Sunday, July 25, 2010

Virtual tribes...


I had a brief Twitter conversation awhile back with George Couros (@gcouros) about the complex interaction between people and the technology we create. George commented that he was reading tweet archives from the International Society for Technology in Education 2010 (ISTE10) Conference, and noticed that very few were about technology.  Instead, many delegates at the conference commented about the human relationships they initiated or renewed. Interesting considering this conference is a massive education technology event.

My contribution to the conversation ended with the comment... "synergy between people and the technology they use creates ideas, collaboration... possibility otherwise unlikely." I have met many who assert that the use of technology in teaching and learning 'depersonalizes' the experience. I am compelled to disagree. As I grow with technology in my teaching and learning, I am finding that the opposite is true. The tribe I call my PLN (personal learning network) has grown exponentially since I started using Twitter a short seven months ago. I have had my mind stretched further than ever, including my time in graduate school. My network of passionate educators hails from all over the globe, and I am collaborating with them in ways never before possible without this simple tech tool.

Shortly after I began using Twitter, I started blogging here at KARE Givers. I have always kept a paper journal of reflections and ideas that cross my mind anyway, and I thought blogging would be a good way to collaborate with those who perhaps share my interest in teaching and learning. I had no idea how beneficial this would become, and I've barely gotten started.

My point is rather simple. Adults do well when they understand the power of inter-dependency. We have passed through the stages of dependence and independence in our lives, and hopefully learned that it's infinitely easier to handle the stresses and responsibilities of adulthood when we have others to count on, (and more enjoyable too.) We are social beings; we appreciate the value and benefits of tribes... it's a very basic element of human nature. Micro-blogging (Twitter) and blogging, two relatively simple technologies, have made it incrementally easier for me to connect with my virtual tribe, and I don't plan on looking back.

Using technology in my professional practise has done the exact opposite of depersonalizing my job; on the contrary, it's brought me closer to other teachers who share my passion for teaching and learning, and allowed me to belong to something so much bigger than myself- a global education reform movement dedicated to the perpetual improvement of the teaching and learning process.

I fail to see any downside to this.

Engaging classrooms "manage" themselves...




 I'm not too sure- do authentic, inspirational classrooms have to be 'managed?' When teachers use the term "classroom management," they generally mean managing behavior in the classroom. I've worked with the most challenging students imaginable from first grade through tenth grade and I have never understood this terminology.

The term management has many different connotations. From http://www.answers.com/, management is defined as:
n.

1.The act, manner, or practice of managing; handling, supervision, or control: management of a crisis; management of factory workers.
2.The person or persons who control or direct a business or other enterprise.
3.Skill in managing; executive ability.

There's a common theme in all three versions of the noun 'management' above. Each connotes an element of control... a word that also has an excessively broad spectrum of connotations. Of course teachers need to be in control, but what does that mean in a classroom context? To me, it's simple- teachers need to be in control of the learning process, and if they do this well, there will be no imminent need to manage student behavior at all because kids will feel so engaged in the process of learning that they won't have any idle time for their thoughts to wander.

Kids, no matter the age, need to feel engaged. They feel engaged in a classroom because the learning activities they are involved in capture their interest; they're fun and they don't feel like a chore to be endured. Teachers can create engaging classrooms in a multitude of ways, and I'm going to begin a new series of posts with this one dedicated to sharing those that have worked for me. They worked for me in classrooms that most teachers will never experience filled with kids who arrived there as the most disengaged students imaginable.

Before working as a middle school counsellor, and now as an elementary school vice-principal, I taught in First Nations communities and behavioral programs for fourteen years. My experiences weren't just career altering, they were life-changing. I wish to share some of my experience with you in the effort to initiate dialog surrounding engaging teaching. There should be no end to the professional conversation surrounding engagement in the learning process... the issue of engagement permeates everything teachers do. Engaging students is arguably our most important responsibility.

Rule of Engagement # 1: Talk to students.
This sounds so simple. Why then do so many teachers not understand this rule? My take is that we get so caught up in the scripted teaching we feel we're expected to deliver that we forget we're teaching young people; people with personalities... strengths, weaknesses, likes, dislikes, talents and challenges that may or may not jive with our scripted teaching usually designed inadequately to address the majority of faceless kids in class- the infamous cohort of kids who supposedly fit the mean. Here's a bit of news for us all- there is no average student in any class anywhere.

Every single child in every single classroom is unique, worth celebrating and needs us to talk to them sincerely and purposefully- not at them with our scripted teacher talk. When we do this we show kids we are serious about building a relationship with them as individuals; that we care and we want to help them be successful. We can't go wrong with this message.

Talk to kids about their strengths, their anxieties, their families, their lives away from school... and about the daily things that just happen. Forging on with the script knowing there are kids not really 'with' you, for whatever reason, is professionally irresponsible... we have to make sure every kid is engaged, and if not, we shouldn't be moving on without them, we should be talking to them about what's bothering them and hindering them from being present and mindful in class.

Talk to kids.
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