Is Great Teaching Found or Fostered?

There have been a few posts of late highlighting that technology in the classroom can make a positive difference. For example, Simon Crook states:

If teachers and students use technologies to capitalise on the unique opportunities they provide, rather than as a gimmick, it has been demonstrated that teaching and learning will improve.

Jane Hunter explained:

Common to all four of these teachers was a deep fascination with technology. They did not use it for all learning, but most of the time over the school week. Their approaches varied, but they ended up in the same place: engaged classrooms where students are empowered and given a voice to take control of their own learning. Teachers stepped out of the way.

While Jose Picardo explains that,

Using technology well to support teaching and learning is a feature of great teachers, yet there appears to exist the commonly held notion that digital technology and teaching are mutually incompatible.

The challenge seems to be about getting technology in the hands of the right teacher, those ‘great’ teachers who confidently capitalise on the potential of technology. This raises the question, should our focus be on the right teacher or in developing the right teacher?

It can be easy to argue that sometimes a certain teacher is not the right fit for a particular school. Maybe they have pedagogical beliefs that are in competition to the wider organisation or they seen to hold certain values that may not fit the particular status quo. Associated with this perspective, it is often claimed that there is no point ‘watering the rocks’. The solution for such a situation is to get another teacher. This time, the ‘right’ one.

The problem with picking the right teacher is that there is no definitive means of finding such a person. This right teacher implies that we are fixed in everything that we do and think. In addition to this, the ‘right’ teacher for today, may not be the ‘right’ teacher for tomorrow. Another alternative is to provide the conditions for the right teacher to develop and grow.

Focusing on the right conditions has its own challenges, the greatest being time and commitment. See this post from Paul Browning for some insight. The problem with implementing any technology, or pedagogical practice for that matter, is that they cannot simply be taken off the shelf and placed into a school, let alone a classroom. This is my concern about arguments around ‘best practice’. Too often they are picked up and placed in schools as panaceas, yet I have seen schools spend years forcing teachers to fall in line. When it comes to technology, the answer is often SAMR, with the question being why every teacher is not ‘redefining’ their practice, when ironically the idea of redefinition is continually changing.

The challenge seems to be to develop systems that begin with context, starting with the learners in mind. One way to do this is using something like the Modern Learning Canvas to create a picture of practice, which then starts a conversation that provides the means for teachers to take control of their on craft. This captures some of the complexity involved in the educational assemblages, where difference is celebrated and ideas are engaged with to make them better.

Claire Amos recently wondered whether schools have failed to show enough empathy in starting where the learners are. While in a post on innovation, Katie Martin suggests that schools that show the most movement are those that work around common goals and involve sharing strengths and weaknesses. Zachary Herrmann argues that if students are to flourish then it needs to start first with teachers flourishing first. Although this flourishing is often bottom-up, it is often made more possible when given the right conditions, a point made by Cameron Malcher in regards to the often unrecognised acts of leadership.


So what about you? How do you go about developing pedagogical practice? Are there teachers who just have it or are there things done that allow teachers to develop? As always, comments welcome.


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A Month of Plus

2017-03-24_06-51-37

Often it feels as if the discussions around being a connected educator resort to being a part of this or that community or signing up to a particular platform. For example, many argue that all educators should be on Twitter. When I think about my connected activities, I exist in a number of spaces, each with a different level of commitment and engagement. David White and Alison Le Cornu capture this with their idea of digital resident and visitor.

What is interesting is that beyond the commitment and balance between personal and professional, each application often offers a different set of features and affordances. Take Twitter readwriterespond  for example, allows such things as:

  • Post a message of 140 characters
  • Connect with ideas using hashtags and.people using handles
  • Add additional material, such as images and links

Although these features are continually tweaked, from adding an algorithm to the feed to the new functionality in the form of moments. What is interesting is that overtime the way these features are used changes and morphs. From an educational point of view, there has been a move to more serious and professional consumption, with this there has been a rise in automated engagement, while some conversations have been somewhat silenced with the rise of so-called ‘attack dogs’. See David Hopkins’ post for an example of a critique. In addition, I have changed both personally and professionally. Personally, I feel that I have developed an extensive network with different connections in different spaces. Although this is a positive, it has changed the way I engage with my feed. I also use other means to find posts and information. Professionally, I have become more mindful of my presence, especially what impact it might have with the various schools and teachers who I work with. One of my mainstays has been sharing.

As I read in other places I use Twitter as my first place to share. This month I decided to mix things up and change to Google+. Doug Belshaw is always talking about workflows, bringing in some different, junking what may not work anymore. I was interested in what would happen to my workflow if I had to junk Twitter. I understand that their are copies, such as Mastadon social, but I was particularly interested in what would happen if I moved to a completely new platform altogether. the differences.

So here is a summary of my experiences of moving in part to another space:

Positives

  • Longer Explanations: With the limit of 140 characters lifted, I started writing longer elaborations on my thoughts and reflections. I also included a quote for most posts. I have been doing this for a while with Diigo and then my newsletter.
  • More Thought Out: I found myself questioning what I posted on Google Plus. For some reason I am happy to post more frivolous content to Twitter, where the focus on summarising and quotes made me think again.
  • Text Formatting: Although it is only *bold*, _italicise_ and -strikethrough-, this simple formatting offers some different possibilities, such as italicising quotes or bolding keywords.

Negative

  • Serendipitous Conversations: Although there were a few comments and conversations on Plus, it is not quite the same as with Twitter. It would seem to have a smaller serendipity surface. There was neither the breadth or depth that can come with Twitter.
  • Connections and Communities: One aspect that stood out within Google Plus was the lack of connections. Don’t get me wrong, I have plenty of people in my Circles. However, it feels like there are more people on Twitter than there are on Plus. In addition to this, it would seem that people spend their time on Plus within Communities. The problem with this is that there are so many different communities. This can make it hard to work out where to share exactly.
  • Multiple Identities: Another point of confusion that Plus adds to the mix is that people often have multiple Identities, each with their own purpose and intent. Therefore, it can be a challenge when tagging people in a post as it is not always clear which account to share with.

So that was my month of residence in Google Plus. It definitely left me thinking about some of the challenges in moving between different spaces. So what about you? What have been your experiences associated with Google Plus? What would you miss without Twitter? As always, comments and perspectives welcome.


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Tips, Tricks and Sheets

Three Things


“Three Things” by mrkrndvs is licensed under CC BY-SA

I have been doing a bit of work with Google Sheets lately, here . To be honest, Sheets has been one of those applications which I have wanted to go further with for a while, but never really found the time or purpose. With the help of Ben Collins, Alice Keeler, Chris Betcher, Jay Atwood, Chris Harte and Eric Curts I have explored everything from formatting to formulas. Here then are some of my lessons learned through it all:

Smashing Cells Together

I have lost the amount of times that I have had to create a spreadsheet with a range of different data, but each somewhat related. For example, one column has a list of usernames, which then needs to be turned into an email address. Obviously the simple answer is to write two lists. However, the shortcut is to use ‘&’ to smash the two cells together. If you want two names combined then you use ‘&” “&’. To remove the formula from the cell, download as a CSV. This turns everything into text. Then you can either continue using the spreadsheet in another program or re-upload the new sheet.

Validating More than Just Data

I had always been aware of data validation. However, I had never quite seen the potential. Jay Atwood talks about keeping a menu of items in a separate tab in your sheet which you can easily make into a validated columns when collecting raw data. Another interesting use that I came upon is using a data validation cell is a button to select a particular focus. I found this via a video from Ben Collins who documents how to use the VLOOKUP formula to make a dynamic table. (You can actually find one built into the gradebook template in Sheets.) I took this further and made a dynamic table based on a CSV download of a simple timetable. Collins has also written a guide to creating wildcard to search through a data set. While the team at CIFL have developed a thorough introduction to the possibilities of the VLOOKUP formula.

Formatting

One of the big differences between Sheets and Microsoft Excel that I discovered early on with my use of GAFE/GSuite was the absence of formatting. It did not necessarily concern me. However, I worked with some teachers who were frustrated by this. Over time, Google has improved the formatting within Sheets. Now you can merge cells, add alternate colours and change direction of text. Although Sheets does not have the variety of preset formatting options, the Explore Tool now makes its best attempt to provide useful recommendations.

Colourful Conditions

Although it is easy enough to apply a conditional formatting to a set of numbers, it is not as obvious about how to deal with categorical data. The answer is to combine multiple single colour rules. Another useful trick is selecting the ‘awesome’ box with the conditional format menu open. This will then show all the rules applied throughout the sheet. Also, as you select each one, the range being affected is highlighted in the sheet.

Life Made Easier with Formulas

Last year, I decided to analyse my blogroll in an attempt to appreciate the diversity or lack thereof. I started by downloading my OPML file from Feedly and opening this up in a sheet. I then progressively went through my 200+ rss feeds and replaced them with the website, as well as the various categories. I recently discovered that I could have imported some of this data using the IMPORTFEED formula. In part it was Tom Woodward who uncovered this possibility for me through his post on exploring WordPress. The further that I go, the more I realise that formulas afford so many more possibilities than what is offered in the menu. For example, sorting using either filters or dropdowns can be limiting and restrictive. The SORT formula does the same thing, but with more of the nuances.

In Scripts with Trust

Moving on from formulas, I have also being toying around with a few scripts and addons lately. This has included:

      • TAGS Explorer: Martin Hawksey’s Twitter visualisation tool.
      • TimelineJS: the tool from KnightLab to build a visual timeline from a spreadsheet for representing timelines.  
      • Epic Rubric: Alice Keeler’s script for creating, collating and sending out rubrics to students.

More than building formulas, I feel that scripts involve a bit more effort and patience. Sometimes things do not work, but that is part of the learning to work backwards working out where things may have gone wrong. Usually it involves me breaking code that I was not meant to touch. I must be honest, I am still yet to properly dive into scripts and APIs, but know that is probably one of my next moves.

Creative Sheets

One of the areas that has surprised me about exploring Sheets is the various creative activities that seem to rise. Whether it be Tom Woodward’s play on magnetic poetry, Alice Keeler’s idea for pixel art, Eric Curts random emoji writing prompt generator and Jay Atwood’s use of text rotations to create a shape poem. Activities like this always leave me rethinking the limits as to what an application like Sheets may have to offer.


So that is me, what about you? Have you had any experiences with Sheets? As always, comments welcome.


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Emotional Situations in Coaching

Behaviours

“Behaviours” by mrkrndvs is licensed under CC BY-SA

I recently finished a two-day introductory course into coaching through Growth Coaching International. Their approach is based around three core ‘pillars’: a framework for the coaching conversation (the GROWTH model); core micro communication skills, and; coaching as a way of being. What interested me most was the notion of ‘coaching as a way of being’ and the impact that being a coach can have on all aspects of life.

One of the things that was spoken about was emotional intelligence and the importance to know thyself first and foremost. Popularised by Daniel Goleman, it is made up of four elements that encapsulate understanding of the self: self awareness, self management, social awareness and social skills. Whether it be different levels of empathy or strengths analysis, the discussion during the course seemed to came back to a concrete definition of who we each are. This ideal seemed to ignore the different situations within which each of us exist each and every day.

In The End of Average, Todd Rose unpacks the problem of the average man. In its place, he reinstates the individual and all of the nuances that this brings. One of Rose’s concerns is the lack of context when it comes to discussion of character traits, such as emotional intelligence. Going beyond the surveys which provide a list of strengths, the challenge is to understand the various situations within which these occur.

The strategy that Rose proposes is the notion of ‘if then’ signatures. That is, if it is a particular situation, then it will produce these traits. For example, we may act one way at home and another way in our workplace or one way while teaching a class and another while leading teachers.

I am not saying that such character tests do not have a use. I wonder if they can be used as a provocation to drive self awareness about who we might be depending of which situation. As always, comments welcome.


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Generous Orthodoxy and Educational Change

In Episode 9 of Malcolm Gladwell’s podcast Revisionist History, he looks into the concept of ‘generous orthodoxy’. The term comes from theologian Hans Fry, who said,

Orthodoxy without generosity leads to blindness, while generosity without orthodoxy is shallow and empty.

The challenge is finding balance between the orthodoxy of the past and a generosity to the world of the present. Putting this differently, you need to respect the body you are trying to heal. To illustrate this Gladwell uses the example of a Mennonite pastor, Chester Wenger, who had to give up his position in the church to wed his gay son, but also move the orthodoxy forward. The question that needs to be considered is what you might give up or recognise to bring about a change in orthodoxy?

You do not have to look very far online to find arguments why education is broken. Although change is always needed within any organisation, the danger of the ‘broken’ myth is that it portrays everything in every school as being wrong. This call for transformation maybe passionate, but it denies the reality of the past and in some ways the present. Subsequently, when the conversation moves to developing education there are many who are off-side. Although one solution seems to be starting a school from scratch, this does not seem realistic or sustainable. Another solution is to start by celebrating the strengths that already exist within education and working from there. Some recent examples of this are the various interviews on the Modern Learners podcast, with people like Pam Moran and Art Fessler, as well as Richard Wells’ book A Learner’s Paradise. 

Coming at the problem of ‘generous orthodoxy’ in his own way, Ewan McIntosh talks about the ideas of ‘rocks and whirlpools’. Borrowing from Leicester, Bloomer, Stewart and Ewing’s book on Transformative Innovation in Education, McIntosh talks about the dangers of being pulled too far either way.

If you spend all your time protecting the Rocks of the status quo in Horizon One then you risk becoming a dinosaur, isolated as the world sails by. But spend all your time thrashing about in the Whirlpools of Third Horizon innovations then people might perceive you and your ideas a little bit like Scotland’s national animal, the Unicorn – magical, mysterious but leaving people never quite sure whether the ideas become reality, never quite sure whether they can take you seriously. A balance between the two is where innovation lies: creative ideas that borrow from the heritage of the organisation’s founding values. (How to Come Up with Great Ideas and Actually Make Them Happen)

The challenge is finding a balance between creativity and the status quo, something that is unique to each context.

When I think about my experiences of education, there are many factors which contribute to change, including technology, student action, relationships, passion, pedagogy, learning, trust and empathy. Each aspect involves finding balance. For example,

  • Integrating technology is even better if you reconsider how and what you teach, but that does not mean that students no longer use pen and paper for some tasks.
  • Agency and autonomy is even better when it is not reliant on control and punishment, but that does not mean there are no collective values and expectations.
  • Open planned classrooms work even better if such spaces are adjusted to fit the needs and purpose of the learning at hand, but that does not mean throwing away all sense of order and structure.
  • Relationships with students are stronger when teachers give something of themselves, but that does not mean they lay out their whole life story.

The challenge with many of these aspects is that they take time. Students do not become autonomous because there are no more detentions and open planned spaces do not become functional spaces because the rows of tables are scrapped. Joel Speranza captures this dilemma explaining that we can do things fast, but unless we outlay the appropriate capital to back this, it will not be right. If you are going to do something, you need to do it right and doing it right usually takes time and commitment.

So what about you? What does change look like to you? Does it involve balance? As always, comments welcome.


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