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?

My ideal conference

There are many different styles of conferences that are run nationally and globally. Most are carefully organised and structured to suit those in charge. A timetable is created. The day begins with a keynote address after the welcome. Then depending on how big the conference is, educators and other stakeholders will decide which sessions to attend.

Edcamps are an alternative to conferences. They are an “un-conference” whereby there is no organised schedule or keynote speakers. Participants on the day decide what they want to learn or talk about, thereby creating sessions based on preference. Workshops are facilitated by interested educators.

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So what would be my ideal conference?

Firstly I would prefer an un-conference like Edcamp. Whilst I’m yet to attend one, I would prefer to have the sessions chosen by the participants. I want to see how other teachers use technology in their classroom, or implement different teaching pedagogies in their schools. To me, Edcamps seem to be more personal and hands-on. It allows teachers to actively participate in the sessions.

Other suggestions for my ideal conference:

  1. A conference run only by teachers – not consultants who don’t know what is happening in the classroom. This allows educators to demonstrate what they are doing in their classrooms and other teachers can see the how it can fit into their own classrooms.
  2. Students are involved in the conference. Since the focus is on giving students a voice in the classroom to direct their own learning- why shouldn’t they also be given a voice at a teachers’ conference? Together with teachers, they can help to design learning programs that can be implemented in the classroom. The conference will allow them to tell teachers what they want and how they learn. Teachers and students can work together to create engaging units of work as well as learning environments that can be adapted to different learning styles.
  3. One where participants attend in school teams- each team is represented members of the principal class, the leadership team (e.g subject leaders/technology leaders), classroom teachers, students and parents. This allows all stakeholders to have a say in how students learn and what support is needed. Parents will also have a better understanding on changing teaching practices and how they can provide their children with the necessary support at home. The teams will then be responsible with sharing the learning with others at the school.
  4. Sessions at the conference are streamed via Google Hangouts or another platform. This will allow for a wider audience, especially since it is not possible for everyone to attend. Those who watch online can tweet their own questions/comments (with the conference hashtag) allowing them to contribute as well.

 

YourEduStory Week 14: Describe your ideal conference: What is covered? Who is present?

Show Don’t Tell!

“The world of connected educators can be an echo chamber at times, how WILL you grow the conversation so that we bring more people and perspectives along the journey?”- #YourEduStory Week 13 topic

For me, being connected is important. As a teacher I’ve learnt so much and have found that passion for learning (that I felt was missing when I was growing up). I’m still working on sharing my ideas with people outside school- I’m still hesitant to do so as I feel I’m just repeating what everyone is saying. This is especially true for me on Twitter.

However at work, when I begin to talk about what I’m learning via Twitter and blogs, I get a variety of responses. Some will be interested in what I say, whilst others will listen politely and then move on to another topic. It’s a different concept to them and I often hear:

After all aren’t we going for Professional Development sessions relating to our subjects? Isn’t that enough? We already have so much to do, why do we need to do something more? Going home and spending time seeking out new ideas and practices is not ideal- it’s family or me time. Why should I try to seek out new ideas- after all the school leaders make all the decisions anyway. We are constantly forced to accept their ideas. We’ve done things this way for nearly 20 years- it’s all a fad!

I want to sometimes interrupt and say no it’s not a fad. Learning is different in today’s world and it’s not right to expect our students to learn the same way we did. I know I didn’t enjoy learning at school because I was spoon-fed. I wasn’t taught to think critically and therefore I often struggled (and sometimes still do) to articulate my opinions.

So instead of talking to people about what I’m learning, I try and demonstrate the “so-called fads” in my teaching:

  1. My Year 9 students have a voice in their learning in my subjects. I’ve taught them since Year 7 and they are confident in speaking their ideas and help to decide how the learning will take place in my class. As a result they are engaged in class and I rarely have behaviour issues with them. So when they have other teachers who still use the “chalk and talk” method for the entire lesson and dictate how they should behave, they struggle and often misbehave because the classes don’t cater for their learning styles.
  2. Last year, I had students from the same class present their “Black Death” PBL unit in front of 50 teachers and principals during a staff presentation. When the students presented in class, I had our Technology for Learning Leader as well as House leaders as guests. Students created their own units on the Black Death that will be used with Year 8 classes this year.
  3. My current Year 8 students have their own class blog to showcase their learning. At the moment it focuses on developing their writing skills but I also use the blog to teach them about Copyright and acknowledging their sources.
  4. I’ve joined the school PBL Action Team to help develop units of work for Years 7-8 that incorporate Maths, Science, English and Humanities. As staff aren’t very confident about PBL and in the aim to promote it more in our school, the team provides a very structured unit of work. It’s still very much teacher-led but my hope is that other staff will start seeing the importance of PBL in the classroom and allow it to become more student-led. In a school as big as mine, we’ve had to follow this path in order to get more teachers on board. We still had a few complaints, but overall staff have been happy with the Year 8 unit we did in Term 1.
  5. Last year our Technology team trialled the Blended Learning Action Project. Not only were volunteers creating their own Blended Learning unit in their classrooms, they also learnt how to conduct their own Action Research. We had a lot of issues throughout the year, but eventually we managed to get on track. We ended the year with a Showcase, where staff presented their units to other teachers and school leaders. As one of the Tech leaders, I was amazed at what our volunteers had done. However those who weren’t involved in the whole process, were completely blown away. For many, the ideas were very new to them and they were presented with actual units of work that had been done in our school. The Showcase was supposed to be only for an hour after school- we still had people staying after 5 because they were so interested.

I’ve come to the conclusion that whilst a conversation about being connected is good, it’s better to demonstrate the ideas in practice and then have the conversation. Staff need to see how it can be implemented and the benefits before they will adopt the ideas. That’s what will make them more willing to accept new ideas. Not everyone rushes to Twitter or blogs, but those of us who do need to show and demonstrate it at school. A few might even start a Twitter account or their own blog. An even better idea would be to get staff to be guests in our classrooms when students showcase their learning.

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!

Learning

Lifelong journey, one that should never stop

Eagerness and enthusiasm you need to have

Absorbing new ideas from the world around you

Real-time conversations with people locally and globally

Not always online, often face-to-face

In your own time, at your own pace,

No one can stop you, except yourself

Get started on this journey, it’s fun to learn!

 

#YourEduStory Week 4

What is the best thing you do in and outside your classroom?

One of the best things that I do in my classroom is getting to know my students and how they learn.

I have been a teacher since 2009. My teaching style has changed in the last 6 years. I am now at the point where I’m confident in my teaching abilities. In the past year my teaching style changed as I decided that I could get students to listen to instructions without having to be very controlling. As a teacher with only a few years’ experience I had thought that I had to be strict at all times because if I showed any weakness, my students would take advantage of it. They proved me wrong.

As I became more comfortable with teaching, I decided I didn’t want to be the teacher students worked for because they were afraid of me. I wanted to be a teacher who they could talk to – who would listen to their opinions and who knew them as individuals. I didn’t want to be a teacher who was seen as only working with EAL students and who didn’t know the rest of the class. I wanted to know all my students- a big task as my class can often have up to 50 students (I teach in a team of 3 teachers to 50 students). The only way I could do this was to get to know my students as they worked and to let them get to know me. I restricted my “board talk” in my lessons and allowed students to have more input into their learning.

By focusing my attention on getting to know my students, I have found that this helps me understand them a lot better. I have gotten to know my “naughty” students a lot more and by taking the time to get to know them, they are starting to be engaged in their learning. They are starting to try and attempt work- they are more confident with asking me to help them rather than just giving up as they did before. My more focused students are starting to extend themselves- they are willing to try new challenges because they know they can get support from me when needed. It is amazing how just talking to my students and often with their “lingo” I have seen them become more confident as learners. They come and talk to me in the yard whenever they see me, they will often try to line up with another year level just so they can pretend they are coming to my class. It makes me feel good to see that.

On Thursday an ex-student visited the school and he came to talk to me. He and his classmates were my first class to graduate. I hadn’t taught him since Year 10 but whilst he was at school, he often made it a point to come and speak to me. On his visit he told me that he was going to do a Cert III at a university. I was so proud when I heard him say that- he had a lot of challenges at school. He is dyslexic and he had been a recent arrival to Australia when I started teaching him. He came to say thank you to me (as his English/Humanities teacher) and another teacher who taught him Maths and Science. He told us both that without our help he would have struggled. It was sweet of him to do that. It made me realise that it doesn’t matter what abilities a student has- if they have someone to support them and encourage them, it makes a  difference to them. They want someone to listen to them and not just see them as another essay to grade.

My students come from so many different backgrounds and trying to find their place in a class with nearly 50 students can be daunting. I try to take the time to get to know them and I am willing to talk to them about myself. I like that we can talk to each about more than just classwork. It makes them see me as someone they can easily approach and this has resulted in them being happier in class. They are more actively engaged in their learning and whilst at times they will try to avoid work, in most lessons they are focused and willing to participate.

It is amazing how much you learn from students once you let them talk…….. my teaching practice has certainly benefited. I will continue to let them talk and ask questions because it gives me a way to help them and encourage them on their journey at school.

 #YourEduStory Week 4

Believe (in yourself)

As the new school year begins, there is the usual flurry to get everything ready before going back to work. Having enjoyed a wonderful break in Europe, it’s now time to get back to regular routines and schedules. My 1st day back on Twitter, I noticed the #YourEduStory challenge and decided it was a great way to start blogging again for the year. I enjoyed reflecting on my work last year and feel the need to continue the process this year. With new challenges, it will allow me to take at least an hour to think about what I am doing and why.

The first challenge was “What is your “one word” that will inspire you in your classroom or school in 2015?” Immediately the word “believe” came to mind. It is a powerful word that often eludes my thoughts as well as my students. To believe in yourself is often hard to do and I notice it is a challenge not only amongst my students but for me as well. It can be easy to believe in others, to believe things that our families, religion, the government and any institution might tell us but we often forget to believe in ourselves.

So my 2 goals for this year are:

1. To believe in myself and my abilities: this year I will be Head of English at my school. This is a new leadership role for me- one that I didn’t believe that I would get. I went for the interview in order to get more experience and I was surprisingly offered the role. Like any other leadership role, it comes with its own challenges. My first thought when my principal told me that I was successful was “Oh no, Oh no, what have I done? I don’t think I can do this!” A friend told me that if the interview panel didn’t believe that I was capable of being the English Leader, I wouldn’t have got the position. She told me that she had faith in me and knew that I could. She said that I needed to believe in myself- that I had the ability to be the subject leader. So this year I need to believe in myself- that I am capable of being a good leader. It doesn’t matter that I don’t know how to do everything in my role- I will learn as I go along. I have people who I can ask for help. This is my opportunity to help shape curriculum at school and to grow as a leader. It is a chance to learn new skills and to strengthen existing ones. As I tell my students- if you don’t try, how do you know you can’t do it.

2. To help my students believe in themselves: this will be an ongoing process. Most of my students come from refugee backgrounds and low income families. When they come into my class, many are aware that they are at a disadvantage and refuse to participate in activities for fear of embarrassment. They feel that they are unable to do the work and will give up. I tend to provide tasks that provide extra support for students with language difficulties or learning difficulties, providing several entry points in a unit of work. Getting them to believe in themselves is a year long journey. I encourage them to try- I will sit and work with them until they are comfortable with the task. It’s often easy to build up their self confidence one task at a time- each completed part makes them more willing to try the next. Having to do this with a whole class takes time and effort but it is always worth it. I tell them that it is important for them give everything a go- no matter how tough it might seem. If they need help, all they need to do is ask. To help them with this, I tell them that it’s okay to feel fear but they must use that fear to challenge themselves.

So learning to believe in my own abilities and helping my students believe in themselves will be my goals for this year. I think it will be easier to help my students believe in themselves than it will be to convince myself that I am capable of being the English leader. I think it will be an interesting reflection in December to see what I have achieved.

 #YourEduStory Week 1

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/)

Connected Educator Month

October is “Connected Educator’s Month” (CEM). It is when educators connect with each other globally through blogging, book clubs, Twitter, Google Hangouts and even face to face to fulfill the following goals:

  • Getting more educators proficient with social media to improve their practice
  • Deepening and sustaining learning among those already enjoying connection’s benefits
  • Helping schools credential/integrate connected learning into their formal professional development efforts
  • Stimulating and supporting innovation in the field

– CEM Missions & Goals

I started my journey as a “Connected Educator” in May even though I didn’t realise it. This was when I started the “21st Century Learning with Web 2.0 Tools and Edmodo” course with Kimberly Carpenter on Edmodo. I became aware that there was a need for me to connect with teachers not just at my school but also nationally and globally. This would help me expand my own learning as well as my teaching practice. Over the past few months I have been participating in Twitter chats, listening to conversations on Voxer as well as blogging my own learning. I’ve decided that I will complete the activities in the Connected Educator’s “Starter Kit” as a way of getting a better understanding of what it means to be a connected Educator.

One aspect that has already caught my attention is the 2014 theme of the Connected Educator Month “Student Agency, Voice and the Maker Movement”. Whilst I have heard about the Maker Movement and want to learn more about it, at this stage it is not a priority for me. My main focus for this month and the rest of Term 4 is “Student Voice”. It changed the way I taught my Year 8 students in Term 3 and I am keen to continue learning more about it. I am hoping that during the Connected Educator Month, I will be able to engage in more conversations about “Student Voice” so that I continue using it in my classroom to shape the learning of my students. This will allow me to focus on one of CEM’s goals -“Deepening and sustaining learning among those already enjoying connection’s benefits”.

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References:

Connected Educators “Helping Educators Thrive in a Connected World”, http://connectededucators.org/, accessed 1st October 2014

Welcome to my Blog!

Hi, my name is Lisa Rodrigues. Welcome to my Blog. I’ve decided to chronicle my journey as one of the Technology Leaders in my school. This blog is a reflection on my teaching practices and learning throughout the year. I’m starting this blog as part of an Edmodo training group : “21st Century Learning with Web 2.0 Tools”. I joined this group in order to improve my use of Web 2.0 tools in my classroom. This training group interested me as Ms. Carpenter (a teacher and Edmodo ambassador) was doing it as part of her Action Research Project. Since my school is now trialling Action Research, I felt that it would help me better understand how it works. I will be using the Action Research method to help staff in my domain area in their journey through the Blended Learning Project.

I will explain more in future posts.