Our Incredible Normal

We have the technology now to learn from the best teachers in the world.

We can access our PLN from almost anywhere, through synchronous and asynchronous technologies.

Today, our students need personalized learning options. Our teachers need to learn according to personal and professional interests.  Our leaders need to be able to consult with experts, and meet their own learning needs.  And all of this is simple with a strong Professional Learning Network, and access to digital tools.

In fact, for many educators, this is their normal.  It’s how they work in 2016.

Today I had the privilege to speak to educators at #depd in Ottawa (Discovery Education) as my PLN mate Paul Maguire was presenting and sharing how to connect with other educators through voxer.

Dean Shareski captured part of the conversation in this tweet:

I was thrilled to hear how clear it was, because up here on the north shore of Superior, I was in a torrential rainstorm during a power outage and I was using my car charger to keep my phone battery charged while hoping the cell coverage would remain intact!

But even with all of that, I was able to talk to the crowd gathered in Ottawa.

Incredible is our normal.

For many of us, it has been our normal for a decade or more.

Our creative, curious, bright children can access the best teachers in the world with our help.  Let’s make sure every one of them can.  Their access to the best instruction should not depend on geography or classroom teacher.

And let’s encourage all educators, including our leaders, to build extensive, rich professional learning networks where they share learning, cultivate relationships, build their understanding of digital environments and establish a positive online identity.

Our physical and digital worlds are now one.  Our learners need to be able to flow between them, and thrive in both.

 

Featured image by Donna Miller Fry: CC-BY-NC-SA-2.0

The Pallisades.  Hwy 11 north of Nipigon, Ontario, at sunrise, late August, 2016.

Most Urgent Student Learning Needs

What are our most urgent student learning needs?

This question is at the centre of tables around the province as boards and schools go through their new school and board improvement process (SILC: System Improvement Learning Cycles).  The new process, evolving from the former BIPSA process, is more agile (faster cycles), more targeted, and more responsive to student needs. The focus is on system improvement, which requires change at every level of the organization, but is only effective if it reaches the level of the student “desk”.

I have two wonderings about the new process.

  1. Where in this process is there an opportunity to truly look outside our walls and see what is happening in the world?  Our urgent student learning needs are not just tied to trailing data on past learning priorities. As the world changes at an exponential rate, who is determining what our students will need to thrive in that world?

“Being willing to constantly disrupt our individual and collective mindsets, if we are to come to terms with the needed disruptions that must occur in our own organizations if we are to truly unentrench ourselves from the status quo thinking that often buries us in practices of the past.

Seeing how ‘next’ practices are also in need of ‘next’ metrics if we are to pivot effectively towards this emerging and more desirable future we envision for ourselves and our organizations.”

David Culberhouse, Sept. 12, 2016

2. Urgent student learning needs are personal.  Every child, every adult in the system has personalized needs that cannot be determined by “average” thinking.

Our thinking, connected teachers, when they have a deep understanding of curriculum expectations, can design personalized learning for every child/student.  Creating this environment for our learners requires a foundation of connectivism thinking.  Teachers need to be able to access and participate in a rich network of support, and use this network to support the individual learning needs of every student.

How are we supporting educators to self-direct their learning through their own Professional Learning Networks?

“…it will not only be individuals that will need to become adaptable learners, remaining agile to our exponentially shifting world we now live in…so must our educational organizations if they are to remain significant, dynamic, relevant hubs of learning, innovation and transformation in the face of these seismic shifts and changes.”

David Culberhouse, August 13, 2016

 

We need to ask ourselves, “What evidence do we have to support the hypothesis that the most urgent learning needs of our students can be found in our data?”.

 

Featured image by Darren Kuropatwa CC-BY-NC-SA-2.0

Emotional Uncertainty in Exponential Times

I’m not sure how to share this experience because it is new, intense and raw, and writing is the way I try to sort things out.  So please bear with me.

How do we describe and define the intense feelings we experience when we see people we care about, colleagues in our profession, working their fingers to the bone at tasks that just don’t matter anymore?

Exponential change is our reality, yet many of our institutions continue to work hard to be exceptional at what mattered yesterday.

Picture yourself at work, and suddenly the discussion turns to whether term “flip phone” should have a hyphen or not.  If we argue this for even a single minute, we have missed 347222 Tweets, 2.4 million Google searches and 701389 Facebook logins.  Nobody cares about flip phones or flip-phones or how you spell it any more, yet  discussions this meaningless can consume our days.

We can be so busy at irrelevant tasks that we completely fail to take notice of how quickly the world has abandoned any interest in what we are doing.

As we strive to understand and embrace exponential change, recognizing this commitment to irrelevance in others creates an intense intersection of sadness, defeat, frustration, isolation and the irresistible desire to escape.

It’s coming to terms with the fact that a compelling case for change may not exist for these dedicated educators – the realization that the past is too entrenched, that beliefs are not going to shift, and, sadly, that you are no longer part of this tribe.

Or maybe that they still believe in certainty.

We have to know when it’s time to run, and begin again.  Maybe this emotional intersection is that sign.

Featured image by Stephen Downes CC-BY-NC-SA-2.0

 

 

 

Well, Yes I Am

Have you ever driven to your school on 3 hours of sleep, sucking back coffee all the way, mentally rehearsing lessons and memorizing “to do” lists, knowing it would be a line-up at the photocopier and wondering how you could get everything done before the bell?

screen-shot-2016-09-07-at-11-42-57-amDoes teaching have to be frantic?

We can be sucked into believing that planning and lessons must be perfect, that children are there to managed and get their heads stuffed, and that our work never ends.

Is this best for kids?

Who do we want in front of our kids?

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We’re teaching children, not content.

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In my very first student teacher placement 30 years ago, the SERT said to me, “Think about what you want to accomplish, then go to bed.  I need you rested, calm and responsive to these children.  They will need you at your best all day (all week, and all year).

They don’t need this.

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Mental Health as a Priority: What’s Digital Identity Got to Do With It?

Recently I have been fortunate to be asked to present at two different venues (Refresh2016 in North Bay, and the DSBONE Professional Learning Day) on the importance of understanding how digital identities impact mental health in teens, and where we as educators can find resources.

Here are the reading slides for this topic.

Learning to Podcast

Podcasts have been a primary source of professional learning for me for many years. I have always wanted to use this tool, and this week, I found two teachers in WRDSB who use podcasting regularly.

Karen Blaak uses podcast conversations with her father to set the themes for her online English 3U course.  The personal narrative and vulnerable stance appeals to students.

Carlo Fusco openly shares his process of capturing voices of the people he learns with.

Both of these talented and dedicated educators inspire me to really think about how I can more effectively use podcasting in my work.

My podcast with Carlo can be found here.

 

I look forward to listening to the podcasts with other educators I learn with here:

Jamie Reaburn Weir

Herman Kwan

 

Featured image from Carlo Fusco’s Podcast: Shift+Refresh+Me

A New Rhythm for Learning

Note: CATC (Computers Across the Curriculum) Camp is a Professional Learning Opportunity for Educators in Waterloo Region District School Board.  About 125 teachers meet at the Kempenfelt Conference Centre each summer to share and learn about how to integrate technology into their curriculum and to use technology effectively in their practice. This year we celebrate their 25th year of learning in this way.

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Drone video via Herman Kwan @educatorkwan https://twitter.com/educatorkwan

 

It goes like this: We eat a wonderful meal – often out on the patio – then the music beckons us to the auditorium for “News Time”.  In a high energy fashion, we compete for prizes, we get updated on things like OSAPAC products, and most importantly,  we get asked:

What else do you want to learn?

There are about 12 rooms that act as centres, with facilitators who scaffold learning around coding, makerspaces, online learning, GAFE tools, 1:1 Chromebooks, etc.

But when we identify something else we want to learn, it gets organized in minutes.

Today, someone asked to learn more about the online assessment tool, FreshGrade. After a few questions from the coordinator, a decision was made to host a session at 11:00 on online assessment tools in general.  I volunteered to organize it.

Alison Bullock organized a GHO with a vendor rep and designed a Google form to collect questions.  David Pope volunteered to share his experiences.  Mark Carbone volunteered to speak about privacy of student information.

At 11:00, about 25 teachers arrived and we had a rich discussion about all of the considerations involved in choosing the right online assessment tool.

And it was just that fast.

We wanted to learn more about Assessment. Volunteers gathered the learner questions through open Google forms by tweeting the link.  The experts were brought in physically or through GHO.  A time and place was established.

We had a rich discussion, a screenshare demo of possibilities, and we walked away so much better informed about what is available, and the considerations we must make before implementation of online assessment tools.

This “identify the need – organize the resources – learn more” rhythm is becoming pervasive in professional learning.  We now have the tools to respond to learning needs, not just with information, but with human resources, with organizing tools, and with synchronous learning tools.

Our classrooms can have this rhythm.

Interest -> questions -> organize -> bring in experts -> discuss.

A child who reads Moose (by Robern Munsch) with her parents at bedtime might have many questions about moose the next day.  The teacher can organize a Google Hangout or Skype call with a moose expert to answer questions for the child.

We have the tools to respond immediately to  learning needs,  and to further develop interests and passions.

We need a new, responsive, rhythm for learning that has at its core, the ability to grow an individual’s motivation and desire to learn even more.

 

by Donna Miller Fry (@fryed)