Daily Archives: October 27, 2006


Disclaimer: This post is a reflection on my experiences this morning at the K-12 Online Conference Week 1 Fireside Chat. It is not a criticism in any shape or form of any of the organisers, participants or the Elluminate environment. This is just my version, captured freshly for my own purposes.

I was a bit late logging on, getting the Java flowing from within Firefox and then into the Elluminate environment itself. The participants were all listed in alphabetical order down the left hand side and you could hear the audio coming through nice and clear. Even after having a Skype chat the other evening with Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach, I was feeling uneasy about the possibility of speaking to the assembled crew. I found that keeping track of everything in the Elluminate environment wasn't an issue - although the chat box was a bit small - but soon became clear to me that having 34 people online at once wasn't going to produce any indepth form of discussion. I found it very similar to other social situations that I've experienced in f2f life. It felt like everyone else knew each other with a buzz of chatbox inside chatter and I was the outsider looking in, not sure where to start. Terry Freedman and Alan Levine were nice enough to personally greet me (I think Bud did too) and I didn't really start name-checking anyone else possibly due to my usual lack of self confidence in large group situations. I also felt that the conversation seemed to be skimming from one thing to another and it was hard to pick up who the different messages in the chatbox were directed to. I did get a whole stack of new skype names - that could well be the best part of the hour for me as it was a more direct conversation that would be of benefit to me. I'm not sure this could happen but a valuable twist on this concept could be breaking up a large group like this into smaller groups (4-6 people) to go to another virtual room and talk, maybe on a pre-identified topic. As my disclaimer, I am not criticising what was obviously extremely valuable for many of the attendees - I am trying to accurately describe my experience.

As for the actual conference, I have to admit I am struggling to find the time to get into the assembled content. I listened to most of David Warlick's keynote and then the file corrupted and refused to play any more (it was good but Leigh's talk the other week was meatier and held my interest the whole way through) and then I checked out Alan Levine's excellent "I Did Not Know You Could Do That With Free Web Tools". The way he jumped from one technology to another across the web was brilliant and is exactly how our students operate. Again, heaps more to explore but at least I can say that I've attended his session in full. Also as the inverse to the question I posed on the whiteboard for Alan, there is much the K-12 sector can learn from the tertiary sector. What else have I checked out? Kathy Cassidy's presentation was also exceptional and a great example of how to keep things short and concise.

I've checked out the first 20 minutes or so of Mark Wagner's blog presentation (one vowel away from being my brother's namesake) but I have to say a lot of the US based references and anecdotes had me lost. I watched most of Vicki Davis' wiki presentation - that was good but I left it a bit late at night to start watching it!! And now the other presentations keep piling up - I want to get into them but real life (and still keeping tabs on the rest of the online world) keeps interfering. I think that this is going to be continuing for me well beyond the conference endpoint - I still haven't finished checking out all the acculumated resources from the FNLW travelling unconference.

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I've just spent the last three days at PLOTPD training with my principal ond our two new Assistant Principals for 2007. PLOT stands for Professional Learning Online Tool which lead some to the incorrect assumption that it was about technology. No, it wasn't and it may be a positive sign for the future that the technological aspect is embedded into the broader topic of leadership. I heard references to Marc Prensky, Ian Dukes, Daniel Pink and Thomas Friedman all in the context of our students' needs as 21st Century learners. There is a website however, called the PLOT tool, accessible by subscription but apart from perusing that as team, the three days were mainly engaged in conversation and discussion. PLOT training is capably led by David Anderson and Joan Dalton who structured a wide range of hands on activities and discussions that had everyone mixing and interacting regardless of their school position. This training is aimed at school leadership teams interested in establishing "communities of learning" within their own staff and school but the eight or so schools represented had their agendas to run as well. Ours was definitely an opportunity to meet together as a 2007 leadership team for the first time, get to know each other, establish some agreement about how to operate as a cohesive team and be "on the same page." It actually took until Monday afternoon before we even spent any time together because we were paired and then grouped semi-randomly in a series of activities. One activity had two of us interviewing each other about our respective schools on the topics of School Strengths, School Challenges and School Priorities. There was one other but I didn't take notes in the way I normally would in regular "transmission mode" training.Another activity on the second day had us matched up with new people again from other sites and this time, we shared significant changes during our lifetime. This sparked an interesting discussion amongst the group with three members talking about their perceived drop in social and educational standards, things were better in the past, kids of today are only self interested etc. I begged to differ without much success. I pointed out that the current generation are the most surveilled ever, parents tend to be on an overprotective high and that things weren't always so rosy in the past. When someone bemoaned the breakdown of the family unit, my mind wondered how many abused wives and children suffered under the moral silence of the day and passed these destructive behaviours onto the next generation. There was also extended conversation along the lines of, "Students of today expect everything to be fun. They have to learn that not all of education can be fun. Most of it has to be hard work because that's what life is like."
I thought to myself that wasn't the case at all. I think students expect purpose and engagement as opposed to fun and it's not unreasonable for them to have that. I'd be worried that unimaginative or lazy teaching could easily hide behind such a philosophy or outlook. Anyway, the follow on to this discussion was the identifying of qualities, skills and aptitudes needed for the kids in our schools to succeed. Even my colleagues from my group helped to generate words like - flexible, can work in a team, savvy - even though the choice of self-discipline came across to me like veiled criticism of today's kids.

Anyway, there were segments dealing with "tough conversations", norms and values with useful metaphors and anecdotes skillfully scattered throughout. David and Joan are extremely skillful facilitators and although I've run out of steam reflecting on these three days, there are many useful strategies, structures and protocols that I have gained and can use to improve my raw and emerging leadership skills.

Research has consistently shown that all the things that schools can control, it is the quality of pedagogy that most directly and most powerfully affects the quality of learning outcomes that students demonstrate.