Posts Tagged ‘#blogsync’

The old adage of “one page ahead” is dangerous territory for any teacher to find themselves in. Our students justifiably expect that our knowledge of our chosen subject area is more extensive than their own. But the current train of thought in New Zealand that more academic qualifications (knowledge) equates to more effective teaching is a fallacy.

I trained with people with PhDs in their chosen subject areas some of whom struggled to share that knowledge effectively with their students. Some never made it to a classroom. Why? Because when it comes to teaching, pedagogical skills (often considered to be lower level thinking than knowledge) win over subject knowledge every time. So in this regard, the push towards more time in the classrooms for secondary teacher trainees, IF adequately resourced, is a positive move.

Teaching is not an exact science. It is both art and science, profession and vocation. It requires knowledge, pedagogical understanding, experience, empathy and stamina. Experts in their fields have a tendency to forget what it is like to struggle. Their ability to recall the difficulty in learning new concepts, at breaking down subject material into bite-sized chunks for students can in fact be a hindrance. This is vital in classrooms characterised with a range of learning needs from low literacy to ADHD combined with hormones, cell phones and an endless list of other potential barriers to learning in any classroom on any given day.

It is a well known fact that we are preparing students for jobs that don’t yet exist. That most of students will have not only more than one job but more than one career during their working lives and that those with a wide range of transferrable skills are most likely to succeed in a future where the pace of change is exponential. Yes, shift truly happens.

On the other hand, in some instances, it might be okay to be not just one page ahead but actually on the same page as students. A focus on inquiry-based learning in New Zealand’s curriculum, which has become almost modus operandi in our primary schools, endorses this approach. Multiple pathways to accessing, processing and synthesising new information have made it acceptable to trek the learning path alongside our students – and that in itself can have benefits for student-teacher relationships. It allows students see us as human and therefore fallible too. This is especially the case with digital technology. (Who hasn’t used a 14-year-old as their ICT go to in a classroom?!)

At the end of the day, it is how we use and share our knowledge that has the potential to make a difference to students’ lives. Pedagogical content knowledge means being aware of different teaching strategies, being able to adapt and employ them, accepting that one size does not fit all and, like our students, not being afraid to try again if things don’t work out as we anticipated the first time around.

It’s a real shame that the decision makers in New Zealand seem so far removed from the daily realities of teaching. The current obsession with more bits of paper (proof of knowledge) highlights the gap between what the general public believe makes effective teachers and the diverse skill set teachers actually require to succeed.

When I chose to become a teacher five years ago, I had plenty of knowledge in my chosen subject areas backed up by 17 years industry experience.  What I didn’t have were the skills to share my knowledge (and experiences) with my students. After four years teaching and learning in four different schools, I’m getting there but the beauty of teaching is we can never know everything while our skills in student-centred learning environments, by definition, must be constantly developing. Surely this in itself makes us if not good role models than at least good ambassadors of the life long learning philosophy espoused in the New Zealand Curriculum?



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Ensuring pedagogical practice gives more than a nod to diversity and inclusive practice is inherent in twenty-first century teaching in Aotearoa/New Zealand. We’ve come a long way from the bad old days of deficit educational practices yet still our Maori and Pasifika learners languish at the bottom of achievement tables (if that’s to be the measure of success), boys are slipping behind girls, New Zealand is more multicultural than ever before and there are growing calls for teachers to be (at the very least) more aware of the needs of LGBT students.

I grew up in the 70s in New Zealand when “Girls Can Do Anything” was a common catch-phrase. So when I attended an all girls’ school in the 80s, there was a huge push for us to study maths and science. My former classmates now sit on boards of global food producers, head police stations and run their own businesses – many while doing a stunning job raising their own children.

I’m not sure if it was a direct result of the focus on girls’ academic success or the teaching and learning environment in the 80s and 90s or a combination of those factors but the result appears to have been a comparative slide in boys’ academic success with many schools now taking a long, hard look at how they can  better meet the needs of young male learners. More hand wringing, more studies, more strategies.

And in New Zealand, where our bi-cultural status is enshrined in the Treaty of Waitangi, a document whose articles and principles are studied, analysed and reflected on by all teacher trainees, there have been numerous policies developed aimed at raising the achievement of the tangata whenua, Maori learners. These have met with varying degrees of success probably because it is so difficult to separate the Pandora’s Box of factors outside the classroom impacting on the success of our Maori learners from teaching practice. Now the focus is shifting to our Pasifika learners. On top of that, our classrooms are increasingly diverse in terms of gaps caused by the digital divide and a growing awareness of meeting the needs of LBGT students.

In The Professional Practice of Teaching (McGee and Fraser, 2008) Barbara Whyte suggests four basic principles for working with diverse students:

  • know the students you teach
  • know yourself
  • teach with the student’s ethnicity
  • develop cross-cultural understanding

With so many factors outside a teacher’s control, knowing yourself is vital. Teachers are humans. Each one brings their own unique learning and life experiences to the classroom.  If you can reflect on what has shaped your teaching and learning style, and recognise that we all need to modify the way we do things because none of our learners are the same and probably none will share the same experiences we did, then we can go a way to meeting diverse needs. Self-awareness is a great tool to bring to the classroom. As Whyte notes: “The confidence that comes with being secure in one’s own ethnic and self-identity can go a long way to create and maintain an accepting an environment.”

It can’t be taught but the more I think about it, the more I’m convinced that our attitudes are key to meeting learners’ needs.


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So what does it mean to me to be a connected educator? As an English teacher, I started with the dictionary and confirmed my suspicion that connected meant unified, joined or linked. So far so good. But did the blogsync  challenge mean connected strictly in a digital sense or were they seeking broader reflections?

Coffee time. A connected educator for me means so many things. I definitely need to connect with my students. Know them as people, their likes, strengths, (a bit old hat) learning styles. I’ve also learned it’s helpful to connect with family/whanau. One short phone call to give feedback on progress or discuss any concerns is far less scary than I’d imagined. As a parent, these are the interactions I expect from my sons’ teachers. The learning process is a partnership between home and school – has to be. Being connected also means linking with colleagues. I’ve often heard it said in schools (mainly during in-house PD sessions) that we teach in silos and need to reach out more, share ideas, discuss experiences. This segues nicely into being connected digitally and Connected Educators Month which promotes connecting with colleagues around the world.

These ruminations funnily enough took back to the CEM starter kete. Should have started there. Beautifully summarised is the event’s purpose “together we can be stronger and move on the digital technology pathway in a shared, collaborative approach.” Ah. So digital is in fact key.

Onwards then to the Connected Educator Manifesto where previous participants shared their vision on being connected. Here I struck gold in the preamble which clearly states connected learners collaborate online via social media, engage in conversations in online spaces and take what they learn back to inform their classrooms, schools, districts, and the world.

Key here for me was the phrase inform their classrooms. Back to the blogsync schedule of selected topics.  Oh yeah there is is – how has being a connected educator affected my work in the education. So if you’ve managed to read this far (yes Chris and Karen – too long I know), here’s the rub.

I became a secondary teacher five years ago. My year training provided a rare (though costly) luxury in that I was able to explore a range of online technologies, immerse myself in the NZC, set up wikis, blogs, make prezis I could use later and generally have a good play. I fully believe that’s where a lot of the angst comes from in New Zealand secondary schools around digital technology. There just isn’t the time for teachers to play, to find out what works for them and their learners. And then if they do take the plunge, there next to time to share.

The other issue we have in terms of informing our day to day classroom activities is access to technology. Now I don’t mean to rain on anyone’s parade here but I’ve had conversations with many teachers working in state secondary schools and most are in the same position. Three-four labs to be shared among 800 odd students. Laptops that can be booked but generally have to be priortisied for senior assessments. BYOD doesn’t ensure level playing fields but is a step in the right direction.

At the weekend I attended a high school reunion. Amongst our crowd were several teachers, all primary bar me. One observed that she felt secondary schools were “slow to get on board’ with inquiry based learning. She’s right but it’s not down to teachers. Many of use still teach in box shaped rooms with rows of desks squeezed in, little or no access to technology other than a data projector and assessment conditions defined by NZQA. I’m not saying it’s impossible to be a connected educator in such environments but it is more challenging.

What I have managed to use successfully includes:

  • LMS – wikis, moodle, ultranet
  • Facebook groups – for senior revision
  • Blog – junior wide reading, used library sessions to set up and then offer ongoing assistance if no computer at home http//:taierihotreads.wordpress.com
  • Pinterest and Scoop.it – topic specific information
  • Read, write, think – great interactives for writing and detailed lesson sequences
  • Quizlet and Spelling City – apps, the year I taught a trial iPad class. Bliss.
  • Socrative – app for revision
  • TedTalks – all the time, speech topics, creative writing
  • Simple Mind and Big Mind – brainstorming apps
  • Evernote and Dropbox – apps for document sharing
  • Showme and Prezi – topic specific presentations as starters or for revision

Aside from specific apps, sites and online tools, the biggest thing I bring back to my classroom through stepping out of the silo is a sense of purpose and excitement about the possibilities that exist to learn in a connected world. So where to? I’ll keep sharing, keep talking to strangers (drives my kids nuts but it’s in the manifesto so clearly, it’s a good thing), keep exploring and playing. And I’ll definitely keep hoping that one day, the allocation of resources needed to make the visions inherent in the NZC become a reality for all our learners.


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I’m sure a collective sigh of relief graced the classrooms of many schools around the country a week ago as the third term (aka the term that ends in a whirlwind of reports, assessments, deadlines and in our case, preparation for a major rebuild) stormed to an abrupt close.

So really, you’d think the last thing on anyone’s mind is … school but that’s where educators constantly amaze me. Not only have I found myself drawn into a virtual vortex of professional learning and development (reflective journal anyone?) this week but despite my initial misgivings, I have found the launch of Connected Educator Month and its associated smorgasbord of seminars to be rejuvenating in many ways. And the best thing is, I can take part from home!

So far I’ve listened via a webinar to a wonderful collection of stories from New Zealand educators about our success in using technology to enhance learning opportunities across the board. Through this, I heard more about the e-learning planning framework straight from the Ministry and been introduced to NetNZ via Trevor Storr. Amazing to hear what others are doing at the chalkface as well as getting the big picture view.

I’m currently listening to the launch of #blogsync, a project inviting New Zealand educators to share posts throughout the month on a range of topics including Diversity and Inclusive Practice and Student Agency and Voice. #blogsync enables members to blog on an elected topic each month on their own platforms but publishes links to all others educators blogging on the same topic. The aim to to encourage deeper level analysis than 140 characters in a tweet allows. Posts are shared allowing a long form conversation to develop. And in a first, I’m doing so using google hangouts – fantastic! What a great way to present online conversations, run revision sessions with students, share information and connect with others.

Tomorrow I’m logging into a session run out of the States on using technology in quick writes and next week, I’m going to hear more about NZQA’s plans to carry out assessments digitally. I’ve also signed up to find out how to become a social ninja? My kids are quite intrigued by that one. The schedule is exhaustive (literally and metaphorically I’m sure) but rest assured, once you sign up, regular reminders keep you organised. Possibly picking one or two sessions a week is more realistic for most of us.

And why? When the sun is shining and the kids are home and there are essays to mark and lessons to plan would I add another thing to the to do list? Because I know this will inform my teaching next term and beyond. Because I owe it to my students to discover new ways to teach and learn and because teaching can be extremely isolating. Teachers work so hard and there are such huge demands on our time meeting everyone’s needs that sometimes, it’s easy to forget to set time aside to critically reflect on why we’re doing what we do.

As I type this post, Christpher Waugh (ex Mt Aspiring College) is presenting the #blogsync launch. He’s reiterated the importance of using technology to connect with colleagues and learners.  Maybe he’s preaching to the converted but even the converted need inspiration.

So my advice is get online, give it a go and get connected.

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