Saturday, December 10, 2011

Balance - what the hell is it? Also known as the curse of the damn TV

It has been about 4 months since I last posted and a lot has happened. I am loving my new job. It is combining my love of educational leadership with the new challenges of budgets, forecasts, staffing, advertising and technology. Without really knowing what I was looking for when I started looking for new jobs, I have fallen on my feet in this new role. I feel like it is extending me and challenging me but still allowing me to apply my strengths, build teams, build curriculum and focus on good teaching, only this time in an adult environment. I consider myself very lucky. I now work much closer to 9-5 hours, have more flexibility to manage my own time, set my own schedule and even work at home when there are projects to be done and I need some time without interruptions. I now have every night of the week and every weekend entirely to myself. I do not bring work home. I do not have marking. No one emails me after 5.30pm so when I come to work in the morning there are not 30 emails awaiting reply. This new job allows me to work really hard when I am at work, but have a life when I am at home.
Which brings me to the question of what I want that life to be like. I feel like although I have much more balance now when it comes to work and home, I am yet to find a real focus for my home time. I walk my dog or take her for a run with the bike, I cook dinner but the bulk of my nights are taken up with sitting around chatting to my husband (not so bad) and watching TV. I think that if I lived by myself as I used to, I just wouldn't turn the TV on - I would find other things to do with my time. But with my husband being somewhat addicted to the TV I feel like as soon as it is on, the noise and the distraction of it makes me totally unproductive. It feels like I have switched my brain off and it is about time I started thinking and working on something again. I wonder how other people find the motivation to come home from work after a long day and actually do something constructive with their nights. Sometimes we catch up with friends and family and that is nice. Sometimes I read a book and that is nice also. Maybe I am not good at sitting still and being happy with that. It is a bit ironic that when I had all this work to do at home I resented it and put it off and avoided doing it and felt guilty, and now I have nothing to do when I get home I am wondering what I should be doing!
It is hard to get the motivation though. I am in the middle of my Cert IV in Training and Assessment at the moment and so I should be working on that and knocking a bit more of it off. But at night the comfort of the tele and my husband and the couch calls and I just don't seem to be able to escape it. I am finally writing this post tonight because my husband is on a boys weekend and I am sitting with the laptop, having cleaned the house, and finally writing this post which has been whirling in my head for a week or so now. Can a woman only find time for the things she would really like to be doing when there is no man in the house? Perhaps it will be better when I get a house with two living areas because the house we are in at the moment has the lounge-room in the middle of it and if the tele is on (which it always is when my husband is home) it consumes the whole house. There is nowhere you can go to get away from it. Maybe I should take the somewhat drastic step of making it a tele free home at night - at least for an hour? Or maybe I should lock myself in the study regardless of the tele and just get on with something more interesting with the tv. Or maybe I should just give myself a break and not expect so much of myself all the time. Not sure what the answer is here but I will keep pondering.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Moving on

I am sitting here tonight having just written two farewell speeches - one for the students, and one for the staff at school, because tomorrow is my last day. After tomorrow, when people ask me what I do for a living, I will no longer be able to give the one word answer, teacher, because I will no longer be one. I will no longer have to secretly lament the fact that when people find out I am a teacher they share with me how jealous they are of all of my holidays because now, whenever people find out I have left teaching, the first question they ask is how I am going to cope without aforementioned holidays. I will no longer see the smiling faces of my students, hear their sympathetic laughter when I crack a lame joke and get to vicariously experience their curiosity and excitement and the joy they find in the mundane. I will miss feeling like I am making a difference to young people and sharing their hopes and dreams. But it is time for a change.
I haven't written here for a while because I can only write honestly and I wasn't yet ready to share how I was feeling about the job I have been doing and loving for 7 1/2 years.
I still love teaching, don't get me wrong. And if I wanted to stay in teaching then this amazing school I have been calling my home for the past 2 years would be the only place I would want to be, but the fact of the matter is, I need a change. I came to this school because I was feeling unchallenged in my old school and feeling like I had more to give than I was given a chance to give. That all changed last year when I moved here because I was once again being challenged and engaged and valued and supported and nurtured. It turns out though, that it isn't enough. This year I have started wondering, despite my semi-charmed life at JMSS, what else is out there that I might be able to sink my teeth in to - what else might I be able to contribute, what other skills might I be able to build, how might I better myself and challenge myself and keep learning? I am the type of person who does not like to stay still for too long because I love to learn and I love to feel like I am constantly improving and growing.

So it is with sadness and excitement that I say goodbye tomorrow to over 400 students who have become like friends, and the best staff I have ever worked with. I am sad because I know what I am leaving behind, but glad that I am leaving with sadness because it means that I didn't wait too long - I didn't leave it until I was so ready to leave that I couldn't wait to just get the hell out. I don't know what the future holds for me and secondary teaching. My new job is still in education, but is more adult education focused and is a leadership and not a teaching position. I love the impact that you can have in a classroom and the relationships that you build and that moment when the lightbulb goes on in someone's eyes as they comprehend what it is they have been trying to learn. These are the elements of teaching I will pursue in my life outside of the classroom. All I know for sure is that in my pursuit of learning, this is yet another new beginning.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Why do we make it so hard?

A conversation with a very close friend a few weeks ago made me really question how I feel about my job as an educator and why I do what I do. It is amazing how someone who knows you well (and is extremely insightful) can ask a few poignant questions that have you wondering exactly what it is that you think and feel about your work.
At the risk of sounding like a whinger (because isn't that how the media like to portray all teachers) there are some things about my job that I find challenging. Most of them have nothing to do with the classroom or the students because generally they are what excite me and buoy my spirit. What upsets me about being a teacher is that when you meet a new person and they ask you what you do for a living and you say you are a teacher, inevitably the first thing out of their mouths will be "oh, you get so many holidays - aren't you lucky!" You know what - we do get a lot of "holidays" and sometimes we even actually have a break during those holidays and take some time off, but I cannot imagine another job that so thoroughly consumes you and makes you desperately await the next set of holidays. I guess the bigger question here though is exactly why it bothers me and why I think in my head whenever someone asks me what I do for a living "here we go!" I think it bothers me because there seems to be an underlying lack of respect for teachers in the general population. When I meet a new person and they tell me what they do for a living, I never respond with a comment like "oh wow - you have it easy" or "geeh - that's a slack job!" I like to think that most people choose jobs that are challenging to them and that they work their hardest at that job, whatever it may be. My theory is that because everyone goes to school (and had varying experiences of education), everyone believes they are an expert and that they are entitled to bestow you with the qualities of their best or worst (generally worst) educators. Maybe this is a pessimistic attitude and I don't for a second think that everyone believes that teachers are slackers but when you work so hard at a job and then you feel like people are judging you unfairly when they have never been taught by you and barely know you, it is a hard pill to swallow. I just smile weakly and say, yeah, heaps of holidays... and generally my husband jumps in and starts talking about how hard it is to be married to a teacher and how many hours I work etc. I feel that if I say any of these things to defend myself I just seem like I am complaining about my lot, which I certainly don't want to do.
I love my job teaching young people. The sort of energy and enthusiasm that a room of teenagers has is infectious. I love the silliness, the seriousness, the controversial discussions, the opportunities for sharing and learning from each other and the way that kids are intensely passionate in a way that few adults ever are.
The thing is, I feel like teaching is a profession that you never feel like you have mastered. No matter how long you teach or how hard you work at it, there is no end point, no magical day when you realise you have made it - there is just a continual quest for improvement. For those who choose to take up the challenge. For some of the others there is the feeling that a life in education has taken from them all they have to give and left them unsatisfied, and angry, a twisted shell of their former selves, with no one to remind them how they used to be. Others still run for cover before they are chewed up and spat out - some of our most passionate and innovative young teachers end up leaving the profession because of a feeling they are not making a difference or a sense that they would get more recognition and more of sense of affirmation from a job that has clear goals and a clear measure of whether or not those goals are achieved.
You see the learning of young people is not something easily categorised and quantified and theorised and standardised. There is no magic wand that can be waved in the direction of the youthful masses that will bestow them with all the skills and attributes we believe they need to become successful adults. Not only is there no magic wand, but there is also no magic set of skills and attributes that each and every child will need to successfully navigate their adult lives. So I ask the question - when the world is changing at a rate that is ever more rapid and our sense of the future changing with equal speed, when will our notions of how we educate our kids catch up?
Can a standardised system relying on fitting every student in to the same box be the way forward? How will we, as educators, ever feel that we are truly making a difference to every student we teach when the system we teach in asks that we teach the masses, not the individual? How do we retain passionate teachers who do make a difference to students and convince them that what they are doing is making a difference, when the outside world still measures education by old standards that no longer ring true to the new reality?
Feel free to agree, argue or just have your say by leaving a comment.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Things I've been reading

Over the holidays and amidst my planning for next year, I did some professional reading. I am planning to start my Masters in Education this year, and I feel like in some ways I am emerging out of a vacuum that I placed myself in at my old school, and searching for new ideas, new pedagogies and a new way of thinking about education. I feel that I was stuck in a rut before, and that I had stopped learning and challenging myself to a large extent and part of my inspiration for getting back out there has been the learning networks I have found on twitter, and the blogs I have found because of them.
Finding Twitter and Fellow Bloggers changed the way I think
in a professional sense because suddenly I was in contact with people who were way more creative, engaging and challenging than I was and this has been inspiring me to do some higher order thinking. To this end, I have been collecting books that I have come across through blogs and I would like to share my thoughts on some of them as a way of synthesising the important messages for me within their pages.
The New Rules of Engagement - Michael McQueen

I heard about The New Rules of Engagement through twitter from @andrewdouch whose blog can be found here. I have been following Andrew for a while - I first heard about the work he was doing with podcasting in my early years of teaching and recently went to see him at a presentation at CSE which was engaging and illuminating and really got me thinking. So anything that Andrew recommends is interesting to me - his comment was that it was a really interesting book that he read in a day because it really sucked him in.

I have long been fascinated by the idea that we can profile a generation and make an fairly accurate assessment of the way they view the world and go about their work and life. I'm still not convinced we can, but in this book McQueen explores the generations, and the factors and experiences that formed the collective "identity" of each generation. Reading the description of Gen Y really resonated with me. This book would appeal to anyone who is interested in generation profiling or who wonders why it is that their parents or kids are the way that they. He also gives advice on dealing with the different generations in the workplace, particularly Gen Y which I found really interesting. This book had me wondering about the way I spend my free time and what I expect from education - and whether these expectations match up with those of my students, or even marry with what I am creating in my classroom. Certainly an easy, engaging read if you are interested.

Another book I read over the holidays is
Yong Zhao's Catching up or Leading the Way

I heard Yong Zhao speak at an Innovations and Excellence event and thought he was insightful, engaging and he challenged some of the ideas I had about education. Zhao questions the education reform based on data and test based performance as an indicator of learning, explaining the Chinese education system (which he experienced first hand) and comparing it with the American system his children are experiencing. He believes that the Chinese system has been creating students who can memorise information, and that due to the fact that it the Chinese system does not value individuality or creativity, the students are not successful in the global workforce, which is increasingly calling for innovative, creative and divergent thinkers. He believes that education systems that value the individual and that focus on building student's individual skills and tap in to their creativity will prepare students betterfor a future of global enterprise than schools that focus on a systematic "one-size-fits-all" model.
I feel that there is a real tension for me between the push for data-based practice and educating according to the system, and the push to differentiate and cater to personal differences and encourage every child to develop their own skills and attributes creatively. Many still focus on what is necessary for the exam at the end that will determine where the students end up. And will this content that we are teaching them actually give them the skills they need for the workforce, or is the focus merely on winning the competition? If a university education is the end point and we decide that the system is good enough because it gets them to university then what will happen as university degrees become increasingly redundant, as many suggest is already happening? I wonder if we will ever really do the students justice whilst we still have a system that is summative - that aims to reduce a student's knowledge to a single test result or assessment task. No matter how hard we work to convince the students that it is learning itself that matters, and the skills they accrue that will make the difference in the wide world, whilst the judgement at the end of 13 years of schooling is so reductive, will they ever be able to see the bigger picture? Will teachers?

Linked with these ideas is Daniel H Pink's A Whole New Mind
(pic from
The subtitle of this book - Why Right-Brainers will rule the Future really sums up the essence of the book. Pink argues, with interesting anecdotes, that "The Conceptual Age" demands right brain creative thinking, rather than the left brain, systematic, logical thinking that was valued in the past and is what the education system is based on. Pink believes that the "Six (high concept, high touch) Senses" he discusses are senses which we all possess, but do not develop and encourage because they have not traditionally been valued, and offers ways that the reader can begin to redevelop and encourage these senses and therefore become more right-brained. My summary may be a little reductive, but I found the novel really interesting, and the sentiments being discussed by Pink are similar to those being discussed by others such as Ken Robinson in this summary of one of his speeches created by RSA:

Perhaps the things I have been reading and watching are all predominately focussed on the failures of the current education system - I would love it if people have books they would recommend that might balance out the scales, but I feel that at this point I am looking for a better way of doing things and wondering if education will ever catch up with the modern world. How do we know what is best for our students when we don't even know the types of jobs they will be doing out there in the workforce of the future? Is content obsolete and should we be testing skills? Or should we be testing at all?
Hopefully my masters, if I can work out what to focus in on, will help me gain perspective.
I would love other people's ideas, thoughts and opinions on this and other ideas of what to read. Let me know.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The New Year and new challenges

With every new year comes new challenges. This year I have exchanged my Head of House role with the new role of Director of Professional Learning. I am still the Head of English as well, and I am very excited about the opportunities that my new Professional Learning role will afford me. Our school has three hours of PD for every staff member every week, on a Wednesday from 1.30-4.30. It is a great way to do it because it means that the majority of staff have only one night of meetings each week, and these meetings, rather than being administrivia, are targetted professional learning experiences.
Over these holidays I have spent a fair bit of time procrastinating about all the work I need to get done rather than just sucking it up and getting it done. It has only been this last week where I have begun to get myself on track.
It is going to be a big year. I have started by applying for the Google Teacher Academy which I first heard about through Murcha's Blog. Part of the application was creating a video about classroom innovation or motivation and learning which was a really interesting experience. Here is my video:

I liked the idea of challenging myself to make and publish the video and it was a really great learning experience for me so regardless of the outcome, I have learned something from the process.

I also have a list of challenges for myself this year that I want to record:
1. Designing a challenging and differentiated curriculum for Year 10 and Year 11 English (we don't have Year 12s yet!)
2. Continuing to build leadership and pedagogical capacity in my English team.
3. Designing an interesting and relevant Professional Development calendar for the whole school and delivering it in an interesting and interactive way.
4. Getting accepted in to and beginning my Masters in Education by research at Monash Uni.
5. Promoting Professional Development opportunities through the school and encouraging staff to offer sessions for other teachers in areas of expertise.

It is going to be a year full of challenges but also a year where I am able to extend my knowledge and abilities in many areas which is always exciting. I have also been spending some time doing some professional reading over these holidays and I really should be making notes as I go and then writing down my thoughts so there might be more of that to come this year.
My biggest challenge will be to use this blog to record my thoughts and ideas and not drop off the face of the earth when things get busy. We'll see how that works out for me!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Using Google Apps in a Paperless English Classroom

Due to the fact that our school only opened this year and that the Ultranet was not yet released, we had to come up with a solution for a whole school email/network/website/online storage solution. We are a one:one tablet school so it is important to be able to deliver curriculum flexibly and digitally so we were looking for something that had complexity of features, but ease of use. It was decided that we would use google apps, as the fact that we could set up an education site free of charge was a bonus. It has allowed us to do a myriad of things, very easily and very intuitively. Staff have had no training, but all have managed to contribute to managing and developing our learning space.

In the first Term our student's tablets were delayed, as was our building, so we faced technological problems we were not expecting. Not only could we not deliver our lessons digitally, but we also did not have a printer so we could not print them out either! The result was a hybrid start to the year, with a back-to-basics approach in terms of collaborative work in the classroom without much of a technological influence. The upside was that we were able to build relationships and trust before we really set up our online spaces. By the end of Term 1 we had set up a Shelfari book group, a Bookcrossing community so that students could donate books to populate our bare shelves and through google sites I set up an English site with an online, self-paced module based around our theme of Identity and Belonging, that allowed students to choose tasks they were interested in.

Student e-portfolios were set up through Google Sites - one for each student to manage, populate and share themselves. The settings allow students to share their portfolios with individual people or groups, using group email addresses. They share them with staff only - making them a private space for them to record their work and reflect on their efforts. We use this for goal setting, reflection and as an online workbook. Term Two saw them studying Fahrenheit 451 under the theme of Future Worlds. During this term we introduced google docs and had students work on shared documents where they collaborated and created resources for their classmates about themes in the text. They were able to simultaneously edit the documents, share them with the rest of the class and then refer back to them when they began to consolidate their knowledge. At this point students also started posting work up on their portfolio pages so that this became like an online workbook that we, as teachers, could scroll through whenever we wanted to check on a student's progress.

I feel that it was not until term three that we really hit our stride in terms of working with technology in the classroom. Google apps has given us ways of totally avoiding paper in our classroom - collaborative spaces were all online. This term the focus was on media study. As a faculty we divided up what we would focus on in terms of curriculum development.
Self-paced worksheets were designed to expose the students to persuasive language techniques and the features of persuasive writing. Students were able to work on these at home or at school and then posted them on their eportfolio.
We started a reflective blog that students completed at the end of every lesson - the last 10 minutes of every 75min period was spent with the class posting their completed work online and blogging about their work that lesson. We put up some prompts to help students think about the important things from the lesson and how they felt they were going with the content.
An online 'help desk' forum was set up where students could post questions about the work they were undertaking at home or at school and could help each other. This was done through google groups and allowed an email to be sent to teachers every time a student posted a question - within an hour usually the student had a response to their question, often from a student. This is something we will continue to develop.
We used google moderator to get students to submit ideas about which persuasive language technique was the most effective and why, and then students were able to vote on each other's responses until we had a top 5 persuasive language techniques.
Students were able to share work through a google groups page and were able to critique their classmate's work and get ideas about how to improve their own writing.
Students used a google forms to mark sample essays using the rubric that teachers would be using to mark their final assessment piece. Using a google form meant that we could see an graphed overview of responses and talk with the class about why certain pieces had been marked a certain way. This led to rich discussion about the pieces we were marking and also the assessment rubric itself.
We created tutorial videos for students about how to annotate an article and how to write a language analysis. These were uploaded to google videos and were there as a resource for students, allowing them to watch and re-watch tutorials as they saw fit. These reinforced the in-class learning.
I was able to record, using free screen capture software, debut the in-class examples of annotation so that students who missed the class did not miss the practical instruction. This was posted online for students straight after class and allowed them to go back over important information. The annotated article was also attached to the web page so that students were able to download it as an example of a detailed annotation.
We are only just approaching Term 4, but I already feel that we are taking the next step. Term 4 covers Macbeth and students have split in to pairs and are creating a digital representation of a scene of their choice to present to the class. The scene could be an animation, vodcast, podcast, photostory, narrated comic book etc. It needs to be digital because it will be uploaded as a resource for classmates. Students will then present to the class, a discussion of their scene including how it fits in to the play, themes and characters advanced in the scene etc. The students will be presenting and teaching each other the entire play. They will also be peer assessing via a google form which allows them all to engage in the entire process. Coupled with the in-class presentations will be online discussion forums with pertinent theme and character based questions for the students to discuss and debate, recorded teacher discussion podcasts about particular scenes to complement the student presentations and some moderator voting opportunities where students vote on who is to blame for the outcome of the play.

I feel like the sky is the limit at the moment for our digital learning environment. Anything I could do in a classroom sans technology, I am able to do in my google apps learning environment. I feel like although we have come a long way in a short space of time, we have only just scratched the surface of what is possible. The next challenge for us is to work out what place the ultranet has in our online learning environment. Unfortunately at the moment google apps is much more intuitive, functional and accessible than the ultranet and this means we really have to think hard about how to make it work for us.