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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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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The REAL Game Changer

In his latest post titled “The biggest ‘Game Changer’ in Education“, George Couros wrote:

The real game changer isn‚Äôt something external; it is internal. It is the way we think and grow. It is moving from that ‚Äúfixed‚ÄĚ mindset about teaching and learning, and moving to the ‚Äúgrowth‚ÄĚ mindset. It is thinking differently about education and understanding that all of us as people need different things to succeed. To some students, the ‚ÄúFlipped‚ÄĚ model is hugely beneficial, while to some others, gaming is going to push their learning to a new level. Some learn better in isolation, while others excel in collaboration. There is no single ‚Äúthing‚ÄĚ that is a game changer. If there was, we would have figured it out and adopted it by now. We have to stop looking for standardized solutions to try and personalize learning. Our mindset towards teaching and learning has to be open to many approaches, not any single one.

This paragraph really resonates with me. The willingness to approach teaching with a growth mindset is essential. In my opinion, teachers who are completely ‘fixed’ in their teaching and unwilling to continue their own learning journey, have no place in a classroom. Although harsh sounding, I don’t think that this is a particularly radical view. I think that most of us understand that a teachers willingness to grow and try new things is a requirement of the job. I think the next question is how do we decide which ‘new thing’ to take on? As George discusses, it’s not a ‘one size fits all’ approach. Different kids have different learning needs.

As teachers, the biggest challenge for us is finding what it is that switches each of our students on to learning. There’s no magic trick needed to work this out. The answer doesn’t rely on new technologies or even connecting with other educators online. It comes down to, first and foremost, connecting with your students. It is vitally important that teachers take the time to develop real relationships with their students. I use the word ‘real’ because so often we don’t take the time to get to know what really makes kids tick.

Building relationships with kids can be tough. There are always those kids that you connect with immediately, but the relationships with the ones you don’t instantly connect with are just as important (if not more). Time taken to go and watch a sporting match or violin concert outside of school is well worth it. Taking some time out of the day to talk to your students about what interests THEM is an easy thing to do and helps to strengthen your relationships. When you’ve established these real connections, you’ll have a much better understanding of how to make learning accessible for each individual learner in your class and that’s when you’ll know which ‘game changer’ to tackle.

I’m not trying to be simplistic and am not saying that attending a Saturday morning footy game will fix all of your problems, but in the reality of over crowded curriculums and heavy workloads it’s easy to neglect the basics. If we don’t have the relationships.. we don’t have effective classrooms.

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Capturing the Moment

This term, I’ve been feeling flat. A feeling of being over committed, and frustrated with time restraints has been a little¬†overwhelming. A ‘not so inspiring’ professional development session last Monday certainly didn’t help. With this on top of all the usual frustrations of a teacher’s life I have not been at my enthusiastic best. ¬†This is not to say that everything has been bad. I am working with a great team of teachers on some innovative and exciting stuff, it’s just been lost in the ‘muddle’ for the last few weeks.

With this lacklustre state of mind I wandered off to my first CEGSA (Computers in Education Group of South Australia) committee meeting on Thursday night and went through the motions of¬†beginning¬†my newest¬†commitment. I can’t say I was feeling enthusiastic at the thought of an after hours meeting, but I had committed so I went along and joined the conversation. After the committee meeting I had the opportunity to attend a ‘spotlight’ session with George Couros. It was the beginning of the¬†rejuvenating¬†process.

George’s session,¬†titled¬†‘What to Look for in Today’s Classroom’ was energising. As the session progressed and the tweeting began, I began to feel the fog lift. I began to refocus on the exciting parts of the job and recommit to my ongoing list of goals. By the end of the session I had re-established some important connections with people but had also re-established a connection with my job.

Thursday’s session was followed by a full day ‘master class’ with George. At this event I attended as a support person. My role was to support participants as they worked with George to set up their own online professional portfolios linked with the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers. Even though I was there as a troubleshooter, the learning for me was huge and once again I came out inspired with a new list of goals for my teaching and learning as well as that of my students.

 


Now, ¬†I have seen George present on several¬†occasions¬†before (maybe not quite to the extent of a stalker), and each time there is a feeling of¬†excitement¬†in the room. Over both sessions this week, it was clear that this would be no different. I had many conversations with participants at both sessions who ‘got it’. Comments about the quality of the PD sessions were overwhelmingly positive. All of the people I spoke to felt that this was the best and most¬†relevant¬†training session that they had been to in a long time. As I did, people had come away with a drive to take action and make positive change in their classroom and school.¬†

This week, twitter has been alive with conversation about George’s sessions. Apart from the usual discussion from classroom teachers it has been great to see the discussion from our leaders in DECD head office. It is obvious from the conversation they also ‘get it’ as is evident in this post by Karen Butler of the Digital Learning team in DECD.

All too often, the positivity generated by good professional learning fizzles out because of a focus change in the school or from the department. The ongoing positive change that is being generated here needs to be harnessed. It’s time to capture the moment and give access to this learning to as many people in our schools and department as we can. ¬†There is a movement beginning and with ongoing support and co-operation from supporting organisations like DECD and CEGSA, there is no reason that this learning can’t be ongoing and long lasting.

The learning that George is bringing to us creates connections. Connections that are essential to ongoing improvement and learning in our classrooms and our department. As a new member of the CEGSA committee I feel like I am now part of a group that can work to support this important learning and help to effect much needed change in our schools. Working together, with all parties involved, it’s time to ride the wave and create the movement and change that we need. It provides us a chance to open up learning in our schools and look at new ways to move forward and prepare our students for the skills they need now.

After a rejuvenating week, I’m looking forward to the challenge and to seeing what can be achieved. I hope that others are also inspired and are ready to join me in the conversation.

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Focus and Prioritise

I find myself, once again, making an effort to ‘get back on track’ with my blogging. This frustrates me. As I’ve written about many times, I find blogging to be hugely beneficial to my teaching. It provides an outlet to reflect, contemplate, discuss, debrief and even rant on occasion. For long periods of time, I manage to write regular posts and seem to find a flow, but eventually other factors get in the way and I let it be a reason to put the breaks on.

It’s easy to use the¬†excuse¬†of being ‘bogged down’ by the¬†commitments¬†of life. I am busy. In reality though, all of this ‘stuff’ provides me with plenty to be writing about. I am lucky that I am busy doing things I love. My kids are interested in life and this provides us with huge learning opportunities as a family. At work, I am working with a team of people who are¬†enthusiastic, dedicated and innovative as we move toward flexible learning spaces in our unit. Out of school, I have joined the CEGSA committee which will open up some great discussion and professional learning for me.

Not only do all of these commitments provide great writing fodder, but it also works the other way around. To manage these commitments effectively, I need to be reflecting. Reflection allows me to find perspective, clear my thoughts and as ask for the thoughts of my learning network as I navigate my way.

For me blogging is important, and I need to prioritise it. As a commitment to action, my Friday planning time is now my Friday reflection time. As I am doing right now, I will find a quiet corner and write. It is a process I enjoy and it makes me a better teacher.

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AITSL Teacher Standards

This week, myself and three other staff at Hackham East have been involved in filming an “Illustration of Practice” for the Australian Institute of Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL). Based around our boys education program the filming took place over two days, aiming to create a 20 minute documentary looking at classroom management.

In theory, the idea of having a film crew follow you around is terrifying. In reality, it’s even more terrifying! Once the fear subsides however, the process becomes extremely valuable.

This filming opportunity came at the same time I decided to turn my blog into a Profesional Learning Portfolio. Both of these processes involved me needing to unpack the AITSL Teacher Standards. For those who are unfamiliar with the standards, the following is from the AITSL website:

The National Professional Standards for Teachers comprise Seven Standards which outline what teachers should know and be able to do. The Standards are interconnected, interdependent and overlapping.

The Standards are grouped into three domains of teaching: Professional Knowledge, Professional Practice and Professional Engagement. In practice, teaching draws on aspects of all three domains.

Within each Standard, focus areas provide further illustration of teaching knowledge, practice and professional engagement. These are then separated into Descriptors at four professional career stages: Graduate, Proficient, Highly Accomplished and Lead.


Exploring the standards has helped me to reflect more clearly on my teaching practice. It has shown me the areas that I reflect on naturally and highlighted those that I take for granted. It has challenged me to think critically about how I do my job and in doing so has improved my teaching.

In our job we can never be ‘good enough’. As teachers we need to be continually improving. I believe that the Teacher Standards are a powerful tool to help us do this. To use this tool effectively, however, we need to open ourselves up to critical self reflection and to the honest feedback of others. For me, this has been a challenging but rewarding process.

While AITSL were filming at Hackham East, I was also asked to film a “Teacher Feature” about our class use of social media. They also took photos of our classroom to share on the AITSL Facebook page. ¬†The photos can be found here, and the ‘Teacher Feature” is posted below.


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Judging Professional Development

We all know that Professional Development sessions can go either way. They can be inspiring, or they can be a complete waste of time. For me, the success (or lack of) comes down to my engagement, the engagement of those around me, the quality of the conversation in the room and the change of practice that comes after the session ends.

Today, Hackham East Primary hosted a full day session with George Couros. George is an educator from Canada who spoke to us about the importance of being connected educators and helping our students to become connected learners. It was a presentation that made sense.

I have seen George present twice before and even still, I gained a whole lot of new ideas. Among the revisiting, I came away with new knowledge to help me turn my professional blog into a professional portfolio. I came away prepared to lead my students in changing their individual blogs into individual learning portfolios. These are simple but important things that I hadn’t made a connection with before this session.

Those around me were having similar breakthroughs. At times the room went completely silent while people were busy signing up for twitter accounts and signing up for their own class and personal blogs. Feedback from some in attendance showed a transformation from ‘doubter’ to ‘convert’. That in itself is not an easy feat. To see people making change to their practice already is a great thing to see.

On top of all of this ‘intended’ learning were some outcomes that I didn’t expect. During the afternoon session I made a comment on Twitter about the needs of year 7 students to be able to continue blogging on their current blogs as they move to high school. This was met with a response from our local high school leadership about meeting to look at ways to make this happen. Tweeting about connecting with parents on social media, opened up a range of links from other educators around the world about how they are managing this.

The final unintended outcome was more personal. My daughter, Alyssa, recently started blogging and through the support of George, has been inspired to keep at it much longer than I expected. Because of the support he has shown (and possibly a mutual love of Justin Bieber), Alyssa has felt a strong connection to him. Today she was able to meet him in person for the first time, and has been glowing ever since. For her, this was an important opportunity and I thank George for making it a special time for her, by giving up a lot of his precious break time to talk with her and for including her in his presentation.

I look forward to seeing change unfold in our school as people reflect on the days learning. I highly recommend attending a workshop if you get the opportunity.

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A Crazy Month of Learning

For about the last month, I have been on a massive learning journey. Beginning with the CEGSA 2012 conference in the school holidays, I have been exposed to information, discussion and new connections that have forced me to reflect and build on my ideas around the use of 21st century tools in the classroom and, more importantly, the way that they are presented to teachers and students.

ICTs have always been a big part of learning programs in my classroom. Engaging students through film and use of modern tools is a core part of what we do. The frustration for me has been getting others to give this type of learning a try. I think most of us agree that the ‘I don’t do computers’ attitude is unacceptable. In my efforts to combat this¬†attitude¬†I was failing at supporting other teachers in the way that THEY needed. On reflection, what I was doing was trying to support them with what I THOUGH they needed.

The work of Alec and George Couros has been a big part of this recent learning journey. The passionate presentations given at the CEGSA and Middle Years of Schooling Association conferences helped me to build on my use of 21C tools. It opened my eyes to new ways of connecting my learning. George and Alec refocussed the importance of strengthening my own PLN (of which they are now an important part) and also showed me ways that my students can access tools to build their own network of learners. Among my better, stronger PLN there have been many who have planted the seeds of some ideas I would like to see implemented in my school. Most importantly, I believe these new ideas will not only improve learning in my classroom, but offer a new way to present the use of 21C tools to other teachers in a differentiated and supportive way.

CEGSA

The Computers in Education Group of South Australia has been around for a long time, but has been pretty well ignored by our school. Not ignored through a lack of interest, but through being lost in the pile of ‘stuff’ that happens in schools. After the conference, and looking at the regular program of workshops that are available, I feel that this is a group that we should be promoting to staff in our school.

Digital Leaders

Through a TeachMeet and some Twitter discussions between Nick Jackson, and educator in the UK and Al Upton, a South Australian teacher, I have stumbled upon the idea of student as digital leaders in schools. Digital leaders would be responsible for trouble shooting IT issues but also for planning and implementing workshops and training for both other students and teachers. I see a huge advantage in this, not only for the learning of the leaders themselves but also for teachers. With the implementation of these leaders, both students and teachers will have access to more regular support and training on topics and tools that are relevant to them. They will have an opportunity to be guided as they learn along side their students.

TeachMeets

TeachMeets are growing in popularity. I would like to see these become a regular part of our school environment. Perhaps a regular part of staff meeting time, and definitely among schools in our area. Having these regularly would better enable local connections but also offer a more regular time for sharing learning and ideas among our staff. The more we are accessing these tools, the more comfortable people will become with their use.

Our Online Identity 

Developing an online identity is¬†becoming¬†increasingly important. As a school (and as individuals) we need to take control of our online identity. Having a purposeful online presence has to be a better option than just reacting to ‘stuff’ that appears. Online spaces give us an opportunity to connect with families and potential families in places that they already go. It gives us a chance to get out the message that we want to get out. The school newsletter is not enough anymore.

Some of these things are pretty simple to put into action. Others require a shift in thinking from staff that haven’t had the¬†privilege¬†of participating in this learning over the last month. It is an exciting time.

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Getting Comfortable

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I saw this quote somewhere today and it got me thinking.

I’m a firm believer that teaching is not a job in which you should ever feel completely¬†comfortable. I think, as teachers, that we should always be challenging ourselves and striving to provide a better learning environment tomorrow than the one we provided today.

Thinking critically about my classroom, I believe that we do¬†generally¬†challenge ourselves and we do¬†generally¬†step out of our comfort zones. I use the word ‘we’ because it is a team effort in our classroom. As the teacher I need to challenge myself but also need to take my students on that journey with me. I use the word¬†generally¬†because there is always room for improvement and there are always those that come on the journey begrudgingly.

Teaching students to challenge themselves is not an easy thing to do! For many, encouraging curiosity and linking learning to their passions is enough to motivate, but how do you get to those students that avoid thinking? How do you switch them on and get them excited? With so many great tools available to us and providing an environment for differentiated learning, more and more student are ‘coming out of the dark’, but I don’t know that I will reach all of them before the year ends.

It is here where my thoughts start to scare me a bit. For the most part, I have a good amount of control over how my classroom runs and the type of learning environment I provide. I believe (as do most of us) that I am providing a learning environment that meets the needs of my students as best as I know how to do. I feel as though I am continually engaging myself in new learning that enables me to strengthen and add to my skills as an educator. ¬†Unfortunately, a child’s education doesn’t get neatly packaged into one year chunks (as discussed in¬†this post¬†by @gcouros), and as students move from class to class they are not always provided with environments that are challenging and motivating. I don’t say this to belittle the work that teacher’s do. Many, many teachers to brilliant things in their classrooms, but we have all seen or heard of examples where they don’t.

I was visited by a former student a few weeks ago who said that he felt ‘let down’ by what was happening at his new school. He said (and these are his words) that the school doesn’t provide for kids with different learning styles. He said that the main goal for teachers seemed to be to have everyone quiet. His belief was that the focus of teachers was on classroom management rather than learning. I have had regular visits this year from former students who tell similar horror stories of ‘learning’ in their current classrooms at high school. One student told of the math class where the teacher tells them to get their text book out so ‘they look busy in case someone comes in’ and then leaves the room and doesn’t come back for half an hour.

Hearing of this level of ‘teaching’ infuriates me. As a classroom teacher, I have very little control over what happens in other classrooms, but continually jump up and down complaining that someone needs to do something about it. But¬†who¬†is this mystery person? Whose responsibility is it? ¬†I love the classroom and state regularly that school leadership is not the place for me, but am I taking the easy way out? Am I just comfortable in the classroom? Should I be pushing myself into a new challenge? Should I push myself into working toward a position in the system where I can have some control over these things? I don’t know.

Food for thought.

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