Monday, 29 January 2018

Keeping the Lines Open

As the school year starts up and I start hearing ways of connecting with parents and caregivers, I am reminded of the importance of having conversations with those at home.  I don't just mean having a casual chat when they call at school to pick up their children, big or small, although there is no doubt that those are crucial times to establish relationships and plant seeds of thinking about education.

No, I am talking about all of that, and more - making phone calls, sending newsletters, keeping an open and informative website and/or classroom blog, seeking information and feedback, having a parent/teacher meeting to open learning conversations, consultation or new initiatives, and individual, tete-a-tete conferences.

These events are so crucial for the welfare of children and particularly the welfare of their learning.   It is difficult to break down barriers built up by lack of communication and misinformation.  It is hard to fit everything into the school year but keeping the lines of communication open must be one of top priority.

Some teachers think that by sharing the work done in class, that is enough. But there needs to be a lot more to it than that.  Blogs and Seesaw are awesome ways of sharing, but they also enable you to move beyond the sphere of showcasing into the realm of co-constructing ideas about learning and what is important for the child.

Teachers roles have changed.  They are not to be seen as the font of all knowledge and so should not be publishing only the best, "corrected" work of their learners.

The most powerful blog posts that a child can make are ones where they are open to learning - that is, they demonstrate knowledge as a process.  They do not just publish a final product, but they post the stages in building knowledge and get feedback from teachers and parents and hopefully both.  They learn to become critical thinkers.  How can a parent contribute to this learning?  The same way that teachers do.  Through acknowledging, questioning and suggesting.

How are you keeping the lines open so that conversations are not just one-way traffic?

Images acknowledgements.

  1.  Teachhub 
  2.  Apple 
  3. Pixnio

Friday, 5 January 2018

Dream It, Learn It, Do It

And so the holiday is over.  I am relaxed, refreshed and renewed.  Tweeps have been twittering about #oneword2018 and I just have not been able to agree (in my head) on one word.  Every time I think that I have a good word, the following day I think I have come across a better one.  I have been through a number - improve, focus, learn, strive, gratitude, kindness..... the list goes on, as I come across others that the tweeps have posted, and thought, yes, I need to do that.

This morning the phrase "dream it, learn it, do it" is reverberating.  So here it is.  My #oneword2018.  And, I am not sorry, but it is six words.  I think it encapsulates what I wish for every learner, not just myself.  I am not going to dissect its meaning - I just wish that every person in the world, but especially those returning to classrooms, have the time and space and opportunity to carry it out without being bound by restrictions of topics and direction from above.

Happy New Year!

Thursday, 28 December 2017

Last of the Year

I have to end the year with a good cheer story.  From a photo cue on Facebook, I was reminiscing about a new immigrant, 16 year old young man visiting the DP's office (next to mine when I was AP.)  He arrived one day, just as a bouquet of flowers from my husband was arriving at my door.  He looked admiringly at them.  The (male) DP scoffed, "Waste of money, don't get into that kind of habit!"
The student smiled and agreed, and I said abruptly, "Don't listen to him.  What would he know about women?"  This went on every day for about a week, associated with great hilarity and then one day, the young man walked into my office with a handpicked bunch of flowers for me.  I told him, "You have learned a good lesson.  You will be a great success if you give flowers to the people you admire."  I am pleased to say that 10+ years later, he has gone on to become engaged to a lovely young kiwi woman.   I like to think I had a hand in his success!  And therein ends my tale.

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

School - what's the point?

What do these successful people have in common?

If you haven't already guessed it, they were not successful at school.  Either dropped out, were labelled as not amounting to anything,  were bottom of the class, hated school, or even worse, expelled.  At prizegiving every year, I remember, in my role as a leader in a college, sitting in the front row on the stage in my black gown, groaning as yet another successful guest speaker got up and told the students how he/she was hopeless at school, but succeeded anyway, and here they were, trying to inspire them on to greater things in their school years and beyond.

So why do we still have this ridiculous system that moulds people into compliant citizens - "prepares them for the world" as we are so fond of saying? 

My guess is that we retain a schooling system for convenience.

  • It is convenient, as parents, to have all of our children out of our way so that we can get on with the job of making money.  
  • It is convenient, as teachers, to have large groups herded into manageable lumps to incubate compliant students.  
  • It is convenient as a learner to have everyone educated about the same things so that we know what each other is talking about.  
  • It is convenient for politicians to slip inadequate sums of money to institutions to bulk-educate our masses.  
  • It is convenient for the economists to prepare our young ones for the same kinds of work that we all know about, to make the financial world, as we know it, go around.
We are one of only a small group of animals who prepare their young for the real world by handing them over to others.  Fish do it, send them off on their own in schools (lol) and a large pack of African wild dogs will all take responsibility for bringing up the pack young, as do ostriches, but relatively few hand over responsibility for prolonged periods of time, like we do. Dominant meerkats will force submissive ones to wet nurse and look after their brood, even going so far as to kill off any progeny that the submissive ones have. 

I am not really into anarchy - I do think we need some sort of order in our communities.  But, I do think that we could be a bit more imaginative about what goes on with our progeny.  I am not saying everything that we do at school is bad.  But, honestly, to those unconvinced members of the public, we need to get real about some of the reforms that we are trying to bring into schools, like MLEs (ILEs) and start thinking maybe there is a purpose for differentiating, individualising, and personalising learning.

So let's be relatively pleased about the convenience of school and start supporting different ways of thinking and doing in schools that will develop individuals who have their own strengths and skills. 

Friday, 13 October 2017

Learned Helplessness

Learned helplessness is a condition that we may all suffer in one way or another.  I don't know where the wrenches are kept in the garage because I don't want to wrench anything.  It is a lot easier to ask my Dan to wrench things when they need wrenching, and then I don't have to do it.  But we can also become victims of learned helplessness if we fail to be able to seek out and find solutions for ourselves.

In the classroom, we sometimes cultivate learned helplessness in our learners if we don't encourage them to seek out and find answers for themselves.  Instead, they can just wait until the teacher tells them how to do it.  It breeds lazy learners.  It also breeds learners with no resilience.  Helpless.

Sometimes we are guilty of it in our professional learning as well.  Much easier to ask an expert than to track down an answer for ourselves.   But here's the thing.  Experts aren't around all the time, and they usually cost money, so this is why you need to unlearn the habit of helplessness.  Become a lifelong learner.  That is why the internet is such a wonderful tool.  You can seek out how to do just about anything.  Go on, take that first step.
And in a shout out to my friend, Rick, here's a link that he sometimes sends to helpless learners...
Watch it, you will like it.

Thursday, 14 September 2017

Consistency or Creativity - You Make The Choice

I quite often hear teachers talk about the need for consistency in using a certain format or platform in schools.  For example, when making art work, some teachers want their students' work to all look the same because it looks more effective on their classroom walls.  Or when choosing a digital platform for school, the teachers want senior leadership teams to make a decision for the whole school - to use Microsoft 365 or Google Suite or Schoology or Edmodo or any other that they have seen in operation.

When I ask teachers why they want "consistency," they reply so that the teachers and learners will know what to do, so that everything is the same, so that everyone is on the same page etc.   I hear no really valid reason, in my books.  I dispute the need for consistency and I am all for giving teachers and learners choice.  Choose the product that works well for you at the time.  If you have the opportunity to use a variety of platforms, then pick one that you and your learners like.  As long as we perpetuate the myth that students will not know what to do, they will continue to remain in a state of learned helplessness.

So how could this work in art?  There are a variety of different techniques that learners could be exposed to.  Making videos on how to do these different techniques would provide learners the opportunity to have choice and control over what they do.  Giving them the opportunity to investigate and try different techniques is important in my view.

But then comes the practical side of things.  How can you cater for a whole lot of different techniques and media in one classroom? I am thinking that this is where the whole idea of student agency is exposed for its true meaning.  Not only do learners have choice and control of what they do and when they do it, they have to be self-organising.  They would need to organise researching and finding the resources themselves, and this will require teachers to let go of the control as well.

Good things take time.  If I were a teacher thinking of transitioning to this way of working in Art, here is what I would do.  I would take videos or collect videos of different techniques and post them up in a central place (maybe a site for example).  I would ask learners to investigate different techniques and learners could make videos about what materials were needed and how to carry out the technique.    This way the learners would become a lot more creative rather than following a set "lesson plan" for art.  I would be there to help, suggest, guide.   You know, the whole idea of guide on the side.

And yes it would be very messy.  Am I just dreaming about what could be, or is this far too impractical?

Photo:  A Duck Out of Water.

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Politics, Colleagues and Friends

It is so easy, isn't it?  The elections looming in the next few weeks and posts go up on Facebook declaring your political bent.  In the coming weeks, they will be more frequent and strident.  The Primary Teachers Facebook Group administrators were forced to draw a line in the sand recently and suggested one post per member on the political scene.  Teachers were getting too aggressive in their stances.
I must admit to having one friend on Facebook unfriend me because I posted too much on Donald Trump and how ridiculous the man is.  I guess the friend wanted to live in an echo chamber where only his views were visible. But I, too, have been tempted to do the same as the elections loom.  I cannot believe some of the "stupid" posts that people put up about their preferred party or politician.  I have come close to hitting the unfriend button several times but stop myself by thinking about internet guru, Howard Rheingold, and his assertion that we need to learn to be critical consumers to survive online. To do that we have to ensure we do not surround ourselves with like-minded opinion online.

How do friends view the world so differently?  I guess we are all brought up in different ways and experience different things in our lives and work.  We make judgments based on the ladder of inference.  Our action (voting and expressing our political bent) will be based on the reality that we select, the assumptions we make, and the beliefs we have developed.

Teachers are taught to question their beliefs, assumptions and try to look at unselected data about their learners when they start out on a teaching as inquiry cycle.  It is difficult to do by yourself, and this is where a critical friend comes in handy.  Not an uncritical friend.  Someone who agrees with everything you say and constantly affirms you and supports you is not a good critical friend.  An excellent critical friend is often one who challenges his/her own beliefs constantly.   A good critical friend will challenge you even when they do not necessarily believe that the challenge is correct.

So my promise is not to unfriend or even unfollow friends who have a different political bent to mine, no matter how angry I become at their stupidity.  Of course, the challenge is to resist responding in anger. That will lead to them unfriending me. And then I will have another echo chamber.

Image from Stuff