In a recent post responding to the act of giving so prevalent in this festive season, +Aubrey Daniels International suggested that maybe it is not such a good idea to buy the boss a holiday gift. In the same vein as David Letterman, Daniels provides ten reasons to support his argument:
10. If you do it because others do it, you are doing it for the wrong reason and you will probably resent it
9. If the boss expects it, s/he is a bad boss to begin with and a gift may act as a positive reinforcer for bad boss behavior
8. If a gift affects the boss’ behaviour toward you, it is not a healthy work situation for you or the boss
7. It puts pressure on the boss to reciprocate and it is not a good idea to put pressure on the boss
6. It gets expensive for the boss if there are a number of direct or indirect reports who need reciprocating
5. It is the economy, stupid
4. It may cause the boss to question your motive
3. It is a good time to break this bad habit
2. A card with a hand written note is probably more meaningful – and it is a better, more appropriate habit
1. The boss doesn’t need it – give it to someone who does
I had never really questioned the act of giving like this before. It really got my thinking, is it right or wrong to give gifts at the end of the year? Why do we do it? Is it simply because it is something that has always been done or is there something deeper? Is all giving the same? Let me digress for a minutes.
 
 
There are some people that you don’t want to be at the end of the year in a school, such as daily organiser, report coordinator and timetabler. Sadly I am all these. Most days are frenetic, going from one job to the next. Let alone responding to various problems that may arise. Therefore, it was a nice surprise when I walked back into my office the other day after running around the school following up with various issues with reports to find that my Kris Kringle (+Catherine Gatt) had put up a poster to liven up my day. In a job without much thanks, this was the spark that was needed to reinjuvinate me, to add a little spring in my step. 
 
A bit of background to the whole affair, how Kris Kringle works at my school is that staff are told who they have in late November, so for the last few weeks of the school term, when staff and students are getting a bit tense and tired, there are little tricks and treats to get staff through to the end of the school year when the actual Kris Kringle presents are given. During these weeks, staff are on the receiving end of anything from vouchers for free coffees to having everything on your pin-board turned upside-down. It all really depends on who you are and who you have. For me this year, I had a fellow teacher who loves horses, such I did things like make a word cloud with ways to say horse in a range of different languages, as well as print out some My Little Pony colouring sheets and attach them to some chocolates. My hope was to find something creative and unique that would make my KK laugh and bring a smile to their day, that would say to them, “my KK really knows me”.
 
 
 
Many of the issues that Daniels associates with giving are related to doing it for the wrong reasons and simply following on from other people’s traditions. What things like Kris Kringle allow us to celebrate is a joy of the small things that often have no place in the hustle bustle of day to day life. Whether it be a short note, a joke, a chocolate or two – it is about the act of giving that makes you feel that you are more than just another number, another teacher code, you are important. At its heart, it is about fostering positive relationships and developing a sense of community amongst staff. The biggest challenge is how do we foster these things throughout the year not just during the festive times?
 
So if our intentions for giving fall outside of the personal, beyond a sense of community and relationships, simply because of power and authority, then maybe the act of giving needs to be questioned. What are some of the ways that you give to shown that you care and to help people feel that they belong?

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In a post I wrote a few months ago I spoke about what I called the ‘hidden professional development‘. That informal learning that occurs unplanned and on the fly, whether it be at lunchtime, while photocopying or even when swapping over on yard duty. Basically anywhere, anytime, simply where two or more passionate learners meet. The big question then and the question now is how do we encourage this? What structured opportunities do we provide for this?



Tinkering Teachers

In a fantastic discussion as a part of +Ed Tech Crew Episode 240 focusing on what it takes to be an IT co-ordinator, +Ashley Proud spoke about the demise in tinkering amongst students. Although +Mel Cashen and +Roland Gesthuizen mentioned about taking things a part, giving the conversation a more mechanical theme, I feel that tinkering is best understood as a wider curiosity into the way things work. 

I believe that one of the reasons for such a drop-off belongs with teachers. Although this criticism does not belong with all teachers, I think that there is a status quo out there who ask one thing from their students and model a different thing in their own day to day practise. Although teachers themselves have a large part to play in this, I also feel that one of the deeper issues lies with what opportunities teachers are provided with to actually be curious and creative, and I don’t simply mean curriculum planning. 

For example, the other day, I was asked to cover a yard duty for a colleague as her and her team wanted to get together at lunchtime to create a collaborative birthday video. I asked what they were going to use to film it and whether they wanted to borrow my iPad. The eventual product was not great, but it was a development on past productions. Most importantly though, it was a skill to take back into the classroom and share with students. What this whole scenario got me thinking was that, more than just opportunity, we do not provide enough encouragement for such activities.

Genius Hour … For Teachers

One initiative that has taken off in schools during the last year or so has been the idea of ‘Genius Hour’. Known by many names, such as 20 Percent Time or Passion Projects, Genius Hour is basically where students are given a license to develop a personal project of their choice. For a further explanation, I recommend +Anthony Speranza‘s post, ‘My Experience in Getting Started with Genius Hour‘. 

The background is that it comes from Google, where workers are (or were) provided one day a week to work on Google-related projects of their own choice. I think what needs to be understood is that, as +Ryan Tate suggested in his post for Wired, 20 Percent Time is not “a fully fleshed corporate program with its own written policy, detailed guidelines, and manager.” This is significant as what Tate is saying is that Genius Hour is not about a set of actual practises, as different companies have different notions of it, rather it is about the ethos behind it. This is why it has transferred so well into schools, with teachers creating their own twists on the whole affair, but still continuing to capture on essence of passion and innovation. However, one area that has been left untapped, as far as I can tell, has been the idea of teachers conducting their own ‘Genius Hour’, that is, teachers finding a passion of their own and running with it.
One of the failures with a lot of professional development is that it is dictated to staff with little choice, a stark contrast to what we ask of most teachers in the classroom. Fine there is a time where some information needs to be given or staff need to conduct certain work, but wouldn’t it be good if teachers were able to dabble in other things in a supported manner. As Tom Whitby put in a recent post ‘PD: Same Old, Same Old‘:
Professional Development needs to be more than an occasional workshop that can then be checked off of an Administrator’s list of things that need to be done for the year. PD must be prioritized and supported on an ongoing basis. It must be part of the workweek. In addition to providing access to new ideas, technology, and methodology, time must be afforded for educators to collaborate on what they have learned. Educators need time and support to put into practice what they need to learn.
What stands out to me in Whitby’s description is the focus of what teachers ‘need to learn’. I think that many teachers do not really know what they ‘need’. However, a starting point for this is to support teachers with what they want to learn and then go from there.

Life-long Learning Can Happen at School Too

Too often the more ‘personal’ professional development is left for teacher’s own time. I have two problems in particular with this. Firstly, in leaving learning to chance means that some teachers never actually do it. Like the hidden professional development, personal learning is one of the first things to get crossed off the list when times get tough. Secondly, staff are not being properly supported in their forays into the great unknown. As Tom Whitby suggests: “Learning about technology and how to incorporate it into learning specific to one’s class may be a bridge too far for many educators.” We all talk about ‘getting connected’ as a way of overcoming this problem. However, that too involves technology. Instead, one possible way to bridge this gap is to provide teachers with a specific time and space during school in which they are able to explore their own interests, knowing that they have support all around them.
One of the greatest fears in opening up professional development to the whims of the staff is that to some this time either gets wasted or is underutilised. My school tried to introduce personal learning a few years ago where there were some random sessions offered, as well as the option for staff to choose their own professional development. Most people ended up passing on the offer of finding their own learning and stuck to one of the sessions on offer. This is not to say that the sessions on offer weren’t powerful or important, but I feel that one of the key reasons why staff did not take up the opportunity of finding their own professional learning was that there was a lot of confusion about what was required. Was it completely open or were there some things that were prohibited? Did you have to write a reflection? What the situation needed was a little bit of structure, a little bit of guidance about what was and was not acceptable. The problem is that there is often a lot of conjecture about what does and does not constitute professional development. I would argue that ALL learning can be deemed as professional. For just as +Alec Couros suggested in an interview with the +Ed Tech Crew that, “some of the best learning happens each day on Youtube whether it is meant to happen or not”. The big question is whether we actually recognise it. One way of doing so is to encourage it by making the often informal ad hoc learning more formal by adding a certain sense of structure and uniformity.

 

Providing teachers with the opportunity to identify an a passion, something that they may be interested in but ignored due to time and effort. Although this may not be an ‘hour’ each week, maybe every fortnight, it is a regular time to work either individually or collaboratively. A time to identify and touch base with other experts. A time when teachers know that they are both free and supported to take ownership over their own learning. 

Clearly with such ‘freedom’ also comes a certain sense of constraint. This learning needs to be explicit and needs a purpose, a question to drive the project. With this needs to come some goals, both short and long term, about what is trying to be achieved. Attached to these goals is an element of on-going reflection and accountability for what Bianca Hewes calls the ‘mushy middle‘. At the end, there needs to be an opportunity for sharing and celebration about what was achieved and what has been learnt. This could be sharing to your team, participating in a smorgasbord, as a part of a performance and development meeting, writing a blog post. It does not really matter what means it is, what is most important is that it happens.

creative commons licensed (BY) flickr photo by C G-K: http://flickr.com/photos/cgk/3795790211

Helping the Wildfire Grow

Often the greatest joys come when space is provided for learning to happen naturally. A colleague, who is not always big on introducing technology into the classroom, told me about a situation where he gave his students a group task and they automatically created a Google Doc and shared it between themselves. I love this story as it highlights that not all learning is direct. We may introduce a skill with a limited response. However, staff and students may see some other benefit and use it in another situation. I have seen this happen with programs like Padlet and Edmodo, where given some amount of freedom, people have found their own purposes and contexts. To me, learning in this situation is like wildfire.  Given the right conditions, a fire that takes hold, is disruptive and very much uncontrollable in itself. As +George Siemens suggests while talking about connectivism as an answer for the digital age, “learning is a process that occurs within nebulous environments of shifting core elements – not entirely under the control of the individual.” The role leaders and co-ordinators in this situation is to manage things, conducting back burning and creating fire breaks to contain learning rather than control it.

The question to consider then is whether you are creating an environment where learning can take flight – dry kindling, tall trees – or are you creating an environment where, with a lot of damp branches, there is a lot of smoke, but little fire?


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The other day I received an invite from +Darrel Branson to participate in an episode of the +Ed Tech Crew . The question up for discussion is: what advice would you give a new teacher just appointed as an ICT coordinator? I know that the medium is more about the meeting of the minds, I decided to clarify my own thoughts on the matter. I am sure that there are things that I may have missed, but here is my start to the discussion …
  • There is No ‘I’ in Team. The first thing that any co-ordinator in any position should do is to build a team. I am of the belief that one person has the power to bring about change, swapping one thing for another, it is through the power of a team that evolution occurs. Develop your team by engaging with those people who have some skills and expertise, find out who has some passion that you can utilise. This may not be a formal group that say meets at 8:00am every Thursday morning, rather it needs to be thought of as a group of people who you consult with, discuss key issues with, utilise to drive change forward. Ideally, this group should include representatives from all the key areas: parents, teachers, administration, technicians, even students. One of the most essential ingredients to all this is the ability to listen. There is no point at all having a heap of members in your team if you are not going to give them an authentic voice.
  • Times Spent in Reconnaissance is Time Well Spent. It is so important to develop a plan, both for yourself and the organisation as a whole. Define what you think that role encompasses. Find out what leadership expect from your you. Don’t just assume who will do what work and that everyone knows what is trying to be achieved. Your plan should not only include an overarching vision for role and the department, but some steps involved in turning this from an ideal into a reality.
  • There is No Such Things As Bad Publicity. Once you have a team with a clear vision, you need to share this with the rest of the school. A game plan is useless if the wider team is not privy to it and on-board. Whether it be sending out short emails. Asking for some time during staff meetings. Presenting to Year Level or KLA Teams. Maintaining a blog. Celebrating achievements, however small they may be. Stamping out myths and misconceptions by clarifying any confusion early. Use any means possible to spruik your message again and again and again. As the saying goes, “there is no such thing as bad publicity”. Just remember to use a bit of humour and creativity when doing it, the worst thing to do is to lose your audience before you’ve even started.
  • Spread the Load. The worst thing that you can do when trying to bring about change is feel that you have to do everything by yourself. Fine there is always someone who does a bit of bullocking work when it comes to setting things up, whether this be creating users for a new program or managing the installation of various applications. However, for these things to take action in class, you really need to get everyone on board. You can’t teach every student, if as a co-ordinator you get the opportunity to teach at all, so at some point you really need to focus on training the trainer. A part of this comes back to not only introducing new applications and tools, but also providing a clear justification why you have introduced it. In reality, your success and failure as a co-ordinator often has little to do with your ability to do something, rather it often comes down to your ability to convince others to join the cause.
  • Be a Problem Solver. Although you may have a plan about what you are trying to get done, about what vision you are trying to instil, unless you respond to the day-to-day requests you are not going to get anywhere. It is integral to make sure that you leave time and space for random requests. Being flexible not only allows you to identify various issues staff may be facing, but also encourages others to listen to you if you are willing to listen to them. In addition to this, it is often through the requests made by staff that you find out what the real issues are. This information usually has a flow on effect and helps when revising various plans and goals.
  • Your Association Needs You. Find out what your local ICT Association is and join up. This will often provide you not only with a list of possible professional development that you can be a part of, but also thoughts and ideas from other educators to help spur you on. The reality is that without members, associations are meaningless. Sadly, you often don’t realise how important they are until they are not there.
  • Connections, Connections, Connections. You will never have all the solutions, if you do, then you do not know all the problems. Whether in person at conferences or online through various social media forums, such as Twitter and Google+, actively develop your own PLN. If it is not a personal network, then find one that already exists and join up. Take +Mel Cashen‘s great initiative for example for all Victorian educators on Google+ – ‘Vic Educators‘. Having a wide range of connections in and out of school is so important. Not only for the spread of information and ideas, but just for perspective. One of the challenges though with being a part of any PLN is being seen to not only take, but also give back in return. If you wish others to answer your questions or share their ideas, you also need to be willing answer their questions and share a few ideas of your own.
  • Do as I Do, Not as I Say. Whether it be authentically engaging with different applications and devices, like Twitter or using an iPad, or simply developing a positive presence online, it is important to be a model user for others to follow. Don’t just be a leader, be a lead learner as +Joe Mazza would have it. Know what it means to be on the other side of things, be a learner first. A part of this is discovering new ideas that you do not know and embracing them, engaging with them, experiment with them.
I am sure that there is something that I have missed. Is there anything that you would add? Is there anything that you do not agree with? I would love your thoughts in the comments.

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flickr photo shared by mrkrndvs under a Creative Commons ( BY-SA ) license

A colleague queried me the other day about the differences between a 21st century learner and someone who is really good with technology. This is a bit of an age old problem about what comes first, the device or the doing done with the device, the tool for working or the actual ways of working? As I have discussed elsewhere, I believe that something is misunderstood in this argument, for in many respects, they are inseparable.

In an insightful post debunking the naïve myth that “it’s not about the tool”, +Peter Skillen makes two key points. First, that computers are a form of media through which we can think about problems in a deeper way, and secondly, tools and technology shape our society in both intended and unintended ways. Often one of the arguments made about 21st century learning is that many of the attributes are possible without the use of technology. Surely you don’t need a computer to help you think? Although this may be true, I would argue that they are significantly amplified with the use of technology.

I remember my early days of incorporating ICT into the classroom, as a part of the YVeLC, and all my focuses were on using specific tools and programs. This is a point I made in regards to the Ultranet. However, tools are better considered as a means to enhancing various skills. In themselves, the use of tools are usually inhibited to lower order thinking – build, construct, produce – but used as a catalyse, they are a means to higher order thinking. For example, one does not:

  • Use iMovie to produce a trailer for a book, rather one makes a creative representation of a book involving a range of choices.
  • Develop a Google Slide to provide information on a topic, rather one shares a presentation with others and opens it up for critical responses.
  • Program using a Lego Mindstorm robot, rather one uses it to solve a problem based on the options and variables available.
  • Record a game of soccer, rather one uses it to reflect on choice of actions and game sense.
  • Write a response to a question on Edmodo, rather one uses it to reflect on what has been learnt through the act of learning.
  • Compose a blog revolving around their reading, rather one uses it to engage others in conversation in order to gather different ideas and perspectives.
  • Add to a brainstorm using Answergarden, rather one uses it to develop a collaborative idea about what a group may think about a question.

Although each of these tasks are engaging and important in themselves, they lack potency if they are not linked to a deeper intention.

In the end, it comes back to a question of choice. Although a student could reflect on their lesson in PE and the various choices made, recording themselves and reflecting on it afterwards not only provides a wider perspective for the person in question not possible if it is left to just them, rather it allows for a deeper sense of self-reflection, often leading to answers in a shorter amount of time. For there are many ways of travelling from point A to point B. Clearly, one could walk, but if one rode, they would get to their destination quicker, while if they drove they would get their even quicker again. Although technology and tools are not essential to learning in the 21st century, they are definitely a big part of it. I think that once we understand that there is a more effective way from getting from point A to point B, it allows us to get to start dealing with the deeper question, why are we trying to reach point B anyway, but I’ll leave that for another day.


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In a provocative post, ‘Another Brick in the Wall’, Peter Skillen wrote about six ‘bricks’ that he considers are combining to prevent the evolution of education into the 21st century. The bricks are that:
  1. There is an inability for leaders and administrators to practise the same things that they preach and also become learners.
  2. Too many educators are living on a diet of abstracts, one-line wisdoms from Twitter and drive-by professional development.
  3. We need education for our students and ALSO for our teachers – not subjugation.
  4. Rather than overload teachers with initiatives, administration needs to help teachers to understand the ‘essence’ residing in all these practices and out of the distilled essence, teachers could then ‘construct their own knowledge and practice’.
  5. If we want the culture and context of the classroom to change, we need to embrace technology and how it might bring about this change.
  6. we need to educate the public about the changes that are needed.
Peter’s post definitely left me with more questions than answers, such as: Can you really have administrators as ‘learners’ and still expect them to continue with their same roles as they are now? How do you convince students and teachers to embrace their own education, rather than accept a life of subjugation? What happens if different teachers working in the same team develop a different ‘essence’ associated with learning and teaching? Isn’t technology one part of 21st century learning, not the whole part? How do you go about educating the public in regards to the evolution in education when there are so many stakeholders out there providing mixed messages about what this means? However, the biggest question of all was whether the modern phenomena of perpetuating ‘one-liners’ was actually detrimental to any sort of productive change?

 

 

Summing up the Main Idea

One of the biggest instigators in this one-line revolution is Twitter. Restricted to 140 characters per post, it seemingly forces users to clamour to the highest point of land and jump up and down to be noticed. Posts therefore often lend themselves to absurd statements, such as “5 Things Preventing You From Becoming a Billionaire” and “The Secret Video Obama Doesn’t Want You to See”. But the question is, does it have to be this way?
 
Having really taken to Twitter as a place to share and connect with others, I feel a little guilty as charged, as I often reduce arguments down to one-line. When I started tweeting, I initially went in thinking about how students could use such a medium to record regular reflections with their reading. I therefore made an effort to share those pertinent quotes that stood out from the texts, the main ideas if you’d like. This would always be followed by either a title or a URL where applicable. As I progressed, I started to struggle with the challenge of fitting the message into the restrictions of a 140 characters and turned to such programs as Quozio to quickly and easily capture and share longer passages. For me, this was more important than simply sharing a link or re-tweeting a previous post. My attempt was to give a meaning to the message, to provide a taste of the text, rather than just some catchy title. However, does this really guarantee to provide the reader with an entry point or simply provide a short and quick summation, providing the feeling that the idea or argument is now known and understood.

 

Digital Identity

 

I think that in some respect this whole argument is really about digital identity and how we each present ourselves online. I was once told by a fellow teacher in an annual review meeting that every day is a living job interview, you shouldn’t wait until you are sitting in front of a panel. Often the decision is made before you even speak, whether it be the examples that you haven’t got to present or the positive references that you haven’t got.
 
This content – tweets, posts, images – is a way of constructing your own brand, posting aspects that we associate with, marketing ourselves. This needs to be differentiated from the self-aggrandizement, where we spruik ourselves in the climb up the ladder. Instead this ‘marketing’ is a more rhizomic in nature. Although we may eventually ‘move up the ladder’, this is often a by-product, instead the real strength of our sell is in the connections that we are able to develop.  For in the modern world, it is not necessarily what you know, but the network of people you know that can help you get to a better answer. (For a great discussion of such matters, read +George Siemens introduction to connectivism.) The question this becomes about how we actually form these networks.
 
In a +Mashable post ‘Stop Linkbait Before It Ruins Content Marketing’, Sam Slaughter gives a few suggestions about how to best approach content marketing. He provides six different suggestions:
  1. Standing out requires adding something new to the mix, bringing users a piece of information they could not have gotten elsewhere.
  2. If it looks written by a machine, for a machine, it won’t resonate with human readers.
  3. It’s important to produce content that will uphold and retain value for your target audience.
  4. It’s key to understand the landscape and which solutions fit best with a brand’s current and future content needs.
  5. The portrait of “success” looks different for each case.
  6. It takes time and effort to create an engaged audience.
I think that these suggestions carry across to the development of our own digital identity. One of the prime ‘solutions’ for this situations is Twitter. It provides a medium through which you can publish regular and authentic posts. The problem though is it is easy to read like a robot, rather than like a human. However, this is often easier said than done. With so many programs and applications that easily post information to various social network platforms on our behalf, it can be be challenge.

Tweet as Aphorism

Another perspective on this whole debate is thinking of a tweet as being more like an aphorism. The Oxford Dictionary defines an aphorism as ‘a pithy observation which contains a general truth’. Although it may touch upon a truth, often the success of an aphorism is not necessarily the truth or ‘wisdom’ it provides, but rather the point of contemplation to which it often leaves the readers.  Whether it be Lao Tzu or Donald Rumsfeld, an aphorism often leads to more questions than answers. I admit then that not all tweet are deep in nature, but does that mean that the medium is subsequently flawed?
 


Infinite Hope

I can change the way I work and attempt to influence the way other people do things, but in the end it still all comes down to choice. A choice of whether to write like a human or like a robot. A choice of whether to publish authentic ideas or simply run for the absurd. Although there may not be some gold nugget hidden within each tweet, waiting to be unearthed, I think that there is much to be gain in getting learners to think differently. I admit that Twitter as a medium does open itself up to a false sense of contentment, but this is often a fault of the the reader to think that this is dialogue stops there. For one of the tenets that seems to get bandied around in regards to 21st century skills as the notion of critical thinking. If I naively think that all you need for a Teachmeet is to “pick a date, pick a pub/library/space that is free and go ahead” as +Matt Esterman put it to me, then I would be the fool. For even though it is a free and open form of professional development, at the very least, it still requires some organisation and PR to get people there. However, Matt’s statement does plant a seed, it does at least provide the basic principles of what is required to organise a Teachment and that is important.
 
So to answer the question, can you really find wisdom in one-line? The answer is probably no, but you can definitely find hope. Hope for a different world, hope for a different way of doing things, hope for a more critical viewer. And sometimes that hope is all that we have.

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It was a sad day last Wednesday as the Melton Network 21st Century Learning Team met for the last time under the tutelage of +Alf Galea. Although Alf suggested that the network meetings may continue next year, it can be guaranteed, that with all the cuts that have taken place, it will not be to the same level and with the same sense of support. It subsequently left me reflecting on the opportunities that were gained from being a part of the group and how the implementation of various 21st century initiatives has evolved in the past five years.



A New Way of Being

I started working with Alf about five years ago as a part of the roll-out of the Ultranet. I had been asked to be a Lead User with Alf being the Melton Ultranet Coach, while after that Alf worked as the 21st Century Thinking and Learning Coach for the Melton Network. Although the Ultranet failed to achieve what it promised and will move into private hands at the end of the year, there were still many gains that came out of it, including the repositioning of learning and teaching for the 21st century. Whether it be working collaboratively, incorporating thinking and reflection or utilising various forms of technology, there were many lessons learnt. I think that one of the biggest disappoints about the Ultranet – other than it was just too fiddly and erratic – was that too much emphasis was put on the tool at school level and not enough put on the way we work. I have spoken about this in a previous post, the problem with isolating the various skills associated with 21st century learning. Whether we realise it now, I believe that the Ultranet forced everyone to make a choice, whether to incorporate various 21st century learning skills into their classroom or to simply continue with the outdated industrial model. Clearly there have always been schools, classrooms and teachers already delving into many of these areas – you just need to go to something like the ICTEV conference or go online to hear about such innovations – but through the implementation of the Ultranet, all teachers across Victoria were introduced to the skills our students need for the future.

Different Opportunities

In addition to some great learning some great ideas, being a part of the network provided some great opportunities. Other than simply meeting together to discuss various thoughts and issues, I was also given the opportunity to be a part of a learning walk through a neighbouring school to reflect on the way that they were introducing the Ultranet and with that, various 21st century skills. One of the difficulties with introducing any initiative is that it can be hard at times to step back and see things from the perspective of other teachers and students. Therefore, opportunities like this are priceless.

I also got the chance to work with the team at University of Melbourne working on the Assessment and Teaching of 21st Century Skills. This included trialling the online testing of collaborative problem solving with my students, as well as working with teachers from all over Victoria in the development of a range of resources designed to help teachers with the assessment and teaching of 21st century skills.

Becoming Connected

I think that in many respects the biggest gain out of being a part of the 21st Century Learning Team was the opportunity to work with so many different and innovative teachers. I can still remember a few ATC21S sessions when Matt Finn and I would drive home together discussing various programs and websites that we had never heard of. I think that it can be so easy and comfortable at times to stay in isolation, but we often limit ourselves and our students when working this way. Although it can be intimidating and confronting at times working with other teachers, with differing ideas, we are all a part of the same game trying to achieve the same results, the very best education for everyone. I think in many respects, getting connected, whether it be in person or online, is the best thing that any teacher can do. So often you are not only one trying to overcome a particular problem or implement a particular program. Being connected redefines how we work as teachers and learners.

One Door Closes, Another Door Opens

In her blog, ‘The End of the Ultranet Era’, +Mel Cashen suggested that one of the benefits of the Ultranet was that it was a safe and contained platform. I think that in many respects, the whole notion of meeting as a network allowed the same benefits, but I am not sure whether it is the best model moving forward. It was great to meet and get together in a structured manner, but in the last few years, the world has changed. In my view, this ‘forced’ relationship of sorts is no longer the best fit. People now have so many opportunities to connect whether it be in person or online that it seems illogical to exclude people because they are not ‘members’. I think that a regular set of meetings run around ‘Teachmeet’ model would be the best fit. As Matt Esterman suggests, all you needs to do is “pick a date, pick a pub/library/space that is free and go ahead”. One of the benefits of the ‘Teachmeet’ model is that, rather than being chosen, it is a choice to attend. In addition to this, it is not restricted to a specific network, which in today’s day and age of world-wide connectivity seems stupid.
 
Being a part of the Melton Network provided me with a range of things, particularly that teaching and learning does not necessarily have to be the way that it is, that there is always a choice. I still remember chatting with +Jenny Ashby about access to technology at her school during one of the ATC21S sessions. Long before discussion of BYOD and 1-to-1, she explained to me the possibilities of going Apple if the school chose to go down that path. 
 
At the end of the day, the Melton Network taught me that I can make a difference. As the oft-quoted Gandhi statement goes ‘be the change you want in the world’, I have learnt that it is possible to be that change. Whether it be the use of technology or the development of reflective thinking, I believe my own learning and teaching has definitely benefited. The big question though is how do we not only change, but actually evolve, as +Jason Markey put it in his post ‘Change vs. Evolution’. To me, you can change as  an individual, but it often takes a team to evolve, that to me is the truly 21st century challenge. 

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I have recently been posting a bit about the ideas of right and wrong, and how it really comes down to a question of choice and consequences. After a few discussions with some friends, it got me thinking that maybe it is choice, but also something else as well as. Focusing on choice allows us to come to some understanding of the situation, but it does not necessarily explain how we got to that particular situation and why some choices win out over others.

I was recently given some inadvertent feedback which made me come back to this topic. Some of my students wrote a scathing review of my subject from first semester for their school yearbook. Although I had sought their feedback and suggestions at the time, the review that they provided, for whatever reason, was different to the information that they had provided at the time. Clearly, there are many ways of interpreting this situation. Maybe they wrote this because they thought that it was funny? Maybe it is a reflection of poor teacher-student relationships, a product of a lack of rapport with the students or the class as a whole? Maybe the solitary voice of the review did not represent the whole class and it was just chance? Maybe my attempts to do things different, to get students involved, to get students driving the lessons, rather than merely chalk and talk, had its downside? Maybe the students did not feel comfortable in giving me what they felt would be honest feedback? Maybe the questions that I gave them did not allow them to give me the specific feedback in question. Whatever the reason, it definitely left me in a state of self-reflection.
 
Some of the things that were pointed out in the review were what I considered my strengths. When I arrived at the school a few years ago, there was a motto – “No Surprises”. Being quite a large school, spread across several campuses, one of the problems that occurred was that some things were seen as acceptable at one campus and not others, creating a sense of inconsistency. What the motto meant then was that there were no surprises for students and parents. So when students came into the classroom, they knew what was seen as acceptable, and when things such as the end of semester reports went home to parents, there were no shocks and inconsistencies. Since that time, the campuses have split apart and formed separate schools, but in many respects the motto still remains, at the very least it does for my own teaching. 

Whether it be in the yard or in the classroom, I try and create routines. I only need to holler ‘lining up time’ and the kids repeat it for me. If I walk into the classroom and by chance don’t have the title and learning intention clearly shown on the board, my students ask me what it is. If I need to speak with my classroom when they are on their laptops, I only need to tell them to close them to 45 degrees and they start shutting them and facing me. The dark side to all this is that sometimes students get bored of the mundane nature of routine. No matter that many of my habits and rituals were formed as solutions to past problems, there is always a danger that all students come to see in you in the end is a caricature. A parody where all that is remember are the absurdities.
Two things that stuck out in the review was that I always use Google Drive and that we supposedly did the same thing every week. I have had a long history with using Google Drive in the classroom, as I have posted about elsewhere. Basically, I came upon Google Drive as a solution to students losing their digital work on their laptops all the time, due to them being re-imaged or getting damaged. Another thing that I have introduced into my lessons is a focus on getting the students thinking and reflecting, rather than simply telling me what I already know. Associated with this refocus on the student are a range of activities that I use on a regular basis, such as collaborative brainstorming using Answergarden, getting students to pose their own questions to answer before exploring a topic or watching a video and completing a found out/made me think. I return to these habits again and again so that students can stop focusing on the how and the what and start focusing on the why. For learning at its heart should be about the learner, not the teacher teaching. The problem with this is that my students did not get past the what or the how and that is because sometimes the why needs to come first.

Although I may know why it was decided that we may be studying something, unless I properly sell this to the students, it is pointless. Even with all the blurbs, introductions, PMI’s and initial discussions, unless you provide plausible reason why something is worth learning about, there really should not be a surprise if students do not buy into it and find the learning boring. 

Maybe in the end, rather than who is right and wrong, it all comes down to who has the best sell. There are many factors that influence the ‘big sell’, such as charisma, power of persuasion, passion, good communication skills, support, friendship, uncomplicated narrative and what is the current status quo. The problem with the sell is that there is no recipe for how to successfully hook someone in. Sometimes it can be something innocuous, while other times it can take considerable time and effort. What is guaranteed is that if we don’t care to provide a reason why anyone should learn, we can’t really expect anyone to care in return.

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Over the past few years there seems to have been a push from some in education to make everyone a leader. There has been an effort to give power to a wider range of people, spreading leadership across the board. A part of this movement is a move from a top-down to a bottoms-up model. (See for example, such programs as Leading Teams and Restorative Justice, both of which focus on relationships as a way changing culture.) The two questions that come out of all these changes is ‘what is leadership?’ and ‘can everyone really be a leader?’
 
So, what is leadership? Dictorary.com defines leadership as:
the position or function of a leader, a person who guides or directs a group
Thinking about this, there are two things that need to be addressed. Firstly, what does it mean to ‘guide and direct’, and secondly, what does it mean to be in a ‘group’. In regards to first question, there are many ways to ‘guide and direct’. Sometimes it might be overseeing a project, monitoring everything, making sure that everyone is on task, other times it might be providing support through the development of curriculum or the implementation of an initiative. While in relation to ‘groups’ we are all a part of many groups at once, some that we maybe in charge of, others that we may simply be members of. Although this covers it, there is still something missing.
In addition to ‘guiding or directing a group’, leadership can also be thought about as both a naming word and a doing word. Often when we reflect upon the notion of leadership we are left pondering about those who have been appointed to various positions of responsibility, those in charge of making the big decisions, those whose choices have a visible impact on the set-up and structure of a school, those anointed with a title. The problem with this way of seeing things is that it does not capture the idea of leadership as a characteristic. On the other side of the coin are those who lead in the way they work. Although these people may not necessarily be named ‘leaders’, in charge of significant groups, be found in closed meetings, instead these people embody the principles of leadership in what they do in their day to day activities. +Dan Rockwell puts this best in his blog post ‘How to Become a Leader Before You are One’ when he says:

Reading and talking are useful, even essential, but experience matters most. Leadership is about practice more than theory. Every leadership behaviour can be practised as a volunteer.

Rockwell goes on to provide a long list of things that people can do to demonstrate leadership before they are actually leaders. Some of the examples that he provides include:
  • Take initiative.
  • Solve problems
  • Motivate others
  • Manage projects
  • Endure through adversity
  • Teach others your skills
  • Adapt to others
  • Deal with stagnation and resistance
  • Act with generosity and compassion

 

These are attributes that can easily be added. For as +sethgodin argued in a recent post, it is a poor excuse to simply suggest that some people are gifted with certain attributes, while others don’t. As he suggested:
Someone who is likable, honest, curious and thoughtful is easy to think of as gifted. This natural charisma and care is worth seeking out in the people we choose to work with.
The thing is, it’s a copout to call these things gifts. You might be born with a headstart in one area or another, you might be raised in a culture or with parents that reinforce some of these things, but these are attitudes, and attitudes can be taught, and they can be learned.

The same thing can be said about the characteristics of leadership. Although there can be only one principal or one head of a KLA, we all have the opportunity to learn new traits and be leaders on a daily basis.

The question that remains then is what stops everyone from having a meaningful impact when it comes to leadership? Returning to Leading Teams Model, often the answer relates to the culture of a school, the ability to develop a ‘trademark’ that everyone is able to buy into. The problem with this is that it does not marry well with the traditional top-down model of management where the power and control is held by a small group of leadership, rather than dispersed throughout the organisation. People need to not only be empowered, but their roles also need to be recognised in a meaningful way. This does not necessarily mean that everyone has to have a ‘named’ position. However, it does mean that those with power to make significant differences support those below them, not simply palm off those jobs and responsibilities that seem tedious or banal, giving them a legitimate voice. In the end, the first challenge to empowering everyone as a leader is how we support each other to get the most out of each and every situation.

How does your school or organisation support the idea of everyone as a leader? Does it work? Is it meaningful? Leave a comment below?

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Often when we talk about education, the term ‘hidden curriculum‘ is used in reference to all those elements that are not necessarily accounted for or made explicit, those elements that are between the lines, inferred. I think that much the same can be said about professional development. Often there is a hidden professional development that happens, often when we least expect it.
 
In a recent blog +Ian Guest spoke about the differences between professional development from the ‘personal’ to the ‘organisational’. On the one hand, professional development can be self directed and based on the needs of a teacher. This is learning that can be classified as ‘googleable’. On the other end of the scale is the learning that is often dictated by somebody else. Maybe it is a whole-school approach or nation wide program. Below is a table that Ian created to represent this continuum of sorts.
 
 
This is a fantastic description of the different types of professional development, but what it does not account for is the learning that happens along the way, the accidental learning that was not intended. What is missed is that life long learning is about incidental learning.
 
I have been reading quite a few blogs lately associated with Connected Educator Month outlining some of the benefits of being connected (see for example +Tom Whitby‘s ‘The Connected Educator Culture‘ and +Tony Sinanis‘ ‘Being Connected Saved My Career‘.) Often the benefits spruiked are that through social media applications, like Twitter and Google+, you are able to connect with learners often with different perspectives and share ideas with a wider audience. The benefit though that I think stands out the most is the incidental learning that happens along the way. The ideas that come up in my feeds, whether it about alternative approaches to teaching or changes in technology, are always one thing, stimulating. Being connected is priceless for getting answers and ideas to questions, but is also priceless for the incidental learning that happens along the way. I think that +Alec Couros sums it up best when he stated in an interview with the +Ed Tech Crew that “Some of the best learning happens each day on Youtube whether it is meant to happen or not”. This incidental ‘learning’ goes well beyond Youtube.
 
There were many highlights at the recent Google in Education Summit, something that I have spoken about elsewhere, but what stuck out the most was opportunity to meet and great with other learners. Often there were large breaks between sessions in which you could chat with others and continue to develop ideas sometimes left incomplete. Not only did I get to connect with new people who I would not otherwise spend time with, I had some really interesting debates and discussions, and not all about Google, often about anything but Google. Some of the topics included connectivity in schools, implementing a 1:1 program and the differences between primary and secondary education. Interestingly, it was some of these discussions that lingered in my mind long after the summit was over.
 
What disappoints me the most is that this hidden professional development is often the first thing to go when it comes to professional development, the first thing to be cut, because it is often seen as too informal, lack purpose, not measureable and not always manageable. However, these opportunities are often the seeds for deeper life long learning. This is what makes things like Teachmeets so powerful. Situations where you don’t go wanting an answer to a question, rather it is the opposite, you go seeking questions for the answers that you already have.
 
Learning happens in many places and often when we least expect it. The question I have then is what hidden professional development are you a part of? Is it a conversation around the photocopier, a chance meeting at the shops, a random video watched online, a song that you heard, a personal novel that you are reading. I would love to hear. Please share in the comments.

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There has been a lot shared lately as a part of Connected Educator Month about the benefits of connecting online. In many respects, I agree with +George Couros that ‘isolation is now a choice educators make‘. However, something overlooked in many of the discussions and debates are some of the taboos associated with being a connected educator. Some of the reasons why teachers do make the choice to stay isolated.
 

Teacher-Student-Friend?

In a recent post, Peter Dewitt spoke about how he saw a photo come up in his feeds from an ex-student, whom he had taught in Year 1. She was photographed finishing her last teaching round. It got me thinking, when is it ok to connect with students (and ex-students) online? Another similar example that comes to mind is from +Adam Bellow‘s inspiring keynote from ISTE2013 where he invited people to ‘change the world’. A part of this is utilising the power of social media to connect with students through such mediums as Facebook. In addition to this, +Anne Mirtschin‘s many posts and presentations on connecting online seem to be littered with incidental connections with students in and out of school in a whole range of spaces. Now I am not saying that any of these situations are wrong, but it begs the question, when do we cross the line, when does our relationship with students go from being a professional one to being personal?
 
A few years ago, a friend of mine who works at a different school told me about how his principal directed teachers to remove all ex-students from their social media accounts. He spoke about the threat of images and ideas being spread, the spectre of being sued for negligence and a litany other things. Now I am not sure if the principal in question was mandated by their region to tell the staff this, but what confuses me about such situations is that little attention was given to what teachers actually publish online in the first place. I know some teachers who won’t even connect with other teachers online, let alone ex-students, in the fear of being caught out and incriminated, while there are others who won’t connect with anyone and simply leave social media altogether. I have written about the culture of fear elsewhere. To me, this makes me wonder what are they afraid of? For some, it is a fear of their lifestyle choices outside of teaching crossing over into their professional life. Others, it is a political decision, a refusal to share personal information and ideas with online corporations. Sadly, what is not brought up enough during such discussions amongst staff is what is published online, rather than who we are publishing too.
 

Connecting in the Classroom

Attached to his website, +stephen heppell and his wife, have provided a different take on the social media phenomena. Instead of running from it, the Heppell’s propose that we run to it in a safe and constructive manner. Correspondingly, they have developed a list of some do’s and don’ts associated with using social media safely in the classroom. 
 
Some of their do’s include:
  • Developing a personal and professional presence online 
  • Let students ‘friend’ you, not vice versa 
  • Build groups for your classes and share information and resources 
  • Post positive information 
Some of the don’ts include: 
  • Don’t FB chat 
  • Social networks in school are not places for criticisms or whingeing. 
  • Don’t look at, let alone comment on, pupils’ pictures 
Now in some respect, I think that sites such as Facebook and Google+ have actually come a long way since 2010 when the Heppell’s space was last updated. For example, you are now able to ‘post’ and ‘share’ with different groups and circles, you are therefore supposedly able to maintain different connections within the one ‘presence’ (although I wouldn’t want to post the wrong information to the wrong group, may be a bit awkward.) However, many of the original tenets remain pertinent today. Whatever medium you are communicating in, it is always important to have boundaries. 
 
I think that this is sometimes why some staff have issues with students sending emails to their school email account. For them, this crosses their private and personal boundary. They just don’t expect to have students sending through questions, while they are checking their work email. Whether it is using a school’s student emailing system to engage with students or setting up spaces like Edmodo, the most important thing is to set up boundaries. The problem is though that such boundaries are often left unset or worse, they are set by the habits of other teachers whose classroom culture creates a different set of expectations.
 
A simple example of where a clear set of boundaries has been set up comes from +Richard Lambert. In his school two different email accounts have been created to differentiate between staff to staff communications and student related communications. The school’s Google Apps for Education account email that staff and students get is used to facilitate collaboration and connections between staff and students, while staff’s edumail accounts are left for professional correspondences.
 
Sometimes though there is something even more than boundaries, sometimes the question is what we choose to publish in the first place.
 

Duty of Care … To Ourselves

 
 
Just as there is some confusion at times where duty of care and professional responsibility starts and stops, so too is there a dangerous blurring between our private and professional relations when it comes to our online identify. Often, through social sites such as Google+ and Facebook, we connect with people in the community that we work in. Whether it be someone met at the gym or a team mate at a local sporting club, these online associations often compromise who we are and raise questions about our actions. The big challenge is that we are all many things to many people. For some, this is just too much to handle.
 
I have been privy to many a holiday briefing where staff are warned about how they ‘act’ in public over the break. This fear can lead to some staff almost refusing to go out in the community in which they work in, instead going to great lengths to create a divide between their professional and private worlds. Sometimes though, you can never escape past students or parents in the community. I remember a fellow staff member sharing a story about how she bumped into an ex-student at three in the morning a long way from home.
 
I think that this dilemma of trying to create a divide between our private and public worlds relates to our online identity as well. No matter how far you run, how many walls you hide behind, you still leave a trace whether we like it or not. Often we provide information to corporations whose goal is to make money, they often slip with keeping information and accounts private. Facebook, for example, has a long history of ‘accidentally’ changing users privacy settings, switching them from private to public.
 
Although I clearly don’t agree with what Facebook does, my bigger concern is what we put up online in the first place. The big question, in my view, is that we continue to think that we can really have a public and private divide completely separated from each other? We speak to students about the issues associated with digital citizenship, when in fact many of us fail to heed the warnings ourselves.

In an insightful article, ‘On Best Behaviour: Three Golden Rules for Ethical Cyber Citizenship‘, +David Tuffley suggests that:

Eventually, but not soon enough for some, society evolves rules of acceptable use that become established as standard behaviour.

As various sources of technology becomes a part of our everyday lives, we need to consider what these ‘rules’ should be. Addressing our universal actions online, Tuffley appropriates Kant’s notion of ‘categorical imperatives’. He outlines three suggested guiding principles for the ethical use of technology:
  1. Before I do something with this technology, I ask myself, would it be alright if everyone did it?
  2. Is this going to harm or dehumanise anyone, even people I don’t know and will never meet?
  3. Do I have the informed consent of those who will be affected?
Whether Tuffley is right or wrong, I think that it highlights one important factor, that we need to better self-monitor ourselves when it comes to technology. For in the end, our first duty of care should be to ourselves, for if we cannot maintain our own public identity, what hope do students have?
 

Conclusion

Now I am not saying that all the points and ideas that I have discussed here are right, such as connecting in the classroom, but they do deserve to be given due diligence. If teachers are to become more connected, then these are some of the things that need to be discussed. Instead of young potential leaders going offline in the fear that their digital footprint may hinder their climb or locking themselves within their gated communities, we need to discuss these issues in a more meaningful manner. The question that we always need to be mindful of through all of these discussions is what are the consequences of our choices and, in particular, what possibilities are being missed if we make the decision to stay isolated, rather than being connected.

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