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In a post exploring the challenge of gathering different perspectives, Tom Barrett spoke about Thomas Edison’s practise of convening a creative council. A group of people who allowed Edison to ‘cast widely’ in order to accelerate creative connections.  Reflecting on this, Barrett poses the idea of having our own ‘creative council’. Not necessarily a group of literal people, rather an imaginary group who you could turn to answer such questions as:

  • What would…think?
  • How would … approach this problem?
  • What actions would … take next?

I have discussed the idea of turning to imaginary figures before. However, I had never really thought of a ‘set council’. What was interesting is that every time I started a list, I just felt that it did not have enough breadth either in time, experience or gender. I decided I needed a range of people including a religious figure, a scientist, an artist, a military strategist, a philosopher and a musician. Here then is my creative council, a group of people who I think would make for some interesting conversation:

  • Nicolaus Copernicus: Let alone for his breadth of work and experience, Copernicus persisted a truth that lie outside the view of so many others, even with the consequences it might have.
  • Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: As much as I think that it would be interesting to have Richard D. James at a table, I wonder what Mozart could add to the discussion. Like Copernicus, Mozart’s ability to envisage new beginnings and possibilities always intrigues me.
  • Jane Austen: I remember growing up with the BBC costume dramas, thinking I someone knew Jane Austen. However, like so many, I believe there is more than meets the eye with Jane Austen.
  • Leonardo da Vinci: It seems so odd that we still talk about many of da Vinci’s ideas and innovations so long after the fact. He seemed to have a knack of seeing the new in every situation.
  • Lao Tzu: I am neither sure that ‘Lao Tzu’ was a real person, not what he would add exactly, but I am sure the conversation would be better for it.
  • Ludwig Wittgenstein: Unlike those who spend their whole life justifying their position, Wittgenstein seemed to continually start again. I think that the willingness to not hold tightly offers a lot.
  • Hernán Cortés: Although I do not agree with anything that he did, I do think that anyone who is committed enough to burn his own boat certainly adds a different perspective.

Having thought about the real life influences on my thinking before, this was a different sort of task. I think that looking back over it, I feel it says so much about me and my thinking. Each of the people in their own way challenging conventions and breaking the mould. However, it also highlights many of many of my biases and prejudices. For one thing, whether intentional or incidental, many of the thinkers are male Europeans. Maybe this says a lot about my own background, I am not sure. I also feel that even though the different people represent various fields of work, they all seem a little bit similar, too familiar.

I wonder if such an activity is better suited within a context, a point that Barrett was trying to push towards in suggesting a ‘classroom’ creative council. For example, at Google Teacher’s Academy last year, it was often asked, “What would say or do Sergey Brin?” While maybe this might add a little more impetus to house systems, with those figureheads being seen more as a name. Allowing such questions as: “What would Fred Hollows think?” or “What would Caroline Chisholm have done?”

I also think that maybe the concept of a creative council is best thought of as an ever present growing organism with people coming and going. In his response, Bjorn Paige suggests that his PLN is his ‘creative council’.

For the times I need advice, consolation, or just an ear to hear, a constellation of educators fill my night sky, always pointing true north.

What about you? Who are those people, past and present, that you go to in your thinking? How do they push you deeper? What values do they espouse? Are there any biases? How do you challenge them? I know I have some work to do, more recruitment needed to be done. As always, feel free to share below.


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This year, I have taken to audiobooks. Unsatisfied by my consumption of podcasts and frustrated with all the books that I just don’t have time to read, I have taken to listening while I’m walking, driving, working, gardening – basically, whenever allows. During this time I have gone through quite a few books:

At the heart of Gladwell’s book is the myth of power and strength. What he sets out to uncover is that so often strengths are at same time weakness and with that supposed weaknesses can often be our greatest strengths. His archetypal example is David and Goliath. So often it is a story told of an underdog getting lucky, but really when you break the story down David was meant to win. For so often success comes through subverting the expectations of others, going against all expectations. In the case of David, his refusal to fight hand to hand, as well as his speed and agility, were really why he won. Gladwell provides example after example of successful people who have failed because they have not perceived their own inherent weakness, as well as those who have looked at situations and seen a different possibility than that often expected by others.

Too Big To Know by +David Weinberger

Weinberger sets out to unpack the crisis of knowledge that has been brought about with the move from scarcity to abundance. Whereas in the past we managed the hose by setting our standards high, associating truth and knowledge with experts and supposed universals. With the increase in technology and the rise of algorithmic and social networks, such fallacies are put to rest. For as has oft been quoted, “the smartest person in the room is the room.” The challenge then today isn’t necessarily about becoming an expert in a particular area or being the font of all knowledge, instead it is how to create smart rooms which value diversity and allow for the emergence of ideas. The inherent irony of Weinberger’s book is that there was always too much to know, it is just now there is no hiding from the fact.

Mindsets by Carol Dweck

Mindsets is not necessarily a book about success and failure, but rather a book about how we perceive success and failure. For Dweck there are two mindsets which govern pretty much everything that we do. They are the fixed and growth mindsets. Those with a fixed mindset see things as black or white, either good or bad. They feel the need to always prove themselves and consider setbacks as failure. In opposition to this, from the perspective of the growth mindset, failure is embraced as an area for improvement, effort is rewarded and setbacks are seen as an opportunity for future learning. What was interesting was that we are not necessarily always one or the other. We can actually have different mindsets for different problems, as well as fluctuate between the two.

Continuing on from where Weinberger finished, Thompson sets out to dispel many myths associated with technology, about it being a panacea to all our ills, to it being the start of the apocalypse. The book is as much about how technology can extend us as it is about how it already is. Unpacking our lived digital lives, not everything that we have today is new. Some fears, some forms of innovation, have been around for hundreds of years. On the flip side of this, history shows that we often refine and improve the tools we have, Thompson therefore offers a glimpse into a possible future. One debunked myth that really stood out to me was the notion that because of technology we read and write less, subsequently leading to a decline in literacy standards. Instead, Thompson points out that with the aid of technology we actually read and write far more than we ever did before. Challenge is being critical.
It is interesting reflecting on all of the books. Although they are all somewhat different, the one thing that ties them all together is that things are not always as they seem and even more importantly, we have the power to make a difference.

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Everyone has a book that epitomizes their upbringing. For me it was My Place by Sally Morgan. Not only did it provide an insight into the way people lived over time, but also how places change. I was reminded of this recently as my wife and I strolled around Circular Quay in Sydney. Littered on the pavement are a series of markers indicating where the shore line was in the past and how people have progressively extended this overtime. Looking at the markers and boardwalk, it was hard to imagine the shore as it was when the first fleet landed and how different things must have been different. This attempt to empathise with the past got me wondering whether there will ever come a day when augmented reality could provide us with such an insight or if this was beyond the realm of possibility.
 
Last year, I remember stumbling on a virtual tour made with Google Earth Tour by +Lee Burns looking at the different places in Raimond Gaita‘s autobiography, Romulas, My Father. Although this located the places in space, it did not necessarily locate them in time. Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could not only explore place, but also time? If we could go back and walk the streets of Melbourne and Baringhup in the 1950’s?
 

 

 
This got me thinking about the notion of augmented reality and the idea of a physical tour where you could choose which time you were walking through. Imagine that instead of having to go to somewhere like Sovereign Hill or the Pioneer Settlement to step back in time, we could instead look out across the city skyline of a place like Sydney and call up a vision of what it might have been like in the past or even better Machu Pichu when the Inca empire was at its height. I saw something similar imagined in Corning’s A Day Made of Glass series where students are shown how dinosaurs existed in the past, without visiting Jurassic Park. However, what I felt was missing in this vision is a personalised experience. I wonder then if this is the potential of Occulas Rift to bring such experiences to us. Google offer a lot of alternatives to being there, as outlined by +Chris Betcher, providing a means for visiting virtual galleries or exploring the Great Barrier Reef. However, maybe the next best thing to being there is imagining it and reconstructing it.
 

 
I guess though once this is all said and done, we still arrive at the age old problem, what story is being told and who is telling it? This is something continually grappled with other forms of fiction, such as film and novels. For whether we like it or not, history is always a question of perspective and this must never be forgotten.

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Lately my daughter has moved on from watching Dora the Explorer and Peppa Pig, to partaking of various kids films. Starting with Frozen, she has since moved to the various Disney princess films. Having initially seen them all when I was growing up, there are two strange feelings in watching them again. Firstly, the many themes and subtle story lines that just aren’t as present for a younger audience. Secondly though, watching the films with a cautious three year old, you get a different view about how dark and scary these seemingly innocent films can actually be.
It would be easy to suggest that this experience with my daughter makes me a better person and a better teacher. This was the lesson implied in a recent post from +Craig Kemp in which he discussed how being a dad makes his a better teacher. His premise was that being a parent has made him more aware of his students and their many diverse needs. Before this moment in his life he did not realise the impact that parents can have on a child’s life. Although Kemp must be congratulated on his openness and honesty, suggesting that being a parent makes you a better teacher misses the point.
In response to the Kemp’s assertion, +Corinne Campbell stated that being a parent does not magically qualify anyone to be a teacher or make them better than those who do not have children. Not being a mother does not make someone half a woman and not having children does not make someone half a teacher. Instead, all of our experiences in life impact and change us, adding spice to what we bring to the classroom. However, it is what we actually do the classroom which matters the most.
To me, our perspectives on the world are moulded by our experiences. As +David Weinberger posits, in his book Too Big To Know, “Perspectives are the maps we give to ourselves to represent the lay of the land.” However, to argue that certain experiences and perspectives somehow hold more capital than others misses the point, instead they simply makes us who we are. It is what we do with our experiences and perspectives which matters the most. We can learn from everything in life if we are willing and open to it. For example, I am sure that there are other parents who may put films on for their children and not have one iota what is going on in them. However, even realising this does not automatically make me a better teacher, it is what I then do with this insight, how I use this to inform my practise, which makes me a better teacher.
Here then are some of the experiences that I have had in my life and the perspectives gained:

 

Senses

A few years ago I had the experience of teaching a blind student in my English classroom. What was even more significant about his situation was that he had actually spent most of his life with full vision and only lost it late in his teens. Having him there really made me reflect on how I saw the classroom and how much we take it for granted when it comes to the senses. This has particularly impacted on how I deliver instruction in class.

 

 

Needs and Wants

When I finished studying my undergraduate degree, I went on a guided tour through South-East Asia. During this trip, I had the opportunity to stay in a traditional home in the south of Cambodia. I am sure participating in a Winter Sleepout would have given me a similar such experience, but it just made me realise that we don’t always need everything in life in order to survive and that for some having a deck of cards is a luxury, let alone a desk to do homework at. This has helped me empathise with students from different situations.

 

Death

I recently lost my mother to cancer. During this time, I learnt many things, such as making the most of every moment, that denial never works for no-one and that at some point the show must go on. However, the biggest lesson that I feel that I have learnt is that I am not alone, that I am not the only one who has lost a parent to cancer. For example, I know someone whose father was told he had four months to live and was dead in two weeks. More importantly though, it really made me realise how much we can take for granted and how futile life can be.

 

Administration

For the last few years I have been lucky enough to split my time between the classroom and various administrative roles. This has included doing daily organisation, creating class timetables and coordinating timetables. This has given me a deeper insight into the impact of which teachers are used for coverage or when classes are timetabled has on student learning. Some of my solutions have been to improve learning by spreading core classes throughout the week, as well as trying to create some sort of consistency in regards to booking relief teachers and assigning extras.

 

Councillor

This year I took up the position as councillor with the Australian Education Union – Victorian Branch. This has included representing my region at various meetings and reporting back to my constituents about various campaigns and complaints. It has taught me that there are no quick fixes to education and that politics is a messy game. For example, many teachers I know believe that the union has not done enough in regards to the Victorian Government’s new performance and development plan. However, with an election coming up at the end of the year, whether rightly or wrongly, it is not the battle to be had. It has taught me the need to provide people with a glimpse of the complexity involved, rather than simply keep them in the dark.

 

Koori School

When I lived in Swan Hill a few years back, I was lucky enough to work for a year at the now defunct Koori school. Basically, the school was created to cater for those students not coping with mainstream education. My class consisted on secondary aged boys ranging from Year 7 to Year 10. As much as we encouraged the students to come to school, picking them up each day and providing them with breakfast and lunch, you still never knew who you were going to get. Therefore, I learnt the importance of being flexible, as well as an insight into what is and is not always so important in life and education.
There are many more experiences that I could discuss. However, I think that this smattering serves its purpose. At its heart perception is about developing a wider set of skills and solutions. I feel that the different experiences in life have helped me respond to various situations that have arisen in and out of the classroom. It is these answers and solutions that decide whether or not I am a better teacher or not, not the experiences that produced them.
So what moments in life have mattered to you and what influence have they had in and out of the classroom?

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Yesterday I took my daughter on her first train trip into the city. She had a ball and loved every minute, but what struck me was what grabbed her attention the most. One of the most interesting things was the digital billboards. It is not that she had not been to a shopping centre before and spotted the oversized posters, but these had the extra appeal of having the sheen that comes with a digital image cycled every few seconds. She stood and watched for minutes, mesmerised. Me, I couldn’t think of anything more boring, until it dawned on me, I was seeing this from the wrong perspective, this was her experience to have. So I let her be.
 
This all kind of reminded me of the efforts to introduce change in the classroom and the experiences that such actions bring with them. At the opening day of the TL21C program, +Will Richardson suggested identifying one thing that you could change in your classroom, 10% lets say and starting there. Inspired by this challenge, I went back into the classroom with a focus on providing students with more choice as to how they go about things. So whilst watching Jobs for Business Studies – something that the students had decided on in order to further unpack how people and organises become successful – I explained to the class that they needed to take notes. Sharing my own practises, I explained how when I learn, whether this be attending a professional development presentation or reading a text, I take notes in the margins in order to develop a deeper understand. I then put the question to them as to how they take notes. Some spoke about graphic organisers, while others chose dot-points. I let them be.
 
As much as I wanted them to fill their pages with endless scribbles and musings, many were taken by the prospect that the decision was up to them, rather than dictated to them. For some this was a little too much and they got a bit lost, while others started concocting ideas of creating a collaborative document. In the end, the experience was not necessarily as I had planned, but instead of stepping in and hindering the wondering and explorations, I simply provided students with some feedback in regards to their choices, particularly in regards to depth and detail.
 
I am not sure if this is the most profound change that has ever occurred in my classroom, however to me it was a change in the right direction, a move away from teacher authority to student autonomy. What are some of those minor changes that you have introduced into classroom and how were they perceived by students? I would love to know, share below.

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This post is co-written with +Catherine Gatt. Catherine is a Primary ICT Specialist, with both Primary classroom experience, as well as a Secondary background.
 
 
In a recent post on the Connected Principals blog, Sam LeDeaux posed the question: ‘Are Educators Passionate About Their Profession?‘ His basic premise was whether teacher’s go to work or go to school. This is really a part of a wider debate in education about perspective and the way we see things. One other such area where this is prevalent is the great debate over the differences between the Primary and Secondary classroom.
 
Working in a P-9 school has its benefits, including the ability to gain a valuable vantage point. However, so often with every positive there is a dark side lurking, a constant comparison about the differences in how things are done, about who works harder, about which is easier. What is disappointing is that there is often little evidence used to support these arguments, let alone first hand experience. So here is our musing on the matter with a view to both sides of the divide …

 

 

Primary

Positives

Rapport. One of the biggest positives to being a Primary teacher is that you can invest more energy and resources into a smaller group of students, rather than spreading it across a whole lot of classes. With this, you can target areas of concern or enrichment more specifically across all learning areas, not just in the subject that you teach, as can be the way in the Secondary classroom.
 
More Flexibility. Having a class for over 20 hours a week, you have more time to mould and maneuver. Therefore, if something needs to be finished or you miss out on a day due to an excursion, you have the flexibility to move sessions around to fit the needs of the students rather than the needs of the timetable.
Everyday is Different. With the opportunity to teach so many different areas, there is never any doubling up and repetition. Therefore, everyday becomes that little bit different.
A Whole Range of Experiences. Rather than getting to know how Johnny works in English or Science, working with Johnny all day, everyday, whether it be in the classroom or on an excursion, Primary teachers are privy to a wide range of opportunities and experiences. What is good about this is that the focus becomes about Johnny as a learner, rather than how Johnny is learning in XYZ.

 

 

Negatives

One Class, All of the Time. For some teachers this can be hard. If you have a difficult student who you just struggle to click with or a student who drains all of your time and attention, being their number one teacher can be a strain.
 
More Non-Face-to-Face Time. Not sure if this is consistent around the world. However, in Victoria Primary teachers get 2.5 hours for planning and administration on top of their time after school, compared to 5 hours that Secondary teachers get. An added point of confusion is that this time is simply non-face-to-face teaching and can still, under the agreement, be dictated by the school how it is used, whether this be planning in a group or monitoring students. Therefore, 2.5 hours can dwindle away to nothing once you fit planning and the odd parent meeting in.
More Growth and Differentiation. This is a slightly contentious issue, but it is fair to say that the difference between a student coming in at Prep and then leaving at the end of Year 6 is far greater than a student coming in at Year 7 and leaving at the end of Year 12. To go from a student who can’t hold a pencil or cut up a piece of paper to a student who can (hopefully) organise themselves and their learning is far greater than what occurs in the Secondary classroom.
Greater Parent Involvement. While this is often a positive, it can sometimes be a negative. There is far greater scrutiny and stress applied by parents in Primary school. Often this pressure has waned by the time students get to Secondary school.
Jack of all Trades and a Master of None. This is a significant point with the recent implementation of the Australian National Curriculum. Teachers in the Early Years are now being asked to explicitly teach subjects like Science and History, whereas in the past they were incorporated into integrated units of study and were not necessarily required to assess some of these areas. In his commentry on the +TER Podcast, Stephen Breen, President of the Western Australian Primary Principals’ Association, described the National Curriculum as , “basically a secondary model in a primary area.”
One Perspective. Despite all the guidelines, shared planning, rubrics and moderation, progress can so often be subjective and come down to the teacher judgement. On top of this, with so many areas to manage, it can be difficult to track and then there are the inter-disciplinary subjects.

 

 

Secondary

Positives

Particular Passion. Only teaching a couple of subjects, Secondary teachers can communicate and instil a passion for a specific area, rather than spreading your energies across the board. For example, you might be a fantastic musician and therefore simply take students for music.
 
Progress and Perspective. Progress is easier to track and less subjective. Even if you are the only teacher who gives Johnny a progression point for writing, you can at least speak with the Johnny’s other teachers about how he goes in their subjects.
Independence, Organisation and Schedules. Unlike the fluid timetable that sometimes exist in the Primary classroom, in the Secondary environment you know where you are teaching, what you are teaching and when as it is explicitly stated in the timetable.
Parents Trust Your Judgement. Parents, in most cases, ‘trust’ your judgements more and are less likely to interfere with decision making.

 

 

Negatives

Connections more Difficult. When you could teach a particular class for only an hour per week, maintaining rapport can be more difficult. Often such connections are fostered outside the classroom, making things such as yard duty, sporting days and excursions, so much more important.
 
Shared Responsibilities. Targeting a student’s specific needs becomes a joint responsibility across many faculties and can become difficult to monitor. Although it can be good to get a wider perspective on the problem, deciding who and how the problem will be addressed is another matter.
Engagement and Behaviour. Having spent years in education, some students have had enough of schooling and can therefore be more difficult to reason with. In addition to this, hormones kick in. Often behaviour issues become much more serious and can be more difficult to intervene. Added to all this, the tendency for teacher focused learning in many Secondary classrooms leaves some students feeling lost and alienated about who they are meant to be and what answer they are supposed to give.
Load Spread Too Thin. Your energy, time and resources are spread across a wide area of students on a daily basis. It is plausible in some schools to teach up to six different classes in one day.
Lack of Perspective. It is so easy to become ‘blinkered’ in your view of education and what is important when all you teach is one subject. Although this can provide a great depth of knowledge and passion for a certain area, it can also lack a wider perspective. Associated with this, once you are entrenched in one area, you are often less willing to take on new teaching challenges.

 

 

A Different Kind of Busy

I think that a piece like this leaves more questions than it does answers. For it takes for granted what a ‘Primary’ and ‘Secondary’ classroom looks and feels like. There are still so many other different roles being played out in schools that so often go unaccounted, such as the Primary specialist teacher who often teacher a different class every lesson or the leading teacher whose crossover between coaching and accountability often brings with it its own headaches. In addition to this, there is the discrepancy in Secondary between the core subjects which are often allocated a session a day compared with health and humanities which are lucky to get more than two sessions a week in most schools, if that. The reality is that it is all just a different kind of busy.
 
The question then about which is ‘harder’ or ‘more difficult’ ignores one of the most important ingredients when it comes to teaching, personal preferences and passion. The question instead should be what do you prefer or what can you bring to the classroom, rather than tedious tit for tat about which has it easier or better. What is most important at the end of the day is that we don’t lose track of the most essential ingredient of them all: the learner.
 
If you think that there is something that we have missed or failed to account for, please leave a comment below. We would love to know your thoughts and to continue the conversation, especially in regards to different perspectives from learning environments around the globe.

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In a recent post, +Peter DeWitt debunked many of the myths associated with the take up of technology. This included such accusations as technology is just a tool, it is stupid and the Internet cannot be trusted. What this highlighted to me is that we all have an influence over the success and failure of each element of change that may occur in education and it starts with the way we choose to respond.

 
As I have explored before, there are often so many choices that we are faced with on a day to day basis. For example, in my previous post on digital literacy, I touched on social bookmarking. There are so many options out there, whether it be Pinterest, Diigo, Delicious, Educlipper or Evernote. Clearly, each offering something that bit different, but all providing a space to share your bookmarks with others in some way or another.
 
In addition to selecting a different application, there are also different perspectives associated with how we approach various applications. Take Twitter for instance, although there is no debate that it is a micro-blogging platform, what that actually means for each person is another thing. Here are some examples of different perspectives, some positive, some negative, but all different …
 
  • Rhizomic: Unlike a tree which has a central root system, a rhizome has no centre. That means no hierarchy, no-authoritive voice. Tweets, favourites and retweets create the content, with complete control belonging with the user.

 

  • Hallway with an Endless Amount of Doors: Although there is little detail in 140 characters, each tweet often opens the door to a whole other world, a new beginning, another connection.

 

  • An Endless Party: Some people are there for themselves, while some are there for others, but in the end everyone is there for a conversation.
  • Second-Hand Goods Store: If I want to find the answer to something, why would I trawl through someone else’s opinion when I can use Google to go straight to the source.
  • Smorgasbord of Ideas: Whether it be a point of commentary, a link to some other content or an answer to a question, it is all there waiting to be picked into at your own pace.
  • Pearls of Wisdom: Although not everywhere, if you’re willing to put in the effort, go diving for them, willing to pry them loose, there are a great many pearls to be had.
  • Real Life Game: Who can get the most followers, who can get the most re-tweets, who can get something to trend. A game of intetaction for interactions sack – nothing more, nothing less.
  • Digital Billboard: Whether you’re spreading an idea or spruiking a product, everyone is flogging something. So often a follow equals follow me back just so that the user in question can spread their brand that bit further.
  • Nothing but Noise: More is less. With so many conversations going on, how can there be any clarity or cohesion?
  • Online Agora: A global place to meet, debate and exchange, minus the togas and the slaves of course?
  • Fast Flowing River: Although you will never keep a drift of everything that is going on, you can at least dip your feet in when you feel like it. So often, great ideas will pop up again and again, so if it is worth finding out, someone is always re-sharing it.
 
I am sure that there are more perspectives associated with Twitter, but you get the point. The bigger question though is what impact do you think your perspective has on the way you engage with various programs and applications? I am reminded again and again of +Seth Godin‘s assertion that attitudes can be learnt and are not a gift. So much about success comes down to how we choose to respond and associated with this, the perception we have on things.
 
So, how do you respond when you are told to use one application over another? Do you think that your mindset influences the outcome? Would love your thoughts in the comments below or on Twitter.

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