Beneath the Surface

Times of transition are tough going, but I love them. They are an opportunity to be intentional about new habits.

With a new school we can make a new normal, we just have to be bold enough to do what we believe in. “Who we are tomorrow begins with what we do today” and there is no greater risk than to be afraid, stand still and attempt to do what we have always done.

For about three months I have known that soon would come a meeting with staff where I told them about our ICT strategy; only I didn’t know when it was going to happen. When it did come, I knew it would be difficult; elegantly floating the simple idea that technology can enhance what we do as teachers, whilst the realisation of what a cloud based one-to-one environment means to working practices furiously paddled beneath.

I predicted the arguments that would be made; some would quote the cost and the undeserving nature of the children, or perhaps reel off the last big ICT revolution that went nowhere. I knew there would be a backlash from the techno-phobic; those lacking in exposure to technology and the others who are truly non-believers. Points about technology failure, staff training and a perceived move away from teaching and on to technology; all real concerns. Moreover, for all of those that were on board, I knew there would also be that nagging doubt that we just couldn’t pull it off.

But I was wrong.

When faced with a challenge it is always best to have the best. So I surrounded myself with the strongest, finest, most knowledgeable, positive people I could and I made sure we had the most impressive technology we could. I think this paid off. I don’t know whether listening to the conviction of the Headteacher or the passion with which the rest of my team spoke was what convinced people. Perhaps it was simply the realisation that the Headteacher, SLT and ICT teams are all committed to this way forward. By the end of the day staff were as positive as I could of ever hoped. Overwhelmed, definitely, but excited.

Maybe it was just holding their Surface Pro 4s that made it all become real. Certainly staff were excited by the device and the things they will be able to do on it. “Inking in” will be a term we all get used to very quickly because it is what we do already, but the Surface Pro 4 helps you extend the possibilities. Annotating directly onto an existing PDF resource transforms your way of thinking, but only because it feels so natural on the Surface Pro 4 and the device promises us it won’t get in the way of learning.

And now we can move on. The conversations don’t have to be about what we will have, but will be focussed on what we can do with what we will have. The conversation can be about teaching and learning and not about the technology. Sure, when we all wake up the risks and arguments will still be there, but now I am confident we can face them as a whole staff. We have a long journey ahead of us, but now that journey has started. It will be difficult, and it will feel overwhelming at times. But we will achieve it together.

I think Diana had it right, “Don’t give people what they want, give them what they don’t know they want yet.”

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21st Century Learning

In order to be a 21st century teacher is it necessary engage with technology, blog, tweet and develop a global PLN?

Perhaps not, but digital tools,  blogging, tweeting and networking challenges us to create engaging content that will be judged by our peers, challenges us to develop collaborative working practices and challenges us to engage with the ideas and creativity of a global network. These are the skills we need to be a 21st century learner.

For a while now, explaining how to fuse the skills of the 3Rs and the 4Cs  has been the goal of  many educational commentators. Developing frameworks that describe and measure 21st century skills has been a focus for many governments and their advisors.  So why do I think it is still not happening?

When introducing new specifications for GCSE Mathematics and GCSE Numeracy this year the Welsh Government tried to address how to make the specification fit for the 21st century.  I think they believe that the introduction of ‘problem solving’ style questions should encourage more teachers to develop these skills in pupils, but it won’t.

It won’t because it is not enough to see example after example of problem solving questions to know how to develop these skills in pupils.  Teachers need more that that. We need the knowledge, tools and motivation to encourage new opportunities for collaboration, communication between learners and creativity.  When given more and more examples of problem solving questions, the questions become just more of the thing that gets in the way; the Big C – Content.

The truth is that the demand to cover the content often gets in the way of developing understanding and the experiential learning that would develop 21st century skills.  The new specifications, between them, do nothing to reduce content. The guidance on developing problem solving skills simply loads on more content, and you can ask anyone, covering the content is teaching 101.  The demands of the new specs simply highlights the difference between me as a 21st century learner and me as a 21st century teacher.

As a learner, I choose my own content and my own pace of learning. I collaborate and peer review with those that I choose, and I test my knowledge through application to real world problems that I discover rather than taking exams.  My learning is self-regulated and this is why I love learning.

As a teacher allowing pupil self-regulation is hard.  I have to fight the urge to over-support learners with structure that drives them through the content. On top of that, I have clear ideas about what I think they need to know, not least because I have a new specification which is still driven by content, no matter what the style. Most difficult of all, I actually do want them to just know things, and sometimes the best way to get people to know things is just tell them. Drill and Kill doesn’t sound very 21st century, but I know differences in students performance are affected by how much they engage in deliberate practice.

So how do we get the balance right as teachers? Some of us, including me for the first time, blog, tweet and embrace the technology that helps us develop a global PLN. Others join a school based Professional Learning Community, attend Teachmeets, or engage in action research. What is common is that we see ourselves as self-regulated 21st century learners and rise to the challenge that lifelong learning presents. Finally, we must recognise the passion we have for self-regulated learning for ourselves and ensure that to some degree this is reflected in our teaching.