Tag Archives: networking

Great Teachers Don’t Wait for PD Days

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This was a comment I made on the #satchatwc a while back. It’s had a few retweets and some comments. This past Saturday morning, I joined in the first #edcampHOME  hosted as an edcamp event but online. As I’ve processed this event and what took place, there are a few take aways for me and then a reflection.

1. Eliminate “PD”

PD needs to be eliminated from our discussion about teachers’ learning. Although it is professional development, it has become associated to something that is “done” to teachers instead of a self-motivated improvement where you get some type of certificate at the end instead of the internal motivation to be better at what you do. Because we learn all the time, we need to tap into the natural learning process of adults instead of the imposed learning from experts.

2. Professional Learning Year-round

Learning, which most teachers know, isn’t limited to “days” or “events”. Instead, it is something that is continuous – sometimes situational – and is personal.  It needs to part of a Professional Learning Plan which the teacher creates, reflects upon and continues in a continuous cycle of learning, reflecting and refining.

3. Learning is not a solitary act

Learning is social – Lev Vygotsky and John Dewey introduced this to us a long time ago.  For too long, teachers have been isolated in their practice and, for the most part, in their learning. Social media platforms such as twitter and Pinterest have begun to change this. The decision by teachers to share their work through blogging, podcasts and gathering platforms like Google Hangouts, has begun to change the nature of how teachers’ view their practice and profession. This ability to share is at the heart of what teachers do – share their love of learning.

4. Learning requires time

This is where I will probably enter a slippery slope but …. twitter is not a PD event! It’s the beginning of a conversation but it’s the continued learning that takes place afterwards – the sharing, conversations, reflecting, writing, planning, implementing, using, coaching, …. that is the development part. Learning and practice with no game-day experience is just speculation. It’s the sharing and conversations that take place between all those involved that is development – the books that are shared, the discussions about the books that scaffold to new ideas which lead to new ways of looking at things which lead to progress which leads to the change of practice in a classroom for a teacher – and that is why the learning that teachers do is not a PD event – ever!

5. It isn’t PLN platform specific

Yes being part of a twitter PLN is a great thing but it isn’t the only platform – the landscape is ever changing ever more rapidly and to limit the interactions of “great” to one is, well, just inaccurate. It also is a bit telling of how we want to talk about being open to change but, really, are kind of set in our ways. Like the death of Google Reader shouldn’t have really been an event because of the number of alternatives and the ease of shifting – but it was change. It’s leaving the safety of the known for something less proven or even the unknown that puts people off. Change isn’t a big deal – unless we make it a big deal. The death of GR would have passed with little notice had it not been for those set in their ways. There are teachers with whom I have worked that don’t tweet at all, they pin. And pin and pin and pin. In fact, they have developed a PLN that focuses on the sharing they do via Pinterest. And it’s just a viable and credible for learning as those who use microblogging platforms like twitter or plurk but I have heard the whole idea of sharing via Pinterest to be seen as “second-rate” sharing. Really? Now we rank the sharing we do? It’s time we validate what people do, commend them and listen to their stories and share in their excitement instead of the nose-snubbing response.

Too often, those who have reached “rock star” status tend to set the trends which, unfortunately, those who follow tend to continue. The #edcampHOME event was a divergent trail, even from the traditional edcamps and should push our thinking and learning about our need for conferences, or at least, our reliance on them as gathering events. It allows the “experts” of teaching – those in schools and classrooms who are learning and sharing – to come together regardless of distance or time of year or finances – to begin those conversations that  will continue each person’s learning.  It brought together a great many teachers and other people in education to share and learn when they would have not been able to have such face-to-face encounters.

(An aside to this – there seemed to be many of those participating who had already been to f2f conferences or who were then going to f2f conferences which makes me wonder about the learning cycle – where is the time for reflection and refinement? Are teachers become “tool technique” gatherers, moving from workshop to workshop in order to gather tools/apps to use in the classroom as an end? As an administrator, I want to know how this or that tool is better for “what we do for students” and not that it is “cool and will streamline my ability to handle the dissemination of information to students in a timely and proficient manner.”

However, this isn’t the first time educators have gathered via the internet far from one another to share and learn. Many of us have done this in numerous other events- for a number of years – seeking to improve what we have been doing – sort of Outliers.  This time there was a Tipping Point – a large enough group who saw it as a viable and acceptable way to share their learning and were wiling to step out of their comfort zones to give it a try. However, this is a natural progression as the idea of professional learning evolves from that of development to that of continuous learning and improvement through the social platforms that are available and the idea that learning isn’t an event to be graded or scored or give us a reward.

Finally, learning is “cool” even for a teacher!

Taking A Chance

Like many people, I checked in on Nik Wallenda in his walk across the Grand Canyon. Twitter was full of tweets as he made his crossing. I watched a few minutes. As I watched, I wondered how many people have had to do their own walk across a canyon with no net or supports?

My Own Crossing

The past 22 years, I’ve spent in education in some way – a classroom teacher for 10 years followed by 12 years as a in-school administrator. I’ve worked in 11 different schools – twice been an administrator for 2 campuses at one time. In 5 days, this will end. I will no longer be involved in public education as I have been for the past 22 years.

The thing is, I’m not moving on to another job. In fact, over the past few months, I have attended a number of interviews, attempting to move into a central office position or into something related to education. I’ve been unsuccessful. The “common sense” thing would be to have just continued on. Really, in this economy, why would I do such a thing? With 8 kids none the less?

So why did I do make the decision to move on without a safety net?

Well, it almost sounds like it came to me in a dream – my gut said it was time! Now, just so we’re clear, I have 8 children, 2 in university and 1 living in France. This move is, by all accounts, as crazy as walking across the Grand Canyon. To some, it might even be crazier. My wife, a teacher also, has a temporary contract until February. That’s as far ahead as we look.

No net.

No safety lines.

The only reason is because I believe that I have a more to offer than what I am currently doing. We are in for some intense changes in education and believe my strengths and abilities can be better used in another capacity. To continue down the current path would ignore that path less traveled, would not allow for even greater changes. I could no longer follow the current path.

Educators as Entrepreneurs

I spent a great deal of time in my early twenties building a company – working to create a customer base, focusing on high quality service with a high quality product. It was a painting company and I began working for someone else, making someone else money.  Eventually I struck out with a partner with nothing more than the desire to be successful. We expanded, eventually employing 22 other students. However, we realized at that time, having more people working for us didn’t mean we were making any more money. In fact, the profit factor doing that type of work was very small. So, my partner and I changed tactics, began to focus on higher end jobs, moving from fences and outside siding to repainting interiors to new construction. During this time, our focus was on quality not quantity – we grew a customer base that soon expanded to a point where advertising was unnecessary. We hired a few key people who were eager to learn, willing to work and whom we rewarded for this. Through all this, my “gut” has been more right than wrong when it came to hiring people and making decisions.

And then I moved on – became a teacher and then an administrator. Over time, I became someone who was able to move things along – a change agent if you will. This was especially true in my current situation where we combined two schools into a brand new K – 12 school in a new school building, building a new culture, creating a new vision/mission and focusing on “Doing what is best for students”. As a change agent in this type of situation, I realized that there was a limited time-frame for progress and that I would need to move on at some point, allowing someone else to move the school community along. It’s the nature of the situation.

Crossing the Canyon

So now I face crossing the canyon – setting out without a safety net – with nothing more than the belief that there needs to be changes, to “Do what is best for students” and parents and teachers in order for education to be more than what it is currently. I’m guided by my “gut” much the same way I was guided 20-odd years ago. This time, there is a lot more at stake – 9 people that are depending on me for all sorts of things.

The easy thing would have been to continue to do what I was doing. But, if you’ve ever watched the movie “For the Love of the Game”, you’ll understand –  “Do or Do Not. There is no Try” – Yoda, you’ll know that that really wasn’t an option.

That Canyon Sure is Big

Like all things that look impossible/daunting, they are if you try to do them all at once. I do have a plan – sorta. However, I’m going to take part of the summer to refocus my energies – bring them back to my passions – technology and  learning, PD for teachers and bringing together the two for a better learning opportunity for teachers, students and parents. Then, one step at a time, I’ll venture out. There won’t be a webcam to capture every step but I do hope to begin developing my Ed Administrators 2.0 Ning to greater degree, expanding my blog and writing and connecting with others. My current position has required a great deal of energy and, really, it’s taken me away from those things that provided me with energy, stirred my creativity and touched my heart and soul. I will cross that canyon – the difference here is I’m not sure what the other side of the canyon looks like – and that, for what it’s worth, is just as exciting as crossing the canyon!

Opening the door and building a network

My it’s been a busy week. We’ve had all kinds of things going on – a winter storm Friday made it a busy afternoon as our busses were canceled for after school. This meant we were phoning parents and arranging for students to go to their billets in town. For the most part, things went smoothly. Of course, there were some of our older students who just had to make life interesting and a few of the billets we had listed weren’t home or had moved so we needed to make other arrangements. However, despite these small bumps, the whole thing went smoothly and in a matter of about 45 minutes we were able to take care of things.

As I watched our staff work together to make phone calls, talk with students and take care of business, I realized how lucky I was to be the principal of such a great group of people. Everyone who was free pitched into making calls and talking to students. The secretary, the hub of our school, was answering phones, taking down notes and coordinating efforts of organization of students. Good principal that I am, I let people use their talents and do what they were best at while I made sure that parents who were arriving were assisted and students who left with their parents were noted.

A strong network

Our school is an example of a strong network. People work together, each person using their talents to help others, strengthening the whole. Now, we are working on our PLT’s and looking at how we can continue to improve the learning of the children in our building. The teachers continue to try new things, although not as open to technology as I had hoped, but still willing to try new ideas and ways of doing things. They share information they’re reading and new ideas about what they are doing. They look to go to conferences and bring back information that they share.

PLN’s

Personally, as an administrator, I don’t get to do as much sharing with staff as I did when I was a teacher. This is where my online PLN comes in. I first started blogging in January of 2007. Since that time, I have been able to meet a whole host of new people whom help me in my learning and professional development. Like many others, my introduction into this began with reading other blogs, commenting and looking for new ideas and ways of doing things. With the introduction of twitter, jaiku and pownce, I’ve expanded my network to include so many more people with a vast array of experiences and talents. This, however, has made me take a step back and look at my network and what exactly I want from it.

When I first began to blog, it was to get in touch with others in education and network and share with them. I enjoyed the sharing of information and the discussions that took place as I read through blog posts and commented on most of those in my RSS feeder. However, over time, I realized that most of the people with whom I had contact were discussing technology from the perspective of a tech coordinator, tech teacher or tech somethingorother position. There were few administrators with whom I could connect and few teachers who were not technology teachers of some sort. The discussions followed a pattern where an issue arose and then many of the blogs would comment on it in some way or another. This was the pattern that would be followed with a few people writing about personal events or how events with technology were panning out for them.

Those who are now joining into the different networks are bypassing, for some part, the blogging portion of networking to some degree. They are entering into the networking using twitter, pownce or jaiku, getting to know other people on the network and sharing with them. These relationships are usually rather loosely held together by subjects, interests, proximity or something else. This continues as different people interact, sharing and discussing on the network, adding new people to their friends as they see the names mentioned in discussions or from visiting other people’s friends. This is how my network grows. I continue to add people to my various friends lists, watching what they say, commenting to them when I have something to say or something to share. I haven’t developed, it seems, as close of a connection as others have but that’s to come. I also notice that anyone who has had a f2f connection has a different dimension to their relationships than those who haven’t. I also like to visit the blogs of those people in my friends list and add them to my RSS. That way, I can read their thoughts and ideas and continue conversations via the blogs. I try to comment and am working on making sure that I do this more regularly.

Different tools give you different networks

I use two main tools for my instant chatting with other educators. Twitter is much more active with many more users who are doing a vast array of things. When I first started, I was amazed at all that was going on, wondering how people were able to spend that much time online and still teach. Again, I came to find that many of them were in computer labs or dealing with computers all day and therefore were able to be online almost all day. This really made me wonder how I was going to keep up with all that was going on. Thankfully, summer came along and I realized that, despite what I had thought, I could live without being online all the time. In fact, I realized that being “connected” had its limitations. I needed to make sure that there was some balance to what I did.

This is what led me to look into a few other networks that I now use. The first is ning. I was introduced to Classroom20 through Leadertalk. This introduction has led to a great set of networking nings where I interact with other teachers and administrators, discussing using technology in classrooms, the implications and the frustrations. These networks are very different from the blog networks I first started using and the conversational networks that I had recently began to use. In fact, I even started one of my own with the focus being administrators as a place for those who are in that type of leadership role to gather, talk and share. I like the interaction on these networks. Some of the people are the same ones that I have on twitter but many are not. The conversations range from practical “how to” to more philosophical ones. One of my favourites is Fireside Learning started by Connie Weber. Many of the discussions are ones you would have beside a fireplace; very casual but very deep and I’d like to thank Connie for asking me to join. (I haven’t left town, I’m just really busy;)

My other major network is Pownce. Now Pownce is a chat-like network a bit like twitter. However, as twitter relies on short brief 140 character bursts of chatter, pownce doesn’t have those limits. The discussions range in length but there are longer, more developed discussions that take place. The main things I like about pownce conversations are that they can vary from private one-to-one, to all your friends to public. This can be very handy especially when you are looking for feedback about an issue. And because it’s not limited by 140 characters, the conversation is more relaxed. Personally, I find it to have fewer “Look what I found, did, shot, podcast, ustreamed, ….” and more about input and discussion. I find that each has a place but I’ve never had anyone on pownce say “I don’t want to be away because I think I’ll miss something.” That, I believe, is one of the biggest “problems” with some of the networks that are developing. Having been there myself, I can understand how that thinking develops but it sin’t necessarily a postive one.

In fact, I believe that our idea of what a network does and can do for us will continue to evolve and change. In my previous post, I stated that we needed to help those who were entering this edusphere become acquainted with what was going on. I believe that it is now more true than ever. With all the available tools, it becomes overwhelming knowing where to start. With that said, it might be easier to help someone get started since the different networks are so much easier to join. Now I don’t know where the blogging all fits as not all people who join these new networks blog. They’ve become quite the mixture of different personalities, sharing, growing and adding new tools and exchanging ideas all with the idea of wanting to help students.

As these networks grow and change and more educators begin to use the tools that are available, our networks will continue to grow and change. Some, like twitter, I believe will continue to be used for fast paced discussions and up-to-the-minute new tools and ideas. Others, like ning and pownce, will be less fast paced, more discussion oriented, as is their nature. All these will, of course, be affected by the introduction and use of video discussions and other tools that have yet to hit the streets or become mainstream. The main thing is that, while networking has always been a part of what teachers have done, the opportunity to do so has increased. In fact, some may say that not being involved in some sort of online network as an educator may be cause for some concern given the proliferation of these networks online. I’m not sure that it has reached that point, yet, but it may soon become an expectation that teachers be involved in online PD of some sort and definitely involved in district/division wide online groups. We’ve reached the point where distance is not a concern. What is the concern/stumbling block is the failure of many within education to use the tools that are available to do the work they were designed to do. As networks continue to shrink the distance between people, educators will need to open the door and begin building their own network outside of their schools and that’s where many of us who have been using the different networks can help them in choosing something that will fit with what they are wanting to do.

Stay tuned as I will once again be reintroducing the New Faces posts where I highlight a blog of someone that I’ve just discovered.

Let’s meet them at the door

I’ve been really busy of late with all the things that go on in the life of a parent, principal, coach and community member. My senior boys basketball team is showing signs of becoming a real contender – which means that we have to play more – with more nights away. I’ve also been working very hard on getting some of the policies for our school ready – reworking areas that just don’t seem to fit. I’ve been expanding my use of various web2.0 tools including such things as Jing, VoiceThread, Animoto and other tools. Now this is because I’m hoping to do a session at the upcoming Tlt Conference in Saskatoon in May. I am focusing on tools that can help administrators to become more familiar with what is available and begin to use the tools in their own lives. I’m hoping to use Jing to create a Jingcast of some of the tools I hope to use plus add to my admin wiki some of the things that I am learning and working on during this time.

Tonight, after reffing and coaching a bball game, I was able to sit in on Alec Couros university class using Ustream. During this time, one of the participants, nnoakes, asked a really good question about the whole networking idea. George Siemens, who was guest presenting on Connectivism, had just mentioned some of the major educational bloggers in his presentation. The question posed was something like:

How does the network open up for new people as most of the people mentioned refer to one another in their writing and their own network includes one another.

I also wonder this. I recall a commment that once directed me to some advice on becoming more widely read. It included commenting on other bogs, writing regularly, keeping the topics current, referring to what you’ve read and so on. Well, I must say that it’s a lie, as far as I’m concerned. Many of the big names were there at the start and continue to grow their readerships because they were there at the start – and rightly so. Some have done some great work with connecting classrooms and including technology in their teaching and this has grown their readership. Some have interesting comments and make controversial comments which brings them readership. The rest, well, we write on, sometimes having a good post that draws attention from readers or we manage to be noticed by a blogger with a large reader list which brings in readers.

As the number of teachers who enter different networks grows, it will be interesting to see how things pan out. I know that I’ve seen the frustration in a number of bloggers who find it very disappointing that it is so hard to get comments or interaction. Having commented on a number of blogs, I know that it takes a great deal of time to do this. Some say it pays off in attracting readers. I’m not convinced. I’m not convinced that, like all other areas of our society, there won’t be just a few major players whose writing is followed by many while many of rest will continue with a very small readership, occasionally attracting readers because of this or that.

My reasons vary but mostly come down to this:  most of the big name bloggers are not full-time teachers or school building administrators and are outside looking in. There, I said it. There is only so much time in a day, there is only so much time to do reading and commenting and many are finding that to be committed to a network requires time that many teachers do not have. So, if you are a well known figure, you can pop in and out of twitter and leave a few posts and then not appear for a day or two and people will respond to you. The rest need to build and nuture our networks – commenting and building, building and discussing, discussing and sharing. Any time away and our network moves on – not really leaving us but not allowing us to just drop in.

Now, we do make some personal connections, especially if we can meet f2f with people from our network. This really adds to the relationships, strengthening the bonds but, like most teachers, the chance of attending a major national conference and meeting these people is, well, not that likely. Those who do get this chance, appear to build and strengthen their network in ways that are different than others. With many of well known names, they meet one another at these conferences to get reaquainted and reconnected. Their conversations have references and such that those not attending cannot share. It may not create an exclusive network but it does affect those who are involved. So for others trying to get involved, it becomes even more difficult as they try to make sense of it all.

Maybe we need to really go out of our way to help those just joining the community and network. Mentor them and introduce them to different educators. Really share ourselves with them instead of allowing them to find their own way. The idea similar to what happens with new teachers. Those who have mentors tend to develop in a much different way than those who learn by trial-by-fire. Education, unfortunately, is know for the latter and not the former. For so long, we have not opened the doors to new people but instead allowed them to make it on their own. Maybe, as we explore these new venues and tools, we need to toss open the doors and do more than just invite them in. We need to meet them at the door and help them find their way. We need to check in on them and see how they are doing and share cool ideas or tools with them. Those of us who have some experience, need to share that with others and maybe go beyond just our blog sharing. Maybe we need to meet them at the door, welcome them and help them with what they are doing. It’s one thing that does work in school.

Who you gonna call?

The other night I was working on converting a video from flv to mov format but couldn’t remember the online site that did that. I went to the twitter page and asked if anyone knew of the name of the site. In less than 5 minutes I had 3 responses of sites I could use. Now I was trying to remember zamzar, which is a name one should not forget, but it took no time for someone to help me.

In educational technology circles, we’ve been discussing and talking about using new tools and leveraging these new tools for the benefit of students learning. At various times it has been lamented that teachers are basically unwilling to change how they do things despite the availability of different tools that might enhance the learning opportunities for their students.

Just recently, there has been a growing discussion about how important networks are becoming for individuals as they experience the power of being able to connect and share with other professionals. Educators are beginning to build a variety of networks, discussing the ways that these types of things might be used in education. One such discussion is actually an online debate, Oxford style, between Ewan McIntosh and Michael Bugeja. This is Ewan’s promo:

This week you can take part in the Economist.com debate I will start today with Michael Bugeja, Director of Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication at Iowa State University. We’re arguing our corners in an Oxford-style online debate, he against the motion that social networking will have a positive impact on education, and I’m arguing for the motion.

Now Ewan used the power of his network to put together his opening statement.

Incidentally, my first 1000 words were effectively co-written in a 25 minute Twitter conversation across the web and mobile phones. My thanks to Lucy, John, Nick, Lisa, Adam, Judy, Sue, David… and many more who jumped onto Twitter. Who can say social networking is not having a postive impact on the way teachers, at least, are learning?

This is a great demonstration of how a network can help individuals in their own learning and in problem solving.

Over at Change Agency, guest blogger Nick Pernisco is discussing this same theme in the context of news and keeping informed.

I have to relinquish some of my own thinking to a trusted third party… I simply can’t keep up myself, so someone else needs to. Instead of checking 100 sources of information per day, I’ll only check 10 that will hopefully contain the best of the 100 sources. That means I can shift my brain from seeking out 100 sources to critically analyzing the compiled information from the 10 sources. We do this everyday when we watch a newscast instead of going to each place there is news happening, or read a newspaper instead of calling local and national governments ourselves for the scoop.

His final thought, though, gets at the real core of the matter when dealing with education and teachers.

This is why media literacy is more important than ever in today’s information glut world.

Media literacy, and for teachers, technology literacy, is so important. People in education must be able to discern what will serve them the best in a given situation. This is where the discussion about technology becomes a bit difficult. Advocates of technology use in schools see the use of technology by teachers as a natural progression of teaching as the teachers learn new things and use them to help build student’s learning. However, we do have a bit of a problem. How do we get a bulk of the educators to begin using and adopting?

Pete Reilly at Ed Tech Journeys continues the discussion that started at Scott Macleod’s Dangerously Irrelevant about mandating teachers. His thoughts are, as usual, insightful and make one question the actual validity of something like that.

It’s a great question and it provoked some good discussion; however is mandating technology use enough? Will it create the pedagogical changes we want, if put in the hands of educators whose personalities are not conducive to the classroom transformation we’d like to see?

Read Pete’s post. It really does highlight the problem that mandating has in education. We can control the program or tool but not the people or how they will use the them. We’ve seen that in so many different programs that have come and gone through the schools. What compounds this problem is the fact that there are so many different tools that one can choose to use and there is no real agreement on what are basic tools that teachers should begin using. People like Vicki Davis and Jane Hart do a great job of giving their suggestions, as do others. The point here is that there are so many tools that are out there and it is hard to know where to start. And this could be the problem, with so much happening so quickly, there seems to be something new and improved coming out every week. It is a bit overwhelming at first look.

Perhaps the teachers who are not jumping on-board are not aware is available to them? I think the biggest problem is that perhaps there are too many possibilities for “jumping in”. This actually makes it scarier then it really is. Paul Williams

This is where many of us who are already working with many of these tools have an edge that other educator do not. Our networks. We have been working through problems, trying out software and sharing ideas as quickly as something comes out. How? Well someone on the network seems to have or use whatever comes out and shares it with the rest. These early adopters (where do they get the $ ) help to bring the rest along. But where does one start? There are literally hundreds of networks that educators can join.

I agree with the social networking comments. Two people on twitter took time and great care to introduce me to some twitter friends whom I could follow and whom they knew would follow me and allow valuable interaction. Otherwise I was following some, unable to interact, unable to learn much and about to nearly give up. murcha

For those who are trying to get going, it can be a very daunting thing. That’s when, sifting through my RSS feeds in Google Reader, I came across an post by mscofino in which she states:

I know it’s frustrating to see something so close yet so far, and I know it seems like if we could just get the technology authentically embedded (and we don’t need the teachers on board for that, do we?) into the curriculum in one fell swoop, we’d be done before we started. But teachers are special folk. If they don’t want to change, they won’t. We have to show them, we have to prove why they should. And there’s no better way to do that than with other classroom teachers sharing their success. And those successes aren’t going to happen with a technology facilitator forcing a teacher to change (as if they could, given that they’re never going to be a supervisor to other teachers). It’s going to happen when a teacher wants to change and asks for help.

It would be easier if we could just mandate things but that isn’t going to work. We now that social networks, whether technological or f2f, are very powerful and impact all of us. These networks, for the most part, have not been well used in education. Teachers, usually in isolation, have worked away at subject or grade levels, implementing curriculum with a PD day here and there. Every now and then, something new comes along, usually with a new administrator at some level, but it passes. Not this time. Technology isn’t just a fad that will pass with the next hiring. Why? Because it is becoming part of the culture.

I like the idea of “Change One Thing”, and relate it to technology. Make one technological change, whether its a Google Reader account or a Wiki, the important thing is to change something. Paul Williams

This is where, I believe, we need to begin. We need to work with teachers and use one tool. Show them how to use it and manage it while at the same time introducing them to a network where they can lurk for awhile, seeing what others are doing and understanding that frustration and problems are part of the whole learning equation. In fact, today I made my first inroad with one of my other administrators who is taking an online class. She has asked me to help her with setting up some things and working with some of the tools. She wanted to know if I had the time? Of course I do. I know that if I can get her started and then encourage her, she will grow and some of these tools will be adopted. As she told me “I know I have to do this but I just haven’t had the right push to do them. Well, now I do.” She’s worried she’ll do something wrong or things will be too complicated. For those of us using the tools we need to let other teachers know that no one has all the answers and we’re all on a learning continuum. It’s the sharing that helps us grow in ways we never could have dreamed of.

To my network out there, thanks for your input!

It’s about the other person

Recently I’ve been involved in some discussions about how teachers might become better users of technology. It began with a post over at Dangerously Irrelevant where Scott McLeod posted

In many industries, knowledge of relevant technologies is a necessary prerequisite for either getting or keeping one’s job. Sometimes the organization provides training; sometimes the employee is expected to get it on her own. Either way, the expectation is that use of the relevant technologies is a core condition of employment.
Why aren’t our school organizations expecting more of their employees? Are we that desperate for workers?

The discussion that follows is worth reading just to see the complexity of the issue. Now, I don’t think that we are desperate for workers or anything like that but it made me wonder why it is that there are many teachers who are not taking advantage of these tools in their teaching.

Now Scott pointed me in the direction of Greg Farr, an administrator in Texas, who has some great posts about technology and its use in the classroom. I suggest that you take a look at what he has to say about technology use in education plus a whole lot of other things.

One of Greg’s posts deals with the use of technology and it being a tool that should be used just like all the other tools a teacher has at their disposal. He describes, very well, the whole idea that teaching is not about the tools but

True teaching and learning MUST allow for subtleties and nuance, for opinions expressed in tone of voice, for emphasis via a small hand gesture, or doubt cast with the slightest raising of an eyebrow.

He goes on to say

I maintain that TO THIS DAY the best way to assess a teachers ability is to take them outside, give them a group of 20 students, no pencils, no paper, no electricity, nothing but a pleasant day and a tree to sit under. And tell them to teach. A true TEACHER would take this opportunity and run with it.

I have to concur 100% with this. Teaching concerns human relationships. It is anchored in assisting students to add to their knowledge, seeking ways to scaffold learning to push them into places where they will need to stretch and question, examine, accept or reject and search for more. It is sometimes uncomfortable and challenging, frustrating and rewarding the whole while being centered around relationships.

A similar thing was happening over at Teaching Generation Z where Graham Wegner’s Parable2.0 provided for a great discussion about how teachers who are wanting to share their passion for the use of web2.0 tools often find it frustrating. The parable looks at how, in their desire to bring other teachers on board, often end up in a frustrating situation. The discussion that followed explored how many teachers identify with the parable and how it unfolded. One such contributor was Clay Burell from Beyond School, his blog looking at teaching, technology and a few other things. Clay’s comment

As a classroom teacher who does drive his own geeky projects, I know how overwhelming it can get – and I have the skills to survive and troubleshoot and tolerate frustrations and “Crosbian Messiness.” To expect others to be able to handle the strain of things too ambitious, or too time-consuming relative to the rest of the teaching load on the teacher’s plate, is dangerous.

is right on the mark. Those of us who are using the tools and doing various projects are able to do so because we have advantages that others don’t. Now, some of these advantages include what Clay points out:

skills to survive and troubleshoot and tolerate frustrations and “Crosbian Messiness.”

However, the one thing that isn’t stated is that many of us have created networks of other users and “techno geeks” with whom we can discuss, question, collaborate and bounce ideas off of. Many of us twitter, pounce, Facebook, Ning, …. sharing our discussions, thoughts and, now that we have developed relationships, parts of our lives. We have adopted the interconnectedness of the networks and built relationships which are now leading to people planning meetings at conferences (like NECC where I WON’T be going!) and personal rendezvous for such things as golf.

Relationships – this is what brings, and binds us, together. Whether it is Sharon Peters looking for feedback on a post, Alec Corous looking for assistance with web conferencing, Vickie Davis and Julie Lindsay discussing their Horizon Project, Will Richardson and his discussions of learning or Dan Meyers, who questions and challenges, helping to stretch the discussion, helping us to reflect on our ideas and thoughts while providing some great tools and insights into using web2.0 tools in teaching, these relationships help us connect and develop, grow and learn, keep our perspective and motivate us These relationships have become a large part of how we are growing and developing our teaching and understanding. These are the relationships that those teachers not engaged DO NOT have.

Showing other teachers all the tools isn’t what is needed. Helping them develop relationships and make connections is. We can show and demonstrate, rave and mandate; it will not bring others to question, grow and adopt. We have many examples of educators who are beginning to delve into using these tools. Overwhelming them with the possibilities just pushes them away. Helping them to build their own networks, seeking out teachers who, like themselves, are testing the water and encouraging them to continue in their own lifelong learning will empower them to develop even more. Not all of them will see the benefits of all the tools they encounter but the relationships they develop during this process will go further, I believe, to bringing about powerful change than any tech person can hope to do by themselves. Maybe that’s the lesson we need to take with us as we continue to approach those around us, showing them the power of our networks and the learning that these networks encourage. As was posted tonight on twitter

kolson29 finished watching really bad movie, off to bed. Twitterverse very different from even a week ago…….more “conversations”, less telling.

Let’s invite others to start their own conversations, starting where they are and moving forward instead of where we want them to be.

Social Networks – why?

I had a busy morning at the school – there are many things to get done this last week before holidays. I know that I will not get them all done but I want to at least get them whittled down a bit. While doing various tasks I was able to keep up with what others are doing through Twitter and Pownce. Now, Pownce is a tool that allows you to share comments and thoughts with those people that you make friends, similar to what Twitter does. I am looking closely at this tool because I think it might have some use in the school setting so that teachers in the school could begin to use a social networking tool and become comfortable before venturing out on Twitter and other social networks. It might be a good way just to see how these networks work.

I also spent lunch doing some reading.  Dean Shareski has been having a conversation on his blog about the place of social networks and the use of tools for enhancing communication and connectedness. This all leads to what can and cannot be accessed in schools and what teachers will be expected to do, be able to use and be able to pass on to their students through the use of different tools. The two posts that Dean references demonstrate the frustration of people who are running into filters that block certain sites from being accessed. Now, I’ve run into this problem a few times with such things like Twitter and Blogger. I still cannot access my Blogger site from school. However, this is not the point of this post. My main purpose is to ask why we need to have these social networks available?

Dean points out;

Because most teachers do not practice or engage in the same kinds of online activities which for the most part is social networking, it’s going to be difficult for them to model. In addition, they likely don’t consider it a relevant topic of discussion amidst the daily work load they already face.

So, is it relevant to the daily work they face? With the number of initiatives that teachers face, do they have time? Some would say that time isn’t the question anymore. Instead, it is the reality that these are the tools of the youth which need to become part of the fabric of schools. Others would point to particular examples of teachers who are using these tools with incredible success.  One cannot argue with their successes and the incredible things that they are doing. However, it must also be noted that for teachers who are placed in the position of being required to prepare students for passing particular types of exams, there needs to be more than just the push to “get with the times.

Teachers need to see that their time will be better used by using the tools. If you were in my school, you would not be convinced of this because of the difficulties that we have been having with our technology. We know that the IT department is working as quickly as they can but we are still lagging in computer availability. We’ve had some network issues which have frustrated teachers and students. Myself, I’ve found it difficult to use some of the tools I want just because of some of these issues. This has meant I have had to replan my unit a few times to accommodate these situations.

As someone who uses technology fairly fluently, I see that we need to teach students about the social aspects of these tools and the various morals and values that go along with them. We need to discuss bullying of any kind, we need to work through the appropriate use of tools like cellphones and chat while in a learning setting.  We should be able to discuss how people interact with others but I’m not sure that teachers need to use all these things themselves in order to discuss what is an appropriate way to interact with another person or appropriate behaviour in social settings.

Now, Dean refers to the following quote by Regina Lynne:

All adults who work with youth should be aware of how young people communicate, fall in love and stay connected; I encourage teachers to try social networking services, to have a blog, to text message with their own families and friends. Experienced teachers will not only gain a better sense of the world their students live in — indeed, a world their students are creating — they will have a greater understanding of the young teachers entering the profession.

And I agree, mostly. They need to be aware. They need to have an understanding but, I’m not sure they need to do all those things themselves. As a professional, they have so many different obligations besides just teaching. Maybe, if the social pressures that are placed on schools were to be redistributed to different organizations or people, then the teachers might be able to find time to do these things. However, as I watch this last week of school begin, I know that many of them are looking forward to the break so they can relax and take a break from the various pressures that they encounter each day. Some of them will take time to work online but many of them will use the time to re-energize themselves. They will spend time with family and friends, people they haven’t had enough time for because of the time they dedicate to school. They will reconnect with their personal networks which might include some online interactions.

Yes, teachers might find networking with other teachers to be great. They might find it useful, much like their students find it useful to text each other during class when they don’t feel motivated or surf the web or check email when their professors are not connecting with them. However, in my many discussions with teachers, they are so busy that they rarely have time during the day to go to the bathroom never mind check their email or check their network.  They work with different students, differentiating curriculum, helping their students to acquire the information that the curriculum has prescribed for them to teach. Because they are professionals, they are very aware of what their responsibilities are to their students and not just the academic responsibilities. They are making human connections that many of the students do not have and seeking to guide them through this time of school so that when they leave they can make good decisions. I think they are preparing them for the world after school because so much of that world will deal with interactions and making personal decisions.

As for networking, the I work with  uses various technologies to communicate. The tools work to keep all of us informed and help us to share ideas with one another. We discuss  concerns we have with students in our school, the problems that some of our students are facing and the different alternatives we might seek. We share links and other such information. We use tools that help us to be more productive and help us to stay in tune with the others in the building. For most of the teachers in this school, this is enough networking for them. As we struggle to work with students about bullying, peer relations, drugs, sex, dating, relationships with parents and the myriad of other non-educational concerns that come our way each day, time spent on developing other networks isn’t a priority.

Finally, as for the young teachers entering the profession, I’m not sure about this one. In fact, from what I’ve seen, these teachers are striving to come to terms with a whole host of things that are beyond networking. Most veteran teachers, where I work, are more than willing to lend a hand and assist any young teacher. I’m not sure how understanding texting and social networks fits in with that unless it’s networking with other younger teachers who are overworked and tired. In fact, it’s usually the young teachers who are having a difficult time with the many educational requirements like differentiation, class expectations, marking, parent interactions and covering the curricula that they get and who seek out the veteran teachers. As for using other online tools, I don’t see a whole lot of increase even when the tools are available.

I guess, as someone who has been developing a network for about a year, I do see the positives. However, I’m not all that convinced that it is what every teacher needs to have. There are times when, having thrown out a question or concern on one of the social networks to which I belong, I get no response. Yeah, I learn alot from some of the people but, and I again put this forward not as a complaint but as an observation, unless you are “in the group”, you might not get the networking you believed you would get.  I know that is how it sometimes seems to me whether it is here or twitter or other social networks. To be really connected, you have to spend time developing the relationships and, as an administrator, time with the students is more important than time online trying to make friends who will answer your questions when you ask.