November 10

Rethinking WHY I Blog

A few weeks ago many of Coquitlam’s Principals and Vice-Principals attended our annual conference. This year’s topic was the power of educational leaders using social media. I was inspired by the thought provoking message George Couros sent about carefully considering the WHY behind educational leaders using social media. While I have been blogging at this address since 2007, I have been quiet since I became a vice-principal. I told myself that I wasn’t posting because I was in a different phase in my new role – a learning phase – I would save posting for when I had learned enough to feel confident about sharing what I had learned.

George’s presentation pushed my thinking on this – I realized I was missing one of the key reasons WHY being engaged in social media matters. I was seeing my blog as a place where I would publish what I had learned – something rather summative in nature. What George helped me understand is that my blog could do so much more for me as a learner if I used it as a place to document my learning during the process of learning. A place where I can post my thinking and play with my ideas. A place where I could invite input and push-back from others. I realized that as the name of my blog “Playing with Ideas” implies – it should be a place where I am tinkering, experimenting, risk-taking. The very things I want the learners I work with to do. This is a subtle but powerful shift for me.

If I use my blog as a place where I am documenting my learning, I will be putting my ideas out there before they are fully formed with the intention of inviting conversation and push-back. This to me seems a bit scary but when I reflect on my history as a learner it has been key moments of push-back that have been the most instructive and have changed the way I do things. Here are two examples of push-back that have inspired self-reflection and have had a direct impact on my thinking and my actions:

  • Face to face push-back: A parent who shared with me what other parents were saying about me as a kindergarten teacher – “great teacher but unapproachable”. By nature I am a reserved person – I hadn’t realized how my natural social cautiousness was perceived by others. This comment inspired me to design my master’s project around reaching out to parents more actively and openly in order to build a stronger classroom community – this push-back shifted my thinking and altered the path of my career.
  • Blogging push-back: Heidi Hass-Gable provided me with some push-back that helped clarify my thinking around the dialogue we have with our school community regarding WHY we need to do things differently in education. You can read about that conversation on my other blog “Connectedness” and her comment on that post.

These examples of push-back (along with many others…) have caused me to reflect and reshape my thinking as a learner and educator. One of the quotes George Couros shared during his presentation was: “If self-reflection seems difficult, acceptance of failure will feel nearly impossible.” (Unusually Excellent: The Necessary Nine Skills Required for the Practice of Great Leadership by John Hamm). I realized that if I use my blog as a place to document my learning, I will be taking the time to stop, reflect on my thoughts and actions, and I will open myself up to the guidance and input of fellow learners. I know that one of the things that keeps me from posting is the possibility that I will be displaying my ignorance in some way. I need to remember that the times my thinking has been challenged has not defeated me, rather, it has helped me rethink and refine my ideas. It has made me a better and a stronger learner and person. Exactly what I want for all the learners I work with.

Another aha moment I had at the conference was when I began to relate documenting my learning through my blog to the conversation kindergarten teachers have been having about shifting their assessment practices to the documentation of early learning. Increasingly they are involving the children and their families in this process. You can read more about documentation of early learning in a series of posts by Brian Kuhn: Shift to the Future: Documentation. Since the conference documentation of learning also came up in conversations about rethinking Graduation Requirements at the Provincial Level. Some of us were thinking that blogging would be a good way for our high school students to reflect on and play with their ideas in a cross-curricular way. Bryan Jackson’s Talons students are already doing this type of reflective documentation of their learning – I love this example: Talons Grade 10 Introductions. I believe that blogging as a way to document learning has transformative potential for our learners.

This brings me back to another of my take-aways from George’s presentation – another reason WHY I should be blogging. By involving ourselves in meaningful and reflective use of social media, we become models of thoughtful and reflective learning, and of digital citizenship. We know that most of our kids will be involved in publicly documenting their life experiences through the use of social media with or without us. Without models our children are navigating the digital world – with all of its inherent dangers – alone. Simply providing them with lessons and lectures about the dangers and about digital citizenship has limited effectiveness. Engaging alongside them will have a far more powerful impact.

In his post “It’s not optional anymore” George Couros writes:

“There can no longer be an “opt out” clause when dealing with technology in our schools, especially from our administrators. We need to prepare our kids to live in this world now and in the future. Change may feel hard, but it is part of learning.  We expect it from our kids, we need to expect it from ourselves.”

Chris Kennedy echos this in his post Principals as Blog Leaders:

“We often talk about the many changes happening in education and how we, as leaders, need to model the change.  We want students to take the risks, own their learning, be ready to make mistakes but to learn from them as well,  and to create content for the digital world.  We can help by modelling all of this.”

We now have access to digital tools that make us increasingly able to provide powerful learning opportunities that can meet the needs of ALL learners. The learners we work with need us, as they always have, to mentor and guide them in becoming self-regulating learners, in developing meta-cognitive skills, and in developing social consciousness. The context of today’s learning is vastly different then the context we grew up in. To fully understand it we need to engage in it – the learning opportunities are endless.

This is a very challenging but also very exciting time to be a learner and an educator. George implores us to JUMP:

In my next post I will post links to some examples of inspiring blog posts written by School Administrators who have already jumped…

 

March 6

Learning through Games

Games can be a very effective and very engaging method for learning for a wide range of learners but as teachers it is our job to choose wisely. The learning should not be contrived. I was asked recently to evaluate a math game to determine if it would be good for use in our classrooms. I believe the object of the game was to explore a fantasy village (though I was never quite sure what the object actually was…). Occasionally I came upon a road block and had to complete a math challenge in order to continue exploring the village. The math challenge was irrelevant to the game, it was just the chore I had to do before I could get back to the fun. Teachers must carefully consider the message this is sending about math!! There are probably thousands of games online for most math concepts. Choose carefully!!

Warning: Choose games carefully!

One of the other concerns I have with computer-based games for learning is that we need to ensure that the objective of the game is a worthy objective, that it fits with what we value as teachers. One example: I don’t use worksheets in my classroom to teach phonics. I don’t believe that teaching phonemic awareness in isolation through worksheets has any positive impact on their reading skills – and can be detrimental because they are generally so mindless (I sure don’t like filling out forms – why would my students???). While computer games designed to improve phonics or phonemic awareness skills may be far more engaging than worksheets, they are just dressed up worksheets. While the kids may learn the isolated skills few kids actually apply these skills to reading.

But they love it…

I find it surprising to see teachers who would never give their Kindergarten students a phonics worksheet, but will sit them down in front of a computer screen doing a glitzy version of the same. They justify this by explaining how much the kids LOVE the activities which always makes me laugh. My two kids LOVE chocolate, potato chips, candy etc. and would be thrilled if I offered these things for dinner each night. I don’t because I know it is not the best thing for them. They also LOVE TV… need I go on?

Playing to Learn Math

This post was inspired by the following fantastic presentation Playing to Learn Math created by Maria Andersen about the use of games to teach math skills. It makes many fantastic points about how and why games can be great learning activities when selected carefully. I need to take some time to play some of the games she recommends to brush up on my Algebra skills!

I will post games as I find them. If you have any recommendations for games, or any comments about games as educational tools please add your ideas in a comment on this post.
October 13

Digital Learners

The following is a quote that accompanies the “Pay Attention” Video…

“Since most of today’s students can appropriately be labeled as “Digital Learners”, why do so many teachers refuse to enter the digital age with their teaching practices?
This presentation was created in an effort to motivate teachers to more effectively use technology in their teaching.
Please see http://t4.jordandistrict.org/payatten… to learn how you can become a better teacher.”