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.

#28daysofwriting Day 19: BYOD, playing in the waves

In a Whirl
In a Whirl

As usual the school year has started in a whirl, but what an exciting whirl!  We took the plunge last year and decided that after two years of allowing students to bring their own devices to school on a relatively ad hoc basis and introducing Google Apps for Education, we would make it obligatory for all students to bring an internet enabled device for their learning.  We didn’t mandate a type of device that the students can bring, but we did say that it had to have a screen size larger than 10″ and it had to be able to have Google Chrome as a browser. So that means we have classes with a range of devices from tablets, to Chromebooks, to notebooks, to laptops.

The preceding two years were spent enabling our teachers through regular Professional Learning sessions to develop their skills and competency around digital technologies.  As well as providing strategies for their use in teaching and learning, some teachers needed to become proficient and comfortable navigating their way around devices on a personal level.  We adopted a differentiated approach by offering whole staff training as well as one to one and small group sessions.  The administration staff were not forgotten either although, if truth be told, we needed to include them more in the planning.

My role in all of this is as the “Elearning Mentor”.  I have some allocated time each week in which I can work with individual teachers when they have non-contact time when they are ready to move on to the next step.  I also offer drop in “techy brekkies” each week when teachers can come along for some support and I publish “techy tips” on all manner of things.  Usually little shortcuts and niggly things that come up in the course of conversations with teachers in the staffroom or in my sessions with them.   Over the last few years as more and more students brought their devices and teachers enabled their use in the classroom for learning we have  gradually built the capacity of the infrastructure to cope with possibility of more than 1200 devices trying to connect to the internet at any one time.wave breaking

I would like to say that it has all been plain sailing over calm waters in the last three weeks.  But it hasn’t.  However, it hasn’t been a maelstrom either.  There has been some choppy water, and the odd big wave but I think that is what might be expected.  Our teachers have thrown themselves into the challenge wholeheartedly and positively at all sorts of levels.  At whatever level is right for them.  And the students too, have taken up the challenge, they are creating, collaborating, connecting (just occasionally too much and not always about what they should be, but that is teenage girls for you!) and learning.

One of the biggest challenges is for our boarding house.  As students have come back from the day school with homework to do online, the boarding house network has not been able to cope with the traffic.  Another issue is getting a whole class full of students to upload finished products into their portfolios at the same time.  And another is dealing with the different types of media that the girls are choosing to create in and them not really understanding how their own device works or how the app they have chosen works.

But they are not insurmountable problems and we have to remind ourselves to take baby steps.  We may fall down occasionally but I am heartened by the positive comments I hear and the solutions that are being found.  We are all in this together and we are talking and building resilience amongst teachers as well as students. We are “Keeping it Real” and moving forwards, one big stride at a time.

Celebration of Learning: Brave, Resilient teachers

prizegivingLast week during our Professional Learning session some of our teachers shared what they have been doing with their classes this year.  I probably need to give some background for this.  2014 was supposed to have been our year of consolidation after exploration and experimentation in 2013.  The idea being that teachers would choose an element of their learning from 2013, work within their departments and look at how they could embed it into their programmes of learning.  We were thrown a curve ball when, late in 2013, our BOT agreed to us adopting Google Apps for Education (GAFE).  That meant that in Term 1 of this year we focussed solely on training for GAFE.  It also meant a fair degree of stress and anxiety for some of our teachers as they had to adapt to a completely new way of doing many of their admin tasks.  Nevertheless, we think the process went relatively smoothly (more on that later) and so over the last two terms we have concentrated on blending pedagogy and “e-tools” to enhance the learning of our students.

Our Professional Learning programme is structured thus;

School finishes at 2.30pm every Wednesday afternoon. PL sessions are set in three week blocks.  In the first week we have a whole school “formal” PL session, the second week is set for Learning areas to work together.  These are sometimes “guided” by the “formal” session the previous week and discussion documents are shared.  In the third week, teachers can work independently or with their buddies on their own inquiry.  Some weeks there is no PL if, for example, there is a Parent Teacher consultation evening.

So in our last “Learning Area” PL session we asked departments to volunteer somebody to share an element of their pedagogy in a five minute presentation, and gave them these guiding questions;

  • A strategy – digital or otherwise – so that could be an app, an online tool, a pedagogical philosophy, an activity – that you have used with your class(es) this year.
  • Why you chose it
  • How you used it
  • How might it have transformed – or started to transform – your practice or thoughts about your teaching practice
  • What the impacts were on the learning outcomes for your students
  • What the benefits and challenges were
  • Your recommendations for its wider use

Just as we were last year, we were blown away by the passion, the pride and the learning of the teachers who presented.

In maths, one of the teachers has introduced the idea of “Guest Lectureres” in her class this term.  The girls volunteer to be experts on a topic and prepare a “lecture” for the rest of the group.  She said “the girls already know the concepts, so why should I teach it?”  They sourced their own notes and used a variety of media to present. She said that they loved being able to direct their own learning. And the girls who didn’t volunteer were responsive, they asked hard questions and they challenged themselves. Putting themselves outside their comfort zones meant that they thought more critically, were adaptive and collaborative.

In English, one of the senior classes has explored different media for creating Visual Stories.  This was a challenge for the teachers as they didn’t have any expertise in creating or editing videos or any other tools apart from Powerpoint. But they knew that the some of the students did, especially those who were studying Media Studies or Photography and they encouraged them to share their knowledge and transfer their skills across disciplines.  The results are outstanding but they say that the engagement of the students and the learning process was fascinating to observe. Lots of things didn’t work, they had to find solutions to problems, and there were frustrations as well as jubilations! More importantly, as teacher learners, they have role modelled the idea that we don’t have to know everything, that we can “learn as we go” and that it is ok to fail.

The Phys Ed and Health department have been wholehearted pioneers of Google Apps.  They were using them before we became a GAFE school and have used Google Forms for formative and summative assessments.  They showed us how they have used Add-Ons such as Flubaroo,  Doctopus and Goobric.  They reported that students have been more motivated to do online tests rather than paper ones.  They have found that the biggest impact has been on achievement through the use of marking rubrics and the ability to give feedback on specific elements of the assessments and areas to work on.  We noted that now that Google has introduced Google Classroom, it is possible that Add Ons like Goobric will not be needed in the same way.  Of course, giving feedback using rubrics can be done in other ways, but using Goobric has proved effective for the Phys Ed way of working and made it easier for large classes doing the same assessment.

The Music Department took the opportunity to show us how their students are using Sibelius to compose for different parts of an orchestra.  This software really makes the process of composing much more real and immediate – the sound of the music can be heard note by note as the student adds the notation. The finished product is a “real” score, and the students have the evidence of their efforts in their hands.  Seeing one student’s process of creating a composition and then her conducting the orchestra as they played her composition was fascinating and certainly made me excited!

In social studies, the Year 9 students do a unit on sustainability in which they choose a topic and follow an inquiry project.  Over the last two years the Social Studies Department have developed these as digital portfolios but with GAFE this has gone to a new level.  The girls are using Google docs to collaborate both in and outside of the classroom and as well as written logs some girls have chosen to make video diaries of their progress.  Progress is much more continuous as work on the inquiries can happen anytime and anywhere, and the students don’t have to work in allocated blocks of time as they used to.  This has the added bonus of helping maintain momentum and interest and it means that when someone is absent the group can still get on and even work with her whilst she is at home sick!

Kahoot has been a big hit in the classics classroom.  It is easy to make quick quizzes to test terminology and language and the students love the competitive element and the challenge of time limits.  Kahoot is device agnostic so the students can access it on any device they have, but even if all students don’t have a device, working in a team collaboratively leads to great conversations and learning.

The Science Department has been trialling the use of Education Perfect.  This started out as Language Perfect but the developers have been adding subjects to it as its popularity and success has exploded.  This is the platform that will be used for online examinations as they are introduced over the next 5 years so it is worthwhile students learning their way around it.  It is a fairly traditional way of learning terminology – the premise is based on flashcards for key words and concepts – but like Kahoot, the competitive element is what hooks kids in.  There certainly looks to have been some work on building its capabilities to cope with longer text answers and there is a range of past papers for practice.  One of the key elements is that teachers can track a student’s progress, set homework and monitor the rate of their learning. The more questions the students attempt the more points they earn.  If they challenge themselves to try new sections they learn more whereas if they only do the sections they know they can do, their learning level doesn’t increase.

Another teacher in science talked about how Solo Taxonomy has revolutionised the way that she teaches and manages her classes.  She is enjoying being a “guide on the side” rather than the more traditional, and for her, more natural “sage on the stage”.  She has observed the benefits to her students’ learning as they select and identify the level they are working at and can also see what they need to do to access the higher levels.  She admits that she has “bastardised” the philosophy to suit her classroom, her kids and her own teaching and learning style but also acknowledges that she has challenged herself as well as the students which has to be great for her professional learning and development.  She says that she needed something to prompt change, had been searching for the right thing, heard about Solo and realised that it could work for her.

Our Te Reo teacher showed us how she has developed a Google Site for her multi level classes where they can choose the level that is appropriate for them and select the resources they need to further their learning.  It is a great example of self-directed learning and provides support for her face to face activities in the classroom.  She reflected that she had attended another colleagues PL sessions a couple of years ago where he showed people how to build websites for learning.  She wondered if she should have started earlier and if that was a waste of his and her time.  But I think that, although she could see the benefits then, she wasn’t ready herself to start to create.  Two years down the road, she is ready and has taken the learning from then, added it to her new knowledge and is excited about the possibilities.

These last two teachers are evidence that we understand concepts when we are ready, seeds need to be planted but only when we see a purposeful application for an idea will we adopt it, develop it in our own way and embed it in our practice.  Just like our students really!