I have been on Twitter for a year and blogging for less. The more I have developed my own learning, I truly believe that the learning opportunities for my school through the use of social media have also developed. Check out the visuals:
In a short while, a lot of our practice has developed and changed for our students by immersing ourselves in the practice. You will see more of a focus on student centered learning, and it has been a fantastic journey for myself and our school.
How will immersing yourself in your own learning lead to more relevant opportunities for your students?
Lesley Cameron is a teacher I am proud to say I work with at Forest Green School. She has rejoined our staff after a year maternity leave, yet this has been our first year working together. She has done some amazing things and has shown tremendous growth this year as an educator within her grade 3 classroom. I have said that the signs of the best teachers are that they are continuous learners; Lesley embodies this as an educator.
It’s the end of August. Time for a new school year. My maternity leave is over. Back to school with lots of ‘new’ things – new administration, new grade, new students. Change is in the air. I knew returning to school after a maternity leave was going to be difficult. As I was gearing up for a new school year and mentally preparing to leave my two babies when returning to work, I have to admit, I was a bit stressed.
I am a huge perfectionist and always have been. I have high expectations for myself and always have. Throughout grade school and university, I always needed to strive for top marks and beat myself up over anything less. Was this a bad thing? At the time, I didn’t think so. It led me to work hard for what I wanted to achieve and to achieve the success I had dreamed of.
On the first PD Day, my new principal showed a short video clip entitled “Two Questions” inspired from Dan Pink’s new book, Drive. One of the two questions focused on in the video was “What’s Your Sentence?” So I got thinking, “What is going to be the one question that drives my year?” More broad than that, what is going to drive my teaching? In conversations with my principal, George Couros, about my control and perfectionism, he suggested, “risk taking does not fit with perfection”. Instantly, I knew it fit. Something I wanted to work on was being more of a risk taker so that I can model it for my students. Being a risk taker to me means trying new things and learning from my mistakes. Knowing that everything will not be perfect is okay. The process of learning never ends and is even heightened as we make mistakes. This included learning about using technology, my Smart Board, our classroom blog, e-portfolios, and the list goes on. To be honest, these new technologies worried a perfectionist like me.
So… how’s it going? I must say, it has been pretty great! I decided to jump right in, take on these new challenges, and try to live my life more as a risk taker. I love using my Smart Board to actively engage my students in their learning, am actively blogging, and have a “Blogger of the Week” program in my classroom. We have our e-portfolios set up and will begin adding to them in the New Year! Further to that, I am learning about social media and am so amazed and excited to have connections around the world. Thanks to a great blog post written by one of my students and the many comments made on it, George connected me with a teacher living in Jakarta, Indonesia, as an expert for a research topic in my Social Studies program. We Skyped in with him and learned so much about the Muslim culture and celebrations. We have a great video of our conversation to look back on embedded in another post on our blog! What an unbelievable experience for my students as well as myself. I have recently created a Twitter account and am looking forward to the connections possible through there and the wealth of knowledge, information, and ideas through the great networks of educators!
The second question in Dan Pink’s video was “Was I better today than yesterday?” What a great reflective question to ask oneself as a means to continually strive for improvement. I am always looking for ways to be a better teacher, communicator, staff member, and leader in our school community. I think it’s important to reflect on my practice and ensure that I’m meeting the needs of my students the best I can every single day. Being able to show my students that I’m willing to take risks and learn along the way has been an important part of my year.
While it has been a challenging year for me trying to balance everything, I must admit I like a challenge! It has also been one of the most rewarding years for me (and it’s only 4 months into the school year!) as I feel I have shown growth already and I have committed to bettering myself, becoming a risk taker, and am trying to be more reflective along the way.
If you don’t already have a sentence, now is a great time to ask yourself, “What’s My Sentence?” and reflect on your day with the question, “Was I better today than yesterday?”
Check out the video below:
Writing for an authentic audience.
(This could also be posted under “connections” and “innovation” as well)
On our grade 3 classroom blog, Daniel L. recently shared his thoughts about powerful questions and his learning on Tunisia. He ended the post with the following question:
After we are all done researching we will all share what we learned. I’m wanting to learn more about Ramadan!
@gcouros Left a comment. Let me know if he wants follow up. Maybe a Skype call?
Jumping all over this opportunity, our grade 3 teacher and myself hurried to set up all of the appropriate software and hardware to make this happen for our students. The students worked with their teacher to set up some powerful questions that they could ask Jabiz and we had a fantastic time speaking with him! It was truly a great experience for our school and I am looking forward to the snowball effect that this is going to have creating more of these types of opportunities for our students.
I have talked several times about how the effective use of technology actually builds relationships as opposed to isolating us from one another. Jabiz and I have never talked other than through Twitter, and it was amazing how comfortable we were with one another. This relationship led to our students being able to connect to someone who actually could tell us about their experiences Ramadan and living in a different culture.. I will take the conversation over a textbook any time.
I am so proud of how our teachers are willing to continuously try new things and take risks in their learning, and how are students are inspiring our school as well as outside. Education has never been more exciting for me and I am inspired over and over again by those that I am connected with, both within our own learning community and around the world.
Thanks so much to Jabiz for taking his Friday night (11pm) to answer questions from our students (that’s passion about learning!).
Have you started your classroom blog yet?
Check out the blog post that shares the video of our conversation with Jabiz. I am so proud of our students and the work that they have done for this opportunity.
I had written the above quote on a blog post earlier this year, and today, I have started to see it come to fruition when I received this fantastic email today from one of our staff:
So I was chatting with my mom, and she wanted me to pass on a “thanks” to the school. She was sitting in her meeting with the tech department of her organization (She is the Transformation Manager). They are talking about changing some tech stuff there. She said, “I’m no computer wiz, but my daughter’s school seems to be on the cutting edge of educational technology, so I pay attention when she talks about tools they are using. Why are we not using Google Docs when it seems so simple? Wouldn’t that cut down on a lot of grief with server issues and emailing documents back and forth?” The young tech guy replied, “Good on you J … you are right on track!” It seems the company may be moving to Googledocs, and Facebook and Twitter have just been taken off the prohibited site list with a little push from my mom, based on some of the things we have learned.
It looks like we are heading in the right direction and I am proud that our school is inspiring others to do the same!
Here is a fantastic video created by a school in Mooresville, North Carolina based on our Identity Day. I am very proud that our community has continued to inspire other schools to take on this initiative. The more we can focus on student passions in schools, the better our children will do!
Please watch the fantastic video below:
As we move deeper into our school wide portfolio project, I have created a presentation showing examples of some of the work that has already been done and it how it ties into 21st century skills. I have been thinking about this a lot and we are already seeing some powerful conversations happening through our blog/portfolios.
Although this will make more sense when accompanied with speaking, I thought I would share the presentation on my blog anyway.
I have recently drafted a “vision” of our school project. I would love any feedback, thoughts, or questions on the process.
Forest Green School is located in Stony Plain, Albert and is a K-6 school with Parkland School Division. We have three school sites, including Forest Green School, Connections for Learning (K-12), and Brightbank (K-6). Each site is separated in distance and serves a wide range of families and needs, but we are connected through our staff and online practices between our students.
We have developed an Eportfolio project that is focused on deep, critical thinking activities with the infusion of technology. This project is done by all grades within our school community from K-12 at all three sites. Not only will each student have their own blog/portfolio that will be maintained throughout their time with Forest Green School, it will also be transferred for their own use as they move on to other schools, or transition into the workforce. This will be a collection of their work and will be maintained as they progress through our school. Teachers and administrators, leading by example, maintain their own blog that serves as not only a way of communicating with our school community, but also as a way of promoting deep critical thinking activities in an online, collaborative forum. Through this project, our school will host over 500 staff and student blogs on our website, http://forestgreenschool.ca.
At Forest Green School, we want our students to be innovators, thinkers, collaborators, and strong citizens who lead and serve. Through our school-wide eportfolio project, we felt that we would be addressing all of these needs. The project is focused on empowering our students to be self-directed learners who have the opportunity to have a space that they will be able to create, modify, and extend their learning not only on curriculum objectives, but their own passions and interests as well. We envision our students will increase their deep critical thinking skills through the opportunities created through this project through a collaborative process, while being able to link and share ideas with one another. Students will not only have opportunities to build their critical thinking skills, but they will also be able to create a strong digital identity and ensure they emulate strong digital citizenship. Through sharing their passion, students will be showing leadership in their chosen interest areas. As the project progresses, they will not only share their passion and leadership with our school community, but also with others around the world.
As this is a very ambitious project, there were several challenges that we have had to overcome. This is an entire school initiative and it is being implemented from grades K-12. Since we have all started this project together, there was a steep learning curve for our staff. Through a technology integration coordinator, technology team, and critical thinking team, staff received time and support to learn how to implement these initiatives in the classroom. Our critical thinking team works with staff and students during class time, to focus on job embedded professional development to have a strong understanding of how this project will deeply impact the development of student learners. It was the belief of the school that if we are to expect the students to fully immerse themselves into this project, staff must also join them. Through staff blogs, parents can not only have a full understanding of what is happening in the classroom, but they are able to partake and have conversations regarding our journey. Through this common understanding, we envision this to be more than a school, but a community of learners working side by side.
The Forest Green blog/portfolio initiative is not meant to be a one or two year project, but a continuous endeavour that will be maintained for the duration of a student’s time at Forest Green. Every student will have the opportunity to create and develop a growth portfolio that will be maintained through all grades. Currently every single classroom and school site has a blog that models what is expected. Every student will have some form of a portfolio, but like a resume, it will be continuously updated to show evidence of success. You will be able to see all staff/classroom blogs at http://forestgreenschool.ca, but individual student blogs will be open only to our school community.
Through our cross-site collaboration project, you will see parents, staff, and students from different sites commenting and sharing their knowledge with each other. As the vision is to build a learning community, it is fantastic to be able to see all stakeholders working together in this open format, while also building strong digital identities that will continuously be formed in a positive manner. Parents, staff, students, and the global community working together is evident within our project and we are proud that are students have an authentic understanding of what it means to be 21st Century Learners.
As we move forward, we want this to be more than one or two year project, but something that is maintained and developed for many years. Through the process of working together as a staff, we will build capacity within the school community. Only new staff will have to adjust to the process, but they will be able to learn from everyone, as all other staff will understand the process. Even though students from K-2 will not be creating blog/portfolios this year, they will have the access to their teacher blog in which they will have a solid understanding of not only best practices using this technology, but will also help to build their own digital identity. They will begin to document electronically growth in some areas.
To ensure that this practice has the ability to be maintained past the years the student has attended our school, all students will have the opportunity to download and then upload their entire portfolio within a few minutes to a third party site. Parents and students will then assume full responsibility for their work, but are then able to use this as a portfolio to further their future learning, while also being used in the workplace.
We are very excited about the future of this project. The essence of this project is that it is something that is continuous past schooling and gives students opportunities to become developed critical thinkers, creators, while building a positive digital identity. They will also have the opportunity to learn not only from their teacher, but to all that have access to their portfolios. Through these conversations, students are more likely to develop the skills they need to be successful citizens in whatever path they choose to follow.
Yesterday at Forest Green School, we had a fantastic professional development session. It started with a 30-minute open session where staff were just able to take the time and write a blog post. As this is a new school wide initiative that will be trickling down to our students in the next month, I wanted to ensure that I gave them an opportunity to just spend some time writing a post and seeing what others wrote as well. It was a great opportunity for our staff to develop their own learning in this initiative and give them dedicated time to write. (We used this document to inspire some ideas)
After we came together and looked at each other’s posts, we then dived into the rest of our morning. As we are working on our second year of our teacher-led professional development plan, I talked with our staff about the importance of focusing on directly impacting student learning through our vision. I thought directly about the following quote:
As we move forward, it is essential that our goals focus directly on how the impact and improve student learning. There is definitely a time where we need to focus on building staff capacity in new initiatives, but any successful professional development will shift this capacity from teacher to student to ensure we are “transforming” the way learning happens.
For example, as our staff continues to develop their capacity for blogging, how will we shift this practice from being simply a way of communicating with parents, students, and teachers, to a medium that positively impacts student learning? It is imperative not only for our students that we use blogging as a way to open up conversations and learn from each other, but it is also essential that all of our staff see the opportunities that blogging creates in our learning community. This cannot come without a certain amount of understanding of the technology (how to write a post, hyperlink, etc.), but we must continuously look on how it will impact learning and why we are using this in the first place.
As an instructional leader within a school, it is essential that I help to first build staff capacity, but the vision MUST positively impact student learning. This should be the goal of all professional development plans. Leaders must not only have this vision, but the patience to see it through.
If you could choose, what work environment would you work in?
- An organization with vision for a preferred future, or one that is happy with maintaining the status quo.
- A place where everyone is a leader because of the gifts they bring, or there are a few managers based upon position.
- An environment that is flexible and realizes the gifts you bring as a person, or one that is rigid and expects you to fit into the business mold.
- A job where you are trusted to do the job that you need to do, or one where you are managed to do the job you need to do.
- A place where ideas are shared and common solutions are created, or one where all decisions lie in the hands of a single person.
- A work environment that is open and shares what they are doing with all stakeholders, or one that is guarded until the last moment.
- An environment where risks are seen as necessary to learning and success, or one where risks are not encouraged at all.
As an educator, I do not necessarily want our students to adapt to any particular work environment as much as I hope they define it. I know the type of work place I am trying to create for our school.
What are you ideals?