A few weeks ago, I had the great opportunity to be a part of Google Hangout for +Ed Tech Crew Episode 238. The big question being addressed was: If you were only able to give one piece of advice to a new ICT Co-ordinator in a school, what advice would you give them. Although I have had a go at outlining my thoughts elsewhere, here are the gems offered by the wider team …
 
+Ashley Proud – Be relentless with whatever you do.
+Mick Prest – Make sure that you are connected to a wider community.
+Mel Cashen – Have both short and long term goals, don’t just think about right here, right now.
+Lois Smethurst – Narrow your field of focus to something that you believe is going to make a difference with.
+Darren Murphy – Go and listen to people, get teachers and leadership on board
+Aaron Davis – Create a team and develop a collaborative plan.
+Roland Gesthuizen – Coach the kind of learning that you want to be happening and be disruptive, facilitate the learning rather than mandate it.
+Tony Richards – Just have a go at doing something, this includes modelling the behaviours that you want people to have.
+Darrel Branson – Develop relationships in and out of the school.
What are your thoughts? Is there something that has been missed that you would add? Keep the conversation going either below or on Twitter.

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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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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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Tom Whitby stated in a recent blog post addressing Connected Educator Month that: “Being connected is not an add-on or a luxury for educators: it has become a necessity”. I could not agree more, there are so many benefits to being connected with the wider world that were not possible in the past. The question that constantly comes up though is why are there not more people connecting? Why are there not more people sharing their ideas with the wider world?
In a previous blog I wrote about what I perceive as being some of the benefits of blogging. However, what is often missed in these discussions is why more teachers do not jump on board. Some reasons that come to mind are that teachers do not see any direct benefit for them and their teaching. They do not really use the internet ‘like that’. They connect enough with the people that really matter and they are the teachers in their team. The biggest difficulty though, in my view, is finding the time to grow and cultivate all my ideas into legible arguments, something that they feel confident to publish.
 
In a piece about writing, Bill Ferriter suggests dedicating set times for writing. This is a strategy that I have heard before, but I think that it only elevates a part of the issue. Many teachers that I know already feel challenged in finding the ideal work/life balance and believe that writing a regular blog just isn’t a priority. In response to the dilemma of time, in a recent episode of the Edtech Crew, interviewee, Ian Guest, stated that “a blog in the first place is for yourself, it has to be”. His reasoning is that it is only then that you will find the extra time needed to commit to your task. I myself could not agree more and am always scraping a few minutes here and there to get my posts out there. My concern with this though is whether or not it is acceptable in today’s day and age that teachers are not connecting and being involved? Is it acceptable to just allow teachers who do not want to connect to simply stay offline? For as +Tom Whitby argues, “We must have digitally literate educators, if we want digitally literate students.” How then do we do this without going down the road of forcing teachers to keep learning blogs that they do not really care about? How do we provide a situation where teachers are not committed to writing regular blog posts. My answer is simple, why not start a school blogging space?
Most schools these days seem to have their own Facebook site and Twitter handle, why not extend this and have a central blogging space as well? A place where everyone has the ability to write a post. One of the challenges with blogging is that you don’t want to publish once every month, ideally you want a steady stream of information coming in. Also, it can reflect badly on you. (‘Gee so and so hasn’t been doing much …’) In sharing the load, this daunting prospect of keeping up is alleviated. Instead of considering the space as having ‘one’ authorial voice, a school space would become a place to collect together a wide range of ideas, voices and perspectives. An example of such an approach is the Smartblogs website where a wide range of people submit different content, often specific to their area of expertise.
 
In addition to relieving the stress of time, by writing a blog as a school, everyone is able to come on board. Too often the big ‘sell’ is left to the principal, with different school-based achievements celebrated through their blogging space. I wonder whether it wouldn’t be more powerful if everyone was a part of this process, even students. The reality is, can a principal know about the finer details of every single achievement that may have happened in the school and more importantly, should they? Isn’t it more empowering if those people who actually facilitate events and may have organised then then actually share their achievement. This is often what happens with the school newsletter, why can it not happen with the school blog? Everyone talks about the power of ‘student voice’, but what about the power of the ‘learners voice’ – this includes teachers and students alike, as well as teaching and non-teaching staff. Such a blogging space would therefore offer a place where everyone’s ideas and achievements can be recognised in a way that does not put pressure on one solitary voice.
 
 
 
In addition to sharing (isn’t that enough), by creating a school blogging space staff would be getting a hands on experience of many conundrums facing us today, such as tagging post do that they are able to be searched easily and publishing for an often unknown audience. Working in a collaborative manner where the school is involved would hopefully create an environment that breaks down some of the fear with taking on the unknown, a space where staff can learn and learn together.
 
This idea is still in its infancy. I would love anyone feedback as to whether this is done at your school or what people see as being an issue.

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