The more we immerse ourselves in the unexpected – like visiting different grade levels or subject areas – the more we benefit and can see possibilities for our own “classroom worlds”. Amy Burvall ‘PD Walkabout’

When it comes to change and transformation, a strategy often used to support the process is the classroom visit. The question though is whether the greatest benefit of such walkthroughs and observations is the feedback provided to the teacher or what we learn as an observer? This post was prompted by David Hopkins’ #OpenBlog19 series.


Alexis Wiggins, the daughter of the late Grant Wiggins, shared a reflection on her experience of shadowing a 10th and 12th grade students across two days. The focus was not on providing feedback for teachers, as is often the case, but instead on empathising with the learner. Her revelation was that high school students spend a majority of their time sitting passively and listening. In response, Wiggins left with a range of thoughts about what she would change in her own classroom, such as providing time to stretch, offer brief mini-lessons and dig into personal experiences.

Approaching feedback from the perspective of leadership, Peter DeWitt discusses some of the focuses associated with walkthroughts. This includes cooperative learning vs. cooperative seating or surface level vs. deep level questioning. In conclusion, DeWitt suggests that,

Too many times the success of walkthroughs is a myth because they focus on compliant behavior, and making sure te huachers are covering curriculum. Walkthroughs will be much more successful if they bring about deep learning on the part of students, teachers and the leaders who are doing them.”

What stands out for me is that, like Wiggins, DeWitt’s focus is on learning for all.

Continuing with the idea of learning, Amy Burvall explores the opportunities to engage with and give feedback to colleagues from disparate areas. The intent is to open ourselves to the serendipity. As she states:

The point is I think the more we immerse ourselves in the unexpected – like visiting different grade levels or subject areas – the more we benefit and can see possibilities for our own “classroom worlds”.

Through such strategies as the ‘Wow, How, Now’, Burvall demonstrates the benefits to being open to others.

Exploring effective teaching, Jason Borton discusses how giving all teachers the opportunity to participate allows for ownership over their own accountability.

Raising the performance of our entire teaching team is the focus as well as each teacher taking individual responsibility for improving their implementation of quality teaching practices.

With different teachers released each week, the focus is on collective feedback. However, on the flipside of this, each teacher is then given the opportunity to learn and reflect.


As someone who visits a lot of different schools it is not my play to provide feedback as to how things are. Like a flaneur, I am instead interested the lessons I can learn. Sometimes the best feedback is what we learn as an observer and self-determined learner, I think this is where coaching is so powerful.

As always, intrigued in your thoughts and learnings. Comments welcome.


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flickr photo shared by mrkrndvs under a Creative Commons ( BY-SA ) license

Whether it be Peter DeWitt’s work associated with flipping meetings, Brad Gustafson’s #30SecondTake Podcast or Steve Brophy’s Digital Leaders reflections, TouchCast is one of those apps that keeps popping up here and there. An iPad application, it allows you to not only easily record, but through the use of a green screen, add your own settings and backgrounds. In addition to this, it has a great teleprompter which helps alleviate the problem of not quite looking at the camera, as well as helping with pace and fluency.

More recently, Peter DeWitt wrote about the TouchCast Studio in a Box. This includes a green screen, a microphone and a range of clamps and handles. I recently purchased this unsure exactly what I was going to use it for. Ironically, it has become one of the most sort after things at school.

During Term One, my intervention students were given the task of recording an A Current Affair style show. Only working with them once a week using just one iPad, I decided to set up the screen on the whiteboard with an eye on adding some sort of authenticity to their presentations, as well as the opportunity to work on pace and fluency. After typing up the scripts (some used the voice typing function in Google Docs), students recorded their presentations. What was amazing was the amount of students who asked if they could come back during the break to re-record their videos, a by-product of recording.

On the back of this success, I got different groups to record various summaries and reflections using the studio backdrop. Today, one of my students asked if we could set the screen up to record their stories. It was not what I had planned, but I went with it. What was good was that the need to record added a sense of urgency to the lesson. So instead of wasting time chatting, students quickly finished off their stories and lined up to record. What stood out was the amount of respect they had for each other, especially when providing feedback. I am not sure if it is the fact that half of them attest to having their own YouTube channels, but they seem to value the process of recording even if the product does not necessarily get published for a wider audience.

Moving forward, I see so many possibilities for TouchCast. There are various options and functions that I haven’t even touched upon. At the very least, I imagine recording a class of presentations in front of the green screen as they are given, speaking to a document or making a collaborative production combining different parts.

Recently, I stumbled upon Emilie Garwitz share an activity she did with her kindergarten students where the class used the green screen to explore the beach:

Sometimes we are only limited by our own imagination. So what about you? Have you used TouchCast before? What did you use it for? As always, comments welcome.


For a fantastic example of what is possible using TouchCast, I recommend checking out Brad Gustafson’s #30SecondTake Podcast:

Also this series from Steve Brophy:

Steve has also developed his own guide stepping through the process involved in creating your own TV studio.


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creative commons licensed (BY-SA) flickr photo by jez`: http://flickr.com/photos/girlgeek/3374620636

So often it is said, teachers must be on Twitter. For example, Peter DeWitt’s provides 3 Reasons You Need Twitter More Than It Needs You! while Mark Barnes gives 5 Reasons Every Person in the World Should Be On Twitter. The question though is whether Twitter is the answer? Teachers are encouraged to develop their own personal/professional learning network, but does this automatically equal Twitter? I am not saying that I am against Twitter (see for example my posts here, here and here.) I am just wondering, like Audrey Watters, whether Twitter is the best option for online professional development? Here then are some alternatives for cultivating connections online through aggregation, bookmarking and speaking with people:

Aggregation

When I started my PLN, content and connections came via Twitter. I found resources from those I followed and various hashtags, such as #vicpln and #edchat. Connections and relationships felt like they worked as I only had a small network. However, as the numbers of people I followed grew, the medium changed. Although there were more ideas being shared from a wider array of people, it started to lose something. Although lists offers one way of managing noise, I turned to Feedly as a way of managing connections in order to build stronger relationships. Feedly is a news aggregation application, which means that instead of going to different sites to check for updates, RSS allows you to keep track of updates. This is particiularly important for blogs and news sites which are updated regularly. Although I could subscribe to posts, I have enough coming into my email as it is. What I like about Feedly is that I am able to organise posts into categories, quickly flick through them on whatever device that I am on, as well as easily post links and quotes to other applications in order to share with others.

Feedly is not the only aggregator out there. Some swear by Flipboard and Zite (which was recently bought out by Flipboard), while Pocket also offers many possibilities, especially if you have subscriptions forwarded to it. I am also really taken by the idea of syndication as a way of creating a personalised aggregation. A great example of this is the Connected Courses community. Having dabbled with Paper.li, I wonder if this would be a better way of bringing a community together. Although this could be more easily done using something like Tagboard, not everyone in the community uses the same #hashtag, making it that bit more difficult.

Bookmarking

An alternative to aggregation and syndication is social bookmarking. Personally I use Diigo. I came upon it via the Ed Tech Crew group and my practise has grown from there. Some of the benefits include the ability to curate a personalised library of links, annotations, notes and tags that can include not only your own items, but also links to others as well. Like Feedly, Diigo provides the flexibility to work across platforms using a range of add-ons, extensions and bookmarklets, although I still find it easier to use through the browser, rather than on a mobile device. However, the most useful feature of Diigo is the ability to search for resources that you can’t quite find or have forgotten about.

There are other alternatives when it comes to curation, such as Delicious, Pinterest and Evernote. I could spend all day arguing why Diigo is the most useful or provides the best features. However, at the end of the day it comes down to personal choice. For a more extensive list of the alternatives when it comes to bookmarking and curation, see John Pearce’s extensive presentation. The benefit of curation, Tom Barrett argues, is not about whether you will continually use all the links you save, but about building a resource you can dig through and mine for ideas at a later time.

Sound and Vision

One of the complaints about Twitter is that due to constraints it does not properly grasp the personal and limits depth of dialogue. An alternative that has really taken off for me lately has been Voxer. A touch-to-talk application, Voxer allows you to communicate with a community via voice, text and image. Joe Mazza calls it his very own personalised podcast, This may not seem that revolutionary, but there is something slightly more humane about the human voice. I think that is the success of podcasts in general. In addition to voice, you can add as many contributors as you like. For more information, see Pernille RIpp’s post.

An alternative to Voxer is Google Hangouts. Hangouts allows you to connect ten people at once through video. In order to go beyond this, there is the option of broadcasting the conversation to the world and involving others through backchannels, such as Today’s Meet. This is the process used by Amanda Rablin and Roland Gesthuizen with their online ACCE Learning Network show. The other way of extending the conversation beyond ten people is by using MIT’s open sourced Unhangout platform. Based around Hangouts, Unhangout allows you to start centrally and then split off into various small sessions as needed. The only other feature that is sometimes overlooked when it comes to Hangouts is the ability to communicate via text. Like Facebook Messenger, these conversations provide the means to create quick and easy conversations with a wide audience without filling up the inbox.


Interestingly, last year there was a report published by Kathryn Holmes, Greg Preston, Kylie Shaw and Rachel Buchanan about ‘What Twitter Offers Teachers.’ They studied the tweets of 30 leading educators, as well as streams of some popular #hashtags, for their evidence. There findings were:

  • Twitter is a filter for educational content
  • Twitter facilitates positive, supportive, contact between teachers but not sustained educational conversations
  • Educator tweeters are not prone to tweeting inane meaningless comments
  • The majority of hashtag posts contain educational links
  • Hashtags enable access to a wide variety of web-based resources and news without the need to interact with others or to sift through the personal communications between othersTwitter offers connections with a network of like-minded educators
  • Twitter gives a user total control over the level of interaction and focus
  • The key characteristics of effective professional development could be accomplished through the use of Twitter.

Going beyond this list, what interests me is why just Twitter? Why not all platforms? Why not a focus on the connected educator, rather than just Tweechers? In the post script it is stated that more research is needed into the impact of Twitter on the classroom. However, I think that what is really needed is reseach into the impact of being connected as a whole on educators (and learners for that matter too). However, as Alan Levine pointed out while reflecting on Connected Courses, that the data which we collect and collate often misses serendipitous nature of learning.

Above anything, it needs to be remembered that there are many ways to foster connections and they don’t all need to be on Twitter, let alone online at all. Although digital tools make connections more doable, not everyone is comfortable being active in such spaces. However, this is not to say that they cannot or are not connecting. At the end of the day, what matters is why people are connecting. Maybe moving forward this should be our message moving forward? So, how are you connecting beyond Twitter, I would love to know. Your comments, as always, are most welcome.



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A Connected Continuum
“A Connected Continuum” by mrkrndvs is licensed under CC BY-SA

This post was first shared on +Peter DeWitt‘s blog Finding Common Ground on the 30th May 2014.


There is a documentary series called Who Do You Think You Are?, the premise of which is to to trace the journey of a celebrity back to their genealogical roots. From the odd episodes that I have seen, the show works because it takes someone whose life is seen as extraordinary and it finds their story in the odd and the ordinary.

This idea of tracing our identity back to the roots got me thinking about being a connected educator. There is often so much written about getting people connected. However, one of the biggest hurdles that I have found is bridging the gap between those in the shadows, lurking in the background, to creating a more engaged community which includes commenting and collaboration. One aspect that I feel is missing are the stories of how those now connected –  those sharing, engaging, participating – actually got to that point.

In his Ted Talk presentation on The Essential Elements of Digital Literacies+Doug Belshaw suggests that new technologies often create new opportunities. “Every time you are given a new tool it gives you a different way of impacting upon the world.” What I feel is overlooked in this situation is what that impact is. No one was born connected, well at least not consciously connected, the question then is how they got to their current situation.

In many respects social media has been around in education in some shape or form for some time. However, there is still a gap in regards to the take-up. There are many different reasons for this. For +Dean Shareski, there is a digital dualism that needs to be overcome, while for +Tom Whitby the battle is over control and comfort zones. Often the arguments presented about the various benefits associated with being either connected or disconnected, however such arguments often provide little discussion of the middle ground, that space in-between and how to venture through it.

As I have discussed elsewhere, being connected and having a personal learning network is not something that is done, rather it is something that we do. My answer then is that instead of sharing the plethora of benefits, maybe we need to share our journey in all of its failures and various points of confusion.

It is important to recognise that when it comes to connecting that everyone does it differently and to borrow from +Doug Belshaw‘s work on digital literacies, sometimes coming to an understanding of what it means to be connected is just as important as actually being connected. For me, being a connected educator has involved five different steps:

Although each of these events can be considered in isolation, more significantly they can each be seen as interconnecting with and adding to the other. For example, I feel that my connections online have only been strengthened through the elaborations of my thoughts via my blog. The big question though, is what does it mean to be connected for you and how did you get to this point?

Late last year, Peter DeWitt wrote a response to the PLN Challenge that was going around. In it he shared 11 random facts and answered 11 questions set by Tony Sinanis. What was interesting though was that instead of setting 11 questions in return, Peter posed the question, what inspired you this year? This openness allowed those responding to make of it what they would.

In the same spirit of Peter’s openness, I put out the challenge, what are the markers that stand out in your journey in being a connected educator? You may not wish to write a long and elongated response as I have, but at the very least share something. Although I would love to hear your story, more importantly, it maybe the impetus for others to take the next step, whatever that maybe.


This post was turned into a video as a contribution to Alan Levine’s 2015 K12 Online Conference presentation ‘True Stories of Open Sharing


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creative commons licensed (BY-NC) flickr photo by mrkrndvs: http://flickr.com/photos/aaron_davis/14606572678
 
I have spoken elsewhere about how I have become a connected educator. However, I have not necessarily spoken about those who have had an ongoing influence on me. +Cameron Paterson talks about finding someone who scares you to drive you, but I feel that it is more important to find some who inspires you and drives you forward. Sometimes such moments can be intimidating or awe inspiring. They provide us with a choice, we can either say that is too hard and baulk at the challenge or say that although it is a lot of work, with a bit more effort and endeavour I could achieve that too.
 
Although ‘influence and inspiration’ exists outside of gender, I am inspired by a tweet from +Julie Bytheway to be more equitable. So I have decided to split my list between two five men and five women. So in no particular order, here are ten people who have made an impact on my journey and my first year of blogging …

+danah boyd

I can’t remember the list I found, but Boyd was one of the first people I started following when I got on Twitter. I would read her posts and relish the different perspectives which she provided. Boyd’s work has helped me realise that there are different ways of seeing teens and internet, as was documented in her fantastic book It’s Complicated, which I reviewed here.

+Peter DeWitt

DeWitt completely changed the way I saw Twitter and being a connected educator. Although I had connected with many other teachers, DeWitt was the first leader who I connected with. I had grown up surrounded by some great leaders, however they did not always share so openly and honestly. I can’t even remember how I came upon DeWitt’s blog, but it soon became a staple of my digital diet. Even when talking about tales and topics with little direct influence on my own day to day happenings, it is his endeavour to always keep the conversation going is what I aspire to the most and keeps me coming back.

Jason Borton

Although I had engaged with various school leaders from abroad both directly, as in the case with +Peter DeWitt, but also through such spaces as Connected Principals, Borton was the first ‘local’ principal who really changed the way I saw things at home. (Bit ironic how in a global world Canberra and Melbourne become local.) Whether it be questioning homework, reporting and whole school enabling, he has engaged with all those big topics on both Twitter and through his blog that from my experience many leaders baulk at. It was actually through Borton that I came upon Edutweetoz and the +TER Podcast, two other priceless points of perspective and great ambassadors for more empowered voices in education.

+Jenny Ashby

As I have discussed elsewhere, Jenny was very much the start of my connected journey. I am always inspired by how much she manages to achieve. Whether this be her podcasts (RU Connected or AU2AZ) or here involvement in such projects as Skype Around the World in 24 Hours and Slide2Learn. What amazes me the most about Jenny is that it would be so easy for her not to be involved in many of these things, distance to travel or quality of internet connection. However, from my experiences with Ashby, she often seems to find some reason to be involved, rather than an excuse not to be. Great mindset.

+Doug Belshaw

I came upon Belshaw via his phenomenal work around digital literacies. However, what stands out the most to me is his sharing and giving back. People tell me that I write a lot, then I ask them if they follow Doug’s work. In addition to this, he is always pushing the envelope, question and critiquing, innovating for tomorrow, rather than living for today. Take for example his recent push to take back ownership of his data by self-hosting his own email. Although this may seem an impossible task, many great changes in history have been started by a lone nut who takes a stand.

+Richard Olsen

If ever I want a different perspective on something, I often go to Olsen. He always finds something that I have missed or puts a different spin on things. As I have stated elsewhere, a part of me lives for such critical engagement. Really though, what I respect most about Olsen is that instead of simply writing things off, ignoring them, carrying his own conversation, he puts in the time and effort to fuel the wildfire of learning and keep the conversation going.

+Pernille Ripp

Ripp has been a constant inspiration ever since i got online. Unlike many who perpetuate change from the top down, Ripp is a great example of what is possible from the bottom up. One of her greatest attributes is her openness and honesty. Although it can be easy to consider Ripp as taking ‘risks’ and going beyond the perceived status quo, what she has taught me is that in some respect we are all risk takers, whether we like it or not. That we are all making a choice. I think that what makes some people like Ripp empowering and important is that they own the choices and decisions. I must admit that I spent the first few years as a teacher thinking that it wasn’t my roll or right to make big decisions, I thought that was the role of those above to feed down ‘best practise’. However, when those answers never arrived I realised that change starts with me today in my classroom and that there is no time to wait.

+Amy Burvall 

Like Belshaw, Burvall’s ability to seemingly achieve so much is a constant reminder that there is always something more I could be doing. In addition to her awesome amount of sharing online, she has also influenced the way I consider the assessment of art and creativity. She has also introduced me to the potential of some amazing applications, such as Mozilla Popcorn and Paper53. To me, Burvall demonstrates that there is no limit to engagement with and through digital literacies, instead the only limit is ourselves.

Inquire Within

I am not sure exactly when I came upon +Edna Sackson‘s group blog, Inquire Within, however it has become an important part of my growth in regards to teaching and learning. Having had a mixed past when it comes to inquiry, something I have discussed elsewhere, Inquire Within has brushed away so many misconceptions. I think that my greatest fault was to think that inquiry could actually be defined, rather than be what it actually is, a myriad of combinations which form to make different pedagogical cocktails. During my time following the site, I have come upon so many great posts and awesome ideas there, such as +Bianca Hewes ‘Managing the Mushy Middle’ and Kath Murdoch’s ‘How do Inquiry Teachers Teach?’ Along with Ripp’s blog, Inquire Within is often one of the first sites that I recommend to other teachers in regards to teaching and learning.

+Ed Tech Crew

When I think of influences, I find it hard to go beyond the +Ed Tech Crew. Whether it be guests on the program, such as +Ian Guest and +Alec Couros, the community curation in the Diigo group or the dialogue and discussion between +Darrel Branson and +Tony Richards, there is so much sharing that occurs. I have lost count of the thoughts and ideas that have taken seed via the +Ed Tech Crew. In addition to this, I have also been lucky enough to share my thoughts of Melbourne Google in Education Summit 2013, as well as my thoughts on leading ICT and where we have come in regards to technology in education. It was sad to hear that the +Ed Tech Crew would actually be going into hiatus. However, it is also a recognition that it takes a village.

The Word ‘I’ Refers To …

It is good to recognise our influences in life. However, one of the problems with such a practise is that there will always be someone missed or overlooked. I was really taken by Jack Welch’s statement that “nearly everything I have done has been accomplished with other people” as quoted in Carol Dweck’s book Mindset. In some vague attempt to recongise some of these ‘other people’ I have listed all the people who I have mentioned through my many blogs over the last year: +John Moravec +Kevin Miklasz +Troy MONCUR +Tom Whitby +Andrew Williamson +Joe Mazza +Peter Kent +Rich Lambert +Corrie Barclay +John Pearce +Deb Hicks +Seth Godin +Ian Guest +Suan Yeo +Jim Sill +Chris Betcher +Anthony Speranza +Mike Reading +Jason Markey +George Couros +David Truss +Tom March +Vicki Davis +Ben Gallagher +Rebecca Davies +Anne Mirtschin +Adam Bellow +stephen heppell +David Tuffley +Tony Sinanis +Dan Rockwell +Alf Galea +Mel Cashen +Matt Esterman +Darrel Branson +Ashley Proud +Ryan Tate +Roland Gesthuizen +Aubrey Daniels International +Catherine Gatt +Celia Coffa +Kynan Robinson +Mark O’Meara +Lois Smethurst +Darren Murphy +Mark Barnes +Chris Wejr +Doug Belshaw +Miguel Guhlin +TER Podcast +Bianca Hewes +Luis López-Cano +John Spencer +Tom Panarese +Edna Sackson +David Zyngier +Cameron Malcher +Mariana Funes +dave cormier +Dick Faber +Ewan McIntosh +Darryn Swaby +David Price +Alan Thwaites +Stephen Harris +Corey Aylen +Simon Crook +Nick Jackson +Simon Ensor +maureen maher +Keith Hamon +John Thomas +Margo Edgar +Jan Molloy +Kim Yeomans +John Bennett +Will Richardson +Bec Spink +Sam Irwin +Corinne Campbell +Rick Kayler-Thomson +Adam Lavars +Heather Bailie +Dean Shareski +Stephen Collis +Michelle Hostrup +Starr Sackstein +Charles Arthur +Craig Kemp +David Weinberger +Eric Jensen and +Katelyn Fraser. Although extensive, these are simply people whose thoughts and ideas I have been conscious of, emerged from the noise. For as +Keith Hamon recently suggested in an interesting post on authorship, “while I can find sources for all of my ideas, I’m not sure that they are my sources, but I am sure that it doesn’t matter.”

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‘Nepal – Embraced by Shangrila’ creative commons licensed (BY-SA) flickr photo by dhilung: http://flickr.com/photos/dhilung/3904555723
This post was originally posted on +Peter DeWitt‘s Finding Common Ground blog on the 6th of January. It seems with the latest changes to the Performance and Development Process and +Will Richardson‘s message in his #TL21C Keynote to change just 10% of your practise pertinent to repost it here.
Recently, as a part of the Ed Tech Crew Christmas Hangout, +Darren Murphy posed the question, what would your ideal school be? It got me wondering, what does the talk of ideals really achieve?
Often discussions about the ideal school converge with the amalgamation of a diverse range of ideas and practises. Where there is not only a wide range of technology on offer, but it is ubiquitous. Where connections are made around the world. Where students are creators of original content that is published for authentic audiences. Where learning happens in open and flexible spaces, which have the ability to be manipulated to suite a range of needs and purposes. Where teachers are seen as lead-learners, that is facilitators and motivators who help students to manage their own learning. Where learning happens when it needs to happen, not necessarily when it is forced to happen. Whatever is included within this educational cocktail, it can just about be guaranteed that it is not usually found within the dominant status quo.
What was interesting about the responses from the various participants was that no one had actually experienced their ideal school. Although everyone had seen aspects of such learning, with different schools showing strengths in various areas, no one had actually witnessed the magical Shangri-la, that ideal school that encapsulates everything. What then is the purpose of such ideals? If they are lists of attributes that never actually exist in their entirety, what purpose do they serve? Should ideals be our barometer, our measuring stick of success or are they more a point of inspiration, those ideas that drives us towards greater things?
I came upon a great quote in my feed the other day from Rebekah O’Dell who said that, “If your dreams don’t scare you, they’re not big enough.” I think that this is a really good point. We should never limit our dreams. However, what are the use of dreams and ideals if all they do is set us up for perpetual failure? I am not saying that failure is a bad thing, but surely if there is little hope of success, isn’t it a little counter-productive.
Although it is important to dream and dream big, at some point our efforts need to turn to finding pragmatic solutions for the now. They need to be ideas and initiatives that respond to the problem at hand. Instead of calling for a revolution, our attention should be on how we can evolve education one change at a time.
Sometimes our desire to change education is beyond our means. Whether it be because we are not a part of leadership, there are no funds to support such a change, it does not fit within the school’s annual implementation plan, the list goes on. The challenge for us in this situation is often how we actually respond, just as much as what our eventual response is. Instead of baulking at the challenge, one answer is to break the problem down into its parts. In doing so, it is important to look at what it is that is trying to be evolved and consider whether there is anything that we can do to get one step closer towards our ideal.
Take for example the ideal of the global classroom, an environment where teachers and students connect and collaborate with others all over the world. For some this is a choice out of reach based on various decisions, whether it be because of the policy of the school, lack of resources or the need to get permission of parents. However, what is possible is to create a means to collaborate within school, creating space to share and celebrate outside of the classroom, providing staff and students with opportunity to learn together, whether it be across different year levels or learning areas. Although this may not be flattening the walls globally, it at least flattens the walls locally.
What is important in turning an ideal into some sort of reality is setting goals. A good criteria to support the development of goals is the SMART acronym. That is that the goal is specific, able to be measured, actually attainable, realistic and is bound by time. Associated with this, it is important to make explicit any steps, strategies and speed humps at the start, as well as reflect upon any failures and celebrate the successes along the way.
For instance, last year, having read quite a few people share about the successes associated with project-based learning, I really wanted to trial it in my class. So after looking at all the subjects that I taught, I decided that it would fit best with my Digital Publishing Elective, particularly in regards to the development of the school yearbook. From this point of view, focusing on a certain unit of work within a particular class meant that it fitted with all the different attributes of a SMART goal. In addition to this, choosing a subject where I was the sole teacher allowed me to easily manage the strategies and speed humps, as well as clearly manage the celebrations and reflections.
Not all change needs to be linked to a revolution, take for example +Pernille Ripp‘s fantastic list of simple ideas of how to re-energise the classroom after the break. With the new year having just rolled over, what is your educational resolution this year? What is something that you feel needs to change in education and what steps are you taking to change it?

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creative commons licensed (BY) flickr photo by Trekking Rinjani: http://flickr.com/photos/trekkingrinjani/4930552641

Last Wednesday night I participated in a Hangout with the team involved in coordinating the Teaching and Learning in the 21st Century professional development program offered by the education department in Victoria. For whatever reason, I didn’t sign up last year. Subsequently, I looked on in awe and a little bit of jealously (if I must be honest) at all the awesome learning (and fun) that seemed to be going on. When it was offered this year, I was therefore keen to be involved, especially after sitting the backchannel of the ACCELN broadcast reviewing last years program. As things unfolded, +John Thomas got in contact, asked if I’d like to be a coach and the rest is history.

 
It is interesting thinking about how I got to this point. Actually when you stop and think about it, it is interesting considering how anyone got to where they got to. For me it has been a bit of long journey.
 
As I have pointed out recently, one is not born connected. I see it more as a choice, a decision, a mindset. Often it is easier to sit back and lurk online, but for me that simply wasn’t connecting. However, there is another side I feel to lurking that often goes ignored. For some it isn’t just about what is ‘easy’ or whether they have the ‘time’. Rather for some being connected is an ongoing challenge, something that +Chris Wejr touched upon in his great post ‘Not Everyone Is Able To Tweet and Post Who They Are‘. Sometimes this challenge is the stepping out into the great unknown. It was for that reason that I published a series of posts outlining by journey in becoming more connected educator, which culminated with my post ‘Becoming Connected: So What’s Your Story?‘ on +Peter DeWitt‘s blog Finding Common Ground.
 
My hope was that those who sometimes sit back out of fear or trepidation can take the next step on their connected journey. In seeing the varied examples of how different people have taken the next step and prospered, they too can step out and maybe share a little bit of their learning and in the process, themselves.
 
So far I have already received some great responses:
Although some responses just a tweet, it still maybe the impetus someone needs to step out of the shadows and get involved.
 
So let me know, what did you do to take the next step? Who was it that helped you along the way? What event was it that made a difference? For surely once people see that they are not alone in their experiences then they can raise the next step with a little bit more confidence.

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creative commons licensed (BY-NC-SA) flickr photo by courosa: http://flickr.com/photos/courosa/2922421696
 
So far I have discussed connecting with others both off and online. In addition to this, I explored taking owner of our identity online, as well as elaborating on and engaging with the ideas of others. The fifth step in being a connected educator is learning.
 
Ideas and inspiration can come from many places and like connections, are not always digital or online. Sometimes learning can be as simple as a chat around the photocopier or walking between classes. I have discussed this elsewhere as the incidental ‘hidden’ professional learning. The reality is, everything in life can offer a point of learning if we are willing to see it that way. For example, an activity that I have done with my students in the past is to reflect upon their classroom and what it says. I have done this in history when considering artefacts, as well as in music when thinking about performance and space.
 
I would argue though that the digital realm only extends the potential of this learning. One of the best things about learning online is that you can do it anywhere, any time. Whether it be reading a blog, watching a video, listening to a podcast or participating in an online chat, there are so many opportunities and options that the biggest challenge that we are faced with is what to engage with.
 
At the recent Teachmeet event at the Immigration Museum+Richard Olsen posed the question about whether there are any negatives about being connected. This has really prayed on my mind. I think there is so much written about the positives, that the flip side is often left silent. One of the initial negatives that I found is having so many different options and ideas out there, it can often leave you in a state of disarray. The challenge then is what we do about this disruption to the way things are. The biggest lesson I have learnt in being a connected educator is that nothing has to be the way that it is, rather we choose for it to be that way.
 
My solution to this feeling of perpetual confusion is to engage with others online in the effort to identify different perspectives. By engaging I don’t mean lambasting those whose views are different, but rather, as +Peter DeWitt puts it, “finding common ground with people I do not always agree with, and building consensus with those that I do.” 
 
In a recent interview with +Ed Tech Crew, +Dan Donahoo provides the suggestion of finding five people that you disagree with and following them. His argument was that we often learn more from those who we oppose, than those that we agree with. In another take on this, +David Truss, refuting the echo chamber argument, states that, “a good PLN will pull in learning from places I don’t normally go, and this means that even when good ideas bounce around, perspectives on those ideas don’t stay static… they don’t echo, and they morph into new insights.” 
 
As I stated in my post on blogging, learning online is about connecting with others in a reciprocal manner, both taking and giving. At its heart, it is about keeping the conversation going. Often though, it is the walls that are often built around us that kill this conversation. 
 
The easiest way to breakdown walls that so often hold us back, inhibit us and prevent us from reaching our potential is to realise that such ‘walls’ are merely a construct. Having been built, they can often just as easily be torn down. To me the Rhizomatic Learning MOOC epitomised (or epitomises, depending on how you think of things) everything that is meaningful about being a connected educator both in content and construct. 
 
Although I connected with some really great people, such as +Simon Ensor, +Keith Hamon, +Luis López-Cano, +maureen maher, +Ronald L and +dave cormier, it was a connection formed around ideas rather than personalities. I made no pretence to assume that I knew many or any of these people. To me though, this is what is so significant about connectivism. Although we may connect with people, a specific identity, to me it is the thoughts and ideas that they may offer that makes them truly meaningful. It may be important to nurture and maintain connections, but it is our capacity to know more that is more critical than what is currently known which stands out the most.
 
Although online learning, whether it be responding to a tweet or participating in a MOOC, may not necessarily provide the same depth and rigor of a more formalised learning, it does provide an opportunity to connect with others who we otherwise would not normally associate with and develop new knowledge in the process. As +George Siemens pointed out in his seminal piece, “our ability to learn what we need for tomorrow is more important than what we know today.” To me, being a connected educator is the first and most important step to a life of learning. For if as David Weinberger puts it that ‘the smartest person in the room is the room”, my learning is more meaningful when it is not restricted to those people who I work with or know through past experiences.

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I have been sent two separate challenges in regards to the 11 question meme, one from +Ian Guest and the other from +Steve Brophy. Although I have already engaged with this meme elsewhere, I just could not help but respond. So instead of choosing one set of questions over the other, I have decided to simply answer all 22 questions. Therefore, some of my answers may be shorter than you or I would like. However, I am always here to continue the conversation some other time …
 

1. What teacher had the most influence on you and why?

I would have to say Karl Trsek, my Year 12 English/History teacher. Not only did he have a breadth of knowledge, about history and the world – demonstrated by the fact that he wrote his own texts – but he also challenged the way I thought.

2. During your career, which student (without naming them!) most sticks in your mind and for what reason?

I think that it is the student that doesn’t necessarily fit in with the status quo, not necessarily academically, rather socially, those students who need a little extra help and support. Students at the margins. I think that I was much like that at school. I remember reading a quote a few years ago from Mark Haddon, the author of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time. He basically said that some children are like gazelles running across the savannah, growing up is easy, no hassle, while on the flip side there are those students who find every day a struggle. In the end, it comes down to my belief that we are there to help make a difference and that is not just academically.

3. What was your most abiding memory of school dinners?

What is a ‘school dinner’? Enough said.

4. Two Harry Potter inspired questions now. If you had Harry’s cloak of invisibility, what educational event would you like to unobtrusively observe and why?

I think that it would be a ministerial meeting involving the heads of the different regions and the minister for education. I would just love to know what they do and do not talk about. I always wonder whether such people are administrative or if they are truly driven and innovative.

5. What aspect of education or the classroom would you most like to wave your wand over and why? Educatio revisiorum!

I think that it would be the teacher at the heart of the classroom. With so many different means of providing instruction and giving feedback in today’s day and age, I dream of the day when students become empowered and engaged in their own learning.

6. For any historical figure of your choice, what might they have tweeted at a significant moment for them?

Maybe Jesus tweeting “It is finished #crucified”. Short and sharp. Geting his message out there. Other than that, maybe Moses looking out across the River Jordan before he died. Reckon that he would have had some interesting things to say. Maybe a few well wishes for Joshua and the rest of the tribes:

Sad I can’t be there today w/ my ppl as they cross into the promised land HT @Joshua #finally #regret — מֹשֶׁה (@moses)
Also reckon @laotzu would have had some interesting stuff to say back in his day.

7. What’s your favourite online video (for any reason) and why? (A link would be good)

Any time I am asked about ‘favourite’ this or that, I feel that it is so subjective, often dictated by time. If I answer this question next year I will probably give a different answer. I am therefore going to go with my favourite video right now, which is an episode from Beat This where Four Tet creates a track from Michael Jackson’s album Thriller in just 10 minutes. Both inspiring and intimidating at the same time.
 
 

8. In Horizon report style, which technology-enabled educational activity is likely to be becoming more mainstream in 3-ish years?

After reading +George Couros‘ post ‘5 Reasons Your Portfolio Should Be Online‘, I think maybe student digital portfolios that are sector blind and self-managed will be something that becomes more mainstream.

 

9. Which fictional character would you most like as a work colleague and why?

I think maybe Jay Gatsby, an eternal positivist who once he believes in an idea will let nothing get in his way. Need more of that passion in teaching sometimes.

10. What educational movement or initiative, currently in its infancy, will endure and why?

I think that one initiative that will endure is blended learning, especially as technology becomes more and more prevalent. Online mediums will be used to not only supplement ‘in class’ learning, but also add to it by providing additional resources to support students to go further.

11. Which educator (dead or alive, real or fictional, famous or not) would you most like to interview or enjoy the drink of your choice with and what would you be chatting about?

I think that I would have a chat with +Tony Richards. With a dearth of experiences, he always has that knack to some up a situation and provide a dearth of ideas and solutions to support the discussion. If Tony wasn’t free then Sir Ken Robinson, +Alec Couros or +Peter DeWitt would do.

12. If you had the power to make one rule in your school that every teacher would follow, what would you your rule be and why?

I think that it would be to share everything. So often I have seen people answer this question by saying ‘develop a PLN’. I think that we all already have a PLN, we just don’t all recognise it. One of the important ingredients though of a PLN is sharing. I believe that if people learn to actively share ‘good ideas’ when they come upon them then PLNs will follow.

13. What is your learning process?

Although I have posted elsewhere about how I consume digital information, I think that it kind of misses the point to restrict learning to a simple ‘process’. If anything I would say that my process is to follow up on thoughts and threads of inquiry that arise in day to day life.

14. Where do you see education in ten years?

Asking where education will be in ten years always makes me wonder how much it has changed in the last ten years. I think that we won’t even question the use of technology, that it will be a given. Associated with this, learning will be more individualised. However, I still think that we will be dreaming of different and more flexible learning spaces. I just can’t see governments around the world investing in new buildings and I am not yet convinced of private/public partnerships.

15. Why are you a teacher?

First and foremost I am a learner and that is why I am a teacher. In addition to this, I am passionate about making a difference to the lives of others, whether staff or students, and supporting them with their passions. I have spoken about this elsewhere in regards to leadership.

16. How should a technical team support teachers?

I think that the most important thing that a technical team can do is be active and transparent about what they are doing. Like so many rolls in a school, such as the timetabler and daily organiser, you often don’t think about them until something goes wrong. Therefore, it is important to engage with staff when things are right.

17. If you weren’t a teacher, what would you be?

I am not exactly sure what I’d be, but it would probably be something that involves supporting others in an active roll. This would also most likely involve problem solving and technology.

18. What is the hardest learning experience you have ever had?

I think that hardest learning experience has been that no matter how passionate you are or how much energy you put in, real change involves a team. I actually think that this lesson is a bit of an ongoing experience. 

19. What three books changed your life?

This is such a nostalgic questions. Three books which have had a significant influence on my perspective on things are Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park, Stanley Fish’s Is There a Text in This Class? and Paul Carter’s The Road to Botany Bay.

20. Who inspires you?

I think that inspiration is a mindset. I will therefore say that my PLN inspires me. Everyday I read something that challenges me, makes me thing differently, forces me to reflect upon my own practises.

21. What strategies do you use to bounce back from the tough days in teaching?

Whether it be spending time with family or connecting online, I make sure that I get out of that bad space.

22. What is right with education in 2014?

I think the push to place the student at the heart of the classroom is right. Whether this be about involving them in the planning or developing better strategies in regards to differentiating for each and every student, I think that this can only be a good thing.
 

Opening Up the Challenge

So there are my 22 questions answered. Some with more detail than others, but answered non the less. To build upon +Peter DeWitt‘s break with tradition, I have two questions for anyone who is willing answer: “What inspired you the most last year” and “What are you excited about this year?”
I look forward to your response.

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I was led to +Mark Barnes‘ book The 5-Minute Teacher by +Peter DeWitt in post in which he talks about letting go of control and trusting students in the classroom. Barnes’ book outlines a way of teaching where instead of lessons being consumed by long, elongated lectures, they are led by brief, interactive instruction. Barnes states in the blurb that it is all about maximising learning in the classroom. This is a a bit of a misnomer though, in my view, because although shortening the length of instruction in very important to the book, the real premise behind it is a change in philosophy from a teacher-centred to a student-centred classroom, revolving around 100% engagement of each and every student. Some of the wider changes that Barnes grapples with include a focus on observation, rather than more structured assessment, the use of technology to engage, rather than more traditional methods of communication, providing students an avenue for self-discover, rather than simply handing information to them on a plate. This is all founded on the belief that teaching is an art, rather than a science.

Now rather than simply reproducing Barnes’ book, which I have already started to do, I instead wish to offer my own inquiry into his ideas and arguments in the form of a SWOT analysis. This is not necessarily a summary of my own personal thoughts, rather it is a reflection into the different ideas and arguments found in education, for we often miss something by denying a breadth of voices. For every choice has a series of consequences, both for and against. As Barnes’ suggests in his book, quoting Rachel Ong:

Reflection forms the important link between processing the new information and integrating it with the existing understanding of the world around.

In many respect I feel this reflection fits within the wider discussion about inquiry in schools. Having worked in a school that had inquiry at its heart and then replaced it with a more ‘rigid’ curriculum planning, I always find it an interesting topic to come back to and explore.

Strengths

100% Participation

The whole focus of the ‘5-minute’ classroom is to involve every students in learning. Barnes puts forward the argument that in a traditional classroom, discussions are either controlled by the teacher or the more dominant and confident students. Through the use of collaboration, reflection and teacher guided, rather than directed, discussions, all students are brought into the learning.

Choice and Collaboration

Rather than dictating what topic a task might be on or which group students are going to work in, the control is handed back to the students. For example, Barnes suggests that instead of giving students a project focussing on Greek civilisation, give them a project on civilisations and let them drive their learning. Associated with all this is proving students with the opportunity to reflect and learn from any failures that they may have along the way, such as choosing to work with the wrong group or not properly participating in collaborative tasks.

Student at the Centre

Coupled with engagement and choice, the whole aim of the 5-minute classroom is to both empower students. This is done by placing their interests, passions and concerns at the heart of the classroom and making them responsible for their learning. This though, as Barnes outlines throughout, should not solely be thought of as an individual process, but instead as something that all students have responsibility for. Students are not only responsible for their own learning in the classroom, but also each others.

Weaknesses

Focuses

Moving the heart of a lesson away from a clearly stipulated learning intention, to an open-ended question, means that sometimes what is learnt can be unclear to the teacher. The catch I think, that Barnes would suggest, is that just because you state your intention, doesn’t mean that students are necessarily going to follow.

Observations

In having a question that drives the learning, the lesson is opened up to a wide range of responses. The key then isn’t necessarily the idea of ticking off a success criteria, rather it is about making regular observations, clearly supported with feedback to and from the student. The benefit of which is that students are able to do more and therefore demonstrate more than is usually allowed in a traditional classroom. The challenge for some teachers is maintaining this culture in the classroom week in, week out.

Engaging Everyone

I have heard this said again and again over the years by different teachers from different surrounds, that student led learning is not for all students. Some students don’t get engaged in their own learning and really need more rigid lessons that are directed by the teacher. I think that this is a bit of a misnomer though, because, like with learning intentions, by controlling the classroom, you are really limiting the opportunity for failure and error, and subsequently, the opportunity for learning. The problem with engaging students is actually making them aware that they actually have a voice and that it means something.

Opportunities

Reflecting on Current Practises

At the very least, one of the benefits of books like Barnes’ is that even if you do not agree with everything that he says, through the process of reading, you are forced to reflect upon why you do not agree and what it is you believe in. I think that reflecting on how you teach and the various associated consequences is a priceless activity and is something that is too often overlooked.

One Change at a Time

In the short question and answer section that follows the main text, Barnes addresses some of the frequently asked questions, with one of them being from a teacher of 25 years who states that teaching using the lecture style is difficult to replace. Barnes’ suggestion to this is to identify all the different strategies and persevere with them. Importantly, he argues that in asking the question that you are already on your way. I think that books like Barnes’ can be intimidating to some, but sometimes the best thing that we can do is to evolve as teachers one change at a time. For me, what called me to the book is my personal goal this year to provide more time for student learning. I am not sure that I will incorporate every element right away into my classroom. However, it has given me plenty of ideas about where to start.

Threats

Remixing and Copyright

Barnes’ speaks a lot about using video and technology to engage students with a range of resources. My concern with this is that such practises do not always fit into copyright laws. Although many of us have the tools to digitally capture digital content and subsequently manipulate it, this does not mean that it is always legal. In today’s day and age of digital citizenship, it can be dangerous to model such practises, no matter how much they may aide instruction in the classroom.

Undermines Teams

Being a philosophical change, I think that it can undermine both cohesion and unity amongst teams. Whether this is a group of science teachers or an actual team associated with a home group. Unless the directive comes from the top, then it can create both outliers, those teachers who so often work against the status quo, as well as confusion about what is and isn’t acceptable in the classroom. The danger though with this approach is that the needed change may never arrive, so you are therefore in catch-22, where your damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

Fear of Failure

Associated with the question of team cohesion, there is a fear amongst some that the whole inquiry process does not work. As I have already stated early in regards to engagement, that although it may work really well for some students, there are others who fail to ever buy in and their results go lower and lower. With the ever growing culture of teacher accountability, having some students supposedly drop even further behind is not a risk that some teachers and administrators are willing to take. The problem is that such a mindset refuses to ever really develop in fear that they may fail.

Halfway to Nowhere

There is a danger that if the various changes are only partly adopted, it can create the wrong perception that the strategies don’t work. One of the biggest difficulties, in my view, in moving from a teacher driven classroom to a student led classroom is both stepping back and handing over control. So many set themselves up for failure by suggesting that they are student-centred, when it is really a facade, that deep down the teacher still has the power in the classroom. It is important to reflect upon such situations to try and identify why something didn’t work. This is often just as, if not more important, than the actual strategy itself and will often lead to its own solution.

Where to Now?

In closing, Barnes’ other book, Role Reversal, unpacks the notion of a student-centred classroom further and I may discuss that another day. In addition to that, two other really important resources that you might find useful are his Learn It in 5 website, which provides a dearth of videos to support the 5-minute classroom, as well as his blog, Brilliant or Insane, which is a constant source for ideas and reflection, in and out of the classroom.

So what are your thoughts? Have you read The 5-Minute Teacher? Is there anything that you would add, remove or change with my analysis? Are there other such books and resources that you would also recommend in making the change to a student led classroom. Would love your thoughts and feedback in the comments or on Twitter.

 


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