Connected Learning

Jarrod Lamshed

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Connected Classroom – Twitter

One of my ‘back to basics’ this year is harnessing the power of Twitter in both my and my students learning. This is something that has taken a back seat to the ‘busy list’ over the last year or so. Re-establishing this as a part of my routine has added immediate value to both my professional learning and learning in my classroom.

When we talk about ‘new basics’ in education, facilitating a connected classroom has to be one of these. Keeping a class Twitter account open in a browser tab on the screen in our class adds a layer of depth to the learning opportunities we create. A simple thing like our shared class novel becomes a whole different experience when we can have access to the author to interact with as we read. This term we are reading ‘Refugee’ from the ‘My Australian Story’ series, written by Alan Sunderland. One tweet from our class account connected us with Mr Sunderland who has offered to answer questions from students as we make our way through the novel.

Another common experience in Australian classrooms is ‘Behind the News‘. With a class Twitter account, this moves from a ‘viewing’ experience to an interactive learning experience where our students develop questions to ask of expert reporters on a weekly basis. This transforms the learning and allows students to see connections to their world.

For me professionally, being back in the Twittersphere keeps me on my toes. Feeling accountable to someone keeps me blogging regularly which I know helps to solidify my thinking. It keeps me in regular touch with creative thinking about education and it gives me a much broader learning network to bounce ideas around with.

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Back to Basics

This year it’s back to basics for me. Now a few years into my first leadership position, I still manage to get caught up in the juggle between the ‘business’ of a leadership role and the demands of the classroom. In amongst this, I’ve slowly and unintentionally ‘let go’ of a lot of things that were successful in my classroom. With that now clearly in mind, it’s time to rectify the problem.

I don’t think that it’s bad to ‘let go’ of things. We all should be doing this. Paul Clapton-Caputo talks about educators aiming to to have 20% of their practice in a school year be things that you haven’t done before. What I’m talking about is keeping an established base of NEW or CURRENT basics.

A few years ago, Edmodo was the platform for my students to organise themselves and collaborate online, now we use Google Classroom. Even though Edmodo is no longer the right tool for us, the underlying idea of a collaborative and creative, safe, online space for students to work in should be one of these new basics. Connecting globally is another. Instagram, Twitter, Blogs… there a MANY tools that let us do this. The ‘basic’ is that our students develop an understanding of global thinking and collaboration. Having developed a community of educators online over many years, this isn’t a difficult thing to do. It just needs to be brought back into focus.

We all should be having discussions in our schools about what ‘the basics’ are. What are the base line skills and resources to we need to be offering to our students?

Getting ‘back to basics’ doesn’t end in the classroom. What are the basics for me as a professional learner? My goal for this year is to re-engage with my online learning network. These are a group of people that push and challenge my thinking yet, when I get busy, I disengage. Writing on my own blog is another thing that I KNOW helps to clarify my thinking. Again, I struggle to maintain momentum when things get hectic. George Couros talks about not feeling guilty about isolating some work time to do this. I will give this a try.

Having a default mode is normal. It’s what we do. The challenge is to keep moving this ‘default’ forward so we keep improving.

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Today Tonight – TV Report

Over the last few weeks, the gender based learning that’s been happening at our school has been under the spotlight with an article in our local paper and now the TV news story above from the ‘Today Tonight’ program. This isn’t something that I’m particularly comfortable doing! But, I believe in the work we are doing in this area and am glad that we can be a part of the discussion.

My co-teacher in this program, Aimee Aparicio, and I both worked in a single gender program in my last school, Hackham East Primary. After attending a workshop with Ian Lillico, an Australian expert in boys education, another colleague, Rebecca Hepworth and I started trialling some of our new learning. Drawing heavily on Lillico’s work and that of Michael Gurian, we were supported by our school leadership to build a strong single gender program that still exists there today. At our peak, we had single gender and mixed class options from year 2 to year 7.

In our new roles at Woodend Primary school, Aimee and I can see that the needs of boys and girls at Hackham East aren’t unique. in fact, world wide data suggests that programs like these would have value in any school anywhere.

The program that we are running now is a great start. We have been able to tackle some topics around gender stereotypes and masculinity. An important part of this for us is that we are seeing the students becoming the drivers of this learning. They want to spread the message within the school community. This post from a student last night is a great example of that.

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This is great to see. Students empowered to make a difference in their communities. What we are doing isn’t difficult. It just takes a willingness to try something different. The conversation around the individual needs of boys and girls in schools is happening and we look forward to seeing where it goes.

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Feedback is the Breakfast of Champions

quote-Ken-Blanchard-feedback-is-the-breakfast-of-champions-66830“Feedback is the breakfast of champions”. This is an interesting quote. Breakfast of champions conjures up images of Rocky downing a raw egg… not something that is necessarily enjoyable, but it has an important purpose in his plan for self improvement. I think, for many people, feedback is a bit the same.

Feedback is an interesting thing. It’s something that we know is vital for improving students learning. Giving students regular, targeted feedback helps them to improve. No arguments… we accept this as fact. This isn’t something that is specific to schools either. As parents we regularly give ‘feedback’ (sometimes in the form of light ranting) to our kids and sometimes they take this on board and learn from it. When we have problems we don’t know how to deal with, we talk to our trusted people and take on what they say to help us make the right decision. Feedback is everywhere… a natural part of our lives.

So, why is it that the idea of professional feedback makes many of us uncomfortable? If regular targeted feedback helps students improve, surely it’s not a stretch that it will do the same for us.

We are lucky there in South Australia that we have a Department supported tool to help us manage feedback easily. The TfEL (Teaching for Effective Learning) Compass allows us to seek feedback from students, parents and colleagues. It’s a powerful tool that is easy to use. If your are in SA and haven’t tried it, it’s certainly worth exploring.

The idea of hearing what our students really think can be a scary thing! Nobody wants to hear that the lesson we spent hours planning and preparing was a flop. But, it’s important that we do hear it. We need to know WHY it was a flop. What hit the mark and what went terribly wrong? What can we learn from this experience that will help us do a better job next time? Even when something goes well, there will always be feedback that can help it be even better. This is the nature of our job. Nothing is ever finished.

In Australia we have a set of Standards for teachers (AITSL) that are now tied directly to our teacher registration requirements. I believe that this is a good thing. In the past we’ve often had the problem of not knowing what is expected of us. We have often felt like the benchmark keeps shifting. Now, the expectations are right there in black and white. We can’t meet these expectations without the help of feedback. Standard 3.6 says…

Conduct regular reviews of teaching and learning programs using multiple sources of evidence including: student assessment data, curriculum documents, teaching practices and feedback from parents/ carers, students and colleagues.

This is something we HAVE TO do. It’s not an option.

I think that 99% of us want to do our jobs the best that we can. More than that, we want the best for our students. Moving past the discomfort we feel and seeking honest, regular, targeted feedback is the best way to achieve this.

So, how do we make this happen? Even with a firm willingness to push forward we still have the struggles of ‘not enough time’ and finding regular, quick ways to get the feedback we need. How does this happen in your classroom? What tools and strategies to you use?

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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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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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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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Listening to Outsiders – Weekly Round Up

answerhub_quote_nyedesktopipadThis week I’ve been listening to a series of interviews from the ABC (I hope it survives the budget cuts) podcast ‘Conversations with Richard Fidler’. Interviews with Julia Gillard, Molly Meldrum and Matthew Evans have been varied and entertaining company on my morning walks. In particular though, an interview with Adelaide Craniofacial surgeon Dr David David stood out this week. As well as being a good story, Dr David hit on some pretty important points that are completely relevant to schools.

When discussing the early years of ¬†craniofacial surgery, Dr David made the statement that the successful outcomes they see today didn’t start until true collaboration became the common practice. He explained that to provide truly successful outcomes for his patients, he worked with a social worker, eye doctor, brain surgeon, ear specialist and a dentist. He went on to explain that this was a ‘true’ collaboration. They don’t work under a traditional method of referral through letter writing, but instead have become a team that communicate, strategise, plan, operate and consult with each other. They share office space, and meet everyday to fine tune and improve their practice.

This is something that we’ve talked about in schools for a long time, but it’s something that we could still do better. We know collaboration is a powerful thing. In our job, we are busy… I get that. As school leaders, we need to be looking at ways to create time and space with timetables and structures, and as teachers we need to prioritise collaboration over the ‘busy’ stuff. I know the busy work is important, but we need to look at how to balance this with real, ongoing collaboration that will improve our practice and create better outcomes for students.

It’s a fact of life that we can’t all be experts on everything. What if we found a way to truly collaborate and worked with and draw on each others strengths? What if we were able to team teach when it was beneficial and free each other up to work with students that need some extra support or extension? What if we planned critically together more regularly? What if we saw asking for help or advice about our practice as a natural and comfortable thing rather than a threat or sign of weakness? I feel confident that this is all possible… I just haven’t really ever seen it in action in a sustainable way. ¬†It’s certainly something to aim for.

Listening to this conversation really pushed home the idea that we really need to be listening to people from outside of the teaching profession. As teachers, I think we can easily become caught up in the world of ‘school’ and forget that there are other ideas and experiences out there for us to learn from. When we think like this, we are really limiting ourselves.

After this, I’ll certainly be listening to more of these ‘outsiders’. I think that it it important, and will only help my practice and professional learning.

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Weekly Round Up

This year, in my new role, there has been a big focus on supporting the professional learning of others. Being new at this, this has meant that I have let my own professional development slip. This is obviously not ok, so I’ve made a renewed commitment to put aside some time to get this back on track. I’ve missed it. Professional reading, listening, viewing…. engaging, is what keeps me inspired and and striving for improvement in my own practice. This weekly round up (who am I kidding, more like semi weekly) is to reflect on and share what I’ve been looking at.

Teacher Education Review Podcast: Interview with Richard Gerver
Richard Gerver is a new find for me. He isn’t someone that I had come across before in my professional learning. It seems I’ve been missing out. This interview covers thoughts on innovative change, project based learning, and effective leadership. It’s well worth a listen. Following up from this, I’m now reading Richard’s book “Creating Tomorrow’s Schools Today”. It’s an interesting read, especially looking at it from a leadership viewpoint as well as a teacher headset.

Techlandia Podcast: Interview with George Couros
I’ve listened to George (@gcouros) MANY times before and every time, I still get something out of it. This time around, I was particularly interested in the way that George has used social media to set up an authentic communication and sharing space for his district. Wouldn’t it be great to this happening here? As a new leader, I can see the benefits. A chance to create the narrative for not only our school, but our partnership. A chance to create a positive and powerful online presence and open up real communication between our schools, parents and students. Unfortunately, I don’t know how to affect this type of change from my level of leadership? I’m not saying it can’t be done, I’m just saying it needs some more thought. I think creating some momentum at a district level (Education Director?) is needed. Food for thought.

Both of these podcast episodes are worth listening to. Both have achieved some critical thinking and ideas for change.

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