Not open. Not closed. And not up to me either way.

There is a lot of discussion at the moment about whether schools should be open or closed and whether the different stances that different states have taken is right or wrong.

Let me be clear – this is not a blog where I share whether I think schools should be open or closed.

I’m a teacher. I’m not an epidemiologist, a medical researcher or a paediatric pandemic expert. My medical knowledge is limited to a first aid certificate (which, at least, is very current). However I would imagine, even for those in such professions, their expertise in this particular arena is a bit limited, having not actually experienced a situation like this before. At best, they’re making educated guesses – definitely educated but also definitely guesses, about rates of infection and disease spread and likely outcomes. They absolutely have much more idea than I do but please let’s not pretend that they know exactly what will happen. In this situation, we’re all learning as we go. So, while it’s wonderful and completely appropriate to be guided by medical advice, let’s not pretend that it’s gospel.

No two countries can agree on the best way to manage anything in this pandemic so it stands to reason that the states of Australia can’t either. I know the theory is that we’re one country but we never really act like it and for good reason – we share lots of commonalities but also have a great deal of diversity and that’s why we have multiple layers of government to manage that. Therefore it also should not come as a surprise to find that states are seeking advice from different sources and are interpreting what they hear in a way that supports their circumstances and population while not being too bogged down in what other states are doing.

Having said that, the most important reason I won’t tell you whether I think schools should be open or closed is because it doesn’t matter – it’s not my decision. I’m an employee of a state Education Department and I do what I’m told. I was told, at the end of Term 1, to prepare for the possibility of remote teaching. So I did. And continued to prepare during school holidays. At the end of the holidays, I was told to begin remotely teaching my students which I’m now doing to the best of my ability. I’ve worked harder in this last 2 weeks than I ever have before, something I didn’t actually think possible. I was also asked if I was willing and able to go on a roster to supervise children of those who are unable to work from home (while continuing to remotely teach the rest) which I have also done and continue to do.

I’m sorry that the Prime Minister, the media and a bunch of uninformed people on social media have given you incorrect information – teachers don’t get to make decisions about opening or closing schools. I know my grade think I’m pretty special but those sorts of decisions are way above my pay grade.

Please also don’t be under any illusions – schools most definitely are not closed. The buildings may have a lot less people in them and my classroom may be empty but the cogs are continuing to turn as furiously as ever and staff continue to work as hard as we can to provide learning, support and some sort of routine in these odd times for our students. When those in authority decide the time is right, whether that’s next week or next term, I’ll be just as eager as my students to walk back through those classroom doors. Until then, can those of you who want to debate it please keep the noise down – I’m trying to teach.

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Stop dumbing it down – a message to authors of children’s fiction

One of the lovely roles I have is as an occasional book reviewer for ALEA and it’s a job I love. Every now and then, I get sent some books to read and the pile is very diverse in age range, topic and genre.

Sometimes, I get some absolute gems. Picture books that are well crafted with rich language and evocative illustrations, holding you on the page. Short stories which artfully build up in a limited amount of words and often leave you wanting more. Novels with great characters (and not so noble characters) which you can identify with and walk alongside.

However I have noticed, both in this role and in my general obsession of reading young people’s literature, that the diet being served up for children is not always rich and high quality. In particular, I’ve recently read quite a few shorter novels, pitched at the grade 2-6 market which are the literary equivalent of burger and fries – quick to produce, quicker to read but with no substance. Stories without quality storylines or themes. Characters who are shallow and 2 dimensional. Even worse, Australian authors who feel the need to write as if they are American, borrowing colloquialisms and stereotypes from their culture. (I’m not, by the way, suggesting that books embracing American culture are bad or that I don’t enjoy them, just that I’d rather see Australian culture celebrated and reflected in books that purport to be Australian).

Most importantly, what I’m seeing is books completely bereft of the rich language of literature. For some reason, it appears that many authors feel the need to ‘dumb it down’, particularly for this age group and I don’t understand why. Picture books generally have a fantastic array of language – why, as children get older, should this disappear? I vividly remember reading all sorts of literature as a child – The Railway Children, The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, Heidi (read to me as a 4 year old), even Les Miserables when I was in Year 7 (thanks to my older sister studying it at University). I didn’t always understand all of the words or sentiments but that was part of the mystery, challenge and, dare I say it, fun of reading. It became a problem to solve, a secret to uncover and a world to explore. It also gave me a plethora of new words to try to fit into dinner time conversation (usually incorrectly) and surprise my parents with.

So, authors, I implore you. Don’t be tempted to turn your ability to craft rich and amazing tales into a mass produced, assembly line of fast food books. Young people need to be surrounded by quality literature which lets them explore and experience their world in all its richness and diversity, from the safety of a comfortable reading spot.

what is learning for?

I attended an event at Bastow this week titled ‘What is learning for?’ with Valerie Hannon of the UK-based Innovation unit. It was another great opportunity to have my brain stretched in different ways, with some aspects resonating and others making me question my own thoughts and beliefs.

Valerie spoke about the sort of future our learners will face – one with environmental challenges, diverse populations and change in concept about employment being amongst the issues. And how well are educational systems and society as a whole preparing learners for life in this world?

These are all things I think about a lot, particularly doing the Bastow course ‘Leading Schools in the Digital Age’. However I’ve never thought about a very large idea Valerie introduced – that the future will not just be of a different degree to change we’ve experienced in the past but of a completely different kind. This is an idea referred to in Al Gore’s ‘The Future‘ which is very much on my reading list after attending this event.

Valerie presented 4 levels of learning challenges for our educational systems and, indeed, for society:

  • planetary/global: with obvious implications around access to and management of resources as well as global citizenship
  • national/local: reinventing democracy, lifelong learning for all & sharing workplaces with robot workers
  • interpersonal: developing empathy, caring for those beyond our families, developing positive sexual identities
  • intrapersonal: responsibility for self including our health, fitness, mental wellbeing and self-knowledge

As part of our final Bastow assignment, a team from our school are considering change that we can implement in our school and I really like the framework of these 4 levels to help guide some of our thinking.

I’m sure I’ll have more blog posts to follow on this – just wanted to get out my initial thoughts before it got lost in the general fog!

leading. digitally.

I was fortunate enough today to hear Eric Sheninger, author of Digital Leadership: Changing paradigms for changing times. While I think I would have enjoyed hearing Eric at any stage in my career, coming towards the end of my Bastow ‘Leading schools in the digital age’ course, the timing is perfect. As I listened to his journey in leadership at New Milford High School, pieces I had been pondering over for a long time fell into place and questions that had been simmering were answered.

So what were my key take away messages?

If you want others to live it, live it yourself.
This seems pretty obvious but it’s something that I’ve been reminded of and how powerful and motivating it is. Particularly in leadership, what you do is so much more powerful than what you say, especially if the two don’t match. It’s something I’ve thought a lot about over the last few months of this course – I always try to be a positive role model to other staff (and students) but can I do more? Think differently? Am I modelling taking risks? Being innovative? My own personal and professional life is embedded in the richness that the digital world has to offer but do I model this enough for staff and students, letting them in to see the view from my window?

No excuse or barrier is insurmountable.
I’m not someone who easily gives up but the combination of Eric’s talk and the Bastow interactions have made me think differently and push the bar higher. There were things that I wasn’t thinking as barriers, just as ‘givens’ – timetables, subject boundaries – that I had to work with. I’m starting to see that, as long as your purpose is clear, the path can be creatively managed around an array of obstacles, regardless of who put them there or how long they’ve been in residence.

We have to blur the lines.
This definitely isn’t new – I’ve felt for a long time that the lines between ‘school’ and ‘other life’ were far too straight and solid. That many students, who have spent their weekends teaching themselves to weave loombands or play Minecraft via YouTube experts, turn their brains off at 9am on a Monday when school starts. If I’ve known that for a long time, what’s new? I feel like the momentum is there for change, from all directions and it’s time that we all agree that the lines have to blur. Or, preferably, disappear completely. School doesn’t have to involve students sitting in straight lines listening to an all-knowing teacher. Because learning certainly doesn’t involve that.

What is my moral purpose?

As part of the Bastow course that I’m currently doing, we were asked today to articulate our moral purpose. The reason we get out of bed and go to work each day. And, surprisingly, I actually found this really hard to do.

I say often enough that I have 3 passions in life – teaching, travelling and running – and am lucky enough that the first pays for the other two. Why do I teach? I’ve certainly done lots of other jobs and know that there are easier ways to make a living so why do I stick with this one? Having come to teaching later in life, it was definitely a conscious choice so I would have thought I would clearly know why I do it.

imageThis was my first attempt today and it’s definitely a work in progress. The word ‘connect’ is very important to me as it speaks volumes about the relationships which I believe are so crucial to learning. ‘Making a difference’ sounds so cliched and it’s not exactly what I want to say – it’s more about wanting to help learners achieve their dreams and encourage them to dream bigger. The last part – ‘all learners’ – was trying to encapsulate the fact that, while I don’t have a class of my own, I interact with a wide group of learners each day. My purpose is to build relationships with and help all of those learners develop, regardless of whether they are staff or student.

So, as I said, it’s a work in progress. However I think this is something I really need to be able to articulate and have as my mantra so it is worth the work. Any thoughts to help me on my way?

Still here

I have been a very sporadic blog author, particularly during the last 12 months. At least, I’ve been sporadic on this blog. My running blog has been coming along very well, if you’re interested 🙂

I started this blog to be a reflective space as well as an area for discussion and debate and it has variously been both of those. Initially, while teaching ICT, it helped me get out into the virtual world and mingle although took a backseat to the sheer volume of work required when I came out of the classroom and into my Leading Teacher role. This year is no different. While I’m still very passionate about both Literacy and 21st Century Learning, I’m also a little shell shocked at the moment with the general ‘aaaargh’ that hits at the start of the year. Perhaps when I feel more on top of things, I’ll blog more? At least that’s a positive way of looking at it – I believe there will come a point when I do actually feel more on top of things.

Also, having just been accepted into the Bastow ‘Leading schools in a digital age’ course, I’m hoping that will be the thing to kick me back to blogging/sharing/participating in the online ed. tech world which I have enjoyed and gained so much from in the past. Here’s to new adventures!

Screen it

I’ll admit, initially I did it for selfish reasons.

I started a movie club at school during lunchtimes last year for students from Prep to Grade 6. I wanted them to have opportunities to develop skills, explore their creativity and build qualities such as resilience and persistence. But mostly, I found it hard to completely let go of my previous ICT teaching role and I wanted to have an excuse to continue to tinker with technology teaching.

The premise of movie club was for students to create movies to enter in the ACMI Screen It competition and I had assumed it would ignite interest in some of our Grade 3 – 6 students. What I wasn’t expecting was the response from our Prep to Grade 2 students who were really keen, full of ideas and very motivated to create movies. To start with, we played with stop motion animation and green screens, getting to grips with the benefits and limitations of each. Then it was time for the serious business.

Over the course of 3 terms last year, a small but determined group of Grade 1-2 students storyboarded, scripted then acted and, after all that effort, produced 2mins 44secs of brilliance. It’s not quite Oscar material but I’m really proud of what they produced. More importantly, I’m in awe of their persistence in pushing me to turn up every lunchtime as the competition deadline got closer. And of their organisation in ensuring that costumes & sets were completed and at school on the right day, without any intervention from me.

Most importantly, it changed my thinking about what students are capable of producing at all ages and stages of learning. Never again will I doubt that younger students are just as able to produce high quality and innovative work as older students.

When has your thinking been challenged about what students are capable of?

Digital dandelions: Exploring and interacting with diverse digital texts in primary classrooms

I’m presenting today at the ALEA conference in Brisbane on the topic of using digital texts in primary classrooms. If you’re interested, here is the Prezi and supporting notes that go along with the presentation. A proper blog post will definitely follow 🙂

Prezi

 

List of digital texts that could be used in primary classrooms

social media, bullying & vulnerability – day 2

Day 2 of the NCAB conference was, I’m pleased to say, as rich and thought provoking as the first and I’ve come home with a head full of ideas, questions and things to follow up.

The key message for me from today was around the need build respectful relationships at all levels – with teachers, students, parents and the wider community. Regardless of whether we are talking about online or more traditional forms of bullying, approaching the issue by teaching (and modelling) ethical behaviour provides the foundation for the communication and respect needed.

The keynotes of the day were by Professor Ian Rivers and Nina Funnell and were both filled with relevant information that challenged my ideas and made me consider how some of these issues fit into my school environment.

Professor Rivers speech raised important points about the experiences of bullying for lesbian and gay youth but also about the role of bystanders in the culture of bullying. Building the social skills of the 60% of students who are bystanders and empowering them to take action can have a huge impact on the problem and help change the culture.

Nina Funnell spoke of sexting, although noted early on that this is not a term used by youth themselves when they talk about this activity. The statistics provided were surprising – the biggest group of people participating in sexting are actually gay adult males, not teen girls as the media may have us believe and that teen girls and boys actually participate at similar rates. This wasn’t the only point that challenged my thinking. I’m not sure that I’ve given much time to the topic of sexting prior to this keynote – I teach primary school students and (possibly naively) didn’t think it was something that I needed to give much thought to. I hadn’t thought about sexting education programs and how the ‘just don’t do it’ message was similar to the abstinence programs that are acknowledged not to work nor had I thought about the fact many schools are limiting conversations about sexting to cybersafety programs when they also are needed in broader conversations of relationship, sexual health and wellbeing. A final message that really did resonate was to be careful not to demonise either the technology nor the young people involved and I liked the idea of teaching ethics surrounding the issues rather than just the legal consequences of the action.

I attended a seminar by Associate Professor Marilyn Campbell and Dr Barbara Spears on students’ perceptions of how their schools deal with bullying which had interesting findings to present and made me question how my school’s students might answer the question. In particular, it was disturbing to see how students who were bullied online had a more negative view of how the school was handling it and raised questions about what to do to improve the situation.

Dr Michael Carr-Gregg and Elly Robinson were next with a stimulating discussion on parental involvement in addressing cyberbullying. The message, again, was one of building relationships, this time with parents and providing them with the tools they need to set boundaries for and support their children. Resources such as the Bullying no way site and ‘Take a Stand‘ app were given to help start that conversation. Dr Carr-Gregg reiterated that honesty is the best policy and encouraged schools to be upfront with parents – bullying happens in every school so talk about what you’re doing, what parents should watch for and what they can do to ensure it’s being tackled as a team effort.

The final seminar I attended by Rosalie O’Neal and Dr Matthew Dobson of ACMA spoke of the results of recent research on the current trends in young people’s use of social media before providing a range of resources. If you haven’t come across ACMA’s amazing and comprehensive set of resources for teachers, students and parents before, stop reading and go now!

Day 2 and the conference as a whole ended with a panel of experts including youth representation addressing audience questions and some hot issues. Fantastic to see youth voice but not quite representative as none were users of social media which meant we didn’t really get the insight I had hoped for.

I’m left with lots of great resources, topics to ponder and ideas to help move my school, students, staff and parents forward. However I also made some great connections during the conference which raises another point that was at the back of my mind throughout. During 2 days of tweeting, I caught up with several people I follow on twitter and who, while I know their opinions and ideas shared with the world well, I have not previously met them in person and, really, know nothing about who they are. There was much talk during the conference of the ‘randoms’ that students have on their social media accounts and the dangers that this outer circle of barely acquaintances can bring. I’m not for a minute suggesting that we don’t need to teach students the importance of reigning this in and the potential dangers that unknown people can bring, particularly when starting out in an online world and before developing an appreciation for the whole picture. But I want to make sure we don’t also cut students off from the amazing possibilities of interaction that the online world can bring as a result. If I restricted my own social media use to only people I’d previously met in person, I would have missed these rich opportunities for discussion and networking. So I’ll end by reminding readers, as the conference constantly reminded me – technology and social media has its positives too.

A new year and just a few resolutions

Halfway through Term 1 already and I thought it was about time I shared some thoughts I’ve had and tools I’ve been playing with.


My first and most important goal for the year, as always, was to be more organised. I’m a fairly organised person anyway or at least I start off that way but I’m not good at keeping track of bits of paper and needed to tackle the problem differently. Evernote is my saviour. I started using it a bit last year and could see it was ‘pretty cool’ (massive understatement) but, over the holidays, had time to concoct a plan to really get the most out of it. With the help of some of my PLN (particularly MissB6_2!), I’ve been using to organise the many different facets of being a teacher that have a tendency to get muddled.

  • Anecdotal notes: I teach 400+ students every week and, while I’m really good at names and faces, it can be a challenge to remember details about their work, habits, goals and skills. Evernote and my iPad have meant I can roam the classroom, taking pictures of work which I annotate, save and tag. In four weeks, I’ve already managed to collect a great sample of student work and notes on their skills which has been really helpful for future lesson planning and will be invaluable come report writing time.
  • Projects: I’ve well and truly got multiple hats this year – teacher, ICT coach, convenor of our eSmart accreditation committee, just to name a few. Having carefully thought out tags and notebooks has helped me organise myself and using the ’email to Evernote’ feature to send things straight to the right notebook has also been a huge help.

I could go on and on about it but I’ll save it for another post – I’m sure I’ll have more to say about it in the future! As ever, it’s also a resolution to blog more about my discoveries this year – perhaps my exploration with Evernote will be a motivating factor!

A couple of other tools I’ve returned to as part of my start of year activities…

  • Sumopaint: My grade 3-6 students have really been enjoying this one with its plethora of brush shapes providing lots of inspiration and ideas for them when they were creating ‘The perfect ICT student’ robots in the first week of school;
  • TES iboard: I’d forgotten how much I like this site until I pulled it out recently as part of my coaching role. Great for IWBs and many of the activities are beautifully open ended, allowing you and your students to shape them to match your program. I embedded a few in the Ultranet last year for my Preps and they loved them.