Archive for the 'Personal Reflections' Category

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.

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.

Penguins In Decline

The family got back yesterday from a few days down on the Fleurieu Peninsula, basing ourselves at Goolwa. This is the third time in three years and it really is a nice part of the world to kick back and take things easy for a bit. We were looking forward to some nice weather but Wednesday was a bit cooler than expected so we changed our plans around a bit, trading in a day at the beach for a walk across the causeway to Granite Island at Victor Harbor, and to check out the Little Penguin centre on the island.

Recuperating little penguins from Granite Island at the Penguin Centre.

Here a small number of volunteers look after a small group of little penguins who have suffered injuries that prevent them from rejoining their colleagues in the wild. There was a feeding scheduled for 11.00 am and so we paid our money and shuffled in to see these little guys. The lady who came out to feed them their daily ration of pilchards was a passionate advocate for their welfare and shared a wealth of information about this unique bird with us, not all of it heartwarming. She shared with us factual information about their life cycle, how they spent their days fishing up to 50 km away from their burrows on Granite Island, returning at dusk to rest up before departing before sunrise to head out into the ocean again. I suggested to my youngest, Josh that we should sign up for the guided tour that night to check out the penguins as they came home for the night. I then got my next shock.

Ever since I can remember there have been little penguins at Granite Island. So going on a tour had been one of those things that I’d put aside for a future date – because there would always be another time in the future when I could do it. But the colony on Granite Island is in severe decline. Back in 2000, a census put the numbers of penguins on Granite Island at around 2000 – making good use of the over 200 human constructed burrows. Most of these are built into the cliff alongside the main road leading from the causeway around to the kiosk/bistro/souvenir shop putting their homes in very close contact with human activity. By 2011, that number had declined down to around 100 birds, but a recent 2012 census put the numbers to a really scarily low 26 penguins. So, the reality is that very few penguins can now be seen at dusk clambering out of the water, scuttling across the tram-tracked road and beating a hasty retreat to their burrow. When we went on the tour that night, we saw one solitary penguin make that trek back home. I had imagined dozens of them in my mind before being confronted with this fact.

The volunteers put down the severe decline in numbers due to a natural phenomenon – the New Zealand fur seal whose numbers in the area were on the steady increase. We were told about another colony of penguins (about 100) on a more remote island near Victor Harbor that has been wiped out by the fur seals moving in. The seals weren’t being seen on Granite Island possibly because of the presence of humans, but were nabbing the penguins while they were out on their fishing trips. And based on the washed up penguin bodies, the volunteers concluded that they weren’t being pursued as food but the seals were killing them as a form of sport, much like a cat kills birds sometimes, just because it can. The volunteers also said that something else unusual was happening with the Granite Island penguins. Normally, December and January are prime viewing times to see penguins before they headed into a two to three week feed up in preparation for the moulting season. The penguins hunt and consume enough fish to double their body weight so that they can survive a two week starvation period back in the burrow as they moult the old feathers and allow the new feathers to fully seal up their natural water proofing. But this year, they had headed out to sea two months early to start their fattening up process. Whether this was a response to their decline in numbers, no one is sure, but it is a sign that things are not as they should be. The little guy we saw waddling was certainly well into the gaining weight process.

So, it was good to do the tour while we still can. But there are a number of questions that pop into my mind. Is this a problem that can be helped by human intervention? Or is it just part of nature and we only care because this is a colony that drives visitors to a place? Why is that numbers have to drop to such a critical low before bigger bodies like local councils and governments take notice? I’m sure that the volunteers and researchers were waving the alert flag before now. And what about people like me who feel saddened now because it is in my immediate consciousness soon to be forgotten in due course as other issues vie for my attention and compassion? And what will the Granite Island colony look like next year when we head back to that part of the world for our family holiday?

The Present Allows Us To Live In The Past

Thanks to YouTube, there is a massive amount of archival content uploaded from the video vaults from account users all over the world. Amongst all of the new stuff, the viral videos, the VEVO new releases, the videobloggers and the gaming walkthroughs, people have been busy uploading the past – music, advertisements, lots of snippets of popular culture. This brings about an interesting situation where I can pick up on a memory from the past, and start to fully immerse myself in all sorts of video content that brings that time back into clear focus.

Here’s a video that I found the other night:

It’s fun looking back at a given year in popular music because it shows that being popular at the time doesn’t necessarily translate into being popular for all time. I remember 1981 – Year 10 at high school – and running through this list of songs brings back interesting mental reactions. There are songs that make me glad that they didn’t enjoy popular play beyond ’81, some that make you think, “Oh, I remember this song – it was pretty good. Whatever happened to …?”, ones that I recall having on a mixtape or even shelling out the dollars for the cassette for and some that bring back an actual memory.

About midway through this video clip, a song from iconic British band, The Police, popped up and immediately I realised that I had bought a copy of Zenyatta Mondatta during that year. This realisation sends me scouring YouTube for other Police videos, looking for interviews with the band members and then finally onto iTunes, where I buy and download some tracks that had fallen off my immediate conscious memory. Even now, there is the urge to go and check out some concert footage from when they were in their prime (about 1983 in my opinion) and continuing this self indulgent trip down memory lane. In the past, this sort of scramble to re-activate my memory would have involved scrabbling around in my old cassette collection and that’s about it. But the web makes it so easy to soak in digital memories – I know that the web is the world’s biggest archive of digitised cultural artifacts – and all of the extra material from that era or place in time that I have never seen before all combine to give a feeling of “being back in time”.

Nothing earth shattering – but a realisation that I felt worth archiving for my posterity.

My TEFL Story of Significant Impact

Here in South Australia, we have a pedagogical guide known as TfEL (Teaching for Effective Learning) which is the how that backs onto the what of the Australian Curriculum.

From the Guide:

What is the SA TfEL Framework?
Just as a compass guides navigation, the SA TfEL Framework provides an ‘internal compass’ for guiding our designs for learning  and decision making about our practice. It gives us confidence that  our professional practice incorporates the most recent evidence and  understandings about learning and teaching that maximise student engagement and achievement.

My school has a TfEL specialist teacher who has provided professional learning for our staff, conducted research and supported teachers in their familiarisation and implementation of the TfEL Framework. She has been incredible but like all good things, her tenure is drawing to a conclusion at the end of 2012 as the department re-prioritises some of its expenditure. As part of the project completion, all staff have been asked to write a short “most significant impact story” that tells of the Framework’s impact on their pedagogy. As a new leader and someone coming in six months later than everyone else in the new school, I wasn’t sure what to write. Only one of these stories will be chosen to tell a perspective from our school. So the likelihood of mine making any further than my desktop and the specialist teacher’s eyes  are slim. I personally would want a story from a classroom to represent our school any way because that is the important place I would want TfEL to be making the most positive difference.

But for posterity and my own learning, I will post up my story for others to read and query.

Personalisation of Staff PD

Story of Significant Impact by Graham Wegner, Assistant Principal (Learning Technologies & Admin), Woodville Gardens School B-7

a.

My role includes the provision of Professional Development in the early of Learning Technologies for my colleagues. I have attended a lot of this PD during my career and delivered a significant amount of technology focussed training and Professional Learning sessions over the last ten years. It has always been ironic that as a classroom teacher, I would design learning that catered for individuals with multiple entry and exit points but teacher focussed PD still seemed to be a one-size-fits-all model where everyone received the same information or worked through the same activities using the same tools.

Earlier this term, I had a staff Professional Learning time allocated for eLearning which was focussed on having the staff explore the use of PBWorks as a wiki based tool which could be used as a linking off point of entry to the internet for their students. In the past, I would have designed a lock step process to lead the whole group paced so that no one got left behind. But this model, as with students, has problems with providing the right balance between support for the less experienced and freedom to move ahead for the more confident and savvy. So this year, I have moved to making staff PD closer to the way I would approach a group of younger learners. I have made conscious efforts to design the learning using tools like Understanding by Design in a manner similar to designing an inquiry unit.

I attended a PLC session earlier in the day focussed on Learning Intentions and Success Criteria run by our TEFL specialist, Louise Barker. As we discussed what these looked like in the classroom, it became clear to me that I needed the same thing for my staff PD session. As the PLC continued, I started to re-design my approach for later that day, rewriting the Learning Intention into a WALT “create links in an online space”. I added a second part to show the value of what I wanted the staff to engage with by using TIB (This Is Because) “we can then create and develop an online space for your students to easily access a wide range of digital resources.” Finally, I added in WILF (What I’m Looking For) otherwise known as the Success Criteria – (i) you can create and edit your own space  (ii) you can add hyperlinks to important digital resources & (iii) you develop and use a strategy for find, add and review links in your space.

Lousie had also used a road metaphor that categorised learners by comfort level and confidence which I seconded for the session. This way, the confident could move ahead without feeling constrained but the less confident could seek more structured and incremental help. These elements created clarity around the purpose of the session, and empowered the staff to find their own comfort level in engaging with the learning, and the purpose behind that learning. I received very positive feedback from many colleagues about the value of the learning and how it enabled them to be successful without feeling pressured. Other leaders complimented me on the session as a solid example of how to cater for a wide range of adult learners, and act as a template for other staff running their own PD sessions.

b.

I can see great value in carrying over these key ideas (Learning Intentions and Success Criteria) which we want to be integral in our students’ learning and applying it to the staff PD to show that these concepts don’t just apply to students but to any learners.

 

The Workaround

A teacher asked me to help with her class’s work on “goods and services” where they were creating their own fictional business and researching the types of goods and services they would offer. We were creating a virtual town to post up on a wiki and one of the steps was to use TuxPaint to create a digital picture. However, on the day that they started I got sidelined with a behaviour issue that meant that the teacher and the kids worked on without me. They got a bit stuck because they were using the above mentioned program on the building’s MacBook Pros and the teacher wasn’t sure how to save the pics, let alone get them up on the wiki. In her desperation to ensure that the time wasn’t wasted, she got the students to print their images as there was no obvious way to save them to the class network folder. It was a classic case of needing a workaround in order for whole thing to end up in the right place. She asked me to help.

I went to the computers where the kids had been working and opened up TuxPaint. In most cases, the last image that had been created came up on screen. On a Mac, it was a simple case of using the shortcut Command-Shift-4 in order to able to grab a PNG of the picture sitting within the TuxPaint screen. I could then rename the file from the Desktop, change the image to a easier to manipulate jpeg file extension and then drag the file into the right class folder within the network Common Drive. On a PC, the steps were similar but a little more involved. This time I did a Print Screen, pasted the result into Paint.Net, cropped the image and then saved it with the correct name and file extension to the class folder.

Now I haven’t done anything technical here apart from a bit of good old fashioned problem solving and some basic knowledge about shortcuts and how files behave on a computer – some basic digital literacy. But plenty of teachers aren’t confident in implementing a workaround – they look for a how to instruction sheet, seek out the “techy-man” or just put it in the too hard basket. Having the ability to create a workaround is an important life skill because the workaround mindset can be transferable to lots of life, non-digital situations. Now someone else might look at my workaround pathways and see a quicker, more obvious route to take. But the important thing is that I was able to solve the problem by myself, using solutions to get a step closer to completion.

So many educators have never clicked on a Help button, or Googled for a solution. In today’s world, we need to get away from this learned behaviour of self-helplessness. At least, have a go at creating your own workaround. There is an incredible amount of self satisfaction in working something like that out for yourself.