Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Blended Learning for Teachers

I have a huge passion for learning and teaching in rural Northland - this is the only place I have ever taught, so I claim no expertise for learning and teaching in urban areas. One of the beauties and the challenges of working in rural schools is the distance from cities, but with this comes a lack of access to some of the provisions that schools in urban centres enjoy.
Working in a PLD programme that is running from year to year, one of my major foci is how to both achieve sustainability of the programme within a school and build capacity for teachers to access learning beyond what they might already access, not just f2f but also in blended ways. In my initial scoping work some of the teachers remarked that their rural location diminished access to PLD. As we are talking about relatively small schools, even within a schools teachers can be isolated, there might just be one Music / PE / foreign language teacher etc. within a school, and they can find it hard to find people with a similar interest to bounce ideas off etc. within their immediate surroundings.
My inquiry this year will look at how I can support the schools I work with to connect with PLD in blended ways. Questions I am looking at are: Why do we undertake PD? What are different forms of PD, why use blended learning? How do I pick the right PD for myself as teacher, and what do I need to make it happen? What do I as facilitator need to do in my practise to build capacity in my schools for accessing blended learning for teachers when this is the right tool? With the introduction of N4L schools will be in a better position in relation to infrastructure to access blended learning, which should make things a little easier in that regard.

At the Digital Horizons Conference in Whangarei last Friday I held a workshop about Building you Online PLN which I think is one of the ways of how I can build this capacity. What else could I be doing? What else would you find helpful?

Sunday, 23 March 2014

You have something worthwhile to share - your turn!

What a week in education in New Zealand! The Festival of Education was the most visible event this week, but there were also lots of smaller happenings around the country such as FarNet's Digital Horizon Conference in Whangarei, Connected Rotorua Meeting 'Let's Talk Google', Educamp Dunners. Somehow I ended up playing a part in a few of these this week...

My personal and professional highlight was presenting at TechMeetNZ on Saturday morning as part of the Festival of Education. Under the expert guidance of the ever-patient +Sonya Van Schaijik with superb support from +Marnel van der Spuy and +Kathy Scott a group of 7 NZ educators presented on a topic of their choice for 3min each, live streamed on air - with actual face-to-face audience in the room with Sonya at the Festival of Education. Sonya had asked me earlier this year to take part and I was happy to, only realising fairly late into it how much additional attention might be attracted by it being part of the Festival! It was nerve wrecking and fabulous at the same time!

As part of my role I am used to presenting to groups of people on various topics, and I have used my TeachMeetNZ topic "Supporting Universal Design for Learning with Google Apps for Education" before as a trial run for Saturday. Where this differed though was that when presenting in a live Google Hangout, there is no verbal or non-verbal feedback from the audience. On top of that, the clock is ticking, and it can be a challenge to say everything within the 3min and still make sense!

I was first up, and everything went well. My co-presenters +Diana Wilkes+Justine Driver+Myles Webb+Juliet Revell+Manu Faaea-Semeatu+Emma Alaalatoa-Dale were so knowledgeable, it was fantastic to hear their presentations, I want to go away and study each of their presentations again as there is much to learn from all of them! You can find them here, just click on their names.

So what do I take away from this? There are lots of great things happening in NZ education at the moment. Individual educators are happy to share with each other and the world in a rewindable way (the recording is available here and be available on the TeachMeetNZ wikipage). +Juliet Revell made some great points in her reflection, and the main thing I read in there was every day we ask our students to put themselves out there, push themselves beyond their expectations. Do we do the same for ourselves? Do we practise what we preach? I can honestly say, this weekend I did.

Would I do it again? Definitely, not just in the TeachMeetNZ format, but I am also thinking about flipping my teaching in other ways. To go with my UDL theme, I am thinking about revamping some of my resources and tutorials and maybe presenting them as voice or video recording - what do you think?

One other thing I learnt over this last week is to get over some of my self-doubt; I am in awe of these amazing educators I have been presenting with at TeachMeetNZ, of the people I am in touch with on twitter, on Google+ etc. but I sometimes doubt that I am meant to be there, that I have got something to say that is worthwhile for others to hear. The support, feedback and love from everyone I have worked with this week, at the LwDT hui in Auckland, at Digital Horizons in Whangarei, at Connected Rotorua, at TeachMeetNZ and everywhere else, means so much to me so that I am saying to myself - like I have often said to my students - you have something worthwhile to share. Now it's your turn: How and where will you share?

Friday, 7 March 2014

Challenging Conversations - at the receiving end

Recently I went to a school with a colleague who gave me feedback after my session there. It was really good to get some constructive criticism, though admittedly it has been a challenging conversation with me at the receiving end.

As part of the session I used this whakatauki:
He pai te tirohanga ki nga mahara mo nga rā pahemo engari ka puta te māramatanga i runga i te titiro whakamua.

It's good to have recollections of the past; however, wisdom comes from being able to prepare opportunities for the future.
When I prepared for the session, the meaning made total sense to me and I felt it fitted at this place in the presentation. However, I am notoriously shy about speaking Maori though my pronounciation is not too bad, and at this occassion, with a Maori colleague in the room, I felt even shier than usual and only referred to the English translation. In this way, it almost became tokenism on my part: Why use a whakatauki when I am not prepared to say it in Maori?

My colleague asked me some very good questions: Where does the whakatauki come from? (I found it on the internet). Who is it by? (I don't know) Has it meaning for the school where I used it? (I don't know).

This really made me think; I understood the whakatauki as "we need to know where we come from, who came before us, what made us who we are right here and now, but unless we prepare opportunities for the future, such as personalising learnging etc., we will not gain true wisdom" - is this what the author meant it to mean? If not, is there a problem with me interpreting it in this way?
As my colleague pointed out, a native speaker of te reo could have challenged me in in the use of the whakatauki at this place, in the translation of the whakatauki and the point I was trying to make could have been completely lost.
In fact, what point was I trying to make? Did I need to use a whakatauki to do so and why? I have actually taken the slide out of the presentation I had shared with the school now, I no longer feel confortable leaving it there.

Where to from here?
  • I could just avoid any whakatauki completely as I do not have a deep enough understanding to use them meaningfully - but this could look very culturally un-responsive because not everyone would know why I was not using them, people might think I am only thinking about the culture I most closely align with.
  • I could make a real effort to gain an understanding of a handful of whakatauki that are relevant to my work and use them at (hopefully!) the right occassions.
  • I could check with the schools I work with about the whakatauki that are part of their school culture, ask them / their students to teach me about them.

I think I should persue both latter points - what do you do?

My colleague raised a couple of other points, praising without knowing if praise is due (I had been told this years ago by my subject advisor! - is this an ESOL issue or just the way I work with people I wonder?), and assumption of people's technical understanding (after my ULearn experience I tend to under, rather over-assume - I'll have to watch this). 

So what did it feel like to be at the other end of a 'challenging conversation'?
Not that great lol - I would much rather be told I am perfect! Seriously though, I really appreciated the constructive criticism, and it really made me think. If I keep on harping on about cultural responsiveness, how can I express this in my work that it doesn't become tokenism?

What made this conversation less challenging?
We have known each other for several years, she straight away got to the point and then left it at that and we talked about other things (except when I brought it up again). She asked questions, then made her point as an observation of a fact, talked about the possible consequences and in no way I felt I was being personally critised, it was my practise we looked at - and she was right :)

What can I learn from this when I need to initiate a challenging conversation?
Having a relationship helps. Critique the fact, the behaviour, not the person. Ask questions. State the facts, point out consequences. Offer solutions if asked. I need to go back to my notes from Joan Dalton's workshop, there were more things she said, but this is my little summary of this experience.

Thanks +Moana Timoko!