Archive for the 'Future Directions' Category

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Quick Review – Program Or Be Programmed

I love reading, watching and listening to Douglas Rushkoff. I think he is one of the great minds of the last twenty years and he has amazing insight into popular culture and the way western society operates in general. I would describe him as a form of anthropologist as he studies human behaviour and in his latest book contrasts that against the impact that technology has had on the modern world. I bought his book “Program Or Br Programmed” a few months ago but it has only been the holiday break that has given me the time to get through its 150 pages. Check out the YouTube clip below for a synopsis of the book:

The main thrust of the book is around the fact that as digital technology becomes increasingly embedded into our way of life, it is crucial that we have an understanding of how that technology is programmed, and how its “bias” is designed to push human interaction in a certain pre-determined direction. He doesn’t necessarily state that actually having programming skills are essential, but having an advanced understanding of what goes on behind the scenes is essential (in other words, digital literacy is a must). Reading his book is very thought provoking and had me viewing a lot of things through a very critical lense – especially at the recent CEGSA2012 conference. An example of a technology with a certain bias would be an iPad where how it all operates is very deeply hidden from the user – this device is very hard to hack or manipulate in a subversive way because the designers have it in their best interests to have users that use their devices in a certain way. Interestingly, who has complained the loudest about the iOS system being closed, the App Store having restrictive guidelines and the device lacking external storage or accessible batteries? The most highly skilled geeks and computing buffs – the programmers. Schools can feel it in the way that Apple pitches the iPad as a “personal” device – so they have to work hard around the programming bias to utilise it as a “shared” learning device.

Facebook is another technology with inbuilt bias. It allows sharing – but only within the confines of its digital walls and same-same profile decor. It wants its captive audience to be in the one place so that the people who really pay the bills, the advertisers, can have full rein. But as Rushkoff points out, the internet itself as a structure has a bias towards sharing and openness, so he believes that in time, technologies that try to constrain or control this will have to adapt or become irrelevant. In fact, he makes a real effort to avoid naming specific technologies because he believes that the advice offered in the book will have an infinitely greater lifespan than many of the at-the-moment dominant technologies ruling the web.

Rushkoff spends quite a bit of time pointing out the limits of the digital world, which at time seems unlimited to people like me. Choices are always presented in neat packages predetermined by an algorithm or program. An example that springs to mind is blog themes – you might have a choice of a hundred themes but unless you know how to hack or program some aspects of those themes, you are limited to those themes. It explains why unique and really beautiful websites are nearly always created by people with a programming and design background. Mere users like myself are limited to what we are shown by others with the programming skills.

So, a really thought provoking book. Grab yourself a copy – at 150 smallish pages, it is not a big read – but it will force you to grapple with some things about the web and digital technology that you may have considered too much before in the past. And those of us who think we are savvy in the digital realm need to have our preconceptions challenged every now and then.

There Are More People Around Like Me Than Print Media Would Like

The signs are everywhere around the web – the printed newspaper is on the downward slide.  A couple of pointers from my Twitter feed showcases the evidence:

The hard truth: Newspaper monopolies are gone forever

Fairfax slashes 1,900 jobs, closes presses

There is evidence closer to home. I notice every time I am offered a free Advertiser after a quick stop for groceries at Foodland and I certainly noticed when the same newspaper lobbed on my lawn for a week with a letter compelling me to continue “enjoying” the convenience of this service.

Unlike my parents-in-law who have religiously paid for home delivery of the daily paper for decades, I probably won’t notice or care when the paper version ceases to exist. Oh, and one more link for posterity’s sake.

Don’t just blame the web for Fairfax’s failure

They're no twits

 

Innovation + Leadership = Change

Here’s what I plan to present in my 7 minute presentation at the Adelaide TeachMeet on Thursday afternoon.

TeachMeet Adelaide Presentation Script – “Innovation + Leadership = Change “

Hi, I’m Graham Wegner. I’m currently an Assistant Principal at Woodville Gardens School B-7 with a focus on Learning Technologies and Admin but prior to this appointment, I was the ICT Coordinator at Lockleys North Primary starting in 2003. My current school is fortunate enough to be part of a DECD Innovative Learning Environment project group which is an interesting experience in itself. The schools that are part of this project are all doing things that fall outside the bounds of what other schools think is possible or permissible within our state education system, or in the case of the three PPP (Private Public Partnership) schools or “super schools” as we’ve been dubbed by the media purpose built with a view to doing things differently and encouraging innovation. There are lots of aspects of our school’s physical designs that move teacher thinking away from the isolated classroom approach to education, and we have been set up well with an excellent wireless network but innovation that leads to meaningful change doesn’t just happen because the physical environment suggests it. Another interesting aside is that all three PPP schools in the project (Blair Athol North, Mark Oliphant College and us) all serve complex, lower socio-economic communities so it could be interpreted that there is a realisation that the way school has always been done hasn’t served these communities well and that the magnifying  effects that disadvantage can have on student learning outcomes needs innovative thinking to effect change.

And it is this idea of innovation linked to change that I’d like to discuss in the time I have here this afternoon. In general, throughout the world, innovation drives change, with the goal being that this change is for the better, be it better ways to communicate, better ways to solve crime, to entertain ourselves, to cure or relieve ailments and so on. Education has been labelled, fairly or otherwise, as an institution that is slow to change and is in fact, a very difficult way for innovation to take place and flourish. However, we are at a point in time where the advancement of technology, the product of innovation, is forcing change throughout the world – some of it political as we can see in examples like MySchool and teacher accountability measures, some of it social in examples like Facebook and YouTube – and there is a real societal backlash landing back on schools as a result. And large systems like DECD aren’t well equipped to be nimble and adaptive to external change pressure – and we as educators cop flak about the bad teachers, the worthless SACE subjects, the social media entanglements that our students get involved in, the lack of male teachers and are painted as this conservative bunch who shut the classroom door each day and forget that the outside world exists.

Except that doesn’t really happen. There are plenty of innovative educators out there and it wouldn’t be a stretch for me to generalise that all of us here tonight at this TeachMeet are innovators of sorts, or at least, see ourselves as agents of change. We are the first to try things out at our respective sites. We are the ones who change things for our students – and we find it enormously frustrating that others, sometimes the considerable majority that the media must be referring to when the profession is slammed in the papers, don’t see the urgency or the opportunities that we see as being obvious.

A quick disclaimer then a quick example. When I portray myself as innovative, I know that it is all contextual and relative. Since becoming a networked learner who relies on the internet for self learning opportunities, I know that most of the ideas I’ve trialled in my classrooms have all been done before by other trailblazers scattered around the world. So, I’m referring to innovative in terms of the status quo for South Australian schools not as compared against other innovative ideas from around the world. Anyway, onto the example which has two parts. In 2006, I posted a presentation for the K12Online Conference titled “No Teacher Left Behind: The Urgency of Web 2.0″ – a pretentious title for a pretentious topic. It was a rallying call for progressive educators to get on board with internet based tools and start networking with other educators to become better learners. Well, I could pull up the same presentation five and a half years later, and not a lot seems to have changed in classrooms in this neck of the woods. In 2008, I started student blogging at Lockleys North with my class and last year left a program being run by my immediate colleagues who saw the value in the innovation and made the change in their practice to offer this learning opportunity for their students. But upon my arrival at Woodville Gardens, I found that student blogging was a concept that hadn’t hit classrooms yet and I realised (although I always susupected) that my participation in something innovative in South Australia hasn’t translated to a change across more schools than the one where I first took up the innovation.

So, innovation can push towards change, but there is a missing ingredient that I believe that the collective “we” are responsible for – leadership.

Leadership can look like many things. It can be a formal role like the one I have now. But we all know that formal roles don’t automatically translate to change either. I’m sure you all know of principals who believe that their job is to keep things running exactly as is – unless the department tells them otherwise. And it is no fun trying to be the innovative teacher in one of those schools either. But in a formal role, I have a better shot at influencing more educators compared to when I was the classroom teacher and could only influence the teachers next door to me. As a coordinator I could make inroads into a team or targetted group but those of us who are or have been coordinators know the difficult task that role can be. But as an Assistant Principal, I have the authority to determine school directions that can turn innovative ideas and programs into progressive more commonplace practice.

But not everyone wants an official leadership role. So leadership opportunities can be found elsewhere – and the most innovative space to do so is online. There are countless examples o f people who started an online presence from their classroom who wield enormous amounts of influence because they put their practices, their innovation in a place where anyone or everyone could find them. Try throwing these names into Google and see what you find – Brian Crosby, who works out of a classroom in Nevada who ended up presenting to international school educators in a major conference in China, international school leader Kim Cofino who posted about that 2006 presentation of mine pondering my advice and now is someone who I aspire to be like in terms of vision and getting real learning change happening. Try Dan Meyer, who was a young high school Maths teacher who started a blog for fun, is now doing a PhD and has worked for Google and Pearson, but still sees his blog as the best personal professional growth he could ever have – and for one closer to home, New South Wales high school teacher, Bianca Hewes, whose innovation in using Project Based Learning combined with student social networking tool Edmodo got her a trip of a lifetime to ISTE last year as Edmodo’s featured blogger!

So, in closing, the problem with being innovative is that while you are always looking to improve things, it is hard to move on knowing that your initial innovations have not become commonplace. As I tweeted last year at one of the ILE conferences:

You can’t have everyone being innovative ‘cos it can’t be innovation if everyone is doing it! #DECD_SA

So, my challenge to you all is to find your leadership niche so that your innovation can become positive, meaningful change. Thanks for listening.

Luckily, Not My Reality

Australian schools are not without their problems.

And there are tendencies from our political masters to adopt the worst practice of other countries in the name of education reform.

But I’m still trying to wrap my head around this post.

I occupy education every time my interns ask, “Why is education like it is today with all of the restrictions including pacing  guides?”

I occupy education by telling these interns that some people do not believe that teachers can make their own decisions about how to pace curriculum.

I occupy education every time interns ask, “Why do teachers go on when they know children can not learn fractions in 2 days or one week?”

I occupy education when I tell my interns to always do what is best for the children and that includes learning well, not fast.

I occupy education every time an intern asks me why children can not talk at lunch or have to walk down the hall with military precision.

I occupy education when I tell my interns that I can not excuse a teacher who warns a child once about talking at lunch and then the second time that child talks, his or her lunch is thrown out and their nose is pressed against the wall for the rest of lunch.

I occupy education when I tell my interns that I do not understand why children have to walk down the halls with their cheeks popped out so they can not talk and their hands are rigidly by their sides like soldiers when they are 5 or 10 years old.

I mean, does this really happen?

I’ve never ever seen a pacing guide. I know I would have irate parents on my door step if I implemented the last two strategies, and have no system support for my actions.

But is this us in two, five, ten years time? Could the Aussie “she’ll be right” attitude let this all in? How do we keep what is great about Australian schools without aping the extremism warned about in the Lonni Gill post?

 

Opening The Car Door

I’ve never been one to jump in at the deep end. I ease myself into things in the same manner that I slide carefully into the chilly water of a pool or a cautious wade out into the ocean. I have been described as opinionated in a low key way but I am typically unsure of myself at the best of times. So, even after six months in this new role of Assistant Principal, I am still feeling my way, thinking and re-thinking my possible approaches for effective leadership within this role. So, in an effort to lay out some starting thoughts and switch from holiday mode where I have happily absorbed a whole lot of junk pop culture, spent simple family time doing not much at all and indulging in a lot of directionless web reading and viewing to shaping up my contribution for 2012 to the Woodville Gardens School learning community.

First, a bit of background. I had a stint as acting Deputy Principal at my previous school during Term 2 and found that I really enjoyed the time out of the classroom working on staff issues, communicating with the parent community and getting a closer look at how the administrative side of a South Australian government school works. I had the opportunity to apply for a six month stint as Assistant Principal at Woodville Gardens which I was lucky enough to win for a longer three year tenure late in 2011. So, I headed off to this new “super school” with a heady mixture of excitement and trepidation because I was stepping up into a non-classroom role for the first time in a testing environment. Everything at the school was brand new and even arriving after everyone else had been settled in for the first semester didn’t mean that all of the bugs had been ironed out! I’ve learnt quickly about the quirks of a cross platform network, large stocks of netbooks that are underpowered and disliked by staff and students alike and finding that much of my pedagogical knowledge is not necessarily common practice. More about that later – and do not mistake my observation as a criticism. In my application that culminated in my successful appointment I listed out all that I had managed in my time up to that point:

Assistant Principal – ICT and Administration
Semester 2, 2011

  • quickly established key working relationships with technician, teacher-librarian and leadership in supporting the school’s ICT direction
  • blended into the school culture, offering key support during the school’s official opening, producing and providing a student perspective video to showcase the school’s diversity
  • worked in partnership with the teacher-librarian to collaborate with middle and upper primary classes involved in inquiry research units of work
  • started a program of Professional Learning after school sessions for teachers based on the “teacher as learner” model
  • consulted with senior leadership to make decisions around student laptop distribution
  • supported behaviour management of students as required
  • taken on and maintained administration tasks including the maintenance of equitable rosters (NIT, Yard Duty, Traffic monitors), management of the School photos and NAPLAN results distribution
  • established working relations with DECS ICT support staff, learning as much as possible about the school’s technology infrastructure, its cross platform capabilities and started on the implementation of the school’s online student learner management system (StudyWiz)
  • applied for the school’s inclusion in the 2012 Microsoft Innovative Schools program
  • planned for a future staff focus on 21st Century Learning as connected to the school’s priorities, use of the TfEL and focus on personalisation of student learning

I’ve deliberately avoided rushing into the place and posing myself as some sort of expert. That approach can only put people off and backfire but I have made it my business to really take a close look at how teachers are using the technology at their disposal and how they work around the many roadblocks that invariably crop up. So, now as I’m about a week away from going back to work, I need to air out some thoughts about this year and how I will fulfil my role. I can only do it my way in careful consideration of the unique needs of this school and this community – what outside people think and do are only useful in so far in helping us clarify what is needed for Woodville Gardens.

Listening to Tony Bryant from Silverton Primary School in Melbourne earlier in 2011 made me realise that leadership for change can be achieved by focussing on one school becoming the best that it can be. The school can then be a focus point for other like minded schools looking for ideas on how contemporary learning can be implemented in a way that empowers the students. I’m lucky – we have an excellent leadership team all pointed in a common direction and we all bring various strengths and perspectives to the table. I’m there for my educational technology knowledge and experience in inquiry learning – and I can only claim the upper hand in those domains because I have been fortunate enough to be connected to the wider network of educators, drawing on their expertise, ideas and inspiration.

So, I have an important role to play. Technology is one of those areas where to be too prescriptive and fixed in planning means missing evolving opportunities for taking learning in new and unanticipated directions. But I have to work out how to be influential in the right way, how to make wise decisions that use resources effectively and how to make sure that we have learning solutions tailored for our kids and their unique needs. It is an exciting task. I have three years to make a difference and culture within any site takes time to nurture and shape. I am part of a team but I am very aware of the responsibilities in front of me. Like all learners I will make mistakes along the way and get sidelined, but that is all part of the process.

Peeking Out Of The Trench

Like many, my career in education has consisted solely of working in schools within the one state system. I did go to a private secondary school way back in the eighties so I do have some dated preconceptions about how that system works. But it was only when I started a blog and started reading and connecting more widely beyond the confines of that system, did I gain any other perspective about what was going on in other parts of the world in education. Even now with my Twitter followings, my crammed Google Reader, I am still limited or semi-blinded to much of what happens in schools or learning in much of the world today. Anyone who thinks that they have a global perspective just because they use social media is deluded – but social media does allow people to spread word about their local or national perspective very easily beyond the boundaries of that system.

Last week, I went to a DECD (formerly DECS) conference on Innovative Learning Environments with my principal and a team from my school. We were invited to share our story as one of the new Super Schools constructed by the South Australian government and how we had gone about rethinking how we did the business of schooling. And once again during the course of the day (because I’ve heard this line of thought before) a person from the upper echelons of our department stated that Australia (and by association, South Australia) was doing pretty well by world standards in the education stakes. Apparently, our students stack up pretty well considering that Australia takes in sizeable numbers of refugees and caters for a culturally diverse student population. Now I’m willing to believe this because on each occasion that I have heard this observation, I have heard justification for our results and structures that make sense without me actually going and doing the research for myself. But I wonder why it is that the media don’t see this perspective, and are quick and ready to trumpet “slipping of standards”, “dumbing down of expectations” and “falling behind the rest of the world.”

I might think that NAPLAN and MySchool are very narrow and dangerously restrictive tools to view the success of our schools, but I also think that education is still focussed on working towards the necessary things students will require for personal success in our society. I don’t fear a massive slashing of education budgets (yet) and even if the new Australian Curriculum has the lingering odour of political interference, it is not the vehicle for big business to turn education into a commodity. Perhaps I’m being very naive.

Perhaps the biggest strength of being a mainly State funded system means that we don’t have the situation that Will Richardson is spotlighting in his much pointed to recent post. What he describes is very scary. And I’d hope that Australia would not be so foolish as to follow the American lead downwards here – but we are a culture that likes to ape the USA as much as possible. Maybe our saving grace is that the big corporations that are eying off the $$$$ available in the huge student population and numerous K-12 systems will see Australia as a market not worth worrying about, and we don’t feel the pressure that Will describes in depressing detail.

If you scroll down to the comments on Will’s post, someone challenges him to state what he thinks today’s classrooms should look like and he responds:

What’s the vision? Classrooms built on inquiry, where kids ask and answer their own questions, where teachers act as co-learners in the process because with all that we now have access to, we all better be learners. Schools where we truly value a student’s ability to connect with other learners, to create beautiful works of art and inspiration, to develop a passion to keep learning, not just learn what the system pushes in their direction.

Now again, my naivety may be showing through but this statement does describe my last two schools pretty well in terms of a similar vision to be aspiring to. It also fits with the stories of the other schools gathered there at this conference. So, DECD is on the right track here by giving these schools a platform for change, by seeking to see how their innovation can scale out across the organisation. My fear is that given our state system’s recent reputation as being a risk averse organisation (an observation made on numerous occasions by many people on the day) is that many schools will not look to create and follow their own vision, and continue to wait on the directions from Flinders Street and their district offices. That would be a real shame – and signal to corporate interests that K-12 education is waiting to be “saved”.

Unlearning, Relearning, Learning

It often takes me a while to get ideas to clarify within my mind. It can be a concept that is crystal clear to others but I need to strain the ideas through a few different sieves before I can articulate the essential gist of a concept. Forgive me if you are in the camp where I’m about to state the blatantly obvious.

I read this post from Chris Betcher back in May, and it stuck in my brain like a prickle in my sock. I’d heard the following sentiments quite a few times before in various blogs all over the web.

I’m so tired of having the integration of technology into learning overlooked because it’s “too hard”. As educators – actual professional educators, who actually go into classrooms every day and teach for a living – we do NOT have the luxury of choosing whether we should be integrating technology, or whether we want to learn more about it, or whether we think it’s relevant to the learning process.  It is, it’s part of the job and if people don’t think so, then they ought to be getting a copy of the Saturday paper and looking for a something else to do where they CAN be selective about what part of the job they are willing to take seriously without it impacting on our future generations.

There was a lot of “Here, here, well said” comments and it didn’t sit well with me. So I added my own counter-rant in the comments section where I felt I was defending my much maligned less tech-savvy colleagues. I ended my rebuttal with the following:

Education is always in constant flux and teachers spend their whole careers in a state of unlearning and re-learning. I know that for every thing I can do well in terms of tech integration with students, there are other teachers with other skills in other areas outdoing me and no one really has the moral high ground.

I got a bit of pushback from a fellow commenter and sought to clarify my thoughts further:

I suppose what provoked my response is that I’ve read posts like Chris’s all over the web, lamenting those incompetents who don’t “get it” and I don’t think it achieves much more than getting a round of “hear, hears” and a tone of self-righteousness in the comments. Teaching is complex and becoming increasingly more so, and every facet deserves as much focus for our students’ futures as technology use for learning. Is everyone here on top of every aspect of their teaching practice? Or will some at least admit that, like myself, there are aspects of our job we are not top of totally, components that are works in progress and parts that we find harder to engage with. Think of those aspects and at least recognise the fact that technology use for learning does not come easily for everyone – and that does immediately label them as being less than worthy educators.

Then Chris replied in a manner that finally turned the switch on in my brain, and I could finally see his post in a different, less oppositional light.

I think you sum it up in your last paragraph when you say “Education is always in constant flux and teachers spend their whole careers in a state of unlearning and re-learning.”  For those teachers who accept this state of flux, who willingly learn and unlearn and relearn, I don’t think anyone would criticise those efforts. You’re absolutely correct in saying that there are MANY aspects of the classroom competing for our attention: staying up to date with current developments in literacy and numeracy, brain theory, learning theory, etc, not to mention staying abreast of information about allergies, child safety legislation, OH&S, etc, etc… teaching is a busy job, there’s no argument about that.

My beef is with those that have simply given up, or refuse to do the learning, unlearning and relearning.  It’s not really about technology per se, although I think that the requirement to integrate technology is a trigger that brings these attitudes to the surface.  The real issue is that some teachers – who are supposed to be learning professionals – have forgotten what it means to learn, unlearn and relearn.

Chris is dead right of course. Take the technology focus out of the discussion and what is clear that educators need to have a different mindset to be successful and relevant to their students. They must be in a constant state of unlearning and relearning, ready to challenge their established practice, looking for where to go to next, and adopting the very habits we want in our students.

I then read a powerful post from Dean Groom. As can happen on occasion, he was not totally happy with what he had written and he pulled the post from his blog. But it still came through my RSS reader and when I asked him about it, he replied that I was free to remix it as I saw fit. I’ll share a few key parts that helped me to understand the unlearning and relearning process that I do see many teachers still struggling with. And it does prove Chris’s point because technology tends to show up teachers’ learning dispositions clearly. Dean’s post was about teachers’ learning habits.

I said teachers are engineers and inventors – these are two critical skills of this decade, as trying to design learning episodes that create innovative pedagogy is a little like flying the Millennium Falcon. Nothing quite works all the time and there’s a total sense of urgency about the whole affair with a high possibility of disaster.

The manual is scattered all over the internet in videos, blogs, wikis and people. Most people lack the social keys to decode this, the literacies needed to find it and won’t use their downtime for what they see as work-related actions.

The time allocated to formal workplace development is massively insufficient, and usually lacks any innovation, invention or re-engineering of the experience.

I’ve  seen this when I conduct PD for teachers. Some only need a point in the general direction and others want you to sit side by side with them as they work out how to sign up to a new online account. It is ironic that I get requests for PD on tools that I’ve worked out for myself or by using the “scattered manual” that Dean refers to. That’s the unlearning and relearning at work there. Teachers who teach their students lock step or via spoonfeeding expect that is how their own learning should work too. I do like the idea of doing the PD as a group where I’ll start things off but the idea is to work things out by spinning things off with your neighbours and having an exploratory and playful disposition. I did that last week when I introduced delicious to my new staff (and yes, there are probably hundreds of teachers out there who have never heard of social bookmarking or how it is one tech tool that empowers teachers to learn on their own with others.

Dean also says:

There is a cultural expectation that has been created by 1990s idea of the computer as a ‘tutor’. This gives rise to the idea novices are there to learn ‘how to use’ from an expert. There is an assumptions there will be step by step instructions, that someone will read them to you, that you will attempt to follow and if you don’t succeed, someone will swoop down and move you along. At some point, you will get to decide if you want to use the tool and information in the future. We can’t really call this competency based training, as there is no assessment and therefore no external reward for effort. At best we call it professional development hours, another symptom that teachers are not intrinsically life-long learners, but need a push factor.

I’ve heard that one too. “Are you doing some ICT PD, Graham, because I need to get some more hours?” Not the best indication of an intrinsic life-long learner but the phrase “life long learning” appears in nearly every school vision statement. And it’s an important thing to have there too. Because students will need those skills – but will they get them from a classroom where the person in charge can only talk the talk?

Dean summarises perfectly (to my mind):

A key idea in downtimer learning theory is that the rewards are almost always intrinsic, fuelled by some external motivation. The product of this is the network effect, where social-encoding of knowledge, essential resources and processes become unintelligible to anyone without sufficient keys to access it externally.

So, technology is important because in today’s world it is the enabler of learning unfettered by control. When the learner has that freedom, they work things out on their own or with others but they are not dependent on others to provide them with the resolution. With that technology in most people’s pocket or purse, there is no reason other than ignorance (unintended or willful) for anyone in the learning game to not be actively in charge of their own learning. And then starting to work out how they ensure that their students have the same options for their own learning within their classrooms.

Post update:

I thought that Dean had written another post illustrating the point I’m trying to make here, but I was wrong. He had referenced another post written by Sarah Thorneycroft and he graciously pointed me back there. Read that for a clarifying example.

 

The Fabulous Dr Joyce Valenza

I was very lucky to attend today’s seminar with Dr Joyce Valenza here in Adelaide, and my head is still swimming from the sheer breadth she covered in the day. The whole day in terms of her presentation, her links and pathways can all be found here on her wikispace created for this down under visit. So I won’t try and recreate the day actually that would be impossible because what the site can’t convey to you is the sheer passion that Joyce has. It certainly won’t demonstrate the furious pace at which our collective brains were filled – I was asked to run the backchannel which was quiet and understated, but participants were too busy listening, watching and checking out links and tools on their laptops to be throwing back too many queries and challenges. By only using the wikispace, you would not also appreciate the urgency in her message – encouraging and enthused – but urgent nonetheless. With an audience of mainly teacher-librarians, I got the feeling that the urgency is as much for the future of this role in schools as it was for the future of our students but of course, the two are connected.

So, thank you, Joyce, for a brilliant day. What your brilliant online resource does is enable those of us at today’s seminar to go back through your day in smaller bite size chunks at a pace that allows for deeper reflection, fuller exploration and lengthy consideration of how to change and improve the learning for our respective student communities. It’ll be something I’ll chew for quite a while and is a very timely focus as I start in on my new role.

A Change In Direction

I’ve made a change in my professional life. From next term, I will be the Assistant Principal in ICT & Admin at Woodville Gardens School here in Adelaide, moving on from my position as the Teaching and Learning Technologies Coordinator at Lockleys North Primary School. It’s an upward step and a significant change from what the last eight and a half years have been like. People who know me well know that I’m not an impulsive person and I usually err on the side of caution in most aspects of my life. So, many of my colleagues were surprised to find out that I had applied and won this particular job for the remainder of 2011. After all, Lockleys North is an excellent school with nice kids, parents committed to their children’s learning and many great programs. I’m not being a sycophant by pointing out that the school has one of the best principals going around and I’m not being a braggart in stating that I have been a fairly big influence in the school’s forward movement in the use of technology. But the time seemed right for a new challenge and this opportunity appealed to my restrained sense of ambition and sense of social justice. I’m a proud advocate for public education, and it will be good for me to put the expertise and experience that I have put under my belt to improve the outcomes for a population of students here in suburban Adelaide who in general don’t have life as easy as the kids I’ve been working with.

Back in 2003, I was given an opportunity as a green-behind-the-ears young classroom teacher to become the ICT Coordinator at LNPS. I had an abundance of enthusiasm, some ideas around how technology could make a difference to student learning and a whole lot to learn about being on the first rung of leadership. Being a coordinator in South Australian schools means still being responsible for a classroom as well as the leadership and management aspects of the wider role, and that is a much harder juggling role than being full time in the classroom. I also went from a school where I had access to a well equipped computer room whenever I wished, pursuing digital projects with my class without worrying too much about the whole school direction. I started off in my new role with one computer room with twenty computers and one solitary PC in the back of each classroom for a school of over 400 students. It was always going to be a long term job but I was not following in an incumbent’s footsteps and had the freedom to build up overall ICT focus of the school gradually. In 2005, we started introducing interactive whiteboards well before they became mainstream items in this state and in 2007, I got our wireless laptop program up and running. In 2008 – 2010, we were one of only four DECS schools involved in a lengthy Learning Technologies research project right before the State Government wound up that arm of the department. Late last year, I wrote the application that got our school into the 2011 Microsoft Innovative Schools program. Ironically, the final two Forums of that program are something that I am giving up to move to this new position!

So, I feel that I have achieved a lot in my time. I never did my job so well as to become redundant, but stretched between classroom commitments and other constraints, I feel that what I have contributed will continue and branch off in new ways without my input. I’ve mentioned some of the outstanding colleagues I have been lucky to work with – the rock stars who have embraced digital planning, real “just in time” use of technology and tasks that have pushed student learning into new places. These same colleagues encouraged me to apply for this new position when I wasn’t sure if I was the right person or if it was the right opportunity, and were the first to congratulate me when I got the news of my appointment.

So, why this new job? Well, Woodville Gardens is one of the sites dubbed as a “super school” by the South Australian media, formed by the amalgamation of three smaller schools. The school is brand new (well, six months old) and the notion of being part of building a new school culture is very appealing. The school is also a Category One with the greatest level of social disadvantage, so knowing that I will be working towards improving these students’ future means I have the potential to really make a difference. I also get to apply all of the experience and knowledge from my own time at Lockleys North into a new site and open myself up to new experiences to continually make myself into a better educator. The role also has more time built into working with staff, and influencing practice on a bigger scale is important too, especially if the mantra of “21st Century Learning” is to have any meaning at all. This new school is about re-defining the schooling experience for our less privileged students and it will be humbling and exciting to be in on the ground floor. I’ve seen how schools like Dallas Brooks Community, St Albans Meadows and Silverton (all in Melbourne) have become learning centres of excellence and hotbeds of exceptional practice – so I’m hoping that my new role can help lead out in a similar direction.

So, I’ve been lucky to be part of one of the best schools in this state. It’s time to see where this new opportunity goes. Wish me luck.

NAPLaNs And U-Turns

Australian students in Years 3, 5, & and 9 have just spent the week taking the annual NAPLaN tests. With some controversy last year over cheating allegations, there can be no doubt that the label of “high stakes” can now be applied to these tests. It doesn’t seem to matter what is said about the fact that a test like this is only a snapshot of student capability – the inclusion of this data on the MySchool website causes a lot of angst amongst students, parents and educators as the media and politicians line up to judge their worth individually and collectively. There are fears that the data will be twisted to tell an unflattering story and one school at least has moved to deny the MySchool site that NAPLaN derived data.

AS MORE than 300,000 NSW students sat the first of three NAPLAN tests yesterday, parents at a small private school in the Blue Mountains staged a boycott to ensure its results will not be reported on the federal government’s My School website.

But schools whose principals or teachers encourage children not to sit national literacy and numeracy tests may face disciplinary action in future, the NSW Minister for Education, Adrian Piccoli, warned.

I also had an interesting conversation with one of my colleagues who had caught a television interview with Linda Darling-Hammond where she was convinced that the education adviser of President Obama’s transition team had said that the US was moving away from high stakes testing. Because I rely on my Google Reader filled with the savviest educators from that part of the world to keep me informed, I was skeptical. I’ve been reading over the last few years about how intense and how data driven schools have become in America that I was sure that my colleague must have been mistaken. So I went hunting to find out for myself what was being said.

Professor Darling-Hammond said Australia would be wiser to follow the examples of Finland, Korea, Shanghai and Singapore, whose 15-year-olds achieve the best results in numeracy, literacy and science in comparisons with other developed nations.

“The US is taking a U-turn away from test-based accountability,” said Professor Darling-Hammond. ”We hope not to meet Australia heading in the other direction in seeking policies we have sought to move away from.”

From The Australian:

Professor Darling-Hammond said Australia’s national literacy and numeracy tests, NAPLAN, were not “intellectually ambitious” but “bubble”and provided only limited information about students’ capabilities.

And The Age:

Linda Darling-Hammond, Professor of Education at Stanford University, said the perception of improved results in New York was created after performance standards were lowered. Once standards were readjusted, results “crashed”.

Professor Darling-Hammond, who advised US President Barrack Obama on education during his presidential campaign, and who was reportedly among candidates for the position of education secretary in the Obama administration, will address educators in Sydney tonight, warning Australia against repeating the same mistakes the US has made.

She says NAPLAN-style testing has failed in America. Standardised tests in the US have been criticised for narrowing the school curriculum to reading and maths and multiple choice formats. Punitive measures had resulted in teachers “teaching to the test” to improve results, which determined whether schools and teachers would receive bonus payments. Judged by student results, many of the best teachers fled the underperforming schools that most needed them.

So, my colleague was right about what Darling-Hammond was saying. But what I’m curious about is the statement that the US is “taking a U-turn”. Is that true or just wistful thinking on her part?