So Which Pedagogical Cocktails Are Drinking Today?

cc licensed (BY-NC) flickr photo by Thomas Hawk: http://flickr.com/photos/thomashawk/2355249759


I am not sure if I was being naive or slightly arrogant, but this post began its life as an effort to provide an overview of the different modes and methods of inquiry. Whether it be challenged-based, project-based, problem-based or plain old inquiry, I was trying to bring everything together in my own head, to make more sense of it all. However, what I soon realised was that the more I explored the topic, the more variants that appeared, with so many different ideas and interpretations. It all came to a head when +Richard Olsen shared a blog with me from +Ewan McIntosh on the difference between project-based learning and design learning. As you read through both McIntosh’s post, as well as various comments that follow, you realise that there is little consistency throughout. Although many of the differences are only marginal, there is little agreement on what constitutes either problem-based learning and design learning.
At the end of the day, the reality is that every teacher is different – we just choose to deny it. Even though we may practise a certain pedagogy, it does not necessarily mean that it will be the same as the next person. Rather, everyone has their our own intricacies and twists on the way they do things. What then starts to matter more is the practitioner rather than the pedagogy. I think that this is the point that John Hattie and co are trying to make by moving the focus from the student to the teacher.
I believe that this re-visioning of education is best summed up by Kath Murdoch in her fantastic post on the attributes of an inquiry teacher. Murdoch argues that inquiry-based learning is more than planning a unit, it is about facilitating this learning in the classroom. As she states, “Inquiry is not just about knowing how to plan – it’s about how we teach.” This got me thinking that maybe a better approach to work towards isn’t about identifying the ‘best’ practise as revolving around curriculum where the end is decided before the beginning, maybe our focus should be on how we teach and adjusting this to the needs of each and every situation.

The Pedagogical Cocktail

The idea that caught me was the metaphor of a cocktail. While chatting with some new found members of my PLN (Dick Faber and Alan Thwaites) it occurred to me that our chats were something akin to being at a bar and what we were drinking were pedagogical cocktails. However, unlike a traditional bar where you go up and request your drink, all the ingredients are laid out for us to make up our own. This creates a scenario where choice is only limited to our own creativity. Then after enjoying a cocktail or two, we are able to share back and reflect with those in our networks, hearing about the ups and downs, and helping us with our next choice of cocktail.
I think that the problem is that sometimes we think that we feel that we can only partake of a particular cocktail, that someone else always knows better, therefore we should listen to them. However, this denial of choice often results in teachers who have little engagement and ownership over their curriculum and classrooms, while it also restricts many potentials and possibilities. Instead, teachers maintain a status-quo that often no longer accounts for the world that will come tomorrow, let alone we live in today.
In an interview for the +TER Podcast, John Goh captures this situation by suggesting that, “all of us have a ‘default’ value from teachers college.” This concoction of tastes reassures and comforts us. That old friend whose welcoming aromas makes us feel at ease. The challenge though, as Goh goes on to propose, is that “we need to make sure that we move on from that.” Although we may know it, like it and find comfort within the default value, we need to move on and adjust our choice of cocktail to the food on offer or to the environment being set. It just wouldn’t feel right drinking a stock beer with everyone wearing tuxedos. The reality is that it is not enough to going back to the tried and trusted again and again.

The Right Method for the Moment

I entered this year with the endeavour to provide more time for student lead learning. Other than exploring +Mark Barnes‘s The 5-Minute Teacher, I took to exploring the potentials of different modes of inquiry. Having had some history with inquiry-based learning, I returned like the prodigal son, but this time instead of sticking to one particular model, I was instead interested in identifying the right method for the moment. This is portrayed by two contrasting units of work, one for Robotics, while the other for Business Studies.

An Introduction to Robotics

Having taught the class for three years, it was due for an overhaul. Fine, I had refined things each year, but instead of rolling out the same assignment with a set of questions and tasks containing a restricted set of ideas and information, I had taken to providing more opportunities for students to follow up on their own interests. So I began with a series of lessons focused on immersing students into different aspects of robotics, such as what constitutes a robot, some of the history associated with robotics and how everything is represented through popular culture. Once students had completed these tasks, they posed questions associated with each of the three areas. They then chose one of their questions to investigate and present back. As a class, we then created a measurement for greatness to provide a point of reflection for students to work towards. I really wanted to share these collaboratively and get everyone commenting and questioning on each others presentations. However, due to some technical restrictions, we weren’t able to do this. 

How Can we Measure Success?

On the flip side, for Business Studies I started the unit by posing the question ‘how can we measure success?’ From there the class investigated who they consider as being successful and what makes them so. After that, I gave the challenge of coming up with a way of measuring the success of a student, the principal and Lionel Messi. They then shared their different conceptions with each other, giving feedback about what they thought was good and what they would improve. Once they had fixed up their various forms of measurement, the class then used Socrative to vote on which one was the most effective and why. With this decision, they then decided to work in pairs to make a series of profiles of successful people and combine them into a book.

Although I am sure there are some who would argue that I have not really done inquiry, that I have probably cut corners and that I haven’t really taken authentic action. I would agree and I admit that this is something that I still need to work on. However, sometimes ideals aren’t always ideal. At the very least, a move from the teacher at the centre to the student was a positive change.

Know What Your Drinking When Ordering from the Bar

It can be so easy to jump on a band wagon, to wear a certain ‘ism’ on your sleeve as if it were some sort of given. The reality though is that there are no ‘givens’, instead their are choices and consequences, as I have stated elsewhere. The most difficult thing to do is actually making the best choice for the current context and situation. In a recent interview on +TER Podcast, +David Price suggested, “I’d rather you do didactic learning well, than project learning badly.” His point is that we sometimes choose a particular method because we feel we have to and baulk at others, because they are seen as flawed or contradictory. However saying a blanket ‘no’ to didactic learning is just as bad as saying a blanket ‘no’ to inquiry-based learning. No is not really a useful word when discussion choice.

+John Spencer makes a similar point in his insightful post ‘Seven Horrible Things That Really Aren’t All That Horrible‘. In this post, Spencer discusses such taboos as worksheets, multiple choice tests and textbooks, arguing that sometimes it is how these things are used which is the issue and that sometimes they do have a place.

In the end, the most important thing that we can do is be conscious of the decisions we make. I am aware that this is no simple matter, as was pointed out to me by +Darryn Swaby on Twitter:

@mrkrndvs #pedagogicalcocktail Here’s the thing…I’m not sure I know [what pedagogical cocktail I’ve been drinking]. I think that is why your analogy resonated with me.— Darryn Swaby (@DarrynSwaby) March 28, 2014

To me this all starts by asking yourself, what does my classroom look, feel and sound like and how is it different from other classrooms. I think that this may be what +Richard Olsen is aiming at with his new venture ‘The Modern Learning Canvas‘. Where teachers are not only encouraged to identify the how and what associated with learning and teaching, but most importantly, the why. At the very least, we owe it to ourselves to at least be informed, through data and feedback, so that we can make the best choice possible, rather than keep on drinking the same old cocktail again and again.

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Missing the Celebrations and Successes in the Educational Landscape

Tonight was parent/teacher/student interviews. In between one interview and while awaiting the next, a parent of a past student came over and just had to thank me. I had taught her daughter five years ago in Year 8 and she was now in Year 12. The mother said that her daughter had asked her to thank me for challenging her all those years ago and that she was glad about it now.

 
It is not very often that you receive thanks in the teaching caper. Even more so when you work in administration. I believe that this is one of the most challenging aspects of education. Teachers are so often told when they have failed or should do something different. Very rarely do teachers get told what they have done right and if so, such celebrations often deny the complexities associated with such achievements. For example, the teachers of the dux of Year 12 may take some of the credit, but this denies so many other factors and influences, such as support from home and the effort of former teachers in laying the foundation for learning.
 
What makes student’s thanks even stranger is that at the time I was chastised about what I was doing. The class had quite a few successful students who were not really taking to the idea of writing an essay with a prescribed structure. So instead I pushed the students to explore the structure that already existed within quality examples of writing. This was contrary to what the other classes were doing, but having tried everything else, I felt that it was what the students needed.
 
The reality is that this is the truth of celebrations and success. Although there are times in life when we do get to gape in the glory, but more often than not, stories of success go untold. This is not to say that they do not exist, but that life just doesn’t always allow for them to be heard. Sometimes this is because they only come to fruition years later or we become too busy to tell someone.
 
Has someone thanked you lately for something that you that others were critical of? Also, when was the last time you thanked someone for what they had done? 

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Celebrating Other Voices in the Moment

creative commons licensed (BY-SA) flickr photo by mrkrndvs: http://flickr.com/photos/aaron_davis/16109207045

 

In an insightful post, ‘Missing the Moments By Trying to Capture the Moments‘, +Chris Wejr spoke about the dangers of missing the moment by failing to just be there. Wejr’s issue is with technology and the modern trend to try and capture each and every moment. However, I think that it is not just technology which prevents us from being there. Sometimes the helter skelter nature of life means that even though we are there, we are not always aware of those significant moments that occur around us each and every day.
 

Final Moments

This was all brought to the fore with the recent passing of my mother. It is a strange experience being told that there is no more treatment that they can do, that the cancer is terminal. On the one hand, the doctor gives some indicative date, while others talk about how they were told that there was nothing that could be done for them and that was over ten years ago. Subsequently, every time that I saw my mum in the last few weeks of her life, I was never sure if it would be the final time. A part of you realises this, however I feel that there is also something inside that simply denies that it will never happen. This is something that I have written about elsewhere (‘Denial Never Worked for No-One’).
 
My last real one to one chat happened when I was least expecting it. With my step dad out picking up my brother and sister from school, I had a few moments with my mum. All of the sudden the tone of the conversation changed from being chatty, talking about this and that, but nothing in particular, to being more serious. I am not sure if it was something that I said or whether it was something that mum was just waiting to say, but she learnt forward from the couch and told me that I was a great brother, an amazing son and a fantastic husband and that I should not listen to anyone who says otherwise. In my usual manner, I tried to dodge these compliments. Like my mum, I just don’t like being pumped up. However, it didn’t occur to my till much later that these were mum’s last meaningful words for me. Although we had a few more conversations, none of them were as deep as this moment.
 

Being Aware of the Other Voices in the Classroom

This all got me reflecting about the conversations that we have in the classroom and thinking about the opportunities that we may let pass by because we were distracted by or more focused on something else. With so many conversations occurring in and out of the classroom, it can be so easy to fall into auto mode where we respond but we are not really there. Where we give a student answer, but fail to realise the intention behind the question. Where we may negatively respond to a student who is acting out, when the student in question may in fact be calling out for help.
 
In a post ‘Listening to the Other Voices in the Classroom‘ I spoke about the role of technology as being a vehicle for capturing all the voices in the classroom. Whether it be sharing ideas with Padlet or collecting responses using Socrative, there are many ways to collect information. However, what this overlooks is that the true other voice in the classroom is that voice whose response is incidental and unexpected, whose response doesn’t have a place in a daily planner, whose response is not necessarily easily resolved. The problem with this though is that we are not always ready for such responses, nor are we always willing to accept them.
 
So how are you making sure that you are listening to those other voices in the classroom? How are you making sure that students feel comfortable sharing those things important to them? Would love to know your thoughts and ideas.

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Denial Never Worked for No-one

 
For a while, denial worked for me. I treated it like some sort of solution. However, I’ve learnt the hard way that denial is a coping strategy, a way of masking a problem, a way of pretending everything is ok. The issue though is that at the end of the day everything isn’t ok and the problem still remains.
I was reminded of this recently with the death of my mum of kidney cancer at the ripe old age of 54. I remember when in the middle of last year that she first told me she had cancer and that it had already moved into her liver, I just thought that she would be ok. No matter that it would be incredibly difficult to operate, I just thought that she would somehow get through it. She overcame other challenges in life, why would this be any different? She didn’t and it wasn’t until the last few weeks that I truly realised the extent of it all. No matter that she hadn’t eaten properly for six months, that she had lost much of her weight. Like her, I was an eternal optimist. Not my mum, not my family, but as my wife so rightly put it, ‘cancer does not discriminate’. There are no rules about who gets it. Sometimes that is just life. The reality is, being in denial never helped me, especially at the end.
While reflecting on the matter, it occurred to me that denial pervades everywhere, especially in schools. Whether it be the denial that every student learns differently, that government tests and formal exams do not measure everything, that for some students there are greater concerns in their life than submitting a piece of homework or completing an assignment – there are so many examples of situations in school where it just becomes easier and more convenient to deny some things.
A really good example of this is the place of technology and digital literacies in school. In a recent post, ‘Choosing Not to Know‘, +George Couros spoke about the culture of fear that hangs over some school leaders in regards to implementing technology and social media. As he stated:
I had two administrators approach me yesterday and start a conversation.
One told me about how their IT department had closed all social media in their school and about how their fear that if they were to open it. The fear shared was that their would be so many more issues of cyberbullying, inappropriate content shared, amongst other things.
 
What stands out to me with Couros’ discussion is that it is not only a question of fear that leads to the locking down of social media, but also an act of denial. The world is changing, yet there are some in education who believe that social media is not significant enough to incorporate into the classroom. I understand that there are issues associated with opening up the classroom and providing more access access to social media, as Dick Faber pointed out to me on Twitter:
 
@mrkrndvs @EduTweetOz @gcouros we had it open,only to teachers @ students with tafe access, world of pain;from hacked tafe/tchr accounts
— dickfaber (@dickfaber) March 10, 2014
 
However, I would argue that this risk is not simply alleviated by locking schools down. This simply shuns some of the problems, but in doing so fails to resolve the bigger challenge, that of prevention.
I remember teaching at my first school ten years ago. We had a student who had a will to destruct, so he created a virus and progressively installed it on a dozen desktop computers via a floppy disk. Locking the systems down did nothing to stop this situation. Sadly, when there is a will, there is a way. Opening up the school to social media simply changes the possibility of those ways.
Instead of denying that social media exists, we should be asking the question, which application allows students to explore and understand more about social media, so that when students leave the classroom and the school they are more aware of the world around them and their place within it.
In the end what underlies so many instances of denial is the inability to recognise the change that exists everyday, around us. So often we lock our lives down to an idyllic representation of how things are. However, this notion of the world not only denies so many facets to make it possible, but also those aspects that change and evolve each and everyday. Associated with change is the inability to allow others to learn and fail. It can be so easy to hold onto an ideal, a perception of who someone is. As I have stated elsewhere, this failure to recognize change often denies who someone could be. Whether it be through errors in our ways or personal development, we are all constantly evolving.
I understand that sometimes it isn’t possible to fathom everything, that you can’t support the whole world, that a little bit of denial never hurt no one. However, on the flip side, it never really helped anyone either. Maybe the first and most important step is simply recognizing those complexities that we so easily deny. Although we may not be able to resolve all such problems, sometimes it is enough to recognize that complexities and chaos does exist in the world. In some respect, that is the biggest part of the battle won.
I would love to know your thoughts.

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Looking Back to Look Forward

During the week I was asked by the principal to represent the Middle Years (5-9) on a new ICT Committee. Although the school has invested in a lot of ICT, there has been very little explicit leadership to drive it. Often ICT was the last dot point of many on the list of responsibilities allocated to various leading teachers in the school. Instead it has been driven by leadership with a little l, those staff who have a passion and interest in the area. 
 
The first task set for the group is to develop a three year plan. Thinking about where the school might be in three years time got me reflecting how far things have evolved in the past three years. Here are just a few changes:
 

Collaboration and the Cloud

Three years ago, staff and students were dependent on the school share drives to share resources. The only way to really collaborate was through email. As I have stated elsewhere, the problem with this is that the ‘original’ document often gets lost in the process, meaning that everyone ends up adding their information to the files on the share drive. The move online began with detentions and reading conferences. Since then it has included sharing a wider range of resources, including planning documents and lesson activities.
 

Listening to Students

Gone is the dependency on hands up and sticky notes on the board, there are now so many interactive ways to involve students in their learning. Whether it be using ActivExpressions attached to the whiteboards or websites like Socrative and Answergarden on the web, there is an array of technology available to engage students.
 

Interaction vs. Presentation.

Although projectors and interactive whiteboards were around in the school long before three years ago, there use in last few years has progressed from simply delivering presentations to being an essential part of the lesson. Whether that means embedding hidden videos to improve the flow of a lesson or sorting information to promote discussion. More teachers are using them to actually create content that sparks conversation and student learning.
 

Online Spaces

Starting with the Ultranet and since moving to Edmodo, online spaces are progressively being used to not only convey information, but also celebrate student learning. Whether it be setting a quiz for homework, rather than giving out a sheet, or providing students with regular feedback, these spaces supplement learning and provide an option for students and teachers that was not available three years ago.
 

Portable Devices

The only portable devices available three years ago were digital cameras and Flip Cams. Since then, iPads have progressively been distributed amongst principal class and leading teachers to aide with administration, as well as support in regards to teaching. In addition to this, more and more staff are utilizing their smart devices, such as tablets and phones to support their work. This has made a considerable difference to communication, for when the server is down, teachers are no longer in the dark. Many simply access emails and other such information via their phones. In a school with 60+ staff, this is significant.
 

Supporting Teaching, Learning and Administration

Whereas in the past staff would have to sort through various excel workbooks and create their own formulas, there is now a whole range of tools and programs available to support teaching and day to day learning, such as Student Management Tools and Student Performance Analyser. These applications allow teachers and administrators to not only share information, but also set a range of formulas that lets you sort through a various data sets in a more functional manner.
 

eSmart

One of the significant changes over the last few years has been to go through the process of becoming eSmart school. This has involved a range of processes including reviewing and refining school policies relating to wellbeing, developing an explicit curriculum educating students about the appropriate use of ICT, as well as connecting with members about the perils of cybersafety.
 
 
Looking back, it is interesting to consider how much has changed in such a small amount of time. I think therefore that the challenge over the next three years is not necessarily bringing in a whole set of programs and practises, rather it is building upon those foundations that have already been set so as to continue to redefine teaching and learning in and out of the classroom. 

One of the biggest issues within the school is that too many of the good things that have happened have done so in isolation. Therefore, in my view, moving on, it is an imperative that as a team we create a plan with clear goals for everyone, provide more personalised professional development and get more staff on board. For as +Dan Rockwell suggested in his post, “help is not helpful when it creates dependence.” At the moment, too much is left to too few and it just isn’t helping anyone.

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When the Assessment of Performance is not Actually about Performance

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After trying to swing the axe to the performance and development process last year, the Victorian government has returned with a range of changes in a draft format for consultation. This time they have brought a ‘balanced scorecard’ to the table. A series of goals spread across four areas depending on whether you are a principal or a teacher. These goals are to be developed in the context of each school’s annual implementation plan (AIP) and are aligned with the AITSL teaching standards. In addition to the goals, teachers agree to the evidence that they will be assessed against and if they fail to get in the top two tiers of the assessment scale then they will not move up their increment.

 
Now I must start off and say, I believe in goals. Whether it be something that is fluid in the sense outlined by Kath Murdoch in her focus on one word or a more structured approach that I have spoken about elsewhere. However, I am not so sure about setting goals that are so explicitly attached to financial progression. To me goals help drive us by guiding our journey, giving us direction, but they are not necessarily things linked to monetary gain. When I set my own goals this year, I didn’t do so with a financial incentive in mind, instead I set my goals in an attempt to be the best I can be. Here then are some of my concerns with the governments new guidelines:
 

Whose AIP is followed? 

With a key focus on AIP’s, which school do those teachers who manage their time between two or even three different schools align themselves with? I understand that such teachers have a base school, a school where they teach the most. However, lets say that the teacher in question teaches five days a week and only two days at their ‘base school’, is it fair that their progression is measured on only a proportion of their time? In addition to this, who is responsible for providing support and ‘development’ for such teachers, especially when such activities occur during scheduled meetings and the teacher in question is at a different school on those days.
 

Beyond the Key Domains

I have found that, with the introduction of more and more data, schools have become really good at measuring the performance of key learning areas, such as English and Mathematics. This is often because the goals set in the AIP and information on the My School website directly relate to these areas. However, what happens if you teach outside of these domains? For example in Physical Education, Humanities or Technology, what datasets are you to base results on there? It can be hard to measure ‘students outcome’ when you may only teach a cohort for two hours a week and you are basing your improvement on Progression Points and the Student Opinion Survey. This is something that I have spoken about elsewhere. In addition to this, what about those administration roles such as Year Level Co-ordinator, Daily Organiser, Timetabler and Report Co-ordinator. Although they do not have a direct impact on student learning, such individuals often lay the foundation of learning. For example, I remember in my first year of teaching half out my four sessions of English had been timetabled for the last two sessions on a Friday. This had a dramatic impact on what learning I was able to facilitate. How then do you measure these roles?
 

No Room for the Personal

I understand the need to align goals with the school’s Annual Implementation Plan, however how are we really fostering individual passion and innovation that teachers bring into a school. As I have suggested elsewhere, schools need to provide more time and support for teachers to explore their passions and then look at how this can be tapped into or made use of within the school community. This is something that both +Chris Wejr and Jason Borton have written about respectively. See for example, Creating a Time for Teachers to Tinker with Ideas by Chris Wejr and ‘Leading by Enabling – My School Leadership Approach‘ by Jason Borton.
 

Measuring the Immeasurable

While reflecting on an article by Thomas Friedman in the New York Times, +George Couros posed the question: “how will a system that is so focused on grades and marks deal with developing skills that can’t be easily measured?” So often attributes such as humility, resilience, adaptability and the love of learning are integral to working as a team, yet when everything is brought back to grades, scores and evidence, where do they stand? Although they are important, they don’t necessarily fit with our endless desire for data and measurable results.
 

Lifelong Learning

To me, goals need to be more than just about being SMART, they need to be personal and they need to be meaningful. I understand that there needs to be accountability. However, enforcing goals from the outside in provides little aspiration towards life-long learning. Instead teachers will negotiate generic goals set and manage them as a team.
 

No Room for Failure

As I have written elsewhere, we are really good at celebrating what we deem to be ‘success’, however is that really that successful? However, it is how we embrace failure that often spurs us on to achieve greatness. With the negative consequences associated with failure, there is little room left for taking risks and breaking with the norm. I understand that change for changes sack is not a good thing, but simply doing the same things again and again because it is easy and comfortable denies the changes that occur regularly in the world around us.
 
The biggest challenge when it comes to thinking about the performance and development process is what would be a better solution. It can be a bit of a cop-out to simply say how everything is ‘wrong’ all the time, but I do not disagree that there are certain aspects of the current system that need to be adjusted. 
 
In a recent post, Matt Esterman spoke about the NSW Board of Studies, Teaching and Educational Standards’ (BOSTES) process for becoming a Professionally Accomplished teacher. In this, he reflected on the process involved in moving through the standards. This involves providing evidence and reflecting upon practises in order to be accredited for the next level up. Clearly this comes back to data and evidence. However, from what I can see, it still allows a teacher to fail and learn from their experiences, rather than be reprimanded at the first speed hump.
What struck me the most in Esterman’s post was the need to document progression. Whether accreditation processes, such as the VIT Graduate Program in Victoria, are a ruse or not, there is always something positive gained out of reflecting on learning. Here I am reminded of +George Couros‘ post about the importance of maintaining a digital portfolio. Maybe the solution is that instead of forcing teachers to set arbitrary goals they should be forced to maintain a professional blog reflecting on their learning. Maybe that way staff will better identify areas for improvement.
 
Clearly, no matter what solution is chosen there will be someone disgruntled with the choice. However, there has to be a better system than one that seeks to scrutinises rather than celebrate learning.

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Change the Mindset, Don’t Change the Program

‘Who Needs Pythagoras’ Theorem?’ by dullhunk (Flickr)
 
This year my school made the move from Google Apps to Dropbox in regards to sharing planning documents. This was not my personal choice, especially as I had spent so much time and energy working with the technician to set Google Apps in Education in place last year. However, as +Dan Donahoo pointed out at ICTEV, it takes a village to make a decision. This means that the outcome reached in the end may not be the solution proposed at the start. The process is actually what matters the most. So a bit of background to the process.
 
It is always fascinating to follow the thread back to when various tools and techniques were introduced in a school. Like a seed on the foot of an explorer traipsing across the countryside, Dropbox was brought into the school by the regional coaches who used it to share various documents and resources with staff in the school. Unlike Google Drive, Dropbox allowed a wide range of files types, as well as offline access. It first started with Mathematics, then progressively moved through the other areas, until it was decided by leadership that it would be adopted across the whole school.
 
Many were put off GAFE is that it was online and our Internet was not always trustworthy. In addition to that, it was just so foreign for teachers who had grown accustomed to the stylistic delights of Microsoft Word. What has been interesting is that, although not the same as Google Apps, there has still been a litany of problems with Dropbox. Take for example:
  • School Proxy. When staff come to school they need to manually change their preferences.
  • Multiple Documents. There is an agreed practise that if someone else already has a document open and you happen to create a copy then you are responsible to add the new information to the original. 
  • Space. For staff who work across multiple areas, there is little space left in the standard 2GB after the various folders have been shared. This has led to putting some larger files, such as video, on the share drive.
  • Glitches. Some staff have issues with either uploading files, while others have done work at home only for the files to magically disappear at school.
And the list goes on. What this transition has taught me though is that we can spend forever looking for the perfect fix. However, the fix is only part of the solution. In addition to going through the process involved in coming to a decision, what we actually do once we have made that decision to change is just as important. What everyone really needs to learn is how to overcome various hurdles and hiccups. So often people think that the answer to problem solving is to holla for the nearest technician. Although there are some issues which we can’t solve, there are many which we can with a little nous. No matter how simple the solution, there will always be a problem that needs to be overcome. We need then a change of mindset, not to simply change the program every time we have a problem.

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Primary vs. Secondary – the Great Educational Schism

This post is co-written with +Catherine Gatt. Catherine is a Primary ICT Specialist, with both Primary classroom experience, as well as a Secondary background.
 
 
In a recent post on the Connected Principals blog, Sam LeDeaux posed the question: ‘Are Educators Passionate About Their Profession?‘ His basic premise was whether teacher’s go to work or go to school. This is really a part of a wider debate in education about perspective and the way we see things. One other such area where this is prevalent is the great debate over the differences between the Primary and Secondary classroom.
 
Working in a P-9 school has its benefits, including the ability to gain a valuable vantage point. However, so often with every positive there is a dark side lurking, a constant comparison about the differences in how things are done, about who works harder, about which is easier. What is disappointing is that there is often little evidence used to support these arguments, let alone first hand experience. So here is our musing on the matter with a view to both sides of the divide …

 

 

Primary

Positives

Rapport. One of the biggest positives to being a Primary teacher is that you can invest more energy and resources into a smaller group of students, rather than spreading it across a whole lot of classes. With this, you can target areas of concern or enrichment more specifically across all learning areas, not just in the subject that you teach, as can be the way in the Secondary classroom.
 
More Flexibility. Having a class for over 20 hours a week, you have more time to mould and maneuver. Therefore, if something needs to be finished or you miss out on a day due to an excursion, you have the flexibility to move sessions around to fit the needs of the students rather than the needs of the timetable.
Everyday is Different. With the opportunity to teach so many different areas, there is never any doubling up and repetition. Therefore, everyday becomes that little bit different.
A Whole Range of Experiences. Rather than getting to know how Johnny works in English or Science, working with Johnny all day, everyday, whether it be in the classroom or on an excursion, Primary teachers are privy to a wide range of opportunities and experiences. What is good about this is that the focus becomes about Johnny as a learner, rather than how Johnny is learning in XYZ.

 

 

Negatives

One Class, All of the Time. For some teachers this can be hard. If you have a difficult student who you just struggle to click with or a student who drains all of your time and attention, being their number one teacher can be a strain.
 
More Non-Face-to-Face Time. Not sure if this is consistent around the world. However, in Victoria Primary teachers get 2.5 hours for planning and administration on top of their time after school, compared to 5 hours that Secondary teachers get. An added point of confusion is that this time is simply non-face-to-face teaching and can still, under the agreement, be dictated by the school how it is used, whether this be planning in a group or monitoring students. Therefore, 2.5 hours can dwindle away to nothing once you fit planning and the odd parent meeting in.
More Growth and Differentiation. This is a slightly contentious issue, but it is fair to say that the difference between a student coming in at Prep and then leaving at the end of Year 6 is far greater than a student coming in at Year 7 and leaving at the end of Year 12. To go from a student who can’t hold a pencil or cut up a piece of paper to a student who can (hopefully) organise themselves and their learning is far greater than what occurs in the Secondary classroom.
Greater Parent Involvement. While this is often a positive, it can sometimes be a negative. There is far greater scrutiny and stress applied by parents in Primary school. Often this pressure has waned by the time students get to Secondary school.
Jack of all Trades and a Master of None. This is a significant point with the recent implementation of the Australian National Curriculum. Teachers in the Early Years are now being asked to explicitly teach subjects like Science and History, whereas in the past they were incorporated into integrated units of study and were not necessarily required to assess some of these areas. In his commentry on the +TER Podcast, Stephen Breen, President of the Western Australian Primary Principals’ Association, described the National Curriculum as , “basically a secondary model in a primary area.”
One Perspective. Despite all the guidelines, shared planning, rubrics and moderation, progress can so often be subjective and come down to the teacher judgement. On top of this, with so many areas to manage, it can be difficult to track and then there are the inter-disciplinary subjects.

 

 

Secondary

Positives

Particular Passion. Only teaching a couple of subjects, Secondary teachers can communicate and instil a passion for a specific area, rather than spreading your energies across the board. For example, you might be a fantastic musician and therefore simply take students for music.
 
Progress and Perspective. Progress is easier to track and less subjective. Even if you are the only teacher who gives Johnny a progression point for writing, you can at least speak with the Johnny’s other teachers about how he goes in their subjects.
Independence, Organisation and Schedules. Unlike the fluid timetable that sometimes exist in the Primary classroom, in the Secondary environment you know where you are teaching, what you are teaching and when as it is explicitly stated in the timetable.
Parents Trust Your Judgement. Parents, in most cases, ‘trust’ your judgements more and are less likely to interfere with decision making.

 

 

Negatives

Connections more Difficult. When you could teach a particular class for only an hour per week, maintaining rapport can be more difficult. Often such connections are fostered outside the classroom, making things such as yard duty, sporting days and excursions, so much more important.
 
Shared Responsibilities. Targeting a student’s specific needs becomes a joint responsibility across many faculties and can become difficult to monitor. Although it can be good to get a wider perspective on the problem, deciding who and how the problem will be addressed is another matter.
Engagement and Behaviour. Having spent years in education, some students have had enough of schooling and can therefore be more difficult to reason with. In addition to this, hormones kick in. Often behaviour issues become much more serious and can be more difficult to intervene. Added to all this, the tendency for teacher focused learning in many Secondary classrooms leaves some students feeling lost and alienated about who they are meant to be and what answer they are supposed to give.
Load Spread Too Thin. Your energy, time and resources are spread across a wide area of students on a daily basis. It is plausible in some schools to teach up to six different classes in one day.
Lack of Perspective. It is so easy to become ‘blinkered’ in your view of education and what is important when all you teach is one subject. Although this can provide a great depth of knowledge and passion for a certain area, it can also lack a wider perspective. Associated with this, once you are entrenched in one area, you are often less willing to take on new teaching challenges.

 

 

A Different Kind of Busy

I think that a piece like this leaves more questions than it does answers. For it takes for granted what a ‘Primary’ and ‘Secondary’ classroom looks and feels like. There are still so many other different roles being played out in schools that so often go unaccounted, such as the Primary specialist teacher who often teacher a different class every lesson or the leading teacher whose crossover between coaching and accountability often brings with it its own headaches. In addition to this, there is the discrepancy in Secondary between the core subjects which are often allocated a session a day compared with health and humanities which are lucky to get more than two sessions a week in most schools, if that. The reality is that it is all just a different kind of busy.
 
The question then about which is ‘harder’ or ‘more difficult’ ignores one of the most important ingredients when it comes to teaching, personal preferences and passion. The question instead should be what do you prefer or what can you bring to the classroom, rather than tedious tit for tat about which has it easier or better. What is most important at the end of the day is that we don’t lose track of the most essential ingredient of them all: the learner.
 
If you think that there is something that we have missed or failed to account for, please leave a comment below. We would love to know your thoughts and to continue the conversation, especially in regards to different perspectives from learning environments around the globe.

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