Response to George Couros – Empowering or Stifling Voice?

As a blogger who tries to find something to post every week, I find lots of inspiration from the people I follow and read every day. I try to read something and comment when I can. George Couros is one of the best and I find I get lots of inspiration from his writing. Today’s post by George, Empowering or Stifling Voice? inspired me to make the comment below. If you read this post, please consider reading and commenting on what he has written – I think he really gets to the heart of the risks bloggers take when they go public with their ideas.

Thanks for this post George. I am sure I am one of those bloggers who makes errors each time I write. I find it a bit weird that people would make comments on a post that pick up on small errors – what is the point? Why try to bring someone down?
I remember meeting you at one of the BIT conferences in Niagara Falls. The encounter was so positive and friendly, you encouraged me as an educator and as a blogger. I really appreciated the positive nature of that encounter.
I think we always learn more from the positive encounters. The negative ones can be instructive, but criticism needs to be delivered with kindness for it to be effective.
I am now a retired educator which has allowed me to be more critical of established educational institutions than I could have been as a principal. I have received great support from people like Doug Peterson and Stephen Hurley, and this encouragement has propelled me to write more. I sometimes feel like I am writing for an audience of two or three, but at least there is some audience out there that reads and comments on my posts.
What I do find bizarre and rather hurtful are the people who disagree with what I write but who respond by actually blocking me on Twitter.
To my knowledge, this has only happened once, but I truly don’t understand this behaviour.
If something you read upsets you, how does it help to block out that voice? How can you continue a conversation when you turn off the speaker?
Blogging is a risk. Everytime you hit the publish button you really don’t know what will happen next. People may like your writing, some will ‘unfollow’ you and I guess in rare cases you might be blocked.
As a blogger, what I would rather see would be a response. If you disagree with what is written, write back. It may take more time, but it shows more respect for the writer.
All that being said, positive comments are appreciated too!
Thank-you for being the inspiration for this piece of writing!
I hope your day goes better.

What Should Professional Learning for Educators Look Like?

Teachers are really busy people. I would say that 90% of their time if not more is taken up with teaching their students, duty, marking, reporting and following up with parents. Every teacher could add to this very basic list, but I would imagine that most would agree that they have very little spare time.

If you add to this the really important time teachers need to regenerate and connect with their families and the outside world, the amount of time teachers actually have to work on honing their professional skills is very low.

Still, teachers are very engaged in professional development and they are as a group, very motivated to learn new ways to engage and educate their students.

All this leads me to one important conclusion – how can we provide teachers with valuable PD. Teachers’ time is precious and we should never waste it with useless or irrelevant PD. Sadly, from what I have experienced, the sessions planned by education districts often fall into the category of irrelevant.

The reason for this is that there is little teacher choice involved in our PD models. Inevitably, consultants and other board officials make the decisions on what is essential for teachers to learn without asking the learners. When these decisions are made centrally, there is no teacher voice evident.

Within schools, teacher voice is still missing. Many principals seem to believe that they must be the arbiters of what is important for teachers to learn. The principal may not have taught in a classroom for years, but somehow they are experts on what a teacher needs to know.

This system needs to be turned on its head ie. teachers need to be asked what they need. Another thing we increasingly tell teachers is that to be a valued professional, they need to blog or tweet about what they do in their classroom. Again, another assumption made about time and individual preference. Not everyone needs to get on Twitter or start madly blogging. While this appeals to some educators, this needs to remain their choice. If it is imposed on them it falls into the same category as district-mandated professional training.

Choice needs to come first. Along with choice must come time. If we really believe that teachers are capable of making good decisions on what they need to learn, we must give them time during the school day to do this learning.

This can be done, but others have to become comfortable with giving up control. Once educators are given time and choice they make excellent decisions on what they need to focus on.

We have done this several times and the results have been great. Teachers are very happy to work with their colleagues and set their own professional agendas. Sadly, many say they have never been given the chance to do this before.

At one school, we ran a triad system where teachers from three schools worked together deciding who they were going to work with and what would be the focus of their study. As principals, we did ask them to have a plan and to report back to the group, but the rest was up to them. The results were wonderful. Teachers came up with their own inquiries and studied questions that we as principals would never have come up with.

Michael Fullan has done some work in this area, but it doesn’t seem to go far enough. In his video Learning is the Work below does mention that the ‘culture’ of learning has to change, but I never really saw this happen for teachers and I certainly never saw any change in how PD was delivered to principals.

The wonderful Ontario Capacity-Building Series has featured articles on choice in professional learning for years. In 2014, they published an article on principal collaborative inquiry. In 2010, they produced an excellent article on teacher collaborative inquiry that actually outlines the seven characteristics of effective teacher inquiry. Finally, again in 2014, an additional article was published on collaborative inquiry for educators. The article emphasized that everyone should be a learner and that the top-down model of PD was not effective.

CI (Collaborative Inquiry) requires a safe, inclusive environment built on trusting relationships. An open-to-learning stance is a condition of a collaborative learning environment. A culture of inclusivity must be part of the CI mindset when interpreting evidence and studying the student experience. CI promotes a democratic approach to shared leadership and joint responsibility (distributive leadership) for student learning.

To me, the key word here is democratic. This I don’t see. I do see teachers collaborating (not admin), but they still are not in charge of the inquiry – the focus is still carefully guarded by the district.

Both Fullan and the writers of the 2014 piece talk a lot about a change in culture. I agree that this is certainly needed in education. However, until there is true respect for the voice of the teacher in crafting professional development any talk of real cultural change is mute.

How our teachers make learning visible through collective blogging

Every Sunday I take immense pleasure in putting together a blog post for our parents.  The best part of this is that almost all of it is written by our teachers.  For the past two years, our staff has developed an incredible expertise for writing to their parents each week on what will be coming up during the next few days and what the highlights of the past week were.  We write a ‘collective blog’ together each week.

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display of art work put up this week – portraits of Einstein 

I write every teacher back and comment on their post.  I have often said to them that they really need to share this with others! Of course they do – to the people most important to them – their parent community.

It is up to me to highlight their work to the wider education community.  I am very happy to do this.  People need to see what this incredible group of people put together each week.  All of this is completely voluntary, but they all see the great benefit the collective blog has in getting their message out.

Kindergarten News for December 5-9, 2016

We are very excited to plan many great events for our Kinders. They are embracing all of our initiatives and as educators we are delighted to see how all of our efforts are so very much appreciated. A special thank you to our parent community for supporting us too!!

The Kinders were so reflective and attentive during the school’s first magical Advent celebration on Thursday. We look forward to attending the second celebration next Thursday

Thank you to all the parents who have sent in their donations of toiletries for St. Luke’s Table. Whatever small donation you can make is much appreciated.

On Friday they all had fun on their walk in the neighbourhood and they loved discovering where their stuffed animals were hibernating in the school yard. Of course, the delicious hot chocolate with marshmallows was enjoyed by all after coming in from the cold. Thank you for sending in a little stuffed animal to hibernate. Thank you to Ms. Ekich for joining us on our hibernation walk!

Kindergarten news for the upcoming week

All our parents read this every week.  The students as young as grade one will ask if a particular picture or event will make it to the blog.  Students want their parents to see what they are excited about at school.

This is what I think all schools need to do.  By putting out regular collective blog posts like this we are breaking down the barriers between the school and the parent community.  The beauty of making this a ‘collective blog’ is that the teachers do the most important work – providing the content.  I put it all together in one blog and post it to our Twitter and Facebook accounts and send it directly to our parents through Remind and Synervoice.

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winners of the St. Anthony Superstars Award for the past week – proud kids!

One great benefit to all this is that I have such a better idea of what is going on at school.  I read all the entries and notice as new ideas, activities and programs spread throughout the school.  Through the blog I know how we are growing and innovating as a group of educators.

I won’t post the entire blog here – its pretty long – but you can see our latest edition here.

If you take a look, maybe you could post a comment on the blog – Great work deserves to be recognized!

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Making Learning Visible – Connect with parents using social media

These are the notes from a recent webinar that I did.  I wanted to make sure people were able to get the links we discussed during the session.  My first webinar – a very interesting experience!

We started with a prezi that I have used and modified for a few years.  It covers a whole host of communication tools, but every time I ask people what they are most interested in it turns out to be blogging.  Today seemed to be the same.

The importance of blogging with your parent community

I use a variety of blogs for a variety of purposes:

The SAN Script – daily to keep in touch with staff and put out information of interest. http://stanthonycatholic.edublogs.org/

St. Anthony Connects: A weekly blog to the parent community http://stanthonyconnects.edublogs.org/

Both these blogs are Edublogs – http://edublogs.org/ easily my favorite type of blog. It is a WordPress blog with an incredible help desk. I pay around $7.00 a month for each blog and it is money well spent. The assistance from their technical staff is excellent and that is the most important factor for me. There are also lots of great extra features like more templates, special fonts, print friendly button, contact us box and many additional features. When you get a pro subscription you also have at least 50 other blogs you can set up.

Teach Talk – https://paulmcguire1.wordpress.com/ and Principal Musings http://principalmusingsoneducation.blogspot.ca/ that I use to write about various topics in education.

This is from Blogger a great blogging tool to start with

The main importance of blogging is keeping in contact with your community. Better than a monthly newsletter you can put it out as often as you want. Parents can subscribe to the blog or you can send out the link.  With our community, the blog can be translated into several different languages, a really valuable asset in a community with a high immigrant base.

The community blog does things that a monthly newsletter simply cannot do including

  • Schedule for the week
  • Photographs – from the past week
  • Teacher notes – for the upcoming week – a really important feature!!
  • Teacher links to newsletters and blogs
  • Translatable into many other languages
  • You can embed videos for personal messages using apps like Touchcast

Here is a recent Touchcast I put out on the blog as well as our facebook and Twitter Page – just another way to get your message out there!

Social media apps -Twitter,Facebook,Flickr, Instagram

 

Twitter:  https://twitter.com/StAnthonyOCSB

We have 265 followers following 402 – the Twitter Page is one great tool that we use daily to post photos and updates on what is going on at our school.  We also link our Google Calendar up to Twitter so events get posted twice.

 

Facebook: We have over 100 likes on our Facebook Page and it is a great way to make the school experience more real for parents.  We post videos, pictures announcements and interesting information for parents on the page.  The most important thing to remember for Twitter and Facebook – post interesting material often.  Focusing on the students is one of the best ways to engage your parents.

https://www.facebook.com/St.AnthonySchoolOttawa

Facebook also will give you some really useful statistics on your audience reach.  We reach as many as 120 people with some of our posts!

 

 

Instagram – slide 7  

https://instagram.com/stanthonyocsb/

This is a great way to get the perfect moment to the parents.  Parents can sign up to follow Instagram and the photos will show up right in their inbox.  The photos are also posted directly to Twitter.

  

Challenges of connecting to hard-to-reach parent communities

How do we engage? By making students the center of the story.  We make short videos of sporting events and post them to Twitter and Facebook.  The kids love them so my hope is the students will lead their parents to our sites.  Here is a short one made using iMovie.

Finally, in the dying minutes of the webinar we started to address hard to reach communities.  We had the opportunity to hear Joe Mazza @Joe_Massa a few times this week.  He brought up all sorts of good ideas on how we can engage communities.  I have included a Storify here that encompasses some of the main points in his presentation.

Storify of Tweets: https://storify.com/mcguirp/ocsb-forum-with-joe-mazza

We finished on a great question – how to you ensure the safety of the student?

We address this by obtaining informed consent from the parent. We are careful never to publish the names of students and we do our best not to take pictures of students where parents are uncomfortable with social media.

Here is a sample of a letter we have used – we would love to see other examples of letters schools use.