Tag Archives: blogging

Listening to the Other #ETMOOC Couros

Jumping into last night’s ETMOOC session “Introduction to becoming a Networked Administrator” (item T1S6) was fascinating. I have often joked, “Being an administrator is a job that involves everything I hate about education and nothing I like.” Yet, after listening to George Couros‘ presentation, he has me reconsidering that notion slightly. While I still doubt I have much interest in becoming an administrator, Couros got me much more interested in administration. More than anything, I can say without question George Couros is definitely the kind of administrator I would want to work for as a teacher.

For one, the fact that Couros is a principal and blogs regularly, already puts him in elite company. For an administrator to commit to writing their evolving thinking and beliefs in such a public and transparent way is striking in its courage. In an almost subversive way, by making his thinking public Principal Couros is reaching out to others, demonstrating his capacity to connect, building relationships, and inviting others to join him. By definition, that behavior is a kind of leadership.

What’s more, I would bet that his blogging ameliorates a lot of suspicion, ignorance, and fear that can take root in any school’s staff. Of course, those qualities might never be able to eradicate completely from a teaching staff, but it strikes me as being a significant step in an opposite more positive, pro-active direction. Again, the behavior is a means of leadership, blazing a path towards the kind of practitioners that he would like to see in his school.

Something like a post referenced in the session, “8 Things to Look for in Today’s Classroom,” goes a long way in directing his staff, as well as echoing a declaration of belief and values that he brings to his school and district. That is powerful communication. As a teacher, I know I would appreciate an administrator writing something like this as a blogpost, which is considerably more personal and human, and not some district-level document filled with educational Engfish (Ken Macrorie‘s term for something that looks like English but isn’t).

Another post like “5 Characteristics of a Change Agent,” also referenced in the session clearly illustrates the kind of people Couros is hoping work in his building. Even better, he is walking the walk, not just talking the talk. His blogging is a clear indicator of that. As I routinely tell my English students, “You can’t write about what you don’t know.” Of course, Couros doesn’t know it all, and in some instances may even be writing his way into a deeper understanding. The point is, however, he is doing just that, engaged in a deepening of his own learning and understanding. Again, a principal blogging in this way is an educational leader. He doesn’t need to inform his staff of his position, as I have heard more than one principal assert in my career, his example speaks for itself.

The whole session was just another excellent even that has been part of the ETMOOC experience. More than anything, it drove to further my thinking about just how much I think administrative “leadership” in education, at least in the States, is subject to question. In fact, I would submit it is a group getting an almost complete pass in the edreform donnybrook that has broken out all over the media. As the press and politically connected, monied interests take turns pounding on teachers unions and teachers in general, I rarely see any notice being paid to administrations with the exception of the much vaunted “turn-around” agents. Meanwhile, I observe administrations turning over at a rate that rivals that of teachers leaving the profession.

Something tells me that a principal like George Couros is more committed for the long term. My biggest fear if he were my principal is that he would be a victim of his own success and called higher and higher up the administrative ladder, although that wouldn’t be all bad.

I need some more time to stew on Cormier’s Rhizomatic Learning session.

Student Blogs & Reading Responses

This year I have added a new task as part of the freshmen English classes I teach. Every couple of weeks, i have been giving them a non-fiction article to read and then asking them to write a response. In a way, I guess it was kind of inspired by something I read in one of Kelly Gallagher’s books. It started very modestly in the first semester. Over the course of the semester, I have gradually increased the demands and provided more guidance.

It was kind of an experiment really. Initially, I  just wanted to see what they would do when asked to read something and write about it with very little requirements or instruction. Initially, they wrote very little but got credit for writing at all. Then I started to up the ante and ask them to incorporate their personal reactions to the reading. Mostly, these are newspaper or magazine articles that I have read or found interesting for one reason or another. They span across multiple subjects, but often are focused on what I think of as being issues facing all of us in modern everyday life. The  are not the big global problems but smaller things, like internet and gadget use, issues related to brain research or learning, and generally just some of the day-to-day aspects of living in this time, things that they might not otherwise think about or reflect on without prompting. Overall, I think it has been successful.

Part of the goal was to get them writing about non-fiction, non-literature in my class, which is important and increasingly so with new standards coming. Being an English class, the discipline of English tends to use capital “L” Literature almost exclusively in the curriculum and reduce the reading of non-fiction to maybe anything involving a research paper, project, whatever. It has always seemed terribly out of balance to me. I also wanted to give the students the opportunity to write about something more informally, without all of the formal requirements of academic writing. Plus, I wanted them to react to the readings on a personal level, making direct connections to the material, in a way that asked them to begin reflecting on their own lives and what they see everyday.

The first obstacle was how little they are asked to do anything like this. Consequently, many of them really had no way to begin. “What do you mean write about what I think?” was an open cry. “How many sentences does it have to be? Is this going to be graded?” all the usual responses were expressed. So they needed more guidance than I had originally thought.So, slowly, iteratively, I have been providing more instructions and using some of their work as models of engaging, interesting work.

Another new wrinkle at the school where I work is all incoming freshmen now go through a kind of computer boot camp, known as the Freshmen Technology Seminar, which is some rudimentary instruction on using the school’s computers, network, Internet, and the like. Of course, this was an area where most of the students think they already know everything, but many of them have expressed its helpfulness when not under the gaze of the larger group. This seminar was, ideally, positioned in a way to give every student a Google account and shore up a lot of the smaller file management details, so we teachers need not explain all of that in class. The Google account was the best outcome, as far as I was concerned. A few years ago I had my students register a Google account and submit work electronically, so this was a boon for me. They all get an an account with all of the associated tools and an official school domain. Of course part of the account tools includes Blogspot. By the end of term, this became the space to publish the reader responses.

While not terribly radical in approach, I am certainly not the first teacher to get their students blogging. Yet, simply having the students routinely reflect on a reading and write about it in a public way is slowly having an interesting effect. The students are becoming much more conscious of what they write and how it looks when presented. We discuss the changes that need to be made when moving from paper to electronic mediums, from me as the audience to a more public one. All good conversations. For nearly all of them it is a genuinely new experience. Better still, I am the only teacher taking advantage of this at the moment, which should stay the kind of “journal fatigue” that can set in when every teacher opts to use the same writing to learn strategy. I continue to monitor the developments and showed them how I can track each section’s posts with a simple Pageflakes dashboard, which mildly fascinated them. “No more excuses about printers,” one student admitted.

I plan to examine the impact of all this much more closely, but it is still ongoing and developing. Some final reflection, with significant student input, will be forthcoming. Plus, it is the kind of long term experience that I have been wanting to seed for when we do actually enter into some actual research driven work. Now, however, it is not a once and done kind of experience.

Freshmen Technology Seminar Designed as an Introductory Foundation

This year, my school has opted to conduct what is being calling the Freshmen Technology Seminar, which is comprised of six hour and a half periods that are meant to introduce incoming student to a host of digital tools and practices. It is ambitious and plans involved way more material than can possibly addressed in that allotted time. Unfortunately, I was not really involved in the planning of the program or its forthcoming execution. I must admit that left me a little salty, since I definitely could have offered a lot to the initiative, but like most issues in schools, it came down to things like money and teaching hours. Hopefully, I will be engaged on the periphery, which is looking likely.

Looking over the material, my first concern was that it was going to be primarily spent getting all of the students set up with all of the proper accounts with various tools, most notably Google. All students are getting a Google account with our own domain, which is a boon. There is a fair portion of time that is devoted to that. However, the group of educators that participated were certainly more ambitious than that, which is a testament to them and the kind of staff at our school. Of course, they have grown ultimately too ambitious and are likely to be spending a lot of time working out the kinks as they reflect on how it goes in retrospect. It only just began this week. So I will be monitoring it closely. Plus, despite my somewhat wary tone, I actually think that it is a pretty laudable effort regardless.

My main contention is that the kind of material that has been packaged in this seminar cannot be effectively distributed in the time frame or isolated from practical applications. The technology tools are in some ways the sole content of the course, which always seems flawed to me. Moreover, there is no mechanism, as of yet, to systematically embed any follow-up with any core classes. This leaves me wondering about the overall effectiveness and how it can even be measured. In talking with a few colleagues involved, it does look like there will at least be a definite chance for me to build on some of the introductions quite quickly. In fact, I have been waiting to do a few related initiatives in my classes until this got rolling. Thus, I saved some precious class time and avoided potential student confusion by having the students get multiple redundant accounts.

It is safe to say that the Google accounts will be used readily and Docs will once again become a core tool used in my class. Two years ago I had all of students submitting their work via Google Docs but had to subsequently shelf the practice due to all kinds of network related issues last year and knowing that this seminar was going to happen this year. Moreover, the associated Blogspot accounts will get almost immediate use in my class as I migrate one assignment in particular to a regular blog post. Additionally, the research and copyright sections of the seminar will dovetail nicely with the end of the semester, and all freshmen classes will engage in research projects first thing in the new semester.

The one thing I have always been able to say about the school where I work is that it is a rare instance where initiatives like this completely fail. Even when things are put together on the hoof, our staff is resourceful, committed, and talented enough to find ways to make things work.

Unit one is entitled “Your Digital Footprint,” which is primarily associated with online behavior and at least in part concerned with digital citizenship. The lesson is pretty spare. So, we’ll se how it goes. I am definitely planning some reverse mentoring as I fold the material into my classes and will share some of my findings.