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Subversion in Education: Twitter made me do it.

February2

The teaching community who utilise Twitter seem a pretty cheerful, innocuous bunch.  Ideas are mooted, resources are shared and encouragement is available by the bucket-load.

But appearances can be deceiving.  Scratch the surface, and the reality becomes clear…the ‘tweachers’ are, in fact, a bunch of  rabid revolutionaries, intent on the overthrow of ‘the system’ while ushering in a new world of educational anarchy. Check out what they’ve been up to:

Employees share trade-secrets and assist the ‘competition’ to get ahead by making resources and ideas freely available.

Employees access and interact with people whose ideas about the future of our business would have our company change wholesale structures, and even raze our business so that a new model can be enacted.

Employers coach employees from other companies to challenge and disrupt the thinking of their own leaders.

Accepted sectorial agendas are being progressively undermined by evidence and precedent from previously unheard of international competitors.

Employees are setting up rival companies and not-for-profits to support this radical new agenda.

Clients are being told to ask for more and to expect more.  Some employees are actively encouraging clients to go elsewhere for better services.

Pockets of revolutionary behaviour are sweeping the globe as employees ignore the priorities of their employers and implement their own work practices.  The little people are rising.

#bringthesubversion

Tweachers are a new breed…

March24

Every time someone else I know gets the Twitter bug, I get so excited.  I’ve come to realise that the reason I love Twitter so much is that it opens my world to so much more than the small interests and daily interactions and experiences of my world.  I am 100% certain that my professional and private life are better because of the people I’ve met and the ideas I’ve encountered through Twitter.  I think about broader topics and make links between people and ideas that I would never otherwise have considered.

This morning (Saturday morning!), one of the Home Ec teachers at my school emailed me to ask if she can start a Blog related to her classes (note to self: why did she feel the need to ask?  What have I not communicated/encouraged?).  Of course she can (Go get ’em, @JgeorgeJulie)! Even more exciting was her second email, that was CC’d to our English Coordinator (@JacDeola) and our Literacy/Numeracy Leader (@KateGready), and asked if we could do more to build spelling across the Curriculum…with a suggestion for how to go about it!

I put her enthusiasm down to the magic of Twitter.  While Julie is searching for information, connections and ideas about Home Ec, she is also encountering inspiring readings about literacy, thinking skills and the ways other schools are developing the learning experiences of their students.  Rarely a day goes by when I don’t sit down to a conversation with a staff member about something they learnt on Twitter the evening before.  We talk about various Tweeps (whom we don’t know in person) with great familiarity.  We swap “good follows” and remind each other to check out an article we retweeted.  We get excited for each other when someone gets a reply for a question they’ve asked (especially if it’s from one of our learning heroes).  Most importantly though, we talk about learning in so much and in so many  ways that simply didn’t happen before we all got involved in Twitter.  We look with pity on those who don’t know what we’re talking about…

As a Principal, I can’t help looking more favourably on those staff who are taking the time and effort to expand their world through their online connections.  I feel constant frustration that some teachers (and many of my Principal Colleagues) don’t/can’t appreciate how their own learning can be so enhanced by such a small effort, and I would love to have the courage to ask more people “do you think life-long-learning applies to everyone but you”?

 

PS: You can check out all the St Joseph’s Staff on Twitter: here

The Bingo Bonanza

October12

Over the last three weeks of Term 3, we played a Bingo game with our staff (the cards we have used for the last three years can be found here).  Over the three weeks, they had 15 tasks to be signed off.  These ranged from visiting classes (Science, PE, Home Ec, Maths) to spending time in the front office, or the library or in our Learning Enhancement centre.  Staff who managed to get everything signed off went into a draw for an iPad.  Cool stuff.

Today in our PLTs, we asked staff for feedback on their experiences.  Keep in mind that we did not set up any expectations for staff (we had hopes, but kept them to ourselves in the Leadership Team).  The feedback today exceeded our wildest expectations…

  • I loved being in other people’s rooms and seeing how they do things.  I learnt so much about how to do things better.
  • It was such a joy to see people “doing their thing”. Inspiring.
  • The kids really enjoyed having different teachers in the spaces with them.  They loved that we were playing a game, but that were were obviously enjoying it, and learning stuff at the same time.
  • It was great to see what amazing things our teachers are doing.  We forget that we have very inspirational people right here in our midst.
  • I could see that a number of our staff offer personalised learning already.  I have to get a move on.
  • We really have some talented people using ICT in amazing ways in this place.  Kids were teaching me how to use these different programs.  They were so proud.
  • Our Teacher Aides and office workers work really hard!
  • Teachers were saying “there’s nothing special going on in my room” but actually, their kids were doing amazing things…it had just become “normalised”.
  • If had forgotten our Chapel existed.  It was such a lovely blessing to just sit quietly in there for 20 minutes.  The light was gorgeous and the quiet just touched my heart.  I came out with tears in my eyes.
  • I enjoyed seeing the kids in different spaces, interacting with a different teacher.  That alone gave me some good ideas about how to work in my classes.
  • Bingo just opened the doors – people were talking about what they were doing in their classrooms ALL THE TIME.  The conversation in the staffroom changed!  Collaboration was really real.
This experience has been such a positive time for us.  We’ve decided to commit to it again next year, but in the interim, to end each morning briefing with the question: Does anyone have anything cool or interesting going on in their class today that others can visit?  There should be lots of fun, and more great learning ahead…

Top 10 things about 1:1 learning (from the kids)

May29

A group of my students are coming along with me this week to speak to the staff at another school about our experience of going 1:1.  Our students had their Macbooks for 18 months.  I’ll be speaking with the staff about taking control of their own Professional Learning so as to bring about the best opportunities in the classroom, and the students will be presenting their “Top Ten Things Teachers Should Know About 1:1 Classrooms” (which was their idea!).  The students are a group of 14-16 year-olds, and they constructed the list on their own.  Let us know what you think…

10. Powerpoint presentations are boring (to watch and to “create” for assessments)

9. Don’t make a big deal of kids playing games (we know we shouldn’t play in class, just deal with it the way you used to deal with “noughts and crosses”!).

8. Your can save trees!

7. Facebook exists…get over it!

6. Don’t use a program just because it’s there (X-mind looks cool, but it actually slows our brainstorming down)

5. Organisation matters (teach us how!)

4. We can learn anywhere.

3. Learning Management Systems are great (so use it consistently to link things together for us)

2. Communication Explodes (be ready for lots of email and messaging…)

1. Be Brave!  It doesn’t matter if you don’t get it all – we can learn together.

Pre-Service Teacher Training & 1:1

May7

This letter was recently sent to AITSL.  I also have CC’d it to a number of Principal colleagues (especially to those who lead various peak bodies) and some local University staff, for consideration.

I am writing to outline a growing concern I have about the preparation of pre-service teachers.  Before I move onto that matter, I would like to acknowledge that I received the National Professional Standards for Teachers with great enthusiasm, and see them as an important tool in the raising of ability and awareness within our profession.  Living in a “border town”, the benefits of a national body to oversee our profession are immediately evident.  Congratulations to all at AITSL for your great work in this area and similarly, for the development of the Principal Standards.

My reason for contacting you today is to flag my frustrations around the seeming ineptitude of teacher training bodies to develop courses that respond adequately to the reality of federally mandated DER 1:1 computer classrooms.  Indeed, my experience over the past two years (whilst we have been in the midst of the implementation of the “Digital Education Revolution”), is that Graduate Teachers have not experienced anywhere near sufficient preparation for the realities of 1:1 classrooms.  While the “Teaching Teachers for the Future” program is underway, I implore that Universities are urged to respond to these matters with great urgency and significant resources, as our profession, and the learning of our students, is greatly compromised by their failure to adequately engage in this matter.

As the Principal of a rural school that relies heavily on Graduates to maintain adequate staffing (this year we have 10 Graduates on staff, who have come to us from a variety of Institutions), it is nothing short of negligent that these young professionals have had inadequate (or often no) training in how to develop and plan for a 1:1 classroom. This includes, but is not limited to, a lack of exposure to web2 technologies, various operating systems, Online Learning Management Systems or any of the many other now commonplace tools used in our classrooms.  More importantly, their deeper understanding of how to enhance learning supported by technology is particularly lacking.

In speaking with our Graduate teachers, and hearing the experiences and concerns of my Principal colleagues, I do not believe that I am being alarmist: we genuinely have a problem in the curriculum and assessment of teacher training courses with regard to the use of ICT in the classroom for improved learning outcomes. It seems quite incongruous that we are being publically challenged to improve student performance (and have this reported on both MySchool & in VCE/HSC published league tables), but our early career teachers receive little training on how to bring this about with the fantastic electronic tools now available to them in the classroom. The consequences of this are:

(a) Schools are employing teachers who are not able to teach in 1:1 classrooms without significant support in curriculum development and implementation.  In secondary schools, where this is mandated, this is an enormous imposition.

(b) We are using valuable professional learning time to provide low-level exposure/practice sessions on some of the most fundamental ICT teaching tools.

(c) Graduate teacher stress levels are increased, because they have to learn how to teach in this different learning environment, in addition to the usual challenges of the first year of teaching (I note with concern recent reports about the amount of young teachers who leave our career within 2-3 years of their first appointment).

(d) Graduate teachers, instead of being the staff who come into the school and enliven it with new teaching practices and the latest research, are finding themselves behind their teacher peers in this incredible, and constantly changing new world of “powered-up classrooms”.

(e) Graduate teachers do not have the pedagogy knowledge or skills to build electronic or blended curriculums that enhance student learning.  With the advent of the Australian Curriculum, their usefulness in developing challenging and engaging courses is significantly compromised.

I note with considerable concern that even under the reality of the DER mandate for Years 9-12, Universities have not responded with any real appreciation of how much things have changed in the classroom.  Subsequently, the preparation and development of Graduates towards many of the AITSL Teacher Standards and Focus Areas is now almost wholly undertaken by the Graduate teacher’s first employing school.  Specifically, the standards I refer to are:

1.2 Demonstrate knowledge and understanding of research into how students learn and the implications for teaching.

  • The 1:1 classroom operates considerably differently from a traditional classroom, opening up a myriad of new ways for improving students’ learning, irrespective of their learner profile.
  • Graduates attest that they have encountered very little, if any, research and experience in the vagaries of 1:1 classrooms and the opportunities for learning.

2.6 Implement teaching strategies for using ICT to expand curriculum learning opportunities for students.

  • Many Graduates come to us with little experience beyond “Word” and “Powerpoint”.  Our students have no respect for these “low-level” skills in their teachers, expecting considerably more within their learning experiences.
  • Most Graduates do not have “technological resilience”.  It is wrong to assume that because they are young they “know what to do” and are confident “having a go”.

3.2 Plan lesson sequences using knowledge of student learning, content and effective teaching strategies.

  • 1:1 curriculums are much less likely to be sequential than traditional classrooms.  There is much greater scope for individualized learning.  Graduates may have been taught the theory, but not how to design courses for this reality.
  • Students tend to complete more work (output) in 1:1 classes.  Training for “rich” tasks over “many tasks” needs greater emphasis.

3.3 Include a range of teaching strategies in teaching

  • Training in Web 2 technologies and how/where to access online resources and programs is not an “optional-extra”.  It is the “bread and butter” of 1:1 classrooms

3.4: Demonstrate knowledge of a range of resources, including ICT, that engages students in their learning

  • See 3.3

4.5 Demonstrate an understanding of the relevant issues and the strategies available to support the safe, responsible and ethical use of ICT in learning and teaching.

  • Graduates should come to us with a good understanding of the incidence of, response to and consequences of: cyber-bullying, sexting and the reality of the online/electronic parent-adolescent relationship.  In my experience, this is not covered at all in teacher-training courses.

I would be most happy to discuss this matter in person, or to prepare a presentation for a gathering should you consider this necessary or relevant.  I am currently in conversation with relevant Faculty Staff at a variety of Universities, specifically in relation to their understanding and use of the “Teaching Teachers for the Future” program.  In time, I will seek meetings with other Universities.  I am very proud of the work of my staff and we welcome visitors to our College, especially those who seek to better understand the needs of students under the DER 1:1 provision.  We understand that is in all of our best interests for teachers and educational leaders to better understand the needs of 1:1 classrooms.

Specifically, the actions I would like to see taken are:

  • Federal and State Governments (especially their Education departments) are made aware of the significant shortfall in this area, and urge Universities to respond to the “Teaching Teachers for the Future” program with the upmost urgency and importance.
  • The Deans of Education are challenged to see this problem for what it is: a failure on their part to adequately develop courses that train young professionals for the career they are about to undertake.
  • That all Peak Education bodies are lobbied to take up this matter as a priority of urgency.

I look forward to hearing that AITSL is “on the front foot” with this matter and that Universities and other training bodies are taking seriously their responsibility to train teachers who are proficient in the needs of students…only then will we see the kind of PISA and NAPLAN results of which we can all be proud.

Kind regards,

Kate Fogarty.

Learning to Comment

February27

I’m lucky enough to be one of those Principals that has time to teach a class, and so this year, Year 10 Red & I will be exploring the Religion curriculum together.

Our first unit is a tough one: “Grief, Life and Death”, and the students have been blogging their experiences for assessment, but also to keep their friends and family up to date with what they’re up to in the classroom.

The purpose of this post is to give my students an opportunity to say how they’ve found the blogging process, and at the same time, get used to making comments about what others have said on their Blog.

So 10Red, the question is…what do you enjoy about Blogging your classwork AND what do you find challenging or unhelpful? I look forward to reading your responses.

Parents, Bullying & Facebook

November13

It seems that at every parent information night that we have held in recent times, the issue of parent monitoring of their son/daughter’s Facebook accounts has come up.  We encourage parents to have as much interaction with their child’s online activities as they do in their off-line ones, ensuring that their adolescent’s behaviour is safe and respectful.  To this end,we will soon be offering a parent night for those who don’t believe they understand enough about social media to really monitor what’s being said and done by their son/daughter online (better late than never…).

This year we’ve encountered a new phenomenon (well, new to us, anyway), of parents engaging in online arguments which involve their adolescent children.  We’ve had parents say extremely aggressive, abusive and offensive things on discussion boards and FB pages.  These parents utilise their own identity (ie. their own FB account) and appear to have no concern about confronting their child’s peers/bullies online, or joining the discussion/argument.  Sometimes, the issues concerned are remarkably trivial, but at other times, the online social and emotional war being waged concern very serious matters and allegations.

Interestingly, in our experience, the language and tone used by parents involved in these online arguments often reads more like another adolescent than those of a considered adult.  More alarmingly however, the defensive anger employed (“you hurt my child and now I will hurt/threaten/embarrass you”), which in the past, occasionally became apparent at the school gates or in the shopping center carpark, now appears to have a new platform.  Parents can attack and intimidate adolescents from the comfort of their own home.

We usually become aware of parents’ online engagement in student fights or bullying when those involved come to us with a print-out of the pages concerned.  We actively encourage students to print out online discussions which they find threatening and/or abusive.  When parents are involved in these matters, a resolution between students is usually much more difficult to achieve, but we stick to our goal of attempting to heal the relationships between the students as much as possible, so that they can both/all continue their education without this matter adversely effecting them (and obviously, we have a variety of process’ and programs in place to help achieve that).

How we handle the matter with the parents concnered is altogether more challenging.  The best I think we can do is to hear their concerns for their child (since it is the reason they became involved in the matter in the first instance), attempt to reassure them that a process is in place at school to help all parties reconcile their actions and move forward in a peaceable and respectful way, and then raise the matter of their involvement in the online argument/bullying, and how the matter might have been handled in a more appropriate way.  Ultimately, there are legal actions potentially (defamation, harassment, etc) at play here, and parents need to appreciate (as much as students do), that what is said on FB is not exempt such proceedings.

Parents have every right to be concerned about the wellbeing of the children, and where necessary, to become involved in the resolution of when issues emerge between peers.  Schools have an active role to play in building parent capacity  through access to programs, speakers, readings and sites which help them find ways of supporting their adolescent, and bringing matters of discord to resolution without further escalating the conflict.  In providing such opportunities for parents, schools are ultimately teaching students the tools to resolve conflict in respectful and peace-building ways.

When do you stop the drip feed?

September6

One year ago, we provided all of our teaching staff with Macbooks. Throughout the past twelve months, we have enabled a myriad of Professional Learning opportunities, with content ranging from “how to turn on your Macbook” (in the early days!), through to quite sophisticated sessions on various programs and their relationship to the development of Higher Order Thinking Skills in students.  At different times, we have revisited key ideas, hoping to bring our staff along the journey at a pace that works for them.  Reflecting on this journey, I now think we set the bar too low.

I have vivid memories of sitting in a classroom in 1985, surrounded by my friends, learning and playing on our Commodore 64s. We progressed to something called a “BBC” (that’s my entire memory about that machine), and the trusty Amiga 500, before entering the world of Windows.  By the time I left secondary school in 1992, I had spent the best part of four years completing all my major essays and assignments with the aid of a computer, which I could access both at home and at school: Mac or PC – it really didn’t matter, so long as the job got done at the end of the day!

This little trip down memory lane is all by way of saying that computers have been used in mainstream schools in Australia for over 25 years now.  How then, have some teachers escaped and/or avoided learning how to computers effectively for student learning…and how have some even managed not to pick up a few basic ICT skills?

Question: do we continue to facilitate PL opportunities for teachers who (after 25 years of computers in schools) still need lessons on how to utilise the most simple features?  Indeed, some teachers appear to have spent the best part of 25 years striving to avoid learning these skills, so I guess my frustration is really around the sort of “learning role-model” these people are for the young people in their classes.  What sort of attitude towards learning are they demonstrating in their classes, when their own skills do not demonstrably improve?

Are we wasting our time running PL sessions for those who don’t seem to want to learn, and refuse to acknowledge how learning can be enhanced by the amazing tools in their classrooms?  Indeed, if these professional educators are still dazzled by basic word-processing skills, where does that leave us?  When do we stop the drip feed, and expect these teachers to take responsibility for their own learning?  Leaving aside the avalanche of evidence that 1:1 classrooms create fantastic learning opportunities,  with a Federal Government mandate that all students in Years 9-12 must experience 1:1 learning, where are these teachers left…or left behind?

The Law of Diffusion of Innovation

September4

Many of you would now be familiar with the “Law of Diffusion of Innovation” and how we can use it as a Framework for working with teaching staff who are resistant or afraid of 1:1 technology in the classroom.  If it hasn’t crossed you screen, then I suggest you check out Simon Sinek’s “How Leadership Inspires Action” on the TED website, which provides details about the rates at which people will “buy into” an innovation.  Put simply, whenever the “next big thing” hits the scene, 2.5% of the population will get on board immediately, 13.5% will follow pretty quickly, not wanting to be left behind, 68% will come along in reasonable time, once the success and viability of the innovation has been tested by the early adopters, and despite everyone’s best efforts to convince them otherwise, the final 16% will lag behind, resisting change at every turn.

I found this Law played out remarkably well when considering my own staff, and their up-take of ICT in the classroom.  Judging by the positive response I’ve had a the last few conferences, it bears out in other school settings as well.  We used the Law to formulate our PD for developing the use of ICT in the classroom, acknowledging that people at the various stages of uptake have vastly different PD needs.  I have put a modified version of the PPT for this presentation here if you like to see some of the ideas we have developed, and the PD model that was subsequently created.

Here’s the thing though…last week I was working with a class I teach (or at least, “the class I try to make guest appearances in from time to time”).  This class belongs to one of our Year levels who won’t be getting their personal Macbook until January 2011 (which is the last phase of our roll-out).  I had the class logging onto their class wiki (using a class-set of laptops) when one student began banging her head on the desk in (what I can only assume was) mock exasperation:  “Miss, do we have have to use the computers…can’t I just write it instead?”  As I spoke with her a little more, I realised she didn’t just mean that she didn’t want to use the computer in that particular class, but that she didn’t want to “go 1:1” at the start of next year.  I took a deep breath and had a (somewhat late) moment of inspiration: the Law applies to our students as well!

I know it sounds silly, but I hadn’t considered this before…I had just assumed that all students would be jumping at the chance to work 1:1, and that there wouldn’t be any who had reservations.  I hadn’t been listening well enough.

In the coming weeks I’ll be mulling over this.  In responding, we need to distinguish between the students who are slower or less adventurous in their computer use because they have related learning difficulties, and those who might be in “go slow” mode because the imposed change to 1:1 technology really has pushed them beyond their comfort zone.  Maybe this particular student is a “one-off”, or maybe there are other factors which mean the Law doesn’t apply here.  Either way, it’s good food for thought.

iPrincipal Online

April25

It’s taken quite a while, and a few false starts, to get organised enough to begin a blog about my experiences as a Principal in a secondary school in Australia.  Like the leaders of all institutions, I know that it’s sensible to be reasonably guarded about one’s private opinions and thoughts.  A wayward comment can take on a life of its own – for good or for bad – without one having the slightest intention of it doing so.

I will be using this blog to share some of my experiences, and to test out a few ideas before I bring them into my school community, or into my professional networks.  I look forward to your feedback.

Like all school leaders, I have my bias’ and priorities.  At the moment, in the midst of the “education revolution”, I spend a good deal of my time seeking to better encourage the usage of ICT in the both the teaching and professional learning of my staff.  I don’t believe that Principals can delegate the leadership of this to others (although they need a fantastic support team to pull it off), because this is the single greatest opportunity facing us as educators.  Indeed, as Peter Senge has so masterfully argued for years, teachers who can’t or won’t engage with ICT will soon face irrelevance.   Those of us with an open heart and mind about adolescent learning reaslise this is already happening at an exponential rate.

How do I help my ICT resistant staff to understand that this is “do or die” stuff in terms of their career as educators?

I recently heard Senator Milne (of the Greens) speak about how the environmental lobby groups have come to understand that bombarding the general population with facts about our dire environmental state will only provoke short-term behavioural change, and not the wholesale metanoia which is required if we are to become a truly sustainable society.  Instead, environmentalists have a growing realisation that it is necessary to tap into peoples core values and beliefs, so that they can better understand that sustainable practices are congruent with the way they aspire to live their lives.

I suspect the same is true of ICT in the classroom.  Many teachers have seen the evidence that “powering up” the classroom improves student learning, but they have somehow not been convinced that their own teaching methodology (or the activities or assessments they use) have any real impact on the end result of student learning.  It’s a curious dichotomy, and one which leads me to question not whether or not these people can teach, but how interested they are in providing students with the best opportunties to learn?


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