#28dayofwriting Day 5: Keeping it Real

First week of school for 2015 over!  Fortunately a short week, but a busy one.  I love meeting students for the first time. They are all excited and nervous and eager and reluctant all at the same time.  I wonder if they realise that their teachers often feel the same way?  What does the year hold?  What will I learn?  What will I achieve?  How will I fail?  Will I cope?  Will I inspire my students?  Will they inspire me?

Every year we have a theme for the year.  Last year was “Kotahitanga” which means ‘united” or “together”.  In fact for the last couple of years we have had a Maori word as our theme.  But our theme for this year is “Keep It Real”; Developing Resilient, Enterprising, Authentic, Learners.

logo for school them of the year "Keeping it Real"

Resilience (or resiliency) is a buzz theme at present in education, isn’t it?  Sometimes called grit, determination, picking yourself up, failing forwards, pluck.  Thesaurus.com gives these synonyms for resilience;  elasticity, bounce, flexibility, spring, stamina, staying power.   Then of course there are synonyms for each of those words but the idea of being able to adapt, to problem solve and to persevere is constant.  A necessity for living in the real world beyond school.

This year we have made the decision to go compulsory BYOD.  We also decided that we would not mandate a type of device except that it had to be equal to or larger than a 10″ screen.  Devices also have to be capable of using Google Apps as we are a GAFE school. Phones are permitted and welcomed in school for learning but have to be a secondary device.  This decision was made after two years of experimentation and exploration when students could bring devices if they wished.  Feedback from both students and staff was clear;  laptops and full sized tablets were much easier to manage for learning than smartphones.  Older students preferred laptops whilst younger students would rather use their smaller devices.  Some of the issue around handheld devices is that blurry line between whether a student is using the device for social and personal use or education and learning.  Teachers who are not comfortable with tech themselves are understandably unsure about how to handle it when students have their phones out in class.

hands holding smartphones to take a video of a pronunciation activity on a laptop screenSo my first full day of teaching was Year 9 ICT induction.  A day spent delivering the same lesson to 5 different eager Year 9 classes, with a mixture of devices; some shiny and new, some borrowed, laptops, tablets, Apples, Androids, Windows.  Some girls knew how to use their devices, some clearly did not!  First message; “Go home this weekend and learn how to drive your device!”

A fair degree of resilience was required, for all of us!  But we got there, working together.  I loved the way that they helped each other.  We have “Techy Angels” at school who run the techy stuff in Chapel for our Chaplain.  We also talk about “Digital Angels” in our induction lesson.  How can you help others who don’t know how to create a Google Doc or share a video or email a recording to a teacher?  How can you help a teacher who may not know as much as you and is feeling a little nervous about using technology?  There were plenty of “Digital Angels” ready to spread their wings last week.  Very heartwarming!

But it isn’t just our students who we are encouraging to “Keep it Real”, it is us too. The teachers.  In a high achieving school such as ours, with ambitious students, parents and teachers, the pressure is to succeed and that often leads to a non-risk taking approach.  The balance is difficult to reach – you can experiment but you also have to succeed. It was great, then, to hear our Principal giving the message to both staff (in our first meeting of the year) and to the students in their first assembly about aiming high but also being prepared to fail to move forwards.

A friend sent me a link to a paper written by “ETAG” The Education Technology Action Group chaired by Stephen Heppell.  I haven’t had time to read it in its entirety but this paragraph resonated loudly with me.

“This is an area (integrating technology into education and learning) where we would seek to shout out loud and clear that faced with the certainty of uncertainty and the constancy of change, the greatest risk, the most reckless course, lies in trying nothing new. We would and should expect occasional failure. Properly observed, professionally managed, collegially shared, a little failure is a necessary step in progress. Which is not to say that constant and abject failure is tolerable or useful. But in, for example, quality assuring an institution, an element of risk and discovery – of research – would surely always be a pre-requisite of the highest quality of practice in an educational organisation?”  

So, if you are feeling a little nervous at the start of a new year, with new initiatives, new students, new courses, take heart that it is ok to fail and “Keep it Real”.