I’m Ready Now

It’s time to eat the proverbial ‘humble pie’.

I made my first foray into school leadership roles in 2005. At the time I was brash, cocky and filled with an immense sense of self-importance. Needless to say, things did not go very well. My principal sent me to leadership courses (which I sat through with a smug belief that I was already a quality leader). I engaged in 360 Feedback processes (but chose to ignore key feedback messages). Instead of learning and taking ownership of my shortcomings, I chose to blame those giving the feedback, convincing myself that they had a personal issue with me. I missed out on so many wonderful learning opportunities.


cc licensed ( BY NC ) flickr photo shared by Laura Billings

Fast forward 8 years and things have changed considerably. I married now with two wonderful children who are not afraid to be (brutally) honest about things. They have really helped me to be more aware of my own behaviours.

Add to this some awesome mentors who saw potential in me and were willing to take the time to help me form a more accurate view of my workplace behaviours – opportunities for growth and areas of strength. I have been so lucky to learn from outstanding leaders in many walks of life.

I have always prided myself on being a learner. I just let my ego get in the way of learning about leadership. Now I love conversations that challenge my thinking. I regularly seek feedback from colleagues and leaders.

In hindsight, I was not ready to lead when I first stepped up. I was looking to lead for all of the wrong reasons – power and respect among them. I was out to prove to people that being older was not a requirement for leadership. I believed that I was smarter than people and a better teacher than most.

Leadership is not about individual glory. If you are leading and nobody is following, you’re just out for a walk. Leadership is about empowering and enabling those around you to achieve success. It’s about influencing and inspiring. And it’s a lot of hard work.

Now, I’m ready to lead because I am ready to learn.

Connecting…

As ‘Connected Educator’ month comes to a close in the US, it seems prudent to reflect on my own networks and connections. I actually think that I have always been a ‘connected’ educator in some form or another.

When I first began teaching, connections were something that generally happened face-to-face. I developed a mentoring partnership with a more experienced teacher in my school. All of the new teachers in our town met frequently to share and discuss our experiences. As I attended conferences and workshops I extended my networks to enable connections with educators from outside of the town in which I lived. These people were always available by email plus we seemed to have regular ‘reunions’ at various conference events. All of these connections were of value to my professional growth and development yet they rarely involved technology as a means of connecting.

It wasn’t until 2010 that I was asked why I was not on Twitter. This was a tipping point. I took a leap of faith and jumped into the world of Twitter and 140 characters. I started out as a lurker (as many do) before beginning to share resources, respond to questions and join chats.


cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by Jennifer Boyer

After taking the plunge and starting to explore the amazing conversations that take place on Twitter, I decided that I too could begin to blog – just like all of those amazing people that I had been following on Twitter. Connecting with people beyond our geographic location brings richness and diversity to our networks. For educators such as myself who live in quite remote or isolated places, our online connections are often a lifeline to learning.

No matter how you connect with your PLN, the most important facets are the combining of ideas, the sharing of resources, the challenging of viewpoints and access to robust, professional discourse. Teaching is not an individual pursuit.


cc licensed ( BY NC ) flickr photo shared by ion-bogdan dumitrescu

And a quick thanks to Adrian Bruce (@adrianbruce) as he was the person who introduced me to Twitter.

Locked Out

Our Education department has recently been plagued by slower than normal internet connections. This is obviously frustrating for everyone and results in mud-slinging and blame being directed toward the IT department. There is pressure from many directions for an instant solution.

Unfortunately our IT department (which has a strong alignment with Microsoft to the exclusion of every other platform) has applied a ridiculous ‘fix’ to the problem – they have completely blocked all iOS updates, all Mac OS updates and the Mac App Store, and seriously throttled app updates for iOS and Android tablets/phones. We have thousands of these devices deployed in our schools as educators are embracing mobile learning yet now our students can no longer update their devices and apps or even download new apps. I am very confused as to how this can be seen to be an effective solution to a problem.


cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo shared by Chandrachoodan Gopalakrishnan

We are an Education department – students are our core business. The IT people exist to enable education. Surely it is for teachers to decide on useful technology for use in their classrooms, not for technicians with no knowledge of pedagogy to drive access to technology.

Loving Quality Presenters

We all know the scenario… You walk into a professional learning event, curious about the upcoming learning and desperately hoping for a quality facilitator who will be engaging and dynamic. I think this expectation is even higher when the audience are educators themselves.

Last Thursday was one of these occasions and I must admit to being a little sceptical arriving for a Team Management Styles (TMS) professional learning event with our team. I was a little sceptical about the value of learning having ‘endured’ the TMS program previously and because I strongly believe that crap presenters can ruin any learning.

Within 5 minutes I was freshly surprised. The facilitator was outstanding. From the moment people entered the room, he engaged in conversation and began to develop rapport with participants. Preparation is key. He had everything ready to go – presentation slides, flip charts, room arrangement, handouts and resources were set up well in advance of the audience arriving. It’s really poor form on behalf of presenters to still be preparing the room when participants are arriving.

Facilitators need to be dripping in knowledge of their content. It is blatantly obvious when a facilitator knows and believes in what they are presenting. Passion is not something that can be faked. Our facilitator was passionate. He new his content extremely well so was able to answer questions in an informed manner. Furthermore, he demonstrated application of his content knowledge throughout the day when interacting with people.

Our facilitator weaved an engaging narrative throughout the day as he introduced content, mixed with a range of anecdotes and personal experiences. Story telling is a powerful method for transferring information and ideas. Australia’s indigenous people have a rich history, told through narrative, that has endured with thousands of years. Professional learning can have similar longevity when information is presented in the form of a narrative. It’s not an easy thing to do but it is definitely achievable with some practice and preparation. If you are not sure what this look like, take a look at any number of TED Talks. There is a reason why we find them so engaging and inspiring.

Facilitating professional learning for adults can be loads of fun and a great experience for the facilitator and participants if it’s done well.

Related information

But I Found It On The Internet

I’m currently working in an instructional design role reliant on content experts to provide relevant and accurate materials.

I recently received an extensive document  outlining content to be used a series of professional learning materials. It was a fantastic document with loads of useful information, images and ideas that would form the basis of some interactive e-learning materials. As I read the document I experienced a few moments of deja-vu as elements of content triggered  my memory. A quick search led me to discover that the document had actually been copied from a website that I had visited earlier that day. Further investigation revealed that the entire document was the work of someone else. No references, no acknowledgement that the material was a direct copy from a site.

I raised my concerns with the content writer (a highly experienced teacher) whose response was that, “I found it online.” 

There seems to be a belief in large portions of society (adults & children) that anything on the Internet is free and can be reproduced at will. I am a strong advocate for sharing online but we also need to respect the intellectual property of people and correctly acknowledge materials that we have accessed online. Unfortunately we are seeing some rather unscrupulous, or simply uninformed people, who are taking credit for the work of others, using images without citing the source, and in some cases selling resources that have been made by others.

I’m not the only person to have raised this issue recently. This post on the Langwitches blog highlights the issue of taking ideas without acknowledging the source or the copyright requirements. In the case of this blog, it clearly states that content is licensed under a CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 license. For those who don’t know about Creative Commons licenses, you really should visit the CC site.

The author of Langwitches, (@langwitches) has gone further in a subsequent post, providing a clear guide to creating content and using Creative Commons. Take some time to read and explore, ‘So You Want (Have) To Create Something‘. This post has some great links to sites where you can find images, audio etc that are CC licensed.

People work hard to develop ideas and content which they happily share online through blogs, Twitter and other online communities. Sharing is an essential part of the education profession. Forget the legal side of this, focus on respect for intellectual property and peoples’ contributions. Acknowledge your sources, don’t steal content and take the time to learning about Creative Commons. Just because something is online, does not make it free.


cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by Horia Varlan

Reflecting…

A little over two years ago I began a new job, tasked with establishing a Technology Learning Centre to support teachers to effectively use technologies in teaching and learning practices. It was to be a three year project with significant initial funding to kickstart the initiative. I was given 6 weeks to turn a (very well equipped) room into a space that was inviting and to develop a set of professional learning programs that would cater for the diverse needs of teachers and overcome barriers of distance and isolation.

6 weeks later we opened the doors for our first series of professional learning events. They were well received by teachers who gave up time in their holidays to attend full day events. There were certainly a few issues in those early days including power outages, water outages and the pleasant background sounds of jackhammers tearing through concrete in the adjoining schools. Yet positive stories spread quickly throughout the department and many more teachers have taken the opportunity to learn and develop through our programs.

Enjoying Professional Learning at the Technology Learning Centre

Enjoying Professional Learning at the Technology Learning Centre

Two years on and we have hosted over 200 face-to-face and online professional learning events.

Sadly a decision has recently been made to close the centre as there has been a shift in focus and funding priorities. This came as a quite a shock to me and the broader education community. In a matter of days, the project has ended and I have moved to a new role.

Rather than focus on the disappointment, I have decided to reflect on some great successes and experiences from the last two years…

  • So many teachers are doing great things in their classrooms as a result of learning during our many events.
  • iPads are being used effectively in many schools and classrooms.
  • Technology is well and truly part the education agenda in our schools.
  • I have travelled to some amazing, isolated places in the Northern Territory.
  • My knowledge, skills and abilities as a professional learning facilitator have developed considerably.

24 Hours of Free Ideas

A few week ago we had a FedEx day at our workplace. The basic premise of this type of day is to have a 24 hour focus on innovation and creativity. A worthy ideal, but I am wondering why we need a dedicated day to innovate. Surely innovation is ongoing. Surely innovation can happen at any time.

Working in teams and/or individually we brainstormed, created, imagined, played, challenged – all with the same goal of coming up with inspiring new ideas or projects to provide quality professional learning for teachers. The sharing session was an amazing afternoon. I was blown away by the breadth and depth of thinking that had taken place. Loads of great ideas were shared. I left work totally inspired. In my mind I had seen the creative force of our team come to the fore and present a range of ideas to implementation. The day was concluded with a bit of a “We’ll get back to you” response from senior management but still my enthusiasm was there.

About 6 weeks on and nothing has happened. I’m back to wondering why we needed a dedicated day to innovate…