Teacher Leadership and Change

Our school board is currently in a process of revamping the models of teacher leadership in secondary schools. They’ve changed the concept slightly from one of Department Head to that of Lead Teacher. The Lead Teacher will have specific responsibilities for various curricular areas. If it’s a large school, with a large department, then one Lead will have only that area, but in smaller schools, or for smaller departments, there will be consolidations. The idea seems to be to have the Lead Teachers focus not only on the managerial responsiblities, but also on the large school goals that are framed in the School Improvement Plan. I think that there will be opportunities to provide input and drive the school plans.

The driving force seems to have been a joint group lead by OSSTF and the school board. In recent times, the role of school leader has altered in many places, and this is an effort to revitalize the positions to have leaders in place who are wanting to drive changes at the school level.

I heard it said somewhere (and have often used the line myself) that there are 2 things that teachers hate. Change and the way things are.  For those of us striving to move our classroom practice towards more student-centred and skills based approaches this is an interesting opportunity. Will the mandate be to simply implement the changes that are directed from the Ministry of Ed and the school board administration, or will there be opportunities to drive the agenda at the school level towards goals that we find valuable? Time will tell I suppose, but if there is one thing I have learned, it is that if you are interested in making change in education happen, it pays to be at the table where they are discussing what changes should be made.

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Now do I get a seat on the Jedi Council?

What? It’s not THAT kind of Master? Nuts… Oh well.

I finally got the final confirmation that my final paper was finally reviewed and accepted and I now have completed all the requirements for my Masters of Education. Finally.  Get that? It’s D.O.N.E! (does happy dance)

Its a great feeling to know that its fully completely finished after years of work and study. It was a great experience though, and I’m very glad that I did it.  I’m also very glad that its done.

Looks like my research project will be published in the fall as an article on an online education research journal, so I will be editing and condensing much of it. But that can wait till later in the fall. I have some relaxing to do.

If you’re interested, here’s the abstract. 

Understanding the Relationship Between the Personal and Professional Use of Technology by K-12 Educators

Much research has been done around how and why teachers integrate technology into classroom practices. Various factors have been shown to be important including teachers beliefs, attitudes, comfort, knowledge and skills.  This has proven to be a complex mix with the outcome of technology integration depending, in various ways, on all of these factors. A need has emerged for a way to look at this complex mix of variables that takes into account the reasons teachers use technology and the tasks which they complete using technology. This kind of research tool could be used in a variety of ways to analyze these variables. This paper describes the outcomes of a project to develop a multifaceted, domain based survey instrument that looks at the frequency of use and confidence in the use that educators have with various technology tasks, as well as the importance that they place on these tasks for personal and professional use.  The instrument was then tested on a small group of teachers in a school board in Ontario, Canada and the data was analysed to determine if it could be used in broader studies to answer such questions as have been posed in the literature. The results show that the instrument will be valuable in showing how educators’ beliefs are connected to the frequency of use and confidence they have in certain technologies.  It should also be able to determine if those beliefs change over time and if this translates into changes in technology use. It was less clear if the instrument would be useful in determining how educators’ personal and professional use of technology was related and further refinement for this purpose could be considered.

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I had the great fortune to spend this past Friday with a room full of educators at the 2012 Abel Leadership Summit. The day was led by the dynamic trio of Alec Couros, George Couros and Dean Shareski.  They did a great job of facilitating and leading discussions.  There were a few lasting things that stuck with me, and as I went back over my tweets from the day I thought I’d jot a few other things down. I used Twitter as a backchannel as we often do, but I found myself also thinking about how I would access the things I was posting later on, and in my mind it became my note taking for the day as well. 

Digital Literacy VS Digital Fluency
This was an intriguing idea that I hadn’t heard expressed in this way before, and that’s the idea that there is a difference between literacy and fluency in a digital way. And that a person can have a certain amount of competence with digital tools or media, and be ‘literate’ but that to truly be fluent is another level of understanding altogether. The analogy of a carpenter having the basic skills to make a basic structure, but not the indepth skills to make a truly nice house really struck me as effective.

One of the themes that came up several times was the idea of play. And that for educators, it’s a tough one to get our brains around sometimes. But it became clear that all learners, regardless of age, could benefit from some unstructured, and more importantly, un-tested time to play and learn in whatever way suited their learning.

One of the ideas was that planning to do things in cycles of several years is a huge disservice to the students in our clases now. If you have a 5 year plan to make things happen, then the students in Grade 8 will be out the door of Grade 12 before you finish your plan. Kids deserve more than that. Makes for tough decisions, but its something that we must consider.

George spent a bit of time telling stories about how important stories were. And it struck me that we don’t spend enough time doing that. We often hear talk about how important reflection is to us as learners and educators, but it seems to me that doing it as a story telling time might be more valuable. There is an honesty and a simplicity in the telling of a story that doesn’t seem to have much of the same baggage associated with it as the concept of reflection. Imagine if we had 20 minutes at the end of the day to sit in the staff room and just ask each other to tell the stories from the day.

Do They Know They’re Awesome?
Dean talked about the idea of positive deviants, and that there are many of them out in the schools across the country. The teachers who are doing wonderful things with kids, and are unaware that they are, in fact, awesome. It’s important to start to point that out to people in a true rich way. Not with the intent of kissing butt, but to simply point out the amazing and awesome things that teachers are doing everyday. Sharing the stories.

All in all it was a great day of learning and thinking and sharing.  There was much more in the day as well. If you search the hashtag #ABELSummit on Twitter, you’ll find all this and more!

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Would you like to be in your class?

I started reading Inside Apple this evening, which is a book that lays out some of the inner workings of Apple as a company.  I was struck by one part where it talked about how Apple and Steve Jobs never worried about things like focus groups or  costumer surveys when deciding what product lines to pursue.

[Jobs] found Apple’s prototype customer in the mirror, and the company came to develop computers that Jobs, at one time or another, decided he would like to own.

It got me thinking about decision making and how we structure our eduction systems. Then I hit upon a really interesting question. If you’re an educator, have you ever asked yourself if you’d like to buy what you’re selling? As you do everything you need to get ready for teaching a class, do you ever stop to ask if you’d like to be in it?

Just some end of weekend random thoughts.

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OTF Connects – Student Inquiry

I just had the pleasure of faciliating a webinar session through OTF Connects. The Ontario Teachers Federation has started this venture to bring free, online and easily accessible PD to Ontario Teachers.  There was about a dozen enthusiastic educators in this webinar tonight, and some great ideas where shared around how to use web tools as tools to support student inquiry.

I recommend checking out the schedule and signing up for one or more of these free PD sessions.  By teachers, for teachers. Great folks doing great things.

I’ve embedded my presentation below for use if wanted. It is slightly different than that one used in the webinar as I had to remove a few things to get it below the free level allowed by Slideshare.

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What do you remember?

Last week, when I was at the annual conference of the Science Teachers Association of Ontario, I attended a luncheon sponsored by Smarter Science. I was joined at the table by a few pre-service teachers. STAO does a nice job of getting pre-service teachers out to their conference, by providing reasonable rates for them to attend.  We had a few speakers give short talks about the importance of science education, and how it’s changing in profound ways. The move from memorizing content, content, content to a more balanced approach that also emphasizes skills, critical thinking and the processes of science.

During our conversation, one of the young teachers asked me how we could balance that load of content v.s. process in a working classroom.  Being one to never miss an opportunity, I turned to her and asked her a question.

Me: "Let me ask you something. Tell me what you remember from your high school science classes."

Her: "I remember memorizing lots of things, and having tests on them."

Me: "Tell me one thing you memorized."

Her: "I can’t, I don’t remember them now."

Me: "Ok, then tell me what you do remember doing in science class."

Her: "I remember this field trip we took to a local forest. I remember doing this project with my friend. I remember some of the labs and things we did in class."

Me: "You’ve just answered your own question. Do that. Teach that way. Do what your students will remember, and don’t get hung up on the things that are forgettable."

I think she understood what I was getting at, but the hard part is yet to come. She has to learn to make that leap and let go of the fear of ‘not covering something’ in her class.  I hope she succeeds, and I wish her the best of luck.

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SCCAO Mini-Conference

I’ve been a member of the Science Co-ordinators and Consultants Association of Ontario for about 3 years. Up until last year, I could say that I was a science and technology consultant. Now I’m officially known as a curriculum consultant, with all the ambiguity that is contained therein.  I think that its fair to say that the subject specific consultant is a disappearing job title in Ontario school boards. Not that this is all bad, as the boards have to focus on some things more than others, given the realities of funding and Ministry priorities.  However, at least some of the time, it’s important to give a voice to the subject specialties.

SCCAO works hard to try and bring that Science and Technology voice to different areas. At least twice a year, they bring together science focused people to discuss the burning educational issues of the day through the lens of the science curriculum.  We’ve tackled all sorts of topics this way. Tomorrow, we have our annual one-day mini-conference as a lead up to the much larger STAO conference in Toronto.  Our day is divided up into a few different sections, but the two mains ones have to do with Assessment of the Inquiry process, and Safety in Science and Technology.  Both topics are very important.  The assessment topic is one that will focus on science as a vehicle, but will have implications to many educators who have an inquiry focus in their classrooms.  The safety discussion will look at the recently published Safe ON Science document by STAO and we’ll be looking at issues around the province in relation to that.

We hope to have a Livestream running through the day, so if you want to drop in and listen in, feel free. You can visit the SCCAO website, or the Livesteam.com/SCCAO feed to catch up.

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Are we the 2%?

Many teachers used to be the students who were good at the system. I think that’s a fair statement. I know I was. I didn’t have to work too hard in school, it came fairly easily to me. I got by, played the game, did fine, went to university, and the pattern repeated.  How many students become teachers? What’s the ratio?

According to World Bank, there are about 34 million people in Canada, and according to Stats Canada as of March 2008 there were about 5.2 million students in Canada, and 692,000 teachers. This means that currently about 2% of the population of Canada are currently in a classroom as a teacher.

So does this mean that the ones who are in the school system as teachers and administrators are the 2% that succeeded under the system, and therefore we are less likely to think that the system needs an overhaul and change?  With all the Occupy Wall Street protests around North America pointing out that the top 1% of earners are in control of the majority of decision making, maybe it’s worth a few minutes to consider this in an education context.

Are WE the 2%? If so, what do we do now?

Thinking critically about critical thinking

After the first successful Critical Thinking Chat last Wednesday on Twitter (#CTchat) I  got pondering the nature of my ideas around thinking, and in particular critical thinking.  As we went through the hour long chat, I kept seeing that many folks had a different idea about what the definition of critical thinking than me. So in order to try and help organize my thoughts, I thought that I’d attempt to ouline some of my ideas here.

The Wikipedia article on critical thinking gives one definition as ‘reasonable reflective thinking focused on deciding what to believe or do’. This is a good starting point, but it has one glaring issue that I see, and one that I think I kept seeing in the various definitions tossed out by people on Twitter.  What constitutes ‘reasonable’ for one person, might not be the same for me.  I think that’s what I was seeing the other night, and it occured to me that I have a different take on it.

I’m a fan of critical thinking as criterial thinking, and that in order to make judgements or decisions, that you have a set of criteria against which you judge evidence or situations.  The establishing of these criteria form the basis of your criticisms.  The Critical Thinking Consortium has decent workshops and training materials that might be helpful in your exploration of this.

Deeper than this, in my thinking, is my background in the skepticism movement. This is a way of thinking about the world that revolves around a questioning, or doubting of knowledge without an established body of evidence behind it. Even more so, I’ve realized that my own personal philosphy is deeply rooted in scientific skepticism. This is the stance that in order to make claims of truth, you need to have acceptable and tested empirical evidence.  I know that many people will argue that there are many things that are not subject to the test of empirical evidence, but that’s not what I’m talking about. I would argue that for everything we experience in our day to day lives, there is a reasonable expectation that we have some good quality evidence to back up any claim, stance or decision that we make.  I think that we live in an objective universe that is not subject to the whims of human desires. If we mis-interpret the evidence, it’s our mistakes, not the universe being subjective.

I don’t see the skills of critical thinking being only something we need to employ when we are watching advertising on television, but rather that we need to apply those skills to everything we encounter on a daily basis. This is not to say that we simply doubt everything, but rather, when a new idea is presented that is counter to the established body of knowledge, we require a quantity of good evidence, that is proportional to the claims being made.

As one of my heros Carl Sagan wrote in Cosmos, "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence." Sagan’s books, especially Cosmon, Demon Haunted World, and Pale Blue Dot have shaped my thinking about critical thinking to an extraordinary degree.

I’m looking forward to other #ctchat evenings on Twitter to further delve into this topic.

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Echos of #ecoo11

It’s been a few days now since the end of #ecoo11. It was quite possibly the best conference experience I’ve had. The 3 days were filled with learning, laughing and conversations with some of the smartest and most dedicated educators I’ve ever met. I’m not sure that I can do justice to things that are in my head, but I thought I’d try to add a few highlights to those that have been made already.

Highlights List

  • Presenting sessions with the likes of @danikabarker and @ITnorma (who was generous enough to fill in as co-host for our recording of This Week in Science and Education podcast)
  • Attending sessions with folks like @shannoninottawa, @gcouros (via Skype), @pmcash and of course keynotes @willrich45 and @snbeach
  • Thanks to the organization skills of @aforgrave, jamming in the glassed-in fishbowl-like area on Friday night with @kevinhoneycutt and @waltguitar
  • Hearing the results of that jam later on #ds106radio
  • Sharing a Minds on Media station with @techguy1717 as we explored Photoshop and other tools to work with images
  • The general feeling of community and fun that pervaded the entire conference.

Of course, you can’t post a bit about ECOO11 without thanking all the organizers (and there were a lot!)  Particular thanks and hugs to @brendasherry and @peterskillen for their inspiration and perspiration for the year leading up to it.

As for those echos, there are projects beginning that saw their birth around tables and over coffees in the rooms and halls of ECOO11. I think that we’ve realized that only having a few days of these conversations is not enough, so things are cooking up that will enable them to continue and lead us right back into ECOO12.

Can’t wait to see what happens next. And I’m not talking about next year. Keep your eyes peeled for the newly minted Critical Thinking Chat on Twitter (#CTChat) courtesy @taniasterling and @digitalnative 

Oh, and there will be Edupunk.

#ecoo Guitar Jam

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