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

This is a guest post from colleague Catherine Gatt reflecting on her experiences with Positive Psychology.


Late last year a series of life events led me to enrol in an online learning environment with the goal of achieving a Diploma of Counselling. After more than ten years in the classroom I would have readily listed ‘interpersonal skills’ on any questionnaire that asked for my strength traits. Dealing with students on a daily basis, parents, colleagues and the occasional talk in front of a room full of people led me to believe that I had ‘people’ skills.

I was also a little curious to experience ‘online’ learning, but that’s a reflection for another post.

The first unit of the course was an examination of what ‘interpersonal’ really means. I was astonished at the level of intricacy our day to day interactions with others have. Everything from the slightest gesture, pause, intonation, words said, words not said speaks volumes more than I had ever appreciated. What struck me as most interesting among these insights, was that the relationship between a counsellor and a client was the single most important factor in impacting the outcome of the whole process.

Basically, if a client ‘liked’ their counsellor they had a significant chance at working through their problems and coming out on the other side.

The second I read this I immediately made connections to the classroom. Do my students ‘like’ me? What is the impact of my relationship with them, on them? What is the impact of their relationship with me, on me? What ‘unsaid’ messages am I communicating through the day? How important is ‘mindset’ in my classroom?

As part of my course readings I crossed paths with a branch of psychology known as ‘Positive Psychology’; within the first few encounters I had answers to many of my questions. Positive Psychology is ‘the scientific study of strengths and virtues that enable individuals, communications and organisations to thrive’. It focuses intently on achieving a sense of balance, also referred to as ‘flourishing’, that promotes a sense of connectedness and fulfilment.

One of the first names that will pop up on any Google Search on Positive Psychology is Martin Seligman. Seligman has pioneered much of the groundwork in this field as well as actively promoting its viability and importance across the world. Within a few minutes I was hooked into his TED talk entitled The New Era of Psychology where he discusses the ‘nuts and bolts’ of ‘flourish’. This inevitably led to a late night purchase of his renowned book, ‘Flourish’ on Kindle.

From this the connections started to strengthen. Seligman advocates strongly for the use of statistical data to determine the effectiveness of a particular approach (in any field). A visit to his website ‘Authentic Happiness’ are hours well spent. By participating in a myriad of activities and questionnaires not only are you given valuable insights into yourself, you contribute to a clever system of data collection which informs practise in this field worldwide.
Seligman dedicates a significant portion of ‘Flourish’ to his work here in Melbourne with Geelong Grammar. In 2008 Seligman with an impressive support cast in tow, was invited to consult on the viability of a ‘Positive Education’. It was adopted (at great cost and some resistance) by the school and with a comprehensive professional development plan and volunteered time by teachers and staff, significantly impacted on the school community in ways that I thought at first were fictional!

None of the practises that Seligman presented to the Grammar were ‘rocket science’ per say but perhaps they were. The sheer simplicity of the program along with irrefutable statistical data to back its impact, led me wondering, ‘Why aren’t we all doing this?’ It seemed as though ‘Positive Education’ was ‘infectious’. By teaching students to focus on positives, to become actively aware of their strengths, to build solid resilience, it was inevitable that teachers themselves started to change their mindsets. In fact, Seligman insisted that teachers trial every method presented on themselves and track the impact this had on them. This approach could only deepen the relationship between a teacher and a student. Celebrating your strengths with another person is quite personal and a positive building block for building a healthy relationship.

I bought into this immediately. I was aching to get back into my classroom and trial out some of the simple tenants of ‘Positive Education’ on my students. The first one I trialled was WWW (What Went Well). At the time I had a student who obsessively focussed on the negatives in her day. It had almost reached a point where her parent was presenting me with long lists of trivial complaints (the loss of a grey lead pencil among them).

I asked the parent in question if they would be open to the idea of trialling out WWW with their child. I explained that the idea was that every day their child was to record three things that went well and write about why they went well. The underlying principle is that by engaging with gratitude and focusing on the positives you can actively reverse negativity and bias. After a couple of days, I noticed positive changes in my student. She smiled more, seemed more relaxed and the long list of grievances shortened dramatically. While I can’t statistically prove that these changes were the direct impact of WWW, I knew that there was really something quite powerful about this approach.

I also noticed changes in myself. I took Seligman’s challenge on board and trialled out the WWW method before bringing it back to my classroom. I walked through the door at the start of the day excited about the positives, at first because I was hoping I’d have three to write about at the end of the day and then because of the intrinsic happiness they brought me. I started to experience the infectiousness of ‘flourishing’; a happy teacher meant happier students, happier students meant a happier learning environment. I started to share my WWW with my students and our relationships deepened as a result.

One day in the near future I’d love to measure the impact of the small things in my classroom. But right now the positive vibe is evidence enough!


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Via @hhoede on Twitter 

 

I remember late last year discussing ICT with a guy I know who loves technology and he suggested to me that you need a complete vision for technology in school. Don’t say, ‘I wan’t iPad’s in Early Years or laptops in Secondary’, you need to have in mind a complete vision as to what a 21st century classroom looks like, for students, for teachers, for parents, for administration, for everyone.
I understood what he was saying, that when it comes to 21st century learning, it is important to have a narrative, a story to tell, a painting to show in order to provide the reason and purpose behind the call for change. The problem is that a part of me felt that every time I started imagining such a reality it simply collapsed in heap. All I could see were the road blocks, the hurdles to be jumped. For as I spoke about in my post on excuses, we so often worry about what is not possible and start there. Instead, I have decided that I am going to lay down my dreams, create a vision of my future and start there. So here is my dream for technology in education, actually for education in general …

An Appropriately Funded Education System

Graham Brown-Martin recently posted a graphic comparing military and educational spending around the world. Although there are some countries which spend more on education, such as Norway, Mexico and Canada, more often than not there is often an unequal divide. However, even this only tells part of the story. For what inadequate funding is provided is then often inequitably shared out. There simply needs to be more public money spent on education for it is an investment that all of society benefits from. The Gonski-cum-Better Schools plan was a step towards a more equal divide in Australia, but even that was undermined as it was in stark contrast to the recommendations that the panel headed by David Gonski put forward. The reality is, it does not matter how much technology you have in the classroom, if you don’t have the appropriate structures in place to support it, then it is often meaningless. Funding is a big part of education.

No More Technological Hurdles or Hindrances

I want a learning environment where connection to projectors, to the Internet or school networks is seamless. No more disconnect, connect or finding a cable for the screen. Although many schools have moved to devices such as Apple TV, I feel that the better answer needs to be more open. In addition to this, I want devices which don’t take forever to load up or need to be managed in regards to battery time. Technology should not hold us up, instead it should allow for the more effective use of learning time.

1:1 Powerful Devices

Fine many schools are moving towards BYOD, however I think that as a part of a properly funded education system, all students should be provided with a powerful device to aid their learning (powerful is in reference to a point made in a discussion as a part of Episode 185 of the +Ed Tech Crew Podcast.) I just don’t think that it is either equitable or necessarily fair to have a situation where there are some students in the classroom that due to a range of circumstances are unable to bring a device or have one provided by the school. I am fine if students bring in a second device, such as a tablet. However, making sure that all students have access at the point of instruction is a necessity.

Teachers Given Access to Multiple Devices

I love my laptop, but feel that in a classroom it has its limits. I love my iPad, but feel that when it comes to more series work that it has its limits. I believe that every teacher should have access and be supported with two working devices. +Rich Lambert wrote a fantastic post exploring the issue of whether teachers should have to pay for the technology they use. He suggested that devices should be subsidised and a wider choice provided. Having been provided with a iPad due to my role in the school, I find it frustrating that this access is often limited to those who choose to bring their own. I would go a step further than what Richard is suggesting and argue that all teachers such be provided with two devices to support their teaching, a point I have also made elsewhere.

Access and Infrastructure

Associated with the need for funding for teachers devices is the need for acceptable access and infrastructure. There are too many tales of public schools going out and purchasing their own lines, because the Internet and access supplied by the government is either unreliable and inadequate. In addition to the pipe coming in, there needs to be appropriate support and investment in regards to the infrastructure within the school. The worst scenario in regards to technology is having a classroom full of devices which are limited to themselves or a digital camera with no computer cable or battery charger. No point owning a fast car if there are no roads to drive it on.

Curating not Consuming

Too often the focus of ideas and information seems to be around consumption. Take for example English, there is still the focus in too many classrooms on how many books have been read, rather than what is actually done with that reading. +Heather Bailie makes the suggestion, in her post ‘Curation as a Tool for Teaching and Learning’, that we should no longer read, write and react, but rather create, curate and contemplate. In this situation, students (and teachers) would not just collect information, but “comprehend, critique, think critically and use digital media strategically.” To me, the biggest change in the 21st century is that whereas in the past information was often considered in isolation, as we move towards a focus on curation, everything becomes interconnected and ideas move between subjects, across years, between classrooms and across borders.

Teachers a Part of a Community

A big part of curating is sharing information. A sad irony in today’s world of growing connectedness is that you still hear stories of teachers keeping their thoughts and ideas to themselves, instead of actually giving back to the wider community. Now when I say ‘sharing’, I’m not talking about sharing to make teaching easier, rather I believe that sharing makes learning richer. +Dean Shareski even goes to the point of saying that without sharing, there is no learning.” For me, being a connected educator has not only had a positive influence on me as a learner, but also my work teacher. A part of this is change has been openly reflecting on my practise online. The big challenge is to make this deep and meaningful for everyone, not simply dry and tokenistic, something ticked off on a sheet, but something intrinsic to who we are, something that we want to do, rather something that we are forced to do. In this environment, teachers are then instilled with more ownership over their learning. Rather than buying goods from a small corner store, where what is available is often curtailed by what the owner has bought, teachers can have the choice and variety available at a shopping centre, where they can mix and match, coming up with their own cocktail.

Students Publishing for an Authentic Audience

I am always left wondering when teachers run around after student work, ringing home to complain, chastising students for falling behind, who is this all for? Here I am reminded of Alan November’s story about the student who spent hours writing stories for Fan Fiction, yet failed to get her homework done. The explanation that the student provided was that she makes the choice to publish for the world over publishing for her teacher. Instead of completing tasks for themselves or worse, for teachers, students need the opportunities to publish for authentic audiences. For example, after consulting with a teacher from another state +Cameron Paterson got his Year 9 History class to create picture books around the topic of World War 1 for a kindergarten. If not publishing for a purpose, at least publishing for a wider audience as +Bec Spink has done with the eBooks created by her Prep classes or through a classroom blog as +Celia Coffa has discussed. For what is the point of having a fast car if there is nowhere to actually drive it?

Collaboration not Competition

A part of the problem that I find with a lot of assessment is that too often it is done in isolation, where everyone maybe responding to the same question, they do so individually. There is so much discussion in education about feedback, in particular peer-to-peer feedback, I have concern though that when this is done in an environment where the focus is being the best and therefore being better than everyone else, we miss out on an important aspect of learning, that is collaboration, connections and global communication. Technology provides so many means for this to occur, whether it be working on a project using a Google Doc or connecting all over the world using Twitter. +Anne Mirtschin provides endless examples in her blog as to how technology can be used to open up learning to the world. Whether it be learning how to use Scratch or having a guest author Skype in, Mirtschin always has a story as to how technology opens doors in her classroom to deeper learning. Just as it is said that if a question can be Googled then it isn’t a very good question, I would like to pose that if a task is corrupted by being done in collaboration with others then maybe it isn’t a very good task?

Students Learning at the Centre

 

Although students are often the focus of learning, I wonder if they are necessarily at the centre of it? There are too many choices about the what and why of learning that are made for students. +Ewan McIntosh makes the point that the challenge of finding a problem, one of the most important aspects of learning, is often the first decision taken away from students. Ideally, learning should be at the centre. In his excellent series on learning theories, +Steve Wheeler spoke about heutagogy, the study of self-determined learning. Ultimately, as we aspire to develop lifelong learning, actually learning how to learn in different contexts for different purposes is most important. For as Wheeler suggests elsewhere, “pedagogy is leading people to a place where they can learn for themselves.” Sometimes though it feels like students are learning for us?

 

 

Learning Supported by Space

I must admit, the structure of space is something that I haven’t necessarily thought a lot about and probably should. I think that one of the reasons for this is that so often it feels like such decisions are made for us, not by us and certainly not by students. I remember reading a post by +Matt Esterman on what your schools would say if they could talk. Along with +Stephen Collis‘ response, I was quite challenged. At the very least I think that we need to create flexible learning spaces. This maybe team teaching and open learning spaces, but it also maybe having different uses of the spaces we already have, as was outlined by +Michelle Hostrup on Episode #20 of +TER Podcast. The reality is that although we can make some changes to what we have now, many schools need to be refurbished to account for this change. At the very least, as +George Couros pointed out, technology should not be an event, done in a lab, rather it should be a part of all learning, whatever space that maybe.

Integrated Assessment & Reporting

At present, teachers often give feedback along the way and some sort of detailed assessment at the end. Using technology this can not only become more streamlined, but also more effective. What’s more, it means that the conversation is not always one way. For if a student wants clarification then they can follow up whenever they like. This will hopefully blend with a more fluent reporting system which continually grows and develops to show a students progress over time, rather than the current culture where students get a report at the end of each semester, which other than the previous progression points, exists as an isolated historical snapshot. As +Catherine Gatt so succinctly put it, “assessment is just charting the next part of a student’s journey, invariably owned by them and not by me.” Technology only aides and increases this dialogue that is too often missing in education.

 

 
I feel in many respects that this vision could be more cavalier, could be more bold. However, I am sure that the more I grow and evolve, so to will my dreams and ideals about education. This then is my starting point. It may not be a vision for tomorrow, but it is a vision for a better future. The challenge is to stop making excuses. Although ideals aren’t always ideal, working towards them is the least I can do.
If you have any thoughts, ideas or suggestions, I would love to hear them. Even better, what are your dreams for technology in education or education in general? For if there is one thing that I have learnt, we are all better off together.

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I recently wrote a post reflecting on the apparent ‘failure’ of the digital revolution. What came through from both my own reflections and the comments provided by others is that the reason for this supposed failure lies whole-heartedly with leadership. Whether it be at a local school-based level or at a governmental level, there has been a litany of errors. One of issues that often arises with the use of technology in schools are the ramifications for staff and students as their sense of citizenship has evolved to incorporate the digital realm. One organisation set up to allevate such stresses has been the eSmart Schools Program.
 
The eSmart Schools Program was developed by the Alannah and Madeline Foundation, “a national charity with the belief that all children should have a safe and happy childhood without being subjected to any form of violence.” One of its main purposes is dealing with threat of cyberbullying and child safety from the ground up. Unlike the reactive fear campaigns too often perpetrated in schools, the aim of the program is to be proactive. Instead of waiting for their to be a problem, the goal of the program is to develop a clear framework that sets in place a range of practises and policies that hopefully means there are no problems or if there are that they are responded to in an appropriate manner. All in all there are six domains that make up the framework which all work towards the smart, safe and responsible use of technology.
 
 

At the end of last term, +Catherine Gatt and I had the privilege of being a part of an eSmart Schools forum. The event was designed to get together a range of different representatives from schools around Melbourne to discuss how the program was going. Basically, the purpose of the session was to get as many different perspectives as possible in order to identify what the next chapter would be.
 

Growing Pains

Some of the problems that my school has had on our journey to being an eSmart accredited school include:
 

Ownership

The ideal situation in regards to leadership is to have a flat structure where every teacher and student is responsible. However, too many are still attached to a hierarchical structure where responsibility is carried by those at the top. Whereas the primary classes have had one teacher facilitating the whole program for both staff and students, in the secondary environment, too much is left to too few. Although many of the topics of bullying, digital identity and cyber-safety are often dealt with in Health classes, the message is often missed in other classes where in an already crowded curriculum, various eSmart initiatives are not seen as the highest responsibility.
 

Scope and Sequence

Associated with a sense of ownership, there is the problem of scope and sequence. Although the core issues around identity are often dealt with in an explicit manner, it is areas such as plagiarism, appropriate researching online and attribution, which are too easily forgotten in the hustle and bustle of everyday teaching. The most obvious example is the use of digital images in the classroom. How often do staff, let alone students, actually consider whether they have the rights to use the images that they do? I must admit that it is only something I have started to consider seriously in the last few years. Basically, it becomes one of those situations where everyone and no one is responsible. Without it explicitly written into the curriculum, such aspects are too easily overlooked.
 

Administration

Along with a lack of clear leadership, the ongoing accountability and administration is left to too few. Instead of everyone having a sense of responsibility, it is too often seen as the responsibility of the eSmart co-ordinator. I understand that someone needs organise things. However, that does not mean that they need to do everything. The worst thing with this is that such individuals simply can’t do everything as they are not privy to everything.
 

ICT vs. Welfare

One of the underlying issues I have found with the whole program is where it actually sits within the school. Does it belong to welfare? Or is it an ICT thing? Ideally it should belong to both. However, this is easier said than done. The problem that I have seen is that when it is driven from a welfare perspective, some of the more technological aspects are overlooked, and vice versa.
 

Solutions, Fixes and Becoming Smarter

One the best things about the forum was the opportunity to not only share various hiccups faced along the way, but also to brainstorm various ideas and solutions for making things better. Some of the ideas included:
 

A Letter from Students to Parents about Issues

Too often letters are sent home from staff addressing issues and problems that arise in regards to technology and digital citizenship. A suggestion presented by another school was to get students to develop such letters. Not only do they then own the situation, but such letters have so much more meaning when they come from students. +Bill Ferriter wrote a really interesting post on creating a student advisory board as a medium for providing feedback from those who matter, I think that students writing letters could definitely fit into this.
 

eSmart Licence

An idea that one school put in place was a licence for students. Like the pen licence, the eSmart licence was for students who had completed a series of modules created by the school. It represented some recognition that students were as prepared for the digital world as they can be.
 

A Committee is eSmarter than a Co-ordinator

As David Weinberger suggests, “he smartest person in the room, is the room”. The question then is how many people are in the room? If the group in charge of implementing the eSmart program is only three people, how smart can the group be? So many schools spoke about how the program stalled when it was driven by a couple of individuals. The big challenge moving forward is to create a meaningful committee, that includes a wide range of voices (students, teachers, technicians, parents), which meets on a regular basis. Although a group was formed to review the school’s policy, once that had been achieved, the group soon dispersed. In addition to this, such a program can go into disarray when any one of those individuals moves onto new surroundings.
 

The Next Chapter

Overall, the big question that was discussed at the forum was where to next. What was unknown was what happened to schools that had gone through the process and received their accreditation. There is currently nothing in place to support schools in regards to maintaining their level of standard. In addition to this, the program is currently supported by the government and will soon come up for review. The question that was posed to those present was whether schools would be willing to pay an annual subscription for the right to be an eSmart School and what this would actually include, whether it be support or simply a recognition of a standard. 
 
I hope that there is some sort of solution that will allow the program to continue beyond the five years. For it has provided a great framework to work with. It really makes me wonder though about the answer for ongoing change in schools? You look around education and see so many examples of people offering programs to implement, but too often the system fails to let them follow through with the initial vigour and see it truly blossom. I hope that eSmart can break that mould.
 
Have you gone through the process to becoming an eSmart Accredited School? What has been your experience? The highs? The lows? What do you see as the challenges being in regards to the next chapter.

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creative commons licensed (BY-SA) flickr photo by brizzle born and bred: http://flickr.com/photos/brizzlebornandbred/4934882110
 
In a recent ICT committee meeting, one of the participants made the remark that the digital revolution has failed to deliver all that it supposedly promised. Having been a part of the YVeLC pilot program almost ten years ago which focused on the potential of 2:1 laptops, it has been interesting seeing the changes that have occurred since that time. In a conversation with +Catherine Gatt, this is the list of reasons that we came up with as to why the digital revolution has failed to be the saviour that so many said it would be.
 

Failure to Invest

The government, both state and federal, has invested a lot over the last ten years. Whether it be providing Internet for students, WiFi access in schools, support in regards to servers and switches, as well as devices for students. In addition to this, the state government Victoria made a big investment with the now defunct Ultranet, a learning platform that was supposed to be the intermediary between staff, students and parents. The big question however is whether it has been enough?
 
For even though the government has provided Internet access, it cannot always be trusted due to insufficient bandwidth and tendency to drop-out. This has led to some schools investing in their own lines, creating a new culture of equity surrounding access. In addition to this, even though the government provides state schools with WAPs and other such infrastructure support, there are schools who find this hardware insufficient for their needs. Therefore, although the government has made significant investments, the question is whether it could have been done better?
 
I will never forget sitting in the meetings in regards to the Ultranet being told how many thousands of dollars that it would cost to make even the most minuscule of changes. Maybe instead of investing so much money developing a new product, the government could have invested more in regards to support and infrastructure, letting schools choose their own solutions, whether that be Google Apps for Education and Edmodo or some other combo and simply providing support in the form of coaches with the implementation.
 

Lack of Leadership and Guidance

Another point of confusion relates to the leadership and guidance surrounding the support of ICT in schools. I cannot think of another area in education with so many competing positions and job titles. One school has an ICT Co-ordinator, another has an eLearning Coach, while another a 21st Century Learning Coach. Then you have some schools who have nothing? You just need to look at the various posts on the matter to get a feel for the matter:
Each post encompasses the topic in its own way, but never completely, for how can it when the area itself is still largely undefined.
 
Whereas in the past the person in the ‘role’ might have worked with a technician to manage the moderate school network and maintain a few computer rooms, now it has expanded to include anything and everything. Spanning pedagogical practice to administering various systems to exploring areas of technological innovation.
 
Unlike other areas, such as literacy and numeracy, which are relatively settled or at least people feel that they can comfortably define them, ‘technology’ offers something that some just aren’t sure about. For how do you really measure the success of technology in schools? Instead, the management and leadership in this area is at times left to those with a passion and interest, therefore sometimes limiting the scope to change possible in some educational settings.
 

Fear of the Unknown

Attached to the confusion over leadership is the culture of fear often associated with technology. One of the biggest changes to education, I would argue, in the 21st century has been the attempt to reposition the place of the teacher away from being the one at the front of the room, to becoming a facilitator whose prime focus is to amplify the thoughts and ideas of the other learners in the classroom. With this comes the move from teacher-as-authoritarian to teacher-as-lifelong learner. For some, this shift is easier than others.
 
In the heyday of technology in school, the message preached was that students knew more, therefore let them run the show. The problem with this is that instead of being a facilitator, the teacher became a ghost in the room, someone largely absent, unsure about exactly what was going on, living in good faith. 
 
To me, palming responsibility off to students is not stepping to the side, this is stepping out of the classroom. What eventuates in this environment is a culture of fear where because you never really know what the students are doing, you jump at every flash and bleep that may occur.
 
I understand that as a teacher you will never always ‘know’, but to me teachers have a duty of care unto themselves, to lifelong learning – to at least try and understand in order to support students as they come up against issues, rather than curse that technology will be the death of us all.
 
With this, teachers need to embrace the unknown and with the students in mind, model how the solve problems. Sometimes it is through such moments of honesty that everyone learns the most.
 

Technology as the Answer

One of the things associated with technological fear is the expectation that somehow technology will be the panacea to all of the modern ills. Too often teachers expect technology to somehow change what they do without them changing any point of their own practise.
 
I have seen too many examples where teachers have introduced technology into the classroom as if it were a solution in itself. Then as soon as there is a hiccup, they baulk and revert to what John Goh describes as our default position. The problem with this is that technology is always doomed to fail if it is not linked to pedagogy and purpose.
 
In the end, technology is not the magic cure, rather it is how it is used that has the potential to have meaningful change. It is one cog in the complex construct that is 21st century learning. For it is through the sum of many parts that students learn. (See my post ‘Sum of the Parts Different to the Whole‘ for a better explanation.) The reality is, you just need to look at the work of John Hattie and you soon realise that the biggest point of influence in the classroom is the teacher themselves. That does not mean that we should simply rid ourselves of technology and focus on the teacher, instead the focus should be on how technology can be used to further practises, such as collaboration, communication and critical thinking
 

Another Thing to Fit

One of the big changes in regards to curriculum over the last few years has been the advent of interdisciplinary strands, such as thinking and interpersonal learning. In addition to this, the curriculum has been made even more explicit, especially for primary school. For example, whereas in the past students in Early Years had to assess against ‘the Humanities’. this has been split up within the National Curriculum and made more explicit. In this environment, ICT and technology becomes another thing to consider in an already cluttered curriculum.
 

ICT as a Subject

Seeing ICT as another thing ‘to do’ misunderstands its place and purpose. Instead of seeing it as an integral part of every lesson, ICT is too often seen as something done with the ICT teacher. Sadly, what should be done in ‘ICT’ is something more akin to computer science. However, it has sadly come to be seen as the time when students get their dose of technology for the week, therefore absolving any requirement to report against it elsewhere. For as we all know, students only engage with literacy in English classes, don’t they?
 
As +George Couros has stated, something is missing when we treat technology as an event. To achieve meaningful change, technology needs to be at the point of instruction. It is then that the potential to redefine the way students learn can truly occur.
 
In his book, ‘The Five Minute Teacher’, +Mark Barnes suggests introducing different applications and tools on a regular basis to help student build up a toolkit of possibilities. In this scenario, students then build up an array of possibilities so that when they are given choice in regards to working in a collaborative manner or communicating an idea they can make an informed choice. ICT is then an aide to learning, not the actual focus.
 

Outdated

Whether it be the choice of tools, applications and programs or operating systems themselves, the world does not stand still. Things are always evolving. Ten years ago the school I had kept a small collection of cameras in the library,  now just about every teacher let alone student has one embedded in some sort of device, whether it be a tablet, smart phone or laptop. With this change means that devices like Flipcams have become obsolete. Although the hardware may still function and would probably have cost quite a bit to buy, their quality and ease of use has become superseded.
 
One of the traps that teachers often get caught teaching the tool as opposed to emphasizing on the purpose. In focusing on skills, it no longer matters what tool or application is used, instead the focus becomes on why it is being used.
 

Change as a Mindset

Education has evolved during the last few years, sometimes though we just don’t recognize all the subtle changes. Maybe what we have is the revolution that we were promised and instead the problem is our inability to see it. I am reminded of +Chris Betcher‘s closing keynote at Melbourne Google in Education Summit 2013 where he explained that in many respects what happens in schools has not necessarily changed. Instead, the friction has been taken away, meaning that what may have taken hours in the past, can now be done in seconds.
As I stated in a previous post ‘Looking Back to Look Forward‘, it is easy to identify our failings, to think that nothing has changed, but if we stop and reflect for a moment we often find that a lot has changed. The challenge then is to change the way we look at such things, rather than change the things themselves.
 
What About You?
These are my reflections, what about you? Have I missed something? Do you disagree? Is your system of education different to the one I have portrayed? Is this specific to Australia or are these issues global? What do you think needs to happen now? I would love to know. Please leave a comment below.

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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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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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