April 2012

Ooh, a long time since the last post but it has been a busy term and now it is the holidays I have a bit of time to catch up on reading.  The content in this blog resonates with me and sort of follows on from my previous post. http://mgleeson.edublogs.org/2012/03/10/when-it-comes-to-technology-teachers-need-as-much-scaffolding-as-students/ I am  the “IT Teacher Coach” at my school.  In short, this means that I am often only one or two steps in front of some of my colleagues and probably several steps behind others! However, the upside is that I have 6 hours of dedicated time a week which gives me some opportunity to do some research and be able to help and support my fellow teachers using and integrating technology and Web 2.0 tools in their learning programmes.  I also lead an “elearning” group as part of our Professional Development programme and Reflective Practice and am trying to work out the best way to facilitate this group.  They are all willing conscripts and very keen to learn how to develop their own expertise and how they can implement the tools into their lessons, but the constant reprise is the lack of time.  We are luckier than most teachers in that we have 30 minutes each week dedicated to PD but by the time we leave our classes, get to the designated room and assemble we are down to maybe 20 minutes and it is never enough – our discussions often go well into lunch time. Last term we spent most of the time discussing the benefits of blogging and so I asked my colleagues to set up their own blog as part of learning more about what blogging is all about – my argument being that if teachers don’t know how to blog, how can we expect our students to do it and what is the point anyway? I provided them with several links to other blogs and to blogs that blogged about the benefits of blogging and It led to some robust discussion!  I am hoping that they have all had time this holiday to add some posts to their own blogs and reflect on how they could help their students in their learning.  So what about next term?  Well, I would like to look at the benefits of using Social bookmarking to share resources between colleagues and students.  We have an LMS at school and one of my aims is to encourage more teachers to use this with their students.  I think it is important that the teachers know how this can work to their advantage as well as to their students’ advantage. So as part of the group I have set them up with a virtual classroom and am showing them the tools that they can use.  At the end of last term we briefly looked at using the Quiz Box and Evaluation tools to get the students to reflect on what they had learned and for the teachers to find out how much the students had learned.  I have been using this tools with my classes for a while and have refined the sort of questions to ask to get the most effective answers although I would still not regard myself as any sort of expert in this area. However, I made the basic error of forgetting how much learning I have done over the last two years in this regard and blithely talked about how easy it is to set these quizzes up quickly flicking through the quiz on the Whiteboard and expecting my colleagues to keep up. This is not something I would do with my classes so why should I expect to do it with my colleagues? I realised when they asked me what sort of questions to ask and how to set it up and “could they have a template?” that I really need to think again about how to approach these sessions.  I am keen that they are collaborative, discursive, interactive sessions, that I am the “guide on the side” and not the “sage on the stage”, but I also realise that in such a short time when my colleagues are pushed for time between timetabled classes, tutorials, writing reports, preparing lessons and marking work, I maybe have to do a bit more directing. Maybe I have to scaffold the sessions more and maybe I also have to push for more time to be made available for teachers to learn the skills that we are expecting our students to have.  Yes, kids today have lots of technological know-how but they don’t necessarily know how to use it most effectively for their learning.  Teachers need to also understand how they can use technology to effectively for their own learning and professional development and in their teaching.

Registered Teacher Criteria – a crisis of our time?

After four years teaching in NZ I am still getting my head around Registered Teacher Criteria – these are a set of hoops that every teacher in NZ has to jump through every three years to prove that they are teaching effectively and to have their teacher’s licence renewed for a further 3 years. Now, don’t get me wrong, I think it is essential that as a profession we are accountable, that we demonstrate that we are continuing to develop, improve and update our skills.

At a recent conference I went to Eric Frangenheim used a memorable and very pertinent illustration by way of giving us an argument to encourage our more reluctant colleagues to embrace change. Imagine if you went to the dentist and you were faced with a surgery full of equipment from 20 years ago, and a surgeon who used techniques from 20 years ago – what would you think? Would you turn around and walk out and go and find a dentist with more up to date equipment? Would you think, well it doesn’t matter, it worked then so it’ll be fine now? I’m guessing that you would be pretty shocked and would soon be out of the door looking for a more forward thinking dentist who was keen to embrace new ideas for the benefit of his patients. Nobody is saying that “old-fashioned” techniques don’t work any more, they are just saying that they can be embedded and blended with new ideas and we can make use of new technology to enhance those techniques in the classroom just as we would expect dentists, doctors, vets…. to do.
As with many professions there is a fee to pay for the privilege of proving our competence. Whether you believe that we should have to pay or not is another issue.  Fortunately, the school where I teach reimburses us our registration fees, but I know that some don’t. It is also quite a complicated process; on the face of it, it would seem to be common sense, you build a portfolio of evidence of how you embed the 12 criteria into your teaching programme and your professional development. They are good, well-grounded criteria; everything, in fact, that most teachers strive to incorporate into their teaching. You have three years to do this and you can concentrate on different criteria at different times if you want to although most of them are over-arching. It should be stuff that we are doing all the time as effective teachers so there shouldn’t be any extra work, should there? In essence there isn’t, because most teachers I know are keen to improve their skills, update their knowledge and their practice, do their best for their students, the school community and develop personally and professionally.
However, that is not the nub of the issue – the crisis comes in with the whole “portfolio of evidence” part of it. In practice, when as teachers, do we have time to sit down and collate the evidence of how we work, some of which is pretty nebulous and subjective? Many of us reflect on our lessons subconsciously; that didn’t work with that class so I’ll try it another way next time, or that worked well, I’ll mentally file that and use it again; that class was a bit restless today, what was I doing wrong or was it just the end of the day/week/term?; I must remember to be aware that they come to me after Drama/Art/Maths….and that has an impact on their attitude. What we have to get into the habit of doing is actually recording those thoughts somehow so that we can prove that we are being reflective in our practice. That is the hard part, that is the part that we find difficult to find time for, that is the part to which we (well, some) are resistant.
So, how can we make that process as painless as possible and as easy for teachers to manage in the limited time they have available? Well, that depends on the individual and how they work. In my experience, there will be teachers who complain whatever they are asked to do; it is human nature – there is a percentage of the population in any walk of life who will complain and I am sure you have all come across them! They usually do what they have to in the end but just make a lot of noise about it on the way! There will be others who just get on with it in their own way; that way might be efficient use of their time or it might not. There will be others who actively seek new or different or more effective ways of recording their reflections and evidence in order to save time and make their lives easier. The latter are those who need little help or advice, the former need to be cajoled and encouraged to find effective ways of working – and maybe some of them have to be dragged kicking and screaming! The ones in the middle are the ones that usually welcome a helping hand; they are keen to learn new methods to document evidence to help them save time.

However, what seems to be causing a lot of stress just now is the emphasis on digital portfolios and the push in schools to be 21st century teachers and use the tools of the 21st century. We are being encouraged to create portfolios for our students for their NCEA coursework (or to get them to create their own and manage them!) but many of us do not use them ourselves. How can we possibly teach or expect students to do something we have no knowledge of ourselves? But when do we have time to experiment, to try new things out, to reflect, to learn how to do things, to change our outlook and our perspective on the way we have always done things? We snatch the odd hour here and there, are enthused by a lecture or something we read or are shown and then the next moment we are swamped by the next coursework deadline, a Parents’ Evening, reports to write, marking, lessons to plan, lessons to teach, schemes of work to write, parents to email/phone, staff meetings, HoD meetings, and the enthusiasm is gone. There is little time to acquire new skills and even less for consolidation of what we have learned…and then we are asked to jump through some more hoops, tick some more boxes, prove that we are good teachers, demonstrate that we are striving to develop our practice.
I don’t have definitive answer, sorry! I am lucky in as much as I don’t have a full time teaching load, so I have fewer classes that need to be reflected on! However, I am pretty much full on in the other areas of my work so my time is also precious, but part of my role and my time allowance is to explore the options that technology has to offer teachers by way of enhancing their classroom pedagogy and assisting them in their professional development. I have the pleasure of working alongside them and helping them and I have the luxury of being able to use some of that time allowance “experimenting” (which is how I have time to sit here and write this blog!).
I have several blogs on different sites with much the same content on them so that I can see how different platforms work and advise my colleagues as to which they might prefer. Our school is pretty much Microsoft driven so I have been using Onenote for the last few years to plan my lessons, gradually refining the way that I plan by linking documents, videos, sound files and websites to my lesson plans. I keep the previous year’s lesson plans and often go back to them to see where I was up to at the same point the previous year with a year group and to remind myself what activities I did. I found that although that record was there, I couldn’t always remember whether it had worked well or whether I had run out of time. So this year, driven by those thoughts and the new improved RTC system I started to also include a review of each lesson and how it had gone (when appropriate). I have found it quite a cathartic exercise, and also extremely helpful for my planning. It has really made me think about the way I teach the classes that I have and how I can adapt my methods and introduce new ideas. As I said earlier in the post – as teachers we do this subconsciously but actually writing it down made me think so much more deeply.
Since then I have discovered Springpad; Springpad is a web based note taking tool which is also available as an app on my Android phone (I think it is also available for iphones/i-pod touches). I don’t have Office on my home computer so couldn’t use Onenote. I tried the web-based version of Onenote and couldn’t get it to work properly on my home computer – probably my incompetence but I just found it too complicated so googled for an open alternative and after a little bit of research of the myriad suggestions found that Springpad suited me best. I love it! Now I have notes for all my classes, as well as for lots of other things as well, I use it for reviewing lessons, making notes in meetings and saving docs.

But what has all this to do with Registered Teacher Criteria, teachers’ lack of time, portfolios? Well I think it is a pretty good way of easily collecting evidence for your RTC portfolio. Think about it – you can plan your lessons on it, you can review them, you can add the worksheets you use in the lesson, you can add your schemes of work, you can take photos, videos and record sound of your class in action (even easier if you use the mobile app as you can do it directly from your phone and it automatically attaches the photos/videos/recordings to the note of that lesson plan), you can add your markbook and assessments and even student reports. All in one place. Just need to change some mindsets now….

Update: October 2016 – Springpad ceased to exist a couple of years ago so I exported all the information into Evernote.  The school I was working in then, like many has moved to G Suite so documenting evidence is now even easier!!

More musings on Appraisal

I have just had my first meeting with my Learning Buddy.  As part of the Appraisal Team we have been talking about the whole system for more than a year now, but it has somehow been a sort of abstract concept which seemed to have lots of merits even if it did look like it would be a lot of extra work.  Now that I have actually started the process it has prompted me to reflect a little more on what we have been talking about for so long!   We have been looking at refining/modifying/improving the whole process of Appraisal and Attestation.  The two words (Appraisal and Attestation) need defining and nobody seems to have a really clear idea of the difference between the two.  As a group we have tried to make a distinction between the process of Attestation which is necessary for teachers in New Zealand to renew their practising certificate and is, in effect, a tick box exercise to prove that we are capable teachers,  and Appraisal, which we feel is more how we develop our skills to improve our teaching and our students’ learning.  We think that this should be a robust process but its aim should not be to “tell” somebody else how to do something, it should not be hierarchical and it should not be threatening. We work with our peers, someone we have chosen because we either feel comfortable with them, or because they have skills which we feel can be useful to us in our quest to improve ourselves.  We can share ideas, hold up a mirror for them to reflect on their practice and the can do the same for us.  We can observe and describe their practice in the classroom but encourage them to come up with answers to their own questions.  This is not easy, we are trying to come to terms with the idea of Learning Conversations – for too long we have been used to asking someone for advice on how to do something, waiting for someone to tell us the “best” way to do it – listening, describing and reflecting are not necessarily things we are comfortable doing.  Yet, that is what we are asking our students to do – the new curriculum requires us to encourage our students to be independent learners, learners who reflect on their mistakes, on their work, and who find their own solutions to problems with us on hand to guide them but not necessarily to tell them.  If we can’t reflect on our own learning, how can we expect our students to do it?  We have decided that Reflective Practice is a more appropriate title for what we are doing, we could also call it a Learning Journey, because that is exactly what we are doing – reflecting on our practice, going on a journey of learning.  It also separates it in our minds from the word Appraisal that is used by the Ministry of Education for the Attestation process.  Maybe going through this process ourselves might actually be the key to learning how to getting our students to be independent learners!