As 2015 gives way to 2016

2015 was a year filled with many challenges both at work and in my personal life. It was a year of new learning opportunities and growth. I enjoyed participating in the Bastow Emerging Leaders’ Impact program, as it helped me develop my skills as an emerging leader as well as learning to have the difficult conversations. As well as studying, I was given the chance to put my learning into practice as the English Learning Leader at my school.

The leadership role was more demanding than I expected and at times I was stressed out and struggled to cope with all the responsibilities. This put more pressure on my personal life and I often forgot to look after myself. All my energy would be spent at work and I would come home so exhausted that all I was fit for was bed. I continued pushing myself even when I was tired or sick, yet it didn’t seem to be enough. I ended up stressed and unable to cope. I pushed away concerns for my health, forgetting that I needed to look after myself.

Throughout the year, I became better at writing down my thoughts. Whether it was on my blog, or as part of my Writer’s Journal, writing helped me clarify my thoughts. It also helped me verbalise the ideas swirling around in my head. Participating in the #YourEduStory challenge made me think more about what I did on a daily basis. Instead of just trying to adopt every new idea I read about, it helped me think about the “how” and “why” –  it made me think about what motivates me to learn and how others learn. As I continue the #YourEduStory challenge in 2016, my aim is to not just read others’ posts but to comment on their writing. After all that is what I’m trying to teach my students– whilst they can have a face to face conversation about their blog posts, I don’t often have that opportunity with my colleagues at work. By commenting on other educators’ blogs, I can start conversations about a particular topic. It will be a good way to challenge my own thinking about about education.

2016 

My #oneword for 2016 is “Create”. I deliberated over several words like “resilience”, and “discover”. In discussing it with my friend, she pointed it out that it was a good action word to adopt for 2016. In pondering over it, I realised that she was right. I need to be more proactive in my approach in 2016. I can’t wait for things to happen or for my life to change by itself- I need to work towards it. Only I can make my life better or change things that I do not like- no one else can do it for me. Whilst “believe” was a good word for me in 2015, I need a more action-inspired word for the new year.

I need to create a life for myself that is healthy- both physically and mentally. I need to focus on my own well-being as this will allow me to be a better teacher. I can’t give my students my best, if I don’t look after myself. As a teacher, I can’t count the number of times where I’ve given up my lunch break to help my students, or said yes to a project that takes up more of my time. I enjoy working with my students and participating in school activities, often at the cost of my own well-being. I need to have a better work-personal life balance, otherwise it is a detriment to my health.

So here’s to 2016 being a year where I create a lifestyle that allows me to continue seeking new opportunities for learning and growth, whilst establishing a healthy home and work balance. I encourage you to think about your #oneword that will motivate you in 2016.

This post is based is a response to:

  • 2015 #YourEduStory topic: Most of us are somewhere near the end point of the school year. Reflect on the 2014-15 school year. What went well? What didn’t go as well? What changes are you going to make for the 2015-16 school year?
  • 2016 #YourEdustory topic: What is your “one word” that will inspire you in your classroom or school in 2016?

Difficult conversations

In my 2nd Bastow workshop, the theme was “Leading Teams”. During the two days we learnt that it is important to communicate well with our colleagues. I learnt that whilst certain conversations might be difficult, it is imperative that we have them in order to avoid negativity.

Over the past few months, I have encountered more difficult conversations then in previous years of teaching. The increase has resulted due me becoming the English Learning Leader. The issue for me is that “tough talks” are not easy and this is the way most people would probably feel. I find it especially difficult, because all my life I have been raised to “let it go”, to just walk away from a situation where I’m unhappy and avoid addressing the issue. It was a way of letting the issue just fade away, but it would fester within me. It got to a point that I would always walk away feeling stressed, knowing the situation was unresolved. As a leader, it is something I can’t avoid- I need to tackle it head on.

I teach in a team – each member has a different teaching style and a way of working.Ideally in a team teaching situation each member’s abilities should add to the team’s capabilities and strengths but I find that this is often not the case. If one member struggles with time and student management, this can often impact the other members and their work. They can be forced to carry the team, doubling their own workload and can find themselves doing most of the work. I have often found myself in this situation many times and as I can’t communicate my frustrations very well, this often has an impact on the team relationship. I try to hide my feelings and hope the situation goes away so that it doesn’t have a negative effect on the students . It doesn’t. Students are very quick in picking up tension between teachers and it can affect the harmony in the classroom.

At the workshop, I had to identify a person at work that I needed to have a difficult conversation. In our groups we did role-playing so that we could think about what we would say to the person we needed to have a tough conversation with. For me it was difficult because this has been an ongoing issue, one that I have tried to broach several times over the last 2 years with no change. However I knew I had to keep trying, not so much because it was affecting the way I worked, but because it was having a negative impact on my students.

Communication

During the role-play I realised a few things:

  • I was unable to identify reasons why my team member was not contributing to our planning sessions
  • I was constantly projecting my own assumptions on the situation without taking the time to find out the real reasons
  • I wasn’t approaching the situation with a clear mind- so I wouldn’t be open to what was happening
  • I wasn’t really prepared to listen actively

As a result, I am trying to make sure that the next time I begin this conversation, I am in the right frame of mind. It’s not fair to the other person that I’m coming into the meeting with pre-conceived ideas and judgments. In order to understand their point-of-view, I need to ensure the meeting takes place when I’m in the right head-space, so that it is a proper conversation.

I have a lot to learn about difficult conversations, but I know that I need to be prepared to actively listen to their point-of-view and to understand that they might be at a point when there are many things happening in the background that I am not aware of. By going in with an open mind, we might be able to work together to come up with a solution that can be implemented in order to ensure the smooth running of our classroom.

What motivates learning?

Learning is has been part of my life’s journey- I have been learning since the day I was born. Often I didn’t even realise that I was learning because I equated learning mostly with school. Until I started thinking about this topic, I wasn’t conscious about how much I have learnt and continue to learn on a daily basis.

I wanted to be independent so I learnt:

  • to drive a car
  • how to teach, so I could get a job and earn a living
  • how to use the Melbourne transport system (in case my car breaks down or I need to go to the city)
  • how to pay bills and manage my money when I moved out of home.

I became a technology leader and I didn’t know how to use it effectively, so I:

  • attended technology conferences
  • learnt how to use Twitter to talk to other educators about technology in the classroom
  • participated in Twitter chats to learn about how technology is breaking down classroom walls
  • participated in an Edmodo course to learn how to get connected and try out new online resources
  • read blogs, websites like Edutopia to learn how to improve my use of ICT in the classroom

There are many other reasons I learn:

  • I’m interested in giving my students a voice in the classroom- so I read anything I can on that topic.
  • I’ve become the English Learning Leader so I’m constantly learning on the job and finding PD to help me.
  • I’m doing a year long Leadership course because I want to be an effective leader.
  • My students love sharing information about themselves and what they read which allows me to learn more about them.
  • I love dancing so I took ballroom dance lessons and learnt new dances.

At times throughout my life, I was learning just to get by. However I’ve realised that when I’m passionate about something, that’s when my learning is the strongest. It’s been years since I was a student myself, but as a teacher I’ve realised that in some ways I’m still a learner. Every day I learn something new and often don’t realise it. Whether it is learning to dance or learning about my students, if I’m passionate about something then I will learn. I don’t want to stop this learning journey because there is still so much I want to know and do.

So what motivates me to learn? Being passionate about something.

So my question to you is “What motivates you to learn?”

#YourEduStory Week 17

Being an Emerging Leader

In February I finally began my Bastow Emerging Leaders’ Program. Ever since I started seeking my own avenues of learning, I realised that I had to find a face-to-face learning environment that was actually interesting and engaging as well as relevant to me. Whilst I enjoy learning online, it can sometimes feel as if I’m missing out on the in-depth conversations. Twitter is great for micro chats, but having the time and unlimited word count can result in a conversation that is not constricted by 140 characters.

The Bastow course aims to provide teachers with the skills necessary to be an effective leader in their schools. Whilst some teachers in the course have been in positions of responsibility for a couple of years, others like me are just starting out. Everyone is there for the same reason- they all want to be the best leaders and to improve their leadership abilities. The 1st  two workshops allowed the teachers to question themselves and 4 key questions were raised:

Leaders

In the 2 day residential workshops, I felt as if I was stripped bare. There was nowhere to hide- and for once I didn’t feel as if I wanted to run away. I wanted to face my fears and know what I needed to do to become a better leader. I was open about what I needed to work on. My leadership journey is just beginning and I know (at least I think I know) my own strengths and weaknesses. The emotional intelligence test, that all participants had to complete, produced results that weren’t a surprise. Instead of the results making me feel discouraged, they worked to make me more determined about the skills I needed to work on. I wanted to be here- now I was going to have to find the steps that would allow me to go forward.

In the Genos Emotional Intelligence test that I completed, as a requirement for the Bastow course, it identified 4 emotional skills that are important in shaping workplace behaviours. These skills are acquired over time and can help shape and strengthen a leader’s capabilities. The effectiveness of a leader depends not only on their actions but how they react in a variety of situations. The aim of this test was to help participants understand that as leaders they needed to cognizant of that fact.

  1. Awareness (perceiving and understanding your own and others emotions)
  2. Expression (effectively expressing your own emotions)
  3. Reasoning (using emotional information in combination with other data when making decisions)
  4. Management (maintaining positive moods, dealing effectively with with stress and reacting positively in a controlled manner)

In my report, it showed my results for each skill and listed suggestions on how I could improve in each area. I’ve decided that for this year, I will focus on 4 suggestions (1 for each area) in order to further develop my leadership skills. To me, they are my biggest weaknesses which have the major impact on how I react to events that take place around me.

  1. Being aware of how my feelings influence the way I interact with people (awareness)
  2. Expressing how I feel to the right people (expression)
  3. Asking people how they feel about different solutions when solving problems (reasoning)
  4. Handling stressful situations effectively (management)

During the workshop, I questioned myself and my abilities several times. I framed several questions that are important to me on this year long course. I don’t need to have them answered by the end of the year, but they will help me learn and understand more about how I lead.

Do I encourage others to build up their skills?
Do I motivate them to be better?
How do other leaders make me feel? Do I feel daunted or inferior? Or do they make me want to do better? Do they encourage me?
Where am I heading as a leader?
What are the values that shape me as a leader?

[This post was started a week after the workshops but due to a busy schedule, it is only now during the 1st term break that I was able to complete it.]

Connections changes classrooms

So the topic for #YourEduStory this week is “What is connected learning and WIIFM?”

WIIFM?? What’s that? I had to actually search it up as it was an acronym that I hadn’t come across. WIIFM stands for “What’s it in for me?”

It is interesting to note that getting connected can have a great impact especially on teachers. These days being connected refers not only to teachers connected to other teachers, but also their classes can connect with experts around the world to expand their learning environment. Everyone benefits from a teacher being connected.

Being connected means flattening the local, national and global boundaries for learning.

Being connected means that teachers and classes can connect with each other in real-time.

Being connected helps teachers learn new practices that can change their classrooms.

So how has this had an impact on me and most importantly on my students?

Being connected has led me to change my classroom:

  • Students have a voice in their learning- they enjoy being able to be part of the decision making process
  • Students are given more of a choice- where they sit, to set the pace of their learning and how they learn
  • Use of PBL to develop my students’ ability to question, investigate and explore topics
  • I’m helping them to strengthen their skills- they are becoming more independent in their learning, they seek help from peers and support each other
  • I am able to provide more support to students who are struggling whilst others are engaged in their learning.
  • Using a Blended Learning approach, I am able to tailor the learning for my students. It allows me to see where students are struggling and need more support. It also allows me to extend the abilities of more capable students and set challenges for them to complete.

The biggest impact however of being connected is that I have gotten to know my students as individuals. This has strengthened my relationship with them. I am able to act silly and make a fool of myself in front of them- that gets their attention a lot quicker than yelling. There is a bond of trust- they know I trust them to complete work and they have put their trust in me to help them when they are struggling.

Without being connected I would still be frustrated about my ability to engage my students.They are happier in class and always ask me what we are going to do before we step into the classroom. They have the chance to explore new ideas -they are more confident in testing their abilities independently. If they start to struggle they first ask a peer before coming to seek my help. If I hadn’t become connected they wouldn’t have become so independent. They get frustrated in other subjects because they aren’t given the same opportunities they get in my classes.

So not only do I benefit from being connected but so do my students. I look forward to being connected for the rest of my life!

Diigo vs Flipboard

Curation tools are a lifeline: they help you gather resources that you read from Twitter, Google, blogs and other sites. They allow you to decide what you want to keep so that you can consult, annotate and constantly refer back to articles of interest. However deciding which ones to use is a tough choice. The ones that I’ve tried are Flipboard, Diigo, Evernote and more recently Scoop.it.

Diigo was the 1st curation tool that I started using. I was introduced to it at school and we have a group where teachers share new technology tools or websites that might be useful. I continue to use it to save all my favourite websites and tools so that I don’t lose them. It allows me to categorize them according to topic and I can go back to refer to them when I need. I use it predominately to share new websites or resources with staff at school. For me the positive feature of this curation site is that I share sites directly with staff who are part of the Diigo group. My web toolbar also has the Diigo Web Collector which allows me to add the useful websites directly into my Diigo account. Yet at times I feel that for me Diigo is just my favourites’ folder which has all the sites I use and I often forget about it until I need a resource that I have used before. Since I’ve also been trying Evernote, I might decide to stick with one of them instead of using both.

Flipboard is a curation tool that I have been using recently. I use the app version on my phone and I use it to collate articles and other useful information for my own personal learning. I stumbled upon Flipboard during the ISTE14  conference. This helped me read the tweets and articles generated by the conference in my own time and at my own pace. It was a good way to follow the conference rather than using Tweetdeck as the tweets were too fast to follow. I have been using it more frequently to organise my own reading according to topics that I am interested in. One such magazine that I’ve created is “Student Voice” as that is my focus for Term 4. I like that you can embed the magazines into blogs and share them with the readers.

View my Flipboard Magazine.

Web 2.0- Connecting the world

It’s pretty embarrassing to admit this but for the entirety of my teaching career, I have been using the phrase “Web 2.0” without really understanding what it means and how it differed from the Web that was originally created. I  remember missing out on a P.D in my 1st year of teaching that was on “Web 2.0” but I didn’t realise the vital information I missed out on.

So what is “Web 2.0” stand for? Well I thought it was just the improved version of the  internet since it was created. However whilst watching the video from the “Connected Educators’ Started Kit”, I realised that Web 2.0  is more than just an “improved version”. It is a place where we can read information as well as create our own. The original Web 1.0 was only for reading and consuming. It was a one-way street where information was delivered to the consumer. On the other hand, with Web 2.0, the user can also be the creator as they have the ability to create their own information and/or resources. The consumer can also be the producer- there is a two-way exchange.

With the constant use of Web 2.0 tools, as an educator I can see how useful it is in today’s world. I don’t have to be there to answer every single question posed by students. Students can search the information for themselves. They can create their own content and add information to the web. Web 2.0 allows them to connect with people they have never met and this is true for me as well. Through Web 2.0, I have connected with educators not just in Melbourne but also around the world.

Whilst the Youtube clip was uploaded in 2007, it is still relevant today in 2014. It raises issues that I still need to be aware of in my my classroom:

  1. Copyright- Am I using materials within the limits of copyright? Can I re-use the material in my classroom?
  2. Authorship- Have I acknowledged the author of work that I am using? Do I have permission to use someone else’s work? Have I checked the work for a Creative Commons’ License?
  3. Privacy/Identity- Am I protecting my students’ privacy on websites? Am I teaching my students to protect their online identity and to be careful about their privacy?
  4. Ethics- Is information being used correctly? Have I taught my students’ to respect content created by others and to acknowledge their sources?
  5. Governance- Who checks that students are safe online- their teachers, parents, school? Who monitors students’ safety?

Getting Connected = Re-Igniting Passion for Teaching

I have just reached my 5 year teaching milestone. I had read about the teaching burnout at the 5 year mark and I didn’t want it to happen to me. I love teaching and can’t imagine doing anything else. Yet I wasn’t satisfied. I was in my 1st leadership position and kept feeling like I didn’t know enough. I kept struggling to engage my students and felt like many were playing up just because I didn’t give them enough support. During the Edmodo course, I gathered my courage and joined Twitter and started my blog. My journey as a Connected Educator had started.

 So what it means to be a ‘connected educator’ ?

To me a “Connected Educator” is:

  1. A lifelong learner-a person who is constantly learning how to enhance their students’ learning as well as reflecting on their own teaching practices
  2. An educator who collaborates with other teachers to share and improve teaching practices, unrestricted by school, regional, national and international boundary lines.
  3. One who learns in a variety of ways: online (blogs, Twitter, Edmodo, Webinars, MOOCs, educational journals, Google Hangouts & more) and face-2-face (conferences, TeachMeets, seminars, Edcamps, university courses, informal meetings & more).

Name tag

 

Getting connected has re-ignited my passion for teaching

Since the Edmodo course and joining Twitter, I have realised that I need to be a lifelong learner. I thought that I had stopped learning when I graduated from University. However being connected has taught me that the learning doesn’t stop when you leave the classroom and this is something that I need to  model for my students. I have learnt about the importance of student voice– that it is okay for students to say they don’t like the lesson. Instead of brushing it off, I’ve learnt to talk to them about how they want to learn. I ask for their opinions and feedback and then implement it. They can see me trying to change the way our classes run and are helping me to create a culture where they are happy to learn.

Blogging helps me reflect on my teaching practices and allows me to articulate the problems I’m facing. It also allows me to write about what I have learnt in the last 4 months through Twitter chats and educational websites. It gives me a place to have my own voice and to express my opinions. Generally in a face to face situation, it takes me a while to share my thoughts. Blogging is the perfect avenue for an introvert like me.

So where to from here?

My aim as a Domain Technology Leader is to share my own learning with staff at my school. Learning about PBL through Twitter, BIE and Edutopia as led to me joining the PBL team at school. My aim is to help other teachers with implementing PBL in their classrooms. I am also ready to attend conferences, TeachMeets and EdCamps where I can meet the people I’ve connected with online.

Getting connected has made me excited to continue teaching. I haven’t learnt everything I want to and I certainly haven’t made the changes in my classroom that I want to make. It has also made me realise what kind of teacher I want to be – one who helps students realise that it is fun to learn and that the learning doesn’t stop when they leave the classroom. The 5 year burnout is something I don’t have to worry about because I love what I’m doing and I’m excited to be where I am!

This post was written for #Blogsync October special:  “Connected Educator Month” (http://blogsync.edutronic.net/)