So So Social Media

Shared by Leigh Blackall on Google +, via Facebook (ironically but then again, he is over 25):

Teens aren’t abandoning “social.” They’re just using the word correctly.

What is Facebook to most people over the age of 25? It’s a never-ending class reunion mixed with an eternal late-night dorm room gossip session mixed with a nightly check-in on what coworkers are doing after leaving the office. In other words, it’s a place where you go to keep tabs on your friends and acquaintances.

You know what kids call that? School.

For those of us out of school, Facebook is a place to see the accomplishments of our friends and acquaintances we’ve made over years and decades. We watch their lives: babies, job promotions, vacations, relationships, break-ups, new hair colors, ad nauseum.

For kids who still go to school, Facebook is boring. If one of their friends does something amazing or amazingly dumb, they’ll find out within five minutes. If they’re not friends with that person, it will take 15 minutes.

Heat

It is just after 2 pm here in Adelaide and the temperature is currently 41 degrees Celsius (105 F). We are having a short heatwave following a longer one two weeks ago that saw the temperature here get to 44.5 deg. C (112 F) on Wednesday, January 15. My youngest son’s basketball game was cancelled for this morning and all around Adelaide, air conditioners are on the go, providing cool refuge from the dry heat.

Heat is often a factor in the start of the school year here in South Australia. It cranked up to 43 deg C (109 F) on Tuesday for the first day of the 2014 school year. At my school, we have fully air conditioned buildings and a policy that restricts outside play for students beyond a prescribed temperature. But kids need that chance to run around and be active and this restriction to the indoors produces students who can become ratty and disruptive when “cooped up inside”. I remember a record fortnight of 40 deg C + temperatures in 2009, and I still feel that my class were never as settled as they could have been because of that start, and their enforced indoor play breaks. Break time also means a break from personalities that can rub up against each other, and combine that with a tendency for some kids to break their boredom with some less than appropriate or sensible behavioural choices and hot weather can be a testing time for a teacher trying to establish group norms of a learning community.

Hot weather can be extremely risky here in South Australia, with a constant threat of bushfires. One broke out at Bangor in the state’s mid-north, and came within 2 kilometres of my parents’ house in Wirrabara. It is still burning two weeks later and of course, extreme heat this weekend threatens to revive it as a threat to people living in the area.

Lost to the fire by robdownunder

I don’t really like summer. Given a choice between summer or winter, I prefer the latter. Of course, I am talking about the days of extreme heat that really are not much fun for anyone. But I won’t let tomorrow’s forecast of 43 deg C put my off my regular game of golf. I just need a 2 litre water bottle half frozen overnight then topped up, a Powerade or 2 from the vending machine at the halfway point and light coloured shirt and shorts, and I should be fine.

Are PISA Results An Accurate Measure Of The Quality Of Education Anywhere?

Late last year, my principal passed along a document transcript of a keynote delivered by Dr Alan Reid from UniSA titled “Translating what? How PISA distorts policy, research and practice in education“. I’ve looked for a copy online but can’t seem to find one to link to so I am uploading the copy from my email inbox to share his analysis to a broader audience. I know that we used this transcript as a basis for a powerful dialogue around the proper use of data for learning in our leadership team, but the messages he delivers could translate well to any nation where the results from PISA are being used to publicly rate and rank how their students are doing. This is not the first time he has questioned the media’s and government’s over reliance on the rankings and data sets that these international tests provide.

Click on the link – Alan Reid keynote CredNovember14 – to download.

It seems that PISA can provoke warning signs of decline in any part of the world, but many media outlets here down under are quick to give these tests a very high level of credibility. A quick sample via Google shows this:

Maths results a concern in PISA schools study
New PISA results show education decline – it’s time to stop the slide
OECD report finds Australian students falling behind

And interestingly, within that last article was this observation from Dr Ken Boston:

Gonski review panellist and former director-general of NSW education Ken Boston said Australia should compare itself to Canada in OECD comparisons – which performed significantly higher than Australia in maths and reading.

Meanwhile, in Canada, who Australia should be seeking to emulate, PISA results are producing a similar reaction:

Canada’s students slipping in math and science, OECD finds

And this article from the Vancouver Sun, has this gem of an observation which perhaps sums up a lot of the hysteria worldwide regarding PISA:

The only people who really revel in the PISA announcement of where Canada sits in the world rankings are politicians, business leaders and university academics well positioned to take credit for successes in public education and blame those lazy overpaid teachers for any drop in the PISA rankings.

You could substitute any number of countries in Canada’s (or Australia’s) place and the statement would feel true to many educators who find the reality of their classroom to be quite detached from the results and how they are interpreted for the public’s benefit.

Anyway, have a read of Dr Reid’s keynote and let me know what you think.

The Corporate Helping Hand

Technology can be a major driver of innovation within any school setting. So, it makes sense that the corporations that develop and sell the devices, infrastructure and software that are part of this picture would want to be publicly visible as a key factor for positive change. A recent example of this came my way via Tim Holt who reflected on a partnership between Science Leadership Academy, an acknowledged innovative school in the US, and Dell who are funding Chromebooks and other benefits for the school. Now, this is a great coup for the school involved and is a win/win PR wise for both the school and the tech corporation who are very publicly providing this innovative support. But as Tim points out, “this sweetheart deal he is getting from Dell is NOTHING like what every other school will get“. There is a lot more to this story which you can follow through on the comments on Tim’s blog but I am interested in the point where the corporate helping hand starts to feel more like a forceful push in the back.

Corporations that have a stake in the education pie all want to be seen as the answer to innovation, or in many cases, just keeping pace. Schools are always under the pump when it comes to funding. Every Google Educator, Apple Distinguished Educator, Microsoft Innovative Educator or Intel Teach facilitator is the equivalent of me wearing my favourite Rip Curl tee-shirt out in public – a form of advertising. There is somewhat of an insinuation that those educators who sport these fancy titles, not earned from a university course or form of scholarship but from an application form or a weekend of workshopping, are somehow better or more qualified at being better educators than everyone else. (Disclosure: I have an Intel Teach course diploma somewhere in my cupboard and I can tell you that it has made little to no difference to my capacity as an educator.)

Late last term I went to a day event that was the launch of a partnership between my own education department (DECD) and Microsoft. I heard about it via a Community of Practice group that my school is involved in around Innovative Learning Environments, and we knew that a couple of schools within our group had been involved in the Microsoft Innovative Schools program so a colleague and I went along to see what this partnership could be offering or mean to the system as a whole. (Another disclosure: I have been involved in the Microsoft Innovative Schools program too, at the school I worked at prior to WGS, and benefitted from their sponsored interstate trips.) The message is one of the corporation is here to give back to you, the schools, here’s what we can offer you, here’s a sample of the sort of Professional Learning on offer. Which is great but being the sort of person I am, I tend to notice the subtle sub-messages, real or imagined, throughout the day that still bug me.

An example of when I feel the corporate heavy hand in the middle of my back – when a graphic of devices is shown to the audience, starting with the least powerful Smartphone then tablets then laptops and finally, the tablet PC as the ultimate learning machine. Windows machines dominate the graphic (as you would expect at a Microsoft funded day) and the sole token outsider in the graphic is an iPad just to the right of the Smartphone and well left of the inferred-superior Microsoft Surface. The message is clear about what constitutes an innovative learning device. We are also presented with a definitive list of 21st Century Learning skills – despite the fact that a quick search will provide many alternatives – but any professional learning from this partnership won’t be referencing any of the alternatives. And just in case, you think I am just being anti-MS, I think that Apple’s coining of the phrase “Challenge Based Learning” is just as blatant a grab for the pedagogical truth.

When I make decisions about the right tools for my students, I want that decision to be free of that feeling in the middle of my back. Schools should be free to decide that at a local level, and generally are, but partnerships that send heavy handed messages curb our freedom to help our students with learning and lessen world views instead of widening them.

FaceBook As A Temporary Social Sandpit

I am no big fan of FaceBook. There are too many aspects that make me wary of becoming a regular user ranging from the regularly reported breaches of users’ privacy to the complete inanity of the apps, likes and offensive advertising that plagues the site. Have a look through my FaceBook page and you’ll see very infrequent contributions and minimal information. However, I think it is important for me to have a presence there just so I know how it all works. Because the staff and many of the students I work with are all on there, and from time to time, I’ve needed to lean on my familiarity with how it all works in order to try and resolve a bullying, trolling or general exchange_of_insults_issue at school.

I am well aware of the general philosophies behind being CyberSmart – I am also aware of the general advice about being careful what you post on FaceBook because current and potential employers can “check out” your FaceBook presence. But there is an underlying presumption for many of us that people are who they say they are on social media – and in the last couple of years, I have seen that many, many kids know exactly how to subvert that. It is almost like taking cybersafety advice and turning it back on itself to create a world where a community can know each other but evade being pinned down for anything by external FB users through the constant changing of identities, sharing of accounts, constant shutting down and creation of new pages, the splitting of one person across multiple identities and so on.

randomIn my dealings with kids there seems to be an equal mix of savviness and naivety. One kid might have five accounts, none of which bear their actual name – one for their “peeps” at school, one to show Mum and Dad and family members that is clean cut, one for the boyfriend or girlfriend, one for trolling or to masquerade as an adult and one for gaming / other social media type interactions. Through these multiple accounts (of which only several might be active at any given time) the kid can be very hard to pin down. An argument can blow up in one intersection between two kids but by the time I’m asked to check things out, one of the identities is gone, or the story changes. (That wasn’t me, that was my cousin, I let him use that account, he knows my password, I thought she was someone else when that was written.) So when these ten to thirteen year olds actually get around to applying for their first job, even if it is an entry position at the local newsagent or McDonald’s, checking through their Facebook account might be quite a difficult thing to do. Just because many of us adults set up our account in our own real name, use real photos from our actual lives and report truthfully about events that happen to us doesn’t mean that the kids I’m referring to are playing by the same rules.

And by the time they enter the workforce, Facebook may be dead and buried, all of its inane data buried deep in the web where only the most dedicated needle-in-the-haystack hacker will be able to make sense of the posts, chats and likes of the Facebook era. I’m not saying that kids shouldn’t be careful what they post or that it can’t get them into deep, deep trouble. I am saying that for at least a significant proportion, they don’t really care what we think they should be doing with social media and like the pre-teen and teenage years from any era, the forming of identity means that most Facebook identities will be temporary social sandpits which evade adult intervention.

Here’s To Making Art

I got my credit card bill the other day. As usual around this time of year, an automated amount is charged to me from Edublogs. This small investment keeps this blog alive and visible on the web. But it takes more than that payment to keep this place alive. It needs me.

Check out this graph below. It shows my blog post frequency over the years that I have been running Open Educator (originally Teaching Generation Z).blog activity

I have found it hard to get back into the writing groove. Purpose has been missing. But little habits that would feed this beast have contributed to the downturn. I used to scroll through Google Reader over breakfast and tag items of interest into possible future posts, make mental notes to engage with certain personalities over issues of interest and so on. But not having a decent replacement has meant that I have let a lot of that go. I’ve been conscious that in my current role, that most things of interest from a writing perspective involve delving too closely into personal observations of colleagues and I have wanted to respect their right to not have their professional interactions microscoped in a public forum by someone who is meant to be leading in the ethical and powerful use of technology for learning. I’ve often felt out of touch with things. I’ve had some extended family distractions that have dulled my enthusiasm for blogging – for a while, these issues were ruining my golf as well which is not a good thing. I also felt that I have nothing really to write about and deep down, my ego tells me that no one is probably reading any more, either.

I can remember the enthusiasm and passion when I started putting my ideas and thoughts here. I can only admire those bloggers who were blogging regularly then and are still doing so now. Alan Levine, Stephen Downes, Brian Lamb, Tom Hoffmann, Doug Johnson, Wesley Fryer, Miguel Guhlin and Tom Woodward just to name a few. But quite a few super talented writers that I loved reading – Christian Long, Doug Noon, Ken Rodoff, Jennifer Jones, Alex Hayes – no longer do so. Their reasons are their own but it shows that purpose is a big part of chosing this public digital place as a repository for half-baked, embryonic, still fermenting concepts and realisations.

Darcy Norman is still one of those original “edubloggers” that I started reading when I first started this blog. Now that Google Reader is dead, I found this post from him while sifting through Feedly (the new but not as enticing aggregator I now use) that rings pretty true to me.

We’re living in a time when it’s never been easier to share what we do, at little or no cost, and people get hung up on how they will need to squeeze their creations through a press to extract every last drop of monetization out of it. That’s not the point. Create because you are creative. Share because you give a shit. Or don’t.

I don’t generate a profit from anything I do outside of my Day Job™. At least, not directly. But being creative and sharing makes me better at my Day Job™, so has likely made me “profit” indirectly. How do you calculate that? Easy. You don’t. Well, I don’t.

 

I think some of the most fun I’ve had blogging was when I came up with some cartoon, or played around with words. This place needs to get back to being more enticing than the next game of NBA 2K14 or the next episode of “Game of Thrones” – making my own art, in other words.

Who Was In Charge Of My Thinking?

We implement a student wellbeing program across our school titled “Play Is The Way” and one of the concepts (common in many of the best social emotional skills programs available in schools) is a focus on making conscious choices when confronted with an issue. In simple words, the challenge to any person who is simmering when things haven’t gone their way or feeling like control is slipping away is “Who was in charge of your thinking? Your brain or your feelings?” A recent PD session I attended talked about where your choices are on a five point emotional scale ranging from logical, weigh it all up before acting to reaction, letting the heart rule the way and emotions becoming magnified. I had a timely reminder last week that educators need to ensure that they too have similar control of their emotions.

I came into a building after lunch and saw a child who had been pushing the boundaries all day sitting on top of a set of portable bag lockers, playing with a basketball. Calmly, I ask the child to put the ball down, come down from the lockers and return to the classroom – it is learning time. The child ignores me and I feel invisible. I step closer and ask again, a little more demanding tone as a deliberate choice. Again, I am ignored but there is acknowledgement of my presence as the child spins on their bottom and presents their back to me. Now, I am feeling quite ineffectual now and decide to up the stakes.

“Give me the ball.”

No response, so I reach for it to take it myself. The student is too quick and rolls it out of my reach, rolling off the lockers and into a sink that is directly behind. Now my feelings make their surge for attention. I am not going to raise my voice but this child is not having that ball, dammit! I reach over the lockers towards the sink and realise that it really is just beyond my reach. But now I am determined and figure that with a little more stretch I can take the ball for good. I stretch a bit more and lean my mid chest into the top edge of the lockers.

Then I feel it – a sharp stabbing pain in my lowest right hand rib. My lunge is successful, the ball comes away in my hand but immediately I feel winded and hurt. I turn, clutching the painful spot and with as much dignity as I cam muster, take the ball and retreat to the sanctuary of my office. I need to sit down, take deep breaths and work out whether I have damaged myself too much. A trip to the doctor later that week confirms that I have cracked the cartilage in my lower rib and have ruled myself out of playing golf for the next fortnight.

I let my feelings overrule my common sense. In determining that the student would not win that battle of wills, I ended hurting myself in the most literal sense. A painful reminder that teachers must model their own emotional control in all situations if we expect our students to be able to use these strategies for their own wellbeing and future life choices.

092:365 Basketball by Gonzalo Andrés
http://www.flickr.com/photos/ilianov/3438431999/

 

I Can Appreciate What That Stephen Covey Guy Was On About Now

I’ve now been in my Assistant Principal role for just over two years now. It is a complex position in a complex school but I have enjoyed the challenge and change of responsibilities. There are several different components to the job and a lot of the time, it really feels like they are competing against each other for priority ranking in my working day. I think educators everywhere complain about not having time to get everything done but in a leadership role, it really feels magnified. And there have been times where the contending demands have reached a what-seems-to-me overwhelming level. When that happens, the telltale signs are (in Stephen Covey terms) when the urgent starts to take priority over the important at almost every turn. This also tends to sneak up on me until I realise that things are out of sync.

I had a timely conversation with my principal on Friday which helped me to step back from my role and see it all from a distance. This is really helpful in terms of seeing the competing demands as separate entities and how they can all assume urgency disguised as importance. Let me pick it apart here – for no one’s benefit but my own. This post is a way of sorting out some of the entangled bits and making some conscious decisions about the varying tasks.

For most of my work life, I have been a classroom teacher. I believe I was reasonably good at that, and using technology was something that I picked up relatively easily and used a way of opening up learning possibilities for my students. The initiative and innovation that I showed from the mid-nineties onwards earned me the chance to become a Coordinator for over eight years, but even in taking that first step on the rung of official leadership, most of my work time was based in the classroom. Being a classroom teacher has a certain workflow predictability to it. The week is timetabled, the curriculum is there to be implemented, planning is done in the time away from the students and while there is no doubt that there is a lot that a modern teacher must juggle and achieve, the deadlines and priorities have always felt clear.

There is a lot more autonomy in my current position. I have a administrative component that involves the construction and management of rosters. This includes Yard Duties, Non Instructional Time and Traffic Monitors for aspects of school life that runs all year round. I also manage smaller events like school photos and swimming and aquatics. I am responsible for student assessment data management and for running staff meeting PD sessions across the year on school priorities. When a teacher goes on leave, it is me who has to swing the changes to cover the absence. When teachers miss deadlines to submit student assessment results, it is me that has to follow up to remind them of their professional responsibilities. This is not a complaint but merely a recognition that smaller tasks fan out from the main ones and they all require time and attention in order for things to run smoothly. That seems to be one of the main goals of administration – efficiency. But it should not be confused for leadership.

I am also a line manager for a building of teachers. I meet with them around their professional development, read and proof their reports and act as first base for issues within their classrooms. This can fold over into aspects of behaviour management or pedagogical advice and guidance. Without saying much more, this year has been a difficult year for teachers under my line management. Issues arising from this has also contributed a great deal to my role distortion and need for re-prioritising. Make no mistake, it is hugely important to spend time in this area and in a complex site like mine, I am unavoidably called away from the other parts of my job regularly.

I am also involved in the management of what my principal titled “e-tech”. This involves the strategic purchases of technology equipment, the liaising with our tech support about issue prioritization and school goals, and the management of an important budget. There is a danger in spending too much time in this area as staff members can start to view me as part of the tech support team, there to help fix things or change password or to top up accounts.

I quite enjoy the parts of my job that I have mentioned so far. But to be honest, they are not the reason I am in this role. They are part of the role but we do have other leadership at my school that could take on these parts as well as me. Of course, the other leaders at my school are busy grappling with their own varying competing job pieces so this is just my share of what needs to be done.

But it is the innovative practice and change that I have the unique skill set for. It is the area where I am expected to lead out, but the area where I feel like things get squeezed out at the expense of the other. It is where my principal would like to see me involved in “coaching”. I do this stuff but I feel like it could be delivered and organised a lot better. The goal is help influence staff to make changes in their classroom practice and take advantage of technology to improve learning outcomes for their students. This is the important stuff – so use of projects, testbed classrooms and other innovations are things I need to consciously program time and energy for.

Revisiting my weekly timetable, my ongoing tasks and adjusting priorities needs to happen from time to time. Like a garden, there are times to prune some overgrowth back in order to give some underdeveloped aspects of my job an opportunity to flourish.

When Do I Stop Aspiring To Be A Leader, And Just Be One?

When do I stop aspiring to be a leader, and just be one?

That question crossed my mind yesterday after a meeting at an eastern suburbs school, which is situated right next door to the Eastern Regional office where I was booked to attend an Aspiring Leaders Program today. I was chatting to the principal as I was departing, and she was listed to be a guest speaker at today’s event, I remarked that I would be one of the participants listening to her speak. She looked at me, and said something along the lines of, “Haven’t you been to this sort of thing before in the past? I remember seeing you at one of these type of events back in 2010.”

It really made me think – I know that I am a leader at my school, and was one in the one before – but here I was still seeing myself as an aspiring leader, not just as a leader <full stop>. Maybe because I’m not the leader (i.e. a principal) that makes me assume that I still have to get more grounding, more knowledge, more experience, more everything (!!!) before I can offload the aspiring tag.

Sliding Into Apathy

April got away from me. It was the first month since starting this blog that I failed to post anything at all.

Maybe I am suffering some form of social media fatigue. I’m still reading and scouring the web as much as ever but I’m picking and pecking through my Google Reader feeds rather than reading feverishly, and my Twitter presence has dwindled down to virtually nothing. Ironically, I’m still picking up new followers but I’m not sure what I’m offering them. I reckon Dean Groom hit the nail on the head the other day when he wrote:

The dark-side is that social media (for educators) didn’t turn out to be the kind of ‘succeed’ culture expected, but a feed culture, where people either churn out the same old gruel or stare into their smart phone expecting for the unexpected to be fed to them.

I don’t need someone pointing me to someone else’s stuff and telling me that this is a must-read or an essential. If I have good enough search skills, I can mine the web for my own nuggets of inspiration and my peculiar flights of fancy.

But I do wish that I could recharge my enthusiasm for writing here. After all, this is my space – and thankfully, Edublogs has evolved into a comfortable low cost option for people like myself who don’t want to do their own domain / own hosting scenario. More budget ranging than free ranging, however.

Tumblr interests me but what captures my attention isn’t niche enough or focussed to make it worthwhile. Most Tumblrs I see are basic digital scrapbooking – which means the unique ones stand out even more. But it seems that the neglect of RSS, the great open concept of pushing information around, is really having an impact. Google Reader winds up soon and I still have to work out  a decent replacement, but one of the best features it used to have was the ability to create an RSS feed of my favourite posts, which I redirected into a widget on the sidebar of this blog. That disappeared, and so did the ability for anyone to see over my virtual shoulder, noting what I thought was worthy of extending out into the network. Corporate siloes are dominating the digital landscape and people seem to be perfectly willing to accept the limitations and standardisations of those places.

Nostalgia hardly seems appropriate for the great Web 2.0 premise of anyone and everyone being an author, a critic or social agitator. But somewhere I’m trying to work out where the joy of playing in this arena has gone for me.

Fire up the XBox – maybe I can still squeeze in a game tonight.