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May 2, 2017
Comments Off on Mid-Career Teacher

Mid-Career Teacher

I see it in the eyes of my students. I see it in the conversations I’m having with my colleagues.

I am no longer a new teacher.

I’m no longer the young buck in a school of old stags.

No one is looking at me and trying to decide if I’m a teacher or a student, anymore. (Ok, in reality, I don’t think that ever applied to me, only in my mind.)

I’m slowly coming to terms with the fact that I’m a mid-career teacher. Slowly.

But what does that really mean?

To me it means I’ve got experience to know when something works and when it doesn’t, but I’m also at risk of getting caught in the rut of ‘well, it worked last year’. It means I’ve got a shred of influence with my colleagues because they’ve seen me in action, but my perspective comes with the baggage of past statements. It means I’m settled at my school and yet, starting to look for ways to “change things up”.

I’ve even caught myself saying, “Students aren’t as _________ as they used to be.”

This is the point in a teacher’s career where they start getting offered fewer opportunities because they are no longer the upstart.

The realization that advancement means administration for many means this is the job you’ll be doing for the next twenty years. This is also the point where switching careers becomes the most difficult. You are “locked” into the job in many respects.

How does the system support teachers at all phases of their career cycle? But specifically, those of us who find ourselves in the murky middle?

Jun 24, 2016

The Myth of the Isolated Innovator

“I had this idea that would shake the foundation of education as we knew it. I told people, they laughed and turned away. It was me against the world. I was forced back into my corner, alone. My only option was to find the other isolated members of the innovators club and preach only to that choir.” –An innovative teacher

This is the going myth in educational innovation. The myth that innovators are isolated by their radical ways and that the majority of teachers are either too “stuck in their ways” to see the brilliance of the innovation or they’re too lazy to change their ways.

The more I read on creativity and innovation, the more I see that story we tell as self-serving cover. Rather than learning to communicate why the innovation is better for students, we resort to protectionism. We develop an air of superiority because we are so ahead of “them” rather than being uncomfortable.

I’ve felt this. I believed this myth.

I was wrong.

Seth Godin’s blog today reminded me that someone truly interested in changing the way things are done MUST be a cornerstone in the community. They must facilitate communication. They can not be a whisper in the hallways.

It is not enough to self-congratulate.

It is not enough to speak to the echo chamber.

It is not enough to blame the “traditional” ones.

It is not enough to close your door and think you are being radical.

We must work to disrupt the myth that innovators are isolated. This is my challenge to those of you who want to innovate to step into the arena despite your level of discomfort.

The only way to change is through people. Avoiding people changes nothing.

Recommended Reading:

Sep 24, 2015
Comments Off on A FitBit for Learning

A FitBit for Learning

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My mother has taken to wearing a FitBit to track her steps, her water intake, her sleep cycles all in an effort to stay healthy. She finds satisfaction when the little piece of plastic vibrates to celebrate her hitting 10,000 steps in a day. The presence of it reminds her to drink another glass of water. She can look at the data it provides over a day, a week, month or year.

I trained harder than ever for two Ironman races earlier this year. Every time I went for a run or ride, I linked into the GPS satellites and tracked my movement. I strapped on a heart rate monitor and stayed within set ranges. I used the data to focus my training on my aerobic threshold, rather than training like I have in the past by going full on every workout.

My students get into class and they have no FitBit. They have no heart rate monitor to focus their efforts.

They have me.

The data I give them is not enough. It is scattershot, often after the task is complete, and is not well-documented enough to really allow them to do solid data analysis.

How can we change that?

What data can they harness while working to increase productivity, flow, learning and progress?

What variables affect these things and how can I help them create the specific range that will focus their efforts?

———

At this point, I have asked them to try and track certain variables: time on task, breaks (even if they are minor daydreams), words written or pages read, happiness, the challenge of the task, who they are sitting beside, the music they are listening to, stress level, what they’ve eaten today, and how much sleep they had.

By gathering this data, I’m hoping to be able to start helping students make sense of their data in hopes that they can isolate the variables that affect (positively and negatively) their focus and productivity.

I’d like to work up to including outside data about quality of work, etc. I haven’t figured out exactly how to do this.

I want a FitBit for learning for my students. I haven’t totally figured out how to do this.

Any ideas?

Sep 18, 2015
Comments Off on Technology is Muddying the Water

Technology is Muddying the Water

PowerShift

I love how technology has changed things. I love how it democratizes knowledge. It gives access to information, but also to an audience which we could never have found.

Technology allows me to spout off into the abyss and potentially land on the ears of someone who needed reassurance, who wants to challenge me, who remixes my ideas into something better or simply who gets a chance to think. It gives us a chance to find and build community.

However, as the conversation continues to bristle around how to integrate technology into the classroom, I worry that the bigger narrative about change is being glossed over.

The change that matters is the immense shift in power around information, experts, ideas, ownership and feedback.

A new app can’t help with that.

Jan 16, 2014
Comments Off on Can She Choose Nothing?

Can She Choose Nothing?

I’m an advocate for choice in education. I think the more we can personalize the experience, the more relevant we become, especially in a knowledge-rich, democratized culture.

And so I proposed the idea that next semester in English class, I would have no “required” reading; meaning no “core” text, no “class novel”, nothing that isn’t chosen specifically by the individual student. Sure, I’d make recommendations, nudge students to challenge themselves with great books, etc., but nothing would be something everyone in the class had to read.

That’s not to say they didn’t have to read. I just wouldn’t compel them to read any one specific thing.

The logistics of the idea aren’t fully worked out in my head and I’m not sure if I’m actually ready to jump into it, but the idea is percolating.

no-thank-youThe biggest pushback to the idea is what if a student chooses to read nothing. What if she doesn’t like reading and so unless she is compelled, she won’t do it? My first instinct is to assume that she is probably not reading a compulsory text, anyway.

Sarah Le (@sarle83) wrote a great post about the reality of students pretending to read. (http://leslearning.blogspot.ca/2013/11/i-feel-duped-by-student.html)

My more thoughtful response is to use my relationship with the student, along with her understanding of the requirements of the course (curriculum expectations) to help her find/choose texts that she’ll enjoy. It could serve multiple purposes, obviously get a student who wouldn’t read to read something, but more importantly, building the personal relationship. It is a way for me to demonstrate to that student that I value them as an individual.

The other big pushback I got for this idea was around class discussions. How do you hold a class discussion when everyone hasn’t read the same source material? My response, you don’t. Instead you hold mini-discussion amongst people who have read texts that have similar themes. The class discussion model, although I love it, does often trend towards teacher-directed, with only select students participating.

Alas, it is an idea. It needs more development around how do you track reading? How do you keep students accountable? And, what if they still choose nothing?

But, there is a lesson in there too, isn’t there?

 

Nov 21, 2013
Comments Off on “Experimenting With My Son?

“Experimenting With My Son?

I don’t have kids of my own. It influences my teaching. The same way having kids would. I could argue I’m a better teacher because I don’t have kids. You could argue, I’d be better if I had kids. Both sides are equally valid and herein lies the conundrum.

I spoke with a parent today. He wanted to know about this “experimental classroom” that I was running.

“Let me get this straight,” he said, “you are experimenting with my son?”

And the reality of experimentation hits, these are all someone’s kid.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t treat them with some inhuman detachment. I care for each of them as someone’s kid. I want them each to succeed and grow. Yet, I believe in trying new things in the classroom which in turn may not work. I believe there’s value in trying something new. There’s value in failing. Churchill said, “Success is stumbling from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.” Students learn something even in failure.

However, this is the one shot these students have in this class. This is there one time through grade 10 English. What is the lasting effect of a miserable failed experiment?

Now the reverse is true, not trying something new could be a miserable failed opportunity for enriched learning. I understand that. The experiments are not willy-nilly. They are founded in some “educational research”, which I recognize is often contradictory/cyclical.

How do I reconcile these two aspects of an “experimental classroom”?

Nov 20, 2013

Please, Don’t Ruin Blogging

My students blog. Some with fervor, some reluctantly. It’s an attempt to find a means of authentic writing. Blogging works for me because it ties to the idea of writing for the sake of writing, not the sake of school.

This is my plea, please, don’t ruin blogging.

A teacher who has students write online on given topics for marks is not blogging. I’m not suggesting you don’t have your reasons for having a student do that, though I can’t think of any engaging reasons off the top of my head, please don’t call it a blog. Call it an online response. Or schlog (school log). Or make up a word with only one vowel, which seems to be the trend, like Tretr. But please don’t call it blogging.

Because it’s not that.

Blogging is an authentic means of communicating self to a community of readers that is developed organically.

That’s why I fear the use of blogging in a class. It can be an opportunity for a person to find their voice, their feet, and their tribe. If it is ruined by too much school (i.e. pre-determined topics, fixed criteria, marked, etc.) then we’ll have ruined another form of writing. Students will be so much more reluctant to give it a try on their own. They won’t understand that they have a voice to share with the world. They’ll think the only people who blog are in school. And the only people who read blogs are teachers.

Instead, I think blogging is personal. It is an opportunity to capture thoughts, feelings, analysis, around a specific idea that the writer chooses. I think a successful blogger is able to capture a reader’s interest and deliver interesting and engaging insights. Most blogs have a specific, personal and important niche market.

As for evaluation, the market determines the quality of the blog, not a solitary evaluator. The number of visitors, the comments, the feedback, retweets, are the evaluation of the blog.

If I’m not able to get people to read my posts, then I’m doing something wrong. It’s a balance between successful marketing, but also providing a quality product. I have to give readers a reason to read. If my only reader (the teacher) “has” to read, then what impetus do I have for producing original, interesting content?

According to Kelly Gallagher in his book, Readicide, by succumbing to schoolification we are killing/we have killed reading. Especially reading that requires us to wade through dense, poetic language.

Let’s not do the same to a writing form that allows for personalization. A writing form that democratizes media, opinion, analysis and insight. A writing form that doesn’t fit into a hamburger worksheet.

Please, don’t ruin blogging.

Nov 19, 2013

What’s Your Default Position?

At the beginning of my teaching career, I assumed the typical default teacher position, “No.”

“You want to work in groups when I want you to work individually? No.”

“You want to do a different assignment than this one? No.”

“Can you work in the hall? No.”

And so on, and so on.

Let’s be honest, ‘no’ as a default position makes sense. It makes order easy. Having thirty students in a room, in theory, is easy. Because of course, in theory, they are all at the same level, need the same attention, have the same motivation, etc., etc. The reality is that thirty students in a room are thirty people in room. Each with different needs, different baggage, etc., etc.

To make things easy for me, I relied upon the insistence of compliance. If everyone is doing the exact same thing, in the exact same way, in the exact same time frame, it’s simply easier to manage for me.

I hid my default position under the guise of “fairness”. It’s not fair for any deviation of what I want.

Sure, I said yes at times, but really it was usually because it worked for me too.

Instead it was ‘no’ to change. ‘No’ to student ideas. ‘No’ to difference. ‘No’ to chaos.

Seth Godin points out the truth of what “no” means:

What “no” means
I’m too busy
I don’t trust you
This isn’t on my list
My boss won’t let me
I’m afraid of moving this forward
I’m not the person you think I am
I don’t have the resources you think I do
I’m not the kind of person that does things like this
I don’t want to open the door to a long-term engagement
Thinking about this will cause me to think about other things I just don’t want to deal with

And so over the last couple years, I’ve made a conscious effort to change my default position. What if my default position was yes?

“You want to try something different? Yes.”

“You think this is boring? Yes.”

“You want to run with this? Yes.”

“You want to change the direction of my plans because of a movie/news article/book? Yes.”

The power of a different default position is that my students start owning what they are doing. They start owning the direction/decisions of the class. They start owning their time. They start owning their learning.

My classes are louder, crazier, less controlled. I’ve potentially got thirty students working on thirty different “assignments”. My evaluation doesn’t fit into an easy grid/weighting/mark calculation.

Is it better? I think there have been moments of joy, moments of revelation and more moments of engagement. If that’s better, than yeah, it is better.

Godin is right. Saying “no” is more often about me than it is about them. What’s your default position?

May 3, 2013

Waiting On The System To Change?

The system needs to change. It needs to adapt with changing times, changing students and a changing information paradigm. School needs to shift.

In my mind, it needs a radical tactical shift.

As I talk with other teachers, it seems that this is a universally accepted idea. The system needs to change.

John Mayer sings, “We are waiting on the world to change.” The problem is that year after year, as we sit and wait for a system that is adequately responsive, we lose another opportunity to get started.

Can teachers change the system? Are teachers system leaders?

On one hand, we are the front lines. We are the first person to deal with students and parents. We show up everyday and close the door. We have the utmost of control over the experiences of a student. Innovation and change can happen on a daily basis. We have the ability to radically alter how we approach learning, how we instruct, and how we assess.

Yet, the status quo is maintained. The change that happens is often minor. We haven’t seen any radical change since the dawn of the information age.

And the reason, because the system hasn’t changed.

This paradoxical relationship of change has stymied any lasting, important forward movement.

Teachers speak about a mistrust of administration, the Ministry and the support they’d have if they were to try something outside the box. Not to mention, the fear of trying something, failing and the lasting implication to the students under their care. For all the talk about trusting teacher practice and judgement, is there  All valid reasons for sure.

Though it isn’t enough. Change is needed.

I’m left questioning the likelihood of true systemic change. I’m left wondering if the acts of a single teacher, or even a radical group of teachers is really change. But, that doesn’t make me still want to try new things, challenge the system and encourage others to do the same.

I guess my question is, are you waiting on the system to change or being the change?

Mar 27, 2013
Comments Off on It’s Easy To Start Something

It’s Easy To Start Something

The starting is the easy part.

To start a blog, you need five minutes on Blogspot or WordPress and you’ve got a blog. Now, you can say you have a blog. You are doing it. But, of course, you’re not. You have to put in the time, day after day. You have to write, consistently.

In university, I was focused on sitting down and writing a novel. I did. I got started. I wrote the first three thousand words. I could now tell people, “I’m writing a novel.” I felt that was the accomplishment. I thought starting was enough. But years later, I only had 3000 words and a fading belief that “I was writing a novel.”

Last week, I started a podcast. (Just a Teacher Podcast) I was proud. I said, “Hey world, I started something.” It took me about fifteen minutes to record my first episode, another ten minutes of editing, five minutes to download the correct WordPress plugin, and before I knew it, it was done. I had a podcast. This week the reality set in. I’ve got to do again. And again to make it meaningful.

Starting is not enough.

Call it what you will, follow-through, resilience, discipline or whatever. That’s when it gets hard.

Yet, that’s when it matters. That’s what separates an idea with a product. That’s what separates an intention with delivery.

Don’t get me wrong, starting something is great. In fact, I’m always happier starting something and letting it fade away then having the idea festering. But the world will never be changed without the next step. Or the one after that. The world will never be changed by just the start.

I have to sit down and write the next blog post. I have to write the next chapter. I have to create the next episode. That’s when it matters. That’s when it counts.

It’s easy to start something, the next step is when it counts.

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