into contact with educators I would never have come across before, and through dialogue I have come to transform the way I teach.  In addition using Web 2.0 tools with my students has enabled them to be more creative in the way they write, make videos and compose music.  Everyone with an internet connection has access to these amazing and free tools and to a global audience to share what they create.  Information is everywhere and we all have access to it - this can only be good for education and innovation.

The other side of this has been called a "user-generated surveillance system" which is available freely to anyone too.  Of course what we do is visible to our friends and connections, but it is also visible to our employers, our governments and perhaps to people we would rather not know too much about us.  In an online world where nothing much is private, how much freedom do we really have?  In a world where we can connect easily with anyone, are we more vulnerable than before?  Are we more in control of our lives, or less?  For example, during the recent events in Egypt, I was able to have a first-hand view of what was happening by following the tweets of a teacher there, whom I'd met in London last summer.  Twitter has made it hard for governments and individuals to hide, but at the same time how exposed and vulnerable are those people who are sharing information and opinions with the online community?

Creativity and collaboration are definitely linked.  As I have become more connected, as I have collaborated with more educators worldwide, I have become a more creative teacher and my students have benefitted by being involved in more dynamic projects.  They have also come to be more open-minded by sharing different views with other students who have had different experiences.  Another example of this would be Wikipedia, where entries are edited by dialogue between thousands of people with different opinions. Some have called this collaboration at its best, as the community encourages participation, sharing and responsible self-governance, others have referred to it as anarchy as nobody is in control of the content.  At a recent conference I listened to Jamie McKenzie who argued that on Wikipedia "reality has become a commodity."

In addition, the more we use the internet, the less we use other things.  I used to have a television, now I just use my computer as an entertainment centre.  I used to buy newspapers and magazines, now I read those same news stories and articles online.  I used to go to the cinema, but in the past 2 years I have only gone once as I watch films at home.  I used to buy a lot of books, now I buy less and read more eBooks (many of which are free).  In a culture where things are being given away freely, some businesses are finding it hard to survive.  In a world where anyone can publish anything, are we are becoming more and more satisfied by a diet of the mediocre, a digital wasteland which has been dubbed the "YouTube Cultural Revolution" as people publish, regardless of the quality, in a search for recognition?  Are we now dealing with the poverty of abundance as a result of all this freedom?  Are we, as Sherry Turkle of MIT argues in her recent book, expecting more from technology, and less from each other?

Photo by bm.iphone Attribution