Connecting to the Past

Kate

Education is one of those rare things that almost all of us will have in common. We have all been to school! What that experience looks like and feels like may differ fro person to person, but learning something new is a universal experience.

I have been delving into my family tree with my grandmother over the years. One of her stories that was told to her by her mother got me thinking. This story connects five generations of women in our family…

Kate, my great-grandmother’s family are from Kent with that branch of the family tree traced back to this small village for over 400 years. They were agricultural folk, working on farms in the area where the entire family would help bring in the beets and potato crops in freezing weather before school each morning as the family income depended on that plot of land being harvested.

At one point my great-great-grandmother approached the village school because she was so concerned about the standard of education that her 9 children were being offered. This would have been the late 1880’s a time when I am sure women rarely ventured into meetings with those in authority or without their husbands –  but on this day she went to visit the principal at the village school.

On discussion of her concerns, which I assume was reading and writing, he told her that the school had been encouraged not to teach the children too much otherwise they would leave the farms and then there would be no one left to work the land. This amazing woman had a greater sense of social justice and knew she wanted more for her children’s future.

Needless to say her daughter, my great-grandmother Kate, did leave the farm and worked in service in professional households during her formative years. In these roles there was an expectation on her deportment, communication and education.  Kate eventually married an engineer and had returned from travelling the world building locomotives (at the turn of the century he worked in Argentina before trekking out of the jungle with a mule and a mate). During their marriage, Kate was the person who wrote all their business correspondence and no doubt kept the books. She instilled a love of reading in her children. Many of my childhood memories visiting my Nanna and her sisters include them sitting with large books in front of them. Even today, my lovely Nan at 88, still gets library books delivered each month and devours them all.

Education values can influence so many future generations, it becomes the ethos of how one operates, the life they strive for and what they aspire to achieve.

And here in 2014, I am a teacher, working with other teachers to achieve their career goals and to improve learning for students. I think back to my great-great grandmother bravely sitting in a school room after a hard day working in the fields, perhaps trying to hide her dirt ingrained hands in the folds of her best Sunday dress because she is worried her children’s future was being compromised. I wish I could thank her for the amazing gift she left for all of us – knowledge that education is power, drive to pursue a better life for the next generation and pride that her descendants have benefited from her bravery and embraced learning, reading and education.

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Mentor = Teacher Leader

Image sourced from www.pawscompanion.com

Image sourced from http://www.pawscompanion.com

 

Mentoring is one of our state’s objectives to build a quality workforce, and retain quality teachers in the system.

Mentoring can take many shapes and forms depending on the participants in the mentoring relationship. The relationship is pivotal to success of mentoring: it is about respecting, valuing, supporting, sharing and learning from each other. The mentor puts the big picture view over the mentee’s thoughts and ideas and ‘connects the dots’ for them.

Mentors don’t just exist! There are drivers that make people want to mentor, experiences and prior learning and opinions that direct the content of the mentors words.

At a fantastic mentoring workshop run by academics from universities in Queensland who train preservice teachers, the group where charges with the question “Are mentors leaders in the educational system?”

Teachers often ‘going about their business’ do not consider themselves as the defined leaders in schools and educational systems. But the role of mentor is pivotal in developing and supporting the workforce.

The notion of a traditional leader at school is the principal; so the group set about brainstorming “What attributes makes a good leader of a school?”

Some of our answers were ….Visionary… Experienced… Caring… Personal Skills… Emotional Intelligence…

Why not try it yourself – make a list of these attributes and chose the top 5.

Which one is the least important? Are any?

Now, think of a great mentor… which one of these attributes does not fit a mentor? If you are like me, you will find there are none!

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Antique Schools?

 

Bouquets of freshly sharpened pencils...

Bouquets of freshly sharpened pencils…

 

I just read this interesting article called “10 things in schools that should be obsolete” which got me thinking about my changing thoughts about classrooms and schools, what do I value, what do I see lacking, what do I see becoming redundant.

I have seen classroom where teachers are only just allowing whiteboards (not of the interactive type either!) they were so desperate to maintain a blackboard as long as possible….  to schools were classes have a set of ipads for the class docked in the corner charged and ready to go. We have probably got to a point where it is no longer OK to embrace this kind of diversity.

At the beginning of last year, I was interviewed by an overseas Ph.D. student collecting data on the use of Interactive Whiteboards in the classroom and curriculum. I drew on my experience as a Science Facilitator in SCIMAS working in different schools and how a variety of schools and teachers were using the whiteboards. There was the usual discussion about the confidence of teachers using technology, the hindrances of internet access/speed, filters. At the end of the interview I was asked “what would you do to improve teaching and learning with Interactive Whiteboards”. We were in my classroom at the time – which I had just moved into a few weeks before – and I looked around. I remembered pushing desk around trying to maximise the number of chairs facing the right direction, fixing blinds on the massive windows to reduce glare, hunting through the outside storage sheds looking for more pin boards and whiteboards for the classroom and trying to minimise reverberation in the room for the student with a hearing aid…. and I realised.. Classrooms are NOT designed to be learning environments. Budgets, timeline, space – meant that most classrooms have to fit in four straight walls. Teachers everywhere are making do with a square – while everything else around them is changing!

What if I was designing my own classroom from scratch – what would be great to have? (In no particular order)

  • Desk with ipad docks in the centre
  • Less restrictive filters so more of the net is accessible
  • Open classrooms with individual out door learning areas, cafe areas for group work, enough room to sit in a circle with a full class
  • Functional, ergonomic, aesthetically pleasing furniture
  • Good acoustics
  • A technician on call
  • A wet area
  • A fridge for Australia’s hot summers to keep lunches cool
  • A full time school support officer
  • A TV on 24 hour news (Thanks to Silverton Primary in Victoria for this idea)
  • A high quality cleaning service
  • Storage

What would I miss? Looking down that list of obselete school facilities there really is nothing I would miss knowing that what is available to replace them is more exciting and engaging. I will say that  I would still want children to experience coloured pencils, school books decorated in stickers and contact, selecting readers from levelled boxes for homework, borrowing from a library and have that experience of turning paper pages, smelling a new book and developing a love of books.

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What makes good teachers?

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I have had the great privilege in the last week to work with a variety of teachers who are either early career or experienced teacher leaders.

The conversations that I have had with two groups have many similarities about what drives highly effective, passionate teachers who pursue excellence. Many teachers talked about they see themselves as life long learners, eager to build their repertoire of skills and continually learn and tweak their practice. Their pedagogy has never finished developing and while one year they may try a new method or program, the next year circumstances drive something different to be used and adapted. They create their own learning experiences.

My colleague shared an article with me which really summarised how teachers drive their ever evolving effectiveness and the five mind sets really struck a chord with me…..

 

Five States of Mind

  1. The drive for efficacy: Humans search for identity, competence, learning, self-empowerment, mastery, and control.
  2. The drive for consciousness: Humans uniquely strive to monitor and reflect on their own and others’ thoughts and actions.
  3. The drive for flexibility: Humans survive by developing repertoires of response patterns that allow them to create, adapt, and change.
  4. The drive for craftsmanship: Humans yearn to become clearer, more elegant, precise, congruent, and integrated.
  5. The drive for interdependence: Humans grow in relationship to others and are social beings in need of reciprocity and community.

http://www.ascd.org/ascd-express/vol8/803-costa.aspx

The drive for craftmanship, that innate want to develop and master a skill is what drives me to continually refine and develop my practice. Though throughout my career I have probably experienced all of those mind sets at different times. It has been because I have had to be responsive to the situation and experience level.I see myself  moving more into the 5th mind set now as well, sharing my experience with others and pre-empting or problem solving with them using my knowledge and skills to assist there development.

And at the end of the day, what did all the teachers really feel nourished their well-being and satisfaction: knowing they were making a different even if they couldn’t see it immediately… they knew there were days, weeks and years where they have been a significant adult in a young person’s life, and that just might be the turning point for greater things.

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Connecting children to nature and social consciousness

This morning on Facebook this article popped up in my feed from my wedding photographer (who took the photos!):

Brian May paid a surprise visit to Lonesome Primary School, Mitcham, last week

At first you are drawn to the Brian May celebrity name – then to the adorable hedgehog photos… then I found something deeper again!

Brian May is changing the way a generation views itself in the big picture of city living, and respecting the environment. He was invited to visit a school in London after parents had wanted the local foxes culled around the school. Foxes are scavangers and drawn to the food scraps left by children in the yard.

On further research (Googling) Brian May is an activist for native British animals and in the ground of his estate he has set up a hedgehog sanctuary for these delightful creatures that are injured, homeless and even intentionally harmed.

In Brian’s address he said:

We’ve become a plague on the planet. There’s too many of us. Every other species is being driven into a corner and so many animals are on the brink of extinction.

It’s very central to being a human being and being alive and being on this planet. We should all be concerned with how we treat animals on this planet.

I like that Brian May is lending his fame to a great course – and is educating the future citizens about humanity, compassion and social consciousness.

Educators take can take all forms – and I hope that from his lessons at this school, more people and more of the future’s adults look after our animals and environment.

Read the article here  from the Wimbledon Guardian Website.

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Teacher? Facilitator? Connector?

The role of teacher has certainly changed. From the notion of filling empty vessles, to faclitating learning opportunities to connecting students to information and skills to gain information. Educators are less required to teach facts and focus on skills to filter information, be a considerate digital citizen and have resilience, tools and self-motivation to continue to learn.

Of course there is content to be taught, especially in the Early Years of schooling where foundations in Literacy and Numeracy are pivotal to future learning.

I recently joined Facebook groups supporting Adelaide teachers. They did seem like somewhat quiet feeds when you search back through the histories. One group inparticular has almost 700 members. What an audience to have at your fingertips. Originally I wanted to advertise Training and  Development sessions but realising I couldnt just post I had to give back, I made sure I respond and share as much as posting information out there.

Yesterday a teacher asked for help planning Year 6 Maths decimal unit. When I checked in last night ten hours had passed since posting and no one had answered… I ended up brainstorming some ideas with her and sending her my Maths plans from years ago when I had that year group. It’s great to see the group discussing and sharing – although Maths doesn’t seem a topic that caught everyone’s attention!…

This other conversation I love because it involves one of my mentee’s from the Induction Recall program for new teacher working in the APY Lands. I love her suggestion because it so different to mine, and advice I would want too because it wasn’t one of the ideas I often consider and remember to program in, when its powerful play-based learning.

Imagine the power that could be available in forum full of interactive participants!  When I started teaching, there was barely anything on-line to use – and if a friend from uni or work wasn’t answering their phone or the book wasn’t on the shelf, you sat there for hours planning and revising lessons. Now I can imagine a teacher walking down the corridor or on the playground at recess, perplexed by some issue and checking Twitter or Facebook or some teacher-specific forums and having reams of information – tailored to your needs – all in your pocket!

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Creating my Digital Footprint and being Connected

I just returned from the two day CEGSA conference which was amazing! What a quality professional association and inspiring day. George Couros, Principal of Innovative Teaching and Learning from the Parkland South School Division in Canada, was inspirational and … innovative! Educators and schools need to connect with what is going on in the world wide web for the current generation and embrace it to be true 21st Century learners and educators!

So to summarise the most important topics about the conference:

  • 1 – control your own DIGITAL FOOTPRINT. Make sure when your name comes up in Google searches you have contributed the most information about you – potential employers will see this – think about what you are presenting to the world and what you CAN present!!
  •  2 – BLOG. A reflective professional blog which shows your deeper thinking and reflection and connections with the teaching professions – share resources, thoughts, ideas, be a 21st century learner – and here I am starting that process right now!  
  • 3 – prepare a EPORTFOLIO – have a portfolio to collect evidence of your practice with reflection of the evidence within. A working portfolio (collecting evidence) and a presentation portfolio (for jobs and to share).
  • 4 – RESOURCES I have a great collection of on-line resources to start using at my fingertips – I am connecting all my accounts to a Google Reader to more easily monitor what’s going on in my corner of cyberspace!

It was quite confronting starting to create a ditigal footprint. I had been taught and have spent most my time since I was 19 (when the internet first came freely available in homes) hiding behind a usernames and protecting my identity. Being encouraged to put my name and profession out there was hard! 

As I often Google myself to see what is out there, I knew I already had a footprint which is not my creation – school newsletters, school websites, educational awards, committee information of associations I belong to…. The only part I was responsible for was following a public page on Facebook! Keeping that in mind (and often having to remind myself) I turned my unused Twitter account into a professional Tweet stream, created a LinkedIn profile, renamed my wordpress blog to my actual name and then linked everything together!

While we were taught to fear the internet it now a tool for me to curate and use to my advantage: brand myself, connect myself, and personalise to suit my needs.

Students at school, particularly high school, come connected to the world with devices in pocket ready to go, as educators we need to be part of that world, understand it, embrace it and use it to our advantage

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