creative commons licensed (BY-NC) flickr photo by William M Ferriter: http://flickr.com/photos/plugusin/13092406743

The other day I was perusing Youtube, as one does, when I came upon a clip by Yeasayer. It was Take Away Show produced by La Blogotheque, a live performance recorded on the fly on the streets of France. Instead of the plethora of instruments that usually fill out their sound – guitars, drums, synthesisers, samplers – it was cut back to basics: voices, a few beer bottles and some simple woodwind. Although this was a step away from the original, it was interesting what remained. The melody, the rhythm, the form, the feel, the essential essence of the song. There was something raw, intimate and real about it that grabbed your attention.

This all got me thinking, imagine if education were like this. No schools, no classrooms, no fancy touchscreens, no scripts, just pop up installations, with a basic plan, at the point of need. Learning and support for the problem at hand. Similar to what Mel Cashen posed with her question, what if food vans were schools? Of course they are not and education seems inextricably linked to classrooms, but there is something in the question. Something about capturing the essence of learning. What is important right now in the context I am in. This thought of capturing the moment reminded me a little of what I have been doing with numeracy intervention this semester.

I started this year using Marian Smalls ‘Gap Closing’ program to support students flagged as struggling with numeracy. The basis of this was a diagnostic tool which then identified areas for growth. Once completed, students would work through various activities to fill in the gaps. Although the program works in theory, it was hampered in practise by two limitations: student absences and the time allocated. After one semester, students had only managed to work through an eighth of the program. In addition to this, they were becoming progressively restless and disengaged with the tasks. Something had to change.

After some reflection and feedback from the students, it was suggested that one of the issues was that what was occurring in intervention often had little connection with what was actually happening back in the classroom. They still felt like they were struggling. In addition to this, although the diagnostics provided areas for improvement, they did not encourage student self-reflection and empowerment within the process. I therefore decided to change tact and focused on creating an environment where students reflected on their learning as a group and worked together to identify problems and errors. For as John Hattie has suggested, one of the key reasons for success is that teachers know every lesson and every day where a student starts.

An issue with this change was that there were no pre-defined tasks. As I focused on the students who were present, this limited my ability of predictive planning. Instead I entered each session armed with a tub of random resources, paper, a whiteboard and my iPad. After beginning with a starter designed to get students engaged into learning and open to risk, I would then pose two questions in a T-chart: what have you learnt and what have you found difficult? Although I had a fair idea where the students were at, different classes were always at different stages, so ‘going off the planner’ was always difficult. After working together to brainstorm ideas, these ideas would then be organised into clear topics and students would place themselves based on their own point of need. For each topic I would come up with a learning intention and discuss who as a small group we would work through the problem.

Some groups would talk together and work on identifying what the problem actually was, others would grapple a task I had designated for them. More often than not though, we would reflect by actually recording our findings. Using Adobe Voice, students would verbalise their learning. For example, one week one group came up with different strategies for working out 24-hour time, while another week a group went through and defined the different angles. The powerful action in all of this was that these videos were then shared back to the class and celebrated on the big screen. Not only were they recognised by their peers, but their work was being celebrated. Not only was there a significant increase student engagement with numeracy, but they were also excited by learning. On a side, it is an important reminder that even one device in a room can make a different.

So what about you, have you ever run an intervention program? What did you do? How did you focus on each student each week? I would love to know, for together we are always made better.


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‘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.

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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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Johanna O’Farrell started it. She wrote an article for The Age titled ‘Splashing Cash won’t Fix Australia’s Broken Education System‘. The piece was basically a tirade against 21st century learning from the point of view of a secondary teacher. There have already been a few responses written including +Mel Cashen‘s ‘Why our schools are NOT failing your children‘ and +Celia Coffa‘s ‘Why Our Schools Are Not Failing Your Children – Another Teacher Tells‘. Both of which shared their passion about why schools are not failing. Leaving the hyperbole and exclusive language aside, I would like to add my own response by unpacking a few of O’Farrell’s arguments a bit further.
 

Reading … Books?

O’Farrell states:
Instead, the strategy is that children will simply learn to read and write ”by osmosis”. This is all well and good for children from families where reading is habitual. However, those from households where television and video games constitute the main part of a child’s ”diet” fall by the wayside.
I have two questions for this, firstly why ‘books’ and secondly, is ‘reading’ the real issue? In regards to the first question, I was reminded of a post written by +Kynan RobinsonDigital Literacy, Gaming and Contemporary Narrative Writing‘ in which he spoke about the rise of digital media and what it offers. One of the key points is that it is a considerable shift from the way we considered literacy in yesteryear. In addition to this, some of the dominant forms of writing and consumption, such as novels and film, are now dead as a medium. They no longer have the same power to engage and persuade, basically because they are linear in nature. When I think about the novel, I am taken back to the Victorian era and the rise of the locomotive, where people would read Charles Dickens in serial form, similar to the way we watch shows like Breaking Bad, where people by subscriptions for instalments. Sadly what O’Farrell is unwilling to recognise is that everything has its time and that maybe there are more texts out there than just books.
 
Associated with what texts are chosen is the actual act of ‘reading’. As I have stated in the past, reading is only one part of the equation, the bigger concern from my point of view is students actually responding. The problem is that students are often forced to respond, whether it be creatively or in the form of an essay. They are denied the ‘rights of the reader’ as Daniel Pennac would put it. I think what stands out most about Pennac’s list is his one warning, “don’t make fun of people who don’t read or else they never will.” So often the students who succeed in exam environments and with writing essays are those that actually care, rather than those with ability. The bigger challenge for students is to get them to engage with texts and write what they feel needs to be written, not simply what someone else has told them to write. For that we can only guide and nurture them, encourage and support, not just force and coerce.
 

The Great Primary/Secondary Schism

O’Farrell states:
What I see is that the vast majority of students simply do not have the intellectual skills to meet the demands of the secondary school curriculum. So, understandably, they disengage. 
I was a little confused by the appeal to ‘intellectual skills’. I sometimes get concerned that the secondary sector itself is letting students down by not following on from the example set by primary school. In a previous post I spoke about education being like a river. Students all find their own way to the river and then meander through primary school. However, when they get to secondary school, the delta of all learning, they take many different and divergent paths. What this often leads to is a fear amongst some educators that students may miss out on a particular piece of knowledge or a certain skill, such as our origins in Medieval Europe or what BOLTSS stands for. That is how I used to think until an aide, with no bachelor or post-graduate diploma, just the instincts of a mother, who was working with me, pointed out that what students often remember is incidental and usually more about relationships than the content. The greatest fear is that we have the danger of killing creativity, as Sir Ken Robinson put it in his 2006 Ted Talk ‘How Schools Kill Creativity‘. He argued that often we only accept a certain type of student and subsequently deny many students the opportunity to blossom and shine. He gave the example of Gillian Lynne, a famous dancer, who was having problems in school, until someone uncovered her passion.
 

ICT as a Facilitator

O’Farrell states:

ICT in recent years has been treated as education’s ”silver bullet”. But I believe ICT is in fact little more than a gimmick – and I know that the novelty of it as a tool for engagement is fast wearing off.
I was particularly saddened to see ICT been spoken about as a merely being a tool for engagement. When you think about the SAMR model, using technology in this way is nothing other than a substitution for what is already been done. It denies the opportunity to utilise technology to redefine the way students are taught. More significantly, it denies the fact that ICT has “shaped behaviours, cultures, classrooms, schools and contexts” as +Peter Skillen has suggested. Although personally we may not agree with all of these changes, it is not good enough to put your head in the ground and deny it.

What’s Good for the Goose is Good for the Gander?

O’Farrell states:
We need only to think of many of Australia’s best and brightest, or indeed the great poets, artists, scientists and orators of the 20th century, to realise that a blackboard and chalk, a pen and paper, a few good books and some learned teachers sufficed. Indeed, in the case of my own parents – both baby boomers and both competent users of English and proficient mathematicians – the absence of open-plan learning, iPads and interactive whiteboards in their classrooms does not seem to have been too detrimental.
I always thought that the purpose of history was to add perspective to the present and recognise how and why things changed. I am not sure how much perspective O’Farrell is demonstrating. Just as the world changes, so do we. Many of the jobs that the baby boomers did no longer suffice. +Celia Coffa sums it up best when she says, “education reflected the society that I lived in. Do we really want our students to be educated in a system that reflects a society of 10 – 20 – 30 – 40 years ago?” In addition to this, I believe that many of Australia’s best and brightest often succeed in spit of their education. Whenever I think about Australia’s artists and authors I am reminded of a culture of exploration and experimentation. Fine they had to learn their trade somewhere, but it is often within communes like the Heidelberg School, rather than at an actual formal schools. It just seems far to simplistic to equate artistic expression and scientific innovation with rote learning.
 

What Feedback and For Who?

O’Farrell states:
Student teachers in primary schools have been told they can’t correct a child’s spelling, but instead must identify and congratulate the student on all the letters they got right.
I understand that intuitively it seems wrong to not be able to correct a spelling test, isn’t the sole purpose of it, to tell a student whether they are right or wrong. However, when you take a step back and consider such rote situations as spelling tests and times table races, two questions come to mind: what is the purpose of the actual task and how does the feedback support students with their learning. So often students hammer through test after test, based on words, knowledge and ideas that are chosen for them, not by them. Simply telling them what they got right or wrong gives us an indication as to where they may be at, but it does not really help them improve in regards to their spelling. If you look at John Hattie’s infamous effect size list, it is interesting that above feedback is self-report grades. Students self-managing their own learning, setting goals, reviewing them, supporting each other, surely this is the ideal, rather than teacher dictated learning, where students are told they are either right or wrong, where the feedback is restricted to the task at hand, where results are given months later, with little to take away for future learning. From a constructivist point of view, our focus should be on how we solve problems and develop solutions by connecting and collaborating with others, instead of being a font of all knowledge.
 

Behaviour vs. Relationships

O’Farrell states:
I have not even mentioned the enormous challenges relating to discipline and poor student behaviour.
What is frustrating is that she has not spoken at all about the importance of relationships. I am of the belief that if you provide an engaging and purposeful curriculum and show some interest in the lives and interests of the students, then poor behaviour and discipline issues will sort themselves out. However, if you enter the classroom with discipline on your mind, rather than relationships, should there be any surprise if students show poor behaviour? 

 

 

To Include or Exclude, That is the Question

At the end of the day, everyone is entitled to their opinion and maybe the furore carried out on Twitter has gone a bit far. As Mark O’Meara put it:

There have to be better responses than piling onto people who say things we find disagreeable. Self-righteous rage not all that constructive
— Mark O’Meara (@MarkOMeara) December 22, 2013

However, what concerned me most about Johanna O’Farrell’s piece is that it kills the conversation. Although it was highly emotive piece, it was almost too emotive. While there is little evidence or statistics used to support I am really confused about what Johanna wished to achieve by writing her piece. Are teachers like Johanna O’Farrell in fact failing themselves and their colleagues? If things are to evolve, it will only be through dialogue and I just don’t know how open Johanna is to continuing the conversation. For now, the bear has been baited and the tribe has united.


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



A New Way of Being

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

Different Opportunities

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

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

Becoming Connected

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

One Door Closes, Another Door Opens

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

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