Learning is....
Planting a seed in our brain... learning to water, nurture and grow it.... so we can live on the fruit of our learning and plant more seeds.

Saturday, 9 May 2015

Teachers using social media.

Once upon a time this was the world of media socially...

But things change.

Social media has exploded in the last ten years. 

My first foray into social media was Bebo back in 2007.  You set up a profile and.... yeah, I think I only really mucked around with making it look pretty.  Then there was Tagged.  That was a waste of space, and emails from this site still clog up my email account because it is such a mission to delete your Tagged account.

At some point in 2008 I was asked to join Facebook by someone (I forget who).  Here started a relationship with social media that lasts to this day.  Facebook has kept me connected with so many people and reconnected me with many others.  I am in contact with old school friends, university friends, old workmates and friends I have made along the way, extended "extended" family, politicians and with professionals I know.

In 2011 I joined Twitter.  I mostly use this for professional education purposes as well as union and political postings.  Occasionally I tweet jokes, irrelevant rubbish and a personal rant, but it has opened up a whole new world of people to interact with.  I blogged about this in a post called Twitter as a Personal Learning Network for Teachers back in July.

I also began this blog back in 2011, the same day as I joined Twitter at the end of ULearn11.  I had been to a couple of breakouts that focused on using Blogger and Wikispaces as social media in schools and classes.

Some time ago, I came across this blog post called Responding to Teachers' Questions: A Social Media Recipe for Educators?  This blog includes a YouTube video by the author, Julian Vasquez Heilig aka @ProfessorJVH, who is a professor at an American university.

The Professor opens his blog with this statement and the following questions:

Is there a recipe for social media? What are the secrets? Should I blog? I was recently asked to respond to a series of questions submitted by a group of teachers. I recorded my responses to them on YouTube. See the questions and responses below.
  • How (and why) did you develop an interest in social media?
  • How did you start? Blog, Twitter, Forums?
  • What have been your main challenges? How do you keep it up?
  • What kind of responses do you get? Could you share an example?
  • How do you navigate the personal/professional line with students and your social media presence?
  • Why do you think it is important for educators to use social media?
  • What would be your advice to other teachers who are getting started, or who would like to grow online?
These are a lot of important question that we need to consider as educators in our professional lives and how we approach these questions with students.  And no doubt many of you are also thinking about how this applies to your personal life and, if you have children, to them.

How did you start?  Blog, Twitter, Forums?  What have been your main challenges?  How do you keep it up?
I've already described my introduction to social media above and how I got into Facebook, Twitter and Blogging.  Everyone would now say I'm a bit of an addict.  I shall own that.  And that in itself is a challenge, because social media can sometimes be hard to keep up with.

There are days when I will turn off all devices and step away.  I think that is healthy and important to do that, because quiet can be nice.  There are days when I am too busy and flat out to look at a device - a normal day at school, a family event, the day the house must be cleaned from top to bottom.  This is called having a life and going to work - these are very important things.  Social media, like wine, good cheese and chocolate, is something to keep in balance with the rest of your life.

Some days social media is crazy.  I can accidentally get immersed in a chat on an issue to do with education or politics (I am a political junkie too) or a current event and find that hours have dispersed as I kept up with ideas, opinions and discussions.

But there are always times you have to put the device down because the cat needs feeding or you are doing school reports.  It is about priorities and self management and face to face relationships when it comes to keeping balance between the real and virtual worlds.

What kind of responses do you get?
Who does not get a bit of a buzz when their Facebook post gets a "Like" or their tweet is retweeted or when they see the views on their blog post growing.  It does make you feel noticed.

I started my blog in October 2011.  I was convinced that no one would be interested in what I had to say or share.  I would get pretty happy if say 50 people had looked at a post.  I would post it, email the link to a few people, and tweet it about four times on Twitter.  Occasionally I would get a comment submitted.  Comments are nice.  It's another form of engagement.

A few weeks ago I spent about a week working on a blog explaining my spelling programme and I posted it at about 5:00am on a Saturday morning (I wanted it finished and worked through the night).  It had had a thousand views by just after lunch.  By the end of the weekend it was over 3,000 views.  Four weeks later it currently has just short of 5,500 views.

Now that is heart warming, but it also goes to show how crazy teachers are about how to effectively get their students learning spelling. 

But how did that many people know about that post?  Yes, I did tweet it out on Twitter, and according to my statistics many people came into the post from that source.  But in January, two teachers decided to start a Facebook page called NZ Teachers (Primary), and my friend Tanya was invited to join by someone.  She invited me to join.  At that stage in mid January there were about 300 or so members.  Today there are over 9,300 members.  I credit the sharing that the teachers who have become a member of this group do to the increase in traffic to my blog.  Share a post here in a couple of different threads and it gets noticed.

How do you navigate the personal/professional line with students and your social media presence?
I do not friend students.  I learnt that the hard way when Bebo first came into existence.  I originally joined Bebo because a friend who was still in England sent the friend request.  Some kids in the Year 7/8 class I was teaching at the time were talking about Bebo and I said to them that I was on there.  I then got several friend requests, which I accepted. 

Now I have already said that most of my time on there was making it look pretty, but one of the "cool" things about social media is the cyber stalking (not in a dodgy way, thank you) you do to find out about people.  So I was looking at the page of one of my students, and I couldn't help but notice the horrible comments she was making about another student in my class.  It upset me greatly.  So I went to the principal and asked her to put some information in the newsletter for parents and students about cyber bullying and the fact that it had been noticed to be going on in our school community.  This was 2007, and social media was only just gaining traction.  People were more worried about their children being exposed to pornography on the internet at this stage and the full implications of cyber bullying were only just being exposed to the general public.

As a result, I no longer friend current students.  I don't usually friend former students until they leave high school, unless I am related to them or their parents are my Facebook friends.

I also do not friend parents in my current school community, and I am choosey about which staff members I currently work with as my Facebook friends.  When I leave a school, the parents and staff I choose to continue a friendship with become Facebook friends.  We may never see each other in real life, but I do take great pleasure in seeing how my former students are going through the pages of their parents.  And I do have a habit of collecting families from different schools.

I have pondered the future, of what I would do if the school engaged with the parents, students and community through Facebook and Twitter, and I have decided the best avenue is to have an alternative account that will interact in that way.  Parents don't need to see my photos of a seafood festival, political views and black sense of humour flowing through their timelines.

Why do you think it is important for educators to use social media?
In the first place, how do you keep up with people without it nowadays?  I'm so flat out during term time that I would be lucky to text my best friend let alone see her more than once during a term, let alone that hardcase mate from T Coll or that flattie from London, or the kid who lived next door at primary school!!  How would I know what my cousins are doing without Facebook?  And I certainly wouldn't know the news behind the news without Twitter!!

But apart from gossip from old friends and left wing conspirators, I have found Twitter and Facebook have been great places to grow my Personal Learning Network (PLN) as well as other teacher connections.

Firstly, I met people by going to ULearn who encouraged me to come to and Educamp.  As I started using Twitter at that ULearn and then met people I was tweeting with at following Educamps and ULearns.  Through Twitter I started reading their blogs as well.  It has snowballed.

Through some NZEI Facebook groups I had also made connections, met these people in real life at NZEI events and become Facebook friends with them.  It was funny at one Annual Meeting when every time I sat down at a workshop table I got "So you're Melanie!"  I started thinking, "Oh dear, what have I done?" 

Now the NZ Teachers Facebook page really has brought a lot of teachers together, interacting and sharing.  I visited a school a couple of weeks ago to find in their reception area a piece of work which I had done with my students in Term 1 last year, blogged about last year, and shared extensively on NZ Teachers back in January and February.  Warm fuzzies!!!

What would be your advice to other teachers who are getting started, or who would like to grow online?
If you are getting started, pick one platform first, find out about it and join.  It would be good if you had someone you know already using that platform, because they will know other people you know and connect you to them.  Don't expose too much about yourself (such as the school you work for and on Twitter you don't have to put your full or real name) initially, and, particularly on Facebook, lock your account from sharing too much until you are more comfortable with the platform.

Look and tutu with the platform.  That's how you learn, just like children, by exploring.

If you are a NZ primary teacher on Facebook who does not yet belong to NZ Teachers on Facebook, find one of your friends who is to invite you.

If you are on Twitter, I would recommend searching the #edchatnz and looking at the tweets.  From there you can look at people's profiles and choose to follow them or not.  Tweet using the #edchatnz hashtag asking who you should follow, and you will get lots of new followers as well as great suggestions tweeted back at you.

If it is a blog you want to start, talk to some people who already have blogs to get some tips.  I started this one after attending workshops at ULearn that covered blogging and wikispaces.  I experimented with both, but feel very comfortable using Blogger which is good most of the time.  You do not have to make your blog viewable until you are comfortable either.  I now have five blogs, two of which are not searchable, so I have to give the link out to get to them.  So that is perfectly acceptable.

Other considerations....
Last year a number of teachers fell foul of the New Zealand Teachers Council due to their use of social media.  This website set up by the NZTC, Teachers & Social Media, will give you some good advice on keeping yourself safe professionally and even personally.

Below is a selection of articles from the last year of teachers and principals who have been caught out for inappropriate behaviour with social media and phones and have had complaints lodged about them with the Teachers Council.

And this piece of advice is crucial:  any contact you have with students or parents via social media should be ok for your principal or BOT Chair to read without you having to squirm and answer questions about it. 

Think before you press post or send, because everything on the internet can come back to bite you on the bum (just ask Judith Collins).

And under no circumstances do SnapChat or Yik Yak with any students.

#edsketch15 Days 6, 7 and 8: A Mixed Bag

This #edsketch15 requires me to reflect on each day in pictures.  I still write though.  While I find pictures to be essential and I am a habitual doodler, I love words.  So each time I publish these words here, I reveal a little more of myself.
On Wednesday night, after a day of considering many things for the future, I was ready to zone out in front of the television.  Alas I do not control the remote, and she-who-controls-the-remote condemned the rest of us to watch The Bachelor NZ on TV3. 
To keep myself sane I turned to Twitter.  Of course Twitter was a buzz with the final of The Bachelor NZ - who will Art choose and the like - and many of us took the mickey out of the situation.
Thankfully after critically reviewing all the drama on one of the worst shows ever to grace our screens, I was happily distracted by #dojochatanz.  It was very pleasant to discuss how, when, why, what devices are use for in the classroom  I find these chats always open up thoughts and investigations you would not otherwise have thought about or looked into.
When you teach full time, you do not get to go out for lunch.  Sometimes lunch just doesn't happen because you are so busy.  Personally, I am no good if I do not have lunch.  I am like a bear with a sore head and kids really do not need that.  Teachers need to say no to other things in lunch times sometimes and look after themselves, nourish their body and brain.  Food and drink is important to keep the electrical impulses in the brain functioning correctly, to keep up energy physically and to keep a person on the straight and narrow mentally.
So while I am not working full time, I am taking opportunities to do things with friends I would otherwise rarely see.  On Thursday, my friend Melissa (from way back in high school days) and I went out to lunch and had the opportunity to catch up without work, children, cats, phones.... all the interferences life can bring.
The British general election also occurred this week.  As a professional who wants the best for education, children and teachers world wide, I keep abreast of the international education news as best as I can.  I also had a year as a day supply teacher in London. 
England has long been in the grip of neo-liberal education policies which we refer to as GERM (Global Education Reform Movement) in education circles.  We have watched as the UK has proceeded down the path of national testing and its implications.  We have seen how Ofsted has foisted its expectations on UK schools, and how the government has forced borough schools to become academies (aka charter schools) as part of its accountability drive. 
So late on Friday night, as the election results were confirmed to show the Conservatives had won their first past the post election, I decided to demonstrate my solidarity with UK teachers.  I wanted them to know "kiaora" or hello, we are here and we hear you.
I wanted them to know that we want them to stay strong, "kia kaha", and continue to fight, because we too fight for our rights to be able to do the best for our students in spite of government policies that exist and cause us grief.
I wanted them to know "aroha nui" - love - because they need to know we know their struggle, even if we do not speak it.
As the title of this post said, this post really was a mixed bag of ideas and reflections.  I hope you got something our of it. 

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

#edsketch15 Days 4 & 5: Relieving has changed.

Relieving has changed.  Last time I relieved for my income was 2007 and 2008, and right from the beginning for term two during both years I was flat out. 

But it's different now.

The professional learning is being delivered differently.  In 2007 and 2008 ICTPD clusters were in full flight.  The Literacy Project was in full flight.  The Numeracy Project was still going strong.  We still had teacher advisory centres offering quality PLD for science, health and PE, social sciences,  technology and the arts.

But that's all gone.

So the relieving teacher can no longer rely on PLD to plug the gaps between sick teachers and the odd bit of CRT.

It's just different.

Monday, 4 May 2015

#edsketch15 Day Three: data walls and behaviour charts - igniting discussion

Today this photo came up through my timeline thanks to the Facebook group BATs (Bad Ass Teachers from the USA).

It invoked in me some distaste.  It made me think about how we as teachers display children's behaviour and learning.

At the beginning of 2013 I began a new position.  The previous teacher had left a form of data wall display for writing up in in the classroom.  Apart from the fact that he had used a prime display wall, I just could not abide with continuing with this as it was a multi-year-level class and many students were struggling in their learning.

I reposted this photo in NZ Teacher (Primary) of Facebook and a lot of discussion followed.  Some people were very opposed to these sorts of displays; a small group of others praised their variations of such a display.

I was heartened by the responses and passion teachers had about this topic.  This was the comment I wrote to support my position regarding the above photo today:
I personally believe that these sorts of things should be in student's work books or their learning journals because any achievement should be communicated privately between teachers, students and caregivers. If a student chooses to tell their classmate then that is their decision. I do believe that displaying exemplars and WALTs and the like in the room is valuable, but I would much rather display the student's work.

So then I posted this to Twitter as a reflection on the discussion I had initiated on Facebook:

#edsketch15 Day Two: School Playgrounds - to risk or not to risk....

I want you to think back, back to when you were a child at school, and to think about your favourite part of the playground, the piece of equipment that you spent hours playing on with your friends.  Are you picturing it?

The last time you passed by your old school, was it still there? 

Last week a conference was held in Hamilton about children's playgrounds, and school playgrounds featured at this conference too.  I read an article about it on Saturday from the paper earlier in the week, Playgrounds advocates say kids need more risk (Waikato Times 29/4/15).  Victoria Farmer from the University of Otago had the following to say about introducing risk to playgrounds:

"Children need little bits of risk to be able to manage bigger risk later on."
Each child had a different risk tolerance - just as some adults love roller coasters and others won't go near them - and kids tended to be quite good at managing it themselves, she said.
For example, giving kids the go-ahead to climb trees didn't mean all the pupils would soon be peering down from the tip of trunks.
Children who were interested tended to creep up a little way, try a bit more the next time and so on until they figured out what they could handle.
While adults could still be watching, they should try not to interfere, Farmer said.
So she challenged schools to start making small changes.
"I bet you there's something that works for each school."
Examples Farmer had seen in schools in the trial included letting their grass grow long so kids could take their games into it, creating hilly play places and bringing loose items such as branches or tyres into playgrounds.
One school bought raincoats and gumboots so kids could go outside at break if it was raining.
"A principal said [kids] learn that if they go out in the teeming rain they'll come back wet. And if the teachers say 'no, there aren't any changes of clothes' they learn what they can and can't do themselves. It's no longer a rule."

Sadly, as good as the intentions are and as much as educators would love to throw the rule book out of the playground and bring in an element of risk, this is the dominant thinking:

But schools could face a parent backlash and culpability if something went wrong, Waikato Principals' Association president John Coulam said.
So tree-climbing and bullrush were generally ruled out and many schools didn't allow tackle rugby unless a teacher was supervising.
"I really don't think much has disappeared from schools," he said.
"A child can climb a tree outside of school hours. They don't have to do everything at school... Why would we expose ourselves to the risk?"
"What happens if you let a child climb a tall tree and they fall and they break their neck? The school's responsible. It's easier to say don't climb the tree."
Rules stated that play equipment more than a metre high needed a safety surface under it, he said.
And, under Ministry of Education guidelines, schools had to provide a safe physical environment for students.
Upcoming health and safety changes also had board members worrying about being held personally responsible for any injuries.

Liability is the cause of the hesitation to free up playground protocols and encourage children to learn to take calculated risks during play.  Principals spoke at our Waikato NZEI Area Council end of year function and AGM last year about how they fear for their personal financial security as they can be made liable if a serious accident happens on school grounds at any time.  This can also extend to members of the Board of Trustees.

But this reticence to allowing children to take risks, the cottonwooling of students, has long term implications as these children grow up.  Somewhere along the way I remember commentators like the late Celia Lashlie lamenting the fact that children, particularly boys, have not been allowed to take risks in their play, and therefore do not know their limitations.  Fast forward to these boys getting their first car, their first real taste of independence, and they wrap it around a power pole.

Of course this article immediately made me think about the playground of the school I went to until the end of Standard 4, Ngarua.  Ngarua is on Highway 27, bang smack in the middle of the towns Te Aroha, Morrinsville and Matamata.  Alas, the school roll shrank and shrank and was closed in 2001.  Now a kura kaupapa occupies the site and the local children have to travel that little bit further to get to school.

Below is my #edsketch15 sketch of our old playground.  Most of this stuff was install by the fathers of the district when I was about 6 years old.  When I was ten a massive wooden fort was also constructed, and I was heartbroken when my family moved away a few months after it was completed, because I felt I hadn't had my fair go at playing on it.

I was very sad when at the end of my first year at T Coll, when I went to Ngarua to do my practicum, to find that pretty much all of our old playground had been ripped out due to it not meeting OSH requirements.

I sketched these items from the Ngarua School playground of my childhood, posted it on Facebook and tagged in my old school friends and cousins who also went there for comment.  The bamboo, tractor, tyre swing, big log, fence battens and tyres, and the poles up in the trees all got mentions from my old school friends.

I only remember three serious injuries in six or so years:
  • my cousin's broken leg playing lunchtime soccer or rugby;
  • one broken arm, possibly, from memory, a fall from the poles in the trees while playing tiggy in the trees;
  • and one concussion from a game with the tyre swing (principal rang my mum to assess him as she was a St John's officer and she went with him and his mum to the doctors - he and I laughed about it when we grew up).
Everything was high, there was lots of concrete holding everything together, and no safe landing materials underneath.
We also played tackle rugby, games that involved branding with balls (but no aiming at heads was a rule set by us kids), tackle bullrush and a game call Hares and Hounds (but the teachers banned us from playing it round the front of the school so people wouldn't crash running around corners).
No teachers were on duty, but they surveyed us from the staff room. We ran the playground ourselves, Form 2 kids sorted stuff out, and if we needed a teacher, we went and got one.
Near the beginning of my teaching career, I began teaching at Walton School, just down the road and around the corner from Ngarua, and a new OSH approved playground was installed in my second term there.  It wasn't long before the first of many broken arms during the eight years I was there occurred on that OSH approved playground with the approved ground cover.  Bob, who used to be the principal before retiring at the end of 2012, said he'd never experienced as many injuries as the injuries that came off that OSH approved playground.

Saturday, 2 May 2015

#edsketch15 Day One: conversations of a relieving teacher

#edsketch15 sprang into life yesterday.  When I first heard about it I was "What is this?"  But a quick read of Steve Mouldey's post Sketch a Day in May explained it all.  Read about it here: https://stevemouldey.wordpress.com/2015/04/30/sketch-a-day-in-may/

Currently I am a relieving teacher.  I have chosen this currently for a number of reasons:
*  my mum is having a series of operations and by not working full time in the first half of this year I am more available for her.
*  the last two years were very intense, and I needed time to reflect on what I've learnt from these experiences and how I could build on them.
*  relieving gives me the chance to work in a variety of schools and re-evaluate my preconceived expectations of these schools, meet new people, reconnect with old friends, gather ideas from a variety of teachers and levels.
*  enjoy the time I spend with students without stressing about assessments, meetings, reports.....

Yes, relieving has allowed me to breathe for a couple of terms, but I miss having my own class and teaching a group of children I claim as my own.

Yesterday I relieved at a large intermediate school.  It was my first time there, and I got to work in three very different classes. 

The first class was charged with rearranging the wall displays.  The children, teacher aides and I struggled with some aspects of this task, but these children took feedback and utilised it and identified and solved problems.  They had to manage themselves and work together with their team mates.  They had to delegate tasks and share equipment.  It was full on but they did their best and I hope their teacher was happy.

Take away: a website for creating lettering for the wall.

The second class were a laptop class.  They were very focused on their tasks and working independently.  I helped the odd student figure out how to do something,  but for most of the time I talked to them about what they were learning, their blogs and the choices they made for their projects.  It was a pleasure.

Take away: putting paper up on the wall for students to record their learning/planning for a topic and the use of Survey Monkey to collect data for a statistical investigation.

The last class was more challenging.  I felt it as soon as I walked in the room.  There were plenty of characters in the room.  They had been left with a task that required them to use the desktop computers, but limited time and access due to child:computer ratios.  We also had kapa haka.  This was the class I had the interesting conversation with that is the basis of my #edsketch15 Day One picture.

Take away: kids are persistent and will push the boundaries to get to know you.  And that is the story behind my first #edsketch15.