Learning Conversations

Come sit with me. Well talk, well ask big questions

Category: The Future of Education (page 1 of 2)

Make Your Room as a Dissertation Writing Service

If you are having trouble writing your dissertation, there may be a few factors that come into play. First, you may not be interested in the dissertation writing, which means that you should try some writing services and ask them “can you write my essay for me” instead. Second, you may not have time to write all your dissertation chapters, leading you to ask for help and buy them from online dissertation writing services. That is all well and good, but some students cannot afford themselves to buy dissertation chapters online.

The best thing you can do for yourself in this situation is arranged your space to allow yourself to write dissertation better. Even if you are pressed for time writing a lot of assignments, being in a serene environment can help you work faster and better. Instead of looking for dissertations online to buy, try to settle your space first.

College dorm rooms can be a disaster zone, especially when you or your roommate are messy people. This is not a conducive area for studying and you can’t always pull all-nighters at the library anyway. Don’t get us started on expensive coffee shops either. So what can you do? Here are our tips.

Why go out when you can stay in to write your dissertation?

1. First of all, you need to clean.

Before you can rearrange anything in your room, you need to tidy up first. Let go of everything that you do not need. Take photos of loose notes and look at them through your phone or laptop instead. Throw them away. Do the same for any materials that are placed on paper. Recycle them instead. Otherwise, throw all memorabilia that means nothing to you. If you think it looks good, ask your roommate. If they say no, throw it away.

2. Next, you need to organize.

After you achieved a clean space, it is time to maximize the heck out of it. Adjust your desk to receive natural light from the side. Not from the front, because it causes distractive glare from outside. Not directly behind you, because it can block the light that you need. Even if you have a lamp, natural light lets you study better during the day. Categorize your study materials and put them in a specific place. Never put anything else in their place.

3. Lastly, you need to noise control.

You cannot tell the world to shut up, but you can shut your ears. Invest in noise-cancelling headphones. There are cheap ones on the market, but you should maximize them as much as possible. Do your best to avoid any distractions that you do not welcome. Even if you listen to music, make sure that you like it when you are studying. Choose a genre that lets you study the best. If possible, ask your roommate to be as quiet as possible when you study.

If none of that works, you may need to check for some online dissertation writing services because you will have a hard time writing on your own. Otherwise, you can just leave and find a quiet place to study every night.

The Best Parent-Teacher Interactions

As the president of my district’s parent group (DPAC), my biggest goal is to support better parent-teacher relationships.

At our orientation meeting at the beginning of the 2008/09 school year, one of our amazing District staff development experts came to present about the importance of initiating conversations with your children’s teachers.

And as part of that presentation, she guided us through an “appreciative inquiry” exercise to help us connect with the best parent-teacher interactions we’ve had.

The exercise went like this:
– on an index card, write down you name, your children’s ages and the school(s) that they attend.
– write about a time that you had a great interaction with a teacher
– take your index card, introduce yourself to someone you don’t know, and describe your story to that person (and vice versa)
– trade cards with that person
– find another person you don’t know and tell them the story of the person whose card you’re now holding (and vice versa)
– trade cards with the second person
– find a third person you don’t know and tell them the story of the person whose card you’re now holding (and vice versa)
– choose three words that describe the stories that you heard

What would happen if every parent-teacher conversation, conference or disagreement was conducted with caring, support, encouragement and respect?  What would our chances of finding successful solutions for our children be if we could remember to co-operate, be open, understand and appreciate each other?

At one of our DPAC meetings, we talked about this graphic and the kinds of interactions that produced results.  We talked about the things that get in the way of these kinds of interactions why don’t we do this all the time??  And we talked about ways of increasing the likelihood of each interaction including all of these qualities.

What if we all, in our learning communities, talked about the kinds of interactions parents want to have with teachers and how we can help each other create those situations? I think Ill raise this discussion again at the beginning of the new school year approaching, to get everyone thinking about the positive interactions possible for us.

We’re all human and it’s hard to remember to focus on the big picture all the time.  In my opinion, if we’re all talking about the same questions and have the same goals, then we’ve just tripled the probability that one of us (parent, teacher or administrator) will REMEMBER to pull us all back to our real goal to have caring, positive interactions that help find solutions for our children!

And isn’t that what really matters?

Aim High

Through my Twitter network, I came across a video of Sir Ken Robinson’s talk at the Apple Education Leadership Summit in April, 2008.

He finishes with a quote that I want to remember:

Someone said the great problem with human societies is not that we aim too high and fail, but that we aim too low and succeed.

And for education, for the future, for all of us collectively, I think we all have to accept that for now, and for ever, we have to aim very high in education and we have to succeed.”

– Sir Ken Robinson

http://www.edutopia.org/sir-ken-robinson-creativity-part-one-video

For me, I’ve always felt the same way about my parenting I aim very high and I have to succeed.  This is not something I’m willing to fail at…

That mindset certainly has helped me feel the urgency to make my parenting choices consciously and to do the personal reflection and change that need to happen to allow me to make those better parenting choices.

Otherwise, it’s just too easy for me to go day to day, year to year always doing things, always busy but not getting done the stuff that’s really important!

At a District workshop I attended yesterday, Assistant Superintendent Sylvia Russell spoke passionately that it’s important for us to remember that “No child is expendable!” I heard many people discussing that again during the session – it obviously resonated with all of us. It’s not good enough to do our best – we want to remember to do whatever it takes to help every child feel like a success.

What does that mean to me? It means that every one of us needs to hold a central belief in our hearts – that every child is capable of feeling like a success. And therefore, it’s only a matter of being curious, asking questions, researching, trying new things, working together and being creative until we find that solution that we already trust exists. That we won’t give up. Ever.

That’s how I parent too. I begin by having faith that my children and I will find our way forward and that they will grow up to be wonderful, contributing and whole human beings. And then, even when I’ve lost hope in a particular moment and can’t see my way forward, I still rely on that overall faith in the outcome to remind myself that I’ll find the way and we just need to keep trying.

And that’s what matters…

A Trifecta for Change

Keeping student learning at the center of all we do in the education system is absolutely critical – I have no doubt of this! In fact, as parents, we have exceptionally high standards and expect schools to have a 100% success rate. Our District talks proudly of its graduation rate – up in the high nineties (percentile), it’s pretty impressive. And I still say “not good enough!” Ask any parent if they want their child to be the kid that falls through the cracks? I doubt you’ll get any takers!

So that means one thing to me – we all need to be part of the education “system.” We all need to work together: students, parents, teachers, staff, leaders, politicians, communities.

These are things we all know. And we talk about them a lot – what to change, what we want, what we dream of, what we value, etc

The hard part is figuring out how to DO all these things? How to embed these beliefs into every thought, word and deed? How do we shift a system? How do we change the world? These are, indeed, big questions…

David Truss, Dave Sands and I have had many “big” talks about educational change over the last few years. We keep coming back to three core components to change – and that all three need to work together for success. We’ve talked about them as leadership, systems (technology, policies and procedures, administrative requirements, etc…), and shared learning (or Pro-D). Projects undertaken in only one of the three areas without considering/incorporating the other two areas inevitably fail or, at a minimum, underperform and lack sustainability.

I’ve come to think of the three areas that David, Dave and I talk about as a trifecta, of sorts. All three are needed to support innovative, systemic change. All three need to be considered and embedded into all we do in order to “win this race” for 100% success. As I reflected on Elisa Carlson’s post about Engaging Digital Natives, I got thinking again about change – the “engrossed” learning that she describes, I want for my children. For ALL children – and all adults too!

So, what will move us forward? How will we spread change and all the great things happening in pockets further and further, until we have a system we no longer recognize?

Here are my thoughts:

1) Relationships for Learning

(what David, Dave and I originally called “shared learning”)

I bet on relationships first. If there were only one thing I could focus my time on, it would be on building trust and relationships between all involved in our education system. Because if we have solid relationships, then we communicate with each other, we share our challenges and our ideas, and we learn together. And that, alone, changes my child’s learning experience in a classroom, even if all other challenges stay the same.

We have to remember that not only student-teacher relationships are critical to learning, but an entire community of healthy relationships are needed. Andy Hargreaves talks about the need for active trust to support systemic excellence and change, because we need learners to take risks. So we need supportive relationships between parents and teachers, teachers and students, all peer groups (students with students, teachers with teachers, etc), principals and teachers, etc

There are so many approaches, ideas, methodologies and projects – so many great things I see happening all over the place! But there is only one FIRST step in education change: we have to start by knowing each other. We have to encourage each other to remember that we’re all human and we all care about the same, fundamental things – children growing up to be happy, healthy, self aware and contributing citizens. We have to keep trying to remember not to assume or judge each other (and ourselves). We have to move beyond the old system and find ways to work together instead of fight against each other.

I never underestimate the power of the “system” (see #3 below). Barry Oshry writes about organizational behavior and how systems have personalities that inevitably influence us. We’re so used to doing things the way we always have and operating by habit. And particularly when under the influence of busy lives, it’s only natural to fall into old  habits – in this case, the old habits of treating parents as “clients” or the outsiders, doing “to” instead of doing “with” and falling back to assumptions about each other because it’s easier than the uncomfortable and vulnerable work of revealing yourself as an individual (with all the human foibles we all wish we could hide).

It’s easy to get frustrated with people – it’s much more effective to get curious. Ask questions. Don’t assume. Listen with an open mind. Don’t judge. Let yourself and those around you be whole, imperfect and amazing human beings. Open doors and take first steps in getting to know each other. Start by sharing something about yourself – you have a dog, you like snowboarding, you want to travel to Paris some day. Something that let’s people see you as an individual. Connect. It’s the foundation!

Parents need professionals. Professionals need parents.
The children need us both.

-Federation of Invisible Disabilities

2) Creating a Space for Learning

(Originally “Leadership)

I bet on the leadership needed for building communities in second place because we need those relationships to move beyond one-on-one interactions. We need support and modeling to learn how to trust that we can take risks (and won’t be made fun of or reprimanded), to come together as groups that collaborate and share, to decide that it’s safe in this space to be vulnerable and uncomfortable.

We all need leaders/mentors who encourage us without judging, who ask questions instead of give answers, who inspire us and who motivate us to believe in ourselves. Sometimes, we need the wisdom of an expert learner to help us keep going when we’ve lost hope and to walk beside us without taking over.

This could be a principal working with her staff, a teacher working with students, a student leader working with peers, a parent who advocates for greater involvement, etc We are all leaders in different ways and at different times.

Ultimately, creating a “safe space” for learning has to do (first and foremost) with who we are, not simply what we say or do. It takes silence, self reflective practices and conscious effort to be able to “show up” for those around you in a whole, healthy and supportive way. Without baggage. This is where Gandhi’s “be the change you want to see in the world” becomes the core guiding principle!

We cannot force someone to learn. We cannot mandate or legislate change. Ultimately, we can’t even motivate people to make the changes we want them to make. Goodness knows, I’ve tried! My daughter is a beautiful, smart, sensitive young lady. She is also disorganized, quick to anger or frustration, anxious and vulnerable. She’s quick to beat up on herself (afraid I’ve modeled that for her all too well…) and hates to hear feedback (because it all feels like criticism to her). Knowing that, in a way, I’ve “done” this to her through modeling my own insecurities and reactions, I sometimes feel like I have to also “fix” this.

It may be obvious to anyone from the outside that I can’t “fix” her, but fear and overwhelming love for our children isn’t always conducive to logical parenting choices… No surprise, then, that my dear daughter always fought harder when I tried to “teach” her – because every time I started some mini-lecture on the need for self control or having to clean her room, all she heard was “mom thinks there’s something wrong with me and I’m going to be a failure…” That led to nothing but more fights and more self doubt – the exact OPPOSITE of what I wanted for her!

Instead, I had to deal with my own fears FIRST. Only then could I start to learn to “hold a space” for her – to start every conversation by thinking “I love this child so much, how can I say what I want to say with that love at the core, so that she’ll hear me?” I don’t tell her what she’s done “wrong” anymore – she knows it (and desperately fears it) already. I ask questions instead. “How did it feel to be so upset? Did you like that? What do you want to do differently?” I ask her “How can I help?” or “Does that seem reasonable?” or “Can you think of a similar time when you found a solution?” I say “I love you” and offer her a hug (more and more, she asks for hugs now).

I set expectations and hold her to them by reminding her that she is capable – because sometimes she’s afraid and has lost hope, so helping her remember that she has successfully handled such situations in the past helps her remember to trust or believe in herself. And only once she lets go of the fear does her mind open to all the solutions that were sitting in front of her all the time! I could have told her what to do until I was blue in the face and she wouldn’t have done anything – because a mind closed with fear is blind. But simply to say “I believe in you and here’s the proof I see” shifts her a little, makes her question her fears, and invites her to open up just a crack.

What does this mean in our schools? Well, how often do we berate teachers who “don’t get it” for not changing their teaching practices? Or when that perpetually tardy student shows up late again, how often do we pull him into the office for another “mini lecture” on the need for punctuality? When parents sit around complaining in the parking lot, does anyone go listen to their concerns and invite them into the school for discussion? Or do the staff stand at the windows thinking “there they go again. THOSE parents…” (insert rolled eyes here). Every day, every moment – are our actions supporting the change that we can’t to make? Are we creating that space and that safety needed for those around us to learn?

In other words, I’ve learned something critical about leadership and systemic change from my darling, high strung daughter. We can only create a space that is safe, caring and supportive – then invite people to join us in making the changes that matter to us all. And join us, they will. I have faith! NOTE: return to review importance of #1 now, in context of #2…

3) Systems for Learning

(originally and still “systems”)

Ahhh… The SYSTEM… We do, indeed, have a hard time shifting a system, don’t we? There are rules, policies, Provincial learning outcomes, legislation, administrative procedures, best practices, standardized tests, class sizes, reporting requirements, budgets and limited resources, Roberts Rules of Order, and (not least of these) “the way we’ve always done it.” There are computer systems, software programs, support structures, hiring practices, purchasing rules, and parents who “don’t get it.” There are innumerable reasons why we can’t change.

Right now, we have excellence that happens in spite of the system. Every day, I see educators, principals, parents, students – all doing amazing things! But too often, these great programs or projects are driven by the determination and persistence of individuals – fighting the system and moving mountains because they care about kids and want to make a difference.

Too often, we have to find ways around policies, we have to fight technology barriers, we are working alone (“reinventing the wheel”) or we have to ignore politics (with career risk involved) in order to make great things happen. And the problem with this kind of change is that it isn’t sustainable – eventually, you get tired of fighting, you doubt your effectiveness and life becomes overwhelming. So the great program ends and you move on to a new challenge, hoping that this time it will be different…

In order to move forward and truly achieve lasting change and 100% success, we need excellence that is supported by the system.

This is where we usually start. Perhaps because it’s the most obvious – the lack of computers, the wireless networks, the budgets we debate every year, the curriculum or standardized testing mandated by government, changing assessment and report cards, the pro-d days, the possible programs (i.e. project based learning, IB, Montessori, French Immersion).

But the projects we choose often lack the conscious inclusion and consideration of both leadership and relationships/trust. I’ve noticed that we carefully select our pilot sites for technology projects, considering who the Principal at the school is, what kind of pro-d culture they have, how the parent/community relationships are. And I don’t think we often list those considerations specifically – it’s more of a gut feeling or instinct based selection. We sit around a table and throw out suggestions for pilot schools – and certain ones immediately resonate. We know we can make change there. Why? Because the “right” people are there…

When we roll it out further, it often struggles. We still deploy the computers, but they get used by only certain people. Or they are used in much more adaptive (rather than transformative) ways.

Yes, we need to change the system – there’s no doubt of that! But we need to change it together. We need to pay attention to relationships and communities. We need a shared understanding of our ultimate goals – what Andy Hargreaves calls an inclusive and inspiring vision. And we need to constantly questions our assumptions along the way. Changing a system has as much to do with what we do as with what we choose NOT to do…

Life’s two most important questions are “Why?” and “Why not?”
The trick is knowing which one to ask.

– Gordon Livingston

Crowd Accelerated Innovation

In the TEDTalks video, Chris Anderson talks about the YouTube phenomenon and how it is fueling incredible innovation – just by sharing ideas in big ways!

From the description on YouTube: TED’s Chris Anderson says the rise of web video is driving a worldwide phenomenon he calls Crowd Accelerated Innovation a self-fueling cycle of learning that could be as significant as the invention of print.

This is why I’m encouraging my Districts parents to share their stories on a Posterous website (http://dpac43.posterous.com) – with each other, with the District, with our community (both local and global)!

We have ideas – schools and PAC’s are doing great things all over this District. I know that because I hear stories every time I talk to someone or walk into a school!

We have the “crowd” – parents are part of vibrant school communities and we want to be involved.

We have the “desire” – I know that parents in this District care SO much. About our kids, about our schools and about our communities! It’s why we volunteer our precious time – because we know it matters!

And sharing our ideas in a way that all can see, read and contribute is a start at shedding “light” on all of those ideas that are happening in every corner of our District!

I’m also hoping that we’ll be able to engage our student leaders to share stories from schools from their perspective – showing us the things they care about and that they are proud of!

More stories = more sharing = more ideas to spread!

I think a lot about ways of sharing stories. How could teachers share their stories and ideas? Shed light on the great things that happen in classrooms and schools all the time? Share ideas for teaching practices or lesson ideas? About classroom management and ways to personalize learning? Share resources?

A group blog perhaps? A wiki? A video library?

Or I dream big about an innovation and collaboration center. Allow discussion to form around questions or topics – use @injenuitys idea of having a tag cloud as a dynamic, fluid way of surfacing what people are talking about. Follow the words that pique your interest and join in.

Some educators do this already on Twitter or via blogs. I think the catch to having the majority being engaged in such sharing, though, is making it (1) easy and (2) relevant within a trusted peer community. The first one removes the technical barriers to participation.  And the second one makes it meaningful for individuals because if these are stories that are being told in my own District, then I know the curriculum is the right one, I can call the person if I have questions and I know its possible within my own community.

Stories are such a non-judgemental, non-threatening way of that sharing! No one is telling anyone else what to do or how to do it were just telling the stories of our own journeys. Allowing others to tag along.

Maybe, my story might spark an idea for someone else. Maybe they will add their own personal touch and come up with a new idea! And who knows where that might lead??

Let the learning (and innovation) spread!

Mixed Messages

I sat with my 12yo daughter tonight, encouraging her to get her homework done.

She was working on her monthly reading assignment she gets to pick the book, she has a whole list of options for what to do for the assignment and I’m pretty sure her teacher would allow them to suggest alternatives, if they want. The options include written assignments, comic strips, Power Point presentations, videos, etc. The kids are allowed to use any method and any medium they like.

My daughter loves art, so shes drawing a comic strip. She has said before that she doesn’t like when the teacher picks the novel, so shes allowed to make her own choice. I thought shed like this assignment.

And yet she resists.

Is it just because its homework and therefore its automatically onerous?
Is it because she gets anxious about getting things done, or because perfectionism makes her want it to be so fantastic that the task is daunting?
Would she just, plain, rather be playing?

These things are probably part of it. But this is a kid who makes up long, complex stories with her brothers, spends hours drawing on Google Sketchup, researches dog breeds to incredible depth and regularly blows me away with her questions and ideas.

As she whined and complained about having to do the work, I asked her But you like drawing, you got to to choose the book. How come you dont like doing this assignment? It seemed to me that her teacher had done the stuff we always talk about empowering learners, providing choice, allowing personalization.

Because I don’t like being forced to do it. she responded.

So we talked about the times when we have to do things, even when that’s not our choice, but that it has a larger purpose in our lives. I don’t like paying bills, but I love my family and want us to have a place to live and keep it heated and have electricity for lights, etc And that perspective can help me grind through the stuff I don’t necessarily enjoy with a lighter heart.

She looked at me, agreeing in principle. But nothing resonated with her here. She can relate to having to clean her room so that she can have her friends over or so that she find her things when she wants them. She can understand having to scrub the bathroom so that we all have a home that is healthy. But she cant understand how drawing a comic strip about her favorite scene in this novel helps her achieve her dreams or that it will somehow help her function in life. She grudgingly went back to her homework seeing it simply as the hoop she has to jump through in this game we call school.

In that moment, I realized something. She had no idea why reading and comprehension are important for her life. This assignment isn’t meaningful for her, at all! There is no relevance. And I also realized that I’m not sure how the assignment relates to real world skills either?

Its assumed that reading is important and that kids need to be able to show their comprehension somehow with some sort of output. We all agree that its a necessary skill. But why? What is the end goal of reading? Of a book report? Of a monthly reading assignment?

I struggle a little to understand her disinterest because, to me, reading is almost as necessary as breathing. I love it. I love the art of it, just for the experience of it. I love rolling the words around on my tongue, tasting them, imagining the scenes being painted, letting the ideas stretch and dance in my mind. At her age, reading was my escape.

But as I think about it, my daughter would prefer to make up her own stories. She is a creator more than a consumer. She loves reading for facts absorbing and retaining information as quickly as she can find it. But has never loved reading fiction.

In fact, isn’t that true of the culture of this generation? These kids are creating all sorts of content! YouTube. Blogs. Facebook. Photos. Creating their own characters on all sorts of game sites. They create their own avatars on our Wii. They engage with the world, expecting to be part of creating their own experiences. They are less willing to sit back and receive. To consume. To accept what they’re given.

I sit here wondering what this all means?

If my daughter never does connect with a love of reading, is that a problem? She has other ways of experiencing her love of art and stretching her imagination. She engages with storytelling constantly with her brothers, with her friends, in her own head. In fact, she enjoys reading when it has a social component for her she loves snuggling up to me in bed, both of us lost in our own books but sharing a moment together. And she has certainly shown her ability to read and consume information, as well as assess and communicate her findings. Shes got the basics down.

Beyond that, what are the necessary skills for navigating this world? For being a contributing citizen? For connecting with others? For supporting herself and her family? How do we show kids the relevance of what they’re being taught when were not really clear on that ourselves?

I grew up in a world of have to and should be and seeking to please those in authority. I excelled in school partly because I just plain love learning, partly because I was really good at knowing what people expected of me and delivering that. I found it easy to succeed in the existing system in school and upon entering the workforce.

But is that the world that our children are coming into? Is that what we want to prepare them for? To obey? And jump through hoops?

Because I think were giving them some really mixed messages right now. On the one hand, were encouraging them to care to stand up against bullies, to make changes that will save our environment and feed the hungry. We are empowering them to stand up and make a difference. Were telling them we want them to care and to be passionate about what matters to them.

And yet we expect them to do their homework, even when they don’t understand why they’re doing it. Because these are the rules and that’s what they need to do in order to get the marks and move on to the next level. In fact, this is the work world that we know as well one of rule following and doing as were told, even when it doesn’t make sense. Where the world of Dilbert is just a little too close to the truth in our organizations

I sit here, wondering which way this will all go? Which messages will our children absorb? Is this part of our path, our journey of change? Is this how societal change happens? No wonder our kids are struggling at times were struggling too! Yes indeed, times of change are difficult because this churning, this indecision and mixed messages, this uncertainty its a necessary part of revolution and its uncomfortable. Were trying to figure out how to do all these things were talking about and its hard work, darn it!

And I wonder about my little girl who is growing up so quickly, who is so bright and so determined. Will she change the world? Or will the world change her?

What we know about learning…

How we design technology tools and systems must be firmly grounded in all we know about learning (from both current research and educator experience). I believe that the qualities of effective learning environments must guide IT decisions and design processes.

Here are my initial ideas – what are your thoughts? Things I missed? Does it resonate?

Focus on Student Learning

  • The ultimate focus is always to support student learning and growth.

Learner Centered

  • All learning (i.e. students in a class, teacher pro-d, parents seeking info, etc…) requires similar types of supports (relevant, empowered, social, etc…)
  • We all need to be lifelong learners. Process of continuous improvement is critical.
  • The rate of change in the world is still accelerating and isn’t likely to stop, so we need to be able to continuously learn

Relevant

  • Connect learning to real world situations. Don’t want learners to have to ask “why am I doing this?” without an answer!
  • Continuous communication of the “why” of everything we do is critical
  • Create meaning within each person’s own context. When I can connect something new to something I already understand, learning is better retained and becomes sustainable.
  • Bring together and respect existing communities. People self-organize by what matters and has value for them.
  • Community and parent inclusion in learning strategies can both support and reinforce the learning that happens in schools.
  • Problem solving within real world contexts helps learning “make sense” to learners
  • Critical thinking is a necessary real world skill (we rarely have only the information we need – so what is relevant vs. what is needed vs. what is superfluous?)
  • Access to up to date information and expertise.

Empowered

  • Need to respect diversity of needs/abilities/learning styles, etc…
  • Flexibility is critical to success. Provide a variety of options and let people select their own combination of tools/techniques.
  • There is no “one way” or “one size fits all” solution. Asking questions and being curious is critical. We will provide a variety of tools and options that can be assembled as needed.
  • Support differentiated methods of instruction and access, ability for individuals to select their preferred tools

Social

  • Learning is social – we learn together, no one is the absolute expert, need for “co-learning”
  • Relationships are fundamental to all learning. Learning is social.
  • Every project must be approached as an opportunity to build a culture of learning that supports any kind of change (current or future)
  • Everything we do must provide an opportunity to build and support relationships
  • Trust/safety is required for risk taking and learning
  • How we build trust and individual comfort levels will vary

Networked Learning

  • Learning at all levels supports student learning in classrooms.
    • “Expert Learner” Networks (learning from…)
      • Teacher/student, Principal/teachers, District Leadership/Principals (and VPs), Parent/student, Principal/parents (PAC), Teacher/parents, subject area experts/learners, etc…
    • Peer Networks (learning together…)
      • Students, Teachers, Principals, Parents, District Leaders, Support staff, etc…
    • PLN Personal Learning Networks (self reflection, making meaning of my learning…)
  • We must provide tools and environments that can support all of the different types of networked learning, so that they can be used as needed.
  • These networks are fluid and continually shifting, depending on the topic or the expertise in the room. The “expert learner” is not always the “authority figure” – teachers sometimes learn from their students, principals also learn from their staff, etc… The “expert learner” is the one with the experience and expertise on any particular topic.

Involve Parents and Community

  • Learning is continuous and extends beyond the school day, so also includes families and communities
  • Respect that families all have different values and learning outside of school will reflect those values/interests. Work to connect, not replace, learning outside of school to the learning inside classrooms.

Financially Responsible, Sustainable and Effective

  • We operate within an environment of limited resources, so have to balance idealistic beliefs with the reality of available funding.
  • Build tools that leverage work being done across multiple contexts (e.g. the approach we implement for training users during the IT project could be used for training principals regarding leadership standards)
  • Clarity of purpose is required to ultimately keep the focus on supporting student learning
  • Every project, pilot or test must be considered from a point of view of a District wide implementation – is it feasible? Is it sustainable?
  • Think creativity and build in measurements of success and effectiveness (both quantitative and qualitative, re: hard and soft benefits)
  • Assessment tools must support summative and formative assessment (assessment of learning, assessment for learning, assessment as learning.) (e.g. self assessments, peer feedback, survey tools, etc…)

The Dimensions of Social in Learning

I was chatting with a friend recently, bemoaning my struggles to “be different more authentic, true to myself, putting my beliefs into everyday action. And I was describing how distant I often feel – that despite connecting with some fantastic mentors and surrounding myself with people who are modeling what I aspire to, I still felt really lonely at times…

He thought for a moment and said “don’t forget that you don’t just need your personal truth and wise teachers, you need community too…” He then went on to explain that the foundations of Buddhism are the “Three Jewels” – the Buddha (the wise teacher), the Dharma (the teachings) and the Sangha (the community).

I’m not going to go off into a discussion of religion at this point, but this chat got me thinking about how we learn and what the dimensions of social learning need to include. It got me thinking about how I would design a system to support all of those dimensions? Because we all need a balance of all three to learn most effectively!

To start with, I believe that learning is learning is learning is learning…

In other words, what we want for students is ultimately no different than what we need to provide educators in terms of professional development opportunities, or what we need to help parents experience as they support their children’s learning. It’s an idea I’ve espoused for quite a while and it’s showing up for me now as I look at how to leverage what we know about learning in order to create a supportive technology infrastructure for all participants in our education system?

So, I believe that there are three dimensions of “social” in “learning”:

  1. We “learn from…”
    • This is our “expert learner” network. I like to think of it in these terms because it really emphasizes that we are learning together – but that “experts” will arise from different places. Traditionally, this would be the teacher in a classroom, a mentor or coach when we’re looking for assistance with business or personal growth. It could be a leader of your religious community or your grandma. In less traditional terms, this is anyone who holds a level of experience and wisdom beyond the crowd and is willing to share that with others. It could be one of the students in a classroom. It is often our children, teaching us about using Facebook or how to win at Wii Mario Kart…
    • We all need time with our teachers or mentors because they offer us the perspective of someone who has “done” what we’re trying to do. They look at our efforts objectively and can give us feedback that we can’t see ourselves because we’re too close. They help us by knowing the questions that we don’t even know enough to know we need to ask! And they have a view that allows them to “push” us to develop in ways we don’t know we need because we don’t have the experience of completion or success yet…
  2. We “learn with…”
    • These are our “peer” networks. For a student, it’s their classmates. For a teacher, it’s their fellow educators. For most of us, we have several communities we participate in (local, virtual, centered around our hobbies, interests, charities, work, sports, etc…). Twitter is probably my favorite peer learning network – oh the conversations we have and the depth of learning I experience there!! *contented sigh*
    • When we learn with our peers, we struggle together. Learning that contains some struggle to figure things out, and ends in the creation of meaning, is a powerful thing! We’re all in the same boat, in this case. No one has the “answers” and the process is what we’re after here. How do we work together? How do we ask questions and get curious? How do we scaffold off each other’s ideas or thoughts – creating something greater than we could have done alone?
    • This might be group projects for students. Maybe it’s teachers coming together on inquiry based learning teams. It might be parents talking over coffee about the trials of puberty and having tweens! Often, this works best when we figure out how to be a “team” (incorporating a variety of skills that are used to complement each other), not just a “group” (two or more humans interacting together). And the larger the team/group, the closer we come to being a “network” (enter George Siemens and “Connectivism”)
  3. We “learn about ourselves…”
    • This is the “personal” part of learning – though I don’t think this is what we mean when we talk about “personal learning networks” or PLNs. What we learn this way is what drives the formation of our PLN, but they are two different things, in my mind.
    • This is the time we spend self reflecting or thinking about what really matters to us? Who am I? What matters to me? What am I good at? What would I like to be better at? What causes me grief or pain (and therefore, warrants my efforts to change)? And what do I want to develop in myself?
    • Often, my interactions within groups or comments that my mentors make will help highlight things personally. My patterns, my beliefs, etc… So they’re definitely linked.
    • In terms of the Buddhist model, this is my “personal truth”!

Without a teacher, our learning is incomplete. We quit because we simply can’t imagine that achieving our goals is possible. We lack the wisdom to even know what we need to learn…

Without our peers, we struggle to “Do it all” by ourselves. We feel isolated. We lack all the skills to accomplish the things that we want to do. We get tired of struggling alone – of feeling like we’re “the only one”…

Without time to learn about ourselves and examine who we are, we stay in reactive mode. We trust outside voices rather than our own gut feeling. We lack direction. We’re unmotivated. We make poor choices about what to do or how to do it (since we don’t understand our own strengths and motivations).

As we plan our training efforts, our classroom activities, our professional development programs – are we considering all three of these dimensions? Because they all contribute to a rich learning environment.

And if you’re tech planning, make sure you incorporate all three in the methods or tools you provide…

Learning Through Play

My youngest one is starting Kindergarten this Fall and on Friday, we attended a PALS (Parents As Learning Supporters) session at his new school. I love that the school is bringing in parents/guardians to see what kids will be doing in their classrooms and talking about the approach to learning that we shouldn’t expect a highly academic focus, that children this age learn best by learning through play!

There will be four session in the PALS series this first one was focused around the alphabet. We used stamps to make name tags, then stamp whatever words the children wanted. We made letters out of playdough. We played a matching game of upper case to lower case letters. And then we used fishing rods (with magnets at the end) to pick up fish (letters/pictures with paper clips on them). My son loved it all!

Then the children were ushered off to the community kitchen while the adults got a short lesson on preparing children for Kindergarten and the importance of reading. The speaker told us about making a point of talking about the parts of a book, of pointing out the title page, and of showing that we read left to right, starting on the left page. We heard about the importance of letting kids see us reading and having books in the house, so that they know that its a valued activity in our lives. And that, no matter what the language at home, just keep reading aloud to our children so that they are exposed to the rhythms, vocabulary and ideas that come from a variety of books. All wonderful stuff!

And then the speaker started talking about the importance of limiting screen time for our children that good old fashioned books are critical for children.

I bit my tongue didn’t want to be that parent on the first day, I guess!

But as I reflected on the mornings experience, I put together some feedback via email to the Principal of the school (who I know quite well). I thought about learning through play and the role of technology in a primary classroom.

I completely agree with the importance of reading and also believe there needs to be a balance of appropriate screen time. But a recent post from Will Richardson (http://weblogg-ed.com/2010/no-actually-youre-out-of-balance/) got me thinking about what balance really means particularly that balance isn’t about excluding technology.

It made me thing about the fact that, to this generation, play includes technology and it should, because it is an important part of being a literate citizen. My children are not literate if they do not know how to read, write, communicate AND search for/assess the validity of information. That means that comfort with technology is just as important as comfort with writing instruments or any number of other tools that we equip our kids to use.

My point, to make a long story short, is that I believe its important to start shifting our attitudes to include technology as a part of play and learning, right from the beginning. Penny Lindballe tells the story of lingering societal prejudices against technology well in this post (http://web20parents.blogspot.com/2009/11/real-digital-divide.html) its worth a read too!

There’s a reason we don’t wait until middle school to introduce a pencil, isn’t there? Time to treat technology the same way.

Shared leadership vs the voice in my head

Ive started working on a new project recently and I’m darned excited about it too!

We’ve got a fairly major technology change to deal with and we want to minimize the stress of such a change by putting ease of use and high value at the center of all we do. But we’ve also got a core group of leaders that understand the possibilities inherent in disruption

I feel like we have an opportunity here to create solutions that support a breadth and depth of benefits including community engagement, including parents in learning, empowering students, supporting relationships, creating shared learning, making learning visible, supporting leadership, etc

And the project team is on board to model all that we believe open and transparent communication, shared leadership, collaborative problem solving, listening without judgment, seeking positive exemplars, etc

You can see why I’m excited, right?

So this is where all of the conversations I have on Twitter (and with anyone who will engage with me on a day to day basis!!) hit the reality of having to DO what we’ve talked about. The values I believe in are lofty and probably more than a little idealistic.

I sat in a meeting yesterday, talking about approaches and next steps. There is no clear leadership hierarchy. We have many strong personalities involved. The project sponsor has purposefully brought us all together as thought leaders in different ways. This is growing into a great team

Yet I caught myself falling into old paradigms. I started noticing the voice in my head

Listening and looking around the room, I thought Ok, I thought I was the project manager on this why are there all these conversations that have been going on that I haven’t been included in? Deep breath I had to talk myself through it. This isn’t a big deal people have to feel free to collaborate without limitation no ones trying to exclude you

That made me think Ive struggled a bit during the team-forming phase of this project trying to figure out what role I’m supposed to be in and whats expected of me. Ive sat back at times, unsure whether I’m supposed to be speaking up (to the frustration of the sponsor!!)

And it finally drilled home today this is the discomfort of doing things differently than I have before. In previous projects, Ive wanted to know it all, to have a handle on everything that’s going on (read control) not in a malicious way, but because that was the way Id always been successful before.

It was a great big ah-ha moment! This is what shared leadership looks like! No ones in charge here, were making decisions together, we have to rely on each other, we have to learn to trust each other, were allowing each other not to know it all. In order to allow each person to bring their individual strengths and perspectives to the table, I also have to acknowledge that I cant do everything and therefore I shouldn’t control everything either!

Wow! Its incredibly freeing and incredibly frightening, all at the same time!

I like this journey

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