Standing at the crossroads, trying to read the signs

 crossing the threshold

Will Richardson often thinks out loud about how we need to be getting our students ready for a world in which they will work project to project as freelancers or contract employees. His most recent post is no exception, and I couldn’t agree more.

Let me introduce my 24 year-old daughter. From the ‘About’ page on her fledgling blog FREE WATER FOR ARTISTS:

i hate writing bios. i’m mikaela and i like to dance. i want to create choreography that speaks to issues that affect people. issues around politics, the environment, equity and our emotional well being. i want to create dance that is geared towards stage performances, site specific live performances and for video. i want to expand the dance audience, moving dance from the club or a unit in your grade 8 gym class into a common element in people’s lives.

that being said, i love art. i pay for the music i listen to. i frequent shows of all types. i also delve into the craft world, venture into food, fashion, design- essentially, self expression. i love dogs. i am from Manitoulin Island. my favourite kitchen utensil is the spatula (spatula, not a flipper). i’ve only had one hair dresser my entire life, she’s amazing. i like sports, playing more than watching. i’m a mutt. i’m practical. and i always seem to be working three jobs.

All manner of jobs. Some have been related to her passions. Some have been independent ventures. Some are required to help pay the bills. She is currently a server, a gardener, a freelance dancer, and an entrepreneur.

This is the way it is, which makes the question valid: Are we preparing students for this life?

Many educators are moving toward inquiry or problem/project based learning to connect students’ in school and out-of-school experiences, interests, and skills, and to engage students in the process of learning.

Richardson suggests, however, that problem/project based learning isn’t enough.

Students have to work in flexible, fluid teams, collaborating and adapting as they find solutions and then tackle new problems. They need to be working on projects they care about, projects that have a real purpose in the world.

And he cites NuVu School as an example of a school that is pushing the boundaries of what school might look like.

NuVu School is exceptional. Its ‘coaches’ are highly specialized, the ‘studios’ are equipped with all the resources and materials to actually prototype designs and try them out, and the class ratio is 6:1.

What does this mean?

I think it means that students who go to NuVu can afford to go, which speaks to their socio-economic background and from that we can infer that they have supportive family, access to resources, and freedom from the distraction of poverty.

This is not likely the reality for many students–or teachers. I am, for instance, not qualified to teach at a school like NuVu.

So what does this mean? What is the goal then? What can I reasonably take on?

I think it means that we need to learn from students like Mikaela. How did she cross the threshold from a school system designed to produce 20th century adults to her current reality–the current reality? I believe she is able to negotiate this crossing-over because she is learning ready. She can read and write well, she speaks and listens well, and she is open-minded, flexible, resilient, independent, confident, and hard-working. She didn’t leave high school knowing how to blog or produce a dance film. She had no experience in project based-learning.  And yet here she is doing all of that and more.

I can’t create a NuVu studio in my classroom, but I can work toward getting my students ready for that threshold.

This is very hard work. Project-based or inquiry learning relies on prior knowledge both in content and in skills. My students don’t always have either.

Students in poor jurisdictions with high levels of poverty suffer academically from the get go. They enter school behind their better-off peers and rarely catch-up. Something will be missing. Maybe they’re not reading well enough to do the kind of research that independent PBL or student inquiry demands, or not reading well enough to have experienced the world vicariously, and so students struggle to identify individual passions or burning desires. Maybe they are aware that their written work is lacking, so students are reluctant to share it with a global audience.

This lack of confidence impedes collaboration of any kind which is at the heart of all inquiry/PBL/PBW. Many of my students, say 50%, will not talk in class. They will not ask a question, make a comment, contribute to small group conversation, or make a presentation.

I am stubborn and persistent, and I have high expectations for my students, so we will push through all the above. But the focus is not on PBL per se. Yes, there are learning opportunities that can be call inquiries: students strive to generate their own rich questions; we work in a blended learning environment; and student choice is embedded in many of the learning events.

My main goal is to teach my students how to learn. I want them to know how to be flexible in how they might learn, how to access the resilience needed when the learning gets hard, how to stretch their peripheral vision to include ways of knowing that are not yet familiar, and how to be not just reflective, but metacognitive.

If this, then, is a learning ready stance, and if we can learn anything from the story of one student, then learning ready is beginning to look like the state one needs to be in to learn how to do Project Based Work. And that is an achievable goal.

#cyberpd 2015 title pitch

cyberpd

#cyberpd  holds a very special place in my heart because it is the event that first got me connected digitally (in a significant way) back in 2012. I couldn’t participate last year because I was in courses all summer and living on the road, but I am happy to be back!

I teach high school English and this year my stack of TBRs are all works of fiction. I am fortunate to have a supportive Principal who has helped me build a new and substantial class room library, and my goal this summer is to read as many of the titles as I can.

But professional reading is important to me, and I am hoping that #cyberpd offers me that one must read title for this summer as it has with Who owns the learning? and Opening Minds: Using Language to Change Lives.

I am very compelled by the buzz around Creating a Culture of Thinking: The 8 Forces We Must Master to Truly Transform Our Schools by Ron Ritchhart. Creating Cultures of thinking

I have learned so much from Ritchhart’s Making Thinking Visible as it has supported my professional work on learning how to engage students in questioning. The biggest challenge is that students don’t think. They have been trained to sit back and wait to be told what to do, and at best, to answer teacher questions. Generating their questions, questions that haunt them, that must be answered is a tough sell. But I am an optimist and truly believe that by creating a real professional learning community the culture of a school can be reshaped into one where personal inquiry, and thus, deep, meaningful learning, can happen.

The post below is only one that I have read on Creating Cultures of Thinking. In it Patricia Northrop quotes from the book’s introduction:

It feels good to be a member of a culture of thinking. It produces energy. It builds community. It allows us to reach our potential. This is something we as educators need to remember. A culture of thinking is not about a particular set of practices or a general expectation that people should be involved in thinking. A culture of thinking produces the feelings, energy, and even joy that can propel learning forward and motivate us to do what at times can be hard and challenging mental work.

Indeed.

Not only is this passage inspiring, it also describes for me the very essence of the #cyberpd community.

Creating Cultures of Thinking is my nomination for #cyberpd 2015.

 

#makeschooldifferent

I grew up in a place and at a time when communication beyond face-to-face interaction was limited to the phone. Long distance calling was exorbitantly expensive and so, rarely done. It was hard to imagine being an ocean biologist when the nearest ocean was a thousand miles away. It was hard to believe that you could do anything other what you saw in front of you, and most of the time, there was simply nothing there.

Nothing on TVCreative Commons License futureatlas.com via Compfight

I’m not even exaggerating.

I still live on the edge of the populated spaces in this country where there are no traffic lights, no stores open for evening shopping, and no line-ups for…well, anything. Waiting in traffic means someone is helping that turtle trying to get to the other side or a family of raccoons have decided to cross the road. And yet I don’t have to live on the periphery of  intellectual spaces any longer. I can participate in the most current educational thinking of Ontario, Canada, and beyond. I don’t have to wait for someone else to decide what is important for me to know about teaching and learning. I don’t have to hope that someone will provide me with inspiration for my work. I don’t have to draw on only the local resources to design courses that are meaningful, relevant, and intellectually engaging for my students.

What this does mean; however, is that others in my situation don’t have to either. This has been the challenge, then the difficulty, and now the problem facing me of the past five years. Why are the educators around me not embracing the opportunities offered via the current technologies to grow and learn past where they are physically located? Why rely on Nelson or Pearson solely to teach their students? Why do they think that what they have always done is sufficient today?

This brings me to this…..

MakeThingsDifferent screenshot Fryed

 

And Donna Fry’s blog is a source of inspiration for me. She tagged me in this post where she enumerates the 5 things that she thinks we need to stop pretending in order to #makeschooldifferent.

Here is my list…

#1.  We need to stop pretending that teachers can do this job alone. We need to recognize that planning time cannot mean that teachers work in isolation; nor can it only mean planning across grade teams. It must also mean having time to connect with educators beyond our four walls.  It means growing our PLN. It means honouring social media connection time as valuable.

#2. We need to stop pretending that all educators are de facto good learners. Tom Whitby has said, “To be better educators, we must first have to be better learners.” Agreed. And this does mean all of us who claim the title of educator: ECE, EA, Teacher, Coach, Consultant, Coordinator, Principal, Supervisor, Education Officer, Program Manager etc. We all need to expect of ourselves first what we expect of our students…to be risk-takers, metacognitive, and ‘learning ready’.

#3. We need to stop pretending that someone else is going to do the work. All educators at every level of our education system must engage in the actual work with students. The days of “walk-throughs” by administration need to end. Rather, administration needs to work in the classroom to remain connected to the ever-changing demands of the teaching-learning exchange.

Instructional rounds conducted by teachers and administration have taken hold in some places and work because they support/model a culture of ongoing learning. I have to believe that that culture is passed on to and/or picked up by the students, too.

There are other examples that demonstrate the importance/value of everyone doing the work. You can see here the Northern Ontario eLCs working with teachers and students of the Hamilton Wentworth District School Board and the Trillium Lakelands District School Board. Another example comes from a session I attended for preparation work for a new elearning course where Lori Stryker from the Assessment Branch of the Ontario Ministry of Education spoke about her work with teachers and students in class rooms to ensure that the work does not live in the theoretical realm, but moves always to practice.

#4. We have to stop pretending that learning is about isolated subjects driven by content. We need to design learning to be interdisciplinary so that students and teachers can tackle real world needs. This might mean solving real problems like how a school can acquire a new field for outdoor learning and recreation/training, or it might mean developing a program that responds to students’ desire to learn about the traditional life of their people (much like the  Specialist High School Major program in Ontario does). We need to see this kind of learning become the norm.

Frankly, it is becoming more and more difficult to explain to high school students why they need four English credits. They don’t dispute needing to develop and strengthen their communication/literacy skills, but many of them would rather do that work via robotics, student council, or a music business course.

Which brings me to …

#5. We have to stop pretending that only some teachers are teachers of literacy. Everyone needs to be able to speak, read, write, and create really well. Literacy is the set of skills that drives all other content–regardless of discipline. Literacy instruction needs to be built into every part of a students’ day because it is a set of skills that was, is, and will always be needed. Advanced literacy skills ensure that students will be able to think critically, communicate persuasively, and work collaboratively. In Ontario, the work of incorporating/embedding literacy into every grade 7-12 class room is supported by the Adolescent Literacy Guide and the folks at the Curriculum Services Branch of the Ministry of Education. It’s up to our school and system leaders to make sure that every teacher is skilled at literacy instruction.

Of course there are more than 5 things to stop pretending. Here are some other voices who have expressed ideas that I would add to my list too!!!

Heather Theijsmeijer

Colleen Rose

Ms. Armstrong

Deborah McCallum

And I would like to challenge my English teacher colleagues  @msjweir@arachnemom, @sarle83, and @danikatipping. Looking forward to hearing your thoughts ladies!!!

#OneWord

What one word captures your work, your learning, your focus for 2014? After all is said and done, what one word synthesizes your thinking of the past 12 months? What one word caught your attention and distracted you every time you heard it?

 

One Word Reflection

for 2014

 

2014 is the year I worked on my Principal Qualifying Program part 1 and 2 courses. Predictably, we were asked to list our top beliefs that would guide us in our leadership. EQUITY emerged as #2 on my list (#1 being honesty and #3 being collaboration). Equity for students, for families, for all staff is desirable, of course, but it’s not always easy to attain. Everyone has ideas about what should happen in a school–from access to technology to class room resources to experiential learning opportunities–and many can make very convincing arguments as to why their ideas should be put into action. And many still confuse an idea of fairness with that of equity. But with a strong conviction around student learning, I think that true equity can be attained and maintained.

New field trip idea?

You want to teach a ______course?

You think we should spend money on_________?

No problem.

Tell me how it’s best for students?

And now….

One Word Focus for 2015

So a lot of great words have been chosen for 2015….

@Glennr1809 has a few:  balance, serving, network, vision, network. Check it out here.

@avivaloca chose being uncomfortable. Check it out here.

@Dunlop_Sue chose change. Check it out here.

@fryed chose courage. Check it out here.

My word is INNOVATE. But this choice has little to do with technology directly and more to do with thinking about using the curriculum in innovative ways. I want to challenge my understanding, my perspectives, my biases about the curriculum. What does it mean to construct meaning? Communicate meaning? What about to generate, gather, and organize ideas and information? It is also about approaching assessment in innovative ways. Some educators are moving away from grading altogether. I like this idea. I like learning to be an internally motivated process. BUT, I can’t get my students there in one step. We don’t have enough of the other pieces (intellectual engagement, social engagement, independent work skills, productivity in-class, a sense of urgency) in place as a system to drop grades completely, now. Not yet.

I am thinking that I will post about this work, but better I will tweet out what INNOVATION looks like more regularly with #oneword15

UPDATE!!!   There is some desire to create a Word Cloud of Ontario Educators’ one words. Tweet out your one word for 2015 to #onewordONT.

Please Join Us!

 

Reclaiming Storytelling

2014 represents the year that I moved digital storytelling from theory to action. Well, began to move…there’s lots of learning to do.

Storytelling was often used among native peoples, not only for moral teaching, but for practical instruction, to help you remember the details of a craft or skill, and for theoretical instruction, whether about political organization or the location of the stars. One advantage of telling a story to a person rather than preaching at him directly is that the listener is free to make his own interpretation. If it varies a little from yours, that is all right … However many generations have heard the story before the youth who hears it today, it is he who must apply it to his own life.

                                                  – George Manuel and Michael Posluns, The Fourth World, 1974.

The_Jack_Pine,_by_Tom_Thomson.jpg

“Free to make his own interpretation…”

Inquiry-based learning has grown exponentially in the past few years, which is terrific from my thinking. It connects to the kind of parenting I did when I was a stay-at-home mother. I hated the thought of my kids going to school to sit in rows and to be told what to do. Inquiry learning is about exploration and questioning, and it begins when we need to know how to do something or when we are truly keen about a new idea.

But inquiry-based learning also reflects pedagogy that sustained indigenous people for thousands of years. In fact, at least one resource explicitly acknowledges that there “are several parallels between Indigenous perspectives on education and those of Inquiry-based Knowledge Building” (Natural Curiosity, 13).

Because I teach First Nations high school students, I am constantly considering ways in which the learning we do can be holistic, experiential, and relationship-building. One of the challenges is that I teach English where inquiry-based learning, although not impossible, does not lend itself easily on its own to real-life applications like that of The Students Spaceflight Experiments Program (SSEP) created by Jeff Goldstein or even the Flat Connections Global Projects run by Julie Lindsay.

images-2.jpeg

 What we can do is revisit storytelling as pedagogy.

First Nations’ tradition of storytelling is a method of transferring knowledge–their history, ways of being, reconciliation to the tragedies of life, thankfulness, observations about natural phenomena and behaviour–from one generation to the next. Not merely entertainment on the long, dark winter nights, storytelling was a foundational piece upon which the communities were built. The on-going conversation between storyteller and listener emphasizes the value of listening and of the trust that is needed to listen well, and it is an opportunity for the exchange of ideas, which sustains the process as a significant part of their intellectual tradition.

And I don’t mean that the teacher is telling or creating the stories. No, the idea is to challenge students to tell their stories–traditional or new–for a modern audience.

This is an idea a long time in the making. 14 years ago, I wondered if technology open-up the possibility of a re-emergence of Native storytelling. Sure, the form would be different…virtual rather than face-to-face, but the voice would be there and sound effects could replace hand gestures and body movement. Well sorta. But you get my drift, right? (I had not yet come across the actual phrase “Digital Storytelling”!). Outfront, a CBC show that ran in the early 2000s was billed as, “radio stories about real life… all about your ideas, your experiences, your perspectives, your story. It’s an hour of storytelling, experimental audio and new ways of making radio” (PRX). The general idea was that non-journalists could submit a proposal to CBC, and if chosen, producers etc. would travel to you and produce the piece.

Perfect opportunity for us. And yet, I could not get this idea off the ground. Maybe I didn’t know enough back then to pitch it well. Maybe I had not yet learned how to work around the deep shyness of so many students. Maybe it was too far of a reach.

And yet, at its core, I knew that students needed to tell their own stories. I knew that we needed to find ways to honour the literacy of the place and its people. My students needed to not just be in this world as First Nations people, but of it. Not to recreate or hold on to the past as it was, but to embody their belief system in the now.

Fast forward to 2013 when the conditions seem ripe to try again: technology was more advanced, the advent of cell tower spurred on the acquisition of personal devices, which meant more individual involvement with social media, Chromebooks had arrived, and web-based tools had become wide-spread.

 Darkness Calls by S.K. Sanderson

Examples of digital storytelling from a First Nations’ point of view were also emerging all over the place. We watched the first episode of the 8th Fire where we met Steve Keewatin Sanderson, a comic and computer games illustrator from the James Smith Cree Nation in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. Have a listen to him talk about people’s response to his art here from 3:35-5:15.

Ruptured Sky presents the War of 1812 from First Nations’ perspective in an interactive graphic novel format. From the site:

The Ruptured Sky is a digital literacy title that delivers insight into the vital role played by First Nations in the outcome of the War of 1812. The resource exposes an important part of Canadian history, one that has been underserved throughout the generations. Most of the principals involved in this project are First Nations artists, creators, writers, historians, subject matter experts and educators. It is important for students to have access to a resource that reports historical events from First Nations perspectives.

And then there is Never Alone.

The pedagogy of digital storytelling

We know that digital storytelling is a powerful way to get students engaged in learning.  But I am working toward an understanding that by using a variety of web tools, students will be able to garner the skill set to experiment with telling their own stories to not only gain traditional literacy competencies, but to also gain self-confidence and increase sense of dignity in themselves as Anishnabek.

Let’s have a look at the progress to date: The why  of digital storytelling*, followed by examples from my high school classroom….

  • It develops creativity and critical thinking

Students synthesized their understanding of three different narrative elements in The Fault in Our Stars (TFiOS) via Tackk board.

  • Students who are shy or afraid to talk in class get a chance to speak out their minds

Students choose a web-based tool to learn and then created a tutorial. Here is one tutorial  created by a selective mute.

  • It empowers and provides students to express and share their  voices

Students in grade 10 receive their own blog and we begin to learn this process. Student’s first Post

  • It helps students explore the meaning of their own experience, give value to it, and communicate that experience with others

We are in the process of creating a grade 9 collaborative project with every grade 9 student ( 45 students). It has two main parts: (1)  Lipdup based on the song We Are Done by the Madden Brothers and (2) an online wiki collaborative textbook called, Global Perspectives: A Collaborative Textbook for Teens by Teens. The overarching questions is: Do teens really have to care about dignity and tolerance?

  • It develops students’ communication skills

Independent reading presentation from the grade 10 Summative Book Festival of Authors.

  • It is a reflective process that helps students reflect upon their learning and find deep connections with the subject matter of a course or with an out-of-class experience

Learning Well: a story of contrasts produced collaboratively by a grade 11 class.

  • It fosters students sense of individuality

 Students in grade 10 receive their own blog and we begin to learn this process.  Student learning to blog about her own interest.

  • It also gives students an opportunity to experiment with self-representation and establish their identity

Introverts and Extroverts inquiry presentation.

It is no small task for teens to figure out who they will be. For First Nations teens the task can seem insurmountable. What does it mean to be a First Nations person in the 21st century? I don’t have the answer, but maybe if students have the skills and tools they can reclaim storytelling as their guiding force.

Finally, thanks to all my digital storytelling teachers:

Alan Levine, 50+ Web Ways to tell a story

Alan NovemberEducational Resources for Educators

Amy BurvallCreative Projects

Darren Kuropatwa, Presentations

Silvia Rosenthal TolisanoBlog

Susan Oxnevad, Blog

What Great Principals Do Differently: An Introduction

The WHY

What sets great principals apart? Whitaker argues that if we can clarify “what the best leaders do, and then [practice] it ourselves, [we] can move into their ranks” (xi). But he does not argue for a prescribed recipe. In fact, he strives to build a framework within which each principal can continuously work on improving his or her leadership skills. “Think of [this book] as a blueprint. The principals are the architects. The teachers establish the foundation. The students move into the building and fill it with life and meaning” (141).

Let’s begin.

The Best Teacher

One of Whitaker’s key ideas is that of the best teacher. What does “best teacher” mean to you? And why is that person(s) so important to great principals?

 Best teacher 2

 Superstar teachers from Al Burr (1993) are those who

  • former students remember as their best teacher
  • parents regularly request for their children teachers
  • have the respect of their peers

Great teachers are indispensable. They can help a new principal learn the job. They will tell the principal the truth in a way that is acceptable.  They keep the principal’s confidence. They have school wide-vision.  Great principal’s will always base their decision on what the great teacher will think of it.

Todd Whitaker’s voice.

I think it’s important to hear Todd speak because his passion, confidence, and style will remains with you as you read the text.  Here he is speaking to the first of his 18 statements of effectiveness: “It’s people, not programs who determine the quality of the school.”

 

This is some list. What jumps off the page for you?

Here are my top three picks:

#3 Who is the variable? Great principals make all teachers aware that they are the variables in the classroom. When we talk about high expectations, it’s that teachers need high expectations of themselves. Likewise, effective principals view themselves as responsible for their school. They do not look to factors outside the school as the cause of problems or issues with students or staff. Great principals are problem solvers. They draw upon people from within and from beyond the school community to look for innovative ways to approach problems.

# 7 Hire Great Teachers because you want your school to become like the best teachers you hire. Whitaker argues that many principals will hire who fit into their existing staff, but it’s impossible to improve your school in this way. Hiring teachers who will lead other teachers and who have talent will be teachers who help principals achieve their goals for the school.

#11 Loyalty to whom? Great principals know to keep the students, all students, at the centre of their decisions. Principals are constantly faced with ideas, initiatives, plans, and opportunities for their school, students and staff alike. Great principals will ask the question of any new idea, “What would my best teachers think of this?” But they will also ask, “What is best for the students?” 

Does Whitaker’s thinking align with our conversations in Ontario? I think  it does. Have a look to see where his 18 statements of effectiveness fit into the Ontario Leadership Framework. At least, where they fit for me, today.

Whitaker and OLF 2014 PQP2

The “Building Relationships and Developing People” strand gets the bulk of the effectiveness statements, and that makes sense. As George Couros comments in the beginning of his post exploring the “Setting Directions” strand,

“building relationship and developing people” should have been the first leadership strand in my opinion, as everything starts with relationships and knowing your people.

There are a lot of books on leadership and being a principal. Whitaker speaks to ways a principal can become more effective that are grounded in his experiences and his work in education. He shares his philosophy through personal anecdotes and vignettes to which all principals, and aspiring principals can relate.

Every principal has an impact. Great principals make a difference.

Time changes everything.

Time is tyrannical. It strong-arms my work to fit, to conform, to be done without allowing me processing time–the conversation required for me to think out loud and for my colleagues to respond.

When I try to work within the parameters of job-embedded professional learning, the pressure is ever-present. The tick-tock of the clock, eyes shifting upward, phones flicking on & off; time taps its foot, and if I don’t respond, pouts. We are not done, but time is out:  papers shuffle, chairs scuffle, apologies mumbled.

 

The power of the collaborative inquiry is real–if we only have time for it.

I have the extraordinary opportunity to work-learn with an educator who has battled time and won. With her (@CarolineBlack39), I have (we have, I am sure) experienced the satisfaction thrill of deep collaborative learning.

Let me back up a bit.

We know that “we are better together”, and that working in isolation is now a choice. We know that “CI requires a safe, inclusive environment built on trusting relationships”. We know that “genuine learning can only  take place when we collectively accept that learning is not about knowing all the right answers, but about struggling together to find them, without being intimidated by the mistakes that  are inevitably made along the way” (In Conversation). And we know that ongoing learning is not a choice. Jim Knight says it well…

To help educators begin this work, various frameworks have been designed like the Ontario Ministry of Education’s organizing framework for CI processes, the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership’s The Disciplined Collaboration model, and Jenni Donohoo’s step-by-step guide to collaborative inquiry. What all the frameworks have in common is the acknowledgement that CI can only succeed if “trusting relationships” exist so that educators can ” struggle safely”. Stephen Katz and Lisa Ain Dack  in their book Intentional Interruption, suggest that professional learning only takes place when there is permanent change in practice, and to get there our current thinking must be intentionally challenged. We need to be pushed beyond what we think we know, past the head nodding and the congenial (historic? predictable?) conversations. Stephen Hurley builds on the Katz/Dack comment “most people, if left to their own devices will talk by defaulting to the lowest common denominator of agreement” by asking us to consider what might happen if the criteria for professional learning includes the notion of intentional interruption.  When we learn to monitor the thinking that emerges from within our conversations, we might be reminded of the need to be challenged.

That’s powerful stuff.

Trusting relationships

Collegial conversation

Intentionally interrupt assumptions

Push past the echo chamber

Work within an organizing framework

This is the recipe for a good professional learning opportunity, and “good” is a goal. But the kind of professional learning that is fearless, energizing, contagious and yes, joyful, another ingredient is needed—time.

Of course, job-embedded time (not release time) for educators to meet and learn together is a must. (School boards and unions need to figure this one out.) And yet, even this amount of time is not enough to satiate the appetite for learning together, once tasted. It’s not enough when the work/learning you do together can, for example, closes gaps in students’ learning by years.

And that’s the battle: to allow yourself the time to deeply invest in your practice.

Building the habit of learning

Asics Gel-Volt33
Creative Commons License Photo Credit: Dirk Knight via Compfight

Most of us would agree that good habits are good to have. We are encouraged to eat well, drink lots of water, exercise, and pay attention to our relationships. We are also encouraged to make these habits a daily routine. Eat 8 servings of fruits and vegetables per day, drink 8 glasses of water per day, eat dinner with your family every day, get your body moving every day. This last habit is a hard one for me. I usually rationalize my lack of commitment to exercise as an issue of time. I just don’t have time for it everyday. The truth is that I’d rather read than run, write than workout, garden than go to the gym, and learn than lift weights.

Recently though, my husband shared his new learning around building the daily habit of exercise. It seems that many fitness gurus are advocating a 15 minute daily workout as a sustainable approach to life-long fitness. 15 minutes. Any 15 minutes in the day. Hardly seems worth it. I mean, a 15 minute workout can’t generate the sweat and pain needed to feel like gains are being made, right? Ah, but there’s the rub. This plan is for sustainability–for building the habit of exercising. Start with 15 minutes every day and build from there.

There is so much to like about the 15 minute plan. It can happen almost anywhere, at anytime. It’s personal. It can be low-tech or high tech. It can happen multiple times in a day. It grows self-confidence. It affords choice and variety. It offers potential opportunities for extension and expansion. The more I considered the 15 minute plan, the more I understood its value as a way to build the habit of daily exercise. And then, I made the connection to how this approach could work for building a daily habit of learning.

Many of my colleagues lament that they do not have the time to engage in professional learning. I get that. Like packing up and going to the gym, professional learning can feel like an event and end up consuming a whole Saturday morning. The beautiful thing about social media is that it offers us the opportunity to get some learning on our own terms.

Here are some ways to use social media to help you build your daily habit of learning:

Twitter:

Wading in—Twitter is often compared to fast-flowing river that can be tough to navigate. You might decide to take 15 minutes a day to read some tweets and follow a few people, or check out a link or two.

#slowchatED—Originated by David Theriault who describes #slowchatED as “an experiment in a new type or style of educational Twitter chat.  #slowchatED is just like a normal teacher chat except that it takes place from Monday through Saturday. Only one question per day is asked using the #slowchatED. You can jump in whenever you want so you don’t have to be locked into a certain day or time. Follow the link to read more about the #slowchatED concept.

SparkchatScott Capro, the man behind #BFC530 or The Breakfast Club Chat, says “The Breakfast Club 530 is a family of educators who gather M-F 5:30am EST/7:30pm AEST. We call #BFC530 a sparkchat* 15 minutes, 1 question. Our mission as a community is to have every voice get a voice. Each member should post to the question, then engage with another member. Inspiration comes through engagement. Our mission as a chat is to empower! To provide a safe place for your first chat experience, first feeling of connection… then, your first experience co-moderating the chat with us!

Weekly chats—There are weekly chats that cater to specific grades like #1stchat. Check out @Cybraryman1 ‘s page of educational hashtags.

Google + Educator Communities/Facebook Educator Groups: Twitter may not be your platform of choice. That’s fine. If you are more at ease navigating Facebook, search Suggested Groups for a group that ties into your teaching/learning. Google + also hosts a wide range of educator communities from Crafting Digital Writing to Mine Craft in Education.

Your Smartphone: By adding apps like Zite or Feedly to your smartphone, you can easily fit in 15 minutes of reading from content that interests you.

Your email: No smartphone? Pull interesting content into your email for quick access. There are many email newsletters that you can have come directly to your email. Interested in literacy, then check out Choice Literacy’s newsletter. More interested in general educational trends and conversations, then have a look at Edutopia’s offering.

Once you have chosen your platform for learning, set your timer for 15 minutes, and go for it! Who knows where this good habit will take you!

Feedback works, even when it’s unintentional.

Sometimes my best work is not enough to get through to my students. Sometimes the careful planning to scaffold the learning does not lead us to where we need to go. Sometimes the feedback, timely and descriptive, falls on deaf ears. Sometimes we need a little bit of help.

When I returned to the classroom, I knew what I had to offer the students. I knew that I would ask students to own their learning: to think and to make decisions. And that I would build a supportive framework in which they would do that learning.

But they didn’t know this.

They didn’t know me. I had been gone from the school just long enough that all of my students had graduated. When they left, so did that “muscle memory” –that information that gets passed on from student to student about teachers and their expectations, style, and what you could get away with. I knew this was going to happen, and I knew that eventually we would build a relationship that would support deep learning.  But time was not something I felt we had. These students had not yet experienced opportunities to make choices in their learning, to provide authentic feedback to their teachers, to be participants. I wanted these students to graduate “learning ready” and the clock was ticking.

I worked intentionally to speed up the process of trust-building. I told stories about the school, former students, and myself. I wrote blog posts to them and commented frequently on their posts. I chatted informally with them about out of school interests and goings-on.  To no avail. They simply weren’t buying into what I was selling.

Rather, they sat and waited. Literally. With arms crossed and blank expressions, they waited for something familiar to happen. Where was the class novel? The chapter end questions? The grammar worksheets? They knew what learning looked like, and the blogging, self-selected reading, conversations, digital storytelling, researching, and metacognitive work was not it.

When the school invited a few former students to participate in an Academic Panel Discussion, there was about a month left in the semester. The grade 10s and I had not made the gains I had hoped for. Many of the students were still wary of the focus on the process of learning and the idea that they needed to take ownership of it. The driving force behind the Academic Panel Discussion was the desire to provide students with relevant and current information about the transition to post-secondary from their peers. Since we had never done this before, we decided to narrow the focus to university with the goal of repeating the event in the fall for our college bound students.

Our former students spoke to the challenges they faced when they left high school, but they also spent a lot of time talking about what the students need to do while they are in high school to be prepared to go: learn to make good notes, use every opportunity to get feedback on your writing, take risks in writing, read widely & beyond your favourite genre, make reading part of your day, practice time management, make using your agenda a habit, learn how to plan, contribute to class discussions, force yourself to do oral presentations, and participate in extra-curricular activities. No one talked about worksheets, chapter questions, jumping through hoops. Everyone told personal stories of confidence and accomplishment because when they left high school they had the skills they needed.

________________________

I hardly recognized the grade 10s when they entered class later that day. They were smiling and laughing. I could feel a relaxed and positive energy from them. They looked me in the eye and asked questions, they were interested in the lesson presented, they engaged.

What had happened? Well, I think that my current students heard a very clear message from my former students (yes, I had taught every member of the panel and the panelists’ stories made that evident) that the skills they learned in English class supported them well in post-secondary. I think that they heard that they could trust me.

We know how important the student – teacher relationship is. We know that we have to work hard to build the kind of trust for deep learning to occur. We know that this takes time. I also now know the value of getting feedback to my students from others.

What do my students know now?

Learning is growth mindset.

Learning is asking questions about what you’re interested in.

Learning is inquiry.

Learning is intellectual engagement.

Learning is asking for feedback and listening to it intently. What is it telling you?

 ________________________

In an earlier post, I wrote that everyone in the room that day changed. It’s true. The other teachers and their students continued the conversation in their classrooms that day, but importantly, teachers reported a renewed interest by students in their studies and in their pathway and course selections. The Principal was also impacted by the discussion. He heard a narrative that was positive, strong, and enduring, and that’s a story he doesn’t want to have end.

Feedback: Taking the Risk

 

Academic Panel Discussion

On the heels of both #BLC14 and #VLConf2014, where we (those present and those of us who watched from afar) repeatedly heard messages around the importance of understanding what works in education, getting feedback from students to teachers on their teaching, having the courage to fail forward, and finding ways to make our thinking visible, I reflected on my past year and those times when I took the risk to really hear the students. 

Here is one of those times.

The students in the above picture graduated high school between 2005 and 2011. They responded to a general invitation to speak to current students in their former school about the transition from high school to post-secondary.

We called this event an Academic Panel Discussion: The High School University Connection.

We had never done this before, but we needed something to inspire our students to engage in their learning. 

We couldn’t be sure of the outcome. Yes, we provided the panelists the questions, but there was really no way to guarantee that the resulting conversation would be useful/positive/meaningful.  We asked:

1. Looking back to the beginning of your university career, what aspect of the transition from high school to university challenged you?

2. In what ways did the work you did in high school merge, connect, or continue in university?

3. What skills did you learn in high school that you rely/relied on in university?

4. What skills did you learn in high school, but that you later wished you had practised more while in high school?

5. What skills did you learn in high school that you did not use in university?

6. What would you now tell your 16 year-old self to focus on? 

The conversation went on for 45 mins. The feedback was authentic, meaningful, and personal. And everyone listening in that room that day was changed. (More on this in another post to come.)

 

Would you be willing to take the risk? What opportunity for feedback are you willing to create?