Innovate, Transform and Evolve…

Education and buzzwords go hand in hand. Terms like ‘learner-agency’ have evolved from ‘student-agency’ and taken on far wider meaning. My personal favourites include ‘scaffolding children’s learning’ and ‘creating a ubiquitous platform for learning.’ As ridiculous as it sounds, each term could (and has) stem its own blog post, lengthy conversation and a multitude of diagrams to explain the concept. And we haven’t even touched on acronyms! New terms like ILE, MLP and CoL are upon us like never before, each with their own literature and support documentation, their own PLD opportunities and sub-acronyms to relate to them! In truth, we live in a world of over-complicated, overused concepts.

And so I am brought to the title of the post, three glorious buzzwords in current use, but all of which have overlap, difference and genuine power if analysed. At their very definition, each word has change as a common factor. I can only attempt to define them based on personal experience and understanding.

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What does it really mean to innovate? Last year, Dr Rebecca Jessen spoke at a large hui for a well-known cluster in the Tamaki region of Auckland. She suggested that innovation could be ‘thinking things that have never been thought’, to which I added ‘to solve problems we do not know exist.’ It is here that we also need to look at the term Innovative Learning Environments (ILEs) a little deeper. It is easy to see why so many focus ON the environment rather than looking at what’s happening IN it. Of course the environment needs to be conducive to innovation, but it is not the be all and end all. Innovation lies within the practice and learning that takes place.

By very definition, when we innovate we are changing something established. For example, the delivery of number knowledge through the use of digital technology, allowing student voice to filter through it and learners expressing their learning in their own colloquialisms and language. Yes, having somewhere to learn with freedom, comfort and flexibility is important but it cannot be the starting point for innovation.

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Again, change must be identified as the commonality and underpinning factor within transformation. Whether students transforming their learning or teachers transforming their practice, the fundamental element needed for successful transformation is change. But the goal cannot be to transform without first identifying what is needed to be changed- not changing for the sake of change. Unlike innovation, transformation feels more like a process. Knowing your start point, developing new skills and wider pedagogy with the end-point (albeit flexible) in mind.

Could it be as simple as adjusting current practice to better suit the needs of learners? Arguably, yes. A teacher who is able to change their delivery and support to allow learners to grow and develop with greater independence and engagement, could be said to have transformed his/her practice.

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Asking my wife what she felt it was to evolve she instantly replied, ‘that’s a much longer process.’ It was a viewpoint that hadn’t initially occurred to me, but in terms of evolution from a scientific perspective, time is a tremendously important factor. But I don’t believe it defines what it is to evolve. Even with nature, elements that evolve do so as they can no longer sustain their current form and survive. Whether we look at theories around whether humans had a tail through to the wider picture of how education practice has evolved since the use of pedagogues at Roman schools, there is a cross over with regards to need. Humans no longer ‘need’ a tail, our lives have changed, everyday activities no longer require the counterbalance and movement associated with having one. Much the same way in which education institutes have evolved into inclusive arenas that foster curiosity and exploration (stick with me here, I know there’s a huge spectrum to look at).

Teachers need to genuinely believe there is a need to evolve for it to happen. It needs to be organic, specific to the requirements of the individual, their mind, passion and views as well as to the styles of the learners they work with. The need has to be owned, not dictated. It has to be visible and obvious.

Sustainable Best Practice

I don’t believe innovation, transformation and evolution can exist alone. Not with any purposefulness and with any lasting change. Throwing around a few ideas on big pieces of paper, it became immediately obvious that one feeds the others.

To evolve we need to transform and innovate. To innovate we need the freedom to transform and learn from those who have evolved. And so on… There will forever be pockets of each but when all three are in unison, I truly believe we reach sustainable best practice. Of course, this differs from environment to environment, educator to educator and even learner to learner, as all have different needs and aspirations. It is a journey of exploration and learning. There are many sources out there that quote ‘best practice for 21st Century Learning’ or even those who attempt to define it. Whatever your standpoint, your best practice may be very different from the teacher next door, and I hope you can see how that’s a good thing. Different is not necessarily wrong, it’s just different.

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And there were several diagrams in between!

You can lead a horse to water…

Following on from other posts around change management, many of my recent conversations have focused on ‘what’s next’ as a starting point. It can be very easy to enter a classroom, facilitate a hands on session with a tools based focus and simply walk away again. Much of the challenge relies heavily on teachers asking what the next steps could be. The very famous proverb ‘You can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make it drink’ rings true here.

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To successfully implement change and shift practice, teachers must be supported in their exploration and risk taking. The failures that test resilience shouldn’t be seen as the end point, merely a hurdle. When asked what a hurdle to his learning was I watched in awe as a nine year old student replied ‘It’s just something you have to jump over…’ Yet as we move further into our adult lives, the fixed mindset grows and many of us begin to no longer see hurdles, but barriers. So just how can we make the horse drink?

“Beyond better pedagogy, the teacher of the future must actively improve the conditions for learning in his or her immediate environments.” (Fullan 1993)

Fullan perceives the key to successfully implementing change as lying within a teacher becoming active in the process rather than passive. His early work on the role of teachers becoming change agents continues to underpin much of his writing today and is widely recognised as an extremely important element in developing a culture of change. And yet some teachers still rely heavily on the passive absorption of professional development. “Education used to be something that was done to you. It isn’t anymore!” is a well used term in many of the schools I facilitate within. School leaders understand the changing face of digitally native learners and are beginning to accept that the locus of control has substantially shifted. So why, in some cases, has individual teacher attitude towards professional development not changed? Why is the role of the facilitator still perceived to be one where all knowledge is delivered?

Russell Burt (Principal at Pt England School, Auckland) once said “Facilitate, don’t dictate.” The phrase resonated with me so much that I dropped it onto a desktop sticky note and it is one of the first things I see when I open my laptop each morning. It has been an underpinning philosophy in so much of what I have achieved recently, however for some it seems that they actively seek dictatorial leadership. Perhaps it’s the ease of having someone else make decisions for them, or the safety in the knowledge that change is implemented from above and therefore there is no ownership of any shortcomings or failure. Isn’t it often the same practitioners that are happy to pay lip-service to minimal improvement in their practice?

“…transformation has to mean more than just continuing improvement if it is to be more than a rhetorical device for selling the latest educational initiative.” (Hargreaves 2003)

After a period of validating resistance and identifying which elements of practice to carry forward and which to leave behind, there are still those who appear to accept a culture of improvement when in a period of transformation. Of course improvement is a positive step, however for those who hold the expectation that professional development is something that happens to you, challenges and barriers will always occur before hurdles. They will continue to live and work in the realms of improvement, without ever really understanding what it is to truly transform one’s practice.

So just how do we get this group of educators to ask ‘what else?’ or perhaps ‘what if?’ How can we convince them to continue to explore the learning post-facilitation? The change agents within an organisation have to ensure some if not all of the following are in place:

  • Time and Space: Teachers will always be time poor, time and a resource rich environment needs to be found in order to foster professional growth.
  • Diversity: Building teams with multiple perspectives, cultures and views.
  • Promoting a Fail Forwards culture: Teachers need to know that those who have failed do so forwards. The failure is merely a teachable moment.
  • Okayness is not okay: Expectations must be high, achieving them must be a challenge.
  • Accountability: Educators are expected to continue the learning after professional development. There must be a ‘return on investment.’
  • Professional Guidance: Knowing there are others to turn to when ideas are in short supply.
  • Quality Infrastructure: We must never allow poor infrastructure to be used as an excuse for not trying.

This list is by no means exhaustive and could further into continuing professional development and exposure to best practice, but these are things many are already doing. Perhaps a question I’ve intentionally left out of this article is ‘what if the horse simply has no thirst?’ For those who, even after validation, professional learning and immersion into a supportive culture of risk taking, are still missing the thirst for education and learning it may be time to trot a different path.

Sources

Fullan, M. 1993 Why Teachers Must Become Change Agents, Retrieved from Educational Leadership: Volume 50 Number 6.

Hargreaves, D. 2003 From improvement to transformation, Keynote lecture: International Congress for School Effectiveness and Improvement. Sydney, Australia.

 

My Chromebook and a Plug!

With such increased visibility, we have much to learn from today’s students when we look at coping with change. Adults who have developed a fixed mindset or those afraid to step outside of their comfort zone are often those most resistant to change. Once the fixed mindset takes hold, those who have it quickly become problem finders, not problem solvers. And yet here I sit, in a ‘classroom’ of 60 students in a low-decile school, watching intently as they decamp from their room and settle into a new home for the next 8-12 weeks. Why? Because their rooms are being knocked through to establish an environment for collaborative practice and it’s unfeasible to stay in them while the building work takes place.

So on a dreary Monday morning, 60 students seamlessly transitioned to their new makeshift classroom, the school hall. Not an ideal situation, but as a temporary home it has everything the students feel they need to continue their learning, their Chromebook and a plug! How many teachers do you know that are able to comfortably shift their learning environment for three months and simply just pick up their laptop and power cable? How many are able to work anywhere, anyhow and at anytime? Of course there are the modern learning pedagogy enthusiasts and practitioners, but most would struggle and spend days wrestling with the upheaval and shift. Yet the students that surrounded me this afternoon were simply happy with their device and a power source. When the time comes, non-digital resources will appear just as they would in their own classroom. Art will still take place and hands on practical resources will be fetched or retrieved. Make no mistake, this is not about the device! It is about mindset and change.

“Now put yourself in a growth mindset. You’re a novice- that’s why you’re here. You’re here to learn. The teacher is a resource for learning. Feel the tension leave you; feel your mind open up.

                                    The message is: you can change your mindset” (Dweck 2006)

I chose Carol Dweck’s quote to reaffirm the differences between many of our adult minds and those of the learners in our school system today. The understanding that learning can take place while surrounded by four walls and facing a data projector, but also while sitting under a tree and watching the world go by, or collaborating across the globe in the online world. It is anytime, anywhere and anyhow, it is ubiquitous.

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What these teachers have created is an environment that encourages risk but within the realms of a pedagogically sound model. Their students are unphased by change and look actively to lead it over experiencing it- this hasn’t happened overnight! Students choose their focus, articulately express their goals and collaboratively unpack next steps to achieve them. These students are self-regulated and motivated learners. This is by no means a new concept and looking as far back as 25 years ago, Zimmerman was able to state:

“At one time or another, we have all observed self-regulated learners. They approach educational tasks with confidence, diligence, and resourcefulness. Perhaps most importantly, self-regulated learners are aware when they know a fact or possess a skill and when they do not.” (Zimmerman 1990)

And what of the walls or the classroom as a home base? What about the constant need for a teacher to direct the learning and feed the information? Exactly! This is the growth-mindset, self-regulated modern learner. These are students who understand the value of collective responsibility for their learning.

The modern classroom, or ‘innovative learning environment’ doesn’t need to look like it’s been plucked from Google or furnished with running desks to engage. Yes it would be nice, but these are enablers and to some could even be a distraction. The modern classroom should be learning focused, tool and skill rich, visible to others and promote a culture of risk taking. How many walls does it need? Who cares?! A flippant response, but arguably appropriate and leads us to the question, how many walls do our students want?

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Our mindset as we enter a room often dictates the effectiveness of our teaching and learning. Have we forgotten to ask ‘why?’ or simply ‘what else could I do?’ The students I observed today weren’t reliant on the walls that surrounded them or their seating plan. Their chromebook is an enabler. It is the right tool at the right time. Nothing more. Their knowledge of the Google Apps tools meant they were able to begin a piece of work in one room and confidently pick it up in another, without giving seating or furniture a second thought. They slide effortlessly between conversations via email, the chat box and into real-life. They still call across the room, they still value face to face time, but they recognise how temporary a shift can be, because to them, it’s just a set of walls.

References

Dweck, C. 2006 Mindset: How You Can Fulfill Your Potential. Random House Publishing, New York.

Zimmerman, B. 1990 Self-Regulated Learning and Academic Achievement: An Overview. Article retrieved from Education Psychologist, January 1990.

Image sources

https://c2.staticflickr.com/8/7230/6899009556_e9db98044b_b.jpg

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Are you a Lone Nut, a Disruptor or a First Follower?

Much of my recent professional learning has surrounded the desire to look at effective methods of facilitation of change. Whether the development of leadership within middle management or a focus on acknowledging and validating resistance, I’ve found myself looking at those reluctant to change, far more than those actively seeking it. Obviously, those seeking the same change as the suggested new direction within a school are unlikely to cause resistance or challenge. But what about those who wish for more? Those who constantly look to push the boundaries so readily accepted by their colleagues? I am ofcourse talking about the lone nuts.

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Out there in education land (and business land), there are those who conform by day, but their lone nut alter ego constantly strives for more. Their desire to experiment, try something different and quietly take risks outweighs their fear of ridicule and the lack of support that many face. Yesterday I was asked the question ‘Do lone nuts know they’re lone nuts?’ followed up with ‘I don’t think anyone chooses to be a lone nut.’ It is certainly something that left me pondering. Do lone nuts realise they’re lone nuts? A simple question, yet one that had never really occurred to me. It is not a question easily answered as it blurs the lines into several other theories. A lone nut could be a disruptor. The idea being that the lone nut challenges the status quo through the development of a new value or methodology, eventually disrupting the original. Do they know they’re a lone nut? Yes, quite probably. As a disruptor though there is often a need to find a following, seek out a base of like-minded colleagues (or at least a group that believe in the proposed disruption) in order to establish a new status quo. Derek Sivers is well known for his narrative over the video of a dancing man at an outdoor event. Quite simply he stated:

“A leader needs the guts to stand alone and look ridiculous. But what he’s doing is so simple, it’s almost instructional. This is key. You must be easy to follow!” (Sivers 2011)

And so I return to my initial spark question, ‘Do lone nuts know they’re lone nuts?’ If looking to disrupt and change the status quo, yes. They establish leadership quickly and find those willing to follow or equally unhappy with the current system. However, it rather begs the question, are they a lone nut once they’ve become a leader?

Returning to the concept, it could be argued that a lone nut could also be someone striving for change in others but with no real desire to be followed or achieve recognition. I genuinely believe this is where many of the truly unique teachers and educators I meet fit. Their desire to establish a meaningful learning environment through an enriched and expansive pedagogy far outweighs any desire to change wider staff practice. Many focus on the students within their own classes and work tirelessly to scaffold future focused learning and accelerate both progress and achievement. These are true lone nuts. Often remaining oblivious to the wider changes their practice is causing, the development of followers around them and growing influence their pedagogy begins to have on whole school culture and delivery. So perhaps the difference between a disruptor and a lone nut could be argued as the desire to achieve with or without followers.

In his landmark video Sivers also suggests that if we all strive to be leaders that in itself would be ineffective. We should all look to be courageous first followers.

“Silvers pointed out that it is risky to be the first follower. Like the initiator, the first follower faces a social risk, in this case — being ignored or even ridiculed. The fact that the first follower took the risk, however, lowered the social risk for the third person and everyone else who followed.” (Rouse 2014)

And so a third element to the lone nut theory is added. Whether the disruptor who may actively seek followers, or the lone nut who simply attracts them, are either effective as change agents without their very first follower? Is it the first follower who is taking the biggest risk in making a statement that they are prepared to stand by the isolated few who are different? Perhaps. I’ll leave you to decide which you feel is the holder of the key to change, and which you have chosen, whether consciously or not, to be.

Whether a disruptor, a lone nut or the first follower, all take a level of risk. All risk ridicule and social isolation in their workplace. So often my research has focused on helping the silent resistors find their voice or validating the more vocal objectors, but today is about the change makers. Today is a thanks to those that challenge and inspire me and a reminder that tomorrow I really must tell them.

Sources

Sivers, D. 2011 Leadership Lessons From Dancing Guy retrieved from https://sivers.org/ff

Rouse, M. 2014 The First Follower Theory retrieved from http://whatis.techtarget.com/definition/first-follower-theory

A special thanks to Paulette Corbett (@paulettecorbett), yesterday you challenged me and today I appreciated it even more.

 

Change Starts In The Middle

This post has been written collaboratively and with input from Mike Neufeld, Undergraduate Curriculum Leader, Department of Nursing, Auckland University of Technology.

Source: www.TYquotes.com

Leading change is a fantastic minefield of resistance, validation and challenging conversations. If it weren’t you’d have to ask yourself the question, ‘am I actually changing anything?’ Change in its very nature can feel very challenging to some. The reasons behind the challenge may differ from person to person. It could simply be the sheer size of change and level of difference. However, it could be as a result of exposing one’s own vulnerabilities, an admission that one has not been doing everything they could have. As a result the resistance begins to build and without careful management, can lead to some very difficult situations. So where does change begin? To me, change starts in the middle. This is an odd phrase but what I mean is that middle leaders and management often hold the key to actioning positive shifts in a whole staff. It’s the middle managers that are often the go-between between senior leadership and the chalk face. I remember feeling like a buffer at times when sharing a shift or a direction that I knew a team member might not like. But, as a manager, I listened, I validated and I took the time to consult. A quote I’ve used many times recently comes from a piece of research by Dean Anderson in which he stated:

“Mandating the change, which squelches participation and increases employee resistance;” (Anderson 2001)

Change in strategy or direction that comes from the top down can sometimes feel like it’s being mandated. It’s here that the middle manager has their pivotal role in facilitating shift. They are change agents. Ben Trowbridge, the CEO of Alsbridge Inc, has championed middle managers as facilitators of change and leaders in their own right. Whether you see them as change agents or the linchpin between senior leaders and operational staff, it’s the middle management that help paint the wider picture.

“Positive participation from middle management helps employees see the broader picture and the impact of change beyond their own individual interests.” (Trowbridge 2011)

Education is often seen as the war on ignorance, so is it fair to argue that our middle managers are both fighting in the trenches as well as making decisions in the war rooms? The employees that see their middle managers representing the best interests of the workers are the ones who will follow first. The employee that has a high level of trust in their manager will back a change, even if it means more work in the short term or contradicts their original stance.

Source: eatablebiomatter.wordpress.com

When analysing the resistance shown to suggested change, those that speak up are heard. Those that vocally share their resistance and are confident in their opinion are often the ones that validation is aimed at, or the ones who receive the reassurance and professional development. But it’s the one’s who don’t speak up, the silent resistors, that are often unsighted and unheard. And it’s the middle managers that are the ones to identify them first. It’s middle managers who know them on a level that perhaps senior leaders of larger organisations don’t. Their role becomes one of both a coach and advocate as well as a liaison and manager.

It’s the closer relationship that can overcome the common resistance factors- the feeling of not being consulted, the common perception that change means ‘something else’ to do in addition to current workload.

“Middle managers are both close enough to the fire to see the problems and opportunities clearly and close enough to the money to connect the profit-burning fires to the organization’s profit-and-loss statement.” (Troyer 2008)

Whether a profit based organisation or learning establishment, the closeness of a middle manager to those in the classroom means that the middle manager can be both the igniter of fires and the douser of flames. From an education perspective, there’s no denying that we are in a period of change. And so I close with the ‘how’. How can we move our middle managers forward and enable them to light the right fires?

“First, bring middle management into the conversation by enlisting their vast operational knowledge of the organization. Second, convey your value and trust in them. And third, set expectations and keep them well informed about the change. Middle managers will serve as your messengers and ambassadors and influence other viewpoints within the organization.” (Troyer 2008)

Bibliography

Anderson, D. and Ackerman-Anderson, A. 2001 Beyond Change Management, Jossey-Bass Publishers, San Francisco

Trowbridge, B. 2011 Middle Managers Are Key Change Agents For Your Organization,  http://www.alsbridge.com/news/news-events/press-releases/306/-Middle-Managers-are-Key-Change-Agents-for-your-Organization.html

Troyer, D. 2008 Changing your organization from the middle on out,  http://www.reliableplant.com/Read/13577/changing-organization

 

 

Punishment: An opportunity missed?

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Managing behaviour remains a valuable skill that teachers young and old still wrestle with in their learning environments. But things have changed haven’t they? The student left in the corridor having been sent out for being disruptive is slowly becoming a dinosaur concept. Teachers are turning more and more to positive guidance over policing behaviour, and I for one think it’s a good thing. Hattie suggests that focusing on ‘Behavioural Objectives’ has an effect size of just 0.12, while Christine Rubie-Davis shares:

“Preservice and practising teachers could be made aware of the role of using positive behaviour management statements, of the ways in which teachers respond to student answers to their questions, of avoiding criticism of students and of providing students with task mastery goals in promoting the affective climate of the classroom. Such practices may convey subtle meanings to students about how their teacher feels about them.” (Rubie-Davis 2007).

The argument for developing classroom culture as a whole, rather than focusing on behaviour as individual objectives is compelling. And there’s nothing new in this. Embedding culture and setting high expectations is proven to be more effective than reactive solutions.

This brings me to the moment that this posts stems from. Facilitating across a cluster allows me access to many classrooms, resources and teaching styles. I’m fortunate to be surrounded by a range of outstanding educators who show an enormous repertoire of behaviour management strategies, many of which feed directly into wider school culture. Instinct tells us to quickly identify behaviour that does not meet the expectation of the class and react. It is the choice of reaction that differs from place to place and school to school. And herein lies my anecdotal moment. Imagine a student is not engaged in his independent Maths task using his chromebook. Although low-level, the distracting behaviour he shows is beginning to draw others away from their learning and quickly changing the equilibrium in the classroom. He is engaged in using Google Chat, sending YouTube links to peers, rather than the problem solving task set within a Google Doc. A teacher here has many options:

  • Remind the student of the expectations in the room and within his learning.
  • Praise another student nearby.
  • Positively reward elements the student HAS completed in order to refocus them.
  • Openly chastise the student.
  • A quiet refocusing conversation to one side.
  • Give or remove table or class points should such a system exist.

And many others I’m sure. What didn’t occur to me was to take the student’s chromebook. I am unable to fathom how removing access to the learning task could be an option if the expectation of completing it remains. It seems odd to set a high expectation and challenging task only to provide a less rich paper-based task in order to re-engage and focus the student. In punishing a learner in this way, what opportunities have been missed? At no point has the reason behind the poor behaviour been addressed. Is the task too challenging? Or perhaps not rich enough? Has another event triggered the student’s unsettled behaviour? Punishing the learner by removing access to learning using a digital tool suggests that those in non-digital learning environments are being punished every day.

“It is the teacher’s’ responsibility to initiate a classroom culture that recognises the connections between learning and behaviour…” (Langley 2009)

Punishment stems from the fixed mindset. The reactive mindset that identifies poor behaviour and ‘fixes’ it. Our learners deserve more. Recently Dorothy Burt shared a powerful question that redefines behaviour management. Quite simply she asked “Would you take a child’s pencil away for misbehaving in the classroom?” And it’s very true. The device is the tool. Not the novelty or a toy that is taken to chastise a child. It’s as valuable as a pencil case and exercise book, as fun as modelling clay and can be as engaging as a novel, it’s simply a case of how it’s used and viewed. We are responsible for educating and providing learners with skills to successfully function in the modern world, how can this be achieved if the tools are taken away?

Where am I going with all of this? The days of ‘Get out of my classroom” or “Go and think about what you’ve done” (and not following up) are dying. Poor behaviour has a cause, punishment often doesn’t address or unpack it. Please understand that all actions must have a consequence, all poor behaviour cannot simply be talked through without the need for recompense or identification. Teachers today need to recognise the changing face of education  and the use of digital technology as a tool, not something to be used against our learners. Of course there will always be the situations where a student’s behaviour can be stopped simply by non-verbal boundary reinforcement or simple reminders. We need to create meaningful conversations with purposeful outcomes in order to address ongoing issues- not fall back to the reactive stress response of taking things away.

Developing Student Agency Through Digital Badges

Within my role I’m fortunate to meet with a wide variety of educators and share in their learning. Recently the concept of digital badges was discussed in one of the schools I facilitate. It really sparked me into thinking about the role/purpose and management of digital badges within modern learning pedagogy. I stumbled across this short video and it really got me thinking… (First minute and a half are worth watching)

Credit: ChicagoArtDept https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HgLLq7ybDtc

Purpose

Like any form of recognition, students often thrive on positive praise. From a mindsets perspective, it’s important that students receive recognisable reward for achievement AND the effort they have put in, rather than being over praised or praised for expected behaviour. With co-constructed success criteria the chances of recognition increase further as students claim ownership and develop a deeper understanding of specifics behind positive achievement in a task. As a visible reward, a badge is not a new concept. The Guides and Scouts have been using badges as a way of recognising skills for many decades. The military is another fine example, an officer is denoted by the braiding on his shoulders or sleeves. So why not have a digital mark in the digital classroom? Like many other aspects of the modern learning pedagogy being embraced by teachers, the school day is no longer 9-3, nor is the teaching, conferencing and recognition. Digital badges provide the opportunity to extend praise outside of the face to face opportunities within a classroom.

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Developing Student Agency

Using badges is a small piece of a complex puzzle. Recognition, praise, pride and ownership are important concepts (among many others) to consider when developing badges to be used in a school or classroom. The concept of rolling out digital badges to students gives them no ownership and no reason to buy-in to the system. However, collaboratively constructed success criteria and design through inquiry means that not only can students choose the skills they value most, but also detail the criteria they feel shows achievement. Stepping back in the process further raises questions about whether badges are focused on identifying acquisition of skills or developed into a more subjective set of visible rewards that echo a school’s values and expectations. I’m by no means suggesting that creating subjective badges based on behaviour is an easy task, but it could potentially change the entire culture of a school.

“Before a learner can exercise agency in their particular learning context they must have a belief that their behaviour and their approach to learning is actually going to make a difference for them in the learning in that setting – in other words, a personal sense of agency. The notion of agency isn’t simply about handing control over to the learner – a sort of abdication model – it involves a far greater tapestry of intentionality on the part of schools and teachers to create that context and environment where the learners are actively involved in the moment by moment learning and well being.”

(CORE Education: Trend 1- Learner Agency http://www.core-ed.org/thought-leadership/ten-trends/ten-trends-2014/learning-agency)

Engagement in concept and the ongoing development of digital badges relies heavily on the level of student agency within the learning. It’s not about picking your favourite thing because you’d like to earn it. It’s about identifying skills you value in a learning environment and offering a set of open criteria to your peers.

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Managing and Awarding

I’ve left this element until last deliberately. Creating a set of skills or behaviours that are deemed to be desirable in a school is challenging but within the whole context, the easy part. Who decides whether a badge can be claimed? Who chooses to recognise a student’s learning? Looking around for options you cannot ignore the need for continued ownership of not only the badges and their design, but also the process behind their award. Could this be something that extends beyond the four walls of the classroom and well outside the school day? A simple Google form embedded into an online learning area giving students the opportunity to nominate their peers, could enable students to share the success of their classmates in their own time, perhaps scrolling through a blog on a Saturday morning… It’s by no means perfect, but there is certainly scope to change the way we recognise effort and achievement within NZ schools.

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Just a quick example…

Are we losing the art of conversation?

In an increasingly digital world, a world limited by 140 characters or populated by what feel like clipped responses, I began to ask an interesting question this afternoon. Are we losing the art of conversation?

You see, more and more is geared towards text based, digital communication. It’s important to acknowledge that Skype and Google Hangouts exist, but realistically, most people’s first port of call is to fire off an email or text. This is aided further by the ability to link multiple accounts to mobile devices. The age gone by ‘out of office reply’ is becoming increasingly less relevant or has evolved into a standard reply with the addition of ‘emails will be checked periodically.’ Please don’t misunderstand my point. I’m a connected learner, able to answer emails and messages at all times of the day and night, focusing on the development of my skills when managing when to communicate and finding that ever important ‘switch off’ time. So I return to my question posed earlier, are we really losing the art of conversation?

Facilitating recently a task was set to think about what might be possible within education in five years time. Designed to stimulate the thinking and help people look forward, today I experienced a new reaction. One where concerns were shared as to what my be lost, not what might be gained. Again, so as not be misunderstood, this is not an argument about pessimism vs optimism, it’s merely to share how intrigued I was by the response.

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It’s tricky to see but the I’ve attempted to transcribe the notes-

Top “Loss of personal touch in communication.”

Middle “Loss of basic craft skill e.g. cutting with scissors.”

Bottom “Can’t write by hand or spell.”

The lower two notes are common themes to most in education. Often shared by parents and have been blogged about many times before. It’s the top one that really struck me. The session I was part of didn’t lend itself to unpicking it as fully as I’d like to have done, time constraints meant we had to press on, but we did manage to share examples from several staff members. What was shared really made me think about how I respond when on the move. Clipped short responses, thanks for the sake of thanks replies, long corporate signatures on every email within a conversation? I’ve no doubt I’ve been guilty of all and more- and that’s just this week!

So what are the personal touches? Is there a balance between saying what needs to be said but remembering it’s a person on the receiving end of the words? In recent conversation with another Tweacher I spotted this at the bottom of an email reply:

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I shared this with colleagues today and it was genuinely polarising. The sender acknowledged that a response might seem clipped but it was never the intention. Is this a way of combatting the interpretable on-the-go responses? Personally, I like it. It brings you back to the understanding that the words come from a human. A human with a busy life but one who’s found the time to reply while probably dealing with dozens of other things at the same time. My wife argues that it could be an excuse for impersonal response and she wants to feel that the response has been crafted specifically for her. A VERY valid point.

I guess it’s down to the recipient sometimes, but it’s worth remembering the positive sandwich. Even with colleagues, sometimes a positive start and end to an email, no matter how challenging in the middle, can make things much easier and lend to ongoing dialogue. From a learning perspective, we need to model this in our practice. With students, with parents, even with the mailman (should you need to email him!). Over formality tends to put me on the back foot. But over familiarity might make me not take notice if there’s something that really needs following up. I wish I could give you a checklist, a set of responses that are both informative and inoffensive, but sadly like life, there are very few checklists that fit everyone’s mould…

Practice, practice, practice!

The Manaiakalani Journey continues…

Spending the morning at a school like Stonefields is an absolute pleasure. They’re a good way down the Manaiakalani path and have integrated the Learn, Create, Share pedagogy within their learning. But this doesn’t happen automatically. It’s a process and requires careful modelling of process and workflow. The learning of process is well structured and focused around skills and specific challenges completed via the ‘Digital Dig’ created by Fiona Grant.

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The digital Dig Padlet

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Fiona sharing the Digital Dig Padlet

Picture a class of eager students, keen to begin their work and develop their knowledge. Chomping at the bit to research and plot their own course, individualise their learning and embrace a new challenge. The teacher is ready for the shift in locus of control and has provided a variety of skeletal documents to help support the skills being acquired. “Go” he or she says… And there’s pandemonium. Why? If we don’t model the process and skills how can we expect the learners to learn? Last week, Dorothy Burt shared her philosophy on building a portfolio of basic digital literacy last week and was quite open when she said ‘if it takes the whole of the first term to model the skills and practice their use, then so be it. It should. The skills must be in place or the learning cannot happen.’ And of course, she’s absolutely right. Like any new skill that’s acquired, it doesn’t just happen. The learners of a digital generation might be comfortable within a digital world, but they’re not born with the skills needed to navigate it.

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It clearly doesn’t happen overnight, and in reality it only needs to be done when beginning a 1:1 class for very first time, the students will take those skills on to their next learning environment. But without the basic skills facilitation and constant focus on the ‘Kawa of care’ it’s amazing how quickly learners stop seeing the device as a learning tool and start seeing it as something to play with. Everything is reinforced, how to hold it, how to move the screen carefully, all with constant reference to the Kawa of care. I very much look forward to seeing the learning in Hub 8 at Stonefields in a term’s time- I’ve no doubt it will have changed massively!

A New Journey…

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Why do we teach? To earn a pay-cheque? Because we can’t do, therefore we show others? I’ve heard all of these and many others before. No longer am I offended, but actually quite amused by the running commentary placed upon our profession by many from outside of it. But often when we ask why the question is answered for us. This morning is one of those times where I needed to ask why? And then why why?

You see, after 10 fantastic years in the classroom, guiding students and learning at the most incredible schools, I’m leaving. Not because I’m burnt out or bitter, nor because I’m in search of more money. I’m leaving because I want to make a difference. So many of us teach to make a difference, a subtle change in a child’s mindset that allows them to realise their full potential and strive for the excellence we believe they’re capable of. My new journey doesn’t take me out of the classroom, it merely takes me out of the room I used to call ‘mine.’ As teachers at primary schools we look at the same faces each day, develop connections with students that most other professions will never make and see the change we are making throughout the year. Sometimes it can be hard to see, it’s not until we take the time to reflect on where we’ve been that we see just how far we’ve come. I love teaching. I love making a difference. And for those reasons, I’m leaving the classroom to try and be more.

Image source: www.brennaphillips.com

Image source: www.brennaphillips.com

Over the last decade I’ve been fortunate to experience a range of socio-economic backgrounds ALL have their challenges and none play to the stereotypes so many others suggest. As I sit in my classroom at a decile 10 school, watching the sunrise over the bay (yes it’s early), I laugh at my own preconceptions of the decile 10 world. It’s not about the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots,’ it’s about the different perspectives of those who sit in my classroom- all 35 of them!

Back in mid-January I was very fortunate to receive a phone call from CORE education, to me they are the pinnacle of professional development and boundary pushers. To a computer programmer the knock on the door from Google is the dream, for me it was CORE. As my role is finalised and I begin to see the range of environments I will be fortunate to work within, I feel the excitement grow and realise just how much of a challenge lies ahead. Have you ever experienced the frustration of wanting to share something amazing with the world, but not being able to? Yes? That’s me at the moment. Waiting patiently for the moment I can submit this entry to my blog, change my online profile and proudly stand up to say ‘Hi, I’m James and I’m the newest facilitator with the Manaiakalani Outreach project. I want to influence lives, I want to push boundaries and I want to change the struggle that so many children face.’ A little self-absorbed I admit, but my desire isn’t for me. It isn’t for recognition or adoration. It’s simply… Why I teach.