Saturday, October 29, 2011

Un-discouraged again – Thanks @Joe_Bower and many others!

It is sometimes difficult not to feel discouraged.  The world is changing so quickly, the bureaucracy moves so slowly, the gaps between what we need and what we have is growing, the time to learn what we need to know and to make sure we know what we need is shrinking, and even though I’m game to be a pioneer, there are days when trying to implement and initiate technological reform without adequate infrastructure or systems support can be wearisome.

Luckily I work with the best colleagues in the world.  It’s hard not to be buoyed up by the educators who are keen to learn, to think together, to share, to take risks, to generously and whole-heartedly give their time, their energy and their commitment to learning and learners.    Every day I meet with teachers who make my heart sing.  Of course, many of them don’t even know my name.   This morning, I followed a tweet from @Kyttie (a new BC teacher) who tweeted a link to an old blog post by @Joe_Bower (Alberta educator) where he had shared a video – the Eight Irresistible Principles of Fun.  I realized that my discouragement this week was because I’d forgotten the fifth principle:  Stop taking it all so damn seriously.  Instead, I need to continue to do what I believe matters, to scare myself every day, and to just start something – instead of worrying that nothing is getting started.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Learning is a "we" business.

On our Provincial Specialists Day, we usually host a small local event for teachers who can’t get away to the big provincial conferences.  This year, we had a great idea!  With help from our CUEBC colleagues (thanks @msilverton!), we live-streamed their keynote presentation from David Warlick on embracing emerging technologies.

Everything was set up, people had settled into the gym, the video was live with a notice that the start time was delayed, so we had just enough time to acknowledge organizers and introduce the keynote from our end.  The timing was perfect.  As soon as David Warlick stepped onto the stage, we turned up the volume and – horrors – the sound was a garbled mess!  Happily, Bill Boyd (a truly 21st century teacher-librarian) was there and disappeared into the sound room.  Minutes later, all was well again.

At the end of the day, as we gathered up bits and pieces of conference paraphernalia (chart paper, scissors, tape, coffee urns), stacked chairs and turned out lights, Bill joined us to see if we needed a hand.  Bill, I said, it’s so lucky we were able to fix the sound this morning!  And by we, I corrected myself, I mean you.   No, it is we, he replied.  We cannot put on events like this unless it is we.  This is a “we business.”  We have to each contribute what we can.  (This was generous, of course, since all I contributed to the morning’s near disaster was hand-wringing.)

But I’ve been thinking about “we” a lot.  It isn’t just for events, but for the daily business of classrooms that “we” is necessary.   The abundance of information, the diversity of learners, the changed goals of education (from sorting to inclusion) has made the stand-and-deliver “I”model obsolete.  But it’s hard to shift. In classrooms, we are trying by including students (peer learning) and experimenting in co-teaching models.  In professional development, we are trying to move away from our traditional workshops (the expert at the front who tells us how to do stuff) toward collaborative conversations and “do-shops”.

It’s easier said than done.  I organized two sessions for PSA day.  I opened up a computer lab and I also put out iPads and iPods in another room.  My plan was to set up some resource pages on the Working Together wiki and then float between the rooms to support, problem-solve, answer questions, connect people to resources.   But the night before I had a nightmare:  I left the computer lab to check on the Apple room and everyone there was staring blanking at the iPads and then accusingly at me, saying – what do we do?  We don’t know what to do.  After getting them started, I scurried back to the computer lab to find everyone was watching movies.  You weren’t here, they said.  We didn’t know what to do.

Of course this is always what teachers fear.  If I am not in front, in control, going through the steps, organizing and orchestrating the learning, nothing will happen.  But when we let go, we discover that the opposite is true.  When I get out of the way, allow people to pursue what’s important to them, provide time and resources – learning happens in a way that has NEVER occurred when I walk people through the steps.  I cannot count how many workshops I have put on about blogs and wikis: reviewing steps, providing handouts, working VERY hard.   And almost no one actually set up a blog or a wiki.

Here’s what really happened on PSA day when I got out of the way.  The Apple room was stuffed with people just playing and talking and thinking about possibilities for education.  When I came in a few people looked up – there were one or two questions and they ignored me.  They were too busy learning.

Meanwhile, back in the computer lab (down a long hallway and up two flights of stairs), people learned massively – without me.  Here is a short list of what some of the participants did:  Heather set up a wiki with the help of Sue and then Heather shared great links with Sue who added them to her wiki and together they learned about some new features. Glen and Peter set up their own blog with the help of Maryah who updated her wiki, set up a delicious account and began collecting digital story telling links.  Rebecca, too, set up a delicious account, scrolled through mine, found a great link to a site that she is going to use in her class and shared ideas with Loa who focussed on storytelling ideas, set up delicious and “got a baby step” into blogging.  Meanwhile, at the back of the room, the English department at Barsby created a school-wide blog for independent reading.

And me:  I answered a few questions, solved a couple of problems, engaged in some exciting conversations about technology in education - and got a lot of exercise!  But finally (!), after years of facilitating unsatisfactory technology workshops, I had a successful day – by not teaching.   Which, I guess, makes sense:  learning is a “we” business.  It goes better when “I” gets out of the way.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Less Work??

I was shocked to read that BC Public School Employers’ Association are meeting this morning to consider reducing teachers' pay since under job action they are doing less work.  Less work?  The teachers I meet daily are doing MORE work to ensure that the most important things – the things that make the most difference for kids – are getting done.  Here is a short list.

On Monday, I co-led a meeting of the professional development representatives from each school.  It was during the school day – funded by the BCTF in a twice yearly training session.  This is a group of teachers who volunteer to organize the three school-based days – polling staffs to see what they most need to learn to serve this year’s students, getting speakers to match the needs, setting up workshops and organizing resources.  Monday’s meeting was a chance to mentor new reps, to gather ideas from each other and to figure out ways to collaborate to share costs to maximize each opportunity.  Then they were off to organize the first PD day on October 11th.  When? After school, on weekends, during lunch, before the bell rings in the morning.

Teacher-Librarians at 5:00 on a Thursday afternoon
On Tuesday, I met with a group of Teacher-Librarians who had signed on to reflect on the role of libraries in a digital world.  We learned about twitter, blogs and social bookmarking and they left with a long list of homework to complete over the next month to practice learning these new tools so we can begin to use them effectively to gather and share resources for teachers to more effectively meet the needs of students.

On Wednesday, we had an Open House at the DRC to showcase the resources available to teachers, followed by a workshop from 4:00 to 6:00 to show our latest acquisition:  iPods and iPads.  We shared how these tools could be used to engage all learners and powerfully support our struggling readers and writers.  After the workshop (full!), they filtered out slowly (I pushed out the last one just before 7:00) filled with ideas and plans and organizing how they could continue to learn together.

On Thursday, I had a dilemma.  I could meet with Teacher-Librarians again – they hold five after school meetings to share resources, ideas, plans – or the Kindergarten teachers (monthly meetings and a large learning group that meets in-between) – or the Math teachers (monthly meetings). In the end, I went to meet with the teacher-librarians since they had some specific questions they wanted me to address related to our digital libraries initiative.  One item on the agenda was starting an additional learning group: a dozen people signed up immediately.

And this weekend?  I’ve answered dozens of emails from teachers who have been working on an application for Project Success – our year-long inquiry into how we can improve learning for vulnerable learners.  In fact, I’d better get back to the real work of the day.  I have a half-dozen emails to answer about the project (the application is due today) sent to me after 7:00 on a Sunday evening.  Oh, I see there is also a twitter follow from one of the teacher-librarians who did her homework this weekend.  Ah, another from a PD rep looking for a word sort on assessment-for-learning words to use on PD day - planning on the weekend, of course.

This is a tiny sliver of the kind of work that continues from my small circle - never mind the coaching and clubs and just daily beautiful hard hard work to ensure that each child learns.   If teachers are doing less work, my mind boggles:  how were they doing more?