10 questions to help you become a better teacher…

I read the post 10 Questions To Help You Become A Better Teacher This School Year by Terry Heick with interest.

The post grabbed my attention as I often sum up my own ideas in ten points. It has some interesting questions for teachers to consider, but I wonder if the post perpetuates the (mistaken?) idea that we should focus mainly on what we do and how we teach in order to improve as educators. In my opinion, focusing more on learning and less on teaching is a more worthwhile endeavour.

So here’s my take. 10 (other) questions to ask yourself that I think might help you be a better teacher…

1. What do I believe about learning?

How does learning best take place? Do kids learn by listening? By doing? By finding out for themselves? Does everyone learn in different ways? Do I value collaboration? Do some kids need to work alone? Does compliance contribute to learning?

2. Does my practice reflect my beliefs?

Do I provide opportunities for learning to flourish? Are learning experiences in my class aligned with my beliefs? Do I reflect regularly and critically to check if they are? Can someone else observe my classes and give me feedback? What if I asked the kids?

3. How do I shift my focus from what I teach to how they learn?

Is my teaching responsive? Do I constantly change the plans, depending on the learning? Do I step back and listen to the learners? Do I carefully observe and record where learners are at? How do I use my observations to inform teaching and learning?

4. Is the learner at the centre of everything?

Do I know every child’s story? What makes them happy? What do they care deeply about? What bothers them? How they do like to learn? What’s not working for them? How can I help connect the learning to their personal experience?

5. Do my students own their learning?

Do I talk too much? Test too much? Am I always in control? Does every conversation need to go through me? Do my learners have choice? How can I encourage them to take responsibility for the learning?

6. How can I ‘make friends with the curriculum’?

(Thanks for the quote, Sam Sherratt). Do I let the demands of curriculum get the better of me? Am I always trying to fit things in and tick things off? Can I become really familiar with the curriculum so that it’s woven through the learning experiences? How can I make trans-disciplinary connections? Am I ready to jump in with ‘just in time’ teaching?

7. How do I encourage creativity?

Can I stop playing ‘guess what’s in my head’? Do I encourage divergent thinking? How can I help my learners seek worthwhile problems to solve, rather than just the ones I set? How can I incorporate the arts into the learning? Is imagination as important as information?

8. How can I ensure the learning space promotes learning?

Did I get rid of rows facing the front years ago? Are the tables arranged for collaboration? Do we even need all the tables? Can we change the room around, depending on the learning needs? Do we need all the ‘stuff’ that clutters the room? What makes the learners comfortable? Will some colourful cushions change the feel of the learning? Can calming music affect the mood?

9. How can I ensure I am a learner first?

Am I a connected educator? Have I built a global PLN (professional learning network) using social media? Have I been to a Teachmeet or an Edcamp? Am I constantly reading and thinking about learning? Do I create my own learning opportunities? Or do I expect PD to be done to me?

10. How can I contribute to a culture of learning?

Am I a continual learner? Do I talk about my learning? Am I open to new ways of thinking? Am I ready to learn from my colleagues and my students? Do I willingly share my ideas? Do I bring solutions and suggestions rather than problems and complaints?

OK, so there are actually more than fifty questions, if you don’t just count the headings…

Who said becoming a better teacher was easy?

10 principles of effective professional learning…

Tweet

Apparently this random comment (my response to a tweet in last week’s #edchat) was well received!

This got me thinking (again) about the principles of effective professional learning for educators. In no particular order, the following points are based on my own experience.

Effective professional learning needs to be…

1. Conceptual

Effective learning for teachers is not always about things you can try tomorrow, but rather big ideas that shift your understanding of teaching and learning.

2. Self directed

Teachers need opportunities to set their own goals, choose their own learning and follow their own interests. (Sometimes the most effective medium to achieve that is social media.)

3. Inquiry driven

The most effective learning isn’t usually ‘delivered and received’. Teachers need to question, experiment, apply, find and solve problems, engage in action reasearch.

4. Collaborative

Learn with and from others. build a personal learning network. Create communities of practice in your own school, your neighbourhood, the world…

5. Creative

Think beyond one-size-fits-all PD delivered by ‘experts’ on special days set aside for the purpose. Create your own learning opportunities. Visit other classes. Start voluntary groups. Participate in Teachmeets. Engage via Twitter and blogs. Find your own people!

6. Personalised

How often are teachers compelled to attend one-size-fits-no-one sessions, not relevant to their current programs, practice, interests or experience? Even on school wide ‘PD days‘, teachers can have a choice.

7. Reflective

Too often, teachers are expected to shift rapidly from one ‘topic’ to the next (@lisaburman called it ‘Hit and run’). Effective learning includes sufficient time for reflection, application… and further reflection.

8. Active

Learning is often less effective when the expectation is for learners to listen passively. There need to be active participation and engagement, opportunities to interact, reflect and construct meaning.

9. Enjoyable
(I crowd sourced this one). Teachers like their professional learning to include humour and a sense of fun. It doesn’t need to be a boring chore!

10. Challenging

Professional learning (like any learning) can be messy. There should be tensions to work through and big ideas to connect. It goes beyond solutions and formulae and things to try out tomorrow… which takes us back to where we started!

Of course, all of this applies to any learners, not just teachers. Try replacing the word ‘teachers’ throughout the above post with ‘students’, or simply ‘learners’… which takes me back to a post I wrote a while ago about adult vs child learners. What are your thoughts on that?

What’s been your best professional learning experience? Did it fit the above criteria? What have a I missed?

10 big ideas from eduTECH…

Billed as the biggest educational technology conference in Australia, I note with interest as I sum up the big ideas from EduTECH, that they are not about the technology.

These were some of the messages from the likes of Dan Pink, Stephen Heppell, Ewan McIntosh, Alan November, Stephen Harris , Andrew Churches and Sir Ken Robinson. I‘ll keep it brief, with links to other posts that elaborate. You can apply the big ideas to all kinds of learners, teachers and students alike..

1. Ownership
Enable choice. Foster independence. Encourage responsibility.

2. Collaboration
Learn together. Grow ideas. Build community.

3. Creativity
Experiment. Play. Make something.

4. Problem solving/finding
Think differently. Find solutions. Seek new problems.

5. Curiosity
Ask questions. Notice. Wonder.

6. Diversity
One size does not fit all. Differentiate. Personalize learning.

7. Flexibility
Rethink school. Create new spaces. Unlearn.

8. Relevance 
Make it real. Solve real life problems. Create for an authentic audience.

9. Connection
Build a PLN. Flatten classroom walls. Participate.

10. Change
Do one new thing. Influence someone else. Shift the sand, one ‘teaspoon’ at a time

10 tips for (reticent) bloggers…

A colleague who teaches writing, draws incredible poetry and prose out of her students. Yet she has what she calls ‘writer’s blog’ (block) which prevents her from starting a blog. Another has just had an incredible learning experience and spent four hours organizing her thoughts and experiences by writing blog posts… despite not having a blog, as she feels uncertain whether others will be interested in what she writes.

It seems they are not alone…

When I started blogging, I struggled to find my voice. My first few posts (some of which were subsequently deleted) sounded as if they had each been written by a different person. Then I realised I didn’t need to try so hard.

10 tips for reticent new struggling teacher student  bloggers…

  1. Write in your own voice, as if you are talking to people you know.
  2. Don’t over-think and over-plan, just write what’s in your head. You can write another post when you have developed your thinking further.
  3. Don’t agonise over whether it’s good enough. Write, check, post, done. You’ll improve with practice.
  4. Never force it. If an idea for a post isn’t working, scrap it.
  5. Avoid long slabs of text. Write in paragraphs. Use headings, images and bullet points to express your thinking clearly and ensure your message is evident.
  6. Don’t explain everything. Use hyper-links to existing explanations on your blog and elsewhere on the internet.
  7. Shorter posts are better than long ones. Always. Big idea? Break it into two posts. Small idea? Sometimes one paragraph is enough.
  8. You don’t need to have all the answers. Some of my most successful posts have been composed entirely of questions.
  9. Exclude all words that just don’t add anything. This was the very best piece of advice I read when I first started blogging. Carefully re-read posts that you have written and  try to remove all the extraneous words that add little or nothing.
  10. Exercise humility. (The tips above work for me, I’m just sharing…)

10 20 ways to think about your class blog…

One of the ways I like to encourage learning based on my school’s learning principles is to promote the use of class blogs. In the lower primary years, the blogs are often used to communicate with parents and to share the learning that takes place at school. As we move higher up in the school though, the class blog has the potential to be so much more than that.

I’ve written about class blogs several times in the past, but my thinking  has changed as I have watched the blogging experience unfold at my school. I have seen even the most motivated teachers become disappointed by the lack of student interest, poor response from parents and the absence of the anticipated authentic audience.

A great post this week by Andrea Hernandez, entitled Where is the Authentic Audience? got me (re) thinking. And another thought-provoking post by Kath Murdoch exploring what inquiry learning is NOT, as a way to understand what it IS, inspired me to consider class blogs in the same way.

I think that a class blog is not (just)…

  • A  place to post questions, worksheet style, with an expectation that all students will respond.
  • A space for teachers  to assess and comment publicly on students’ writing.
  • A sort of online vacuum, into which students’ writing is sucked, never to be seen by anyone.
  • A compulsory homework assignment.
  • Something managed entirely by the teacher, who makes all the decisions as to what will be posted and when.
  • An occasionally used alternative to writing on paper.

(With apologies if you use your blog successfully in some or all of these ways!)

Some questions to consider…

1. Do you teach students how to write meaningful comments that promote conversation?

2. Do you set aside time every day to check  for new comments and  discuss the comments that come in?

3. Do you encourage your students to respond to each other and whoever else comments?

4. Does your blogroll include other class blogs within your own school and are your students actively engaging with these?

5. Do you encourage your students to comment on class blogs at schools in your own and other parts of the world?

6. Have you and your students considered ways to involve their grandparents and retired people they know as a potential audience?

7. Do your students have ownership of the layout and theme of your class blog?

8. Do you frequently discuss the potential  audience and purpose of blog posts?

9. Do you model good writing for your students by blogging yourself? ( A collective in-school blog doesn’t require a great time commitment).

10. Do you regularly read and comment on other teachers’ blogs and discuss your learning with your students?

11. Do you encourage students to take photographs of great learning experiences and share their reflections with the world?

12. Do you have a visitors map or a flag counter and check them every day with your class to see who has visited and where they are in the world?

13. Have you considered a class Twitter account to share learning and tweet your posts to other classes?

14. Have you thought about blogging as authentic writing, rather than another separate thing you have to fit in?

15. Do your students choose where to post their writing and thinking, with the blog as just one option?

16. Have you exposed your students to great blogs (not just class ones) so that they can discover what makes a blog appealing and interesting?

17. Have you helped your students see how blogging is different from other writing? Can they drill down to the essence of something, add images and use  hyperlinks?

18. Do your students see the blog as an additional place to share and provoke thinking, and to make thinking visible?

19. Is your blog a place to continue the learning conversation from school to home and back?

20. Are you working on building a learning community which includes yourself, students, parents and other learners in your school and the world?

10 things parents should unlearn…

“We need to educate the parents.”

I’ve heard that statement three times in the past week alone. Once was while discussing the purpose of student portfolios. The second was in the context of making our PYP exhibition more student led, focusing more on the learning than the presentation. The third related to student led conferences. Apparently most parents want time to discuss their children’s learning without the learner present.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not blaming the parents. They need to be partners in their children’s learning and we need to find ways to make this possible and meaningful. But many parents base their opinions on the only model of education with which they are familiar… their own schooling. Even if they are young parents, I’d like to hope schooling has changed since they went to school.

10 things I think (some) parents should unlearn…

1.  Learning is best measured by a letter or a number.

2. Product is more important than process and progress.

3. Children need to be protected from any kind of failure.

4. The internet  is dangerous for children.

5. Parents and teachers should discuss students without the learner present.

6. Homework is an essential part of learning.

7. The school is responsible for the child’s entire education.

8. Your child’s perspective is the only one.

9. Learning looks the same as when you went to school.

1o. Focus on (and fix) your child’s shortcomings, rather than their successes.

I won’t elaborate at the moment, as I’d rather have your input. As a teacher and/or a parent, which ones do you agree with? Disagree? Challenge? Question?

One of the most visited posts on this blog was 10 things TEACHERS should  unlearn. Take a look at that one too.  It was written two years ago – Does it need an update?

10 tips for workshop presenters any teachers…

I once spent a whole day in a professional development workshop for second language teachers and I learned how to make a fold-up book. That’s all. Nothing else.

When I’m not stimulated and challenged in a learning context, I tend to get impatient and have to watch my body language, so as not to make my dissatisfaction obvious to the whole room. As an educator, though, there should always be something I can learn. If the content doesn’t engage me, I can learn by observing the presenters…

Throughout the excellent IB Workshop Leader Training, the trainers, consciously and unconsciously, modelled presentation techniques. Trainee workshop leaders were encouraged to stand out front and present in groups. It was inspiring to see such passionate educators find creative, engaging ways to share their knowledge and learning. It was an opportunity to observe, watch, listen… and learn.

Ten tips for workshop presenters  any teachers…

1. Speak in your own voice.

Be genuine and natural. Don’t use a ‘presenter voice’.

2. Don’t speak too much.

As lovely as you might sound, less is more. Keep it simple. Get to the point.

3. Share your passion.

Inspire others with your enthusiasm. If you’re excited by what you’re saying, the audience will be too.

4. Be sensitive to your audience.

Are they yawning? Have they tuned out? Are they checking their email? (Draw your own conclusions!)

5. Listen responsively.

Listen and respond to participants. Show that you value their input.

6. Have a sense of humour.

Laugh at yourself. Laugh with (but not at) your audience.

7. An image speaks a thousand words.

Dump your Powerpoint if it’s overloaded with information. Don’t read from your slides. Use powerful images and as few words as possible as prompts.

8. Provoke the participants.

Make them think. Challenge them. Keep them active.

9. Encourage reflection.

Include thinking time. Allow enough time to talk and construct meaning.

10. Be humble.

You don’t know it all…

IB Workshop Leader Training Day #4

10 (more) ways for teachers to learn…

You can’t be a teacher, if you are not a learner.

I’ve written many times about teachers as learners, professional learning, reading groups and learning through collaborative planning.

I once posted 10 ways to grow as an educator, based on my reflections on my own learning and growth at that point in time.  This week, I’m fortunate to be at an IB workshop in Chiang Mai, Thailand, training to be an IB workshop leader. Reflecting at the end of the first day, I have some ideas to add my list of ways teachers can learn…

1. Engage with teachers from different places and cultures.

Twitter is a fine place to start, if you can’t meet them in person.

2. Interact with teachers who teach other disciplines and different age groups.

Talk about learning in your context. Really listen to them talk about learning in theirs.

3. Get out of school!

Learn in a beautiful, natural setting. Be inspired by nature.

4. Visit another school.

Preferably one that’s very different from yours.

5. Watch other teachers teach or present.

Learn from what they do… and from what they don’t do.

6. Tweet from a conference.

Sum up the key points 140 characters at a time.

7. Interact with other people who share your passion.

If you’re lucky, you can find them in your school. If not, connect online.

8. Reflect on your own learning.

Stop and think about what you learned. Write it down. A blog is best, a scrap of paper will do.

9. Teach teachers.

Share your knowledge, experience, expertise and ideas with people who know as much and more than you do.

10. Be open-minded.

There is something worth learning from every person you meet and every situation you find yourself in…

IB Workshop Leader Training Day #1

10 ways to differentiate learning…

Once upon a time in the olden days, the teacher stood out front and taught the whole class the same material in the same way. Everyone was expected to do the same tasks, some passed and some failed and were labelled ever after. The focus was on teaching, not on learning. One size was supposed to fit all and if you learned in a different way, too bad for you.

Time passed and it turned out that everyone didn’t learn in the same way after all. The teacher realised that learners have different needs, interests and abilities. Differentiated instruction was invented. The teacher prepared different tasks for each group in her class and preparation now took a whole lot longer. The needs of the learner were being better catered for, but the teacher was up all night.

She needed to think about differentiation in a different way.

10 ways to differentiate learning…

1. Let go.

Give the students (at least some) ownership of their learning. Don’t always be the boss of the class, be part of the community of learners. Don’t make all the decisions. Allow choice. Encourage students to think about how they learn best. Have students decide how to demonstrate their learning.

2. Change your expectations.

One size does not fit all. Not everyone fits the traditional mould of school, but that doesn’t mean they can’t learn. You might need to change what you do. Remember you teach people, not subjects.

3. Change the sequence.

Learners don’t need total mastery of all the skills before they can apply them. Provide meaningful, authentic learning opportunities for everyone. Turn Bloom’s taxonomy on its head. All students can solve real problems and write for a real audience.

4. Use technology creatively.

Blogging, film making, global interactions, social media, photography, gaming (and much more!) …all provide naturally differentiated opportunities for learners with varied levels of ability, different interests and special talents.

5. Care about what matters to them.

Encourage learners to follow their interests. Know their story. Make their learning relevant. Connect with their passions… or help them to discover what they might be.

6. Assess for learning.

It’s not about a test at the end. Record student thinking and track development over time. Create meaningful assessment tasks that allow transfer of learning to other contexts. Think of everything as an assessment. Every piece of work, every blog post, every interaction, every conversation can tell us where a learner is at and where they need to go.

7. Embrace inquiry as a stance.

Create a culture of thinking, questioning, wondering and exploring. Start your questions with ‘What do you think?’ so that all responses are acceptable. Find ways to provoke learners’ curiosity and a desire to find out for themselves.

8. Don’t be the only teacher.

Students can learn from their peers, other teachers, parents, their on-line contacts, the world. Help them build their own personal learning network with and from whom they can learn.

9. Focus on learning, not work.

Make sure you and your students know the reason for every learning experience. Don’t give ‘busy work’. Don’t start by planning activities, start with the ‘why‘ and then develop learning experiences which will support independent learning.

10. Encourage goal setting and reflection.

Help students to define goals for their learning. Provide opportunities for ongoing self-evaluation and reflection. Provide constructive, specific feedback. Student blogs are great tools for reflecting on learning and responding to their peers.

If you’re the teacher in the story above, take a look at this chart, highlighting the differences between differentiated instruction and personalised learning. Personalization vs Differentiation vs Individualization by Barbara Bray.