Can we all please just agree to disagree?

dissent

Do you ever feel as if the teacher community on Twitter is just one big echo chamber? I’m not intending to be disrespectful to anyone here, its just I’ve noticed, after 4 years of tweeting, that those in my PLN seem to agree on almost everything.

I realise this is a result of following like minded people. I  follow people who are teachers like me, and with whom I’ve had some sort of positive engagement. We may have had an enjoyable exchange in a chat, or perhaps they retweeted one of my blog posts and made a positive comment. I follow people who tweet things that resonate with me, or who share things that I find interesting, or who write blogs that I enjoy reading.

So, its somewhat inevitable that my feed will become full of those who think like me.

But without dissenting voices, we leave ourselves open to some troubling habits and I write this post to urge some caution.

I fear at times, my network and I are developing a sort of group confirmation bias where ideas are accepted as true, because they appeal to our collective view of how we would like the world to be. We start to accept ideas without appropriate scrutiny.

A sort of group-think starts to emerge. There are so many expert voices and loud voices on Twitter advocating for the same ideas – 1:1 ipad programs, inquiry learning, flexible classroom spaces . I wonder if there are people out there who have some doubts about these ideas, but adopt them anyway because it seems as if everyone else is, and if all those expert, leading teachers say these are good, well they must be, right?

I’ve also noticed a rather troubling tendency for people to squash dissenting voices on the odd occasion where they emerge. If someone says something that challenges group norms, rather than engage in a productive dialogue, finding out how a person might have come to a particular, dissenting conclusion, and being open to discussion, people try to ‘correct’ their point of view. This may be done by telling them directly that they are ‘wrong’, or by rounding up other ‘right thinking individuals’ to help convince dissenters that they are wrong. An almost moral outrage seems to flare up from time to time if someone dares say that they like to use text books, or that they believe teacher centred methods are appropriate.

Some people take dissenting views very personally. Perhaps they feel so invested in an idea that a criticism of an it is perceived as a personal attack. I’ve been unfollowed by people I’ve engaged with positively, after they’ve discovered we have different views on particular issues, and I’ve seen whole groups of people unfollow those who express dissenting views too often.

I’ve started to become disenchanted with the echo chamber. I still love Twitter. I love the community, the friendships, the support and help that my network provides. However, I feel like I’m  learning less and less because I’m not being challenged as much.  We’re all just agreeing and reinforcing the same ideas.

Increasingly, I’m finding myself drawn to people who I don’t agree with. A few months ago, I tweeted something critical of direct instruction. It was retweeted a number of times and a person I’d never interacted with me before, started arguing with me, wanting me to justify my position. I didn’t have the energy to engage in a debate, with someone who was clearly a lunatic (after all, we all know that direct instruction is bad and inquiry is better, right?) and was tempted not to respond. Instead,  I chose to ask him how he came to his views. He linked me to his very reasoned blog, and while I still didn’t change my mind about the value of inquiry learning, I shifted on the issue of direct instruction. I could see that there is value in it, and I’ve softened my stance. I’ve been reminded that I’m not an expert and perhaps need to examine the evidence for and against my position more deeply.

The beauty of genuinely engaging with someone I don’t agree with, rather than trying to argue against them, is that it stretches me. It forces me to re-examine my beliefs and put them under scrutiny. I may emerge with an even stronger commitment to a particular stance, or I may find my self shifting on issues and adopting a new position. This is healthy, and it is to be encouraged. For me, encountering ideas that force me to re-think my own, is what keeps Twitter a vibrant place of professional dialogue and learning.

Dissent is not negative, its a sign of a vibrant and healthy community. In fact its just not normal to agree on everything all the time. Constant agreeing and echoing of views leads to a sort of smug, self satisfied stagnation that I don’t want to be a part of.

So here’s to those who are brave enough to express their dissenting views. I applaud you. Now can we all just agree to disagree please?

The Future of Learning? It’s here and its happening.

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I’m breaking ranks here, but I’m getting a little tired of hearing visionary speakers telling us that schools need to change, that we’re using a 19th century, factory model of learning, with a narrow curriculum, steered towards conformity and exam success, teaching skills that are only useful within school but not in the real world. I’m tired of hearing that we kill creativity and that we don’t encourage students to find and develop their strengths and passions. I’m tired of these speakers comparing what schools do now, with what schools could be like in the future, and showing a few photographs of lucky schools who’ve had the funding to pay for architects, curvy furniture and writable walls.

I’d like to know where the evidence to support this bleak view of education comes from. Where is the evidence that schools are not already doing this – perhaps not perfectly, but each, in their own way working hard to provide an education that inspires and engages students?

I work in a fairly typical public primary school, with a typical group of teachers, ranging in age,  experience and expertise. Like teachers everywhere, we care about our students, not just exam results. We want our students to love learning, and we want their experience of school to be positive in every way.  We, like teachers everywhere, provide a curriculum that we hope will engage our students and allow each of them to discover passions and develop talents.

Because we care about our students and want to do a good job, my colleagues and I are constantly trying to find better ways of doing things.

Like most  schools, we provide a broad curriculum and a variety of learning experiences. Some of the many programs my school provides include: science and environmental clubs, debating, Tournament of Minds, Maths Olympiad, coding groups, robotic clubs, environmental and gardening clubs, writers workshops, book clubs, a kid created TV news show, a short film festival, student blogging, video conferences, community projects, genius hour, social skills groups, positive psychology classes….

We choose from a range of pedagogical approaches to suit our cohorts, the subject matter and the skills of the teachers.  We use project based learning, game based learning, individualised learning, flipped classrooms, direct instruction and explicit teaching methodologies.

My school is not atypical. Schools everywhere are continually innovating in response to the needs of their students, social and technological changes, new understandings about effective pedagogy and student learning. There is always more to do, and the many edu-visionaries out there play a useful role in  helping us to see what’s possible. But perhaps we could reframe the discussion. Let’s start to acknowledge the impressive work that schools are already doing to inspire and educate students, rather than perpetuating the myth that contemporary schools are backward institutions that haven’t changed since the nineteenth century. Focusing on strengths and achievements is a much more effective way to inspire people to continue striving, than dwelling on failure.

So, the next time you consider how much you and your school have to do before you achieve your ideal of C21 education, and start to feel overwhelmed and frustrated by the constraints that make progress difficult, take a moment to think about how far you’ve come. What are your strengths as a teacher, and what is working well in your school?  Let the rest of us know too, by sharing some of your thoughts in the comments below.

 

Positive Education – a Whole School Approach

Sparkle by Rolands Lakis

Sparkle by Rolands Lakis

A message that came through consistently at the Positive Schools Conference, was the importance of having a whole school approach to positive education.

When the whole school community (teachers, parents, students) can clearly articulate their philosophy behind positive education the outcomes both in learning and wellbeing for the entire community seem to improve.

In our latest podcast, Cameron and I explored this idea in depth. We spoke with Neil Porter, Professor David Bennett, Professor Toni Noble and Geelong Grammar Vice Principal Charlie Scudamore to find out what positive education is all about, how to teach resilience and how to take a whole school approach. The feature begins at 41:10

I like to listen to podcasts using my iPhone podcast player while I’m either driving or cleaning the house. It’s certainly easier than listening in front of a screen. You can listen and subscribe to TERPodcast on Soundcloud,  iTunes, Android Smartphones and on Stitcher Online Radio.

We’d also really appreciate your feedback on the podcast. Help us to improve by filling out our feedback survey .


 

Time Codes

3:51 AITSL Teacher Feature: The importance of professional learning

7:00 Education in the News: Round up of Australian education news stories from the past fortnight

25:09 News discussion: Cameron and Corinne discuss some of the main stories in depth. This time focusing on funding for technology in WA, Pyne’s push for the reintroduction of Latin, and Pasi Sahlberg’s comments on excellence and equity in education.
34:21 Off Campus: Dan Haesler discusses the impact of teachers’ relationship with technology on their well being. Is 24/7 access good for our mental health?

41:10 Positive Schools conference introduction
43:00 Neil Porter, the chair of the Positive Schools conference speaks with Cameron about the history and aims of the conference.
53:07 Professor David Bennett talks with Corinne about the impact of our modern lifestyle on student wellbeing and how we as teachers can support young people in becoming resilient.

1:06 Professor Toni Noble speaks with Corinne about why schools need to take a whole school approach to positive education, how to teach resilience and about a number of programs and resources that are available to support schools in this work.
1:16:35 Charlie Scudamore, Vice Principal of Geelong Grammar, speaks with Cameron about how his school set about developing a whole school approach for positive education.

1:35:51 – Announcements

1:37:30 – Mystery Educator competition

1:39:17 – Quote and finish

Building Resilience: Overcoming Adversity

Several powerful and important messages came out of the Positive Schools Conference, which I was fortunate to attend in mid June.  I’m sure it will lead to a number of posts, but for today, I wanted to focus on some very simple ideas on resiliency, shared by Dr Tim Sharp in his keynote presentation.

Rather than writing about it, I’ve tried to capture my thoughts using some images, quotes and videos which are included in this short presentation. Click on the picture below to view it.

I’d love to know what you think of the ideas contained here, and also what you think of using a presentation tool as a form of reflection. After viewing it, please return to share your thoughts  in the comments.

Overcoming Adversity

 

 

Edutech – an Overview

2 weeks ago, Cameron Malcher and I attended the 2014 Edutech National Congress and Expo on behalf of our podcast, the Teachers Education Review.

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Attending the event as media was an enormous privilege and I’d like to thank the Edutech team for being so accommodating. They provided us with introductions and access to many of the major key note speakers who generously gave of their time so that we could record some interviews with them.

We left the conference full of ideas and inspiration, and with memory cards full of interviews and presentations so that we could share some of the learning with those who couldn’t make it.

The material we collected will form the basis for a series of podcasts, the first of which has just been released. In the first episode of our Edutech series, we provide a general overview of the conference, to give you a taste of what the event was like.

Our interviews (with time codes)  include:

  • 32:54 Craig McFarlaine, the CEO of Association and Communication Events, the company behind Edutech. He speaks about the history of the event, its mission, and also how the event has influenced his ideas on education  as a father of two young children.
  • 39:25 Suan Yeo on about some new tools for the classroom from Google
  • 46:25 Leigh Murphy from Education Services Australia tells us about Scootle
  • 51:27 Rachel Guo, from the International Fund for Animal Welfare talks about some curriculum resources.
  • 56:17 Peter West, from St Stephen’s college explains about their whole school approach to blended learning.
  • 1:05:19 Ewan McIntosh talks about the founding of TeachMeet (yes, he was part of the first one) and some ideas on how to develop the global movement
  • 1:12:32 Dan Haesler speaks about the experience of presenting at large conferences
  • 1:17:23 Simon McKenzie talks about his experiences as an edutech participant over the years, and how he was able to affect some change.
  • 1:22:20 Adam Spencer, the event’s MC provides his perspective on the event and on the important work that educators do

We also collected some extended interviews with a number of keynotes including, Sugata Mitra, Conrad Wolfram, Jenny Luca, Joyce Valenza, Ian Jukes and Alan November. These will become the focus of a number of future episodes of the podcast.

To listen, you can either use the soundcloud player below, or download the podcast to your smartphone. You can subscribe to us on iTunes, Android and Stitcher Online Radio.

Digital Resilience and the 21st Century Educator

If there is one quality that I am being sorely tested in this year, its my digital resilience.

I heard the term during Jenny Luca’s keynote at last week’s Edutech congress in Brisbane when she shared this slide:

4122632440_7f97d7afdd_o(Image Credit)

It seems that almost every digital project I have worked on with students this year has hit a wall due to infrastructure problems, blocked websites and security protocols.

For two terms now, I have been trying to get a school news show off the ground. A group of Year 5 and 6 students have been filming and editing news reports which we are putting together into a single news program. We’d planned to have our news come out at least twice a term, and we would have, if we hadn’t hit a brick wall of security protocols and infrastructure failures.

Our first issue was security protocols. At some point over the Christmas holidays, a change was made to the security protocols that allow us to transfer data from our school iPads to our school computers. I’m not sure if it was a school security issue, or an apple update, but no matter what we tried, we could not move the films off our iPads as it they would not ‘trust’ the connected device.

The files were too large to email, so I tried setting up a Google Drive account for the group and we attempted to upload our videos to that. This is when the infrastructure started to fail. Our school wifi, which is usually reliable became patchy. Some of the iPads would not connect at all. Others would, but transferred the data so slowly, it took days to upload the videos we needed. Eventually, I took the iPads home and was able to upload over my home network, but there is still one iPad, containing some of the best videos, that I can’t shift data from.

Our computer coordinator managed to work out a fix for all this, but installing it means wiping all the data off the iPads, including the videos we are trying to save.

Meanwhile, I’ve been working with another group of students teaching them to code using Scratch. They’ve been developing games for a games arcade that we plan to link to our school website. Today, after several weeks, the games were ready to upload. Scratch has a built in uploader which will share games created in the software directly to a user account on the Scratch website. Today I learned that the uploader won’t work in our school environment. We need a password to get through our proxy but the software won’t let us enter one. As a workaround, I had the students save their projects to my USB stick and I uploaded each project from home.

Hitting obstacle after obstacle takes its toll. They slow our projects down, and they frustrate and disappoint our students. It is so hard not to give up altogether and I’m tempted at times to choose non-tech projects in future just to avoid these problems.

I persist for a number of reasons:

  • I believe in the value of these projects. I see how they’ve engaged and excited my students, and the great learning that is occurring by participating in them.
  • I don’t see the setbacks as defeats. I am convinced that every problem can be solved, and it’s just a matter of finding a workaround.
  • After years of trouble shooting issues, I’ve developed a fairly wide repertoire of strategies which allow me to find workarounds to the sort of tech problems I’ve been facing.
  • When I can’t find a workaround myself, I consult with my network of teachers on Twitter and Yammer. Inevitably someone will suggest an idea I hadn’t considered, which solves the problem.
  • When no solution presents itself, I’ve learned to let it go. In every case  learning that has occurred in spite of the problems encountered. While the end result of the project may be different from what we intended, the process has still been worthwhile.

I would love to see an easing of security protocols which impede learning in schools and I would love to have reliable wifi that never drops out. But as technology continues to develop, at a faster pace than our protocols and infrastructure can possibly keep up with,  I suspect we are always going to face issues like this.

Persevering can be stressful, but if the project is worth doing, then it’s better than giving up. If there isn’t a workaround, then  adapt the project. Our twice a term news project looks more likely to become a year in review video, and that’s okay. It’s not quite the project I’d intended, but the students are still learning and developing their skills.

And there is an unintended but valuable consequence for our students. Our students get to see us learn. They witness us solving problems from different angles, trying new strategies until we find the one that works. They see us research answers and consult and collaborate with others. And they see us remaining positive in the face of set backs. They see in action the life-long learning skills that we would like to see in them.

So when faced with set backs,  stay positive and persevere. Be digitally resilient. It’s worth it.