Some Aus

The Australian Institute of Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL) recently sent out an email celebrating the end of term. In it they shared some ideas for some professional learning over the holidays, ranging from the most popular AITSL reports to suggestions for education videos. One of the things that stood out though was the list of ‘best blogs’ provided.

  1. Learning Deeply by Education Week
  2. Mindshift
  3. Edutopia blogs
  4. Teacher Toolkit
  5. Mr Kemp

Now I don’t wish to questions the quality of any of the blogs, but for an ‘Australian’ institute it was strange that of the five blogs included, none of them were actually Australian? This subsequently got me thinking about which blogs are missing from the list, which ‘local’ bloggers I would recommend dipping into over the holiday period:

  • What Ed Said – Along with Kath Murdoch’s Just Wondering, I love delving into Edna Sackson’s own inquiry into inquiry. Always open, always sharing, I feel I come away from each post with a different perspective of my own practises.
  • My Mind’s Museum – A little bit practical, a little bit personal, the one thing that is guaranteed in reading Matt Esterman’s blog is that I always leave thinking a little bit more deeply about things. Along with Cameron Paterson’s It’s About Learning, Esterman’s blog provides a great mixture of practical examples and personal musings, covering everything from educational spaces to digital identity to what constitutes history.
  • About Teaching – I think that the title sums it up best, Corinne Campbell’s blog reflects on everything relating to teaching from managing stress to engaging learners through project based learning. What I like is that she not only offers a honest and personal insight into things, but she also tackles topics that others often overlook.
  • Dan Haesler – This is another one of those blogs that is hard to categorise. It is a little bit about wellbeing, a little bit about engagement, a little bit about leadership, but a lot bit about improving education across the board. Haesler provides commentary on all things, from class sizes to interviewing prospective staff to gifted and talented programs.
  • On an e-Journey with Generation Y – Every time I start making excuses about why I can’t do something, I remind myself of Anne Mirtchen. She seems to manage so much with her students that goes far beyond the traditional classroom.
  • ReconfigurED – Along with Ross Halliday’s Making Learning Fizz, Anthony Speranza touches on all things learning to drive innovation in education. Whether it be introducing Genius Hour or implementing Chromebooks, Speranza’s continual push to disrupt the traditional learning space is always both interesting and inspiring.
  • Miss Spink on Tech – From using Twitter to connect beyond the classroom to publishing student work through iTunes, Spink is always writing something about how technology can make learning more meaningful. In addition to this, if there is anything to know about Evernote, she has spoken about it.
  • Transformative Learning – The strength of Steve Brophy’s blog is that it is usually purposeful and practical. Like Corrie Barclay’s Learn + Lead + Inspire, Brophy provides endless reflections on the way in which technology can and is already improving learning.
  • Bianca Hewes – I initially came upon Hewes’ blog looking for more information and ideas associated with Project Based Learning, but what I found was so much more. Whether it be the highs or lows, Hewes is always honest about all things life’s learning journey.
  • Betchablog – It would be easy to label Chris Betcher’s blog as ‘just another tech’ blog, but to do so really misses the strength of it. Betcher not only writes about all things technological, like Hewes, he does it in such an open manner that it forces you to confront many challenges that we more often than not choose to ignore.

It seems wrong to have only included ten as there are so many other great blogs out there. There are some who I love to read – such as Richard Olsen, Jason BortonRichard Lambert and Mel Cashen – who just do not write often enough for my own liking. While there are some that I feel bad about missing, such as those by Eric Jensen and Dale Pearce. All in all, there are just so many great blogs out there jam packed with great ideas and resources. This is exemplified by Corrine Campbell’s fantastic list of Australian blogs that she has started curating: http://list.ly/list/WsG-australian-education-blogs-worth-reading.

At the end of the day though, it is not the ‘ideas’ the necessarily keep me coming back, although they are important, but the connections that I feel that I have engaging in an online environment. So what are the connections that you have formed, those blogs that you go back to continuously? I would love to you.


If you enjoy what you read here, feel free to sign up for my monthly newsletter to catch up on all things learning, edtech and storytelling.

In a post a few months ago I mused on the idea of providing time for teachers to tinker and explore. My feelings were that like the students we teach, we too all have areas of interests that we never quite get a chance to unpack. I was reminded of this again recently by +Edna Sackson who spoke about enlivening a professional development day by empowering the voices of the staff at her school and giving them a chance to present, rather than simply bringing in outside providers. Although I have experienced this to some degree in regards to ICT at my school, where we ran a session where various staff provided different sessions, I have never really heard of it been offered as a whole school initiative. I was therefore left wondering, why don’t more staff share and collaborate, whether online or off?
 
 
A point of collaboration that I have been involved in this year was the development of a conference presentation with +Steve Brophy. As teachers we often talk about collaboration, yet either avoid doing it or never quite commit ourselves to process. Some may work with a partner teacher or as a part of a team, but how many go beyond this, stepping out of the comfort zone, and the walls of their school, to truly collaborate in the creation of a whole project?
 
Having spoken about the power of tools like Google Apps for Education to support and strengthen collaboration and communication, I decided that what I really needed to do to take the next step was to stop preaching and actually get out there and actually model it. I really wanted to work with someone in not only presenting a range of tools that make collaboration more possible, but I wanted to use those tools to actually collaborate and create a presentation from scratch.
 
The first time I met Brophy was online. The +Ed Tech Crew ran a Google Hangout at the end of 2013 focusing on the question: what advice would you give a new teacher just appointed as an ICT coordinator? I put down my thoughts in a post, Steve commented and wrote a response of his own. It was these two perspectives, different in some ways, but the same in others, that brought us together.
 
Since then we have built up a connection online – on Twitter, in the margins of a document, within blog posts themselves, via a few emails – growing and evolving the conversation each step of the way. For example, Steve set me the 11 question blog challenge, which he had already taken the time to complete himself. We were lucky enough to meet face-to-face when we both presented at Teachmeet at the Pub in February.
 
What I think clicked in regards to working with Brophy was that although we teach in different sectors, coming from different backgrounds, we shared an undeniable passion – student learning and how technology can support and enhance this or as +Bill Ferriter would have it, ‘make it more doable‘. We therefore decided to put forward a proposal for the +Digital Learning and Teaching Victoria conference around the topic of ‘voices in education’. Interestingly, once the submissions were accepted those wishing to present were encouraged to connect and collaborate with other members in the stream, rather than work in isolation. However, we already were.
 
In regards to planning and collaborating, it was all pretty ad hoc. A few comments in an email, brainstorming using a Google Doc, catching up via a Google Hangout, building our presentation using OneNote (click for PDF). Most importantly though, there were compromises at each step along the way. This was not necessarily about either being right or wrong, but about fusing our ideas together. So often I feel that we plan presentations with only our own thoughts in mind. Although we may have an idea of our intended audience, nothing can really replace the human element associated with engaging with someone else in dialogue.
 
In regards to the substance of our actual presentation, I put forward the idea of dividing it into Primary and Secondary. However, as things unfolded, this seemed counter-intuitive, for voices are not or should not be constrained by age. So after much dialogue we came upon the idea of focusing on the different forms of connections that occur when it comes to voices in and out of the classroom. We identified three different categories:

 

  • Students communicating and collaborating with each other 
  • Students and teachers in dialogue about learning 
  • Teachers connecting as a part of lifelong learners 
A part of the decision for this was Brophy‘s work in regards to Digital Leaders. This focus on students having a voice of there own really needed to take some pride of place, especially as much of my thoughts had been focusing on the engagement between students and teachers.
 

Listening to Voices – FULL PRESENTATION – Created with Haiku Deck, presentation software that inspires
 
The next point of discussion was around the actual presentation. In hindsight, I fretted so much about who would say what and when, as well as what should go in the visual presentation. This is taken for granted when you present by yourself as you say everything. However, when you work with someone else it isn’t so simple. The irony about the presentation was that so often plans are often dispersed in an effort to capture the moment. This is exactly what happened and I feel that it worked well. Sometimes the worst thing you can do is to stick to the slides, because somehow that is the way it has to be, even though that way is often a concoction in itself. The other thing to be said is that the slides also allow people to engage with the presentation in their own time, in their own way. I sometimes feel that this is a better way of thinking about them.
 
The best aspect about working collaboratively with someone was that by the time we presented we knew each others thoughts and ideas so well that it meant that if there was something that one of us overlooked then the other could simply jump in and ellaborate. This was best demonstrated in our shortened presentation for the Scootle Lounge, where instead of delivering a summary of what we had already done we instead decided to go with the flow. The space was relaxed with beanbags and only a few people, therefore it seemed wrong to do an overly formal presentation. Focusing on the three different situations, we instead bounced ideas off each other and those in the audience, for surely that is what voice and expression should actually be about?
 
After growing our presentation together, the challenge we set for others was to reach out and connect, whether it is online or face to face. Contribute, collaborate and be open to new perspectives and be prepared to be inspired and grow as a learner.
 
So, how have you collaborated? What did you learn? What is it that holds you back? Feel free to share below.

If you enjoy what you read here, feel free to sign up for my monthly newsletter to catch up on all things learning, edtech and storytelling.

Lego poetry at DLTV2014
 
As I sat through one of the most horrendous presentations on Office 365, it got me wondering about the question, what makes a good presentation? I sat there thinking what would make this better? What was missing?

At first I thought that it was the absence of any conversation about pedagogy. A point that +Edna Sackson made about last years GAFE Summit in her post, ‘‘I Want to Talk About Learning…’ There was reference to pricing schemes and packages, what this includes and what that does. However, I had signed up with the hope that I could take back to school a few more tips relating to how to get the most out of Windows 8 – whether it be new applications or different functionalities – I was wrong.
The one thing that held me together throughout was the conversations I was having on Twitter with +Rich Lambert. He too was lost in the presentation. Although our banter was critical of Microsoft and their lack of innovation, much of it was in jest. We were adding a layer of humour that was seemingly absent. However, what occurred to me later was that it wasn’t learning or even humour that makes a great conference, it is people.
+Steve Brophy and I presented on the notion of listening to voices in and out of the classroom. Even though we created a range of spaces to continue the conversation, whether it be in our Google+ Community, through our Diigo Group or even simply using the hashtag #eduvoice. The place where most people wanted to connect and share was not necessarily online, which may come later I guess, but rather in person. People wanted to talk, they wanted to tell their story, share their ongoing journey.

Creating new connections is what ALL conferences should be about. Building relationships and expanding your PLN. This sense of people connecting with people, both digitally and online, is what makes them such a fantastic place to learn. To riff on +David Weinberger‘s point, “The smartest person in the conference is the conference.”
One of the things that I loved the most about #DLTV2014 was actually neither a session nor something that can necessarily be deduced to ‘one single thing’. Instead it was an initiative to generate conversations about change and reform called Institute of the Modern Learner. The idea was that anyone could add to the conversation. What made this so interesting wasn’t necessarily the idea itself, which was important, but the way in which it was carried and communicated. Some were handed random cards as they moved throughout the conference, an online space was created which was linked to a Twitter handle, while short injections were made during many different presentations. At its heart though, this movement to me was connected with the attempt to create a space for learning as embodied by ‘Gaming in Education’ stream. There were no presentations as such, instead there was a space with different hands-on posts set up, such as old console games, programmable devices and Lego poetry. Here you were at the centre of your own learning with people like +Dan Donahoo, +Kynan Robinson and +Jess McCulloch there to support and continue the conversation.
+DLT Victoria 2014 then to me has been a success. For it is easy to say that the spaces were sometimes confusing or there were too many sessions and streams, however if you walked away from the conference without creating one new connection or strengthening some ties that already existed, I would argue that you weren’t really there. Coming back then to Weinberger, “Even if the smartest person in the room is the room itself, the room does not magically make all who enter it smarter.”
Were you at DLTV2014? If not, did you follow online? What is your story? Tell me, because that is what learning is all about.

If you enjoy what you read here, feel free to sign up for my monthly newsletter to catch up on all things learning, edtech and storytelling.

With the start of the year comes the routine pitch to staff and students about non-negotiable expectations. I understand that we need to have expectations. Those collective values that bind us together and put everyone on the same page. Those values that lay a foundation on which learning can occur. However, how these non-negotiables are presented to staff and students has a considerable impact on what sort of learning this is and how these expectations are taken up and carried out. This includes the reasons we provide for such expectations, the manner in which they are presented and most importantly, the length of the presentation. Sadly these speeches and spiels are given with little thought to convincing and instead focus on pulling everyone into line.
 
Towards the end of last year I attended the AEU’s ‘Active Training’ Professional Development Session. During the discussion of the consultative committee and staff meetings, one of the union presenters suggested that these were prime opportunities for a principal to to sell his or her vision for the school. What is disappointing is that such forums are anything but a sell. They often become mechanistic and fail to provide the means for an open dialogue, an opportunity for leadership to not only provide feedback to staff, but also an opportunity for staff to provide feedback to leadership.
 
In a recent post on creating a class agreement, +Edna Sackson explores what sort of learning is promoted by the agreement created. Providing an array of positive and negative examples found online, she gives a short commentary on each. More interestingly though, Sackson ends with a list of activities to help create a meaningful class agreement. What she is pointing out is that although the class agreement itself is important, just as significant is environment in which they are created.
 
So often we get caught up in the definition or expectations when it is the creation and presentation of such ideas is just as, if not more, important. As +Doug Belshaw suggests in regards to digital literacies, the most important thing is often the actual process of coming up with a definition of what constitutes ‘digital literacies’, rather than the actual definition itself. As I have stated elsewhere, what often matters is not what message is sold, rather how that message is presented. In the end, the real non-negotiable is not whether staff and students wear the right uniform or the way they use technology, rather the real non-negotiable is the positive means in which we present ourselves to others and whether we are willing to provide a legitimate reason for people to follow.

If you enjoy what you read here, feel free to sign up for my monthly newsletter to catch up on all things learning, edtech and storytelling.