Category Archives: PLN

How do you connect to the world?

Screenshot 2015-07-19 17.59.21

Current World Events

That was a title on a board that has been in a few rooms when I’ve taught Social Studies. The idea is that students need to connect with what is happening in the world.

Sounds simple.

Not really.

With the different worldview students bring to the classroom, world events can be a somewhat hotspot for discussions. Events around the world aren’t simple, not that they ever were. But we are now beginning to discuss what previously was non-discussable and that can be difficult in a classroom.

What are some of the different options that teachers have when trying to use current world events as points of discussion in the classroom? How can they address some of these issues? What if they have no idea where to start?

Avoidance

One option is not to. It’s sounds rather odd that the events happening in the world would be ignored but, for some teachers, this is the simplest way to avoid any type of controversy. Surface treatment of issues that mentions or references events can pass as “covering” if techniques of “read the article, answer the questions” is used. Short discussions that name people and places pass as covering the issue as teachers, worried about what might be said, avoid discussions or debates that might come up and certainly avoid any discussion of privilege, discrimination, oppression, persecution and other discussions that may make people, including the teacher, uncomfortable.

It’s important to reflect upon how our actions and words impact and influence students. When I began teaching, I wasn’t aware of my own privilege or how it provided a very narrow worldview of events that took place in the world. As I have been made aware of my privilege and come to understand that this privilege taints my own view of events, using world events in my own teaching has changed.

As a young teacher, I use to think that I had a pretty good idea of the different points of view of various events. Naive as I was, it did not stop me from using various sources to examine and open discussions about events as they took place. As the opportunity to connect with others became easier, the opportunity to see different views of events also became easier. Just as the images in a kaleidoscope change as you turn it, so to do views of any event change depending on the point of view. For a teacher, it can be somewhat difficult to know what to do or how to approach any topic in the classroom.

It  can be a challenge. Most definitely.

But the great thing is that students can often lead us if given the opportunity.

But we have to be willing to speak up.

Being Quiet Isn’t An Option

Early this year, David Theriault wrote a post The Injustice of Staying Quiet. Like all great posts, this one has had me thinking since I first read it. David makes some great points as he describes his own journey, one where I glimpse myself a few times but, truthfully, is much different from my own childhood growing up in a small town in Saskatchewan with little exposure to other cultures.  I was unaware of the various privileges that I had as I grew up and it wasn’t until much later in life I began to realize how this influenced my worldview and the impact it had on my teaching. My mother, who has had a great influence on me, was a leader, one of the first females to serve as a union representative, working at many projects as she raised three children and took care of my father who was hurt in an accident.  I was aware of being different,  not having the same “normal” family made one an outsider but I didn’t realize until much later the great sacrifice she made or the abuse she suffered because of her work. To this day I am forever grateful for all that she taught me, and still teaches me, about helping others.

When David says

And that’s one of the points I would like to make. If you are not listening to other voices, it’s hard to move beyond your fixed notion of what is right and wrong. What we call, in my family, social justice.

I still struggle with uneasiness, unsure of what to do or what to say, fearful that I will offend someone because of my lack of understanding or my ignorance of what is happening or simply because I do not understand at all.

So I remain quiet.

That is a mistake.

Connecting Students with the World

This past Thursday during #saskedchat, our topic for the chat was Connecting our students with the World. It was focused on different ways that teachers can use current events in their classroom. During the chat, I kept wondering how teachers approach social justice issues with students. Teachers offered ideas for discussing issues with students such as using different sources to examine how different points of view reporting the same issue and how social media sources such as twitter can be used for social justice issues. Whatever we do, I agree with David:

So what can we DO?

Well I’ll tell you what we can’t do. We can’t make excuses and we can’t just ignore things and hope they will go away.

I highly recommend you take a moment to read through David’s whole post as it is extremely thoughtful and thought provoking plus David has taken the time and effort to add some great resources. One great resource that David shares is a social justice twitter list with different people on twitter that I recommend following. However, for me, one of  the greatest resources that David provides is his honesty and straightforward approach to the subject and his challenge for educators to address social justice issues.

How Do I Connect?

Just this weekend, Vincent Hill, someone who I know via twitter, shared  the resource Speaking Truth To Power with me that I then shared with others. Twitter is a great place for finding and accessing different resources for the classroom such as Unpacking Culturally Responsive Pedagogy,  The Truth and Reconciliation Report , and an article focused on the Truth and Reconciliation Report. 

But what good are resources unless we are willing, as David says, to set aside our own “fixed notion of what is right and wrong.” and begin to question what is happening? To start bringing these issues into the classroom? To open up the dialogue with students?

I don’t have answers. In fact, I have many questions and am still uncertain about so many things. One thing I am certain about though is that, as teachers, we cannot avoid talking about these issues. With so many resources available and, more importantly, access to people who can help us and speak to students about these issues, there is someone who is wiling help us if we just reach out and ask for their help and guidance. We live during one of the greatest periods of change in history and it’s important that we involve students in discussions about what is happening.

I Wonder….

So often our focus is planning and assessment, an almost obsession with assessment in its various forms, that relationships and the changes society and the world are experiencing seem mere data points on someone’s data chart.

…. what might change if we began with the conditions and stories of students lives before we worried about which assessment tool/format teachers were using?

…. if learning is truly the goal, why we are fixated with assessment instead of all the wonders of learning and possibilities that are available for children to explore what is happening in the world?

…. if helping students develop skills for the future, why so much emphasis is placed on knowledge of the past?

…. how teachers might change their practices to allow for more opportunities to explore various societal issues in meaningful ways?

School Change – Breaking Free

2011-05-24 10.38.53

Despite the massive amount of changes taking place in society, schools continue to resist. However a small number break free of the traditional classrooms, halls and desks to embrace different designs that permit students to engage and embrace learning and allow creativity, imagination, and collaboration to gain an equal footing with the traditional reading writing and arithmetic. The article by Matthew Jenkins Inside the Schools that Dare to Break with Traditional Teaching explores how some schools are breaking free and choosing to build their own paths – something that is so often quoted but seldom truly encouraged in children at school. As Jenkins states

Just as we are still waiting for someone to market hoverboards and self-tying shoelaces, we have yet to see a radical shift in teaching models, despite the ebb and flow of education reforms.

Which is true in so many instances. Although there is great discussion of reform, what type of reform is the question. Too often, reform, especially any reform that deviates from the traditional, is slow and hampered by the skeptics cries of rigour and relevance. A recent article in the National Post “public-school-spending-up-dramatically-in-canada-despite-falling-enrolment-fraser-institute” explores why spending on education is up despite dropping numbers. Too often, it’s the statistics of rank and sort testing that determines if the returns on investment are worth it for education instead of looking at the needs for the future from a progressive lens. In this same way, Elyse Watkins article on ending the grading game, points to the need to move away from archaic modes of assessment and embrace creativity, life-long learning,  personal development and collaboration through new methods of reporting. As Watkins explains

While some would argue that higher grades are a reflection of ambition and hard work, they are more so a distraction from a deeper learning process. If we want to create a truly equitable education system with excellent learners, we need to stop this futile metric.

Our system of grading has changed little since schools began yet our society has progressed and developed, almost like schools and their policies were left in a systemic time-warp. Moves to change these systems are often met with extreme resistance with cries to “return to the basics” and “more rigour” being hailed as necessary in schools where “no one fails”. Schools are seen to be the ranking and weeding ground for the rest of society, a place where students learn what the real world is like and the gifted are separated from the rest through their excellent grades. Yet, time and again, we see that not only is school not anything like the real world, but the rigour of the testing machine isn’t found outside schools! Instead, as Grace Rubinstein points out, some schools are seeking ways to shift to portfolios and other assessments.

Typically, these assessments come in the form of portfolios and presentations — tasks that bear something in common with the kind of work students may ultimately do in college or in a job.

Yet, as is often the case, these changes are making slow progress. As Marc Tucker explores in What Teachers Hear When You Say ‘Accountability’, the testing regime that has been implemented, especially in the United States hasn’t produced any major gains.

There is little doubt—whether test-based accountability is being used to hold schools accountable or individual teachers—that it has failed to improve student performance. That should be reason enough to abandon it. But it is not. The damage that test-based accountability has done goes far deeper than a missed opportunity to improve student achievement.  It is doing untold damage to the profession of teaching.

Teachers, as professionals, have been undermined by policies and policy-makers who continue to add to the growing demands for accountability through increased tracking, form-filling and other data-gathering methods which do little to develop the foundational relationships between students, teachers and parents that are essential to the learning environment in schools. Instead, continued focus on grades and testing ignores the social changes that are developing outside schools.

As I mentioned in my last post, a recent study The Future of Work – Jobs and Skills in 2030 outlines that by 2030 employees with need an increasing agility and hybridization of skills

  • Portfolio careers, whereby people combine several different paid activities at the same time, become mainstream. Personal agility, such as the ability to adapt to or embrace change and acquire new skills and competencies, becomes more important.

This is a trend that is growing as people seek new and different ways to strike a balance between career and home life, searching for ways to develop and maximize their talents, no longer satisfied with careers or working for managers that do not allow them to grow and develop their own talents.

It’s one of the oldest jokes in the business world: Two managers are talking about training their employees. The first one asks, “Yeah, but what if we train them, and they just leave?” The second responds, “What if we don’t train them, and they stay?” The Week

Changing Mindsets

There are some schools working to break the traditional mould of schools and there is a growing movement of teachers who are working through grassroots movements such as edcamps to change professional development to meet their needs and the needs of their students not fulfill a PD requirement or implement a new program or strategy. Teachers are developing Personal Learning Networks (PLN’s) via social media networks such as Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Plurk, Instagram, tumblr and other platforms in order to connect and share their ideas about teaching, learning, digital literacies, collaboration, assessment and other topics that are essential for shifting the current status quo paradigm found in most schools. In my experience as a teachers and an administrator, once teachers begin to experience the power of connecting and sharing, other aspects of their teaching also begin to shift and change. As I’ve seen over and over again, teachers who connect and develop a PLN experience a shift and change that can be career changing. 

Change takes Time
Screenshot 2015-02-14 00.38.15

Although many early adopters saw twitter as being the tool for connection, instead there is a growing number of tools that allow people to connect and learn together. Too often, the association is that if teachers aren’t on twitter, they aren’t growing – they lack a growth mindset – which couldn’t be farther from the truth. If we all did the same thing and thought the same way the world sure would be dull! Remembering this, one needs to look to see that many teachers are in fact embracing the use of technology and shifting. Continuing to support them and tell their stories is, as far as I can see, the best way to continue to help teachers as they shift and go through various stages of change. In my experience in a few different schools, it take about 3 years to make a shift in the culture and see large scale changes in classrooms and the school.

What about you?

What are you doing to support those around you make a shift? How do you lead through example? How can I help you as you these shifts yourself or lead others?