At the end of the week I jetted away to Bali for the Apple Distinguished Educator Institue in Bali. I was pretty stoked when I learned of my selection back in December. Since then I’ve crossed days off my calendar and been doing the happy dance with increased frequency but the realities of the trip didn’t really hit until Thursday afternoon when all of a sudden I was struck by a terrifying thought; ZOMG someone else is teaching my class for a week.
Sure I’ve had the odd day of release here and there for various bits of PD and working on the Teachers & Social Media reference group last year but this is the first time I’ve left my class for an extended period of time. All up the trip encompasses three weeks due to Easter and I will be missing an important school event, the annual Fun Run. So on Thursday I had a sudden attack of the guilts and panic attacks and spent way too long at school dotting all the Is and crossing all the Ts for my absence.
As I wrote up instructions about my class and its personality for the reliever, I wondered if primary teachers by virtue of teaching the same group of kids for the year are susceptible to shouldering the burden of thinking: ‘I am the only one who knows how to teach this class.’ While the result can be an empowering sense of mama bear “RAWR! YES I AM THE TEACHER” it seems like it comes with a heavy tax.
By casting yourself in the role of the superhero teacher you risk burning yourself out. You don’t sick days because it seems like more work to prepare for a reliever than to battle on with the flu. You say no to PD opportunities because you worry that your plans won’t be covered to the T and the kids might be unsettled by your absence. And all of sudden there you are; frazzled, isolated and probably battling a lengthy flu because you didn’t take any time off to recuperate.
So once I sent off my plans I decided to enjoy my week ahead and stop stressing about my absence from school.
Does the reliever teach concepts differently than me? Meh, who cares: as long as the kids get exposure to the concept I’m happy. Did the reliever get the kids to put the markers back in the right place? Eh, as long as the kids know where to find them, then no problem. Did the reliever follow my plans exactly? Bah. As long is the class is happy and learning, it’s all probably fine.
Phew another teaching milestone reached.
Hello my name is Stephanie and I’m an iphone addict.
I use my iphone in conferences, in meetings and *gasp* even in the classroom but I’m not using it to play angry birds.
Here’s 10 ways I use my iphone to make my teaching more effective:
1. Video – capturing learning as it happens
The main reason I got an iphone was for the video capabilities I’ll often walk around my classroom with my phone capturing student learning. Video can be used for students to check in on what they actually did versus what they really did. For instance, do students give each other time to talk or do they butt into conversations? I will frequently use interviews as an alternative for pencil and paper tests making assessment far less intrusive on the student. Moreover video is an effective way to put friends, family and sometimes even parliamentarians right into our classroom. Using an iphone means footage can be edited on the spot and then shared potentially with the whole world in a few minutes.
2. Posting pictures to the cloud
I’ve easily taken thousands of photos this year of my class. Some of them are the generic photos of kids at school events and on field trips but I also use the photo function as way to capture student learning and thinking. What makes the iphone awesome is that these photos can then be easily be shared even if I’m away on camp. I use flickr as my cloud storage of choice and will sometimes email stand-out pictures to students families.
3. Texting parents
You don’t need a fancy phone for sms and so this hardly seems worth mentioning. Nevertheless, I’ve found the best way to engage with my previously hard to reach parents, parents who don’t have email or might work odd hours, has been through text messaging. 160 characters keeps communication short and to the point. The asynchronous nature of text messaging also gives the parent time to think and then respond at a time that suits them.
4. Professional learning
I’ve got twitter, feedly, diggo, facebook, pinterest all on my phone. I often use my commute in the morning or my lunchtimes to scan my social network feeds for readings and ideas in the classroom. Professional learning for me isn’t a once a week meeting, it pretty much happens from the minute the alarm goes off on my phone.
5. Timers and reminders
The phone has a handy stopwatch and timer available. I’ve used my phone to time students speeches and also a countdown for tidying things up at the end of the day.If you are a bit like me and are so engrossed in teaching that you forget that your student needs to go over to the teacher aide room or need a prompt to photocopy something for class when you arrive at school, the iphone will send you reminder at a certain time or place.
Although I much prefer paperbooks to the electronic version. If I’m desperate for a book and New Zealand shops don’t stock it I’ll make a quick trip to Amazon and hey presto the book was there on my phone. Granted it’s a bit tough on the eyes and I wouldn’t recommend reading the entire of Moby Dick on your phone, but if a student is borrowing my ipad and I want to read a passage from a book, the iphone is great second option.
You are watching a news story with a reading group about kid’s school lunches. One of the students pipes up,” hey why don’t we see what things are like in our class?” The student takes photos of a quick survey, which is then posted to your blog and then let the journalist know via your class twitter account all from your iphone. No more mucking around waiting for the computer to load and finding the right cords for the camera, the sharing is seamless and the ability of my classroom to connect with the outside word is so much simpler.
8. Anecdotal note taker
If you are conferencing with a student or group of students, instead of writing down the conversation or taking a bulky laptop, you can use your phone to quickly record that conversation. I use Evernote which is an easy way to sort each child into folders and the app also has a nifty audio feature. When I’m talking about a child’s reading progress with another teacher, that teacher can hear the child read. The notes I make on Evernote are easily accessible from any device I’ve got the programme installed.
9. What the heck is that?
When I was out on duty when a group of kids spotted a rather interesting looking spider. I had no idea what the said spider was so I whipped out my phone a quick google confirmed the species of the spider and that it wasn’t dangerous to even if poisonous spiders aren’t exactly a huge problem in New Zealand. Point is we can access the information right then and there
10. Augmented reality
One of the most awesome features of the phone is augmented reality. Apps like wikitude, skyview etc. give kids a heads up display of what they are seeing in front of them. If you are on field trip you can learn point your phone in front of a building or a landmark and get a detailed history from wikipedia. Better yet, get the kids to start entering details for their area or make artwork come alive with aursama.
In reality there are hundreds of ways to use your iphone in teaching. What I love about my phone is that I mostly use it for a specific job and then *gasp* put it down again. It is the quick functionality of the phone, the unobtrusive nature of recording, the seamless sharing between channels and the fact it is small enough that I can put it back in my pocket when I am done which makes the iphone an indispensable teaching tool.
Moreover the ipod touch is the most common device students in my class own. Through using my phone, I better know how to help my kids learn effectively with the technology that in too many classrooms is at best sitting in a student’s pocket at worst outright banned from school.
So the next time you see a teacher hunched over their iphone in the staffroom, ask them how they are using it in their teaching and learning.
Whoops I better go, my phone is ringing.
How do you use your mobile device as a teaching tool?
I’m not what you would call an outdoors type of person. In fact, my idea of a nature walk is strutting down Lampton Quay. The prospect of not only attending but actually being responsible for the running of a school camp was not something I was looking forward to.
School camps for me largely involved spending vast amounts of time wet and soggy after trudging through some deluge to tent in a place in the middle of nowheresville with no flushing toilets. This is except for Year 12, which was a ski trip to Ruapehu, when we got to see the mountain erupt and not much else. Suffice to say, my past forays into the world beyond the urban limits with school groups have not been pleasant and now another week of not only participating but actually being the person responsible hung before me.
26 kids, 3 parent helpers, 3 nights in the great outdoors. What could possibly go wrong?
Despite thousands of kids across the country going on camps without any major incident, my mind kept rolling through the lists of recent camp-related headlines. The trio of students who were swept off Paritutu rock, the canyoning tragedy and a group of students lost in the Kaimai ranges for a few hours. Alongside checking off equipment and chasing down payments, students drowning in white water, getting burned by fire, falls from various ledges and kids getting lost dominated my thoughts in the weeks preceding camp. The rational part of my brain knew that my fears were out of proportion to the actual risk – a measure of the neurosis we all suffer in an over-reported age.
While I frequently reminded my students about the importance of following instructions and how to conquer fear, I didn’t voice those nagging concerns that every teacher feels upon leaving the safe confines of the classroom and lend your students to the risks of the world. Those dark thoughts had no place in a classroom full of bright young eyes excited by the prospect of adventure.
It has been interesting to watch my students over the week, some of the kids surprised me with the gusto they took to our activities. Quiet kids suddenly became classroom superstars as negotiated high ropes and abseiling like superman. For others, I would spend the week literally coaching them off the side of the cliff.
As a teacher I’ve found this week incredibly demanding both mentally and physically. From the moment you start packing until the kids are sent home you are on call 24 hours a day. On the Wednesday night my class and I spent the night in tents as a nasty gale whipped around the camp site, 24 hours it was rain for our night in bivvys. Even with the awesome parent and instructor help, I have never been so knackered in all my life as I was on Friday afternoon.
There was also the challenge of the activities themselves. I tried out as many of the had to be calm and reassuring even though I myself was feeling my heart race as I was suspended 8m up on the high ropes course or coughing back water after I fell out of our raft. The comedic value of the latter served for a lot of gentle ribbing from other participants as did my blood nose after I whacked myself in the face while finding a place to puke after a long bus trip resulting in a bloody nose.
Now that it is all over, I find myself in a love-hate relationship with school camp. I still don’t understand the appeal of roughing it away from the rest of the urban population and things like electricity and hot showers. While such activities maybe fun to some, it is clear that suburbia has its purpose – to keep nature away from townies like me, and keep townies like me away from nature.
Nevertheless, for many kids camp is their once in a lifetime opportunity to not only get a taste of adventure sports but perhaps for some students a chance to venture out beyond their own community. More importantly camp takes kids out of their comfort zones. By embracing risk, they’ll find reward.
weeks months ago the twitterverse in New Zealand was awash with indignation when a young court reporter was asked to leave the media bench of a high profile media trial as her gold sequinned pants were deemed inappropriate for occasion. Depending of your point of view, the pants were either a symbol of the younger generation’s complete disrespect for the authority of the court or sexism in action.
The case of the sequinned pants got me thinking about teaching dress code.
One of the tips that inevitably is passed on to newbie teachers, particularly younger ones, is that you need to dress professionally. Of course this inevitably opens up a huge can of worms as to what professional dress for teachers actually is. Some schools, at least in New Zealand, don’t particularly care if teachers have tattoos, dreadlocks and flip flops while others think that professional dress is nothing short of teachers showing up in business attire every day.
One of the easiest ways to gauge acceptable dress for a school is to look at what other teachers are doing and follow that. However that doesn’t really leave much room for teachers to develop their own own individual style and as the disco pants show us, one person’s awesome can another person’s inappropriate. And the thing with teachers is that it isn’t just the senior management of a school that will weigh in on teacher dress. Politicians, parents and in particular students will quickly voice an opinion on what they think is acceptable teacher attire if given the opportunity.
Which leads to an important question do clothes maketh the teacher?
I don’t buy into the argument that teachers will be accorded more respect if teachers dressed more like lawyers, accountants and the important people who work in offices. Schools are far different from offices. Offices tend to be well heated and the inhabitants usually sit at their desks all day.
On the other hand, I spend a lot of my time either sitting on the floor or walking around the classroom checking in on groups of students. Then there’s lunchtime duty and P.E classes which may or may not involve walking across a muddy field. What’s more whenever there is an art activity, I almost always end up with paint on my clothes. The outfits I wore as an office drone don’t really work for me in the classroom as the dry-cleaning costs alone would be enough to put me off wearing a lot of my old clothes.
As a recent transplant to Wellington my primary concern isn’t keeping my clothes clean but rather keeping warm. My students might be walking around shorts and polo shirts in the middle of winter while I am shivering under two or three layers of clothes plus a jacket. The classroom door opens straight out into the elements so even with heater on an icy blast of Wellington wind is ushered into the class any time someone enters or exits the room.
There is a school of thought that teachers are role models for students and we dress relays how seriously we take our jobs. However as the case of the sequinned pants demonstrates, professional dress doesn’t necessarily equal professional behaviour with a ‘serious’ newspaper committing some dubious reporting of the story. Teachers shouldn’t be relying on their clothing alone to gain respect.
Nevertheless clothes do matter. In a past life I’ve been on hiring committees where a candidate’s attire played a part in a decision to say “thanks but no thanks” by the hiring committee. The rather sage advice I had handed down to me; if you can’t see over it, under it or through it you can wear it otherwise forget it, is probably a good to follow for most new teachers.
Can you get away with being a bit more offbeat in your fashion choices? At my first placement there were teachers who had dreads and tattoos and no one seemed to care as long as good teaching and learning was happening. But then being in a trendy liberal part of Auckland such things weren’t ever going to be a big deal with the local community. So yes there are schools that will hire teachers that are bit off-beat in their fashion choices and more importantly teachers who do a bang-up job in the classroom even if they happen to sport some body ink.
Nevertheless for any teacher who outwardly embraces any form of counter-culture, you are probably going to have to compensate for your weird appearance by being hard-working. The best way to get away with being a weird-looking teacher is to be really good at your job so that’s what people focus on.
If you’re more lax with regards to your work habits, then outwardly embracing counter-culture as a teacher is going to be more of a challenge, because then you’re the weirdo teacher with dreads. So yes you can deviate away from the traditional teacher ‘look,’ in certain places but you will probably need to overcompensate a bit with more hard-working awesomeness.
A few months ago I floated the idea to my Year 7/8 class making a submission to the Inquiry into 21st century learning environments and digital literacy being run by the New Zealand parliament’s education and science select committee.*
The project seemed like a great way to give my students an insight into how laws and policies are developed in New Zealand with the added bonus that the children would be able to give the committee some expert advice on digital learning from a perspective often absent from educational policy-making; that of the student.
The class banded together to make a video submission on the topic which I posted to the class blog. As I was about to submit their project, I asked my class if they would be interested in making a verbal submission. They were excited about the idea so I let the committee know the students wanted to appear. The project then got put on the back burner for a few months while we waited to hear if and when the students would be able to speak to the committee.
At the start of this term I received an email inviting my class to speak at parliament in front of the committee. Like most submitters the class had 5 minutes in front of the committee to have their say and would be asked questions about their submission. Deep down mild panic set in. What on earth was I thinking to ask for a spot for my 11 and 12 year old students to present to Members of Parliament?
The simple answer is a deep belief in the power of participatory democracy. I didn’t want my students to just read about parliament and draw a flag of a fictional country, I wanted them to appreciate that each of us has not only a right but a duty to participate in our democracy. In short, I wanted them to learn how to make a difference.
In order to select their representatives, the students of my class drew up a series of selection criteria and invited interested candidates to give a speech on why they thought they would be a good representative. Nearly a third of the class made presentations. Their classmates gave grades on each candidate’s public speaking skills, the ability answer questions well, overall contribution to the video submission, manage their time effectively and cope under pressure.
As I watched the process unfold, I was amazed at how the students had decided to assess each other. While our education system frequently tests for content knowledge, my learners were more interested in the qualities of their representatives. Communicating, managing time, the students were assessing competencies rather than content. Yet why is it our educational system is more obsessed with content?
Once the class selected their representatives, work began in earnest. I began calling in people from my own learning network to help. Teachers at newly built schools generously gave up their time to talk learning spaces with the children while another classroom talked about their school’s 1:1 laptop programme. The student submitters were very fortunate to get a prominent Wellington lobbyist to sit with them for over half and hour giving them advice on appearing before a committee. The students then wrote their speeches, a media release and practised answering mock questions during our classroom literacy block.
A prominent Wellington blogger who connected the students and I with the lobbyist featured the project on his blog. What started as a small project in a suburban Wellington intermediate was starting to go mainstream. By Monday morning the project had been picked up by the Waikato Times and the students put together a media release to get broader coverage. The stakes were getting higher and the submitter’s first practice run of the presentation in front of the class did not go well.
Fortunately the group took on their classmates’ criticisms and by Wednesday morning were as ready as they were ever going to be. And so I took four 12 year old students and their camera person to parliament to make a submission in front of 10 members of the country’s elected representatives.
Talk about an authentic audience.
In a room of cameras, microphones and a large number of adults each child’s contribution was nothing short of spectacular. One of the family members who accompanied us to parliament remarked that the students were funny and articulate but they still acted like 12 year olds. Which is perhaps the best compliment they could give me as a teacher.
At times it is a fine line to be walked between authentic student inquiry and an adult taking over student learning. In short I wanted each student to bring their best selves to the committee and leave knowing that their perspectives were important. Because more than anything, the students’ submissions were quietly telling a story of how technology in education is changing our learners’ lives.
Whether it be managing a learning disability, coping with the tyranny of distance or even starting up business. The students wanted their representatives to know that schools should be fun places where kids want to go learn.
It is a testament to New Zealand democracy that a group of 12 year olds can rock up to their House of Representatives and be treated with respect and dignity. There are far too many places in the world where this isn’t the case. Our Members of Parliament sometimes get a bit of a bad reputation for mudslinging and bad behaviour but that day the committee members were attentive and asked perceptive questions of the students. The MPs showed my students democracy at its very best: inclusive, empathetic and empowering.
For me as an educator this experience has demonstrated the power of connections. It never ceases to amaze how generous New Zealanders both inside and outside the educational community are with their knowledge. A huge heartfelt thanks goes out to all the members of my Personal Learning Community who helped my class succeed in their project. It was fantastic to see family members at the committee supporting their children and the local Member of Parliament gave the students a tour of parliament to top off the day.
The project has been hard work yet the pay off in student learning have been immense.
What started out as a class project on cyber-citizenship has moved well beyond the confines of our classroom into other schools, national newspapers, radio and even onto national TV. The experience has made me wonder how can students use their education to benefit our society? Might there be other real-world problems that students can use their talents to help solve.
There are some downers from the experience.
Time limitations, both mine as a teacher and the committee’s, excluded the whole class from being involved in the final submission. As I mentioned week, last my class is waaaaaaaay behind on our must-dos. But that’s the thing with authentic learning, it’s messy, timelines often blur and I would be lying if I said it wasn’t unbelievably exhausting. However it was also one of the most of exciting experiences I’ve had in my life. I am sure the lessons from that day will leave an impact for many years to come and not just for the teacher.
As the students boarded the train out of the city one of them remarked, “That was fun. When can we make another submission?”
*For those readers overseas, a select committee is a committee made up of members of the New Zealand parliament who give advice on particular subjects of interest.
A few weeks ago, I was at meeting where the presenter remarked to the largely teacher audience that we would have to excuse her creative right-brain tendencies during her presentation.
I’ve been ruminating about this off-hand remark for weeks, the idea that teaching isn’t a particularly creative profession. Certainly when we think of creative fields, design, art, music, film, writing and even science probably figure a lot more prominently in people’s minds than education.
Yet when we think of great teachers, and more importantly see representations of great teachers in the media, creativity is a common trait along with a commitment to education that goes beyond thinking of teaching as a job.
And I think there’s something in the idea that when we invest our creativity into an activity, our feelings about it change.
Is that why schools and by extension teachers are often viewed so negatively by society? Because they are seen as being places that kill creativity.
In one of TED’s most popular talks, Sir Ken Robinson argued that our educational systems have perpetuated a crisis of creative thought as students get their creativity taught out of them, time and again, in a systematic fashion.
So in many ways I don’t think the presenter of my workshop was entirely off-base when she assumed that teachers are detail-orientated types who love nothing more than flicking our red pens over spelling mistakes and making sure that our students pull their socks up. After all, I doubt many people would list a teacher among the creative people they’ve met. Maybe an art or music teacher might make the grade; maybe that one special teacher who marched to his or her own tune. But in general teachers are viewed as a uncreative bunch.
Certainly Sir Ken is right that part of the problem is undoubtedly inherent in our educational system. Schools are institutions which come with regulations and organisational hierarchies that often don’t sit well with creative-types. Because another central theme in the superhero teacher narrative is that this subset of teachers are frequently disruptive to school culture and often find themselves on the losing side of clashes with school authorities.
John Keating got pushed out in the Dead Poets Society as did Katherine Watson in Mona Lisa Smile. Real-life teachers Erin Gruwell and Jamie Escalante clashed with administrators over pedagogy in their films and in a nod to my friend @apathyjack, Dr Cox would have lasted all of five minutes in a school setting.
Perhaps it is this conflict between creative individuals and existing systems which is the reason that creativity isn’t something that is valued in the selection of would-be teachers nor much in teacher education programmes. Yet we can’t expect our educational systems to produce creative concept-driven thinkers if we don’t also have creative teachers in the classroom. However in my experience there is far more emphasis put on developing teachers as managers of classroom learning rather than as creative professionals.
One of the scary implications of the rise of Kahn Academy is that teachers don’t have the inclination nor interest to become competent producers of content – digital or otherwise – in their own right. I’ve had a couple of people remark to me that they can’t understand why I’m not in the film industry because of the video content that my class and I produce. Yet I don’t consider myself in away a proficient digital story teller. In fact most of my ideas are frequently stolen from others.
And I think that’s part of the problem. Teachers themselves often don’t view themselves as being creative, they think they merely reuse and adapt the ideas of others. What we often forget is that creativity isn’t a lone flash of insight but actually the adaptation of existing ideas to new contexts. It’s taking a reading programme and changing it to fit the needs of your learners. It’s turning a bucket into a place to store student gear.
Would schools function well if they were full of creative-types? I know I am a terrible when it comes to anything remotely admin-related. Collecting forms, organizing learning portfolios, policing uniform, even remembering to take the roll are tasks that are forever tripping me up and I hate doing them. What’s more standards and exams can also be rightly pointed to as constraints on teacher creativity.
But the thing is that creative professionals are always working within constraints. In fact creativity is often defined by the constraints in which it transpires. But even if you hypothetically swept away National Standards, NCEA and other traditional boogeymen of classroom creativity what would teachers do? Are teachers on the whole prepared to move forward as creative professionals?
If teaching is a creative profession how do we develop the creativity of our future teachers? How do we attract creative people to enter teaching? When and where, if ever, do teachers come to recognize themselves as creative professionals? How do we develop creativity in the teaching profession?
Is it that the time already? April marked two big blog monuments. This blog has surpassed 50,000 hits last saturday and I’ve now published my 200 post. The 200th post was the text to my ignition talk Aborted Landings, Airsick Bags and… Teaching? My post rate has definitely gone down in the last month or two. I’m hoping that I might be able to do more over the next few months as I find so much to rant about but just do not have the time.
Page Loads: 4,349 (169 hits per day)
Biggest day: April 12( 145 hits)
Most commented on post: Tips for surviving your first term of teaching*
Why #wordpress is better than blogspot 230
Are teachers born or made? 219
Should students call teachers by their first names? 201
Why we shouldn’t be celebrating a ‘return’ to the status quo 112
Let them use Crayons? #eduignite #welly 106
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Coming up in May
Graduation, a few how to posts and perhaps some renewed blogging mojo.
Previous byte counting:
I’m recent arrival both to teaching and to the city of Wellington. Over the summer I made the move from Auckland to the capital to take up my first teaching position. With my wordly possessions making their way by road, I decided to fly to my new home.
Despite my love of travelling around the world I don’t do well with flying. And by don’t do well I mean absolutely petrified. Of the dozens of airports I’ve flown into around the world Wellington definitely rates as one the scariest.
Wellingtonians are curious breed. At best they seem to a best tolerate white knuckle landings into their airport. At worst they consider it a business opportunity. I spend most of my time during final approach having panic attacks.
My last flight into Wellington was a nervous flyer’s nightmare. The stormy night resulted in 3 missed approaches, 20 minutes bouncing around tory channel a trip back to Auckland to refuel and re-crew before I made it to my destination nearly 4 hours after we departed.
Suffice to say my airsick bag got used that night. Yet in between minutes of abject terror, I realized that the actions of the people in charge of the jet and the well-being of the passengers could readily be applied to my new life as teacher.
The first lesson is the importance of effective communication. After each unexpected turn in the journey, the crew in the cabin and the flight deck always told us where we were going and why.
This clear and confident communication helped bring my anxiety down notch as I looked out the window wondering if this flight was EVER going to end. So my teachable moment is that when the going gets tough, the tough get talking.
The next lesson I learned is to always have enough gas in the tank to get you home. Obviously not having enough actual fuel has some rather dire consequences in aviation. But airlines know that tired pilots put lives in danger too. Is the same true for teachers?
I’m sure that I’m not the only teacher who has at some point commiserated with a colleague about skipping lunch because of inter-class sport, coming in on the weekend or spending 11-12 hour days at school.
Shouldn’t teachers be calling each other out more often on this kind self-congratulation disguised as self-deprecation? Or would we rather our students see us as the frantic, overwrought, resentful teachers that not taking time out to refuel can make us?
Is that why so many teachers crash and burn?
The third lesson is the importance of having a sense of humour. At all the times the crew on that flight were friendly, approachable and did their best to keep the passengers laughing during our multiple attempts to land.
My next lesson from the crew is doing the best with what you have. Even though I was grumpy and tired, somehow getting both jet planes and cookies instead of choosing between one option made up for spending those extra hours up in the air.
The final lesson is perhaps not so funny, the importance of managing human error. In aviation, accidents are usually highly visible, and as a result aviation has developed standardised methods of investigating, documenting, and disseminating errors and most importantly heeding lessons from crashes.
Yet when we look at education we aren’t so good with managing errors. In the past our education system failed half of our learners each year before the students had opened the exam book in order to preserve the bell curve. My dad was one of those learners.
Today we’ve gone to the other extreme where failure must be eradicated. Missed approaches, bad weather be damned. Our students need to arrive at the end of year at standard OR ELSE. Failure is no longer an option.
The night I travelled to wellington other planes managed to land or at least didn’t get turned back. Should the crew have been held accountable for aborted landings? Did the pilots make an error in deciding to turn back to Auckland due to a lack of fuel and foul weather?
From a bottom-line perspective the pilot’s decision cost the airline time and money. Moreover as a passenger I paid to arrive at 7. But I’m sure everyone would rather have a late safe landing to the alternative.
Aviation learned the hard way that focusing too much on narrow targets can lead disaster. Human errors need to be managed through monitoring and cross checking, as well as reviewing and modification of plans to improve safety.
Which sounds a lot like the idea of teaching as inquiry. Because rather than being a dirty word, if you look closely at closely, a FAIL is actually a First Attempt In Learning.
Or should that be landing?
I always feel uncomfortable when people start talking about leadership. Especially if it happens to be in the context of events that have the tag ‘Emerging Leader’ ‘Young Leader’ or ‘Future Leader.’ Leaders have interesting things to say, leaders have responsibilities, leaders don’t forget to take the class roll after lunch.
I think opinionated geek is the most accurate description.
When I heard that #ignition2012 was happening during the April school holidays I couldn’t wait to book my flights vven though the dreaded ‘leader’ tag was attached to the event. The reason? Two days of un-conference .
Ever since I went to my first unconference back in July 2011 I’ve been hooked on the format. As a learner there’s nothing more engaging than being able to choose what to learn, when and from who. As an attendee I much prefer being an active participant at a conference than sitting as an audience member patiently waiting for the Q&A session to contribute to the conversation. Yes the person up the front might have something important to say but unconferences embrace the idea that the sum of the expertise of the people in the audience is greater than the sum of expertise of the people on stage.
Which is what made #ignition2012 so exciting.
All those hierarchies that our model of industrial system of schooling built up over the last century or so vanished. At #ignition2012 it if you were veteran teacher of scholarship level physics at a large-inner city high school or someone in their first year of teaching five year olds their ABCs at a rural country school. Everyone was there with a common purpose to make New Zealand schools awesomeness incubators.
I love teachers from such a diverse range of contexts quite readily give up two days of their holidays to spend time at #ignition2012 learning and growing together. Nobody was required to be there and yet we were there. Some teachers traveled great distances to participate and the result was a giant melting pot of professional learning. There were sessions on e-portfolios building apps for learning and looking at applying augmented reality into the classroom. We discussed the Ultra Fast Broadband inquiry and talked about the conditions that lead to success for Maori students. In short it this was teacher professional development on steroids.
#Ignition2012 undoubtedly highlighted that the greatest strength of the New Zealand schooling system, institutional autonomy, is also its Achilles Heel. New Zealand schools and the educators within them don’t talk to each other nearly as much as we should. I think this is particularly the case for Beginning Teachers who can easily become isolated in our classrooms/schools with very little contact with those beyond our own bubbles. #Ignition2012 gave teachers an opportunity to connect with other teachers we would normally not be in contact with and the result was a bazaar of ideas to improve teaching and learning in New Zealand.
Moreover for those teachers on twitter and other social media, it allowed us to reconnect and put faces with profile pictures. It provided that real-life human component that is not there in online conversations. Coming together in real life is to quote the amazing @annekenn MAGIC.
What was really inspiring for me is knowing that there are other teachers out there in our schooling system who are dissatisfied with our schools and think we can do better. When I read about the latest policy developments in New Zealand education like the introduction of Charter Schools and Teach First New Zealand I often get despondent that the only new ideas for schooling are coming from the business sector. Ultimately discussions over how we train teachers or school governance is going to make very little difference to the shape of education. It’s the teachers who are in there with our students each day who need to ‘be the change’ in our schools.
#Ignition2012 shows that there are passionate New Zealand teachers out there who have no interest in perserving status quo in New Zealand schools. We know we can do better and in the case of Maori and Pasifika students in particular we know that system must do better. There are more teachers out who want to make New Zealand schools awesomeness incubators.
I hope next year you can come join us next year armed with your teaspoon.
“I honestly believe that the future is going to be millions of little things saving us. I imagine a big seesaw, and at one end of this seesaw is on the ground with a basket half-full of big rocks in it. The other end of the seesaw is up in the air. It’s got a basket one-quarter full of sand. And some of us got teaspoons, and we’re trying to fill up sand. A lot of people are laughing at us, and they say, “Ah, people like you have been trying to do that for thousands of years, and it’s leaking out as fast as you’re putting it in.” But we’re saying, “We’re getting more people with teaspoons all the time.” And we think, “One of these years, you’ll see that whole seesaw go zooop in the other direction.” And people will say, “Gee, how did it happen so suddenly?” Us and all our little teaspoons…” Pete Seeger.
My profound thanks goes to the organizers of #ignition2012 in particular to @mosbourne and the crew at Albany Senior High School. A big shout out also goes to Russell Stanners, Tony Bacon and Abbie Reynolds from @vodafoneNZ for supporting my attendance.
My WINS for the term would be getting 28 individual student blogs up and running (wow was that an epic adventure), bedding down some classroom practices, having an awesome assembly, teaching my students how to use chopsticks, holding a cake decorating class as a reward for getting through the term and starting up a budget news show with my kids.
My first attempt in learning would definitely be paperwork and record keeping.
A lot of people outside of teaching, myself included, don’t see the job within the job when it comes to teaching. Sure there are those hours between 9 and 3 when you are responsible for a classroom of students and are expected to teach them something but there is also a whole myriad of duties which go along with teaching, the paperwork, the meetings, the emails, communication families, etc. which I have really struggled with this term. It took me a week to remember to consistently read the daily notices (a job which I have long since farmed out to the kids to do) and about a month to remember to take the roll after lunch without a phone call from the office. Perhaps next year these things won’t seem so mentally draining now that I’ve worked out a way to collect money and notices and keep a track of them.
And that was definitely my biggest surprise of the term. How much paperwork each student generates which then need to be filed away and recorded by me somewhere. Don’t get me started on the number of information systems in education which don’t talk to eachother or spending an evening entering data into e-asstle. Suffice to say the task I enjoyed the least this term would be setting up paper-based learning portfolios. There has to be a better way of recording student learning than this.
I suppose my points of frustration are inevitable to those who know me or my writing. I tend to be more of a big-picture thinker. The stuff that gets me excited is coming up with new ideas and solving problems while I have a very low tolerance for anything resembling busywork and loathe filling out forms with the fire of a thousand suns. Perhaps the reason I’ve enjoyed doing the digital stuff is because it has involved a whole lot of creative problem-solving both for myself and my students.
Yet as I look towards the 2nd and 3rd terms slightly less frantic but still wanting to do much more passion-based learning and teaching. When I think about the most meaningful moments I’ve had with students this term, they’ve come when I’ve shared my interests and hobbies with my students and vice versa.
Watching the students chow down on ramyen using chopsticks was so surreal because they reminded me of my students in Korea who loved slurping down on noodles after school. But perhaps the biggest suprise was the cupcake decorating class I held at the end of the term. I never saw any men at the cake decorating classes I’ve attended as a student and had assumed that the boys in our classroom might not have much interest icing cupcakes. Yet the boys bought just as much creativity and engagement to the task as the girls. So there’s another reminder to never assume that your experience will match that of your students.
I was also reminded of the importance of passion. From the outside it looks like passion is almost becoming a dirty word in education. Instead we talk about outcomes and student achievement and have stock footage photos in newspapers kids sitting in rows staring at the teacher. In my experience passion is loud and messy (especially when icing cupcakes), it requires lots of movement and it is really, really tiring.
So yah to having a holiday. As one of my flatmates remarked, she never really understood why teachers have two-week breaks until now.