Here is the video archive from the other night’s webcast for Teachers Teaching Teachers on the theme of The Connected Educator. I was one of the guests with host Paul Allison as we chatted about the month of activities, and what it means to be a connected teacher. The main guest was Darren Cambridge, who is helping to coordinate the activities under the umbrella of the US Department of Education (his research organization has been hired to help with the coordination).
As we move into Connected Educator Month (see the calendar of amazing opportunities to learn about how to connect with the initiative), I’ve been trying to think through the role of technology and online networking in developing learning communities. At our school, we have grade-level Communities of Practice meetings every week, as part of an initiative by our principal to really expand conversations among teachers and share best practices as well as use data to make curriculum changes, and document those shifts.
I work with a great team of sixth grade teachers. We not only get along well, but we also are open to new ideas, ready to make shifts based on the recommendations of colleagues, and put students at the front of everything. For example, our work for much of the last year has been how to move more writing instruction into the science and social studies classrooms, and together, we have been working on solid curriculum shifts to make that happen. We’ve questioned what we are doing, celebrated the successes and worried about the things that didn’t go the way we wanted.
So, the school-based COP time works. Sort of. Not always.
What doesn’t work is that the professional community is not necessarily organic and natural, and not built on our “opting in” to the discussions. We don’t have a choice. We have a COP time and we have to use it. We need to be there. It works for us on my team because we already had a strong foundation of flexibility and (somewhat) honest discussions. But if you gave me a choice during that time to sit every week with my colleagues, or to have the option to use that time to connect online with a larger, more focused group of ELA/digital media advocates …. I might choose the latter.
Choice is the key in that statement, and also, as many have noted, that “long tail” aspect of the Internet that provides you with entry points with other people you might not otherwise intersect with is a key component of how technology and online social connections make sense. My personal inquiry path becomes my own, not my principal’s (whose ideas around communities of practice are solid, and whose intent to spur difficult discussions makes sense, and who spent a lot of time figuring out how to make COP work in our school schedule).
The problem, as I see it, is that when the PLC/COP becomes digital, it gets harder and harder for teachers to show the work that was done. In other words, I need to spend some time just searching for folks in various online spaces (Twitter, Facebook, Google, etc.), and building my networks, but that kind of work is not necessarily quantifiable to a principal/superintendent and it may not directly impact the student learning in my classroom. For our school-based COP time, we have actionable plans, with results that we can turn to (whether they work out or not). This part of the equation seems to be missing in many online PLC spaces, and if we want our administrators to be able to see the power of the connected educator, it seems to me that we need to make those results more visible.
Ideally, I would love to see a balance of working hand-in-hand with my school-based colleagues, but also have them come with me into shared online spaces for inquiry work that moves us beyond our building, even as it reconnects that online work back into the learning environment and expectations of our students. It can happen. I just need to figure out a good system to make it work.
Check out this very interesting short film by Douglas Rushkoff called Life Inc. that explores modern life in different tangents, as impacted by corporate influence in our lives.
“People are accepting the ground rules … unaware of the fact that these rules were written by people at a very specific moment in history with a very specific agenda in mind… there’s no way to prosper in this world without selling out.” — Rushkoff
If true, what does that mean for us and our students? He advocates finding time for more personal connections between people, and taking the time to care about others, not about money or jobs.
One of the reasons I am taking part as a ‘student’ in the Gamestar Mechanic Summer Learning Program is to understand better how to give feedback to my students during our video game design unit. This morning, I received some fantastic feedback on my game (shared here yesterday) called The Odyssey of Tara. (I invite you to play the game).
Notice the balance of positive to advice, and also, how detailed the comments are. As the game designer, I can tell that not only did my teacher play my game, but they were making notes about each level, and offering up their own experiences as an outside player and as a game designer. That kind of duel views is helpful when creating a video game.
Now, I need to step back myself and see the game through their eyes.
August is “Connected Educator” month, which is another way of saying that folks are trying to make visible the power of networks, collaborations and connections that come about when teachers connect with other teachers. Of course, we do this mostly in our own buildings. But more and more, educators are reaching out to various online communities to find ways to share, explore, learn and borrow ideas from one another. I view the month as a way to showcase those kinds of connections, as partnership to the connections we have with our own colleagues in our own school buildings.
The diagram above is an attempt on my part to map out the various communities that I find myself part of, either as a contributor, creator or just active listener. The diagram is part of a webcomic I am also making, but it felt right to share it out on its own, too, although I still feel as if I am leaving something out …
I am immersed in a unit around adventure/story game design with the Gamestar Mechanic Summer Online Learning program. I decided to use an offshoot of The Odyssey to create my game. Notice how I also titled each section/chapter as part of the development of the story (exposition, climax, etc.) because I might use this as a demonstration of connecting story to game in the classroom.
I did try to make this game a little trickier than others, so let me know how it goes. Bring Tara home!
Two summers ago, I was a teacher-leader in the first-ever Massachusetts New Literacies Institute. The institute has continued, and my wife is taking part in this year’s event (that begins today). I had been hoping to visit the institute (and the institute organizers were very generous in offering me a keynote slot) but childcare issues popped up and I had to reluctantly decline.
Thinking about the institute, which was rich with discussion around conceptions of literacy in the digital age, I remembered this Voicethread that I created as a reflective tool for the week. I had fun listening back on it, situating myself back in time.
A piece that I wrote about being a reader of “expected text” that then pushes you towards the “unexpected” got posted this morning at one of my favorite blog sites — the Nerdy Book Club. Check it out, as I make connections from the predictability of Scooby-Doo stories to books that move us in different directions.