Tomorrow is the start of the new school year here in South Australia. I’m starting my ninth year at my school and this year will be the main teacher for a class of thirty Year Sixes and Sevens – kids who start the year as 11 and 12 year olds. Composite classes like this are very common in our education system and present additional challenges for teaching and guiding an already wide spread of skills and abilities. Technology helps in meeting that challenge.
I’m usually quite nervous about the first day. This is despite the fact that I am a well established teacher within our school and I have crossed most of these kids’ paths numerous times in preceding years in my role as the school’s Learning Technologies Coordinator. The old adage of “you only get one chance to make a first impression” is a pretty true one. And the cool part is that we’re starting the year in our new building, one of four classes that will work together over the course of the year. I’m lucky to be part of a good team. There are six of us who make up the team and we work hard to provide learning for our students that meets our school’s priorities, caters for their needs as emerging adolescents and enables them to take ownership for their own achievements and learning.
One anecdote that I’m quite proud of (and that I’m sharing with you before I’ve even told my team mates) is a comment that my principal made last year when we were both at a meeting winding up our involvement in a departmental research project. A senior person (who will remain unidentified) was lamenting the state of many schools and was espousing many of the things I’ve often read on some leading edubloggers’ blogs. My boss just shook her head and turned to me and whispered in an (paraphrased) aside, “I’m sick of hearing people like this who haven’t been in schools for years telling us that school is no longer relevant any more. She needs to come and look at how engaged our upper primary students are before she makes such sweeping generalisations.”
To make a team work well, it starts with an openness and a willingness to share. We use a wiki to do this. Using the wiki isn’t the amazing part but the sharing and cross-pollination that occurs because of it is. I decided to dump paper based classroom and curriculum planning back in 2008 in favour of the digital and persuaded my classroom neighbour Maria, and my tandem partner, Kim to join in on the fun in 2009. What we found was that we could clearly see how each other planned to cover specific content and concepts, we could poach ideas and resources from each other and as a result, our two classrooms became more consistent in nature. Parents could see that the two classes were in unison and that all of the teachers were on the same page. We used the wiki to create new initiatives and used an embedded chat box to thrash out many issues and clarify directions on many a night. A wiki doesn’t do this – it takes committed educators willing to be more open with each other – but the technology overcame the obstacles of needing to be face to face and simplified the hit-and-miss method of emailing documents for incremental collaboration. By the way, the wiki is private. We’re practising being more open – but just with each other.
So, I’ve posted up my schedule for tomorrow, including links to the Getting To Know You activity and a Vimeo video I’m using as a writing prompt. The others can see where I’m going and I can see how they plan to start the year with their classes. My new partner is newer to this methodology as Kim has increased time to take on her own class and I have less Coordinator time for 2011 necessitating a change in our team structure. Now we operate and plan as a four class team where innovation isn’t something that just one class gets because of the teacher in front of them. My next challenge is to work what how Edmodo can add to this mix.