Lens of a Learner

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IMMOOC- Week 3 Blog Prompt….What is one thing that you used to do in education that you no longer do or believe in? Why the change?

 Despite thinking about this prompt all week, I have been struggling to find the right reflective piece to blog about. However, on the eve of taking part in a highly anticipated day of learning with AJ Juliani tomorrow, it dawned on me.

One thing that has changed so much for me over the last few years is how I engage as a professional learner. Becoming a NETWORKED, connected educator over the last number of years has been a game changer for me.

Then..

In years past when attending professional learning sessions put on by colleagues or at conferences, I would take copious notes, capturing the content of the session, as well as the thoughts and connections I was making. In the end, I am not sure how effective or impactful those strategies were for me as learner. I don’t recall going back to all of those notes very often, as when I did I often found they hadn’t in the end really captured what I was looking for.

Now…

Now, when I attend PD, I regularly use Twitter. I often capture some of my biggest takeaways in the form of a Tweet and using this platform I often engage with the presenter as well as other participants. This process is dynamic, engaging and furthers both collaboration and learning. If there is something a presenter says that really resonates with me, I capture it graphically as well, using something like Quote Creator etc. What often makes the PD and my entry points even richer yet,  is the fact that I have often already made a connection to the presenter and his or her work either via Twitter or his or her blog etc. This too helps to enrich and extend the valuable learning I do as a participant.

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I can’t tell you how many times I have used the Twitter Advanced Search to seek out something I have Tweeted from a conference or presentation. I also use Storify to capture and archive a number of Tweets related to a presenter, conference or specific focus. For example after spending 4 days taking part in an amazing PD opportunity at the Learning Forward Conference in Vancouver last December, I captured many of my Tweets and those of others using Storify. Or I regularly created a Storify to celebrate all of the Tweeting and reflection that would happen in my school division, when George Couros came to work with our school division staff for a week at a time like seen here. The process of creating a Storify as well as having it as a resource to come back to over and over again is very powerful.

I also often blog after taking part in valuable professional learning. Blogging helps me unpack my new learning in a deeper way. Reflecting on where I am at and where I am going is what pushes my thinking forward. Doing this in a public way makes me even more cognizant and accountable for my reflective practice.

Similarly, I now do all of these exact same things when reading a professional book. Being a NETWORKED educator has immensely changed that process for the better as well. Having the ability to engage with an author while reading his or her work, using the means of Tweeting to converse with them, and reviewing their extended work online, extends my own learning once again. Blogging about this author’s work while reflecting and documenting my thinking helps me carve my own learning path or next steps moving forward.

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As a professional learner, shifting from my more PASSIVE STANCE of the past, to a position of being a much more connected, engaged member of a professional LEARNING NETWORK has been hugely impactful for me.  Keeping in mind innovative shifts in education and the larger context,  I will continue to embrace continued change, and growth as a learner, moving forward! 

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Press Restart

In thinking about the #IMMOOC blog prompt from last week, Why is innovation in education so crucial today?, George Couros’ blog post Restart vs Repeat, really resonated with me. The post talks about the necessity of separating students from the mistakes they may make, and the importance of believing in them. In it he says the following, “I am a big believer that we are creators of our destiny, but having people believe in you along the way, sure makes the road a lot less bumpy. As many schools around North America are well into the school year, remember that a fresh start can happen daily, or even more frequently, and kids need adults who show they believe in them. We need to sometimes hit the restart button with others instead of the repeat.”

This last statement is good advice not only in working with students but really in all aspects of life and relationships. It also rings true when talking about innovation in schools.

We need to sometimes hit the restart button in schools instead of the repeat.

In today’s dynamic, changing world innovation is crucial. Finding new and better ways to optimally support the world of learning for our students has never been more imperative. Yet, as educators, we often get caught up in the mode of REPEAT. For some tried and true practices, that is, things that really work and are in the best interest of student learning; we should continue to hit REPEAT. But when that isn’t the case and we do things the same old way because it’s just easier, or comfortable, or we don’t know a better way, or merely because that’s the way we’ve always done it, that’s when we need to consider that it’s time for a change. When what we are doing is not best serving the needs of our students, then it’s time to come up with a new and better way of doing things…it’s time to press RESTART.

A RESTART is defined as a new start or beginning and in fact, the action of restarting can be interpreted in many ways and is broad ranging (see below). A restart may not mean changing everything, but it means changing something. Constantly striving to find new and better ways to support our learners is not optional. Innovation is crucial.

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Shifting Needs in a Digital World

 

Recently, Gerald Fussell wrote a blog post examining how our priorities in schools support our students and their diverse, dynamic needs. Based on his thinking around Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs using a school lens, and the graphic he created above; he explores the challenges schools face in supporting students through to the Self Actualization phase and how “the many conscious and difficult decisions we need to make along the way require us to be clear in our priorities”.

In a perfect world, all of our students would come to school every day well rested, well fed, clean, healthy, happy, feeling good about themselves and ready to learn. But some of the time, and perhaps for a significant segment of our students, that is not the reality. So yes, schools need to be clear on their priorities and make tough choices in supporting students while making sure their basic and psychological needs are met before we can aspire to assist them with their self-fulfillment needs.

It’s a delicate dance schools must do in supporting students with their varying needs; a balancing act of sorts that comes with great consequence. What complicates this even further is the reality of the very dynamic, digital world our students are growing up in. With a shifting world, comes shifting needs. And along with shifting needs comes a shifting role that schools must take on in order to best prepare students moving forward. We must revisit the graphic above to explore and best support students with their changing needs in our DIGITAL WORLD. In some cases, students get these emerging needs related to our shifting world met at home, but for others, this is not the case for a variety of reasons.

Physiological Needs

Our kids now walk around with a hugely powerful, connected tool at their fingertips. In fact, many of them do not know a time when that wasn’t their reality. What effect does too much, and late-night screen time now have on our students’ basic needs? Are they getting enough sleep? Are they getting enough exercise? What are the long-term implications of staring at a small screen on eyesight or health? What does the effect of unfiltered content have on their developing, impressionable minds?

Ultimately, it comes down to good judgment and finding balance. Our kids need to learn the responsible and safe use of digital devices. They need to learn not only balance but also boundaries. And as parents and educators that means modeling limits and responsible use. What message do we send our kids when we ourselves are not present but instead distracted by the device in our hands, instead of focusing on them? Technology is a tool, and with it comes a means to powerful connectivity and knowledge, but in the end, it does not replace the importance of human interaction, face to face conversations and personal relationships. It is one means, not the only means of connection and interaction. In our homes and in our classrooms we need to strike a healthy balance of opportunities for collaboration, both one on one as well as networking online. Issues around balance are of rising concern. Problematic computer use is a growing social issue which is being debated internationally. “Internet Addiction Disorder (IAD) can have huge impacts on people’s lives by causing neurological complications, psychological disturbances, and social problems. Surveys in the United States and Europe have shown alarming prevalence rates between 1.5 and 8.2%.

We need to ensure we are always supporting our children in striking a healthy balance in their lives and doing the same on our own. With the busyness and often plugged in nature of day to day life, at home we need to be cognizant of carving out enough time and demonstrating the importance each day or week of engaging in regular meaningful conversations, participating in a sport, going for a walk, playing a board game, enjoying a hobby, taking a nap, and hanging out with a friend…unplugged. And at school, we need to continue to support our learners in the areas of social-emotional learning, and mental health education in an effort to do our part in ultimately helping them move towards a place of self-regulation.

Also, related to basic needs is the notion of equity. See the graphic below that perhaps ironically, adds a wifi level in as a basic need for today’s generation. In fact, in recent times, the United Nations has declared access to broadband as a basic human right and disconnection from the Internet against International law. Despite some people’s nostalgia for a simpler time, there is one thing that is certain; we are only moving forward. The influence and impact that technology will potentially have on our lives will only continue to change and grow.

So, how can we as schools, best support our students that do not have access to digital tools at home? It is imperative for these students to have access within the school context to give them opportunities to gain the essential digital experience, and skills relevant in the world today. We need to offer them the chance to create, share and build confidence in digital platforms. If we don’t, the learning gap and divide between themselves and their digitally native peers will grow even bigger. As digitalization changes the world of work, and artificial intelligence and automation continually to shift jobs moving forward those more versed with technology will have greater opportunities and the digital divide will only grow bigger for our students with limited access.

Moving forward, students should be able to use a variety of tools to drive their learning; both hi-tech and low-tech. Many schools encourage mobile learning and BYOD environments, in which students may not necessarily USE technology ALL the time but they do have ACCESS to technology as a tool when it is needed, relevant or applicable. In regards to priorities, ensuring equity and addressing the needs for ALL students to have access to technology tools is one area in which schools will need to make changes moving forward. This may involve the reallocation of funds to purchasing mobile devices in schools to support student learning. We also need to offer guidance to our learners with the abundance of information they are continuously inundated with. They need scaffolding and instruction when making decisions about the reliability and validity of information and ultimately how to look at online resources with a critical and evaluative lens.

Safety Needs

Who is helping our kids navigate the messy waters and huge implications for online bullying and digital safety? Most schools do some sort of digital citizenship training such as MediaSmarts to explore important topics such as cyber bullying, online security/privacy, excessive use, intellectual property, online hate, and exploitation etc. In many ways, programs such as this one are very valuable and support students’ understanding and skills around navigating the dangers and pitfalls of the online world, however, these programs are often taught out of context and in isolation as individual lessons or with one-off guest speakers. This is a good start, but we need to also build on this type of programming by using real world, teachable moments while modeling in the classroom context and having conversations about topics based on real-world examples and current events.

We also need, as schools, to support parent understanding around the necessity to be vigilant and tuned into the online presence of their children. Many parents are unaware or ignorant of the potential dangers their children are in while behaving online in ways that are careless or naïve. Many other parents are in the dark to the true extent of their children’s’ online interactions and they may be intimidated by their own lack of expertise in this area.

Also, cyberbullying is an issue that potentially impacts many. It seems today’s youth are much more likely to say just about anything behind the guise and protection of a keyboard. The sharing of personal information online is also a concern. Many school districts host info sessions and bring in “experts” in this field or even law enforcement to share stories and strategies with parents for helping youth stay protected and being proactive online. It is apparent after repeatedly being a part of these initiatives, that no matter what the level, the students, and parents are shocked about how much they don’t know and about how vulnerable their children can be. Many parents are overwhelmed and intimidated by just how much there is to know in the way of awareness, knowledge and skills and the quickly changing landscape of the digital world. Active participation is not optional in this area and as adults, we need to be tuned in and actively work alongside kids in regards to their online presence and strive for more open communication around all things related. Families need our help and guidance as educators in these changing times in doing so.

Some teachers may argue that this is not our job. However, if the ultimate role of schools is to prepare students for a purposeful, successful life which is responsive to their current reality, then schools taking on a larger leadership role, in the area of online safety, skills and responsibility is a must. In fact, the only way to create a generation of informed and educated individuals in this area is for schools to lead the charge and if not us, who? And if not, at what cost?

Love & Belonging Needs

The digital world our learners exist in brings with it a whole new layer of needs and complexities that directly impact their ability to learn in our classrooms each and every day. What modeling and teaching are in place to support the complex dynamics and relational pieces involved in social media?

Today, for many of our students their sense of belonging is directly linked to how many Instagram followers they have, how many views they have generated on their latest YouTube video, or how many likes they have on a recent post. They put a lot of stock into what their profile pic is on their various social media platforms and work hard to ensure they have just the perfect “bio” or Snapchat Story of the day. It is a “selfie” world where kids feel compelled to post only pictures and info featuring their “best self” in their quest for acceptance. Kids can become consumed by checking status updates and the instant gratification and immediate feedback that comes along with online interactions. “Popularity” is often defined by their online image and much social capital is generated by one’s number of followers or friends. In fact, it seems the term “friend” has in some ways become redefined by the social media world and exploration of the meaning of true friendship is something worthy of discussion with young, impressionable minds. For some, being distracted and consumed by online interactions can prompt dissociation from the here and now, and actually impede kids from interacting in ways that are meaningful and productive in their “real” world. For others, the need for love and belonging may be so great that this makes them particularly vulnerable when they look to online interactions that may be unhealthy, unsafe or possibly even lead to addictive behaviour.

Kids are highly invested in their online presence which right or wrong, seems for many to directly correlate to their sense of belonging and acceptance. More than ever we need to have conversations with our students about the dynamics of real authentic relationships and values around friendship, self-worth, and self-image. It is a brand new world out there; and in many ways unchartered territory for a number of adults as well, including many of our school guidance counselors and teachers helping students navigate these times and the far-reaching implications. We need to have conversations with kids about what in fact defines us as learners, and what defines us as people. We also need to offer meaningful and contextual teaching and learning on the topic of guidelines around online behaviour that gives students the experience and practice necessary in a scaffolded setting, so that moving forward they can make the best choices possible, independently.

Esteem Needs

As mentioned above the role the digital world can have on someone’s sense of love and belonging and ultimately their self-esteem and self-image can be complicated, and potentially have negative consequences. However, the digital world can also be hugely empowering and have positive effects when youth are equipped with the right understanding, skill set and experiences as they grow. Our students’ needs in the way of esteem and self-confidence are directly impacted by their sense of love and belonging as well as their success and achievement. How does the online world impact our students’ potential for success as well as their confidence and self-image? When we DO well, we FEEL well. Our students have a variety of entry points that may feed their self-esteem needs. Some excel at academics, others at athletics, well others in the arts or through leadership. The digital arena offers a great opportunity for students to achieve great success in the way of being creators and producers and many are embracing these opportunities. We live in a time where “YouTuber” is now a feasible and authentic job, and where the magnitude of online content being generated every minute is astounding. A phone, tablet, camera or laptop, can serve as a tool to support our learners quest for achievement and success no differently than a paint brush, pencil or soccer ball may have in the past. Whether it be creating how-to videos, exhibiting music recordings, sharing 3-D imaging models, showcasing a digital art portfolio, blogging or vlogging; digital tools can be powerful and productive ways that serve as a great avenue to allow students to explore interests, take risks, and recognize their own potential and capabilities as learners. What our students create informs their identity. In turn, this online identity can also help students create a “digital footprint” to go alongside their increasing positive esteem and image.

In fact, in today’s world, the potential impact of our digital footprint has never been so significant. In recent years we may have spent time talking to kids about the potential negative implications of making one bad choice when it comes to an online presence. In some cases, we may have raised awareness about the potential fall out of posting inappropriate comments or pictures online that could be forever linked to them moving forward and how the Internet is unforgiving in that way. But the conversation around online identity and digital footprint should be bigger than that. In this day and age, it is almost a given that potential employers will Google all applicants for a job before interviewing them. And now it is no longer just enough NOT to find anything negative about an applicant, in fact now, many employers may choose a candidate who has a very positive and substantial online presence above someone who has a non-existent or neutral online presence. Being a positive, contributing, productive creator online is now a 21st C skill employers are looking for and sets students apart.

Self-Actualization

So how do we help our students to embody this 21st C skill set? How do we ensure our students become independent, insightful and actualized as digital learners? We need to support our students in moving to a place of digital leadership in which they are able to make responsible, ethical, productive, end empowered choices, independently, in today’s digital world. George Couros, author of “The Innovator’s Mindset” defines digital leadership as; “Using the vast reach of technology (especially the use of social media) to improve the lives, well-being, and circumstances of others”.

How do we best support our learners in moving into this space of digital leadership?  For today’s youth, becoming a self- actualized digital learner, leader, and citizen means exemplifying and paving the way towards only online positivity, meaningful contributions, and powerful creation. It looks like taking a stand on the hateful, derogatory, and negative comments we often see under many YouTube videos and newspaper columns, and instead of addressing each other with respect. Self-actualization looks like having analytical conversations and debate online without slander and scandal. It looks like making good choices, demonstrating evaluative skills, thinking critically and establishing a positive digital footprint. Self-actualization of today’s youth in our digital world looks like modeling for and guiding future generations, as well as the one before them.

All of this is not something that happens overnight and it is certainly not something that happens without proper support both at home and school. Yet, we still have schools that ban devices. We still have entire districts that block YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, and hundreds of websites, choosing to ignore rather than face concerns head on and embrace the opportunities of teachable moments in context. We still have educators that say, “I don’t do social media”, wearing it like a badge of honour. How do we support the evolving needs of our students if we don’t reside in the same world as they do? Social Media is an evolving literacy. Hopefully, we would never say to a student, “I don’t read books”, or “I don’t write” so why or how is social media any different?

There is no question that social media has become a present-day literary competency. How are we as educators helping our students to be safe, responsible, positive, thoughtful and literate in our digital world? Imagine the positive impact schools could have if we began teaching and modeling digital leadership from an early age in classrooms, and it became the norm for our students from the start. Imagine the positive impact schools could have if we empowered our learners from an early age by giving them the opportunity to use digital tools to explore, create, share and connect starting in our primary classrooms and continued building and developing these skills throughout.

Once again, if the ultimate role of schools is to prepare students for a purposeful, successful life which is responsive to their current reality, then schools must take on a much larger leadership role in supporting students with the digital world These are exciting, unprecedented times and along with that constant evolution and change follows the continually shifting needs of our students. And as the needs of our students change so must our mindset, our practices, our approach, and our priorities.

 

 

 

 

#Becauseofschool

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My daughter Sarah is 13 and in grade 8. School has always come easy for her, but in many ways, over the years, it has also left her under challenged and somewhat disengaged.

Sarah is highly creative and driven by somewhat random topics she is passionate about; urban exploration, Paris, cats, art, softball, music, media, photography, social justice and seeing the world. She is an avid reader who devours novels and entire series.  She also loves writing and aspires to publish a book one day. She has an eye for photography, a knack for design, a dramatic flair and a passion for pottery.  However, most of Sarah’s creative side and talents have in fact been developed outside of school.  In The Innovator’s Mindset, written by George Couros, he refers to this concept as students learning and leading “in spite of school” and suggests the need for schools to ensure they are also empowering students to be innovators and creators “because of school” and as part of their school experience.

From an early age, Sarah has often complained about being bored or disinterested in what school has to offer.  She has often questioned the overall relevance of worksheets, workbooks, textbooks, tests, rote assignments and desk in rows. Don’t get me wrong; she is a stellar student and has always been very good at “studenting”, but she has often expressed frustration about what is actually happening within her classroom walls and its application to her future. How many Sarah’s sit in our classrooms feeling similarly?

Sarah has flourished with teachers that honour her creative nature, strengths, interests, and talents by allowing time for student exploration and creation. In those settings, she excels and grows as a learner in many ways. Shouldn’t stimulated, thriving, engaged students be a norm in our schools and serve as the rule, as opposed to the exception?

This week, I was reminded of the power and the potential for joy we offer our students when they are given the opportunity to express themselves in creative and meaningful ways, when I received an envelope in the mail from my daughter. In her Language Arts class, she was tasked with writing a letter to her “hero” and the teacher went the extra mile to send the letters in the mail to the recipients of these letters on behalf of her students. Sarah is a skilled, impassioned and eloquent writer, however, there have been limited times and few assignments offered to her over the years in her school experience, that have allowed her the opportunity to truly show her audience and herself, her true capacity as a writer.  How many potential authors, artists, scientists, engineers, designers, and inventors sit waiting to be given opportunities to shine within our school system? How much talent is left untapped on our watch?

So….I write this post as a reminder to all teachers of the importance of giving our students time to explore their passions, and their strengths when planning and programming. And I share this story as a reminder of the necessity to give our students thoughtful, self-directed, open-ended tasks that allow them to express themselves and explore their creative side. Our students need more regular opportunities to explore, create, learn and grow #becauseofschool.

Dear Mom,

There are two billion mothers in the world. Trust me, I Googled it.  So the odds that I would be blessed with you as my mom were pretty slim.  But somehow, the stars aligned and I was lucky enough to become your daughter. Out of the two billion mothers in the world, I got you. And I am so, so thankful.

I tried to imagine life without you, but then I realized there would be no life. Technically, I wouldn’t have been born, but that’s not what I’m talking about. What I mean is, without you, I would have no one to pour my heart out to, to speak my mind to and to share a laugh with.  At my lowest low, you were there, comforting me and giving me a shoulder to cry on.  And at my highest high, you are by my side, your hand in mine. You are my advice giver, “my person” and my rock. And without a rock, I would be completely and utterly lost. You have helped me find my way, find my meaning and find myself.

There is a difference between a house and a home.  A house has walls, windows, doors, and a staircase. But a home, a home can have a heartbeat. Home isn’t so much a place, but a person. You are my home.

Your creativity inspires me every day and your ability to see the best in people makes me proud to be your daughter.  You have taught me to value memories, knowledge, and love before material things and proved to me that I CAN do anything. You were my first friend, my best friend, and my forever friend. We have an unbreakable bond and our hearts are intertwined together forever.

Love,

Sarah

 

Building Digital Leaders

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If you aren’t familiar with Black Mirror it is a British television anthology series, currently on Netflix, that features speculative fiction that focuses on modern society, and the often unanticipated consequences of new technologies. It is thought provoking, highly relevant in today’s rapidly changing world, and definitely worth checking out.

It has left me  thinking a lot about the unchartered waters our youth, their parents and their teachers must navigate as part of the digital age that is our reality. This is something I consider constantly in the work I do but it is also a focus in supporting my very own “digital natives”, that being my eleven and thirteen year olds at home  My kids use Instagram, Snapchat, Musical.ly and YouTube regularly, therefore so do I. I make a point of it.  How can I best support them if I don’t understand these platforms myself? At home, we have open, specific and continuous conversations about social media etiquette, on-line responsibilities and the idea of developing a positive digital footprint. I follow them, I encourage my own friends to keep an eye out and I check their accounts regularly. Perhaps, based on my line of work I am the exception, not the norm. What role are most parents taking in the digital lives of their children?  

Like with any new learning, kids need practice.  They need modeling.  They need feedback.  They need guidance and support.  Not surprisingly my two have made mistakes along the way.  This seems inevitable as they make their way through this “training wheel phase”. I am grateful for these hiccups, as it gives us the opportunity to have real, contextual and meaningful conversations around what it looks like to be a responsible digital citizen.  I would much rather have them make these mistakes right now at age 11 in a scaffolded, protected setting, then at age 18. We see it time and time again.  One photo…one offensive remark…one case of bad judgement…one mistake… and a life is changed forever.   We don’t have to look far to find examples of people making bad choices in a digital context for the world to see. We don’t have to look far to find examples of people using digital platforms to spread negativity, hostility and hate. Sure, a handful of these may be kids, but for the most part these people are adults.  How do we break this cycle? As parents, how do we best support our children in becoming responsible digital citizens?  What role do, can and should schools play in this pressing and critical issue?

Digital citizenship is most frequently defined as “ the norms of appropriate, responsible technology use”.  The term is used in many contexts and may hold a variety of meanings to many, however the image below captures the nine elements most frequently associated with the term.

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In today’s world is being a “digital citizen” even setting the bar high enough?  It is difficult to argue with the fact that each of the nine elements are important.  Following guidelines to keep us safe and healthy, being responsible, becoming digitally “literate”- these are all essential and support the status quo. But are these nine elements the best we can aspire to for our students?

In his work, George Couros, talks a lot about the notion of Digital Leadership and “how we need to push our students to make a change in their world and highlight how social media can give them an opportunity that we never were given as students.  Just being “citizens” online is the average; kids already exist online.  We should be pushing for much more than this.”  

He defines Digital Leadership as…“Using the vast reach of technology (especially the use of social media) to improve the lives, well-being, and circumstances of others… http://sumo.ly/cpJu

We see examples of the youth of today harnessing the power of our digital world for good. In this post entitled, “Focusing on What Students Can Do”  George Couros says, “What I try to do is share stories of students who are making a difference right now! Like this teen who created the “Sit With Us” app, to help students find welcoming students to join during lunch. Or the 9 year old, “Little Miss Flint”, becoming a voice of a city and educating people about the water crisis in her city of Flint, Michigan.  Both of these young people are not waiting to become the leaders of tomorrow; they are grabbing these opportunities today. Our goal as educators should be that these stories are not the exception, but the norm. By raising the bar and our expectations for our students, we are more likely to get there than by simply telling them what they should not do.”

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There is much work to do. Work that must be done in collaboration. We must come together as families, as educators, as schools, and as communities to empower our learners to make good choices, daily in their digital world. This is our call to action.

Moving forward, how do help create a generation of not only digital citizens but “digital leaders”? How do we encourage, train and support today’s learners to rise above taking the power and reach of today’s digital world to slander, damage, embarrass, ostracize, hurt and bully others and instead use it as an opportunity to connect, share, celebrate, support, empower and learn from with one another?

In order to move our learners as digital citizens towards digital leaders we need to support them in moving from a passive stance to a place of action.  In moving towards a place of active digital leadership our youth need to develop the following skills and attitudes:

Autonomy

A digitally autonomous learner has a strong understanding of how the choices they make influence themselves and others, and are able to consider a variety of perspectives. They are self-determined learners that take responsibility for their own online decision making, independently.

Communicative, collaborative, critical, creative (4C) Mindset

The learner uses technology  regularly to communicate, and collaborate with people beyond their immediate environment in positive ways. Building these networked, learning communities builds communicative skills, shared connections and a global perspective.

In an online world the learner has continuous opportunities to actively use critical thinking skills including; conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and evaluating the information coming at them. The learner must employ these skills regularly and skillfully when making choices online.

Pushing past, the more passive role of a digital citizen as consumer, a digital creator regularly puts new content into the world and extends the creator’s own positive digital footprint.

Contemporary Lifelong Learning

In today’s dynamic, rapidly changing world our contemporary lifelong learner must be committed to the continuous development and improvement of the knowledge and skills needed to be a dedicated digital citizen and leader.

Next Steps…

How do we best support learners in navigating this online world and working towards being not only digital citizens but digital leaders? Like with any new learning, children need practice.  They need modeling.  They need feedback.  They need guidance and support.  In Kayla Delzer’s blog post “Three Reasons Students Should Own Your Classroom Twitter & Instagram Accounts” she outlines how she uses  a “gradual release of responsibility to systematically turn the ‘social media reins” over to her grade 2 students.” We need more teachers like Kayla, modeling positive use of social media to celebrate and share the work of young students. We need classroom teachers having regular conversations about current events related to the topic of the online world.  We need more schools where the “THINK” poster outlining things to consider before you post online, is just as prolific as a poster related to reading strategies or math problem solving steps.

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I often hear pushback from teachers who say that schools have enough to do in teaching kids the content areas, literacy, numeracy etc. and that there is already too much on their plates.  The reality is that schools in fact,  are  in the business of teaching the whole child.  We historically and continuously support students in social, emotional, physical, and cognitive areas.   We teach pro-social skills, time management, citizenship, drug education, nutrition, human sexuality/reproduction, teamwork, mindfulness and the list goes on.  And in fact, information technology and the ethics and responsibility that it go along with it are nothing new to schools’ mandates. And while programs like MediaSmarts, Kids in the Know etc. may be valuable but they are not enough.  Where we need to see the shift is away from specific, canned programs that teach digital citizenship, internet safety, acceptable use etc. as skills in isolation in separate lessons out of context, and instead model real world, authentic digital leadership within the walls of our classrooms.  Many or most of our students own devices and the the reality is that these devices are a highly influential component of their world.  This issue isn’t going away.  This is our call to action. We must empower our learners with the skills, attitudes and direction necessary to lead in our digital world. We need to get to a point where we no longer need to use the world “digital”, before citizenship and leadership and it is merely engrained in the essence of all we do.

As classroom teachers, we have no choice but to dive into the world of connected learning.  For many, this may be uncomfortable, For many, this may be terrifying. New learning often is. But today’s reality is that technology and mobile devices are the equivalent to the pencil of days past. We must embrace opportunities for networked learning both for ourselves and our students.  When we choose to model the use of social media from the classroom for sharing and collaborating online, WITH our students starting at a young age, we normalize the positive, intended use of these platforms.  It becomes how we do business.  When we choose to give our learners the opportunity to blog or create digital portfolios at a young age and we model the responsibilities that come along with this, we help prepare them for the world that IS their present as well as their future.

These are unprecedented times.  These are times of change.  These are times for action. Moving forward, it is essential that we come together as a community of learners to best support and empower our digital learners.

“I Am Standing….”

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This year Winnipeg School Division is excited to have educational leader, and author of The Innovator’s Mindset, George Couros once again working closely with our staff.  Now in its second year, one of the key pieces of this initiative involves extensive work with two Innovative Teaching and Learning Leaders (ITLLs) from each school. A guiding question in our work continues to be “How do we move from ‘pockets of innovation’ to a ‘culture of innovation’ within our schools?”(Couros, 2015)  For further information about the scope of the project visit these two previous posts.

One of the major components of the ITLL project has involved the participants developing a reflective blog and their own personal, digital portfolio, outlined here. As we embark into year two and continue this blogging journey, our ITLLs are now invited to write a targeted post reflecting on a new professional book added to the project this year, the inspiring and practical, Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess. As a group, we are using this book to focus conversations on practical ways to embed innovative and creative practice in our classrooms.  

In my previous post, I discuss one of Dave Burgess’ provocative questions of “Do you have any lessons you could sell tickets for?” and how it was a meaningful exercise for me to give some thought to my own “stand out lessons”.  

In my mind these are the lessons or a sequence of lessons that are dear to my heart. They are the activities that keep me up at night in anticipation, that have me jumping out of bed in the morning to get to, and that have become refined works of art over the years.  As teachers, many of us have units, lessons, and activities we do with our students that we are the MOST proud of, that we know are highly effective and engage our students in superlative ways. An important skill for any educator is reflecting regularly on our practice, building on our strengths, recognizing our challenges and planning our next steps.  

The pirate’s question about “lessons we could sell tickets for” can offer us a lens to start or continue this good work. However, for some reflecting on their own practice through this narrow focus may be challenging. Some teachers’ strengths may not be articulated through exploration of a single lesson or a series of lessons, but instead in other ways such as, in the relationships they build with students or flexibility in meeting individual student needs.

Either way, this thinking and the inspiring work of both George Couros and Dave Burgess help us to frame the first reflective blog post assignment for the Innovative Teaching and Learning Leaders this year. The ITLLs are tasked with:

Describe and reflect upon a lesson or learning opportunity you have offered your students that “you could sell tickets for”.

Or

Thinking about your own learning through the ITLL initiative and the newest addition of Teach Like a Pirate, describe and reflect upon skills, strategies and practices you use to ensure student success, increase engagement/empowerment and  boost creativity in your own classroom or school.

As I first read TLAP this summer, I recall connecting to a number of the suggestions made and activities outlined. The costumes and dramatic pieces may not necessarily be in my wheelhouse but as a former Inquiry Support Teacher and Language Arts teacher for 16 years, the use of artifacts, music, images, technology, personalized learning and a number of the other “hooks” were things I could relate to place to in my own teaching.

And so I offer an example of my own series of learning experiences along a writing theme that I did with students that I can potentially consider through the lens of “a  lesson I could sell tickets for”.

One of my favourite learning sequences to teach in Language Arts is on descriptive writing.  In my mind I call this focus my “I am standing…” writing pieces.  

I have used a variation of these lessons over a span of many years and with students in grades 4-8. The intent of these lessons is for students  to practice describing something so that a picture is formed in their reader’s mind. It aims to capture an event, person, place or thing in such a way that it makes the writing more engaging and interesting by paying close attention to the details using all of the five senses.

I always begin by modeling for the students.  I choose one scene or location and I bring in a number of sensory artifacts into the classroom to replicate this scene.  The Lake as a setting is a good starting point for me.  This has varied over the years but may include:  a tub of cold water, sand, reeds, a tree branch, an evergreen or fresh rain scented candle, a fan, a life jacket, a paddle, a turtle shell, images, sound effects of water lapping or loons calling etc. As the students engage in this sensory experience of  “the lake” I ask them to record words, images and thoughts that came to mind, using the five senses.  This might be on chart paper, post it notes, or digitally on an App such as Popplet. At times they have used the List Group Label strategy to further extend this brainstorming.

Next, I share my own writing piece about the lake, or model this writing in front of them- I Do (Routman- Optimal Learning Model).  See here for an example.  I ask the students to look for evidence of each of the five senses being explored, examples of adjectives and adverbs being used, and the use of literary devices. There are many outcomes that can be reviewed within this form of writing.

We wrap up the day’s events by making a list of other possible settings or scenes we could explore in a similar way. Typically the students come up many…city centre, park, beach, ocean, farm, prairie field, blizzard, campfire, bakery, amusement park, circus, concert, forrest, sporting event, airport, mountains…to name a few.

For our next class, I set up more sensory stations along these themes.  I have images on most of the scenes in a file. I have collected a number of related artifacts along these scenes in a plastic tub I pull out each year and I gather others from nature.  I find sound effects online such as; crowds cheering, ocean waves, crickets, and a campfire crackling.  Others are conveniently on my Conair Sound Machine.  I bring in popcorn, marshmallows, baked goods or other tasty treats where applicable. While exploring the sensory stations, the students use this graphic organizer or a digital variation to record their observations using each of their five senses.

After, spending some time exploring the stations and recording our thoughts, we regroup as a class and choose one of the settings to do as a shared writing piece –We Do. Here is an example of a shared descriptive writing piece we wrote as a class on a Fall scene at the park.

The final class, the students choose their own scene or setting to write their own descriptive piece on –You Do.  They have the option of using the graphic organizer as a pre-writing sheet and we review the criteria for the descriptive piece of writing.  They work through all stages of the writing process.

The beautiful writing that comes out of this often amazes me! Some years, the students take their imagery filled, descriptive writing pieces a step further by completing watercolour paintings to go alongside, or they use an App such as Adobe Voice to visually represent their lovely language using images and their spoken words.

This series of lessons has traditionally produced some of the best writing my students do all year.  During these lessons they seem to thrive on the hands on, sensory nature of the work. The scaffolded, collaborative piece of working together before completing their own writing, ensures a high degree of success for all learners.

Effective Action

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In past posts I have outlined the extensive work George Couros is doing with us in Winnipeg School Divison.  On May 9th he returned to lead 2 inspiring sessions that encouraged all to reflect, share and be learners themselves in the area of innovation in education. He shared insight into The Innovator’s Mindset and how each of these characteristics can support positive change in driving learning in our schools.  He focused on the importance of relationships, making connections and learning together. He reminded us how innovative teachers and teaching can be transformative in not only engaging our students but empowering them as learners.  It was an inspirational time and a momentous occasion for WSD, as all 2500 educators came together over the course of the day.

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In the continued work George Couros is also doing with the WSD Innovative Teaching & Learning Leaders (ITLLs) from each school, the week also brought a new initiative.  Building on the collaborative reflective blog project they had started in March, this time the ITLL’s began their own own personal, online portfolio.  You can read more about that project on George Couros’ blog post, The Power of the Process. The ITLL’s embraced this new challenge and ran with it. You can see the beginnings of their work here on the WSD: Educational Blogs from Our Community site. Framed around the WSD Principles of Learning , these teachers began the important work of representing themselves as learners in their own personal learning portfolio, using this online forum. The ITLLs have used their blogging to explore topics such as;  what innovation looks like and could look like in their current reality as a teacher, the use of social media in classrooms and as a professional learning network, student as creator vs. consumer, barriers to innovative practice, flexible seating, personalized learning opportunities and the natural integration of technology into core subject areas to name a few. Each of their reflections is anchored in connections to the Principles of Learning.  The digital portfolio is meant to be a place of reflection and the intention if for it to serve as both a growth, and showcase portfolio down the road.

Why? Well, if we are going to ask our students to be reflective and put themselves in a learning stance, we need to model that thinking.  If we are going to one day encourage our students to share their work in their own online portfolio, in turn contributing to their positive digital footprint…we as educators, need to intimately understand that process first. We need to lead by example for the students we serve, for our colleagues and for our ourselves as we reflect and continuously push our own thinking and doing, moving forward to do the best we can for our learners.

Peter Drucker said, “Follow effective action with quiet reflection. From the quiet reflection will come even more effective action”. Change can only occur with action. Valuable and effective change can only prevail with thoughtful reflection on that action. For our ITLLs this is an opportunity to take that quiet reflection and give it a voice.

The WSD ITLLs have done an exemplary job throughout both the collaborative blog and portfolio building processes.  As their portfolios take shape, each page is as unique and creative as are each of them as individuals.  Of course they are dabbling with learning all the practical pieces and how to’s in Edublogs… how to change their themes, how to add pages, how to embed their Twitter feed, how to tag, categorize and insert media. But more importantly they are exploring how to best utilize this platform and their posts to celebrate successes, voice frustrations and challenges, pose questions, collaborate, share their voice and experience learning from a learners’ lens.

Their posts are open, honest and reflective and run a gamut of sentiments (vulnerability, humour, frustration, joy etc.) as they reflect on their own learning moving forward. Not only are the ITLLs expressive and resourceful in the types of topics they share about, but they are also original and creative in how they choose to share. Check out just a few of the many examples listed below:

  • Stefane Gautron uses a French song and a heartfelt exploration in his reflection entitled “My Love Affair with Twitter“.
  • Veronique Bedard uses a Videoscribe to explore the topic of: Innovation in Education
  • Dillon McMahon outlines the recent journey he has embarked on in the way of classroom design and environment.
  • Devon King uses a video introduction to welcome us to his portfolio site.
  • Leigh Brown explains how one tweet/idea can turn into an inspiring project with students.
  • Jeremy Midford takes on the challenge of blogging regularly to explore “The Struggle of Innovation”.

One thing that has become clear throughout this project and our work with George Couros is that there are many, many wonderful and innovative things worth celebrating currently happening in WSD.  As more and more educators share their own learning as well as that of their students, whether it be through professional learning opportunities such as this, or through Social Media including Twitter and this blog initiative, we can’t help but be inspired by the continued possibilities moving forward and learn from each other in a networked way.  The guiding question of this project, and our work with George has always been… “How do we move from pockets of innovation to a culture of innovation?” As our pockets continue to grow, one can only be hugely inspired by the limitless possibilities ahead, as we work together to improve learning for all students!