Connected Learning

Jarrod Lamshed

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System Overload

53ccc3e8f73817df89f77a3211a68253Yesterday we had a representative from our teacher’s union visit our school. It’s enterprise bargaining time again and she was visiting to let us know how the process was going. One of the issues the union is addressing in this round of discussions is the problem of excessive work load. This is a real problem. It’s nine o’clock on a Friday night and I’ve just finished working. Twice this week I’ve told my daughter I couldn’t listen to her read because I had work to do. I’ve been at work by 7:30 every morning and not out the door at the end of the day until after five. Most nights there is ‘homework’ for me that means I’m not helping my kids with their’s. I’d like to say this is unusual, but it’s a fairly normal week. I think this is true for many of us. I’m not sure how the union thinks that they can change this, but I wish them luck!

I’m not complaining (well maybe I am a little bit). This is the job I chose and I wouldn’t choose to do anything else. I don’t know that anything can be done about it. As a leader in a school, the work is there and it needs to be done. I think what we can do a better job of as leaders is making sure that we don’t overload our teachers.

Planning and managing a strong learning environment takes a lot of time and energy. Our teachers work hard. Throw in committees, parent meetings, professional development, report writing, staff meetings, yard duty and it can start feeling like good classroom practice come second to the ‘stuff’.

As leaders, I think we need to try and give our teachers a break. I’m not saying we can take away all the ‘stuff’, but shaving 5 mins off the occasional staff meeting instead of running 5 mins over can make a big difference to people’s headsets. Being aware that pushing forward with our work as leaders can have an effect on teachers workloads in essential. It’s not an easy balance to find. We certainly aren’t the only profession that has a tough workload and I know there’s not an easy fix. The push of ‘getting through everything’ means that it’s hard to justify these mini breaks, but I believe that the pros outweigh the cons.

We are in a profession where we need to be more aware of each other. Releasing the pressure valve occasionally is good for everyone. When people feel less stressed they are more aware of each other and provide a good support network for work mates. This is important. Covering the yard duty of a colleague who’s had three extra meetings this week, might be the thing that helps prevent their whole week going to the pack. This is better for teachers, it’s better for leaders and most importantly it’s better for students and classroom learning.

It’s a hard act to pull off, but we’ll keep trying.

 

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Managing Professional Development

profdev_tree_480-1Professional development is important. It’s something that schools and leadership teams need to value and see as an investment in high quality learning. Having said this, when we decide to shell out substantial resources (money or closure days etc) we have an expectation that it will be money well spent.

I have been to a few professional development sessions recently that, although they have given me good things to take away, have left me feeling like something was missing. For me it was the ‘big picture’ stuff. They didn’t quite have the hook that challenged my thinking to the point where I felt a need to act on something. Speaking with other staff at my school, some agreed with me, but many loved these sessions. They felt that they had ‘hit the mark’ for them.

We know that one speaker or session isn’t going to suit everyone’s needs. Like our students, we all come with different experiences, different passions, different roles, a different number of years in the job… so how do we do this better? We aim for differentiation for our students. Should we doing more to provide this for teachers or is that unrealistic? With school and department priorities in the mix, can we really offer good differentiation for our teachers? I’d like to think so.

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Activating the Hidden Talent

The-greatest-leader-is-not-necessarily-the-one-who-does-the-greatest-things.-He-is-the-one-that-gets-the-people-to-do-the-greatest-thingsI’ve presented a lot of workshops over the years I’ve been teaching. It’s a great experience that forces me to critically reflect on my practice. When you stand in front of an audience you need be ready to back up what your saying and answer the curly questions that are thrown at you. You need to know your stuff.

This doesn’t mean that we need to be the all knowing expert on everything, but we need to have looked at our own practice through a critical lens and have a good understanding of why we do things the way we do.

Something that I need to better as a leader is to activate opportunities for other staff at my school to be able to do the same. There are many times that we run small professional development sessions within our school that other staff could be a part of. With a consistently long list of ‘things’ to do, it’s easy to use this excuse to just run these sessions myself. I guess this is the leadership version of the ‘default mode’ that we all fall back to when we get stressed or busy. Instead of taking this easy way out, I need to be making more time to activate those around me.

Our schools are full of hidden talent. I say hidden because a lot of the magic happens behind closed doors, and many teachers don’t automatically feel comfortable sharing the great practice that is happening in their classrooms. As a leader in the school, I need to be having conversations with these teachers and support them to share with others as often as I can. When I began teaching I had leaders that helped me find opportunities to share and develop this side of my learning. Without that, I wouldn’t have had the opportunities that have been so important in developing my teaching. This is something that I need to a better job at from now on.

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Social Media in Schools

Periscope-logoSocial media is well and truly a part of our lives. We tweet our way through TV shows, Instagram photos of our dinner, pin that craft idea and update our Facebook status to let everyone know what we’re up to or share endless photos of our kids (sorry). For our kids, the world of social media is even more crowded adding Snapchat, Kik, Omegle and Vine… the list goes on. It’s almost impossible to keep up with, with new services popping up regularly.

Given the huge number of services to wade through paired with the hype around children’s safety in these spaces, you can almost be forgiven for wanting to steer clear of social media in the classroom altogether… almost.

There is a lot already written supporting the use of social media in schools. From taking control of your school’s digital footprint, to drip feeding information to your school communities, the applications are wide and varied. For me though, the exciting stuff happens in the classroom.

In many of our classrooms at Woodend Primary School, our teachers are using Facebook to improve their communication with parents. Replacing regular class newsletters, Facebook groups have become an interactive way to bring parents into the classroom. We decided that rather than continue trying to get parents to go to a new space, we would go to them. Most of us are on Facebook and know that ignoring that red notification dot is not really an option! These groups have been well received and are now a natural extension of our school community.

Even better, several classes are regularly using social media to connect their learning with others classes around the world. Twitter being used alongside student blogs has let students start building authentic audiences for their learning.

Twitter has also helped our class along with Jess Ottewell’s class make connections with the Behind the News television series. Behind the News is a current affairs show aimed at a student audience. Each week our classes have been using twitter to ask questions about the week’s stories and to share our ideas and learning. Last week, we were contacted by the show to be a part of a new ‘Ask the Reporter’ session using the new app ‘Periscope’. We were one of only a handful of classrooms to be invited to participate in this trial event where we were able to send questions via Twitter and have them answered live by a reported from the show.

Apart from the obvious added value to the learning in our classrooms, this is a great example of how a new social media app has been harnessed for a learning purpose. A lot of reports surrounding ‘Periscope’ have been negative, highlighting the possible negative uses of the app. As educators, it’s important that we see past the knee jerk reaction surrounding social media and look deeper at how it can add to learning in our classrooms.

The video of this event is posted below.

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A Stroke of Genius

jobs-300x225There’s a lot of googleable information about the origins of ‘Genius Hour. From the perspective of being based on Google’s 20% time  or inspired by the ‘Caine’s Arcade‘ video… you can take your pick. In our classroom, the idea for our ‘genius’ time comes from a desire to be absolutely engaged in learning.

Any of us that pride ourselves on being life long learners know how this works. We get hold of an idea that goes around and around in our minds until we have an opportunity to spend some time digging into it. The REALLY good ideas can’t wait and the digging often happens when we should be sound asleep!

The premise for genius projects in our classroom is based around that same idea. We are always looking for ways to better engage kids in learning. We want them to be enthusiastic learners during classes, so… why not give them an opportunity to learn about something that they are already enthusiastic about?

Over the years I’ve done this with my students, I’ve heard the arguments against it. Where’s the structure? How is this covering the curriculum (hmmm)? There’s no control over what’s happening? How can you be in charge of so many different projects at once? For many teachers, this can be a difficult concept to grasp. The idea of students co-constructing the learning… students setting the structure around the project… students investigating the curriculum… is something new for many. I am NOT in charge of these projects, students are. Isn’t that the end game? We want to develop students that become independent learners? Surely they aren’t going to achieve this without practicing it.

I think, sometimes, we create too much of a gap between what WE expect as learners and what we see as acceptable learning for kids. We have all been to professional development that we see as sub standard. It’s either too much talk… it isn’t pitched right.. or we just aren’t interested. Why do we expect that our classrooms are any different? When we have an opportunity to design our own learning and make it completely relevant to us we are more engaged. We not only commit our working time to it but will dig deeper into it at home. This is what genius projects do for students.

Seeing the value in loving learning is essential. If kids are cheering when you say it’s time to work on these projects, that’s got to be a good thing. Not only are they engaged, but they are learning. Currently I have a student creating scale models of famous political buildings (yes this is his passion) using minecraft. This is a student that doesn’t engage in maths lessons, but here, he is calculating scale reductions of measurement.. area, perimeter, volume. He’s writing willingly about types of government.. it amazes me every time. We have another student who is challenging our school’s fundraising policy to get her idea off the ground and raise money for motor neuron disease. She is writing persuasive texts, preparing presentations for the principal, designing a business plan and budget to support her idea. It’s a wonderful thing.

Another criticism of ‘Genius Hour’ is that this type of learning should be happening all the time… and they are right. That is part of the reason that we’ve opted for the ‘Genius Projects’ title and dropped the ‘hour’. In reality, whatever amount of time we allow kids to work on these ideas at school, they spend more of their own time own it at home.

We are certainly a long way from all learning being as engaging as this, but we are working on it.

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Something We Should Talk About

This is video is making the rounds at the moment…

This segment, from “The Project” host Waleed Aly, is a welcome addition to the the discussion around these issues. As I’ve said before, it is a discussion that is well overdue and one I’m glad to see is gaining some traction.

Segments like this and movies like “The Mask You Live In” give us a platform to base these discussions around. Social media is pounding us with horrific data about domestic violence on a daily basis, and as confronting as it is… this is a good thing. It’s about time.

As I’ve said before though, I think the discussion is missing the mark. It’s great that it’s happening but I think the focus is wrong. This segment talks about funding some much needed programs in Australia to help the victims of domestic violence. That’s hard to argue with. The victims of this abuse need to be protected and supported with the aftermath of their attack. But the focus here, and in much of the discussion that’s happening is about just that.. the aftermath. Our discussions, for the most part are about responsive approaches. I think we need to be discussing this with a PROactive headset.

I want to state here that I know that men can be victims of domestic violence as well. This is no less horrific and no person should be subjected to abuse by another person regardless of gender. Having said that, in the vast majority of cases, women are the victims. Because of this, domestic violence is often talked about as a ‘women’s issue’. I don’t agree. This is most definitely a men’s issue. Men hit women. Men verbally abuse women. Men sexually abuse women.

If we really want to make a difference and change the data, we need to work on this with our boys. I know I’ve talked about this a LOT but it’s something that I feel strongly about. If we can plant the seeds of change with our boys from an early age, we have a much better chance of improving things. I’m not talking about “don’t hit women”. The conversation needs to be about challenging ideas around masculinity, power, and the ideas we spread about ‘being a man’. It’s a big conversation and it’s not going to be a quick fix. We are talking about generational change which means we need to get started now.

Our education department here in SA (DECD) has committed to become a ‘White Ribbon Accredited Workplace‘. This is a great start, but it’s not the only thing we should be doing. We have a unique opportunity to work with the next generation of adults. It’s a huge responsibility. We have room for boys programs in our schools. In ALL of our schools. Wouldn’t it be great if we could harness this and start working toward a more positive future?

 

 

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Sparking Change

Change is a funny thing. Some people like it, but for many it brings about feelings of discomfort and anxiety. Being a member of the first group, I find the challenge that change brings exciting. The opportunity to participate in new learning is something that is fairly unique to our profession. In many jobs new information is distributed, but teachers get to participate in the learning. We get to take new ideas and try them out. We have the luxury (for the most part) to decide if something new improves the learning in our classrooms or not and then decide what to add to our practice and what to leave out.

The process we go through in doing this is extremely valuable. It challenges the ideas we have about how students learn and, just as importantly, it challenges our own learning. I firmly believe that a growth mindset is necessary for us to do our jobs properly. Being unwilling to consider new ideas is detrimental to our student’s learning. One of the most powerful things we can do is model learning to our kids. It shows them that we are the ‘life long learners’ that we want them to be.

Having said this, the realities of our day to day work are often harsh. The overwhelming feeling of having ‘too many balls in the air’ can plunge us into our default modes very quickly. It’s not ideal, but it’s a real thing. When we are stressed and busy we fall back to what we know works and it can feel like there isn’t time to try new things.

So how do we break through this feeling? I don’t know that there’s an easy answer. For me, it was being exposed to some high level professional development at an EdTechSA (formerly CEGSA) conference. I was already engaging with new learning regularly, but for whatever reason, the connections I made both to what was being said by the keynotes and in my discussions with other attendees left me with a need to commit myself deeper to new learning. George Couros, Summer Howarth and Louka Parry were some of these people.

I have been lucky enough to follow this up with regular, inspiring, professional development opportunities both locally and at two EduTech conferences in Brisbane. My connections (mostly through Twitter) with generous educators like Alec Couros and Stephen Heppell alongside a huge number of connected local and global school based teachers has helped me to continue my new learning every day.

In a few weeks, I look forward to taking 25 staff from my school to this year’s EduTech conference. This is a huge investment for our school but one that is well worth the cost. Over the last year I have asked our teachers to consider a lot of change and they have all shown a willingness to invest their time and effort in what I have had to say. To me, this says that our students are in good hands. I work with a group of teachers that have stepped a long way out of their comfort zone. For me, being able to take them to EduTech, I hope will provide an opportunity for our staff to make some new connections of their own.

 

 

 

 

 

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Time to Take Off the Mask

Last week I was lucky enough to attend the South Australian premiere of “The Mask You Live In”, a film by Jennifer Siebel Newsom. 

“The Mask You Live In” is a documentary that focusses on boys and young men as they struggle to find their identities among our society’s definition of masculinity. The film addresses some important questions and highlights some scary statistics from the USA, many of which I fear closely represent our own statistics in Australia and those in many other countries.

Many times, in previous posts, I’ve raised a lot of the same points. Nearly all of our violent crimes are committed by men, our boys are significantly more likely than girls to have learning issues, boys drop out of school at a much higher rate than girls, the highest number of suicides in our country is by young men… the list goes on. Unfortunately this documentary didn’t have a magic bag full of solutions.

What the film did do, was highlight the conversation. Jennifer Siebel Newsom has captured some extremely powerful stories to narrate this problem. This movie will go a long way to bringing the discussion out of the shadows and into the mainstream. 

It’s a discussion that needs to happen. Last night in Adelaide a service was held to remember those that have lost their lives to domestic violence. It is a horrendous realisation that we even need an event like this. But we do, with an average of 2 women a week killed by their current or former partner in Australia this year. Horrifying. It’s easy to see this as someone else’s problem, but realistically and statistically any of our sons can become these men.

“The Mask You Live In” goes a long way to clearing up how we got here. The cultural pressure we put on our boys to ‘man up’ is intense. It’s everywhere. In our sports teams, music, TV, movies… the message says “be tough”… “don’t be a sook”. Most men have at some time either said or have been told to “toughen up”. It has to stop.

This week has given us a strong example of how our society not only promotes an image of ‘toughness’ but also accepts violence against others. Most of our Facebook newsfeeds have been over run by promotions and news stories about the recent Mayweather vs Pacquiao boxing match. I’m not jumping into a debate over the merits of boxing as a sport, but with celebrities lining the front row at the bout, its hard for young boys (or even we men) to ignore the fact that this manly boxing thing draws out the cool people. My big problem here is that one of the contenders, Mayweather, is a convicted wife beater. A witness statement written by his young son has been making the rounds and it is gut wrenching to read. Even with this knowledge, someone (or many people) somewhere has given this guy a chance to earn a share of $300 million (yes million) by beating someone. Not only that, but we have gone out in droves to watch and participate in the hype. In my opinion, we were focussing on the wrong hype. Domestic violence accepted and rewarded. Not good enough.

I don’t know what the answer is (still), but I’m glad the conversation is happening.

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One Punch

punch-316605

Someone punched my son today. I’m not going to over dramatise and call it a ‘king hit’ or a ‘cowards punch’ but nonetheless my son was hit by another human being.

A student in his class thought (wrongly according to witnesses) that my son had been throwing bits of eraser at him during a science lesson. After school, this child waited for my son and punched him. He was punched in the head and knocked to the ground. A friend who tried to intervene was punched in the face, also knocked to the ground with injuries to his mouth. Obviously, this was a pretty ugly situation, but the school handled it really well. Even though it happened after school, they gathered what information they could and let me know straight away so I could contact my child and make sure he was ok…. He was. We went home and iced his injuries to be left with a nasty bump on his head and, it looks like, a black eye by morning.

This is where the story turns. Once we were home my son’s phone took on a life of it’s own. Messages from his friends came in thick and fast. “Are you ok?” was met equally as often with “You took that punch like a boss!” (What ever that means… I must ask my boss tomorrow). It wasn’t long before his sore head faded and he was almost basking in his new celebrity status. As the texts went on his mates and various other acquaintances caught up in the frenzy started vowing retribution toward his attacker with messages like “next time I’ll fight for you” and “He better watch his back!”. I kept an eye on the messages coming in, but stayed out of it, curious to see where things went. Thankfully my son responded to his friends with calls to be calm… let the teachers handle it, doing something dumb will just make it worse. Phew.

For me, the aftermath of the punch was more worrying than the physical attack itself. Without my son’s cool head, things could have really turned nasty. This one event could very well have escalated and had the potential to go on indefinitely. This really worries me. We are in a place where our boys and young men’s first response to violence is to meet it with more violence. I don’t know how we combat this. All that we get from ‘an eye for an eye’ approach is a lot of people missing an eye. No real resolution, and a cycle of violence bound to repeat itself.

Recently I saw a statistic (admittedly I haven’t fact checked) that 13 women have been killed in the last 7 weeks by a current or former male partner. This pattern of violence in our boys becomes violence in our men. It’s something that needs much more discussion. We seem to be going around in circles and the situation stays the same. This isn’t new information. We just aren’t doing anything about it.

Before my current teaching role, I helped to establish a successful program for boys at my school. In this program we explicitly addressed male stereotypes and identified issues of significance for boys. We addressed violence and worked really hard to change this behaviour in the young men we worked with. We weren’t successful with every child, but we certainly had a lot of success. These programs are hard to maintain. Money becomes an issue and these programs are cut back and eventually seem to disappear altogether. Instead, we need to see these programs expand. Funding to offer these programs and explicitly target violence with boys from primary school and into high school are vital. If we want to reduce this type of horrible statistic we need to start supporting proactive rather than reactive approaches. I’m not holding my breath, but if nothing changes… nothing changes.

 

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The Juggling Act

When you start a new job, there’s always a period of time it takes to feel settled. Last year was that for me. If I’m being honest, it really took the whole year for me to start feeling like my new school was a place where I fit. I don’t think that this is unusual. Starting a new role in a new school means developing relationships with students, staff and other leaders. It means gaining their trust. In a new role you tend to hit the ground running. You are eager to impress… to show people that they’ve made the right call in hiring you. That time is over now. I’m beginning the second year in my role and I feel like I’ve got a handle on what that means. I’ve also had the time to reflect on what’s working and what’s not. This isn’t a ground breaking revelation… I think most of us do this all the time.

Last week, some things clicked for me. Any teacher knows that time is a precious thing. There are only so many hours in a day. What we do with those hours is important. I’ve written about the need for balance before and I don’t want to rehash that here, but my thinking has changed a bit. We all struggle with the balance between work and home. Hours at school stretch out and that time at home with the family get encroached upon all the time. This is a constant battle that isn’t going to end any time soon. What I’m struggling with right now is finding balance WITHIN my work life. Reflecting on my new role, I’ve discovered that I’ve lost some things. In particular, I’ve unintentionally removed myself from a network of learners that challenges and pushed MY practice.

A big part of my role is encouraging pedagogical change in others. My job is to prod, push and expose people to consider new ideas and to try new things in their practice. In focussing on this, and feeling time-poor, I’ve stopped exposing myself to people and professional activities that push me.

This year, within my work, I need to make time for this. I have nominated to rejoin the EdTechSA committee and work with others to help shape teaching and learning around digital technologies. The people involved in this group are passionate about what they do and help to spark my thinking. I have already committed to facilitating several workshops for teachers at other sites this year. Doing this, pushes me to think more critically about my practice and keeps me on my toes.

Guiding others is important and I know that this is what my role is about. But I can’t do this properly if I’m not pushing my own learning.

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