Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Visibility and Purpose of Learning in my Classroom

This week I started at The Mind Lab at Unitec to begin a Postgrad Diploma in Digital and Collaborative Learning.  Talk about off to a flying start!!

We talk about the power of social media and it's so true - I made two new connections via a colleague on Twitter who told me that two of her connections were there.  After many 'signs' and coincidences I found that one of her connections was in fact sitting right next to me!!  Small world.  The other one arrived drenched to the skin and was easy to spot given his own description of himself!  That's another story.  That's what I love about the power of our learning community - the ongoing connections that challenge my own learning.

One of our first tasks was to create, as a group, what we believed to be the meaning or description of knowledge.  So what exactly IS knowledge?  We had a fantastic discussion and the power of that discussion was in the differing points of view.  It's incredibly important to be open to new ideas and ways of thinking and to not put up barriers with your own preconceptions.  I had my own thinking challenged and I LOVE that!  Isn't that why we teach?  I expect my students to challenge and question my thinking and ideas every day, just as I question theirs.  (Leads to some interesting debates and that's a blog post for another time!!)

So what IS knowledge?  Below is our brainstorm and our symbolism for what we think it is...

We were also asked to think about and discuss how we made learning visible and purposeful in our classrooms.  This is something that underpins everything I do and has done so since I began training to be a teacher in 1996.  When I had my first class in 1999, a class of Year 3s, we planned together and always discussed the learning purpose and how that learning connected to the world outside the classroom door.  This was in the days before we regularly blogged but we were a semi-digital class in that our learning was supported by appropriate tech in as many relevant ways as possible.

Our learning was displayed everywhere. Learning Intentions, Success Criteria, examples of learning in progress, Wonder Walls, completed learning and learning in progress was always on display and shared with our parents and community through classroom visits, workshops and displays, and always through the newsletter.

So, what has changed since then?  Our learning is still prominently displayed but we have the added benefit of being a 1:1 classroom now.  While we still share in the ways above, our class now has 
  • their own class blog and individual blogs which I've been putting to good use since 2009.  This helps to engage our community and share our learning locally and globally,
  • we engage in Twitter discussions each week through Kidsedchatnz
  • we've been involved in Quadblogging Aotearoa
  • we share stories with others through Storybird
  • communicate through the ePals Global Learning Community
  • share information on the school Facebook page
  • participate in the NZReadloud3 project, 
  • and use a huge range of tools in our learning.  In fact, we've just created our own crowdsourced presentation with information from the students in my current class, to share tips and tricks and clear instructions on how to use a range of tools.  This is only the start of this document as it will continue to grow throughout the year and give the students a real and relevant purpose for writing instructions.

The students and I plan our learning together through the use of Google Docs and Google Slides which enables everyone to be very clear about the purpose of the learning and where the learning is headed.  We always have a purpose for learning and are clear about it.  The students are expected to question this when it is not or when I haven't made it clear, or they themselves aren't able to clearly articulate our shared learning plans and goals that we've created together.

Michael Absolum's book - Clarity in the Classroom is still one of the most important books I've ever read.  I regularly refer back to it and we are exploring it in our weekly staff professional learning sessions currently.  I also share what I am learning with the students whether it's in person or on here,
or through discussions at school.  

Everyone needs to be clear about the purpose - the 'WHY' of what we're learning and that purpose needs to be visible to all.  (John Hattie's 'Visible Learning' is next on my reading list!)

Simon Sinek is another inspiration for me - both as a leader and also as a teacher.  I first watched his talk on starting with WHY back in 2010 with a Principal who was an inspiration and taught me a great deal about being purposeful.  This sums it up for us and our students as learners.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Inspirational TED

Day 20 of the Reflect and Renew Blog Challenge from Reflective Teacher @TeachThought 

TED Talks and all their TED-Ex spin-offs have been a source of inspiration for me for many years.  I've used them for professional learning, sharing with colleagues and many times with my students.  I love that there's now a TED-Ed site too.  This is a fantastic resource for supporting you to 'flip your classroom.'  There's always something interesting an inspirational and it's not just the education-focused talks that inspire.  The science, arts, personal experiences and many from the business world also inspire on a daily basis.

I've included links to previous posts as well as including some of my latest favourites.

Sir Ken Robinson - Out of Our Minds - Learning to be Creative - posted 2011

Zoe Weil - Our Students Need to be Solutionaries - fantastic and inspirational from 2011 post.

Simon Sinek - Love Your Work.
This is a very powerful TED Talk to share - all about the 'Why' of what we do.

Adora Svitak - What Adults Can Learn From Kids
I've used this so many times over the years - particularly with students as an exmaple of a powerful speech.  This young lady continues to inspire me today.

Rita Pierson - "Kids Don't Learn From People They Don't Like."

And one more for now - possibly the one that really hit home for me.  From a passionate educator who sadly is no longer with us - Rita Pierson.  I really hope that this continues to be shared as widely as possible.  Great for the start of the year but also as a reminder when things get tough that ultimately, we are there for our students - always.
I've shared this with students too.  Highly recommend doing this as you will be surprised at the insights the students will provide based on this.  "Every kid needs a champion." I will always hold on to this statement, particularly when getting snowed under by all things admin.

Keep our students at the heart of what we do.  Always.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

One Way I Will Mentor / Support My Colleagues This Year.

Day 17 of the Reflect and Renew Blog Challenge from Reflective Teacher @TeachThought 

I'm a huge fan of Critical Friends - if it's set up and well-run.  I've been fortunate to have experienced both extremes.  This is such a powerful tool for creating collaboration and open reflection on practice but it does take time to set up and structure it well so that a community of learners develops along with a strong community of practice.  Trust is absolutely key.

My best experience came from the school in which I was last a Deputy Principal.  I learned so much from creating knowledge with my colleagues and from observing their teaching and learning processes.  I also learned to be able to coach teachers to be able to reflect deeply on their practice.  The biggest skill I think I learned was to be quiet and actively listen to what they were saying and how they were reflecting on their practice and asking appropriate questions in order to help them in that reflection process.  That is something I really want to continue in 2015.

Critical Friends becomes such an important part of the professional learning cycle / Action Research / Reflective Practice that it's power cannot be underestimated.

I'm also quite heavily involved in supporting and mentoring many people online and in person.  This is powerful for my own learning development as well.  I hope that they get as much out of our conversations and knowledge sharing and creating as I do.  My expectation would be that they'd tell me if this was not the case!  I need to learn from them too.

The link below includes video clips, etc of the Critical Friends process and would be a great resource to share if you're starting off on this journey.  

Critical Friends

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Why On Earth Would You Want to be a Teacher?

Day 14 of the Reflect and Renew Blog Challenge from Reflective Teacher @TeachThought 

Today's prompt is all about what we'd do if a young person was asking for advice about becoming a teacher.  What would we say?  What advice would we give?  I've been incredibly privileged to be in this position many times during my career and have recently seen at least five of my previous students become teachers.  I'm so very proud of them for entering this crazy profession.  I know that if they stay true to themselves and remember why they became teachers in the first place, they will be in it for a very long time.

I've often thought I should perhaps do something else for a career.  I came to teaching quite late compared to others and graduated when I was 31.  I had intended to focus on child psychology and had begun that degree but felt that teaching would give me the experience I needed over a wide range of age groups so off I went.  My intention was to complete my two years post-study and become fully registered and then return to completing my degree in psychology.  A funny thing happened though the moment I started my first posting or placement.  I knew I'd found what I loved.  It was instant and I'd never felt more sure of anything in my life.

Over the years, like any of us, I've wondered if I should / could do anything else, expecially when the workload becomes a challenge or there are other challenges that present themselves.  I've even taken time out of the classroom twice, once to study for my Masters and the second time for health reasons.  There was a chance that I wouldn't be able to return to teaching.  To have something that you love with a passion taken away from you, not by choice, changes your thinking somewhat.

So why on Earth would you want to be a teacher?  Because it's the most rewarding profession on Earth.  Yes, there are so many challenges, yes it's hard and tiring, and at times beyond frustrating.  Don't believe people about 'all the holidays you get' - you'll spend a lot of them preparing learning and teaching for your students.  That's a choice by the way and it's why we do what we do - everything is always for our students.  We have them for a year, two if we're very spoiled and lucky.  That's a long time of learning and teaching that needs to be the best we can offer.  Everything we do matters on a minute-by-minute basis and that can be quite exhausting and all-consuming.  We give so much and that can make it hard to find a balance but it is so very worth it.   The quote below, from Krissy Venosdale, says it all for me.  It's wise advice.  

Source: Venspired.com

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

2015 Digital Learning Goals: Communities of Practice - Student Version

Day 13 of the Reflect and Renew Blog Challenge from Reflective Teacher @TeachThought 

Creating a Community of Practice for and with my Students

My research over the past couple of years has been around developing Communities of Practice for teacher professional learning.  It's all about making learning connected and relevant for individual teachers and getting rid of the 'one-size-fits-all' professional learning and the 1 or 2 day courses which do very little to encourage sustained change in practice in our profession.  

The more I've researched this, the more relevant I've seen it to be for our students.  I started to implement some changes and some of the ideas before I left my previous school and the impact, in a very short time, was quite a surprise.

Communities of Practice are about sharing, curating and creating new learning.  Everyone in the community learns from each other no matter what their level of experience.  We started out with Google Apps as our platform.  Skills were taught and shared and the ideas behind the CoPs were explained to the students who had many questions and ideas for adaptation which I was very excited about and which made so much sense.  I learn from and with my students and this was a real case in point for me.       

The presentation below details part of the journey I've been on.  I'm at the stage of writing up the first phase of the research which is the final part of my Masters.  My intention is that I will apply the knowledge gained from this research to my teaching practice and my classroom to develop a Community of Practice that is a successful learning tool for my students and myself.  We will continue to use Google Apps for Education as our platform so there's a lot more learning around that for me too.  My expectation is that my students and I will develop this community together as a way to strengthen and grow our learning.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Education Has Changed A Great Deal Since I Began Teaching...Or Has It...?

Day 11 of the Reflect and Renew Blog Challenge from Reflective Teacher @TeachThought 

"How has education changed since you began teaching?"
Now this is an interesting question.  My initial reaction was, of course it has and yes, it has, but has it really changed THAT much and in what ways...

Images like the one below always make me stop and think about how much we've really changed globally.  I think that we're extremely lucky in New Zealand that we have so many forward-thinking, and sometimes 'disruptive' educators involved in our students lives.

Source: Huffington Post 

A key focus over the past ten years in this country has been on the development of Modern Learning Environments or MLEs.  The images below show what's possible and in 2010 I was fortunate enough to be part of developing an MLE in a previous school.

CORE EDUCATION: Blog Post - MLEs, examples
Kamai School 

It's not all about the furniture though.  Unless there's also a shift in the pedagogy of the teachers, and learners, then it's just a very interesting environment with some pretty cool pieces of furniture.   

I began my career in 1999 and from the first day technology played an enormous part in the learning and teaching process.  Even then, however, I was very concerned with the 'why' of the tools I was selecting for the students to use.  At that stage it was very much through teacher selection that tools were availabel for students.  As students became more aware of the tools available and started exploring to find and use their own tools, it became very much a shared process.  We always had to be clear about why we were using a tool, however.  Even back then it had to have a purpose and I think that's even more important today as the number of available tools has grown exponentially.

I've always shared and created the learning with my students so there's not been a lot of difference in that area for me although it was a huge battle in the beginning.  I fought against the use of worksheets for a start and trying to implement some of the digital learning was extremely hard as so many still viewed the technology with suspicion.  This included some teachers as well as some parents.  It was a case of just keeping going and showing what could be possible through evidence from the classroom and the learning.

Now we're in 2014.  I love that so many schools are embracing and promoting change, in learning environments along with the pedagogy to back it up.  I still have concerns that this is not happening fast enough for the benefit of our students.  They are entering a world where they must have the skills necessary in order to cope with the fast pace of change and yet there are still teachers in our profession who refuse to work and learn on a computer...and they get away with it.  For me that's wrong and it's the students who will suffer.

I've experienced seeing queues of teachers on a Monday morning photocopying the week's worksheets.  This is also wrong.  This is possibly one of my real frustrations. 

We've changed a lot in the past 16 years that I've been involved in education but it's not consistent locally or globally.  Some would argue, that the constant testing is a step backwards and that we run the risk of teaching to a test rather than teaching the skills we need our students, and us, to possess to thrive in the 21st Century.  We have a long way to go I think but I'm always positive that change is possible.  One of my education heroes is Sir Ken Robinson whose work I've been following now for many years.  He sums up what's needed, and what is absolutely essential, I believe.  I've included two of my favourite presentations.

Friday, January 9, 2015

The Benefits of Connecting with other Educators and What I'm Doing to Continue That in 2015

Day 10 of the Reflect and Renew Blog Challenge from Reflective Teacher @TeachThought 

I've blogged before about the power of being connected with other educators, both locally and globally so I won't repeat too much of it here.

Justine Hughes 16/11/2014

It's all about the power of being able to learn and with others.  I teach and learn the same way with my students. "We are all teachers and we are all learners in our learning environments" - that includes our local and global environments.  That was a quote written by some of my learners a few years ago.  They were 9 and 10 year-olds and very, very wise.  They taught me so much.  My students always do, as do my colleagues.

What am I doing in 2015 to continue my connections?  Much as I've done for the past 10 years or so with a few extras thrown in...

1.  Continue to work with Beth (@bleidolf67) to develop the ReflectiveTeacher @TeachThought online community.

2.  Continue to connect with and learn from the amazing PLN on Twitter, Google, FB, etc.

3.  Attend as many EdCamps as I can around New Zealand.

4.  Connect with as many educators in Auckland as I can in person.  

5.  Carry on in my role with the Global Education Conference as part of the International Advisory Board but increase my presence and support of the initiatives.

6.  Encourage others to connect to the powerful PLNs available locally and globally.

We can be connected through the various forms of social media but, unless we're learning and adapting our practice to meet the needs of our learners, our colleagues and ourselves, are we really 'connected'?