This summer I climbed Mount Rinjani in Lombok with a close friend of mine. To put it bluntly, we both are not much of the exercising type and we showed up with our running shoes and a few items in our backpack ready to take a stroll up the mountain. Little did we know what we had signed up for. We didn't know what lay ahead, the challenges, the mental game and of course, sore muscles. The 3 day trek that seemed almost impossible at times almost got the best of me and I thought I wouldn't be able to keep going a few times.
The physical exhaustion kicked in at 3am as I was literally taking baby steps up the gravelled trail where I would take a step forward and slide a bit back down. Without proper shoes, it was a struggle to move forward as I felt the world pushing back at me. It felt like I was doing all this work and yet getting know where. So what was the point of even trying?
At about 5am, I could see the top in the distance but the vertical climb was not something I mentally ready for yet. I almost just stopped to say this was a good enough view. But then a layer of sun started to rise at the horizon and the fire inside began to illuminate as well. The only thought in my mind was that I was going to make it to the top and that there was nothing anyone could do to stop me. The only one who could stop me was myself, and I wouldn't let that happen. I had set out on this journey to make it to the top, and that is where I planned to end up.
And so I pushed on with my brain cheering my physical self on with my head down, looking only where I needed to go next, focusing on the now. Every once and I while I looked up from where I was and could still see my goal in the distance. So again, I forged on.
Finally, as I pulled myself up, there I was at the top looking out at what I had accomplished. I could look back and see the hard work and dedication, the tenacity and drive and the mental willpower to achieve my goals. I could see ahead the volcano surrounded by a lake that was surrounded by mountains and just stood there enjoying the beauty that was there.
To me, this is my educational journey. I'm a long, long way to the top, a long way from where I want to be as a teacher and future career aspirations but nevertheless, I'm still moving forward. Some days you travel farther then others and some days your feet are just sliding in gravel.
As a teacher, there are so many other components to your job than just being a teacher - communicating with parents, staying current on best practice, collaborating with peers, meetings, paperwork, report writing - the list goes on and on. You can have days where your class just drives you a little crazy or you're dealing with girl drama or students using technology inappropriately. You can have the wind and the rain pushing against you as a teacher - but yet you keep moving forward.
The best part of my day is just standing where I am, no matter where I am on the mountain and enjoying the view. I see how far my students have come from the day they first come to my door, and I know they have a long way to go until I can help get them to their own mountain top in June. I love the smiles I see on my students faces when we spend the last five minutes dancing or when a student helps another one down the stairs who is on crutches. I love watching the students laugh as they play tag in the playground or succeed at a challenging task. Their resilience to the obstacles sets an example for us all. Their caring nature shows us how to support each other along the way. Their ability to take risks sets an example of how we should be in our own lives. They are the reason that you keep pushing yourself forward to be better each day.
The bumps in the road as a teacher are always going to be there. The one thing I've learned is that you may never make it to the top of the mountain any day soon but it is possible if you keep moving in the upward direction. But most importantly, you don't have to be at the top of the mountain to enjoy the view - your students are right in front of you.
According to Prensky, digital natives are “native speakers of digital language”, while a digital immigrant is defined as those who didn’t grow up with technology and had to learn/adapt along the way (2001a). But are these terms still relevant with the constantly changing and evolving uses of technology in the classroom? Technology has become an expected area of understanding for teachers as part of the overall best practice, similar to good classroom management being expected in all classes. While I would be more considered a digital native by Prensky's terms, I know people from all ages who are very competent using technology.
I believe the idea of digital natives and digital immigrants is very outdated in my international context. If we consider our students to be digital immigrants now, what will our students be in 50 or 100 years? Are these terms even necessary? Our school is a 1 to 1 laptop school for both teachers and students. It is essential that all students and teachers embrace the use of technology when appropriate for teaching and learning. The idea of digital natives and digital immigrants is erased and replaced with terms such as growth mindset and fixed mindset becoming more relevant for integrating technology. In a previous post, I focused on the importance of expanding our knowledge by problem solving, resiliency and pushing boundaries of personal understanding with an emphasis on growth mindset and not labelling individuals as digital natives or immigrants (MacLean, 2015).
We should be encouraging our teachers and students to be open-minded and willing to learn regardless of the medium. We should be encouraging our students to be risk-takers, to make mistakes and to learn from them. Having a growth mindset, allows us to be open to new challenges (which could be technology for some).
Our current school policies do not lend themselves to the terms digital natives or digital immigrants. Rather, again, there is an expectation of teachers using technology only when appropriate for best practice and students using technology as a resource only when it enhances their learning.
21st Century Learner Or Just a Learner
As a teacher, it is my role to facilitate learning for students by helping them develop skills and conceptual understandings that can be transdisciplinary and transferred into any avenue for their future. Students need to learn to be good communicators, creative and critical thinkers, collaborative, with an ability to be self-managed, engaged and passionate about learning. These skills can be developed through a multitude of learning experiences in both formal and informal settings. In addition, being reflective needs to be combined into this learning process as well.
Again, I truly believe that the label of a 21st century learner is now irrelevant. To me, it is just being a learner. We want our students to develop skills to be lifelong learners, now and always. It is not something that is restricted to only the 21st century and many educators understood the importance of teaching transdisciplinary skills before the 21st century and will continue to after the 21st century.
From an ICT integration standpoint, I use the 6 ICT in PYP skills as a way to fuse effective technology implementation into the curriculum where necessary. These include: creating, collaborating, organising, communicating, investigating and developing a digital citizen (The role of ICT in PYP, 2011). In order to be effective using any technology tool, students need to develop the finer skills associated with these to be successful. There are so many collaborative tools that exist, but it is more important for students to understand how to use group roles, taking turns, respectfully disagreeing and having healthy debates than how to use Padlet or Google Docs. Students need to learn how to build on others ideas while giving credit and not feel that someone is stealing their idea. These skills can be taken out of the technology world and applied into other real world experiences, which makes the learning meaningful and long lasting.
Through an inquiry-based, constructivist teaching model, students can develop their curiosity for learning and learn the skills to find the answers to what they want to learn. When passion and enthusiasm is involved as a learner, the learning really is limitless.
The role of ICT in PYP. (2011). International Baccalaureate. UK: IB.
MacLean, E. (2015, November 20). Digital Immigrant or Native? Growth Mindset More Important [Blog]. Retrieved from http://emilymacleanmed.blogspot.sg/2015/11/digital-immigrant-or-native-growth.html
Prensky, M. (2001a). Digital Natives, Digital immigrants. On the Horizon, 9(5).
Even though I'm no longer a classroom teacher, I still get excited about trying new things in a classroom and seeing if they work or not. As a classroom teacher, I was always looking for resources online that could fit into my units to try with my class and just throw them out to my students to trials. The sense of uncertainty of how the lesson would go with this new tool or strategy made teaching interesting. For if the lesson went well, it usually went really well with the kids getting excited about whatever we were trying to use and the learning was enhanced to another level. If it didn't work, it meant either problem solving to make it work or finding an alternative on the fly to rework the lesson.
In a role as a technology coach, I often come across neat ideas that are worth giving a go but without a class of my own, I have to be okay with some teachers not wanting to take the same risks in their classes. So when I find a teacher that is always ready to try something, it makes me excited about the opportunity to work with that teacher and class.
This week has had a few of those moments. First of all, the education technology department led a professional development session on Monday about different tools for integrating videos into teaching and learning including screencasting, iMovie, YouTube and EdPuzzle. By the following day, a few of the teachers had already taken what they had learnt and integrated it into their lessons. As a coach, it makes these sessions meaningful and worthwhile when teachers can actually see the practical use of the tools and are willing to try them out. Beyond that, it's important they share with us their feedback about how it went so we can help support them more or celebrate their successes.
Guinea pig teachers are rockstars in my mind. I went to one teacher this week with Plickers - a formative assessment tool for teachers using iPads and the cards students use to respond to a question. The students hold up an assigned card in one of 4 directions with the multiple choice letter they agree with and the teacher uses the iPad to scan for the results. The app allows teachers to gain feedback on individual student knowledge and data on the whole class' understanding immediately.
I simply explained to the teacher what it would do and asked if she was interested and we installed the application on the iPad right away. I made the cards for her and by the next day she had set it up and was ready to try. I was also grateful to be invited in to see how it would work in the classroom. With a minor issue that was quickly problem solved, we gathered data on students' understandings of problem solving and action in a matter of seconds. This data is so useful as a teacher as a formative tool but could also be used as preassessment or an exit activity from a class. From there, we shared our learning and experience with the teachers in the year group and got them started on it as well. Great things really do spread.
Not all teachers are willing to be technology enthusiasms as innovators or early adopters but I absolutely love working with these staff members. These teachers help me get excited about my job and the positive impact technology can make on teaching and learning for students.
Teaching is a busy job. With so many different responsibilities packed into a few short hours everyday, it is hard to imagine squeezing anything else in...especially something you do just for yourself.
In my new role this year as education technology coach, I have the flexibility to make my own schedule. Originally I thought this would mean that perhaps I might just have a few more minutes to slow down and breathe at any point in the day but in fact learnt quickly that the job meant quite the opposite and my calendar was filled. Busier than I had ever expected or in previous years, I also found myself teaching more. Most days a week I was teaching in some capacity a minimum of five out of six classes with at least an activity or meeting or professional development session or two to lead at lunch, before school or after school. In trying to find the balance, I was finding that I was becoming more off tilter. I was finding it more difficult to complete the other portions of my job while still wanting to be in the classroom as much as I could.
After a week or so of trying to find the root cause and a few discussions later, one of the steps forward I decided to make was to take time each week for myself during the work day. It still boggles my mind that I'm actually doing it but the level of productivity that has evolved from it the rest of the week makes it well worth the dedicated time slot in my schedule.
Just to clarify, time for myself doesn't mean kicking back and relaxing. Rather, blocking out a regular amount of time each week to work on the projects or ideas that inspire me. They may be tasks I just have to get done or something else completely differentI want to explore. Think of it as my 20% time like Google, iTime, Personal Projects, or Genius Hour but for teachers. Time to simply focus on things that inspire a passion and drive even when it gets busy.
On my day off (due to public holiday), I sent the better part of my morning designing a e-Portfolio for my Masters of Education that would be long lasting throughout my entire programme. Each class seemed to ask you to set up an e-portfolio/blog to document your learning in the course but having 8 different e-Portfolios in the end didn't make sense to me. Thus, figuring out a way to map out a design and create what I had envisioned had me captivated and channeling my inner nerd without even realizing I was doing work. This was a project that stemmed internally but was rewarding to know I was setting myself up for success for the next few terms of study. In addition, it got me thinking about how we do portfolios at our school and how they transition between years without one central portfolio to house all e-Portfolios each year. Thus, generate even more learning outcomes than I had initially targeted for.
The first two periods coming into work today were scheduled as office work and administrative tasks that needed to be completed. In that time, I felt more accomplished, productive and motivated than I had the last few weeks during the time in the office. I felt momentum continuing to flow from one day of independent work into other projects and started to make serious headway with them that I got so caught up in doing them, I almost didn't realize it was time to head to class.
This got me thinking. We want our kids to inquire into projects that interest them. We want them to ask questions and find the answers. We give them the time, the tools, the resources, and the support to explore their passions through learning. But how often during the work day do we do this for ourselves? There is always another assessment, report card, meeting, lesson to plan, the list goes on. A teacher's to do list is never complete. But what if you blocked out time during the work day to do exactly what you wanted to explore. Why is it that what we ask of our students we don't always model ourselves?
To be honest, when I schedule the time from now on during the work day, it will almost always be work related independent projects. But because I reframe the work in my mind as time to work on whatever I wanted, I chose the work I felt I wanted to do, not just because they had to get done. Ownership over work truly promotes internal motivation. When mindset changes, so do the outcomes.
I'm looking forward to seeing how 'my time' evolves but it's not coming off my calendar any time soon. I wonder how many other educators actually dedicate time to individual learning in a schedule of chaos. I wonder what opportunities lie ahead in my time. My time is time for my learning, my exploration and my growth.
It’s true. There is no one I am harder on than myself. So often I complete something or accomplish a goal and only look at what’s still left to be done instead of celebrating what I have done before moving on. It’s something that, when you think about it, is not very ‘teacher’-y of me at all. Where’s the oreo feedback in my own practice? By that I mean, the good, the area of growth and another good comment. I’m always giving my students praise for their work and then guiding them where to go next, and even better than that, usually having the students self-identity their ‘glows’ (great things they are doing) and grows (areas of potential growth for the future).
I am constantly asking my students to reflect. What did you do well? How do you know? Why are you proud of this? What makes this a ‘good’ piece of work in your mind? How can this help you moving forward? Of course, we also have the opposite side to all of that - what do you need to work on, etc. We foster the ability for students to see the good in themselves and others but do we do this in our own practice?
Why does this not happen with teachers?
Why is it so hard for teachers to celebrate their own growth? Is it simply because we are always looking for ways to improve that we are almost blinded by our successes? Is it because we don’t want to ‘waste’ time on a plateau of praise when we could be jet-setting upwards with growth?
Even when we plan with other teachers, often the first thing we think about when we are reflecting on the unit or the part we spend the most time on is how to improve what we did, what didn’t work and how will we change it for next time. The very idea of ‘wow - great unit because of x, y, and z’ is often glossed over in order to get right to the growth section.
I love my Friday afternoon with my kids when we do our Positive Post time where we write notes and deliver them to people in our class and around the school who have positively impacted us or our class. I always try to send one to at least 1 staff member to help celebrate the positivity they’ve spread to me.
This past year I’ve slowly been trying to do a better job at the idea of personal self-reflection with the good things happening in my own teaching and professional life. Twitter, blogging and even presenting have helped with this but it still is something I struggle with. It’s easy for me to see it in others and what they do, but with myself, I sometimes have only one speed moving forward and don’t always look back.
What result would it have in our own teaching practice if we spent more time reflecting on our ‘glows’ - individually and collectively as a staff community? How would this change the culture of the school?
The old saying goes ‘stop and smell the roses’ - so maybe it’s time for us all to start planting more gardens in our own backyards.