The most important blog post It is on the most important blog. Yours. Seth Godin ‘The most important blog post’

Supporting our daughter at home with her learning this year was interesting. One of the challenges related to knowing where you stand and what is your roll. Early on, our daughter cared a lot, putting effort and detail into everything she did. However, as time has passed, this interest  turned to apathy. Although she looked forward to the daily online session, the rest was something of a chore.

One of the ideas the school introduced was the idea of a ‘passion project’. I found our daughter frustrated with the task of identifying deep interests and following through with them. Initially, she said she was focusing on ‘slime’. She discussed a whole range of tests she wanted to do, but it did not go anywhere with them (other than create a whole lot of slim). She then turned her attention to Minecraft. In part, I think that this was a justification for spending more time on her tablet doing things that she wanted to do.

Although I have no issue with Minecraft and have always encouraged her with this, my concern was with what she was actually doing and whether it fit the brief of her ‘passion project’. I therefore suggested that instead of having a clear outcome, she at least document her learning. She was still unconvinced. I then proposed that I would create her a blog where she could record a log of her thoughts. After explaining that she was the only one who could access the space, she was convinced.

Although she did not have a clear plan for the project, recording thoughts in a blog led to a number questions, such as how can I add video and images. This all reminded me of the power of blogging and the importance of letting people find answers for themselves, even if this means being frustrated and failing forwards along the way. As Clive Thompson posits in regards to blogging:

Children who didn’t explain their thinking performed worst. The ones who recorded their explanations did better

On a side note, it is sad to see the end of an era in regards to blogging in Victoria.


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.

AEU News Vol 21, Issue 4, June 2014

Here is a copy of my letter to the editor printed in the latest edition of the AEU News, responding to the recent changes to the performance and development process …

I am a believer in lifelong learning and development, but I really question whether the recent changes to the performance and development process will achieve this? I worry that it will achieve the opposite if we don’t manage it locally. Instead of a climate of collegiate collaboration, this creates an aura of self-interest where ironically our prime focus is ourselves, rather than our students.

John Hattie suggests that the greatest point of influence on education is teachers and that our goal should be to help improve every teacher. Yet I wonder if a process with the spectre of fear hanging over it is going to achieve this? If we really want the best then schools need to foster an environment that not only challenges teachers, but also welcomes error and provides adequate feedback. In this scenario, teachers are able to passionately engage with their teaching based on the evidence at hand.

The problem is that a focus on pay means that we miss the point. Instead of saying ‘how can I be the best’, the focus is on ‘what do I need to do to achieve my next increment’. Our view then is of today, not tomorrow.

With a new system being implemented we have an opportunity to make this review process work for us.  We need to demand that the implementation be consulted on at our schools and that it support and advance the work we do, rather than let it be something that is done to us.

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.

Google+ photo by DeAnn DeVille


In a previous post ‘Connections Start with People‘ I explored my first step on the journey to becoming a more connected educator, which involved physically connecting with other teachers outside of my usual circles – stepping away from the familiar and embracing the uncanny. The second marker to becoming more a more connected was making these connections online, in particular, through Twitter.

 
I’m not sure what actually led me to joining Twitter. Maybe my work at ATC21C? A desire to learn something new? A different audience? Frustrations with other social media platforms, such as Facebook? All those years of attending the ICTEV conferences and feeling that I was missing out on the real conversation. Whatever it was, sometime in September of 2011 I signed up.
 
Initially my focus with Twitter was in understanding it as a medium of communication compared with a blog or a wiki. At the time I had started teaching Multimedia and this included exploring different facets of digital literacies. I was therefore intrigued about such mediums as tweets and blogs and what they meant for traditional notions of literacy. Ironically, I had little interest in the beginning with actually ‘connecting’ with anyone. In hindsight this almost seems farcical, but like so many others, I lurked.
 
In addition to this, I have always been interested in finding new means for responding. This led me to the idea of restricting responses to 140 characters. I had always used different activities as a part of my teaching that involved students making decisions on key words or ideas and then justifying these choices. I therefore thought tweets could be an extension of this, an interesting and creative way of responding to texts. Something epitomized by the book Twitterature.
 
One of the differences that I found early on between platforms like Facebook and Google+, where you can build walls around content, was that Twitter as a platform is designed to be open. Although you can lock down your profile and tweets on Twitter, it seems to defeat the purpose. +Steve Wheeler sums this up best in a video about blogs, suggesting that, “having a private blog is like going to a party with a paper bag over your head.” Really, Twitter is an application that revolves around sharing, without other people’s content there is nothing.
 
I initially started out on Twitter not so much hiding behind a wall, but hiding behind an identity. Although I had been using ‘mrkrndvs’ elsewhere for years (my name without vowels in case you were wondering), my initial moniker was an acronym based around my initials – ‘MAD’. Associated with this, my profile picture was a QR Code which simply went to my Twitter handle, while my profile was a quote from Michel Foucault stating: “Do not ask who I am and do not ask me to remain the same: leave it to our bureaucrats and our police to see that our papers are in order. At least spare us their morality when we write.” For me, I wanted to be known for my ideas, not who I was or wasn’t.
 
It is interesting to read about how different people start out. Often people cite the desire to connect with supposed celebrities. However, for me it was about following interesting educational thinkers in regards to media and technology, such as the handles associated with such individuals and organisations as Danah Boyd and Wired magazine. A little bit like the Pringles jingle though that ‘once you pop you just can’t stop’. I found that once you follow one, you start finding others to add. In regards to my presence, I simply posted the odd quote, made the random observation, posed some questions, but didn’t really do much.
 
What is strange in looking back is that even though I had no real intention to get involved, to answer questions, get involved in chats, I still somehow thought that people would participate, that they might retweet something I wrote, respond to a quote I posted or answer a question. During those formative months I simply stumbled around, finding my voice and unintentionally developing my online identity.
 
A significant shift occurred when I actually got a response to a question that I posed in regards to Google Apps for Education. As I have described elsewhere, I had introduced Google Drive into my school. However, I was interested in the difference between Google Drive and Google Apps with an eye to introducing GAFE into the school. +Tony Richards responded by not only explaining the differences, but also providing me a range of resources.
 
What is even more significant than my ongoing connection with Tony since then is that I have shared the advice and details that he shared with me with several other people. Often they were in the same situation as me, unknown and putting the call out, waiting and hoping for someone to respond. 
 
To me, this is what being connected is all about. Joining with others, sharing ideas and gaining a wider perspective on the world (although never a complete perspective). Basically, just being a part of a wider village. However, sometimes it takes one person to help you understand that to really be a part of a village you need to give back.
 
So how are you sharing? What are you doing to give back to your community and who are the significant individuals that have helped you out along the way? I would love to know.

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.

Made using Quozio

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

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

Whose AIP is followed? 

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

Beyond the Key Domains

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

No Room for the Personal

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

Measuring the Immeasurable

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

Lifelong Learning

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

No Room for Failure

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

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.

‘Meaning of Success’ by Celestine Chua (Flickr)
 
The other day I got some feedback about a leading teacher position that I had applied for a couple of months ago. Although I had demonstrated the elements required in my application, it was suggested that I did not provide enough evidence in regards to my competency to lead change management. This got me thinking about what change that I had been a part of. The two things that came to mind were the introduction of the Ultranet and the roll out of interactive whiteboards across the school. However, in reflecting upon both of these situations I wondered if I was successful in bringing about change and how you actually measure such success anyway.
 

Change and Technology

The Ultranet was a learning management system developed by the Victorian State Government to support staff, students and parents by providing an online space to communicate and collaborate. It was also seen as the answer to ongoing student reporting and feedback. As a part of its roll-out, a train the trainer model was implemented where a group of lead users attended two separate days of intensive training and were then responsible for taking this back to their schools to provide support and professional development for the rest of the staff. This came in several shapes and sizes, including whole staff presentations, team focuses and one-on-one support.
 
One of the issues with the Ultranet was that it was not really taken up by all staff. Although we were told about the usage data as a region, many staff simply saw no personal purpose for it and were never really willing to grapple with the difficulties involved in evolving their practise. Subsequently, my role became more administrative than anything else where I was continually resetting passwords for students and dealing with minor problems. This all came to a head when the Australian Education Union put out a directive for members to stop using the Ultranet as a part of the industrial action in 2012, therefore ringing the death knell before the government eventually pulled the plug at the end of 2013.
 
Another initiative that I have had considerable involvement with is the roll out of interactive whiteboards at my school. Before Caroline Springs College separated into four different schools in 2012, an effort was made at the time to install an interactive whiteboard in 100+ classrooms. As a part of this package, the school was provided with a pool of professional development hours. Although I was not in charge of introducing the whiteboards across the whole college, I was given considerable responsibility at my campus. This included communicating with outside providers, as well as facilitating professional development for staff at my campus. Like the Ultranet, this involved a small group being trained up and then supporting their various teams.
 
Sadly, if I were to walk through many classes today there would be little difference from a few years ago. Although most teachers show information or use the associated software to create presentations, there are not many who embrace the interactive potential of the boards as outlined by likes of +Peter Kent and co. Where the boards are used to engage with student responses and give them an authentic voice in the classroom.
 
Interestingly, there has been a greater uptake in the early years classes at my school as it was made a non-negotiable that planning for numeracy had to include a flipchart. What is significant about this is that linking the board to an actual area of study means that it stops simply being a tool in itself and instead becomes a way of refining learning and instruction. It could also be argued that the boards are actually better suited to younger students, a point that +Rich Lambert has made elsewhere.
 
Another issue associated with the take up of the IWBs is that their introduction coincided with the introduction of the 1-to-1 laptop program. Personally, I make more use of student laptops as a way of getting each and every student involved in the lesson, rather than teaching from the board. Whether this be brainstorming with Answergarden or collaborating with Google Drive. What is most important is that, whether be via laptops or interactive whiteboards, the focus is about engaging with student responses to promote deeper dialogue and reflection.
 

Measuring the Immeasurable

The big question then is how do you measure success of such initiatives. I can tell you as I already have what I felt worked and what didn’t, but is that success? Is success instead about data, if so, what data do you use? Linked with this, is change management simply about ‘success’ or is it about what you have done? Being a focus on change, are there some things that never really gain success due to their constant state of flux?
 
To me what stands out about both the Ultranet and the interactive whiteboards is that neither has a direct correlation to clear quantifiable ‘data’. Too often the numbers of hits was relayed to us in regards to the Ultranet. However, even this only tells a small part of the story. For it is not time spent with the tool that matters, rather it is how that tool is used that has the greatest impact. Some suggest referring to such measurements as student opinion surveys which provide snapshot of student engagement and school connectedness, but again this seems like a bit of a stretch. The reality is that there are some aspects of learning are not measurable using grades and marks, a point that +George Couros recently made referring to such soft skills as humility, adaptability and the love of learning. Often the only answers we get in such situations are to the questions we ask ourselves.
 
Although not necessarily empirical or quantifiable, one approach to measuring success is by setting a clear plan with goals and reflecting on them along the way. This is something that I have spoken about elsewhere. Looking back upon both the Ultranet and the IWB’s, I think that this was a missed opportunity. There was no explicit long term plan put into place at the school level and associated with this, no real accountability. Instead of linking them to wider change through the Annual Implementation Plans and the Performance and Development Process, both were introduced as tools-in-themselves, rather than a means for redefining the classroom. For as I have stated elsewhere, 21st century learning “is not about a solitary category or skill, rather it is about the projects, the problems and the many possibilities.” Without wider support, whatever is achieved will only be limited and often fails to sustain any sense momentum without the involvement of others.
 
Another way of reflecting on success is as a way of perceiving things. No matter what context it may be, nothing ever runs completely to plan and neither should it. There are things that work and things that don’t, success in this situation is about celebrating and building upon the positives and benefits. On this matter, I am reminded of +Mel Cashen‘s post on the Ultranet where she identified some of the things that it made possible and how she utilised these in her classroom. What is significant about Cashen’s commentary is that, although the Ultranet may not have held up against the test of time, it served its purpose and accordingly she highlights some of the good things that came out of it, such as it being a safe environment for students and parents to “test the waters of an online world without the harsh consequences the world wide web.” Like goals, reflection is something that we often don’t do enough. For as +George Couros points out about professional development: “If we start building reflection time into our professional development, don’t you think that we would start doing this in our classrooms. We have to move away from the “mass dump” process in our learning.” Sadly, if we don’t allocate the time for reflection then we take the risk of not really learning anything, instead simply making the same mistakes again and again.
 

Learning Lessons

Sometimes success is not about whether an initiative continues to have a meaningful impact or falls on the wayside, rather it is about whether we learn from our failures, whether we reflect on what worked and what we could improve in the future. Just as learning is a lifelong goal, so to should success be. Instead of considering it as something achievable and able to be quantified, I believe that it is best considered as a target, an ideal to which we aim and aspire. Actually hitting the target is only one part of the goal, what is just as important is what that target is and how we go about trying to hit it.

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.