Where are you?

Schools are talking a lot of talk about digital citizenship.  Leaders are drafting a lot of policy, middle managers are meeting again, discussing once more, how we can establish norms of healthy and effective online behaviors. So, where are you?

Are you mentoring or simply managing?

Are you demonstrating why we need social networks? Are you a lead learner? Do your colleagues, students, friends KNOW what you are learning and why you are learning about it?

I cannot count the times I have heard a fellow teacher say something like this:  “I have nothing to share, why would I tweet?” or “Blogging takes up too much time, and besides, why would anyone read my posts?”

The truth is, every teacher has something to share.

Yes, blogging takes time.

Learning takes time.

Reflection takes time.

Everything that makes your school strong, warm, caring, meaningful TOOK TIME.  Initially you might end up being the only audience for your ideas and posts.

Shouldn’t we all sit as an audience member to our own mind now and then?

"Alone" by encik ryunosuke
“Alone” by
encik ryunosuke

 

Readers will come.

You will be surprised because you will soon realize you have always been a social thinker. All educators are taste-makers, idea-sparkers, and public personas. Even when you don’t have an opinion, your absence of comment says something.

Diversity matters.

Having a PLN, and connecting with a broader range of educators will change you.  Check out this brilliant reflection on ‘How Change Will Change You,”  courtesy of the incredibly witty Jessica Hagy. Perhaps even more relevant to this post is her work here:

So why risk the safety and comfort of your existing ideas for diversity, conflict, and confusion?

Because that is exactly what we ask our students to do every day of the week, because we know it will teach them both how to think, and why society needs thoughtful people.

“Diversity and independence are important because the best collective decisions are the product of disagreement and contest, not consensus or compromise.” ~ James Surowiecki

"Spice_1" by Clyde Robinson

 

So what have I been doing lately to diversifY my ideation process? 

  1. I’ve hosted two #March2C chats. I’ve been looking for new ways of thinking about blogging in schools. You can look at the storified version of the first one here, and the follow up chat here.

This meant using the excellent International Schools Information Technology Leadership and Integration group on Facebook (The inspired John Mikton is one of the admin) as well as our fantastic Google+ #COETAIL community. 

I used CANVA to create a quick and easy advert for the chat.
I used CANVA to spread the word.

 

Fellow COETAILER, Marcello Mongardi agreed to co-host the first chat with me on Twitter. We brainstormed questions, and I used Haiku Deck to curate our conversAtion:


#March2C – Created with Haiku Deck, presentation software that inspires;

2. The initial chat, and extension of my PLN was the direct result of one of my favorite online connections, Sonya terBorg. Sonya is a former colleague, and we recently reconnected when we were both presenting at the ECIS 2015 technology conference. 

Sonya and I have regular chats about where technology could and should be taking our schools, and how it can be a major catalyst for empathy.  After reading her blog post here, I felt inspired to take a blogging project I am facilitating in my own school, and share it with a wider audience. That invitation is still live here.

That’s the power of PLN point guards: they encourage and inspire when you need an added boost.

Sonya reminded me to think about ways to better engage with my audience, and to go visual when sharing my blogging prompts:

3. In the past two weeks I’ve pivoted with the blogging challenge.  There is no reason our PLN should not include our students. So I started asking my students to provide me with blogging prompts, and I’m challenging myself to blog back once a week (you can see my first response here).  It has been really interesting to see how they want to challenge their teacher.

4.  Developing bonds within your PLN community is multifaceted.  One of the lesser talked about networks in COETAIL is Goodreads. 

I’ve been astonished to see what happens when we network our student readers.  I stole this idea from two other PLN point guards:  Jabiz Raisdana and Paula Guinto.

PLN’s do that: they invite you to beg, borrow, steal and remix.

Every single one of my students is now on Goodreads, and we update and connect in that space weekly.  A month ago, I invited our principal to join and connect with students.  He was kind enough to agree.  PLN’s need many roads to connect through, and Goodreads is a great path to pursue. Roughly half of my students have joined the immensely popular Goodreads group “Our Shared Shelf,” reminding me that networks beget more networking.

I’ve sent a tweet to @coetail-admin to see if we can get the Goodreads widget added to our COETAIL blogs. Seeing what educators have on their shelves is incredibly insightful.  Just today I found @Arniebieber ‘s blog (A BIG ROUND OF APPLAUSE FOR ANY SCHOOL DIRECTOR WHO IS BRAVE ENOUGH TO BLOG!) and I decided to check out one of the books on his Goodreads shelf (via the widget) and I’ve already ordered myself a copy.  

I love seeing what other education leaders are reading. The most creative educators are constantly reading, constantly leaving a trail of thought.  Kim Cofino models this practice so well:

If networks beget more networking, reading begets more blogging, and that is a very good thing for schools everywhere.

5. My other PLN extension focus is the upcoming #Learning2 conference in Milan. I’m honored to be an L2 Leader this year. This gives me the stellar opportunity to get more face-to-face time with some of my most valued PLN. It also gives me the opportunity to make new connections.

When I try to distill all my work with my PLN down to an elevator pitch version, here’s what I come up with:

When someone shares an idea with you, or they make time to listen to your idea: ideation spreads. You find yourself having more conversations. You find yourself returning to old ideas, reconnecting with old friends.  You then feel compelled to help others. You remember: teaching is about connection.

Connections by VenusPetrov
Connections by VenusPetrov

 

Who knows, maybe someone is reading this right now, still on the fence about whether or not to try Twitter, to start a blog, to tell their colleague about a wacky idea. If that is you, comment below or send me a DM on Twitter.  If there is one thing I’ve learned from my PLN, it is that you have to pay it forward. You have to encourage others to disrupt their practice.

“Forget about being an expert or a professional, and wear your amateurism (your heart, your love) on your sleeve. Share what you love, and the people who love the same things will find you.”- Austin Kleon

The 21st Century teacher has a garden to tend to, and we need to be thankful to have so much access to many, many seeds out there.  Spring is coming, what will you grow this season?

 

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Another thank you to the amazing community of artists on Flickr’s Creative Commons bank of images. No alterations have been made to any of the original photos.

“Alone” by
encik ryunosuke

“Come on, I canna hold it much longer” by
s3aphotography

“Spice_1” by
Clyde Robinson

Catalyst Plate 3 by Thomas Hawk

Connections by VenusPetrov

Shush myself.

Last week I asked my incredible grade 9 MYP Language and Literature class to provide me with a few good blog prompts.  They have been working from my #March2C (March To Collaborate) blogging menu this month, and I thought it was about time we swapped roles.  In the spirit of student voice, I then asked the class to vote on their favorite suggestions.  It was difficult to choose just one prompt, and after much debating I’ve decided to investigate Stephan’s question:

What are the most important skills you’ve learned from teaching, and what experiences lead to learning those skills?

 

"Think" by Lara Torvi
“Think” by Lara Torvi

 

I’ve been very, very lucky in my career, I’ve taught in China, Thailand, Ukraine, Indonesia, Switzerland (and now, I am looking forward to the next chapter in Singapore!).  I’ve also run a youth center as a US Peace Corps Volunteer in Morocco.  This means I’ve crossed paths with so many phenomenal educators, with so many inspired students.  I’ve seen students explore their passions, dedicate themselves to producing incredibly original and meaningful projects.  Years from now, I will still remember the then tenth grade student, Elena Lie presenting her incredible multi-touch book (which had hundreds of readers from around the globe).  Years from now, I will still be awed by the leadership of one twelfth grader, Christy Z as she modeled what service is all about, and that Margaret Mead was more right than she will ever know.

SO WHAT HAVE I LEARNED?

After more than a decade’s worth of hours as an educator, I’ve learned to get out of the way, to make more space for students, and to let them own the learning.  This is only possible if the teacher takes a step back, and remembers that the learning environment belongs to the entire class.  This means I can’t dominate the conversation, I can’t ask students to just be quiet and listen.  Instead, I’ve learned to facilitate networks, to try and be a catalyst for connection.  It also means providing a void where students can tinker, think, and struggle with ideas.  Because that is one of the most important things we all have to learn: how to cope with, and then how to thrive as a manager of your own thinking.

Redefina, rede, rede grossa. by Daiana Lorenz
Redefina, rede, rede grossa. by
Daiana Lorenz

 

So what am i still learning?

Creativity isn’t just some self-indulgent feely thing.  It has largely defined us as a species-Jesse Richardson

Because I believe that learning how to think is crucial, I must then value mistakes.  I must then value frustration (here’s how you can start thinking about this further).  I must then make room.

This isn’t always easy to do.  The traditional role of the teacher is one of control and dominance.  But what can students learn from that?  Not much. If I do my best to be flexible, inviting, and generous with time students can learn so much.  If Creative Problem Solving is the most desired, and hardest to find skill (according to this report), it is my obligation (and joy) as an educator to facilitate experiences which organically foster the growth for that aptitude.  And creative problem solvers are not likely to be students who have been scolded and shushed.  Making our way through conflict, over obstacles, and beyond the mundane is a noisy, risky, and collaborative endeavor. Becoming a creative problem solver takes time, practice, more practice and a willingness to make loads of mistakes.

Challenge by Ed Selby
Challenge by Ed Selby

 

That, is why I love blogging.  I think it is a worthwhile experience for every learner to have a portfolio documenting, showcasing, sharing and breeding ideas.  Will every post be incredible? No.  But incredible ideas–moments of ‘a-ha!’ are the direct result of dozens of attempts at wondering.  I could spend lesson after lesson lecturing.  But I would rather spend lesson after lesson listening, and allowing ideas to find other ideas. The very best basketball players in the world spend hours on the very same shot.  I hope my students will put in hours taking aim, shooting higher, dribbling with thought, and learning to love the sport of wondering.

by Neville Nel
by Neville Nel

 

So, fellow teacher readers–what lessons have you learned to treasure? Students, do you feel you are authentically learning to become a creative problem solver? Tell me all about it in the comment section below.

 

All photos via Flickr’s AMAZING Creative Commons Collection

“Think” by Lara Torvi

“Redefina, rede, rede grossa”. by
Daiana Lorenz

“Challenge” by Ed Selby

“Bubbles” by Neville Nel