Tag Archives: 21st century schools

#saskedchat – September 10, 2015

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Our chat this week centred around School Culture. Participants reflected on the importance of positive school culture on the learning and relationships of teachers, students and parents. Participants shared ideas and resources for building and shaping a positive school culture and the important role that students and parents play in developing a school culture. Check out the archive for some great ideas and resources!

Classroom Design – #saskedchat August 13th, 2015

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Our chat this week was focused on Classroom Design. Participants shared their ideas and insights about creating a learning environment which includes students’ input and adapts to students’ needs.

Participants shared great resources and their experiences of making changes to the classroom that included getting rid of the teacher’s desk, adding standing desks, couches and other furniture and shopping kijiji and IKEA for bargains!

Do You Love Learning?

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Do you love to learn? 

Try new things?

Explore new ideas?

Read books/ebooks about a variety of topics? Search Youtube for different topics? Search the net to learn about something you are doing? Tried a MOOC (Massive Online Open Class)? Participated in a Google Hangout? Done a Mystery Skype? Blogged about your day? Joined a Twitter chat?

Are you trying new things and seeking to learn something new? How about a new summer bbq recipe or some new salad dressing?

That’s What We Do

These are just a few things that I and many of the educators that I know would consider to be just what we do. Learning new things, trying new experiences and seeking out ideas that push our own thinking about the world and our own place in it. Yet, is  that what the majority of the population is doing? Are people reaching out to new experiences, trying new things and learning? According to Philip Pape in This Habit Will Put You in the Top %1 of Experts and Money-Makers ,

  • 25% of people have not read a book in the last year
  • 46% of adults score in the lowest two levels of literacy
  • Reading frequency declines after age eight

Yet, when you’re surrounded by people who read, support reading, encourage reading and like reading, it can seem that most people read and are into learning new things. But is that what is happening? It’s hard to tell. In doing some digging, it appears that Canadians are reading.

A 2005 readership study by the Department of Canadian Heritage (PCH), READING AND BUYING BOOKS FOR PLEASURE, found that nearly 9 in 10 (87%) Canadians said they read at least one book for pleasure in the 12 months preceding the study1 and that half (54%) read virtually every day. The average time spent reading is 4½ hours per week (unchanged since 1991); the average number of books read per year, 17 (down only slightly from 1991). Fully one-quarter (26%) reported that reading is the leisure activity they most commonly engage in, as many as cited TV-watching, putting reading and TV-watching in the #1 spot among leisure pursuits in Canada (and dwarfing “Internet activities,” which only 9% cited). These findings support thePCH report’s conclusion that “reading for pleasure remains a solidly established and widespread habit with little or no change over the last 15 years.”

Now, reading isn’t the only way people learn. In fact, through access to information on the internet, learning in some areas of the world is easier via video and audio. I used this video to repair a crack in the windshield.

Learning is available all around us. But as Steve Haragon discusses in his latest post there is a dissonance that he is seeing and sensing in the world around which is impacting people.

In the absence of coherent and engaging ways of viewing and improving our world, and of helping each other, the result may be that we shut down. We surrender our sense of agency. Cognitively and emotionally, our normal awareness and empathy bubbles shrink down to small, individual, spaces.

It may seem like this at times, especially when there is so many things that are happening and change is taking place at a rapid pace, so quickly that, for some, retreating is a way of coping. I know that there are times when the constant cacophony of educational voices imploring the need for change can feel overwhelming. In some cases, it would seem that throwing out the baby with the bath water is not only desirable but the only way for progress.

Teachers are Bombarded

This summer has seen an increase in the number of learning opportunities for teachers and it looks like this will continue well into the school year. For many teachers, summer is a time to recharge and refresh themselves. Learning is definitely a great way to replenish one’s batteries but in the past few years there has been a growing number of activities and conferences which now includes online conferences, edcamps and MOOCs plus weekly twitter chats and book clubs. These opportunities vary, each one vying to get the attention of teachers.

What does a teacher do?

Despite the rhetoric that fills some blogs, most teachers are life-long learners, trying to improve their classroom practice. With so many ideas and options available, trying to cope can seem daunting. The image of teacher-as-superhuman doesn’t seem to be far off!

Go to this conference!

Get this certification!

Get more certification!

Start a blog, write a book, present at a conference!

Embrace makerspace, genius hour, inquiry learning, flipped classroom, flipped staff meetings, flipped professional development, gamification of the classroom and school and professional development – make all things fun and engaging.

At a time when teachers and education seems to be lacking, improvement seems necessary.

Teachers who are learners and work to improve their teaching are being overwhelmed.

“Teachers retreat into themselves, not because they don’t care but because they care so much and so deeply they are being overwhelmed.”

I can’t remember the source for this quote. As an administrator, I would use this as a way to remind myself that part of the role of being an educational leader was to help teachers to manage the constant bombardment.  If teachers with whom I was working were becoming overwhelmed by all the demands, it would show in there day-to-day interactions. That meant being with them in their classrooms and working with them on projects. Hiding in the office under the desk only to appear when there were good things happening isn’t a successful leadership style.  Were the initiatives and requirements draining the care right out of the teachers? If it seemed that teachers were withdrawing, it was time to realign so that people didn’t disengage.

Are we killing the love of learning in teachers?

Are we becoming over zealous and driving people away? Are we using the excuses of like technology integration and student performance to push our own narrative of good teaching?

“I have seen the light and now you need to or your are a bad teacher!”

In fact, it’s creating a gap. People who just a few years ago weren’t engaged or were just beginning to engage with technology and using social media seem to have made themselves gatekeepers and gurus who proclaim what is and what is not good for teaching and what constitutes good teaching. Teachers are bombarded with someone’s version of what it means to be a good teacher and a lot of it has to do with using some kind of technology or program or …. or… or….!

Todd Henry, author of The Accidental Creative and  Die Empty and creator of the podcast The Accidental Creative discusses in his interview with Ron Friedman, a tendency to only post the positive-self online, the trips, conferences, publishing, accolades and not the more human parts that get people to these destinations so that it seems everyone we view is living these immaculate lives and doing all the great stuff which can lead to some serious anxiety as people think they need to keep up. Todd Henry describes this very well in Comparison and Competition.

Have you ever looked around at the work of others and felt like yours isn’t measuring up? Has this ever caused your passion for your work to wane? Don’t allow the slow ratcheting-up of expectations to paralyze you.

Too often, teachers are being shown a constant stream of what “experts” are doing without being given the time to improve themselves in a meaningful way. Yes, it can fuel people to improve but, just as easily, it can deflate people to give up. Rockstars were once garage bands.

Start with Relationships

Over and over again I’m reminded that whatever needs to change, building great relationships with students, teachers, parents and other community members is the foundation. Whether it’s Seth Godin in Linchpin, Stephen Covey in 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Michael Fullan in  The Six Secrets of Change or Carol Dueck in  Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, relationships again and again are the foundational piece to what people do. In his recent piece in The GuardianPaul Mason explores the end of capitalism in a postcapitalist society. Mason pieces outlines how technology allows information to be freely accessed by anyone. This in turns allows people to work together in new ways that until now were unattainable due to costs and distance.

we’re seeing the spontaneous rise of collaborative production: goods, services and organisations are appearing that no longer respond to the dictates of the market and the managerial hierarchy.

As highlighted by Godin in Linchpin, relationships and giving to others are changing how people and companies interact. We may only be at the beginning of this shift, but for schools and teachers, building relationships with students, other teachers and their community is so important. Teachers and schools no longer control the knowledge and content that students can access. Although many teachers and schools continue to try,  some educators are making the shift to helping students to become inquirers, supporting the student as they learn, focusing more on the learning and relationships and less on controlling content and assessment.

Highly Organized and Controlled 

As schools, school systems and, to some degree, teachers struggle with trying to control information and content, there is a rise in various methods being used to control what students do, when they do it and how they do it. Highly structured uses of technology and implementation of various systems used to monitor and provide feedback to students continue to dominate classrooms as teachers continue to be required to provide traditional grades and students are required to take traditional tests.  Despite these requirements, there are teachers who are pushing for greater openness – Genius Hour, Makerspaces, Gamification, Inquiry Learning, and versions of Blended Learning and Flipped Classrooms all are stretching the traditional classroom to become more learner focused with greater autonomy on the part of the learner.

Stephen Wilmarth, in his chapter Five Socio-Technology Trends That Change Everything in Learning and Teaching from the book Curriculum 21 Edited by Heidi Hayes Jacobs, explores how technology can lead to greater social interaction and learning. As Wilmarth explains

Be assured, I am not advocating that children do not need to learn to read. They do. Or that writing will not be necessary. It is. Or that the process of arriving at sums no longer matters. It does. But all of these things are the outcomes of social adaptation to prior technological change and invention. It is the nature and relevance of reading, writing, and sums that change as we enter the postliterate era. Significantly, it is and relevance of reading, writing, and sums that change as we enter the postliterate era. Significantly, it is the way in which we make meaning out of information to create new knowledge that is changing.

The relationships that are created within classrooms are beginning relationships of learning. Through social networks, we now have the ability to expand these learning networks beyond the classroom.

Joining communities of interest and shared values (personal, family, cultural, political, economic) has always been essential to a learner’s identity. In this case, identity equates to where an individual is on the learning curve. And where traditional community relationships once defined a learner’s identity, emerging social networking technologies allow wholly new community associations to spring up organically and globally. These community ties, both strong and weak, exert a powerful influence on learning.

First, keep in mind that social networking technologies are changing rapidly. Second, remember that the technologies are not the point. In social networking, it’s important to concentrate on relationships, not technologies.

Teachers are coping with changes on multiple levels both as learners and, in turn, as teachers. To think that teachers will all be able to move at the same pace is akin to saying all students in the classroom will learn along a linear timeline, at the same pace, with the same tools, doing the same things and arrive at the same time. I don’t know anyone who still believes this takes place in a modern classroom.

Do You Love Learning?

As classrooms and schools move through transformational phases, there will continue to be different degrees of adoption and change. Unlike many who seem to be frustrated by a seeming lack of change, I am optimistic because I have seen so much change in so many areas in the past 4 or 5 years. Twitter, which was once a fairly lonely place for me, is now a fully vibrant learning network with connections of all types of learners and leaders. Interestingly, some of the earlier adopters who were avid sharers are now less involved in the networks, working more in a different avenues such as presenting and blogging or become teacherpreneurs on their own.

What drives all these people? I believe it is a love of learning that is at the heart of what they do which leads them to share and connect with others to share that passion, building relationships with others through learning. I believe their passion for learning fuels their passion for teaching. For others, that spark needs to be kindled and fanned not crushed and blown out by a constant bombardment.

I Wonder…… 

…. what if teachers were supported as learners, trying to move through a myriad of changes along with everyone else? What if their learning was supported and valued, incorporated in the their work and part of a systemic view of learning as work?

….. how educational leaders can support teachers as they transition to a learning system where discovery and asking questions is of primary importance instead of content and knowledge distribution?

…. what if learning and relationships were the primary areas of focus? How might schools change to meet the needs of students and teachers through these two lenses?

…. where wondering and innovation will fit as educational institutions transition from being content and knowledge distribution centres?

Is networking the answer?

How do you get other teachers started and dedicated building and participating in a network. How do we encourage teachers to be life long learners, to invest time in these technologies as they relate to the classroom. How do we show them what they are missing out on?

These were questions that Kyle left on my last post. Kyle is an intern and, I’m assuming, soon to be a teacher entering the profession with all the enthusiasm of someone new. Kyle’s full comment was very insightful as he wondered about the state of teaching and learning as it is buffeted by the changing winds of technology and 21st century learners.

As an administrator, these questions really made me sit back and ponder what it is that is needed to help teachers venture out and into some of the different networks that I and others are participating in regularly. So, like all good administrators, I asked a few teachers.

Their first response across the board was that the equipment had to work when they went to try it and there had to be someone close who could lend a hand it needed. Without this, they would get frustrated and stop. As one pointed out “I don’t have the time to wait for something that might or might not work. With all the demands I have, it is either working or I’m on to something else.” With all that is going on at the school things need to be working. As I stated earlier, some days teachers don’t have time to go to the washroom.

The other side of the coin is that there needs to be someone who can help them along WITHOUT making them feel like they’re unintelligent. In my younger years, my wife often accused me of this. Instead of patiently working through things with her, I’d get frustrated and finally just do it, usually right after a huge sigh. Not cool. Teachers often are made to feel inadequate because they don’t know how to do some of the simple things, like understand what URL stands for. As another reader commented

Increasingly, education has become more compartmentalized, the work load is more than ever before, and the support is not there.

Each area has its own set of acronyms for different things. It’s got to the point where, as an administrator, I’m not sure if my PGP needs an IEP or a PPP or if I should  just CRY because I forgotten where my CAR is parked today. Really. Some days, with the different meetings that take place, it’s a wonder that teachers don’t start an acronym wall in the staffroom so that they can learn the new vocabulary that is being tossed at them. Now, we toss in a bunch of other things like URL and IP address and UN and wonder why people are backing off going “NO WAY”. Especially when they hear me talk about the twits with whom I tweet to get insights and information. Now that sounds like a place to go for good information!

As for dedicated and participating in the networks I think that they need to be shown that it’s not an add on or something else to do besides what they are already doing. That it is an extension of their lives in a new context. I’ve introduced some teachers to some of the less intimidating networks but they still don’t see them as being really relevant to the day to day things that go on. So, I guess I’d have to say, to question 1, we have to make them less intimidating and more welcoming. Using Twitter might not be the best thing to start with because of the limiting 140 characters. That would be very hard for someone to handle right out of the gate. Something like Pownce, on the other hand, might just be the ticket. A slow introduction to a network where teachers can ease into discussions.

The next question is something that those of us using the tools really have to watch because these teachers are lifelong learners. I watch them as they try new things, read books and articles, discuss new strategies with people in the building and seek out conferences and workshops. They are trying new things and extending themselves. They’re learning, just not like we are. I have teachers who subscribe to Educational Leadership and read the magazine and books when they get them. Others are presenters at conferences while others work within the division on different committees. The teachers with whom I work have been willing to be pilot teachers for a whole host of things, from math to ELA and have taken part in benchmarking and test creating.

So, How do we encourage teachers to be life long learners, to invest time in these technologies as they relate to the classroom? We validate what they are doing and then we take the time to show them how they might be able to replace one thing they are doing with something else. Instead of ordering a magazine, they can read online. It saves them money and they can search out articles they want. But to make this replace the other, we need to show them how to search for articles, bookmark online using delicious or Magnolia. We have to take the time to demonstrate that we think it’s important enough that we’ll give our time to help them and then check in on them. Suggest an article and then discuss it with them. Get them to show someone else a great article or website. But give them the time. Heck, show them a site that will make them flashcards so they don’t have to do it themselves.

How do we show them what they are missing out on? I don’t think we can. See, it’s like the poor man that was happy with his life because he had all he needed and was content with it. When asked by a rich neighbour why he didn’t work harder or do more to get more money, the poor man replied that he didn’t need anymore. The rich neighbour, wanting to show the man what he was missing, asked the poor man to come with him the next day to see what he was missing. The poor man agreed.

The next day, the poor man was picked up by a servant who drove him to the mansion. Another servant answered the door and showed him into a very luxurious drawing room where the man waited and listened as his neighbour conducted business with all different kinds of people, arguing about prices and costs, threatening people who owed him money and making deals for lending out more money. At noon, the two had a quick lunch together as the rich man had to rush off to another business meeting. He told his neighbour to make himself at home and enjoy the day. That afternoon, while the poor man walked around, he noted that there was a huge library with beautiful padded chairs and a fireplace but not a book was open. He walked out into a garden in which two servants worked and when he tried to help they would have nothing of it as they didn’t want him to make a mistake with what was being done. All day long he wandered about, seeing people working and hurrying off to tasks but no one smiled or stopped to talk. Of course, there was no family, the man didn’t have time for one. So when the owner arrived home, the poor neighbour thanked him for the day and started off toward home. The rich man was puzzled. Didn’t he want to stay longer? What had happened? The poor man answered that he had seen enough and was sure he liked his life just the way it was. He may not have had servants in his home but when guests came, they would always find a comfortable chair and great conversation. He might not have a beautiful garden but he was allowed to touch and work with his. He could plant and grow and bring forth life without worrying if he displeased someone. He might not have a great library but his one book, the Bible, was worn from being read each day. When people passed by, they would stop and talk, exchange news and gossip with him, not rushing away from him. And truly, he didn’t have the money but what he did have was earned without arguing and meetings and he enjoyed the few things it afforded him. No, he figured that he’d seen enough and was content with what he had. And with a smile, he turned and headed home.

Take a look at how people see you? What do they see? Is trading what they have for what you’re offering going to bring them what they want? Are we offering something that looks inviting? If not, what needs to happen to make it inviting? How can we entice people when we looked tired or stressed or …. ? We can be excited about what we are doing but if we don’t take them along and infect them with the excitement, what will they see?

Now, I just have to practice what I blog;)