John and Greg: we need more leaders like you!

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been thinking a bit about leadership and what it takes to lead genuine change in education. This isn’t an uncommon thing for a teacher to be thinking about these days, especially with so many examples of schools challenging the status quo for the singular purpose of providing better learning experiences and life opportunities for the young people in their care. My current rumination on leadership was prompted by my colleague who asked me if I read a certain edu blog. I said I didn’t, because I don’t read any blogs. She was genuinely shocked (bordering on dismayed) by my admission. It took me a little bit of self-reflection (like, 30 seconds, because otherwise I would have looked kinda odd to my friend who was waiting for my response) to work out what my reasoning is. For the first ten seconds I was certain it was egotism – not wanting to read anyone else’s blog because I have my own – and then I thought it was just because I’m busy – this can’t be true as I manage to tweet and fb and instagram and blog far too much for that to hold up – finally, in the five seconds before she would tell me I’m weird, I worked it out. I’m scared to read about the cool things others are doing because it makes me lament my own inability to do those things. I despair when I read about other teachers doing things that I know are impossible for me as a teacher to do – because of a range of restraints that my current edu context presents. Things like using iPads, BYOD, dynamic and flexible learning spaces, whole-school PBL and maker spaces… sigh, just writing about them makes me sad.

The reason that I’m writing this post is because I think it takes a certain type of gutsy, risk-taking, fuck you attitude as a leader to create an environment where whole swathes of educators are rethinking their role in the classroom. I think it takes real leadership to make a large group of adult professionals scared as hell. Yeah, that’s what a visionary leader does. They are immersed in contemporary ideas about learning, design, business and culture and they are enviably connected – both in digital spaces and in the ‘real world’. Frequently they are confronted by a new endeavour, idea or tool and they challenge their colleagues to grab it with both hands and adapt it to their specific educational context. I mean, they hound you, as a teacher, with the new, until you almost weep and beg for mercy. They throw out a vision with the hope that others can see it, envision it, embrace it and morph into something practical and real. This is the type of leader with whom you could happily read all the books and blogs in the world and never despair at a cool idea because you know that you could try it and if it failed, your failure would be held up as an example of awesome learning. Sigh… I’ll stop describing fantasies now, and get to reality. Really, I will.

For the few years I have seen two people become these leaders. They have different paths but I see that they have the same destination. John Goh is known, not only for his bright suits, but for his radical approach to leadership and his desire to change the very notion of ‘school’. I have watched him grow as a leader, from someone working insanely hard behind the scenes to change the very structure of his school, to someone who is actively advocating for other principals to follow his lead – not to copy his decisions – and to put the needs of students above all else. Greg Miller is perhaps less well known in edu circles, but charging forward on his own transformative journey in quite a visible and public way. Like John, Greg shares his ideas and experiences as a principal on his blog. His posts reveal a work in progress, an individual eager to change and challenge the current paradigm of education and to surrender biases and traditions to a new vision of education today. Every time he tweets me his latest blog post, I think, ‘Another one? He’s still at it? He hasn’t given up yet?’ I’m impressed. These days it’s SO easy to make small changes – surface changes – that make a school look as though it is forward thinking. Just like John, Greg has focused on the pedagogical as much as the physical and structural. Like John, he is treating his school like an experiment… that sounds awful, but it isn’t. What would be awful would be a leader who assumes that change is simply a new coat of paint and some new chairs, or a leader who assumes that once change has happened it has happened. No, having a leader who sees experimenting and movement and fluidity as integral aspects of a learning environment – for the students, teachers, parents, admin etc – is essential. Essential. Education is not immutable. No, no, no. We need leaders like John and Greg in education if we are going to have schools that we want our own children to attend. There are too many people playing it nice and safe out there and the only losers are the students. They learn from a safe model of teaching and learning that the best approach in life is one that is nice and safe. This is NOT the type of citizen we should be shaping. No, no, no. Daring and bold edu leaders birth daring and bold lifelong learners!

To learn more about these guys:

- follow John Goh on twitter or read his blog.

- follow Greg Miller on twitter or read his blog.

NB: I know that I’ve chosen two men as my examples of transformative, inspirational edu leaders. I know that there are likely just as many, if not more, female leaders out there who are on the level of these guys. This post isn’t about gender, but then again, everything is often about gender when there is such an imbalance in most parts of society. So, if you know of female leaders kicking ass as much as these two guys – public, catholic, private school, I don’t care – let me know so I can follow their journeys as well. Perhaps they aren’t sharing as publicly, or they’re not as well connected? A cynical slice of me imagines that perhaps female leaders are more reticent to challenge the established culture of a school and make the needed changes… I hope you prove me wrong.

 

Just another boring school project?

I’ve been unwilling to write a blog post for a week or so now … and that’s a big deal for me because I love writing my blog. I got a little bit grumpy by a post that I read about PBL and the suggestion that teachers create narrow questions and projects as a means to control student learning. You can read Ewan’s thoughts about PBL and design thinking here. His post hurt me and I found it hard to control my fury, unleashing a rather immature series of tweets about his post, and it made me feel heaps better. Ho hum, I am me.

But then I realised that what he did was awesome, it really challenged my way of thinking about ‘PBL’ (whatever that is) and how I approach being a teacher. This year has been chaos for me – in and out of class, feeling outta my depth with stuff – and I haven’t honed my students’ group-work skills as well as I would have liked. In fact, I’ve been controlling their learning all year. But is that such a bad thing? I really don’t know anymore. This year I’ve watched three year groups participate in a project that wasn’t very well designed and lacked the embedded skill-development, planning and reflection needed to ensure a project’s success. The projects weren’t terrible, they were just very loose and I’m not sure learning outcomes were achieved. Learning outcomes?! Yes – that is something that we teachers are responsible for. Like it or not. I would suggest that we teachers would be rather lax in our roles as education professionals if we just threw outcomes out of the window, tossed kids a problem and then hoped that they learnt something relevant to our subject as they grapple with it.

What people on the ‘circuit’ selling products to educators forget is that we high school teachers are subject specialists. You might wanna kill us, but we won’t die easily. I know I joke and say ‘let’s kill the teacher’ but really I have so much respect for educators who are P.A.S.S.I.O.N.A.T.E about their subject – why not share your expertise and been seen as an expert? Doesn’t mean young people can’t be in control of their learning – the pace, the form, the direction. I know this blog post is crazy untidy and directionless, but I’ll just leave you with this … if the projects that I set for my students are ‘just another boring school project’ well at least I help make their learning visible every day in class. My role is to help them see where the might get to and why it might be worth getting there. So there.

Oh, and here are some ‘narrow’ projects that I have ‘designed’ and will ‘teach’ for the next three weeks. You might see them as heavily teacher-directed, and you’re right – they are. And I like it that way – it’s appropriate for this point in my students’ learning careers.

How to survive #ISTE12: An Aussie teacher’s guide (Pt 1)

I just wanna say this so you know how crazy I am – this is going to be my second time at an ISTE conference. Yup – I’m a repeat offender. This year I don’t even have the excuse that I’m being forced against my will to attend by the peeps at edmodo … nope, I’ve taken it all upon myself to return to the big ol’ US of A to attend this massive edtech conference. So, now that you know I am a totally experienced guide, lol, I will give you some tips on how best to survive a conference that has around abouts 13,000 attendees!

OK, OK … I’ll stop being a knob and just write this damn blog post … apologies to those of you who may have accidentally found this post thanks to the google gods.

Last year ISTE was in Philadelphia – that’s right across the other side of the country from its location this year in San Diego, so keeping that in mind my advice may be somewhat less valid. I guess we’ll all know in a little under two weeks time! Regardless, this conference is going to be just as massive as it was last year and I really think there are a few things worth knowing before you embark on your #ISTE12 mission.

1. Pack your lunch!

Picture 13,000 tired and hungry teachers all swarming on the foodcourt at your local Westfields and you’ve got a pretty good image of what it’s like at ISTE come lunchtime. Last year we were lucky enough to be located across the road from the epic Reading Terminal Markets … and I mean epic! That place is huge and full of so many different food choices – think Patty’s markets x10. Despite its size Andy McKiel and I still had to literally cram our way through teacher bodies in order to find a relatively uncrowded stall to get something to eat – I think I ended up at a grocers and got almonds and a juice. I only ventured into the markets once – I learnt my lesson. My best tip is to eat a big breakfast – regardless of how giddy you are with excitement or nerves – and then pick up a snack like nuts, chips or a cookie and a drink from a deli or street cart on the way (I don’t know what the West Coast equivalent is – maybe a 7/11 or something?) and pack it in your bag. There is so much happening at this conference that you don’t want to be taking two hours for lunch – you know you’re going to miss something cool. Oh, and yes, there are coffee stands/shops inside the convention centre itself but the lines will be endless … I’m not a coffee drinker, so maybe you’ll think waiting 40 minutes for a coffee is OK. I don’t.

2. Dress casually and bring an extra layer

Like all convention centres, this one will have some super-sized air-conditioning system which most likely will be pumped to the max. All those teacher bodies huddled together in one space means we’ll need heaps of fresh air cycling through the place. Even though it was summer, I still found myself wearing jeans, a shirt and a cardigan – until I got me edmodo hoodie from the crew and then that became the staple, haha. I remember seeing John and Lucia almost blue from cold at the edmodo stand in the exposition hall - the aircon was super powerful in there! So pack a jumper or something lighter to cover your arms. And of course wear sensible shoes – if you’re presenting at some point and you wanna wear your heels, just pack some sneakers in a bag for later. The Philadelphia Convention Centre spans something like three city blocks and if it wasn’t for Andy I would never have found a single session I needed to attend – the whole place was disorienting and trying to navigate it, combined with the distance makes for very tired teachers. Many a time I just stood still looking bewildered, catching the sight of many others like me … those who have given up and made the decision to park their butts on the ground and rest a bit. No joke – teachers are a resourceful bunch and will make use of what they can get. So I truly do suggest that you’ll need some seriously comfy shoes – I suggest Chuck Taylors. They served me well and will again.

3. Friends – get some!

Whilst I was fully determined to go solo at ISTE last year – cos to be honest I didn’t know a damn sole and am not that big on asserting myself socially – but I was so very, very thankful to have found a true buddy in fellow edmodo-geek, Andy McKiel. The whole experience is quite literally overwhelming and at times threatens to break one’s spirit … how can there be so many teachers? So much to know? So much to learn? So much to do? So much to share? And so many bloody rooms to navigate! Having someone to share this experience with just makes it all the more special – and pretty much makes it manageable and enjoyable. I’m sure there was many a time when poor Andy hoped that I would forget his twitter handle so I couldn’t locate him the next day, lol. Of course if you are travelling to ISTE12 solo then I recommend rocking past the Newbies Lounge or the Bloggers Cafe and just striking up a conversation with someone else who looks equally bewildered. If you’d prefer you might just plonk yourself down next to a fallen teacher body on the floor – I’m sure he/she would love to see someone smile at them! (The pic below shows how Andy and I entertained ourselves towards the end of ISTE11 – trying to get our tweets on the screen in the Newbie Lounge, haha!)

4. Vote with your feet

A massive difference between ISTE and Aussie conferences is how the program works. You don’t need to pick your sessions in advance – no need to book a seat unless it’s a paid session. This means that the system is pretty much ‘first in best dressed’ which is cool, I reckon, but also means you need to get in early to the popular sessions. Problem is, how do you know if a session is going to be a popular one? The biggest indicator is – no duh – the presenter and his/her popularity. There are some obvious edu-stars who always draw a crowd for two reasons – they have something good to say and they say it well. A few names to keep your eyes out for:

Vicki Davis, Dean Shareski, Steve Hargadon, Roger Pryor (who is pictured below with his guitar during his presentation at ISTE11), Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach, Suzie Boss, Kevin Honeycutt, Tony Vincent, Shannon Miller, Beth Still, Steven Anderson, Dayna Laur, Peggy Sheehy, Ewan McIntosh, Joyce Valenza, David Warlick, Alan November, Steve Dembo, Will Richardson, Chris Lehman, Gary Stager, Ian Jukes, David Thornburg.

Last year I sat down in my very first ISTE session titled something like ‘Connectivism in the 21st century’ – title sounds naff to me now, haha. Anyway, I was keen on the idea of connectivism but as soon as I sat down (in a massive room about four times the size of my school hall!) and heard the speaker say ‘OK, twitter – this is a micro-blog for social networking …’ I started to panic. I looked around at the iPad-powered teachers in the room and started to sweat a little. Is this really the innovative USA? I felt trapped. But after a quick tweet of panic I was assured that I could vote with my feet at ISTE and leave a session I didn’t like – with a smile you are likely to get into another session, as long as it’s not full. That’s pretty cool – no need for a daggy little ticket, you just cruise on in. Mind you, you might find yourself a little lost if you don’t plan your itinerary a little bit before hand … and don’t follow my lead by writing it on your hand, haha:

5. Steer clear of the exposition hall unless you’re at ISTE just for the schwag bag

Of course this is why many people are at ISTE. For so many of these teachers they are sent to this conference each year to get a tick next to the letters PD. And that’s cool. For them the expo hall is the place to be – it is like a sea of freebies. You can come out of this hall like Santa at the beginning of Christmas Eve – a giant bag of shirts, edu tech gadgets, pamphlets and assorted freebies all emblazoned with the name of the latest, hippest edutech start-up. I think people spend their whole four days in this place … you could and still have missed a stand! I guess I’m biased – a lot – but I reckon that the edmodo stand is the best … haha. Drop by and say G’Day to Betsy and the crew. The people who man these stalls work SO hard that by the end of the four days they are usually without a voice (from giving their spiel over and over again) and getting a cold from the air-conditioning.

6. Come a day early and check out the pre-ISTE stuff

ISTE officially opens on the Sunday afternoon with the opening keynote. This year we have been promised Sir Ken – but I’m skeptical as to whether he will be there in person. Last year Stephen Covey was amazing as a keynote – but he was on a giant screen, beamed in from some sunny local. That’s OK … but how cool would it be to say you were in the same room as Sir Ken? Anyway did you know that there are a bunch of events on before the official opening? Check out the ISTE Unplugged site to find out about some of them. I’m keen to attend SocialEd Con – but I’ll have to run it by the family and see if I get approval first. You can also keep up to date with coinciding events by following the official hashtag #ISTE12.

OK … just realised how long this post is already so I’m going to break it into two parts. Your next thrilling installment will look at: closing keynote, bloggers lounge/ poster sessions, what tech to bring, after-parties and the ISTE Down-Under Daily (or some bloody name I haven’t thought of yet!).

Stop teaching!

Did I get your attention?

Great.

I know this is nothing new to those of you who read my blog, but I just wanna say it anyway.

Teachers too often think about themselves.

Well I know I’m a grand-old hypocrite because after all this blog is named after me and is pretty much all about me. Feel free to add your thoughts about my ever-expanding ego as a comment below.

Right now, I’m concerned with the fact that teachers are doing all of the learning and leaving students to be passive receivers. We here all of this talk about passive and active learners. We are told that active learning = doubleplus good and passive learning = doubleplus ungood.

And then we see all of the beautiful resources teachers make for their students.

We see videos.

We see powerpoints.

We see websites.

We see blogs.

We see podcasts.

We see apps for iPhones and iPads.

We see games.

We see worksheets.

Teachers are talented, creative, knowledgeable … they show their students this all of the time.

Students are talented, creative, knowledgeable … we don’t let students show this to us all of the time.

When the new curriculum hits our shores teachers will run to create new programs and resources or they will run to access new programs and resources created by other educators.

Why don’t we just let the students be the creators?

Student as teacher.

Cool.

Orwell’s influence … prose like a windowpane

So Orwell did it. And I wanna give it a go. At the outset I know I’ll fail, for clear reasons known to me and those who know me.

I want to write a little something everyday, reflecting on what my mind was doing and where it went.

A talk by philosopher David Chalmers on consciousness, artificial intelligence and technology really got me thinking about how damn crazy amazing our brains are. I mean, it’s not like I haven’t thought about it before – but his very brief discussion of the brain’s structure and how ours are so uniquely designed (and I use that verb VERY loosely)  as to enable consciousness (not just intelligence) REALLY got me thinking about the need for us to take full advantage of its possibilities. I was fascinated by Chalmers’ suggestion that some day we might be reconstructing the minds of people based on the words, images and recording left behind. Orwell left an extensive legacy or words, a handful of images and absolutely no sound recordings at all. Imagine a reconstructed Orwell? Orwell wrote a diary everyday – something which has become the basis of a pretty neat project to share his mind musings with the world online – check out Orwell’s blog here.

Well as I’m currently not doing Orwell or Chalmers any justice, I will just start with my first attempt at recording my mind for today. Like I said at the outset, I will most likely fail at my goal to be like Orwell and in the (very) vain hopes of transposing my mind to print. Life intervenes.  I don’t envision sharing personal thoughts about personal experiences although these will inevitably creep through like ants into the picnic food.

TODAY:

Waking early today I found myself checking my phone before I had even checked the weather. Is this normal? Most likely not. I checked a range of small coloured icons, discovered a trickle of new information related solely to me and then attempted to return to sleep. A futile task, I found myself boiling the kettle and contemplating blogging about my school’s Maths faculty. So I will.

Our Maths faculty has been (I think) the last faculty to embrace technology for student-centred learning (I specify here because they do have IWBs and projectors in classrooms). It’s probably the same in many schools, and might have been the same in some universities too. I wonder why though, at my school, when the faculty is lead by a devoted, passionate and engaging teacher. The practicality of the day-to-day as well as issues relating to teacher-control essentially formed a ‘fog of impossible’ that lay over the faculty. Yet on Friday the Maths-teacher’s smile in my direction told me that the fog had lifted a little. She came and told me about an execl spreadhseet task that had been set for all of Year 10. It was to be turned in via edmodo! Haha! A win for the kids … Will this task instantly engage each student and help them to succeed in Maths for the rest of their life? No! But what it has done, it has shifted the way of thinking slightly from traditional to the alternative. I sit in awe that this change has occurred and am reminded that I was told two and a half years ago to be patient.

Change will happen.

It just takes time.

 

Mythic Classroom – update

A couple of weeks ago I made the decision to transform my classroom into a 21st century learning space with NO budget. My inspiration was the mythic learning spaces of watering hole, campfire and cave. See me post here.

So how did my students respond?

Well, as per my post, my Year 7 students were responsible for the actual design of the space, so once could imagine that they would revel in it. Not so … they LOVE the open space that the arrangement provided at the front of the room – giving space for circle-time and whole-group discussions (campfire time). What didn’t work very well was the division of some students in ‘watering holes’ and some in ‘caves’ – my room was still inflexible when ‘set’ in a specific layout.

What a classroom needs is flexibility of space and furniture. Instead of the design ‘owned’ by Year 7, what has manifested is an ever-changing, dynamic learning environment. I have become far more relaxed in my approach to classroom furniture being moved – in fact, I’ve changed entirely as I now actively encourage my students (nay, require) them to move the furniture to suit the learning experience they will be involved in during our lesson.

My room at the moment still has the centralised green mat (this is our campfire) and has 5 groups of 6 tables. Year 7 and 8 are working on PBL projects (Year 7 is Shakespeare, Year 8 is Burton and Shakespeare) so the groups works well for this. Year 12 are working in a combination of the three mythic spaces (campfire, watering hole, cave) so the tables move often at the beginning of their lessons. The campfire mat has become a much loved space as the students gather together for informal circle-time as well as initial whole-class discussions regards what will be covered in each lesson and the learning goals for each group and individual.

I’m really happy with my new approach to learning spaces. I do hope that in the future more schools will be approaching learning spaces in a far more flexible and student-centred/learning-focused way.

How is your classroom looking these days?

Day #1 as Master Teacher

This is the first in (hopefully) a series of blog posts that allow me to reflect on my experience as a ‘Master’ teacher.

OK – so confessions first. I’m not actually a ‘Master’ teacher. Dammit – the label I’ve been given is ‘co-operating teacher’. Doesn’t have the same ring, does it? Oh well … up a rung, down a rung. I’m a teacher – I face that every day.

Today was the first day of my prac student’s 5 week prac with me. I have to admit that I am both excited and terrified having her with me. She really has shown herself to be a wonderfully intelligent and insightful individual – she will be a real asset to the teaching profession. I’m really impressed that she has chosen to share those qualities with young people – I know they’ll benefit immensely from her guidance. What scares me is that I am the one who has been given the job of modelling how to be a good teacher. Anyway, I’ve blogged on my anxieties before – so I’ll move on.

My student arrived before me this morning and was waiting patiently in the English staffroom – strike 1 to me, point 1 to prac student. We had a meeting first period with my Ht of T&L to discuss the schools plans for DER in 2011. Aha – my time to shine! It was a really great conversation – open and honest – reflecting my own maturation and increasing confidence when it comes to discussing my opinions on the future of a school that I have invested 6 years of my life into. My student was gorgeous – she smiled and nodded, took notes and made suggestions. (She told us that at uni the teachers use a variety of learning spaces and this can become very confusing for students – thanks goodness we have invested time into edmodo early on!) Point 1 to me!

OK – I’m just kidding with the sporting metaphor – it’s no competition between us. I’ve used it to draw your attention with the problems many pre-service teachers and ‘master’ teachers find – the need to establish ‘roles’ of superior and inferior. It’s not going to work with me because I am at surface level a disorganised and frantic individual who constantly looks as though she has no clue of what;s happening around her. No one is going to believe me if I don the ‘I’m more experienced so do as I say, not as I do’ mantra.

During my Year 7 lesson as I was encouraging the students to reflect on the purpose of the opening to ‘Shrek’ my prac student confidently pointed out that the composer was foreshadowing the plot of the film. She introduced the students to the concept ‘foreshadowing’ with confidence and ensured all students understood through analogy. It was a wonderful thing to see.

During Year 11 my students worked on individual reading and writing tasks based on The Big Sleep allowing a brief moment of discussion about my prac student’s experience with the novel (she studied it in Year 12) and her offering to bring in her materials on the novel – awesome!

After the chaos that is Year 10 period 5, we had a chat about how she would tackle period 5 on a Monday with a big class of lower ability Year 10 students. She had some great ideas and I’m looking forward to watching my students participate in Debate Pin-Pong.

In conclusion, today was a great day for my teaching development. I was given the opportunity to briefly glimpse how good this young woman will be as a teacher. We had a couple of detailed conversations about my classes that I rarely get a chance to have with other teachers.

Day 1 – success!