My Project

Ok PLN, its time to enlist your help with a project I am working on. Let me tell you about it…

I am working on creating a document for first year teachers to help them with their transition into our wonderful profession. This document will serve a few purposes:

A) Provide guidance to new teachers in many areas of their job.

B) Provide insight from many educators, in many positions, in many different schools, in many different cities, provinces/states and countries.

C) Provide a clear picture of the power of PLN’s/Twitter/Social Media as a Perpetual Professional Development tool.

What I need from you is very simple – Answer this question:

“If you could tell a new teacher one piece of advice as they enter the profession, what would it be?”

Here are a few guidelines/important information

  • Don’t read other people’s responses until after you provide your own. I don’t want the topic to head in one direction, but rather organically touch on all areas of teaching
  • Any advice is good advice, even if it doesn’t refer to something in the classroom. One of my profs at the University of Victoria told me “Don’t make any major purchases like a house or car in your first year, you don’t want to have to stay in a job you don’t like just to pay off a major purchase. Wait and make sure you love teaching before you commit to something like that.” Great advice, of course I didn’t listen, and bought a car the week before my first job.
  • Keep it fairly brief, if possible, as I hope to collect many insights and share as many of them as possible.
  • I will not be looking to make any money from what you share with me. I am not preparing to write a book or publish an article, but rather just want to collect the information and share it with any new teacher that would benefit from it.

By collecting this information from the people in my PLN, I hope to show young teachers just how powerful Twitter and Social Media can be in their ongoing professional development. I plan on reaching out to some specific people that I have interacted with in my career, or people whose name may be easily recognized, but most of the information will come from those of you I have connected with on Twitter and through my blog.

Once all of the information has been collected, I am certain that the advice will naturally fall into some certain categories. I hope to collect the information over the next few months, organize it before the end of the school year and then have it readily available before the end of the summer, for all those young teachers heading out on their first job in August/September.

I will provide for you one example that I have already collected, as I feel it is both inspiring and timely. I feel very lucky that I was able to collect this quote, as this gentleman was kind enough to include it when he signed my copy of his book.

“Celebrate the art of imagination” – Sir Ken Robinson

I thank you in advance for your assistance and contribution to my project. I will be sure to make it available to everyone in my PLN when it is completed, so you too can pass on this advice to new teachers in your buildings, your divisions or your PLN’s.

Crossroads


cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by Dominic’s pics

Is there any phrase more cliche than “We are at a crossroads”? I googled the phrase and had 22,300,000 hits. So cliche aside, we really are at an interesting time in education. Every day we become more and more aware that we must change the things we do. To make it even more difficult, we realize this in our practices of assessment, discipline, pedagogy, use of technology, professional development, and infrastructure design. Whether it’s the Daniel Pink speaking about motivation, Ken Robinson talking about changing the learning environment, or Will Richardson helping us implement social media in our schools, we have many brilliant men and women out there helping us see where we should be going. So its clear, we need to start (or continue) the change process. However, so many changes in so many areas need to be made, and we live in a society that isn’t ready for radical shifts in a system based so heavily on tradition, a system almost everyone has been through and has formed their own expectations about.

So what should our role be as teachers or administrators when it comes to helping move education forward?

Well before any change can occur, people need to be aware of what needs to change. We need to be professionals that continually strive to improve ourselves, and that includes becoming informed on what education research is saying. We can’t rely on monthly professional development days and annual conferences. We can’t rely on our superintendent or principal to be our experts, providing all the know-how. There is too much going on, and we are going to need leaders throughout our buildings and throughout our school divisions.

How should we stay informed, continually learn and become the leaders our schools, our school divisions and our students need? Well for me Twitter is the answer, and I believe it can be the answer for you as well. If you don’t agree, and you don’t want Twitter to be your source, then I think you need to do the following three things and do them a fierce commitment and tireless diligence – Read, Listen and Share.

Read – Seek out the information and devour it. Read books, magazines, newspapers, blogs, websites, whatever you can find so that you know what is going on.

Listen – Find TED talks, videos, webcasts, radio shows, podcasts and audiobooks to be informed of emerging trends and breakthrough research.

Share – If you find it interesting, share it with your colleague, and find out what they have read or heard.

Twitter or not, if we want to stay relevant, if we want to be part of the movement, we first must stay current and we must do this on our own.

Once we are informed, then we need to defend the science, spread the word, and put the change into action. I don’t suggest that every teacher or administrator go out and change everything they are doing, but I do think that we should take what we learn to heart. If it is something easy to implement, try it tomorrow. If it is a major endeavor, do your homework, talk to colleagues and figure out how you can make it happen together. Start figuring out what you want to see change in your classroom this month, this school year, next school year, within three years, within five years etc. etc. Prioritize by choosing the area or idea that makes you the most excited, so that you will be able to draw on the energy that this change provides. There is a lot going on, and a lot to get excited about. Once you start changing something, talk about it. With your colleagues, on twitter, in a blog, present at a conference, do whatever you can, but share your successes.

The revolution (I just choked on another cliche) isn’t looking for a lot of the “What to do?”, there is TONS out there, this revolution is looking for the “Who’s gonna do it?” and that’s you and me. If you get stuck, find someone to help you get un-stuck (not an English major). For me, I have great people in my PLN and in my division who are quick to remind me that what we may try is great, but there is far more we can do. If you aren’t stuck, connect with a colleague and help them start their own revolution.

I saw the question asked on Twitter in the last couple weeks “When is Education going to have its Egypt moment?” Truth is I don’t think we are going to have one big moment, but rather a groundswell of momentum created by the push of many dedicated educators unwilling to continue with the status quo. I think we’ll see school divisions, policy makers and eventually political leaders embrace the movement. In the end, I doubt we will be able to mark the date in our history books because it will happen gradually, all over the globe. It will start with individuals making a change, in fact, it already has started. So, do you want to be part of it? I know I do, the crossroads for me is in my rear-view mirror.

 

What are the first steps?

I am not sure if I have mentioned it lately, but I teach in the same division as George Couros, and he has been instrumental in my introduction to twitter and blogging. He has developed e-portfolios for his students, and has shown how powerful they will be in the education path of each of his students. I read a great post today by Patrick Larkin about new resources to help replace textbooks. Lisa Neilsen wrote today about a number of initiatives school should take to help students in the 21st century including online learning, using iTunes to help teach and tech supported student self assessment. Inspiring stuff going on all over the world, and for me just down the street. It can be a bit overwhelming, so I know that in our building we need to plan where we are going with technology, social media and their connections to our students. To do so we need a place to start.

If we let ourselves get wrapped up in every exciting website, tech tool or social media fad, we probably won’t end up with a definite direction for our building. We will never be able to do everything for everyone, so we have to focus on a few key questions

1) Why are we interested in utilizing this tool/site with our students? Is it because it looks fun? Is it because its the newest gadget? Or are we actually looking to support student learning or teacher growth?

2) Is it relatively simple? Can anyone pick up this new technology or will it require an endless amount of off site or online training that will turn most people off of using it?

3) Is it affordable? Better yet, is it free? We need to be realistic with what we commit to doing, but we also need to spend the money we do have wisely. Maybe buying a lab of desktop computers would be easy, and probably a bit cheaper, but wouldn’t a wireless cart of laptops meet the needs of our students in a better way?

4) Do we have teacher leaders interested in piloting and then assisting others with implementation? What good is a tool or website if no one knows how to use it and no one has the time to show them. Or worse, the only person who knew how to use it has moved on? If we are going to dive into a new plan, we need to make sure its use is made sustainable by fostering leadership amongst the staff that are going to be there to continue with it.

5) Is it the right thing to do? When it comes to twitter and teachers using it for their own professional development (or perpetual professional development as Patrick put it), I have said there is no reason NOT to be out there developing your own PLN that will help you meet the needs of your students and help you become a better educator. Its the right thing to do, so we need to find the time, the money or whatever it takes to make it happen.

It is these questions that will help us decide in our building what our technology priorities should be. I can let you know that e-portfolios are one priority, but as for what else, we still need to figure that out. Feel free to add your 2 cents, we can always use a little advice.

Rise to the Occasion

Inspired by a post by Tom Schimmer, a post by Stacy Stephens and by covering a difficult class today, I realized that I love a challenge.

I play a lot of sports, none of them particularly well, but I do love to compete. Golf, Curling, Basketball, Baseball, Squash, Running, they all do it for me, and never more than when I am competing. I especially loved when I had the chance to compete against someone who was very good, or if I was in some kind of high pressure situation. I always looked forward to see how I would respond to the gauntlet being thrown down. I’d love to tell you that I won more than I lost but I doubt that very much, but that isn’t the point anyway. I have always loved the chance to be challenged and see what I could do in that situation.

I see a lot of that in my teaching and now in my opportunity to be an administrator. I have always loved the chance to work with a student who is tough to reach, who has trouble trusting,  or who has trouble finding success in his/her education. There are so many teachers and administrators who I have had the great fortune to work with who feel the same way. Their eyes light up when they see the opportunity to connect with a student who seems disconnected from everyone and everything in the building.

So in the spirit of the challenges Tom and Stacy have placed in front of us, let’s see the difficult interactions as a chance to rise to the occasion and show our students the great educators we can be!

Gain Strength By Showing Weakness

It’s nice to think that I have written enough blog posts that I may be repeating certain memories or ideas from time to time. I may have told you about this one…

During one of my teaching practicums, one of the teachers I worked with told me it would be in my best interest not to make a habit of apologizing to my students, or asking them to do something and finishing the statement with “please”. The teacher explained that we need to maintain a sense of order in our classrooms and we won’t be keeping the room under control if we aren’t firm with our students at all times. I remember choosing to not add that to the tools in my teaching toolkit, but it helped me be aware of the many different styles we all have as educators.

In my day to day dealings with students I have noticed a fear expressed by some when it comes to questioning a staff member. My advice to students has often been to be sure to voice their concerns in a respectful way, at a reasonable time and place and once the situation has cooled to a reasonable level. When I provide this advice, I come from my own point of view, and I welcome students questioning me on pretty much anything: my teaching, my classroom management, my opinion (on most matters), my history, my own experiences in school etc. I have never really thought that some teachers may not be comfortable with a student questioning how they handled a situation in their room, or why they are teaching a certain concept a certain way.

Reflecting on this, I thought I would provide my own point of view on dealing with students who question your teaching or challenge your decision making. Here are some thoughts on why I think this is a great thing to motivate our students to do.

1) It promotes independent thinking – As much as we may enjoy the total dependence of our students on us to provide them knowledge, it isn’t healthy for them to take every statement a teacher, or anyone, makes as fact just because they are at the front of the room, on television, or their supervisor at work. We need to teach our students to think critically and ask questions when they don’t understand. We need to empower our students to seek out multiple sources of information to truly educate them on different points of view on any topic. While our egos may suffer a little bit, our students will benefit from a teacher who allows an open dialogue on their subject area, and who inspires students to seek the knowledge out themselves.

2) We can create a two-way understanding – So many situations that breakdown between a student and teacher do so because a lot of the information is missing. As teachers we are unaware of what has happened in the student’s life the night before, that morning, or often even in the last class. We don’t always know the bias a student might be bringing to school, maybe due to parent, grandparent, sibling, friend or other connection the student has. We often haven’t connected with the student to find out the motivation behind the action, and how the student feels about our teaching style, our classroom management or our interactions with them in the past. On the flip side, students often don’t know why we take the steps we take to manage situations in our classrooms. They don’t know the impact their actions may have had on other students in the room. They may not know why we take their actions so seriously. They may not know that we care about them and that we take these actions for the good of the classroom environment and not out of spite or a need to “pick on them”. By allowing students to question us about how we handle discipline or difficult situations we will help both sides communicate, gain a better understanding of each others perspective, and to build a stronger relationship.

3) We can model for our students how to handle difficult situations – its not always easy to be questioned on our decisions and practice, and it is easy to get defensive, but we need to see these interactions as an opportunity to model. We need to take the time to show our students that we can take criticism, that we can reflect on a situation and at times, we can take the steps necessary to handle things a better way. By showing our students that we make mistakes, and that we are able to admit them, own them, and rectify them, we model for them a skill that will help them in every relationship they will ever have. We gain strength in our relationships with our students by showing them that we have weaknesses, that we are flawed and that we are human.

We need our students to believe in us the same way we believe in them, and our students are too smart for us to stand at the front and demand their respect simply because the door has our name on it. We need to show them that we have strengths and weaknesses, that we overcome obstacles and more importantly we make mistakes. Let them question us when they feel unfairly treated, let them argue our methods of discipline and let them cynically analyze our lessons. Let’s empower our students to take ownership of their education and in doing so cement our relationships with them. For a lot of our students, their teachers may be the best role models they have, and for us to not show them that we make mistakes and can admit we make them would be doing them a disservice.

Sustainability

Don’t worry, this isn’t a post about how we have to clean up our planet, drive electric cars and minimize our dependence on oil and petroleum products. I should be honest though, its inspiration was rooted in a radio show about that very topic. I was driving to work and listenting to an argument about whether the strain the oil industry was putting on the environment was sustainable or not. On one side was an oil company firmly convinced that the amount of water they utilized from the river was a reasonably small amount of a huge water source, on the other side an environmentalist arguing that the strain put on the waterway would eventually lead to destruction.

Sustainability has been on my mind a lot lately, as I reflect on my career choice, but also as I look around at the members of our staff. We sure do ask a lot out of teachers, we ask them to teach our kids, model for our kids, care for our kids, protect our kids and when all of that is done we expect them to volunteer a little extra time to coach our teams, direct our plays, run an after-school club or lead a field trip.  With all we ask of our teachers, they step up, they do it and they do more. It is because teachers are willing to give so much that we continue to pile on more and more, ask them to know this, to learn about that, and we can at times lose sight of just how much they do for us.

It is easy to get excited about a new program or initiative, to want to implement new assessment strategies or pedagogical practices, even to offer every teacher-run extracurricular activity imaginable. We need to always consider what we are asking of our teachers and whether or not it is too much. As administrators we should help develop a direction for our buildings, but we need to focus on a reasonable, or sustainable, number of responsibilities we expect of our staffs. Our teachers, along with our education assistants, our secretaries, our librarians and our custodians, they are the river and we must be sure that the demands we place on them are sustainable.