A friend of mine returned from Canada recently having been shocked by the proliferation of home-monitoring technology since his last visit and the number of his friends and family who now engage constantly in watching the goings-on in their houses while they’re out.
This really got me thinking about how the existence of new technology creates new habits and how this is true also of work. The developments in technology have led to different types of work and the fact that we can, and feel like we should, be working all the time. This isn’t a revolutionary thought, people talk about it all the time. However, I want to focus on one piece of technology, Seesaw.
The advent of Seesaw is exciting. It makes things possible that weren’t really possible before. In a nutshell, it is really the first way that teachers can do quick and easy documentation that is instantly shareable with parents who can see it using an app on their own devices.
Well, not if you’re not really careful about how you use it.
You see, things that seem cool and different at first can quickly transform themselves into an expectation and therefore into work. If you’re not really, really purposeful about how you use Seesaw, it’s going to rapidly become a pretty pointless instant scrapbooking activity that gives parents a steady stream of images from within the classroom that they are going to depend upon but not necessarily learn anything from.
So, now you’ve got to deal with all of the massively important complexities of being a good teacher while also contend with providing a steady stream of posts that show everyone what you’re doing – basically classroom social media. Some people deal with this by handing responsibility over to the kids and calling it “agency”. But this, more often than not, leads to a steady stream of low-quality images or videos that are captured with little thought or purpose and that provide parents with little or no substantial information about the nature of the learning that students are engaged in. It also engages students in screentime that has little or no value. What’s more, it kind of feels like a gateway to the behaviours we see around us in society of having to post things on social media in order to prove they happened!
In your schools, put the following questions at the centre of everything you do with Seesaw:
When we post something on Seesaw, what are we communicating about the type of learning we value?
When people see what we post, what will they learn about the type of learning we value?
If you have some pretty good answers to these questions… proceed. If, however, your answers are “nothing” or “we’re not sure” or “we haven’t thought about it” then stop using Seesaw immediately and resume only when you have made some proper plans that will make it purposeful.
Part of those plans should involve making some BIG decisions about who your intended audience is for Seesaw:
- Is the intended audience limited to colleagues? Some schools have taken this approach to great effect and used Seesaw purely for pedagogical documentation that is then used to inform responsive planning sessions. Of course, you’re going to have to wrap some intelligent ways of working around this – mainly involving time.
- Are parents the intended audience? If so, make sure you are providing them with quality content that shapes their understanding about what education is, what learning looks like and what you are trying to achieve in your school, grade level or class. This is your chance to really have an effect on them – which of course can go either way!
- Are students the intended audience? If so, you will need to make some plans for how they will make informed decisions about what content to post and why, reflect on their content, how they will receive feedback on their content and how their content will be used as evidence of learning that will inform next steps. This is going to involve a lot of thinking tools and just-in-time instruction to guide them towards those habits and practices.
I’m going to stop here… I think that’s plenty of food for thought for now. Please give it some thought! I hate to see so much time being wasted on something that may be pointless, or even harmful.
In this, the first ever Time Space Education Podcast, Chad, Cathy and Frank and I discuss the purpose of our work and what our professional focus is at the moment. Naturally, however, we drift into lots of other
I had to get my motorbike fixed today, so I went out around noon in the 40 degree heat. Before I left, I made a conscious decision to leave my phone at home… one of those things you’re sure about but aren’t sure why.
20 minutes later, I knew why.
As I sat there waiting for the guys to fix my bike, I stopped. I absorbed.
I watched the giant trees above me swing in the wind, their smaller branches and then their leaves all making their own rhythm. I watched the old lady collecting scraps of rubber from the tyre repairs places and attach them to a huge ball of rubber scraps that she balanced on the back of her motorbike. I watched the oddly proud rooster scratching about in the gravel. I watched the ebb and flow of people as they did their own things. The guy with the bundle of sugarcane for the woman who endlessly made cup after cup of juice at the cart next to me. The filthy, sweating construction workers seeking refuge in the shade and a plate of rice and pork. The complex system of grunts and nods the mechanics had as they figured out a problem with the wiring.
I was very grateful to myself, the version of me who knew I would have sat there flicking past meaningless things with my thumb like sifting for tiny fragments of gold that might, by chance, be interesting to me. Over-communicating, but failing to receive the most important information… what was going on around me at that moment.
Generations of our students are in danger of missing almost everything that happens around them. Sure, these devices are cool and they make possible all sorts of things we may never even have imagined. But, they’re also nasty little things that suck at your attention and lead to almost complete oblivion.
Make sure you teach balance, but first of all… make sure you practice it yourself.
You can learn most information from effective use of the internet. You can pick up any skill from videos on Youtube. You can connect with experts and be in touch with the latest research and data. And so on…
Some people have allowed this to lead them into believing that teachers, and therefore teaching, are becoming increasingly irrelevant.
They are misguided, possibly by a very limited understanding of the art of teaching in the first place. Teaching is not, or should not be, the imparting of knowledge and the tuition of skills. Teaching is a social art. Teachers are the co-creators of personalities, of lives, of societies, of cultures and… of futures.
If anything, new technologies have highlighted the essence of good teaching by removing the need for the features of a one-dimensional approach. The focus is increasingly on who the teacher is as a person, the relationships they have with their students and their ability to create the conditions in which students can flourish.
This is becomingly particularly pertinent as human beings continue to make a mess of things, as they continue to practice destructive and unsustainable business, continue to wage war on each other. Levels of education are increasing worldwide, but – in the big picture – things are not getting better, they are getting worse. We may, as Carol Black does in Schooling the World, actually have to start looking at the direct relationship between education and many of the world’s most pressing problems.
I am confident that any thinking that emerges from doing so will be based on a need for teachers who are human, not the opposite.
Next time one of your students or children is using Minecraft, stop and take a good look at what they are doing. I can guarantee you that they will be…
- in a virtual version of “outside”
- learning about topography, flora, fauna and materials
- solving problems
- getting lost and found
Many of us obviously think this is pretty cool, myself included. After all, the skills that the students are using “in there” are the type of skills that we are trying to help them develop as we educate them.
But then, its actually also really uncool that modern kids can only possess “virtual freedom” and that they can only develop “virtual skills” and that, rather than using their whole bodies and all of their senses, they are using only their thumbs and their increasingly failing eyes.
You see, Minecraft is basically the childhoods of older generations wrapped up, written in code and presented in a device. Yeah… lots of things are possible in Minecraft that are not possible in the real world. But also… many, many, many more things are possible in the real world than are possible in Minecraft.
So, is it a good thing that students are using Minecraft and developing the skills that they are developing? Yes.
Is it a good thing that the “virtual outdoors” is replacing the real outdoors for our young people? No.
Can we allow the existence of Minecraft to allow ourselves to be apathetic about fighting for children’s right to play, explore, experiment, create and learn in the real outdoors? Absolutely not.
Whether we like it or not, teachers need to be interesting. If we are not interesting then there is little or no chance that our students will find us or the material we teach of any interest at all.
But, how do you “become interesting”. Paul Arden, in his brilliant little book called “Whatever you think think the opposite” makes the case that it simply requires you to be interested.
Many of us in this profession trudge the well-trodden path from school to home and home to school. For many, life revolves around school and an unhealthy obsession with how much work there is to do. Sometimes there is even a twisted pride and rivalry around how late people stay at work, who gets in to school earliest and who comes in at the weekend or doesn’t. There is a dangerous assumption that the hardest working teachers are the best teachers.
I have bad news for these people. All those countless hours spent at work may mean they get more done, but may make it much less likely that their students want to learn from or with them. It may make them very dull people who are unlikely to interest, inspire or motivate young people in the slightest.
So, instead of staying behind at work… ask yourself if that task really needs doing or if it will really transform learning. If not, get out of there… go and explore your city, go and take some photos, go and read a good book, go and see a movie, go and meet a friend (who doesn’t work at school!) and talk about life, go to a museum, go and people-watch somewhere, go down that alleyway you’ve always wondered about, enroll in an evening class, eat somewhere you’ve never tried before, go to a market, develop that talent that lies dormant… be interested in the world outside of school.
What you bring back to your classroom – knowledge, curiosity, connections, awareness, compassion, perspectives – will inevitably make you a better teacher.
To be a teacher who truly has an effect on students you must know learning. To know how to teach is not sufficient, instead you must become skilled and dexterous at noticing learning. And this is learning without predetermined boundaries. Contexts yes, boundaries no. For when we establish too narrowly the boundaries of learning we instantly rule out learning that is new and different.
To know learning, you must know life. An adult who “lives to work” will struggle here as a direct result of inevitably becoming rather narrow minded. An adult who is aware, who is regularly challenged and exposed by new situations, an adult with knowledge beyond her own area of expertise is much more likely to be able to see learning of different types.
This type of person sees and makes connections that enrich life in their classroom. Most of these connections are spontaneous and not planned for. This type of person responds to students in a way that makes the student feel that they are part of a wider world, not a classroom bubble. Connections are frequently made with media, knowledge, literature, ideas, people, businesses, organizations and aspects of society that lie within and beyond the walls of the school.
When this culture of connections exists in your classroom, learning can take many forms… sometimes being so “disguised” that it looks unlike learning in any traditional sense. Learning lies in the background and provides forward momentum for students regardless of what it is they are doing.
If you were to walk in to the classroom of a teacher like this, you would see them:
- Creating contexts in which students are engaged and energized.
- Differentiating – in a sophisticated sense – so that students are pursuing their own inquiries or working on their own projects.
- Getting out of the habit of playing “guess whats in my head”. Sharing ideas and making connections with and for students as and when they are needed has a profound effect on the directions students can take.
- “Noticing and naming” the learning that is taking place in order to validate what students are doing and help them plot their way forward, navigating their way through their curriculum.
- Establishing a meaningful reflective process that creates a culture of intrinsic motivation for students.
- Taking steps to set classrooms up as “learning studios” that are dynamic spaces that change according to what students are doing.
- Skillfully and intelligently documenting learning using different forms of media.
- Empowering students by deliberately creating a “culture of permission” in which students feel that they can give things a go and that their teacher is able to work with them to make things happen.
Do you know any teachers like this? I do. And all too often they are in the minority. How do we change that?
In the market, on Saturdays and other special days, he sits and mends broken chairs. Not just any chairs, but those made with wicker or weaved rope. The immediate reaction is “how does he stay in business?”. I mean, do people really get their chairs repaired?
As I stood there, a middle aged couple brought their wooden chair up, a gaping hole in the weave where someone had clearly put their foot through it – probably a grandchild – and handed it over. They chatted for a bit and he pointed at the areas that would need to be worked on in order to restore it. Then, the couple bid him a good day and they wandered into the market, stopping for a moment to greet an older couple pushing a trolley full of paper bags of fruit.
This little scene, which probably lasted only a few minutes, had such a profound effect on me that I felt it in my chest. I felt like I had been learning as I watched, and the learning was of a melancholy nature. I felt I had witnessed several aspects of humanity that were on the decline, that were losing their place in society because of their inability to compete with other aspects of humanity that are most cost-effective.
The man who repairs things seems to be a thing of the past in most societies. It is now too easy to simply go and get a new object for less than you would pay for the old object to be fixed. As a result, we discard things freely and attach little or no value to things which less than a generation ago would have been prized possessions. I don’t know the provenance of that chair, but one could imagine that couple’s parents may well have sat on it eating their breakfast when they were in their 20s. By getting it repaired, their great-grandchildren may well do the same. That has to be the right way, don’t you think?
A side-effect of all of this for education is that working with your hands is also becoming a thing of the past. My three-year old son was transfixed watching the Chair Repair Man work the wood and twine and wicker in his strong, nimble hands. I could see that my son wanted to have a go, to touch the materials and see if he could make them do the same things. But, sadly, the schools I work in will educate this tendency out of him. Sure… he’ll be allowed to build with blocks and other stuff in Early Years. But, sooner or later, all that will be dismissed and he will end up like the rest of them sitting in rows staring at screens.
He may also never know what it feels like to walk up to someone and chat about their trade, learn about how they will do something for you and then negotiate a price – to make human interactions a valued part of daily life. He will probably interact purely through a device, if that involves anything that can actually be called an “interaction”.
And, as we become more and more convinced that staring at a device having surface-level conversation with groups of people who like everything we say is “socializing”, I would say his chances of bumping into someone he has known for many years and stopping for a regular conversation are pretty negligible. Which is sad, not old-fashioned. Just plain, simple sad. Don’t you think?
So, I’m starting to sound like some anti-technological, retro-Dinosaur type aren’t I? But I wrote this on a laptop, I will upload it to a website and I will share it with my PLN using Twitter. I know how to use the stuff… I just don’t want it to use me, or for it to replace what is real and right, or for it to rob my children of what it feels like to work with their hands and hang out with people face-to-face.
It is down to our generation to fight for a few things, to embrace the new while preserving the old. Being progressive has never been a synonym for being submissive. Personally, I think it is education’s duty not to be submissive.
We need to stop talking about the 21st Century as if it is the future, we are already in it.
We need to stop trying to address new situations and challenges with old models and moulds.
If we are in any way serious about moving education forward, or even just catching up, we need to be in the business of breaking moulds. If we keep using the same old moulds, it doesn’t matter what we put into them… the end product will always be the same.
Here are some educational moulds that could do with being broken:
- Leadership – Leadership roles in schools tend to be very restrictive as there is usually only one possible way to advance if we are ambitious and wish to expand our scope of influence. The career path usually takes us further away from kids, further away from learning. This will inevitably make leaders less relevant! Why not break a few of those moulds and create alternative career paths for people so they can continue to be their best?
- Homework – For all the talk about homework, there is still remarkably little change. Thousands of teachers are still handing out homework to thousands and thousands of students that is still in the same mould as it was 5, 10, 15 and 20 years ago. We have moved on so…. let’s move on. We could even go so far as to break that mould and then simply not replace it!
- Reports – Another mould that we continue to use even though we know it isn’t the right mould. Break it, rethink it, redesign it, discard it… anything but carry on with the same.
- Classrooms – It is such an uncomfortable feeling to walk into a classroom (for any age) and find it to resemble classrooms we endured when we were kids. It is so refreshing, on the other hand, to walk into a classroom that breaks those moulds. Imagine a classroom with different seating options, different shapes and heights of tables, different lighting options, different smells and sounds… Teachers need to have a daily routine of asking themselves “would I like to be a student in my own class?”
- End-of-year class parties – just adding this as our school year comes to an end and I have been around every classroom and found mountains of junk food, packaging, throw-away cups and plates and wide-eyed over-indulged children who ate lunch only an hour beforehand. Time to think again people! Have a pool party like we did in Year 6 at NIST, have a class sports day, go out somewhere, bring someone in to do something different with them. Or, at the very least, cancel lunch on that day.
- Technology – Funny isn’t it, most of us actually think 21st Century leaning actually means using technology. We are mistaken. It actually involves, but doesn’t mean, using technology to make learning different to how it was before, not simply replicating what is used to be like but using a computer or other device instead. Use technology to break a few moulds, then it may serve a purpose. Be careful, we are in danger of creating some rather dull new moulds in the way we currently use technology.
- Committees – Instead of creating a few of those dull old committees and populating them with people who have to be in a committee, how about using an inquiry style of leadership and letting teachers determine what needs to be done to improve their schools and then empowering them to take action and make those improvements happen. Teachers who feel empowered to create change have a much better chance of nurturing students who feel empowered to create change.
- Timetables – The fragmentation of the school day is often done with little thought about the flow of learning or the time needed for genuine inquiries to take shape. Discrete lessons, certainly in primary education, may be close to obsolete. In fact, in my teaching practice over the last few years, I would struggle to give an example of a lesson that actually ended – many began, many had middles, but I can’t think of any that had an end. And, I wouldn’t want them to!
- Meetings – Any time any person is running any meeting, they should consciously try to make it unlike a meeting. This is really hard, the meeting is a very strong mould! But, if we can just approach them with the determination to chip away at the mould we will start to create something different.
- Professional development – Throw some money at it, get on a plane somewhere, sit and listen to someone, take away one or two things, implement one of them, share nothing. All too often, PD falls into that trap. Great for getting around the world, meeting people and making connections… don’t get me wrong. Hopeless for moving a school forward. Even bringing in big names and filling rooms with teachers can sometimes have little or no impact. Good professional development should have a sustainable impact on a school’s culture of learning and to do so it needs to be dynamic and multi-faceted. A model that we are experimenting with and getting a lot of success is bringing in practitioners, people who still teach, and setting them up to have an effect on the teaching and learning in the school in multiple ways – team-teaching, demonstration teaching, helping with planning, working with parents etc… there’s lots of ways to do it. Give it a try!
- Learning – Yep, even learning is stuck in a type of mould. While doing a teacher appraisal today, I snapped a photo of this image that was on top of one of my colleague’s files – it pretty much represents the mould of teacher/student relationship that is being broken and needs to be broken more!
Anyway… enough from me. What moulds are you breaking? What moulds would you like to break?
Image from OKFoundryCompany on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/jamesoneil/
It has become painfully obvious to me over the last few years that teaching may be the only profession in which you can be guaranteed that someone will say you are wrong about something at least once a day.
There are so many people with a vested (and sometimes even not vested) interest in what you do in your classroom that you can be sure to be judged over at least one small detail each day at work. I can think of no other profession in which there are so many other experts lining up to tell you how, and how not to, do your job. In which other professions could you open your email at night, be unjustly criticized by someone and then struggle to sleep? It happens to teachers all the time.
This can become extremely debilitating:
- It can stop you from being innovative
- It can make you second guess your every action
- It can limit the experiences you offer your students
- It can destroy your confidence in yourself
- It can undermine the fundamental importance of the individual teacher and the differences we bring to education
I am fairly lucky. To a certain extent, I am strong about what I believe about learning and how I go about putting what I believe into practice.
Others are less lucky. Many teachers are highly sensitive people to whom the opinions and judgments of colleagues, parents, administrators and whoever else happens to pass by matter a great deal. These people can shrink before your eyes as their individuality, decision-making, ideas and approaches are questioned. They spend countless hours writing replies to critical emails – all too often justifying their own blatantly good actions in response to blatantly ridiculous criticism. Honestly, if we were to spend several years gathering all of the things teachers are frequently told they are wrong about we could compile possible the best tragic joke book of all time!
This trend really bothers me. The disempowerment of teachers really bothers me… particularly as these people are being asked to empower their students.
- Possess a very clear vision/mission statement through which everything can be “filtered”
- Hire teachers whose thinking and practice are aligned with that vision
- Have a default setting of backing teachers first, responding to criticism second (if at all)
- Have a zero-tolerance approach to gossip in the teaching community
- Hire leadership teams who have a strong, teacher-centred, approach
- Believe in themselves and the way they work
- Make sure they are working in the school that is right for them, and vice-versa
- Not apologize in response to unfair criticism
- Always respond to criticism by suggesting a face-to-face meeting, not by an exchange of opinions or justifications by email
- Inform a member of the school’s leadership team once a series of criticisms begins
- Have confidence in the fact that most criticisms are likely to come from ignorance
- Allow their colleagues the space to be themselves
- Have faith in the teachers who devote their last drop of energy to doing their job as well as they can
- Make sure their kids are in the right school for them, or;
- Be willing to have their predetermined ideas about education permanently changed, or;
- Be ready to change which school their child goes to, not try and change the school they do go to
- Find other distractions if they find themselves putting too much thought into what is going on their children’s classrooms!
Picking fault with teachers in a way that is destructive should not be tolerated. In all honesty, is there another profession in which this happens???