Thursday, February 13, 2014

An Open Letter to All Educational Leaders & Administrators

Dear Fearless Leaders,

You know who you are; those who devote all their time, energy, and expertise to improving education around the world. I'm speaking to you because I need your help. And not just me, but every teacher who is embracing 21st century technologies into their classrooms, and attempting to motivate others to do the same. I know you are busy, and you have 101 different initiatives on the go right now; but you at least need to put those on hold for a second and listen up.

We have entered an era in education, which might be the most significant, game-changing, paradigm shifting, wall-breaking era ever to hit education. It is a fantastic time to be involved in education. There are so many amazing things going on, and so many people sharing their stories about these things. We have teachers who are harnessing the power of YouTube to deliver lectures so that students can be better prepared walking into class; teachers engaging in weekly Twitter chats outside of school hours to better themselves professionally; others who are harnessing every web 2.0 tool imaginable so that they can support their students communicate, collaborate, create, and most importantly, critically think. Educators all over the world are re-imagining what the physical classroom should look like, and creating 21st Century classrooms right before our eyes. The promotion of digital citizenship has never been bigger, and teachers, parents, and students are working together to spread the word. We have 1:1 classrooms, blended learning,gamification, mobile learning, MOOCs, BYOD initiatives, and so much more going on. And yet, the majority of people who are talking about this, sharing their insight, and knowledge are teachers. 

I hear about many teachers who describe themselves as '21st Century Educators/Teachers' but when you look around, you don't see too many administrators, superintendents, or directors who describe themselves in the same way. Why is this? I think because in most cases, teachers are the ones who are leading the charge when it comes to promoting 21st Century initiatives; and are also the ones attempting to assist other teachers who are willing to learn. Administrators are more than willing to support these individuals, and that is fantastic; however, support has to come in more ways than financial, resource, time release, or other ways. And just like these countless educators are willing to support, tutor, and assist other teachers, they're willing to do the same for you! You just need to ask, sacrifice, and be willing to become a student again. No player is willing to play for a coach who is not willing to lead by example, and in just the same way, teachers are looking for similar leadership. 

I realize this does not apply to EVERY administrator out there, but unfortunately, my belief is that there are too many that it does apply to. In the beginning of this post I asked for your help, and so here are my requests that I NEED you to complete by the end of the school year. These are not large requests, they are not leaps; just baby steps. And remember, one foot at a time.

1. Get on Twitter! 

You need to share your expertise and insight, and demonstrate how Twitter is an extremely powerful learning network. PD is no longer restricted to PD days once a semester. It's happening all the time, and has become self directed. Teachers and other educators are developing professional learning networks where they are able to learn best-practices from others all around the world. They are connecting with other educators who share similar beliefs, passions, and characteristics when it comes to teaching. They are conversing regularly with others not only within their building, district, or country, but across borders. They are sharing images of their classrooms so that they can show others the activities that are leading to student success. Show your teachers and community this, and engage with them regularly.

2. Stop Saying "I'm not really good with Technology"! 

That's like saying "I'm not really good with this Math stuff", or "Reading isn't really my thing". Imagine the message you convey to staff and students when you say such things. You are acknowledging that it is acceptable to do poorly in math, or that literacy is irrelevant. In just the same way, you are also acknowledging that it is acceptable to remain in the 20th century, and that you don't need to take time to learn new processes and technologies. If you believe this, then get the typewriters back out and give those to your students; and then wait for their reactions.

3. Encourage Risk Taking. 

I don't mean that you should allow schools to become the Wild West, and anything goes; but encourage teachers to try new things, and that it is OK for them to fall on their face. There are so many options now for students to learn, and so many teachers want to try new things. The problem is however, that many are so afraid to fail; and their reasons are justified - performance appraisals, student & parent outcry, peer judgement, etc. However, developing a culture where teachers are willing to try gamification, the flipped classroom, blended learning, or other pedagogies could lead to amazing results! The very fact that students still fail, illustrates that education is not perfect. I'm not saying that any of the above mentioned pedagogies are perfect, but it may be that embracing one or more of them could lead to greater student achievement. The former General Stanley McChrystal once said "leaders can let you fail and yet, not let you be a failure"; and I think that's a lesson worth remembering.

Jason Richea

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Stop Collaborate and Listen!

This week's conversation is all about collaboration. As Matthew said, "We are collaborating in a 21st C way on defining collaboration". This week I have hosted everyone's contributions below, so take a look, and read some very interesting thoughts regarding Collaboration in Education in the 21st Century.

Here is what the team came up with this week (Again, I've left mine own until the end):

Debbie Axiak

@DebbieAxiak - 

Bloom’s Taxonomy and Maslow’s Hierarchy came to mind when I was thinking about this part of our 6 C’s Project because there are varying levels of collaboration. At a basic level,  teachers and/or students might be working side by side on the same project, or collaborating for the sake of collaborating (when it is mandated) - which is almost an individual pursuit. At the next level, when there is some camaraderie and care, collaborators begin to share ideas, strategies and materials as they work toward a common goal.

Many times, the goal of a collaborative task is to finish the project. Students and parents want to know how we will mark a collaborative project - they want it to be fair, they want the person who did the most work to get the best mark. Our society is still quite individualistic and competitive. We each want our voice to be heard, and some people are better at demanding that their voice is heard, while others prefer to give in to the stronger voice rather than face a confrontation. Many of us want to be congratulated on our strengths & are not very comfortable with critique because we take it personally - unless we have a trusting relationship with that person.

Successful collaboration requires  1) a common goal, 2) trust and support, 3) ongoing communication, 4) a growth mindset (the belief that everyone can learn, change & grow), 5) an openness to give and take feedback and 6) the ability to make it about the learning/task/project rather than about the people involved.

Collaboration = Working Together Toward a Common Goal

Matthew Oldridge

@matthewoldridge - 

The deep dark secret behind many schoolhouse doors is how difficult collaboration is.  We all have strong visions of what, and how, we like to teach, informed by our own biases, beliefs about education, learning styles, and even the things happening in our lives.  

It’s hard to find the time, we might say, and retreat back to our own room.  I’ve been guilty of this many times.  I fall back on the comfortable ways of thinking, comfortable lesson ideas, and assignments.  

When I’m at my best, though, I’m talking, thinking, working with others.  “Isolation is the enemy of improvement,” I once heard.  And it’s true-divided we stand, and together we fall. Technology has been one great force pushing collaboration.  We have examples like this document- several voices uniting in one Google Doc, collaborating on collaboration.  We have Twitter chats, where ideas are batted back and forth, in real time.  Conversations that happen in hallways, before and after school.  Finally, the larger structures like grade or school-wide inquiry work that is starting to take root across school systems.  We begin to speak as one voice, to create a coherent “one” from “many.”

There’s hope, there always is.  The struggles our own students experience in group work are mirrored by our own. Sometimes it just “clicks”, though- and the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts.  A project that 4 students that work on that transcends the criteria and learning goals.  A summative task put together by a grade team that comes together like lightning, illuminating the curriculum and all our classroom work.  A conversation with a colleague that spurs a series of activities that really make a math concept fun and engaging.   

With practice, we improve.  It would be fine to say everyone is born able to collaborate in meaningful ways, but when we say that, we probably mean cooperation.  Everyone is born able to cooperate, but collaboration, now that is hard work!

Collaboration = Making One Voice From Many

Tina Zita

@tina_zita - 

I did a collaborative writing activity this week using Office 365 with a grade 7 class. I was pretty excited hoping it would become that piece I was looking for for this post. I used the new iPad air ad from apple as a minds on, collected a variety of ideas about winter through padlet and then on to Word in Office 365 where each class member added a line to our shared poem. Sounds impressive. The activity was ok.

The poem had some powerful sections but my lesson about collaboration came from an individual in the room.

I’m constantly amazed when I take the time to step back and #lookclosely.

We were having some technical difficulties (happens to all of us, even if technology is in your job title) so the teacher and myself were busy trouble shooting around the room when I looked over to see a vision of collaboration. There stood my ‘friend’ peering over a class members’ shoulder discussing word choice in the statement on the screen. We may say she had was the ‘leader type’ but what was amazing was the words I heard. It wasn’t bossy or challenging. There was no judgement. It was two individuals in pursuit of the best work. You heard the back and forth of the conversation, options, ideas. They used each of their strengths to compose the best line, which lead to the best verse and then to a better poem.

Sometimes I think as adults so much gets in the way of true collaboration. Such a wonderful reminder of what I would love to see in all 21st century learners.

Collaboration = A Back And Forth Creating Process

And now my own...

So I worked with some people once in a group; it was a horrible experience. No one knew what to do, some people never completed their parts, and I ended up never talking to those people again. It’s a story told by most, and unfortunately occurs far too often. This is what I call ‘Anti-Collaboration’.

It's easy to define what Collaboration is not, because many of us have found ourselves in groups where everyone is working on their own, and little communication occurs.  We often like to think that when we are in a group, we are a part of a team. However, a team does not automatically suggest that collaboration occurs, as there can be many individual components, all of whom never really interact and share with the rest of the team.

Being part of a team, requires EACH & EVERY individual to contribute, to identify their roles & responsibilities, and support each other; so that as a team we can reach a goal. That in my mind is truly collaboration.

Being a ‘collaborator’ requires greater effort, and commitment, than any 'team-player' can give. It requires you to look at the bigger picture, the team's goals, and sacrifice those individual objectives, so that you can support the team, and allow it to succeed. 

It also requires you to provide feedback and criticism, and in turn receive the same. Only when each individual provides an input, and each group member provide feedback, does collaboration exist. Such feedback, allows 'Collaborators' to revisit their work, and look to improve it, so that the team can achieve a higher level of success.

Therefore, true collaboration occurs when EVERY person contributes something to the group; and EVERY group member provide the necessary feedback, so that as a whole, the group continues to achieve their goals. When we witness such collaboration, the results can be incredible.

Collaboration = Meaningful Contributions From Every Team Player