27 January 2013

This is why...

Following hot on the heels of my last post that lead me to the conclusion that I do love what I do because, as came to realise, "how many people can say they have a truly positive impact on another person's life as often as educators do?" I received an email, completely out of the blue from an ex-learner. I taught her three or four years ago whilst working in the Middle East and have not heard from her since. She was stunningly beautiful and stood out in more ways than one. Her always unique and often inappropriate free-spirited ways made her one of the most memorable learners I have come across and I found it funny that she suggested I may not remember her. She felt the need to point out where and when I taught her, little realising the impact she had on those around her. She needn't have said more than her name. I know who she is exactly. I remember the day she left school, coming and hugging me because the comment I had written on her report was one of the 'nicest things any teacher had ever said' about her. The pleasure of this email comes both from it being totally unexpected and from knowing that it seems I made as much of an impression on her as she did on me.

"I confess you sort of came to mind when I stumbled upon Hurt - Johnny Cash on my iTunes playlist. You played that once in one of our Literature classes and I recall we asked you to play it again and again. I never got the chance to tell you that you were one of the most inspiring and amazing teachers I've ever had. It took me 3 years to realize that (better late than never right?). I want to take this chance to thank you, in some way you molded me to the person I am and the person I will become. You taught me English for 2 years and I have a profound respect for literature untill this day."

This is why I love what I do. I help to empower new generations to find who they are, where they might want to go and to go out into the world and be. This is why I put up with misunderstandings, criticisms and hurt. This is why I work too hard, think too much and live my job. 

This is why...

Caring NOT Scaring

I am lucky enough to live in a country that never suffers from the snow that seems to be blighting many of my friends, followers and PLN. With the knowledge that my February is going to be completely bonkers (I start my Flat Classroom Teacher Training Course, we have mock exams, I have to get all the Extended Essay documentation completed, all IBDP internal assessments need to be finished and paperwork submitted, a friend and her toddler is coming to stay, we have parents' evening and reports to write, plus I need to train for my next half-marathon), along with it being my hubby's birthday weekend, I decided to take Saturday to chill by the pool in the blazing sunshine and complete the reading for the virtual book club I have been taking part in. For the background on this see the following posts:

Professional Learning in the Digital Age gave me great insight and the confidence to go on during a time that has been challenging in many ways. Personally, money is tight as we have moved countries twice in a year and survived on one salary whilst my husband went back to school. Professionally, I feel like I have been on a roller-coaster; my confidence has been knocked at work recently as I have been criticised for what I thought was helpful behaviour. Having what you believe is a positive turned on its head into a negative has generally made left me feeling a little out of place.

To read this book and be encouraged that I am doing what other educators think is the right thing has helped me immensely during a weekend that started out with not enough money in the bank and my hubby still without work, whilst knowing there are great jobs out there for him but the breaks aren't happening. It makes life hard and it makes our future less stable as we moved here on the understanding he would find a job... Then I got to thinking about friends back home with two salaries and their own homes - but even still, when I thought about it I realised I would not change where we are. I think about my average day and am grateful. I think about today when I have had the luxury of sitting by the pool chatting with my husband while the sun shines and a cool breeze blows. I think about the wonderful kids I teach and how I am allowed to experiment with my teaching - and I would not change, I would not go back. I am grateful and despite seeming lack of support or misunderstanding of what I am doing, despite the criticism that arises from those who may be threatened, I try to understand. I try to see them as not yet enlightened into curation, reflecting and contribution or the fabulous world of PLN both virtual and real.

Kristen's book has given me the power and confidence to know I am heading in the right direction as well as give me lots of useful tips and tricks to help me on the way. She has encouraged me that "sharing is caring not scaring" and has given me the confidence to keep on keeping on. I will not stop. I will stay positive. I will share and hope that everyone becomes as blessed as I do to have the job I do and the motivation to keep on trying to be the best I can. I know I do my best, I know I try everyday to be the best I can for the kids in front of me. How many people can say they have a truly positive impact on another person's life as often as educators do? I cannot and do not ask for more.
Keep posted for my Blog on the final part of Kristen's trinity, 'Contribution', something I am trying but has been what has caused me some heartache recently, as discussed in this post.
Images thanks to:

21 January 2013

Bare your soul: Reflecting & Sharing

"The act of finding resources and thinking about them changes your practice. The more exploring I do, the more I try, and the more I learn." 
Richard Byrne, author of Free Technology for Teachers quoted in a chapter about 'Reflection' in 'Professional Learning in a Digital Age' by Kristen Swanson.

Teaching is all about modelling."Reflection in a public space creates a transparency for learning that benefits education" in more ways than one - it creates a forum for educators and it also creates positive models for learners.

"Being transparent about our successes and struggles is an important behaviour to model for our students"; being honest and open - particularly laying bare our mistakes and inadequacies - can be something that educators find challenging but the advent of Google in the classroom means we cannot and are not the sage on the stage; tech-savvy learners (and even those who aren't particularly) are now able and willing to refute our claims in a split-second with powerful search engines that put the world at their fingertips. We must be able to admit when we don't know; we must be able to ask them if we are not sure; we must be able to share in the search process for clarification; we must let them know that learning is life-long and we are all fallible. Sharing our gaps, our ups and downs, creates an atmosphere of mutual respect and trust that allows them to feel safe and able to take more risks, which is what we want to cultivate in learners (and educators). Equally, if learners see we are going through the process of reflection, of essentially making meaning and generating understanding from our new information and curation, we are in a better position to request the same of them. We have no real right to ask them to put themselves out there in the arena if we are not willing to do the same.

My learners have access to my blog (parents do, as do colleagues and the world); I doubt many of them read it but that is not the point. I ask them to write and publish personal thoughts and reflections about their learning, their mistakes and their successes - and I share these with the world, through links to other classes in the school, to the community through links in newsletters, to other schools in the country, and beyond, out into the world through our Quadblogging partners. Therefore, I feel a responsibility to do the same.

Blogging has become my sanity, me new coping mechanism. After my second child, many issues from my past came out - as is often the case. My inability to let go and do too much at once manifest in sleepless nights with whirlwind thoughts scattered across my brain - and teaching lends the same problems. I was given the advice of having a notebook by my bed and when I awoke in the wee small hours with a million and one ideas and thoughts fighting against my need for rest, I was encouraged to write them down. I found the process of writing them down very helpful - my scattered thoughts found a place more real and tangible, they became more than thoughts and ideas and so they stopped their swirling. I find blogging very similarly therapeutic. I try to run home from school when I can; the hour I run is often the only time I spend alone and I am forced into my thoughts; however I consider this my thinking time and I do plan lessons; reflect on lessons and re-evaluate lessons during this time. Often I will get rid of frustration or upset and write blog posts in my head - some never make it beyond these initial stages, but often they do. I find the process of writing; of the physical act of putting the words down, a learning and reflecting process.

Blogging has become one of the best tools for me to improve upon my practise, evaluate my curated tools and evaluate where I am going in my journey. I encourage everyone to try it. Set up a blog and write. Even if you don't publish, write. Get the swirling thoughts out; think about your practise and organise your thoughts on the page. I guarantee it will help a lot of you reflect more closely on what your goals and ambitions are. Publishing is a little scary at first; I doubted anyone read me and wasn't concerned either way but now I am more. I feel it is my duty as an educator not only to reflect but to share. The world has become so much smaller we can learn from each other and help each other by curating, evaluating, reflecting and sharing.

Check out Kristen Swanson's book for some great blogs to read for inspiration and tips.

20 January 2013

Pearls of Wisdom

So far in my 2013 quest to:
a) focus my exploration of new tools in the 'Ten Tool Challenge', combined with,
b) my virtual book club experience with Professional Learning in the Digital Age', I have,
c) not done so well, particularly on a).

This month - and I swear I tried to focus - I have played around and am experimenting with:
  1. a Bamboo tablet
  2. Pearltrees
  3. YouTube video editor
  4. Flipped Classroom pedagogy
and on Friday, took possession of a belated Christmas present to myself - 

    5. a Google Chromebook

So - where to start???

Briefly, in response and compliment to the first focus of 'Curation', from the 'Professional Learning in the Digital Age' virtual book club, I choose Pearltrees...

I had never ever heard of this tool - and most often, things come into my radar even fleetingly; I usually will have read something or heard something about a tool when I get around to trying it, but this was completely new. How had I missed it? As 'Curation' was our first focus in the reading group, I decided to try it out, as I really need a method to store the myriad amazing articles and ideas my PLN allows me to come across daily. My current methods are haphazard and include a combination of Pocket, which I forget about, with Evernote, Google Docs and having a million tabs open that I never get around to reading.

Recommended - with grateful thanks - by Kristen Swanson in her book, Professional Learning in the Digital Age, Pearltrees has proved an awesome solution to my curation issues. Set up an account for free (there is a Premium account to purchase for upgrade if you want to) and you can attach a Pearltree extension to your Chrome Tool Bar (no, I will refrain from discussing my Chrome Book for now, other than to say - for $250, are you kidding, what is wrong with you? Go get one. Now).

Once your extension is installed, with one click, you can save useful sites to categorised (you decide) Pearltrees that can be as complicated or as simple as you decide. You can even share, collaborate and cultivate your Pearltrees with others. I love it so much I have over 40 'pearls' to cultivate my learning after only five days of use.

What I also love is that I can link my Twitter account to my Pearltrees account. Every Tweet I make throughout the day on my iPhone, is automatically saved onto a scroll bar in my Pearltree account, so when I log on in the evening, I have a record of what I found useful, allowing me to easily catalogue and curate my learning and research from each day.

I love it so much I shared it with colleagues in a departmental meeting this week. We have decided to try using it as a tool for sharing; we will have a department Pearltree for us all to contribute to and share to. I will let you know how that goes, but for now, I highly recommend getting an account for a collaborative, beautiful tool for curating your research in a peaceful fluid environment.

Go. Get out there. Create a PLN and take control of your learning. Collect, curate, cultivate.

13 January 2013

Take charge of your own learning this year!

Following on from my post about taking up the Ten Tool Challenge, I have just started reading and taking part in a virtual book club for a fabulous book, 'Professional Learning in the Digital Age' by Kristen Swanson.

From the start, this is a book that resonates with me on many levels and builds on approaches I was beginning to develop in my own practice. Its exploration of the ways adults learn and how educators can approach professional learning confirms and expands on many of my current beliefs - that we need to collect, consider and evaluate and share. One of my pet hates has always been professional learning that is outdated, repetitive, not relevant and a waste of my very precious time. Swanson states that "for adult learning experiences to be successful, learners should be aware of the intention of the activity. Instruction should be problem-based instead of content-based, and planning should be collaborative. Succinctly, adults must be engaged with the content and one another to accomplish vital tasks." No different to our classroom learners then.

I think that ALL educators ready to move into technology and ready to take charge of their own learning need to read this book. I would like to recommend it as a text that is user-friendly and not too packed with jargon for those who want to venture into the wonderful world of online learning for the first time, as well as those who need a bit more help in where to go next and how to fully utilise some skills already honed. It explains clearly and simply how to "become a curious learner who researches and collaborates with teachers at large" to build a professional learning network, curate resources, reflect on their suitability and begin contributing to complete the cycle of collaboration that the Internet now allows.

Week 1 asks us to read and think about 'Curation', one of the three elements of User-Generated Learning - the others being 'Reflection' and 'Contribution'. It posits that as educators, we have always been curators but our need to harbour every scrap of paper, worksheet, newspaper clipping and article we came across, saw us as curators working alone, unable to share effectively or find out what else what out there easily. As an international teacher, I had to surrender these curated files as I moved from one country to another, yet I feel more resourced and connected now than ever - due to the Internet. Swason suggests that the "most successful teachers learn from a combination of resources, including local communities, virtual communities, and research". It was the GAFE Summit Singapore last September that opened my eyes to PLN proper, and since then, Twitter has become my go-to for learning. Google Reader was something I also learned to use at the conference along with Flipboard, a brilliant tool that subscribes to Google Reader, Facebook, Twitter etc - all my go-tos in one easy place, creating my morning commute read. 'Professional Learning in the Digital Age' explains all these tools - and more - and is allowing me to take things a step further - in one afternoon in my hammock.

Conducting the launch of the book with a virtual book club is a brilliant idea that brings into practise what the books advocates. Appendices with useful links and tools make it a really useful jumping off point for newbies to the wonderful world of online learning networks. Each chapter also provides a to- do list of a few easy to manage tasks that can get even the most worried technophobe into the ether. From these first few chapters, I have already started building a list of new tools that I want to try out - and anyone taking part in the Ten Tools Challenge will easily find ten useful tools to trial that will have you curating, reflecting and contributing in no time.

Related posts:
Pearls of Wisdom (about curation)
Bare your Soul (about contributing)

12 January 2013

Ten Tools Challenge

Just now, I came across a Tweet asking me to take a Top Ten Tools Challenge. OK, so it wasn't asking ME directly, but it 'spoke' to me. I have tried very very hard over the past six months to pare down my trialling of new tools. I can spend a mere ten minutes on Twitter and end up with a million (OK, so I am a little prone to hyperbole today) new tools signed up for that I ened up coming back to a month or so later, trying to resign up, only to discover I already have an account but had forgotten about it or never found the time to try it out. So I limited myself to trying out a new tool seriously, at a rate of one per term and only once I had gotten the hang of it and its uses and limitations, was I allowed to try another. I did, almost, mostly, nearly, stick to this and it meant I really got the hang of Edmodo, Picasa, Blogger and Mural.ly last semester. Yes, I know, that is two per term, but it IS an improvement.
THEN, having just started my New Year ordering frenzy, and having just taken order of my first new toy - a Wacom Bamboo Touch & Pen tablet - this challenge arises. How perfect. It gives me a little more scope and will allow me some focus; trialling one new tool and blogging about it is a great way to channel my energies and share what I am experiencing with my learners.

For those of you who may be interested in taking part too, go HERE and add your Blog link to the comments at the bottom.

Ten tools in one year? Challenge accepted!