Teachers as Learners First

Sheryl Nussbaum talks about schools being “Future Ready” and there are four elements to being future ready 

  1. learning is student centred
  2. the technical infrastructure will easily support the learning,
  3. distributed, collaborative leadership which happens when many people share leadership functions. 
  4. remembering always that teachers are learners first

The final element of “teachers as learners” has been an important part of my last few weeks. They have been a whirl of learning.  In my new role as a Connected Learning Advisor I have been in a team running Professional Learning days for leaders.  First we headed to Whangarei, then Hamilton and finally, yesterday we were connected with educators in Christchurch.  Principals and eLeaders travelled from the far north and the deep south to engage in rich conversations, challenging thinking and robust questioning over the three days.

The sessions dealt with strategic planning, shifting teachers’ thinking and managing change through professional learning, and exploring how social media can build connections between schools and the wider community.

But the focus was on collaboration and connectedness and teachers as learners. Providing time to have conversations, share stories and good practice, plan and make connections was a key element of the days and it seems that it was appreciated by those who attended.

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 I know that I have learned as much as the teachers I have been working with. There is such power in conversations and I have been inspired by so many people and the work they are doing in schools, grappling with overwhelming change with commitment, positivity and open minds.  Thank you.

After each event we “Storified” the days and published posts on the VLN to encourage the participants and those who couldn’t make it to continue or join in the conversations.

The links to the Storifies are below.

Whangarei

Hamilton

Christchurch

We also used Todaysmeet to “chat” and record the conversations. Here is the transcript from some of the discussion in the sessions on Professional Learning.

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#edchatnz conference August 2014

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I just got back from an inspirational day of learning, collaborating, connecting, talking, sharing and all-round enjoyment. The #edchatnz conference, thoughtfully and inspirationally crafted in just 12 weeks by 7 passionate NZ educators. They were supported by over 350 equally passionate educators who all meet via Twitter each Thursday evening to chat about teaching and learning.

The #edchatnz conference demonstrates the power and potential of social media to bring people together. The #edchatnz twitter chats already represent one of the best PLNs for NZ educators but developing it into a Face to Face opportunity brings the essential human element to our PLN. We know that relationships are key to building trust, mutual respect and connections that lead to much more effective learning both for our students and for us as adult learners.

edchatnzHowever, conferences don’t just happen. The seed of an idea is planted, a dream is vocalised, a crazy “what if..” is encouraged and supported by passion and “we can…”. It needs a group of people who, together, can make crazy ideas come to fruition. It was an idea who’s time has come, teacher (tweechers) are ready for it, we are ready to take control of our own learning and the momentum is growing. @MissDtheTeacher and her team have started the ball rolling, they have proved that if you dare to dream big then you can make things happen and people respond to your passion.

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View my Storify of the Tweets of the #edchatnz conference from Saturday onwards – there were just too many to deal with over the full tow days and since I was only lucky enough to attend on Saturday I will leave Friday to someone else to Storify!

My classroom this term …

girls working together on acticity on smartboard in language classroom

This year I have three Spanish classes although two are timetabled together as a combined yr 10/11 class. That presents its own challenges; I can’t really use any of the materials I used last year for yr 10 with my current yr 10 as the yr 11 girls have already seen them.  Having girls of very different levels even within one year level is challenging but add in a few who have already done a whole year extra of the language and the problems multiply.  However, I am a firm believer that anything is possible if you are prepared to be flexible and think outside the box so we are working together to extend our language skills and competency. 

This year our school professional develpopment focus is Blended Learning and as one of the team members leading the learning I was keen to “walk the talk”.  My students this year also have to create a portfolio of evidence of their learning for NCEA.  As part of my own learning I had signed up last November for the Elearning and Digital Cultures edcmooc which took place in the first few weeks of the term. All those things combined inspired me to think of ways that I could enable my students to learn.  There are so many options but my “Module” for the PD is based around using Google Docs so I decided to use Google Sites as my platform.

Our google site functions as our virtual classroom and is a hosting site for resources that I think may be useful for the students.  They each have their own page with full editing rights on all pages. These pages will hopefully serve as their portfolio for NCEA writing and speaking as NZQA have said that they will accept links from Google Docs and MyPortfolio as submissions for those standards. 

The site is a closed site so that the girls feel comfortable that their work is only seen by me and each other, although it is possible to make certain pages public for a fixed time period if necessary. However, they can see and edit each others’ pages so that they comment on each others’ work, peer assess and collaborate. So far they have responded well to their work being reviewed and commented on by me at regular intervals and they have started to look at each others’ and comment. 

We are also using Google Docs; I have used a document to share a resource and then ask for comments in the target language and set activities to do.  I have created a folder in which they can drop any work they want to share with me for comment and we have also started to use a Google Doc each lesson for shared notes and vocabulary lists.  Each lesson it is the responsibility of a different student to add vocabulary and grammar notes as we go through the lesson and then the rest of the girls are encouraged to review it that evening and add, amend or comment on what is there. 

This has worked well and the students are starting to realise the potential for powerful collaboration.  It works for us because the students can bring their own devices to school, but I also have 6 laptops in the classroom for those who do not have their own device.  This means that we have at least one device for every three students in the classroom which allows for them to work in groups for research, collaboration, co-construction and interaction. 

Of course, we also have paper dictionaries and other hard copy resources available for the students to use so that they are making the best use of a range of resources. 

Whilst we have used a variety of online tools for learning it is also important to acknowledge that some students either do not have the technological capability at home or a natural desire to use them.  Making different avenues available for them to submit work and time to explore them is key to keeping them all on board.  This can be difficult, especially when I am so keen to experiment and use technology. There is a great blog that was tweeted today which says “I won’t take away your pencil, if you don’t take away my computer”.  

I sometimes have to remind myself to be mindful that the learning is the most important aspect and that we do not require technology to learn.  The technology should support the learning and not the other way round. 

I was also reminded today how powerful for student learning it is to be a facilitator and to learn alongside our students. 

It is easy for us to stand at the front of a classroom, feel in control, and preach rather than teach.  But real learning happens when we forget that we know everything (or at least more than the students) and allow ourselves to explore and discover things alongside our students. Letting go is not easy but I believe it has to be part of our own development as professionals in the classroom.  I am trying not to say “teachers” but am not sure I really like the word “facilitator”.  Our job is to encourage learning, to open doors and provide opportunities for learning, enthuse and motivate. However, if our students aren’t ready to learn, they won’t truly learn.  They may memorise facts, they may churn out essays, they may pass exams, but they won’t truly learn until they are ready and willing!

Let your students own their learning!  Let yourself own your own learning! I like the ideas in this blog, which although it is about teacher professional development, inevitably is relevant for student learning too. The opening line of the blog says;

“I summarize my worse learning experiences as top-down, externally mandated, out-of-context, irrelevant to me and little to no purpose events that I am expected to play a passive role.”

I wonder how often we complain about being “talked at” or being the target of information that we either do not need or is not immediately relevant but that others feel we “need to know, just in case”?  And I wonder if we think about what we provide for our students and if that is any different? I hope that my classroom provides an environment for exploration, for learning “just in time”, in context and relevant to need. I know that it does sometimes but I also know that it is probably not often enough.  However, as George Couros suggests in his blog…

 

Group work serves some, where others excel working in isolation.  

 

Lecture isn’t bad; lecture all of the time is bad. Reflection time is essential.

 

Skills do not develop if you do not have the knowledge to build upon.

 

I won’t take away your pencil, if you don’t take away my computer.  Both work for the person that has chosen to use them. 

…. there is a place for “lectures” for “instruction” but there is also plenty of time for exploring, creating, owning.