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.


Marshmallow Towers? It’s Staff Development Day, again!

So I think I’ve decided what it is that I will be doing on Staff Development Day for Term 3. I think I have …

I was inspired by a keynote at the Office of Schools Conference last week. We were shown a video of a TED talk by Tom Wujec who explains how he uses the Marshmallow Challenge to encourage reflection on the nature of collaboration and innovation. The TED talk can be viewed here. There is also an official site for the challenge that can be viewed here.

Like many other delegates, I was inspired to bring the Marshmallow challenge to my staff. I mean, it just looks like heaps of fun – but I also ‘get’ what it’s teaching the participants.

As you probably already know (and if you don’t, just check out my last couple of posts) I have been feeling unsure as how to best approach teacher professional development. I feel that I have taken the ‘inspirational’ angle as well as the ‘stand and deliver’ angle as far as they can go. I’m up to the ‘let’s play’ stage of our collective shift from 2oth century teachers to 21st century educators. I want to engage my learners – I want them to be active. So far it’s been entirely passive and often this results in ‘OK. cool – but I don’t think I could do that. I wish I could, but I know I can’t’. I’m going for risk – force them to confront the awkward moment when you know something must be produced – kids get this often. As teachers, we forget.

I’m going to plan this one proper, just like (I think) I was told to at uni.


Students develop an understanding of:

  • why technology is a useful tool to enhance learner engagement
  • why technology is a useful tool to enable communication between learners
  • why technology is a useful tool to enable collaboration between learners
  • why technology is a useful tool to enable and encourage creativity
  • which software applications and web 2.0 applications can be used for the above
  • the power of group work (collaboration) to enhance learner engagement
  • the need for facilitation over straight instruction
  • the benefits of the Tight Loose Tight strategy for blended learning

Teacher will:

  • instruct learners on the outcomes of the lesson (see above)
  • explain the purpose of blogs
  • explain/demonstrate how to access BlogED
  • explain/demonstrate the use of edmodo as a communication/collaboration/reflection tool
  • explain the purposeful use of mobile phones in the classroom
  • explain the rules of the Marshmallow Challenge
  • assist learners by walking and talking to students as they work
  • facilitate reflection and discussion at the close of the workshop

Learners will:

  • listen to trainer instructions re: blogs and tasks
  • watch video on blogging
  • work together in cross-faculty groups to create towers made from marshmallows
  • take photographs of their towers on mobile phones
  • send photos to DERvice via bluetooth, mms/email
  • post photos of Marshmallow towers to DER edmodo group
  • create a simple blogED blog reflecting on process of creating tower – can use video – OneNote, audio – audacity, images – mobiles phones, text, comic strip – toondo etc
  • post a link to their blog on edmodo for other learners
  • comment on other group blogs
  • vote on best tower (tallest, ugliest, most creative, biggest fail) using polls on edmodo


1. Bianca’s brief intro – explaining connect, collaborate, create (again) as well as Tight Loose Tight (5-10 mins)

2. Watch blog video (5 mins)

3. Hand out ‘Marshmallow Tower Kits’ and explain rules of the project. (5 mins)

4. Explain outcomes of the task – not just the tower but the blog post w/ multimedia and edmodo posts. (5 mins)

5. Groups work on their project. (30-40 mins)

6. Awarding of prizes. (10 mins)

7. Reflection in the form of group discussion and posts on edmodo applying this to their classrooms. (until bell)

So, what do you think? I haven’t been brave enough to add up the minutes – lol. I think it’ll be too optimistic. I just want teachers of different creative and technical competencies to work together. I want to break down the barriers. I want them to play. I want them to see that learning can be fun.

Will this work or can you see MASSIVE holes in my planned presentation?

PS: I know this isn’t the direction I was going in the other day, lol.

The Dream Workshop

I have been given one and a half hours to present to our staff on day #1 next term. My title? DER.

Hmmm … what would you like to see and/or do for an hour and a half on the first day back to school? Be as creative as you like, but you must keep in mind a couple of things:

1. the focus is technology in education

2. hands-on is a must

3. sharing or showing would be good too

4. must be fun and inspiring – I want them to feel/appreciate/see why blended learning is the future of education!

Go for it!

The Teacher-leader Conundrum

If you have read my previous post, you will know that in two days I will be presenting at the Office of School’s Conference – Engaging Learners Through Innovative Practice. I was encouraged to submit and EOI for this conference by a twitter colleague, Ben Jones. Having spent a lot of time communicating with a fellow English teacher and twitter colleague, Troy Martin, I asked Troy to co-present with me on leading the implementation of the Digital Education Revolution at our schools. I found writing the EOI difficult, but was pleased (and nervous) that it was ultimately accepted.

(NOTE: If you want to ignore my ramblings, and help out a teacher-leader in need, scroll to my last paragraph! 😉 )

My vision for the conference was simple – share our experiences, our strategies and our visions for the future. Simple, right? Well, no. I created a PowerPoint (I personally loathe watching PPs but felt it was the best mode of delivery for me, using it as mostly timed slides, like a ‘movie’ with lots of images and short prompts for us to talk to) and shared it on twitter and this blog via SlideShare. I got feedback. It was positive. I felt content. Then I started to think, really think.

And then I read a series of twitter posts by my PLN nobility, Kelli McGraw, Jan Green, Tony Searl, Darcy Moore and Jacqueline Woodley. The focus was on leading change – just how can leaders encourage teachers to change from 20th century education model, to a 21st century education model?

Reading kelli’s blog post really cemented a position I had been edging towards in the last few weeks – at what point to I ‘let go’ and allow teachers to learn independently. How much professional development should I ‘deliver’ to teachers? Is being an enthusiastic and energetic promoter of blended learning enough? What level of change/adaption can I expect from my colleagues?

Kelli and Jan lead me to Roger Pryor’s blog post on leading from behind. It is odd how things come together at pivotal moments. Roger’s quotes from Mandella had a powerful effect on me. It reminded me of a video that Troy showed me via a skype chat one night many months ago – it’s in our presentation – Leadership Lessons from the Dancing Guy. I am lucky. I was a lone nut that was nourished by her environment, given time and resources to explore the changes in education that technology is facilitating. And then, through a combination of hard work, passion and sheer luck I attracted a handful of first followers. BUT I have let them down – I have failed to nourish them in return, failed to guide them, to grow them, to support them.

I’d like some help from my PLN and my new readers – how can I become a better leader now that I have surpassed the lone nut phase. I have shown them what is possible and why. Where to now? I feel change is important, but perhaps I have neglected focusing on why it is important. I need to refocus on outcomes – what is it that teachers desire from their learners. How do they do this now and how can technology be used to enhance this? Each teacher needs to be asked ‘why change what I’m doing’? How can I encourage MY learners (the teachers) to engage with this question honestly? How can I make it fun and meaningful when teacher time is so precious?

Thanks in advance. I present this Thursday.


Office of Schools Conference

This week is going to be a big one for me. I can’t decide what’s bigger – presenting at a BIG conference, the Office of School’s Engaging Learners Through Innovative Practice Conference (say that with a mouth full of marbles!) OR meeting the heart of my twitter PLN face to face for the first time. If this seems like an odd conundrum for a young(ish) teacher to be in, then you should have a look at the slides for my presentation with Troy Martin – DER Leadership: A Genuine Learning Revolution. This should help you appreciate just how essential ‘Back-Up’ is for those wanting to lead change in education. My twitter PLN are my dynamic learning environment. I quote myself (hahah … laughing at myself) ‘twitter is essentially immersive learning – it’s fun, it feels good, but you learn tonnes of stuff’. And i don’t lie – promise, cross my heart and stick a needle in my eye!

I would love it if you could check out the slideshow Troy and I have created for the OOS conference and give us some feedback. Even better, if you could add a comment about how YOU think it is best to lead change in an educational setting we would love to share these with our workshop attendees. Oh, and whilst you’re at it, check out the awesome prezi that Darcy Moore has put together for his presentation on Blogs in Education – it’s great! You can see it here.

D.E.R. Leadership – A Genuine Learning Revolution

A Vision for the Future: NSR Think Tank

Last Thursday and Friday I had the privilege of attending the second annual Northern Sydney Region Think Tank. The focus this year was on the ways in which schools in our region have implemented the Digital Education Revolution, as well as looking towards the future for our region as champions of blended learning.

The program line-up was appealing, featuring a keynote by Professor Martin Westwell – a prominent academic in the field of education and technology and currently director of the Flinders Centre of Science Education in the 21st Century. I was also looking forward to Friday’s program featuring Stu Hasic and Ben Jones – both very active contributors to DER in NSW, as well as valuable members of my Twitter PLN.

It was flattering to be given the opportunity to attend the NSR Think Tank as I am not technically an ‘executive member’ of my school. I am not a principal, deputy or a head teacher – I am an English teacher who has been given the role of leading DER in our school. Being of such ‘lowly’ status scared me a little, but I needn’t have worried. Everyone was equally keen to share their experiences and learn new things, regardless of their status. The two days for me were characterised by networking with great educators, thinking about education in new ways, witnessing how other schools have implemented DER in their own idiosyncratic manner and thinking about where I am heading in the future with DER within my own school and beyond.

The journey to Macquarie University’s Graduate School of Management was arduous – bumper to bumper traffic when you’re new to driving manual is a tense time. I arrived with a cramped right calf muscle and shaking hands – but the clutch survived! I will briefly diverge from my intellectual path to get out of the way what most people look forward to at a two-day conference – food and amenities. Both were fantastic – the food was beautifully presented with plenty for everyone and the Graduate School is gorgeous. There were no issues with technology and we were all pleased (for the most part) with the speed of the internet. It really was a delight to be there for the two days.

Over the course of the two days we heard from representatives from six different schools in our region. Each speaker focused on once successful aspect of DER within their school. This was a really important inclusion for the program and contributes further to the breaking down of the ‘edu-walls’ between schools in the Northern Sydney Region. All too often schools become education islands floating in a sea of syllabi, curricula and standards.  Listening to the wonderful things happening at other schools in the Northern Sydney Region, it became clear that strengthening connections between us all would contribute significantly to the implementation and success of DER.

I was given the opportunity to speak briefly to the attendees on the Friday and chose to focus on our school’s use of edmodo as a virtual learning environment and a communication platform for teacher and classes, teachers within faculties, teachers within the school and teachers in different parts of the state. I demonstrated how to quickly and easily register as a teacher and to join a group – I set up a NSR Think Tank group that I hope will become a hub for communication and collaboration in the future. (Yes, I have high hopes for the connectivity of NSR in the future!) I also briefly spoke about the ‘DER: Lunch and Learns’ that I have run this term to help teachers with their use and integration of technology into the classroom. Other school presentations included:

  • a TSO speaking about buying tablets, webcams and headphones for classroom use
  • a TAS teacher speaking about his new Food Technology unit that required students to use Audacity to create radio ads for their food product,
  • an English HT reflecting on his collaborative projects with other high schools to create OneNote based boys education units of work
  • a Visual Art teacher speaking about her new unit on Portraits that requires students to use digital cameras and Adobe Premiere Elements to create video poems using ‘found’ words
  • a deputy principal speaking about their student mentor program in which student ‘DERmentors’ meet weekly to investigate digital technologies to be used in the classroom and share this knowledge with teachers
  • a teacher who created weekly ‘From the Helpdesk’ newsletters to keep teacher informed with the latest news on DER, ways of integrating digital technologies into the classroom and organising teacher technology mentors and mentees
  • technology leaders who organised a program to prepare Years 7 and 8 for DER by focusing on programs, applications and skills that they will need in Years 9 and 10
  • a principal explaining his focus on ensuring there is not an uneven use of technology across KLAs through a series of teacher interviews and program rewrites with DER in mind

It is easy to see how the above range of experiences and ideas can be readily adopted by other schools in the region. I for one am excited about developing our school’s DERmentors program with a colleague as well as continuing with the Davo DER eNewsletter and organising for more of our keen staff to participate in formal and informal professional development.

The best thing I got from the two days was the new connections with other teachers in the region. I have connected with a number of these educators already via edmodo and hope to seek others out to do so also. Taking inspiration from the wonderful work or Roger Prior and Phillipa Cleaves in the Hunter Central Coast Region, I am enthusiastic about the prospects of developing a region that functions as a connected and collaborative unit. Fingers crossed – watch this space.

Staff Development Days …

Today was another one of those often dreaded days … staff development day.

In the last 12 months Staff Development Day has had new meaning for me. With the introduction of the Digital Education Revolution, I was given my first taste of presenting to my peers. The first experience (I can’t even remember what I presented on) proved anxiety inducing: sweaty palms, heart palpitations … the lot! I found it much harder to present in front of my peers than in front of students.

So how do I overcome my anxiety?

I try to focus hard on the people speaking before me. I take a great deal of notes and I find this really keeps my mind from the task ahead. Of course this is not always possible – sometimes no one is on before me. So what do I do then? Hold the hand of a colleague – literally. I find that it makes me think about how they’re feeling and that diverts my attention. Finally, if I don’t have anyone around me to hold my hand, then I write a list of what I have to say or I chat to people near me.

Presenting to your peers is daunting – but what I’ve realised is that the nerves disappear the more and more you present. I still get a little jittery, but I overcome it eventually and the excitement of sharing something new with my colleagues and friends ultimately dominates.

What presentation style/teaching strategy did I use to ‘teach the teachers’?

For me, being humble and silly is the best approach. It’s the same style I use with my classes. I mix this up with (what I think is) sound knowledge about my topic and easy to understand instructions. I always show an inspiring or funny video that breaks up the ‘me-ness’ about the presentation. The video is always embedded into the DER edmodo group as this positively models the use of edmodo to the teachers – reminding many to check the site to see what new resources have been uploaded. I always use tech to support me – using tools that teachers are both familiar with and unfamiliar with. Finally, I ask my audience questions. Mostly these are closed-questions designed to give instant gratification to the group (they all know the answer) but I’ll also include a couple of open-ended questions (but often it’s hard to create a genuine discussion with a limited presentation time – sad, but true).

Presenting to your colleagues, I believe, encourages you to consider best teaching practice. I am constantly questioning the effectiveness of my presentation style and the design of my material. The problem I constantly face with staff ‘PD’ is the limited time I am given. As much as I would love to use a more playful and active mode of delivery, it simply is impossible in a 15-30 minute block. Ideally a half-day of PD is necessary to allow for delivery of simple instruction on tool, time to play, discussion/thought about application in the classroom and then sharing of these ideas via group discussion with colleagues. A quick and effective alternative to 1/2 day PD was designed by Ben Jones, what he refers to as 15 minutes play (more on this in a moment).

I was asked to present on DER at our SDD today. I was given 1/2 an hour. With little chance of getting any hands-on PD happening in that time, I was feeling a little unsure of what good I would be standing at the from of the room. One of the benefits of being part of a twitter PLN is that I am contantly re-evaluating my teaching practice -and this goes for my presentations to staff. The 21st education model sees a dramatic (and necessary) shift away from the teacher as filler of empty pails, to teacher as fire-lighter on the side (some of my more academic colleagues refer to this as ‘facilitating’). As a consequence I feel uncomfortable standing at the front of a room in front of 60 adults ‘telling’ them how technology should be integrated in their classrooms. That’s not really my ‘role’ as the DER person at school (yep, I’m pretty sure that is what my title is ‘DER person’ … not too Romantic, but oh well!) … I’m just there to show some cool stuff and help those who might be stuck or feeling scared.

After thinking long (and probably not very hard) about what I should present, I decided that I would use the time to let the staff know what the plans were for the DAGs (Davo DER Action Group) this term. The idea of a regular DER newsletter was something I was very keen on and I was hoping to create one similar to that used by Prue Greene from Curriculum Support. Unfortunately though, after many emails to and from Prue (she is a gem!) and hours of ‘playing’ with MS Word and trying to insert images into a DET email, I asked my twitter PLN and wammoo help arrived in the form of Mr Ben Jones. After an online conference chat Ben had convinced me that email newsletters were passe and that I should explore the power of Adobe PDF portfolios. In using this program I would be creating an interactive newsletter full of different file types, as well as modeling a new tool for the teachers. (Aside: I think Ben just might be some kind of freaky genius, feel free to direct all future questions to him. I have it on good counsel that he never sleeps!)

Sooo … (yes, I will end this post at SOME point) today’s session saw me presenting a range of things to my colleagues. I had initially been given 30 min, this was cut to 15 mins as the principal spoke for longer than expected BUT a second guest speaker failed to show and I was handed the ‘fill the time with something please, Bianca’ card. I was very grateful for the no-show. I had an hour – woo hoo!

This is what I did:

1. The first thing I showed was the awesome clip Stuck on an Escalator (thanks Dean Groom, another PLN genius, for his suggestion to use this clip) and this generator a great deal of laughter. Having watched the video I asked them to reflect briefly on possible analogies between the learned-helplessness of the people on the elevator and their own personal experience with technology and teaching in general.(Note: This YouTube clip was embedded into the DER edmodo group to positively model use of edmodo and remind people to check the group regularly for new posts, links, files etc)

2. I then showed the eNewsletter that I assemble using Adobe Acrobate 9 Extened Pro (hope I got that massive name right!). Included in this PDF were a variety of different file types: videos, images, word docs, folders and PDFs.  I explained the benefits of using an eNewsletter in this format: very portable (the portfolio saves as a PDF and can be read on any computer as long as it has Adobe Reader 9), multiple file types can be included, it looks pretty, very user-friendly like most Adobe products etc.

3.Within the portfolio I had included a list of the DER PD workshops that would run during the term. There will be one each week during a lunch time and these will run along the Communicate Collaborate Create framework (inspired by Pip Cleaves and Roger Pryor).

4. I also looked closely at a PDF that I created explaining the 15 minutes of play method of Professional Development devised by Ben Jones.

His formula is: 2x 15min play + 15min learning design + 15min sharing = 1hr Profession Development

5.We then briefly discussed as a group the potential education applications of this tool. (formative assessment vs summative, student-created text-books for younger years etc)

6. I then demonstrated how easy portfolios are to assemble (it’s just ‘drag and drop’) and let those people with netbooks have a play with using the tool.

7. Finally I made a presentation to four members of staff who are what I’ve labeled ‘first-followers’ thanks to a video on leadership called ‘Leadership Lessons from the Dancing Guy’ shown to me by Troy Martin (a fantastic writer and teacher who I am excited to call a colleague and a friend). These four teachers have actively contributed to our DER edmodo group and have taken to experimenting with a variety of web 2.0 apps despite not being what you would call ‘tech savvy’. Each teacher was given a bottle of wine. The success of this initiative has already paid off as three of the four had posted more resources for staff to use within three hours of the presentation!

Well, that’s about enough for me for now. I hope that some of what I have posted comes in handy for a teacher or leader advocating the use of technology in the classroom to enhance learning somewhere in the world.

PS: I just remembered that my principal asked me to write a one page summary of DER at our school for the school website. Hmmm … maybe I could just add a link to the DER edmodo group, wiki, my class blogs and to this blog?