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.

23311485055_44cbe20a63_o

 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 9: Safer Internet Day

Missed yesterday so playing catch up today.  Spent yesterday evening frantically putting PD together for a Digital Citizenship session with teachers tomorrow and putting the finishing touches to our new Staff Responsible Use agreement.  Since today is Safer Internet Day, I had a look around at some resources to share with staff and as I was browsing came across some interesting statistics that got me thinking.

According to a report in the UK  about online behaviour, a third of young people say they are targeted with “mean” behaviour online.  Based on interviews with more than 1,000 young people by the UK Safer Internet Centre the report also says that young people feel closer to their friends, and feel more able to cope with unpleasant online behaviour that they may encounter.

Interestingly the report suggests that “26% of British 11-16 year-olds use six or more social networks and messaging apps every week.”  As you might imagine YouTube and Facebook are the most widely used.

My own surveys in class over the last couple of weeks with our Year 9 students back up the report’s findings that Snapchat, Instagram, and WhatsApp follow quickly on the heels of FB.  Then the findings start to veer apart.  The UK statistics that Minecraft and Twitter are used by just over a third of young people are not reflected in my findings but maybe that is, in part, because my students are all girls and are not interested, on the whole, in Minecraft.  And there seems to be a fear, maybe borne of ignorance, of Twitter being a dangerous medium that should be avoided at all costs!

Most young people say that technology is an important part of their lives and it certainly seems that avenues for reporting abuse and inappropriate behaviour on social media have improved and become more transparent.  It is important not to overstate the negatives and focus more on the positives, we need to engage in media which enable interaction, collaboration and learning.  We also need to help our young people deal with difficulties and cope with the challenges they pose if they are to be prepared for life in general.

This blog poses some interesting challenges for the millenials that are in front of us in our classrooms.  Diana Shafer suggests that cyber crime is only going to increase as the opportunists take advantage of the spaces created by technology.  However, the environment also offers huge opportunities for our young people to bridge the gap between the next generation and their parents in terms of cyber security and being responsible users of the internet.  The jobs out there for our kids will be in the field of technology.  “The cybersecurity field is facing a global shortage of qualified IT security professionals. An estimated 500,000 to 1 million cybersecurity jobs in the U.S. are unfilled, according to the 2014 Cisco Annual Security Report (CASR), and job postings are up 74 percent over the past five years. It’s up to us to spread the word about the importance of cybersecurity and the steps our generation can take to get into the field.”

We have a responsibility as educators to ensure that, even if we cannot understand the true complexities of technology and the dangers and opportunities it offers, we know how to keep ourselves safe online.  We also need to support the young people in our care to make safe choices but to not be afraid of the future it opens up for them.

The wheels keep on turning…

chapel windowWell, it’s been a busy few weeks – did we have any school holidays? I seem to have a few minutes spare, but that is probably because I have forgotten what it is I am supposed to be doing.  Never mind, I thought I would sit down and gather my thoughts and reflect on what we have done in the first two weeks of term.

Reports, reports, reports. But of course, you need to mark work before you can write the reports because there has to be an assessment grade for each subject on the report. That was my holiday. (Oh, woe is me! No, really I had plenty of time to relax and spend time with family too.) Then once the reports are written, for form teachers comes the mixed blessing of proof reading reports. I say mixed bag because I really enjoy reading how the students in my form class are getting on in their different subjects. I teach my form class for English but I also teach some of them for Spanish. It is always fascinating to see how they respond to other subjects and other teachers. I start to see a whole person and not just the part that learns in my lessons. On the other hand, there is the tedium of checking for spelling errors, missed or extra commas, spaces, capital letters….. adherence to the Report Style Manual is absolute! However, that is a job that I can now put behind me until late November when the second round of reports is due!

Just a thought, a seedling sown by this article in The Guardian, what if we were limited to a twitter style report – 140 characters to succinctly get our messages about student learning to parents?  This could be via social media on a more regular basis than the once a year workload nightmare of industrial age reports.  This ongoing conversation could be supported by face to face meetings by request rather than at a “one date fits all, five minute speed dating” Parents’ Evening?

I love starting a new term, my students refreshed and curious to learn, new topics, new language, fresh ideas and raring to go.  This term we are studying “Hugo” in English and, despite never having taught a film study before, I am really enjoying it.  The wealth of materials on the internet provided me with a treasure trove of ideas during the holidays.  My family did get a little bored with watching Hugo over and over again, and me pausing the film for key scenes and to analyse the lighting, camera shots, music – is it dietic or non-dietic sound?  What are the connotations of the costumes, the soundtrack, the scene? My students are loving it so it was time well-spent and I feel like I have an inkling of what I am talking about!

Spanish classes are ramping up too – the seniors are focused on NCEA portfolio building, realising finally that some sense of urgency is required, and starting to connect the language they have learned over the last two years and joining the dots.  They know more than they think they know but how do I encourage them to realise that and have more confidence to speak?  The fear of not gaining Excellence is a huge inhibitor in language learning, and definitely a problem in a high stakes assessment system. Any suggestions as to how to overcome that barrier would be heartily welcome?

 

Ulearn13 – catching up

claudelandsA week back at school and the stimulating discussions, interactions and keynotes at Ulearn13 at Claudelands, Hamilton, seem to have faded into the dim, distant past.  My head is still in a state of confusion; the demands of what I need to do at work at odds with wanting to get to grips with the seeds of ideas sown at Ulearn and in the interactions since then on Social Media.  I wake up at night after dreams in which I am not really sure what is real and what is make-believe!

Anyway, as I am the world’s best procrastinator, instead of writing my reports or processing all the data from the medical forms for Year 10 camp that looms in Week 7, I have spent today in the garden, at the Hockey Club AGM and presentation (my youngest gained an award and I ended up on the committee – what is it about my hand that seems to have a mind of it’s own!?) exploring BlendSpace and other tools I found out about at Ulearn13 and thinking about how I could use them to help me synthesise my thoughts.

One of the sessions I went to at Ulearn13 was “10 tips to socialise sustainability of elearning” which was facilitated by Megan Iemma and David Kinane.  It was affirming to realise that I already knew and used most of the tools that they talked about but I was pleased that I also learned of some new ones.

image of Blendspace - digital presentation

A colleague had decided not to go to Ulearn this year as she has been before and felt that she wouldn’t learn anything new and that someone who hadn’t been before would benefit more from being able to go.  Another who was very excited at her first conference last year realised that she needed to pick her sessions more carefully in future as this year she ended up attending similar sessions to 2012, and she has come so far in her own learning that she was ahead of many of the other attendees.   My perspective is that there is always something new to learn, the conversations that you have are invaluable and the opportunity to share and to learn is infinite.  However, I am also aware that the cost to schools to send teachers to conferences such as this is huge.  This year we were lucky as there were no accommodation costs as Ulearn13 was here in Hamilton and so we could send 8 teachers.

Picking breakouts is a fine art and I think there is an evolution.  The first year everything is new and you are so overwhelmed by the choice that there is an element of potluck.  Having said that the descriptions now are more specific and it is easier to filter the different sectors.  I know that in my first year I ended up at some very specific Primary sessions at which I found little that I could adapt to Secondary.  Nevertheless, it is always interesting to know what is happening in early years, after all they are our future students.

In subsequent years, when you understand the system better, you can be more judicious in your choices.  I can now recognise speakers’ names, identify sectors and spot themes.  I also don’t feel obliged to book every breakout – the interactions in the Social Media space and in the Trade Hall are just as valuable as the Breakouts, Spotlights and  Research Papers. The Twitter chat backed up with blogs and reviews and videos of Keynotes and presentations on Slideshare and websites allow more people  to “virtually” attend conferences, but nothing really beats the face to face interactions, connections, and shared experiences.

I have also had a play with Martin Hawksey’s TagsExplorer which I encountered whilst I was doing my MOOC in January.  The visual display of tweets is fascinating and so I decided to create one for the EdchatNZ last Thursday evening.  It took me a while but I eventually got there ( just not good at following instructions!)  It only picks up tweets within 7 days so when I tried to do one for Ulearn13 it only aggregated the tweets from Friday onwards.  Interesting to note though the level of interaction over the weekend following the conference.

image showing tweets

So, where to now? I am still processing ideas, still following tweets, trying to keep up with schoolwork, wondering how to maintain my focus on the day to day stuff and keep my thoughts from flying away and being lost somewhere in my hyperactive brain so that when the holidays come, I can retrieve them.  Watch this space!

Pulling things together post edcmooc

Young man looking at panoramic table showing the distance in kilometres to Vancouver, Canada

Well, it is now a couple of weeks since edcmooc finished and I feel sort of empty – there is a hole in my life!  Even though I have had plenty to fill the space it has left; during edcmooc we were also building up to saying farewell to our eldest as he starts on a new chapter of his life in Canada. We saw him off at the airport last weekend and he has now been away for a whole week.  Good old social media means that we know he arrived safely – he checked into the Spaghetti Factory in Vancouver on Foursquare, posted on Facebook about taking a tour in a pink double decker bus and we saw his tweets too. Oh, and he did manage to text me as well.  Hoping that this weekend he will skype us so I am sitting with Skype open just waiting for him to come online!

Life at work has also been frantic; I wear several hats one of which is Outdoor Education Coordinator and with two camps coming up in the next four weeks I have a huge mound of paperwork; RAMS and medical forms are coming out of my ears as well as trying to sort out staffing.

Alongside that paperwork I am also part of a team reviewing the EOTC documentation and practice in school.  We had four hours of meetings this week to try to break the back of that and put in place a plan of action for next term.

I also teach Spanish so I need to leave work for my classes when I am away so I have to make sure that we have covered enough in the lessons so that they can complete online activities whilst I am away.

Finally, I am part of a team leading the Professional Development in school this year.  Our focus is Blended Learning and so we  are each leading a 5 week module on a different aspect of Blended Learning which obviously requires a fair degree of preparation.

Oh, and on top of all that, I am preparing for a two week trip to Spain during the April holidays; I was awarded a scholarship for a fully funded Spanish language course at Salamanca University which is fantastic.  However, because it is fully funded by the Ministry of Ed and the Spanish Embassy, there are plenty of hoops to jump through!

So, about that hole that edcmooc left?! Well, actually, even though it has been filled with all these other things it is only partially filled.  Something has been sparked in me and I need more. I miss the interaction, the opportunity to read the articles, watch the videos and exercise my brain with something academic. I have signed up to Goodreads and joined the edcmooc groups and hope to find time to read the suggested book “News from Nowhere”  that I have downloaded and join in the twitter chat planned for 6th April.  I am also hoping to join in the twitter chat tomorrow morning. I missed last weeks chat and although I read through the tweets afterwards, it just wasn’t quite the same!

The problem is, when there isn’t the structure of the weekly course plan, the momentum of

the discussion forum, the traffic on Twitter, FB and Google +, and when there are lots of external pressures,  it is easy to drop off the chat.  I have looked to see what other Moocs are coming up and definitely plan to do another but I know that right now is not a good time.  I want to be able to give it my full attention.  I am also a little worried that edcmooc was such a good experience for me that other moocs won’t match it!

Last week I went to lecture at the University of Waikato by Mark Pagel called “The Evolution of Human Language”.  It was fascinating.  He is an entertaining speaker and as a good speaker should,  he raised more questions than he answered.

“Each of you possesses the most powerful, dangerous and subversive trait that natural selection has ever devised. It’s a piece of neural audio technology for rewiring other people’s minds. I’m talking about your language.”

In this Tedtalk from 2011 he suggests that “social learning is visual theft” but that it is social learning, that has helped us develop as a species.  At some point in the past we realised that we had a choice – we could either protect our ideas and not let other people steal them by copying what we had discovered or we could share. We decided to share and language is what resulted.  

Language evolved to solve the crisis of visual theft. Language is a piece of social technologyfor enhancing the benefits of cooperation — for reaching agreements, for striking deals and for coordinating our activities

I am hungry for more – maybe there will be a mooc out there somewhere on the development of language?  As a lingust I have always been fascinated with how languages develop, where they came from, how words transfer from one language to another, how they metamorphose, and how language tells us so much about the culture of a people.