Tagged: professional learning

So you want to teach?

“As an experienced teacher, what is your advice to teachers who are just starting out?” I have been asked this question many times. At times, I dispensed with a bit of advice, often I have either had no time, tact or heart to really tell it like it is, speak my mind. This is an attempt to connect a bunch of lose but common threads in my answers over the years in conversations with hundreds of pre-service or recently graduated teachers, many of them my close friends and colleagues. This is a broad conversation, not a gospel to go by but if you if find it useful – please help yourself.

For the record, I’ve been a professional high school teacher for 16 years in mostly government schools, in one of which I work full time. I worked for three years at university running workshops for pre-service teachers and I hold a full Bachelor and Masters by Research in education (my PhD never saw the finish line). I have also actively mentored probably over 50 practicum students. I have been writing, talking, thinking about education for close to two decades now. In short – I am far from ‘knowing everything’ but I do have a few runs on the board. Enough padding …

Whether you are just curious about teaching and want to give it a go or you have a fire of inspiration burning inside you – you first need to seriously, brutally honestly answer this question – why (do you want to) teach? When I ask this question, I get the usual array of ‘making the difference’, ‘change things’, ‘give back’, ‘challenge myself’ and the likes. All good, noble predispositions. But they are the starting points, not the ends of your work and conversations. Chances are they will undergo tempering, changing, dissolving even in the heat of the days (and nights!) of being a teacher. There may be times you’ll realise that the “difference” you want to make is not exactly one desired by the student or his family, there may be times where “giving back” will be replaced by mostly frantically taking in. And more. But please – as hope-less as it seems sometimes, education rests on the premise of hope. A necessary trap that we all fall in sometimes too. That’s OK.

The urge to help people is a must in teaching. It is precondition to set foot in class. But please – don’t try to ‘save’ the world or people, especially those in the lower socio-economic areas. I say that not because I would not want you to inspire young minds or because I doubt the agency of people (including myself) in trying to do so. I say that because I have seen the ugliness of well meaning middle class salvationism so many times, ignoring kids stories and context to lead the charge to be ‘more like me/us’.

Even if you don’t fall for the seductive saviour trick, you will face so many ethical choices about who you save, at what cost do you stand on one side that it will seriously mess with your mission. I for one have often said, written about, that one of the hardest things in teaching is choosing which student(s) you are going to care less about.

Please, think twice before wanting to be a hero teacher. This impulse can be very strong and seductive but please – lead an examined teacher’s life. While you are trusted with an enormous power, influence and, if nothing else, time with the young ones, you are not some demigod with magical powers that will make disappear the effects of things like poverty, abuse, even privilege in students’ lives. It does not mean you are helpless either but be brutally honest and constantly revise what you can and can’t do and achieve in your teaching. Less is sometimes more  when you ask some hard questions that begin with ‘why?’.

And just what do you understand “teaching” is? In his outstanding book The Beautiful Risk of Education (highly recommend!), Gert Biesta calls teaching as bringing something new to the educational situation, something that wasn’t there before, a form of transcendence. But, as Biesta points out, always know that whether you achieve that as a teacher and someone will be taught what you teach is beyond your control. You are giving a gift that you don’t have because teaching is “not an experience that can be produced by the teacher” – that experience is only ever produced by the student. Building relationships with students will definitely open the possibilities, but not guarantee, that your gift will be received and done so in ways intended. This is an inherently uncertain, messy, dynamic process and often depends on factors way beyond your control, awareness even. And it is this existential ‘weakness’ of it that makes teaching such a great profession but one so hard to explain in a world obsessed with control and predictability. Whatever you do, please don’t turn into a real estate agent saying ‘I sold them the house perfectly but they didn’t buy it.”

The next of the few ‘core’ questions I ask you to honestly wrestle with is this: What do you see teaching, school is for? Straw poll time … Choose your favourite from the following four statements, borrowed from Symes & Preston’s seminal work:

A) Teaching is about preparing kids for the world of work out there
B) Teaching is about cultivating independent mind based on collected human knowledge.
C) Teaching is about allowing kids personality and interest to flourish.
D) Teaching is about getting kids to learn how to make the world more fair and just for all.

A is the instrumentalist, ‘human resources’ view of education as primarily preparation for work. Loved by business and politicians and in strong ascendancy over the past few decades. B is a liberal, often labelled conservative, view of education that privileges cultivation of independent mind based on collected human knowledge. Ancient Greeks, rational thinking, high culture spring to mind. The ‘progressive’ C wants to allow kids’ interest and personality flourish. Enter passion-based learning, discovery, progressive labels. D, the emancipatory view of education, has at its heart equity, fairness, social and environmental justice.

Chances are you favoured one or two, or perhaps couldn’t decide because they are all important. They are indeed! What is important in all this is not so much that you know the finer details of these goals and approaches (I do invite you to read these works though and ponder further). What I think is important is that they sometimes overlap and complement each other but often they also grate against each other, in spikes and lulls of tension, depending on the context. Don’t believe it? What do you make of a Principal of a blue-collar school ditching Philosophy & Ethics programme with the words “that’s not for our kids”? What do you make of cries of ‘dumbing down’ when the reading requirements replace a classical text with film? How about the frenzy around PISA results? Curriculum wars? Chasing standardised NAPLAN scores versus individual flourish? A colleague that is drilling kids “for their own good” to pass tests while you see their creativity and passion crushed (and vice versa!)? The speak of business ‘competitiveness’ and ‘agility’ while paying lip service to issues of social equity? Examples are endless!

So why is it important to wrestle with this question? Because just about everything you do, everything your school, system, even country’s entire education system does revolves around this question of utility and purpose of educational efforts – the ‘why’, rather than the much more talked about ’what’, ‘how’ or even that bean counting ’how much’. It is rarely a case of one clean purpose and there is a good chance that during your teaching career you may have to dislike a particular purpose and bite your tongue to feed your family but equally stand on the barricades for things and ways of teaching that matter to you deeply. But it is rarely a clean cut. Get used to it.

The talk of things in and beyond your control brings me too my next ‘go to’ line. Be aware that for all the talk of teacher professionalism, you are increasingly at the mercy of people who are largely the least learned about education and want to make things easy, controllable, predictable, especially for their own progeny and/or agendas – parents and politicians. Many times you will bury your face in your palms, curse, worry, rage, shout helplessly (at your school administrator or with them too) about what they demand. They will ignore your professional competency in understanding how you or kids you are in charge of work or would like to work. You will be asked to comply and be encouraged to climb up the ladders of teacher proficiency, where, like your students, you can be measured, evaluated and governed (well, you will govern yourself, from inside by what is stated as desirable by various professional standards bodies…look up ‘governmentality’ for more). You will be cornered by parents who are increasingly positioned as consumers. You will be placed on the pedestal by pundits, who think that your ‘teacher quality’ (important nuance of language of here – see this post by Corinne Campbell) always and necessarily makes up for all other individual and/or structural inequalities that affect you, your students and their parents. Many of them, with good intentions, no doubt, will assign you those mentioned demigod powers … in being an effective, efficient and preferably easily measured technician of the empire they run or want to create.

Definitions of professionalism as something based in trust, sound knowledge and good judgement change with every new lot of ‘accountability’ measures. If you think about it, these measures sit right opposite of trust. In the extreme, we end up acting as a bunch of risk-averse and litigious business partners, ticking boxes to cover our backsides. In the daily reality, we more likely end up with a ton of paperwork. Transactions replacing relationships.

Related to this trend is the increasing importance given to ‘data’. These are ‘data driven’ times, no doubt. Please be aware that data by itself is meaningless, we breathe meaning into it. It also raises more questions than it often answers and there are increasingly sophisticated ways and incentives to manipulate it.  It can be extremely useful but it can also lead to the “business capital view” of good teaching (credit Andy Hargreaves) as something that is technically simple, a quick study, can be mastered readily, should be driven by data, is about enthusiasm, hard work, raw talent and measurable results, and that it is (even) often replaceable with online instruction. Speaking of data – I for one know very little about what and how big a difference I make as teacher in a single kid’s life. How would anyone else know, even ‘measure’ it? Metrics give us the seductive sense of knowing. Education is not a science and there are many problems in seeing it that way.

So what do you do in case “this is not the gig you signed up for”? Just be a good boy/girl, grin and bear it while stewing inside? You don’t have to, no. Pick your battles carefully, embrace the absurdity of institutional life and sometimes laugh subversively. Sometimes that is all you will be able to do, sometimes you will genuinely shift things. Good colleagues and support will be invaluable in doing that. Join a union.

If not already, you will be bombarded with ‘what works’ in teaching. My default short reply to such a complex question comes from Dylan William: In education, everything works somewhere, nothing works everywhere. Yes, there are some very appealing, very good but also very dodgy, unsound theories, practices and operators out there (usually but not necessarily making a buck out of it). It always helps to read critique of a particular technique, theory, approach and you can weed the chaff either by yourself or with a colleague or two.

Another good question to ask before adopting ‘the best thing’ is: at the expense of what? Like life, teaching is a stream of trade offs and opportunity costs. Stories of overworked teachers abound. If you just keep adding – you WILL burn out like a moth on a flame! “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” Aristotle got that one spot on.

This is not necessarily to pooh-pooh everything that comes across your desk. I simply wish that you wisen up and be more circumspect than the chanting Kool Aid crew on board the latest (or recurring) bandwagon. Your skepticism may make you look like a smug bastard who is ‘not a team player’ sometimes but your integrity is worth more than a few extra warm and fuzzies. I hope so.

Check how your colleagues work, learn from and with them – but don’t beat yourself about being them or beating them. In my experience, teachers (myself included of course), have this terrific tendency to find grass greener on the other side. We see a colleague doing something well and think ‘why aren’t I doing this as well’. This is while we are doing something else, and possibly far more important, as well or better that that colleague or another teacher. This breeds a kind of highly corrosive and confidence-sapping ‘status anxiety’. Yet, it only attacks when we compare ourselves with our like-teaching peers. For example, a teacher in a poor school with unmotivated students might genuinely like, even admire stuff done in a well resourced school with highly motivated students but (s)he is not going to lose sleep over it as there is chasm between the two contexts. She will however, fret about not doing something as well as her colleague in the same school, as she ’should be doing better’. Similarly, a new grad might not compare themselves to a veteran of many years but (needlessly) worry about something she is (not) doing as well as her younger peer with the same cohort of kids.

Share and be proud of the good stuff you do, the wins. Absolutely. But it is probably as important if not more important to share the bad stuff. If your lesson fails, you just can’t work with some student or group, you are struggling with demands of a particular kind – say it, honestly so! I remember a young colleague feeling, in her words, “liberated” when she asked a far more experienced colleague to handle a particularly challenging student. The expert came, worked in that class and, when asked by the younger colleague on what to do, replied: “I’m stuffed if I know what to do with this kid.” Eventually the two together worked out a good strategy but the honest admission was the first step to it. In the environment where teachers are sometimes explicitly but mostly implicitly asked to ‘put their best and shiny work forward’ to inspire, get a promotion, make school or themselves look good and similar ‘work on themselves’ (look up Stephen Ball’s seminal work on the notion of ’performativity’), sharing the downs and fails is a brave, not sexy, but essential thing to do.

As a young graduate you are or will be out looking for and getting a job soon. I sincerely hope you get one but don’t forget that sometimes you get a job not because your fantastic grades, or new inspiring ideas or your funky prac or great application. You are simply cheaper than a teacher with years under their belt. And “when education is about the money we have to spend on it, efficiency is the vision, sadly so.” (credit Will Richardson) Evidence of that abounds, sadly so too.

However, when working in a school I sincerely hope that you will and should be afforded at least the same if not more support than someone more experienced. Do not be afraid to ask for a mentor. A good mentor and a bit of extra time to work on your teaching is gold. But please do respect the colleagues who have been at the school before you by neither adoring nor belittling them. I have actually learned many things from new graduates and have been grateful to mentor them in a mutually beneficial way. Plan your lessons but always be prepared to change the plans. As you go along, you will develop your repertoire, your style, own ‘bag of tricks’ that will suit you and only you. It takes time.

Speaking of growing and charting new ground – try to be at the ‘bleeding edge’ of something new. Not (just) to boost your CV but to experience how difficult it is to get adults excited using or doing something that you think it is valuable. Don’t forget those lessons the next time you are sitting in some PD and the speaker is droning, passionately so, about their bee under the bonnet. It is humbling.

You might still be at uni reading this or you have just finished your degree. You are hungry for strategies and tips and ‘what works’ … but a lot of what you have (or had) at uni was about the theory and the pondering rather than the nitty-gritty you are now screaming for. Sounds right? Dear colleague – teaching is so, so incredibly broad that uni will not and cannot prepare you for and how to deal with all eventualities that will happen to you, sometimes in a single day. There was never a lesson to prepare me for what to do when a 13 year old boy starts masturbating at the back of the class, another smearing peers with poo, a refugee with no language, first hand war experience and a bad temper thrown in your hardest class, or thousands (mostly less graphic) examples like that. University is a framework, a base, there to broaden, deepen your horizons, not merely reduce you to the matters of instructional technique with a smattering of essential content. Uni is there to make you think, question, grow, explore, build upon, ideally so. I also understand that my idealism may be misplaced as you just want to get it over with and land that job. I just hope we can have a respectful, stimulating, adult professional conversation in the staffroom.

I could continue on dispensing advice here but you probably have a lesson to prepare or something else. That’s OK, I understand – so do I (I am a teacher, remember). I finish with a plea for you to be kind. To yourself, colleagues, kids you work with. Sometimes the kid who is wrecking your lesson is fighting a battle you know nothing about. It is a hard thing to do because you are fighting your own battle. Seek support, actively so. Unwind regularly, have a hissy fit, laugh a lot, even inappropriately so sometimes. You will be tired (here is why) in this ‘bipolar’ profession as the highs are high and the lows are low. Or as someone (lost the name, sorry) on Twitter quipped: Teaching is like a hangover – after a bad day you swear you’ll never do it again, then you recover and you do it again.

Just do know that teaching is a great profession that the world needs and will continue to do so. It’s a people business. Risky. Messy. Beautiful.

If this post resonates with you and want to chat on, let me know in the comments below or on Twitter @lasic but please do not be offended by the lack of immediate reply – I do have a (teacher’s) life. Cheers.

UPDATE: I have had a response to this post like no other, mostly on social media. Among the congratulatory and grateful comments, these two stood out. They were written by a close friend currently in his first year of teaching and a colleague I used to work with and remains one of my favourite and dearest educators anywhere. Have a read below …

Great Moot but …

#mootau11 collage
A memorable moot !

Quick slideshow…

This is what I tweeted at the end of 2011 Australian Moodle Moot 2011:

To sum up #mootau11: We flew First Class! Thank you @ns_allanc [Allan Christie] and @netspot crew.

It was truly wonderful.  Great ideas, great people, great venue, great organisation, great community vibe. It was a three day Moodle love-in.

Highlights – meeting soooo many people I have net-known for a while but we have never crossed paths in person (Mary Cooch, Helen Foster, Geoff Young, Nigel Mitchell, Shannon Johnston, Nathan Hutchings, Michael Woods, Claire Brooks, Jon Powles … to name just a few!!!), working collaboratively with the one and only Sarah Thorneycroft on the game-based learning stuff, sitting in some very cool sessions and speakers, watching Martin strut his stuff on the dance floor, toughing it out with four fellow moodlers at the inaugural MoodleMoot jog on a wet, cold and windy morning, doing the Baywatch slo-mo impersonations with the indomitable Louisa ‘Buzz’ Wright … and so much more!

Mark Drechsler has posted a few reflective posts day by day and I invite to you to head over for a great rundown with added personal reflection of a team member who has worked very hard to make this moot such a success.

But it made me a bit … sad, too.

Sad because ideas like:

  • Give students a course to create and demonstrate what they can do and care about.
  • Give students the power (and associated responsibility!) to edit and become co-creators in a course/parts of you run.
  • In staff PD, get reluctant teachers to come up with examples of use of a tool as a buy-in before they learn how to set it up.
  • Pique curiosity with quest(ions), interesting challenges for staff or students to complete and build-in some feedback as they go along (game-based learning).
  • Don’t spoonfeed – teach how to think not how to do the new tool.
  • “You never know more than the people you train.” – be humble and listen, value, adjust.
  • Get the audience to contribute their ideas via real-time editable doc and use, build on those.
  • Instead of building new ‘portals’ for content to hoard and lock down – open up and build networks instead with a few simple, existing tools and invest in people instead.
  • Make your assessment match the conditions of the ‘real world’, make it as authentic and relevant as possible.
  • and more …

were met with ‘wow’ and gushing tweets how ‘fantastic’ and ‘innovative’ that was to hear and see. Yeah sure, these are all great things. But why aren’t they as common as dirt? They are hardly new or revolutionary – arguably, they have been around for millennia in different contexts.

It is truly sad to see ‘tighter submission of assignments’, ‘improved procedures for protecting content’, ‘better tracking capabilities’, ‘faster delivery of content’ (whatever that means …), ‘building content portals’ etc. becoming so pressing yet normalised concerns and ideas.

It is equally, if not more, sad that things that we as species are so intuitively damn good at, such as ‘working out a problem’ and ‘challenging ourselves’ and ‘being curios’ and ‘wanting to be involved’ and ‘valuing listening’ seen as some incredibly smart, ‘progressive’, bleeding-edge notions?

Hey, some folks are making a mozza on speaking circuit peddling the obvious…if we took a second to think for ourselves. But I do wonder how and why have these rudimentary human strivings become so counterintuitive to ask, wonder about, and try to stimulate for learning?

I know schools and universities aren’t going to disappear or change in a hurry. And they shouldn’t, for my money. But if education is/were a business, what is its currency? What do you/we want it to be?

I know I’m using broad brush strokes here. I know the minutiae of our professional lives prevents the odd navel-gaze and wonder. But it is important to see the forrest from the trees sometimes.

Once again – thank you organisers of 2011 Australian Moodlemoot. I hope to see you next year on the Gold Coast, weather (aka $$$) permitting.

Catch-A-Teacher Day

If you see an ad on top of this post – it is not my idea(l) 🙁
Welcome!
Welcome!

It’s over! Our four day school Web 2.0 Expo extravaganza over the last few days of school year was largely (and I don’t use the word lightly) adjudged as ‘a success’, ‘eye opening’, ‘interesting’, ‘informative’, ‘fun’, ‘enjoyable’, ‘a bit crazy’, ‘unusual’ by a range of people around the school (eclectic and funky as our cover clip 🙂 )

For four days, three teachers (Simon Carabetta, Jaeik Jeong & myself) and about a dozen student-helpers (13 to 15 years old), put on a ’23 things’ of a kind for our school community to inform, teach and stir about ‘Web 2.0’ and its culture-changing potential that is starting to be realised in our societies yet (still) largely outside school walls.

To ‘walk the talk’, we not only set up stations, but also created the event’s wiki (largely student work!), even a Ning (well, sort of … 🙂 ), got a bunch of students to start up their blogs, Twitter, set up RSS readers, fooled around with Skype, Etherpad, Twiddla, Moodle etc.. We had a number of educators from around the world dropping in virtually via Etherpad (copy of excellent contributions here, thank you SO MUCH to all who have contributed), we had encouraging tweets from around the world … all in all, we were ‘doing’ Web 2.0.

But out of the four days of messing up, playing, teaching, learning, succeeding, working together, guessing and generally having a ball, the last day will remain seared in my mind forever.

Until the last day, we had very few staff that came to the expo. They would bring groups of students down but then (most of them) didn’t quite engage with the expo in any way. “That’s for the kids, not for us…” was the general sentiment, with few notable exceptions. With the whole thing PRIMARILY for staff, we weren’t making the dent. The matter was raised at our regular morning ‘war briefing’. We made the decision that the last day was going to be ‘catch-a-teacher’ day.

It was pretty simple really. Student-helpers were encouraged to approach a teacher, invite them to the expo, try to work out and ask what the teacher might be interested in to learn…then demonstrate, teach and help them learn (about) a particular Web 2.0 tool and how it could be useful to them (the teacher). We also asked our student-helpers to note down on the central ‘tally’ board what teachers they taught what.

Students took up the challenge very seriously and we had them literally chasing teachers down the halls to invite, talk to, teach the teachers. With most teachers agreeing to come (even if out of courtesy if not curiosity) it was an incredible sight.

Catch-a-teacher ... live
Catch-a-teacher ... live
Catch-a-teacher ... come in
Catch-a-teacher ... come in

And this is what the tally board looked like after only a few hours!

21 teachers, 10 different tools, 4 hours - ALL by students!
21 teachers, 10 different tools, 4 hours - ALL by students!

Yes, I repeat: teachers are far less likely to say no to a student than a ‘tech integrator’ with a resonable (tech) proposition for teacher’s problem/idea in class. It just works!

Another highlight of the day was the technically so damn easy yet so profoundly different (to ‘regular school’) Skype conference of our ‘helpers’ with a good friend Ira Socol. I saw Ira tweeting, hooked up over Skype and within seconds the whole class said ‘Hello” to Ira and his dog (“with a weird name Sir…”) in Michigan. We soon shared a screen with Google Earth on it where Ira literally showed us around his neighbourhood, place he works, we zoomed out to see and learn a bit about the Great Lakes (some of the kids watching have not been further than a few blocks from their place in their life!), cracked a joke or two and after a few minutes thanked Ira for his time. After the event Ira tweeted:

Damn right!

I read the tweet aloud to claps, cheers and hollers of approval at our post-expo ice cream ‘debrief’ (yes, we did treat the awesome crew 🙂

Yum! Well deserved.
Yum! Well deserved.

The sense of community, appreciation, working together, problem solving, the JOY of learning, particularly on the last day of our Expo was palpable. Many of our student-helpers ‘got off’ on it, dare say far, far more than many a lesson in the year just finished. There it was, a working rhizome of education I dream of, where roles/status/label/credit did not matter, only what we can learn, share, help, improve. Sure, it was quite an intense day, but one where the students saw the potential of what many of us have been banging on about for … years now.

Before we took our parting group photo, I asked the student-helpers is they would like to attend a school organised and run a bit like our expo – passionate, hard-working, following people’s interests, funny, a bit messy and unexpected, unclear at times but always valuing learning of all kinds: “Yes, sure, we’d love to…” I replied with just a line: “Demand it for your own kids.”

Just imagine! Or as a colleague quoted in his farewell speech yesterday: Logic will get you from A to B, imagination will get you anywhere.

And since I mentioned farewell speeches – I delivered mine yesterday too (copy here). I will miss the people of Belmont City College (and my first Moodle, my baby 🙂 ). They matter.

Thank you!
Thank you!

Through Web 2.0

Today, we kicked off a Web 2.0 Expo at our school with two main aims. The first one is to make staff and students see and reflect on the changes in online world that are rapidly transforming and building communities on and offline…and all with a slightly pointy educational bend (see clip below). The second aim is to go hands on and start to dabble in or improve on ‘Web 2.0’ with a helping hand nearby – a modified “23 things” of a kind.

While the expo is the brainchild and organisational baby of ‘three amigos’ (Simon Carabetta, Jaeik Jeong & yours truly), it is the students as volunteer helpers that are the real drivers and superstars.

During the first day, we had a bunch of kids creating blogs, wikis, even a newly born Ning dedicated to the expo. We had a wonderful but usually very withdrawn student, who doesn’t have Internet access at home, absolutely flourishing after setting up his Gmail account (first ever) and within 45 minutes TEACHING (!!!) five other kids how to set up RSS through iGoogle (very “hole-in-the-wall”-ish). We had teachers saying things like “wow, this Skype is really neat!”, or “do you think we could set up a Ning with our pen pals in Hawaii?” (OK, we had our share of stuff-ups too :-P)

When asked about Ning, I simply pointed my colleague who asked the question to a self-appointed ‘Ning specialist’ among our student helper crew and 30 minutes later I saw them in deep conversation about “settings and updates”.

I said it before and I repeat – magic happens when students help teachers. I have not seen a teacher who refused help with tech when a kid says “did you know Miss there’s a really good way to do … Do you want me to show you?”

If I said it, it would not stick nearly as much (if at all).

For the occasion, I made an ‘introduction’ clip about Web 2.0, based on a fantastically funky YouTube clip by Kutiman (Thru-You-01 Mother of All Funk Chords) . The wording is appropriate because it is through the changing web (shhh, don’t mention Web 3.0 yet) and through the people that I for one hope to see the changes happen. Real ones.

I hope you enjoy the re-mix, feel free to share (see CC licence). I knew we were onto a good thing with it when a Year 10 student clapped when he saw it first. Students – the yardstick that matters by far the most in things ‘educational’. (if YouTube blocked, version here)

PS. We are hoping to bumble through our next few days just as well 😛 A message to people who were happy to ‘drop in’ – look out (& pass onward if you like) for tweet(s) with a drop-in link. Sorry, but it’s a little “crazy good as we go”. Any line, sound, tweet, comment from ‘the outside world’ will be read and appreciated, thank you.

(If you see an ad on top of the post… not my idea(l) 🙁 Sorry)

Using real world

I can’t claim some sort of exclusive on this line, I think it belongs to Michael Wesch, collected through Twitter (where else!). But I just had to put it in a strip comic this afternoon.

Real world

The tall person in the comic is meant to be a teacher, the small one a student. On the ground, where it matters most, questions like these stick more than seminars full of ‘gurus’. No, this isn’t some book-bashing, it is about seeing education as a part of OR divorced from the society it operates within, draws from and sustains.

Speaking of seminars, our school will be running a ‘Web 2.0 Expo’ for four days next week (Tuesday, 14 Dec to Friday, 17 Dec; 9.00 (9am) to 15.00 (3pm) UTC +8 world clock here). The three amigos Simon Carabetta, Jaeik Jeong and myself plus 15 student volunteers who have signed over the last few days through our school forum will try to live our expo slogan: “This is not about computers, this is about people.

We will showcase ‘Web 2.0’ and demonstrate what it runs on – people, their care and their ‘cognitive surplus’.

For that reason, we would love it if you or anyone you know might be interested to drop in via Twitter, Skype or other ways to meet, share, laugh, ask, learn. For now, if you could tell us your location, contact (you can tweet me @lasic, leave a comment below or email me moodlefan at gmail dot com), when you could drop in and maybe a mode (Twitter, Skype, your choice…) it would be FANTASTIC!

Thank you & feel free to spread the word.

Merit or demerit?

Fixing the Money Pipeline

There are some teachers who are just better than others. In many ways, with many people, many colleagues. No secret really, observed many times. So why should they (not) be paid more?

There are many cases of (failed) merit pay schemes for teachers around the world. They pretty much show that merit pay for teachers, based fundamentally on extrinsic rewards for, in most cases, intrinsically rewarding job of a teacher as a ‘service to public’ … simply does not work. So why should we pay teachers differently, ‘on merit’ then?

Volumes have been written on this topic from the opposite ‘camps’. Can we have both (sounds like a politician’s wet dream)?

For the record, I would not dismiss the idea of rewarding good teachers. Let’s not throw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater. But if we as a society (or rather our elected representatives we always deserve) think teachers will ‘lift their game’ so they can get paid a few bucks more – very few will do so and not necessarily in the neat accounting brackets either (“extra 10% in pay will result in 10% better student results” – oh, come on!).

Here is a late night cobble of few ideas on how we could perhaps keep the baby in and change the water. Just ideas, with all their faults and crazy options…

  • Build and reward positive interdependence and pay for success of the team. Good teachers do it in class and often when a group effort is called for. The synergy of a well thought-out team will outweigh any individual scheme anytime plus have a range of positive side-effects. The one that first springs to mind is the growth of a culture of innovation and collaboration in a workplace. Of course, the trick is in the leadership, getting it right and spreading the rewards (the equity or equality argument) but if we can do it with students – why not with teachers too?
  • Pay a decent base rate pay, then pay extra amounts to those who mentor and/or support colleagues (particularly those in need). Young or old, regardless of years spent teaching. In other words – pay more to leaders, not merely non-leavers. While excellence and experience are often related, there are some very important differences between the two and they definitely should not be used interchangeably by default (when found, will link to an excellent paper I had come across on this … 😛 ). Some teachers will do it (mostly) for the money, most will do it for passion, interest, recognition … and maybe a little extra cash will be nice, yes.
  • Every 3 to 5 years, give teachers a few months to upskill, mentor, study, research, publish etc with less pressure of the constant class-related rush… a ‘classroom sabbatical’, not a holiday. Getting out of class sometimes, even if for a couple of terms to recharge and refresh batteries would surely be well received. This would be an opportunity to get a better, deeper outlook on things and, importantly, (re)discover the value of learning and the business we are in. Are you thinking ‘retention of teaching workforce’? I am.
  • Re-brand ‘teacher’ as a learning professional. Make the university undergraduate course very challenging, including lots of practical work and forms of ‘internships’, but knowing that once declared ‘a teacher’ (or learning professional or whatever the title), the person would have a set of skills, knowledge and flexibility to work in virtually any environment that requires (re)learning. This would include theories and approaches to learning, communication skills, use of technology and similar. The up and coming Gen X (often dubbed the ‘options generation’) as power-brokers and the subsequent “Gens” would certainly appreciate the range of options available.
  • I don’t know about you but some of the best teachers in my life were not even remotely teachers by profession! Let’s involve the community. It is amazing how many passionate, talented and keen people in the community are able and willing to contribute, help and (mostly unknowingly) inspire. And many of these people who could teach parts (or the whole) and work with students on something they and/or the students are passionate about probably live in the community just around the corner from where the kids live and school is placed in.. Sounds crazy? Ask Dave Eggers (one of the best TED talks I have seen!) and his Once upon a school project.

How does this sound to you? Any others you can think of or expand on? Feel free to (comment) …

Best when human

Getting busy at the Education.au ICT in Learning Symposium

This is an attempt to organise many thoughts after spending an amazing weekend with a number of passionate and wise ‘ed-tech’ people at and after the SICTAS symposium in Sydney last weekend.

It may have been an ‘echo chamber’ a little at times but…it felt wonderful. The gathering was passionate, informed, engaging, motivating and hopefully fruitful when our recommendations come to the top echelons of public service in Canberra. A big public thank you goes to people at Education.au for pulling it all together.

But there were some curious moments and statements that made me think. Continue reading

One sentence

Good news travels fast. ‘Sticky’ ideas even faster.

In her recent comments, fellow teacher and moodler Mary Cooch (known also as @moodlefairy) mentioned how the staff at their school spend a couple of minutes of their weekly meetings talking about their use of Moodle in the classroom. I loved the idea and in the brief email exchange that followed hinted that I will try to use it here at our school too.

This afternoon, I had a cryptic staff meeting agenda item called ‘Share’.

When I got my turn to speak, I simply asked:

‘Could you please share ONE thing or strategy you have found Moodle useful for in your classroom.”

Silence. Tick, tock, tick, tock – 15 seconds.

Then it opened. What followed was just about the best 8 minutes of my three years at this school – 10 short stories, 10 people, 10 different uses, 10 different skill levels. Genuine, specific, relevant, encouraging … and more we haven’t heard because of the crammed agenda.

As I write this, an email popped into my inbox from a colleague Aaron. This is the last sentence from it:

“What took place in today’s staff meeting is exceptionally rare, so from one colleague to another, well done”

I find myself happy and sad at the same time.

Sad? Because, as Aaron says, it is exceptionally rare. Making such things standard practice won’t change a few staff meetings – it will change the profession we are in.

A bride stole my show

BrideSurvived the two days of ‘teacher development’ before the students fill the classroom on Monday!

The standard PowerPoint overkill on compliance, procedures, initiatives, scores etc breached just about every rule of good communication, so I decided to cut my presentation from 30-45 minute mix of ‘tech stuff’ and animation (see the intended icebreaker monkeys below, text here) to a very brief 10 minute stand-up address. Even though a bride-to-be upstaged my presentation (no kidding, she walked in about 2 minutes into it and had everyone admiring her dress…she did look stunning, best wishes!), I think I managed to sow a few seeds without those glazed looks on people’s faces.

I flagged the running and the format of regular workshops on the use of technology in class but I didn’t tell staff what the workshops will be on. Moodle is probably a gimmie, but the rest….?
Continue reading

Gazump

Squeeeeze! (Lemon Grenade)Gazump. A situation in which the price for real estate or land is raised to a higher price than what was previously verbally agreed upon.* (1)

This week I lost half of my job. The half I formally started this year and was promised to go for another year, the half that gave me a chance to begin to wisen up on ICT, how to ‘infect’ people with enthusiasm for the impact and potential of ICT, the half that gave birth to Moodle and so many other valuable things at our school that have made an impact on the entire school community. Like many of my colleagues working for the same employer (largest in our State…have a guess), I was asked at the start of this job to come up with ways to better engage teachers and students with ICT in ways that are relevant and specific to the context of our school. A number of wonderful colleagues and myself worked hard to do just that this year, only to be…

gazumped!

Continue reading