Final thoughts on EDCI 569

Screen Shot 2015-04-04 at 12.08.38 AM

As we entered into the green screen garage (filled with construction materials and garbage), we set up the scene for what was to become our first (and most likely only) episode of “Between 2 Yuccas”. We were ready to have a few laughs as we reflected on EDCI 569.

Earlier that morning, we created a Google Doc to create our script, and Liane, Lorrie and I were all able to reflect on our journey through EDCI 569. My kids sat in awe as they say Liane’s purple writing jet across the page, while I edited my portion of the script… AT THE SAME TIME! My son kept asking, “but how does it do that?” So cool to be able to collaborate on the same document simultaneously!

Screen Shot 2015-04-04 at 12.11.24 AM

As I began to write, the message that became most clear to me was joy in learning. Dean Shareski’s words speak so loudly to me because it is something that I believe strongly in. As I said in our script, “Learning should be fun and there should be joy in the classroom for both students and teachers. Students should be itching to get to school to see what fascinating project they get to create, or what new book they get to enjoy. They should want to show their learning because they are proud, and eager to share their passions.” As this year is already in beginning to wind down with less than 3 months left in the school year… crazy to believe… I am excited to start planning for the year ahead. My hope is that everyday my students will want to come into our classroom, and that they will feel comfortable to share and laugh everyday. I am a firm believer in making a fool of myself from time to time and to show kids that it’s ok to be silly, laugh, and enjoy teaching. I hope this helps them learn not to take life too seriously and to have a little fun!

Dave Cormier was another standout for me, especially when he talked about the importance of moving away from the teacher at the front of the classroom acting as the only beacon of knowledge.

Here are some of my reflections from the script… “For me, it was that we need to help guide and teach our kids how to learn. I agree with Dave when he says that he does not want his kids to know just what is in his head. Kids need to learn how to find the information they are looking for. As Dave says, we are not preparing students for the factories. In my opinion, we don’t even know what we are truly preparing them for, but we need to make sure that they know how to source out information, how to engage and be self-starters, and self- regulators, so that they will be able to gear up for what may be ahead in their future workplace.”

Dave and Sylvia also talked about the need for creativity. “Both Dave Cormier and Sylvia Martinez talk about creation. Students need time to play, create, build, experiment and then learn from their failures and successes and teach others by sharing. The old-fashioned theme of ‘needing to grind through school’ to show persistence needs to be replaced with imagination, creativity and interest.”

We don’t know what the world may look like even in the near future. It changes so quickly, and I believe that the best way to prepare our students is to teach them to expect the unexpected, and to learn how to be proactive, and self-motivated so that they can gain the knowledge needed in order to solve future problems. The information exists. It’s just a matter of motivating ourselves to source out that information for specific needs.

I am so thankful for the guest speakers, for the tiegrad community, and for the informal, yet incredibly informative format of EDCI 569 with Alec as our facilitator. It has been a great learning experience. As our Masters continues, I really do feel like my philosophy and teaching practices have changed positively, but that my philosophy has also been reconfirmed. I am thankful both for the connections made, and for the challenges to my thinking. Looking forward to the rest of our journey!

Inspiration to write from Tanya

I was inspired while reading Tanya’s latest blog post titled: “Expectation vs Reality or Product vs Process: My #tieyoga update”

Tanya used the quote”

“My learning process is more important than my learning outcome.”

This rings so true for me, as I’m sure it does for many people in our #tiegrad group. With my FitBit goals constantly on my mind, I have realized, just like Tanya, that adjustments need to be made, and that while one responsibility may take priority one week, it may shift the following week and then take priority once again soon after.

The priority right now is definitely not cleanliness.. as sad as it is, my house looks like it has been ransacked, and it may even be cleaner if this was the case. I have papers EVERYWHERE… the floor, bed, dining room table, kitchen table. I think there may be papers under my pillow!

.IMG_5164 IMG_5165 IMG_5166 IMG_5167

Between authors such as Seo, Wang, Trust and Ryman, I feel like my head is about to explode, and my house is a reflection of this!!! I am so thankful that my family is very understanding and has invested in this process with me!

After falling to the flu for a couple of days (not fun… don’t recommend it:)), all I could think about was organizing my thoughts and completing my final steps to piecing together my Lit Review. It consumed my thoughts, every minute of every day (I am definitely A type!) So, as hunkered down over the last week, I looked at the clock today to see that it was 3:56 PM and I had yet to stop writing, I looked at my Fit Bit….495 steps… Yep, not 1,495 or 4, 495, 495 steps.. so sad…

I’ve talked about balance many times, but have realized just how hard this is to achieve. I know that I am a “go hard and give it your all” type of person, but I have also come to realize that I am not so great at multitasking, and that not spending copious hours to complete a task to the best of my abilities is not an option. I am thankful that I have 2 children who entertain themselves, because that reduces the guilt just a little, but as they play on the iPad for the 4th hour in a row, the guilt weighs in.

Tanya talks about re-evaluating and re-assessing, and this is indeed true throughout all parts of life: in the classroom, in our own studies, when dealing with our children, spouse, etc… I have to learn that it’s ok not to be ‘super-mom’ and ‘super-wife’ all the time, and I know how proud they are of my accomplishments and work ethic. I hope that I am showing my kids the meaning of perseverance and continual learning because I think those are life lessons.

With that being said, it’s time to go throw the baseball, spend some time outside with my kids, get them off the iPad and work on increasing my dismal Fit Bit steps one step at a time!!!

The first attempt at my Lit Review

Here is the first attempt at my Literature Review on the reform of professional development and the move towards professional online communities… I think it’s time for a vacation now!!!!!

The Reform of Professional Development using an

Online Learning Community

 

 

By

Tracey Thorne

Bachelor of Education, 2015

 

 

A Project Submitted in Partial Fulfillment Of the Requirements for the Degree of MASTER OF EDUCATION In the area of

 

 

 

 

 

© Tracey Thorne, 2015

University of Victoria

All rights reserved. This project may not be reproduced in whole or in part, by photocopy or other means, without the permission of the author.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

 

ABSTRACT…………………………………………………………………………………………………….

TABLE Of CONTENTS…………………………………………………………………………………….

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS ………………………………………………………………………………..

CHAPTER ONE: INTRODUCTION OF THE PROJECT

            Introduction………………………………………………………………………

            Project Overview…………………………………………………………………

            Literature Review…………………………………………………………………

            Conclusion………………………………………………………………………..

CHAPTER TWO: LITERATURE REVIEW AND CONCEPTUAL FRAMEWORK

Introduction…………………………………………………………………………………………..

Principles of Community of Practice and Social Capital Theories…………

Traditional Professional Development………………………………………….

Continuance of Teacher Isolation…………………………………………………

PLC’s and the Integration of Technology………………………………………..

Social and Collaborative Aspects of Online Communities…………………

            Continuous Learning and Reflection……………………………………………

            Role of the Facilitator………………………………………………………………

            Issues with Online Community Integration ……………………………………

Conclusion…………………………………………………………………………..

CHAPTER TWO: LITERATURE REVIEW AND CONCEPTUAL

FRAMEWORK

Introduction

In the 21st century, as becoming a digital citizen is necessary in the workplace and, therefore in education, professional learning communities are continuing to become integral in teacher training, as the curriculum and needs of the students is becoming more diverse. Schools must change as the technological demands are becoming more intense, and as our culture continues to evolve based around that technology. With that technology availability, there is more emphasis on creating social networks, and educators are becoming more reliant on that technology to build their PLN’s (Personal learning networks), gain ideas and insight on teaching practices, and access resources for the classroom based on individual needs and interests. However, teachers need to get past that technology in order to gain insightful and deep learning opportunities. Professional development for educators has started to shift from traditional, and out-dated face to face, top down approaches to online, self-initiated, bottom-up, specified learning, and teachers are beginning to focus on continual learning through online, professional networks and communities in order to gain the support and knowledge needed to teach effectively in the 21st century. With these communities, the importance of social ties, and trust comes to the forefront, as educators need to feel comfortable in investing their time into a productive atmosphere and leaders emerge as the means of the facilitation and guidance of the community, as they will need to help guide and redirect concerns as they emerge.

 

Principles of Communities of Practice and Social Capital Theory

Situated Learning (Community of Practice)

Situated Learning (Community of Practice) is a theory that addresses this shift in professional development in education. The Situated learning theory, which coined “Community of Practice”, emerged with the efforts of Wenger and Lave. Community of practice is described as “an activity system about which participants share understandings concerning what they are doing and what that means in their lives and for the community. Thus they are united in both action and in the meaning that that action has, both for themselves and the larger collective. (Lave and Wenger, 1991, p. 98) As the theory continued to develop, Wenger expanded on the original definition to “include groups of people who share a work setting, a concern, a set of problems, or a passion about a topic and who deepen their knowledge and expertise by interacting with each other over time.” (Coutts, 2010 as cited in Wenger 2002). With regards to education, this theory supports the emerging need of teachers to share in a collective atmosphere in order to build their PLN, expand on resources, and gain ideas from others in the same profession on an ongoing basis. There is emphasis on “the importance of a shared repertoire of practices that is emergent from mutual engagement in reflective dialogues.” (Daphnee & Shaari, 2012) Reflecting, and sharing learning will continue to build on the initial Community of Practice created within a professional atmosphere. Teachers are starting to shift their mentalities in order to create an ‘open door’ network to continually improve teaching practices.

As far back as 1929, John Dewey argued that social moulding and community were integral in education. He believed in experience through living. He stated that education “is a process of living and not a preparation for future living.” (Dewey, 1929) Learning should take place in the ‘real world’ with actual organic experiences, relationships and communication. In education, teachers are beginning to embrace this way of learning, as there is a vested interest in learning from knowledgeable teachers in the field. Participation, sharing in a ‘best practice’ situation, reflecting, improving and learning from teachers’ actual experiences is becoming more common, as teachers are beginning to embrace the positive outcomes of collaboration, and in turn, the betterment of learning for their students.

‘Community of Practice’, coined by Wenger and Lave in 1998. suggests that communities of practice “are the basic building blocks of a social learning system because they are social ‘containers’ of the competences that make up such a system.” (Wenger, 2000) Those competences are based on three elements. The first one is joint enterprise where participants maintain the community with an understanding of its direction and holding each other accountable for its development. The second is based on ‘mutual engagement’ where participants build on trust and create relationships through engagement. The third is that the community has a ‘shared repertoire of communal resources’, and that participants can share resources and be responsible with accessed resources. (Wenger, 2000; Seo, 2014) Humans have a need to belong, and in an educational sense, it is a need to “make a contribution to a community, and to understand that experience and knowledge are part of community property.” (Lieberman & Mace, 2010) By joining and participating in a community of practice, educators can gain expertise, share their own ideas, promote collaboration and give support, and learn from each other based on material that will specifically help their needs in their situation. (Wang, 2012; Tsai, 2012) While the term ‘community’ can be an overused expression, Communities of Practice are very specific in that over a period of time, educators are sharing their learnings, discussing problems and solutions, and building on their knowledge base. (Seo, 2014) In brief, Communities of Practice are a group who “learn together by focusing on problems that are directly related to their work.” (Wenger & Snyder, 2000)

Social Capital Theory

Social capital theory, which focuses more on the desire for social connections within a community, was modernly analysed by Pierre Bourdieu. He defined social capital theory as “the aggregate of the actual or potential resources which are linked to possession of a durable network of more or less institutionalized relationships of mutual acquaintance or recognition.” (Bourdieu, 1985, p. 248) Bourdieu focused on not just the participation within a group, but the deliberate social connections created with the developed community. There are 2 integral elements to this theory: the social relationship between those connecting to share resources, and the actual quality and volume of those resources. (Portes, 1998). Tie strength is “a combination of reciprocal relationships, collective identification, trustworthiness, and expectations inherent in a closed social network. Such a sense of belonging and reciprocity increases the awareness of others’ expertise as well as the opportunity for peer appraisal of work quality, which serve to enhance work performance.” (Cross & Borgatti, 2004; Michaeilova & Hutchings, 2006) However, the manifestation, and development of social capital within a community is very much dependent on those who are part of the actual network. (Hofman, 2010) Wenger (1998) echoes this statement in saying that the success of a community of practice is determined by its own members. Each individual must be willing to contribute to the group, and in turn, their actions will be supported. Strong connections, support, acceptance and open sharing can help members in a community grow, trust, and reciprocate what they have received. However, unwillingness to share, participate, or positively contribute to a community can cause negativity within a community, and eventually cause non-productivity. Facilitators need to be aware of ‘shadow issues’, which can be developed when mutual trust has not been created. Starting with supportive social ties, however, can limit the ‘wayward’ behaviours and allow members to continue to be privy to shared resources and support. (Portes,1998)

Traditional Professional Development

According to Darling-Hammond (1994), the professional development of teachers “is a process of enhancing teachers’ status through increased awareness and an expanding knowledge base.” (Lindberg, 2009). Yet, professional development has been stagnant for so many years. Teachers continue to go through the paces of choosing from a limited selection of workshops on the professional development Fridays, a day where many part-time teachers do not work, when the development session may not have any significant impact on their own classroom needs. The ‘one-shot’ workshops, usually lead by an external source, have little connection to classrooms, with minimal, if any coaching or follow-up, and therefore minimal impact on educators, and the ‘one-size fits all’ does not account for different teaching styles, needs, or contexts. (Hofman & Dijkstra, 2010; Lieberman & Mace, 2010; Beach, 2012; Liu, 2012; Holmes 2013; Seo, 2014) There are often gaps between what has been taught and the actual practice in the classrooms. (So & Kim, 2013) Preparing quality teachers is considered to be one of the most important factors affecting the performance of our students. (Rivkin, Hanushek & Kain, 2005). However, teachers are unable to focus on specific learning for the specific needs of teachers, and professional workshops are then seen as a ‘waste of time.’ (Lieberman & Mace, 2010; Beach, 2012; Liu, 2012; Holmes 2013; Seo, 2014) which does not provide the desired quality development. In additions to the problems with ‘top-down’ professional development approaches, segregated and separated classrooms also make it challenging for teachers to share and interact professionally with colleagues. The focus on the ‘one way transmission of information’ has only reinforced the individual teacher focus, “eschewing the familiar attitude of every teacher for himself or herself within the sanctuary of his or her classroom.” (Allen, 2013) Time and cost are also major issues, as there is limited time dedicated to collaboration, there is no budget to pay for necessary expenses, and teachers find it difficult to fit in additional time to connect during their busy work schedules. (Seo, 2013; Keown, 2009) Teachers are reluctant to travel, and the cost, both monetary and for travel, discourages teachers from wanting to engage and participate in professional development. (McConnel, 2012;2013) Furthermore, when teachers are mandated to connect with others, collaborate, or even participate in what might be beneficial professional development, they often feel that it is obligatory, and that it is keeping them from their ‘real work’, which is imminent and pressing. (Adamson, 2011) If educators are aware of the reform needed for professional development to be more effective, why are they not the ones to make more of the decisions based on the direction of PD? Too often, educators’ voices are missing when it comes to professional development. (Twining et al.,  2013)

Continuance of Teacher Isolation

With the current state of professional development, educators find themselves attending workshops on their own, and working in a closed-door, individual effort, classroom environment. It has been the expectation that teachers work in isolation from other educators. (Liu, 2012) With limited access to colleagues for advice, problem solving, and sharing strategies, many teachers begin to feel discouraged, defeated, and spent. (Dodor, Sira, & Hausafus, 2010) Time during school hours, is a precious commodity, and teachers do not often have hours built into their schedules for collaboration with colleagues. There just isn’t the time to have meaningful conversations. (Hadar & Brody, 2010; Hur & Brush, 2009) Educators’ schedules are filled with trying to “engage students, use time with students effectively, and address the issues students bring to the classroom from their lives beyond the school walls.” (Rodesiler et al., 2014). Unfortunately, with a closed classroom, teachers often do not reach out for help or for the direction needed to address much needed change in their teaching practice. (Trust, 2012)

From as early as the 1980’s, there has been a push for collaboration from policy makers, but also from educators themselves. (Lindberg & Olafsson, 2009) Researchers have questioned the efficiency of professional isolation, and they started to look at collegiality and collaboration.  (Little, 1982, 1986) Educators who were able to build a professional relationship over time showed a stronger commitment to one another and to the further development of their learning. (Little, 1982, 1986) By learning together, and building connections, teachers can “become less isolated and more inclined to discuss new ideas… solve problems that arise… and form a support system to foster new ideas.” (Vavasseur & MacGregor, 2008)

PLC’s and the integration of Technology

One way to address the problem of teacher isolation has been the development of professional learning communities. In definition, a professional learning community (PLC) is “ a group of people sharing and critically interrogating their practice in an ongoing, reflective, collaborative, inclusive, learning-oriented growth promoting way; operating as a collective enterprise.” (Stoll et al. 2006, p. 223) Coutts and McArdle (2010) suggest that there are eight major characteristics to an effective professional learning community: shared vision and values, group responsibility for the learning of students, collaboration, collective and individual contributions, a sense of openness, reflection, an inclusive atmosphere, and trust, support and mutual respect. For shared vision and values in the field of education, veteran teachers, and teachers wanting to share and learn new strategies are able to share experiences and strategies for classroom changes over many years with one another. (So, 2013) Shared interests and desired classroom needs are often a driving force for a professional community. This is the driving force that encourages teachers to continually return to and share with the community. (Holmes, 2013) As individuals begin to join the community and contribute their ideas, collaboration and collective creation starts to occur. Collaboration, including sourcing out specific problems or ideas, and then implementing those ideas into practice, evaluating the progress, and then reflecting on the positives and negatives of teaching and learning through reflection is instrumental in building on a community (So, 2013; Seo, 2014; Trust, 2012) With collaborative advice or suggestions, teachers learn how to become more effective, and educators begin to critique and improve their own delivery of instruction, which, in turn, benefits the students. (So, 2013)

It is important to keep in mind, however, that being part of the community is not a competition as to whose lesson is better, or one teacher being superior to another. It is about starting the conversation about professional reform in teaching. It is about recreating the lunchroom conversations, where teachers can ask each other their opinions, suggestions, or access feedback and praise. (Lieberman & Mace, 2010) It’s about building the trust and respect between members so that they will continue to invest in the community, which will be talked about more in detail later on in the paper. Unfortunately, while face-to-face professional learning communities can be beneficial and effective as PD, teachers continue to be faced with the problem of time and place. (Cifuentes, 2011)

The emergence of technology and the easy access to that technology has been one way to create a solution to this problem. With the integration of technology, those learning communities are customized for particular groups, created online and they can be accessed from anyplace at anytime, and while educators may not have time during ‘school hours’ to discuss, share and reflect with colleagues, they can access the same supportive community and resources from the comfort of their own homes. (El-Hani & Greca, 2013) Technology has allowed for ease of access and for infinite sources of knowledge in a rapidly changing learning environment. (Seo, 2012) It provides convenience. Collaboration is still the focus, but the convenience of the Internet allows for that collaboration to spread quickly among educators. (Seo & Han, 2013)

The top-down professional workshop approach is slowly shifting to a more bottom-up, wholesome, teacher-created system, where teachers address the real needs that they are facing in their real-life classroom experiences. (Holmes, 2013) It is important to keep in mind though that technology, unless it is the focus of the discussion, is simply a vehicle for learning to happen. These “technological innovations are not the destination but the means by which the leap is made.” (Lieberman & Mace, 2010) In other words, the focus of online professional development should not be solely on the technology used, but the learning that can take place with the technology as the platform. (Twining, 2013) While it may take some time for there to be comfort in using the tech to access information, once those barriers are overcome, teachers can truly invest and collaborate with one another in an asynchronous, time-friendly environment. (Cifuentes, 2011; Liu, 2012; Ryman et al. 2009) As a result, the learning becomes authentic, as teachers are able to participate in actual meaningful conversations. (Ryman et al. 2009)

Social and collaborative aspects of online communities

What makes a successful online learning community? It’s human nature to want to be part of a community. We want to avoid isolation, but there must be mutual trust in order to avoid the fear of rejection (Ryman et al. 2009) A learning community builds on mutual feelings, hopes and vision. In particular, teacher learning communities build on respect, understanding, and creating a dependence on trust and reliability. The focus needs to be on “we-ness” (Roseler, 2013) However, this ‘we-ness” takes time to develop. There must be an emphasis at the beginning of the online community creation to allow for interpersonal professional relationships to build. Teachers will not take risks if they don’t trust, and therefore they will not engage in the contribution of the community. The commitment to the group will stay strong, as long as the participants feel valued. (Borg, 2012;2011; McConnell et al. 2013;2012) Emotional support, whether it is given or received, creates online friendships, which in turn builds on the trust between members, (Seo & Han, 2013) and furthermore adds to the desired welcoming and relaxed environment crucial to engagement. (Vavasseur, 2008)

Interdependence, the reliance on one another, in an online community helps to create a constructive, yet supportive environment. Yet, this interdependence “can only be established once members have a sense of one another through social presence, and an established learning purpose created through authentic learning experiences.” (Ryman et al., 2009, p. 33) The magnitude of social presence will predict how well participants connect with one another. Network ties provide a ‘sense of responsibility’ amongst members. The greater those ties are, the more positively the beliefs are about the community, and the more the members want to contribute. (So, 2013)  As trust continues to build, and relationships continue to take shape over time, those who may have stayed in the shadows as ‘lurkers’, “participants who read and observe, getting often involved in legitimate peripheral participation, but do not contribute much in an explicit manner” (El-Hani & Greca, 2013, p. 1345) may start to feel comfortable enough to truly invest and share their own thoughts and resources. In this case, “social capital represents the affective attributes of relationships that endure beyond an individual interaction and accumulate to support greater levels of trust, respect, intimacy and ultimately group effectiveness.” (Ryman et al. 2009) Without trust, the community will struggle as educators will not invest their time or energy into a hub where they do not feel connected. With time and trust, constructive criticism may even begin to take place. This can then lead “to the further development of social capital because the group becomes more confident [and] it can use all of its resources to meet challenges of constructive controversy within the interdependent context. (Ryman et al. 2009) Constructive criticism can lead to reflection, and the continual betterment of lessons. As teachers begin to see positive results in and out of their classrooms with positive relationships, connections, and support, they will continue to invest in the community.

With developing trust, educators are more keen to support other members by contributing and sharing resources with peers of common interests. There are 4 major reasons and motivators for educators to share openly in their online communities (Hew & Hara, 2007):

  1. Collectivism – educators contribute for the overall success of the group
  2. Reciprocity – educators want to share and contribute because they have received help and support and they want to reciprocate
  3. Personal gain – Sharing with others helps them, in turn, gain new knowledge for themselves
  4. Altruism – Educators can empathize with one another as they have similar demands, struggles and stories to share

By sharing, and contributing both emotionally and with the sharing of resources, educators continue to build on their PLN’s (Personal Learning Networks) (Beach, 2012) and improve upon their skills, knowledge and practice in the classroom, as a result of implementing new ideas. (Hofman, 2010; Seo & Han, 2013)  Members will continue to share when they can be assured of the mutual benefits emotionally and with resources. (Tseng & Kuo, 2014) Over time, the primary goal will not be merely sharing with the community. What began as simply sharing knowledge and resources will turn into more of a ‘collective creation’ where teachers can exchange ideas, and create and collaborate on lessons. (So, 2013) Having a peer, professional perspective or co-creator of a lesson can bring in new, fresh ideas and perspectives to an individual’s original concept.

Continuous learning and reflection

Historically, professional development has been time and date specific. Often, if teachers do not work on the specific PD days, there is limited, designated opportunity for professional development. Educators need to become ‘lifelong learners’ where they can gain knowledge and share at their own convenience. As the implementation of technology is quickly changing, and the curriculum in order to prepare our students for their future learning is evolving, the standards of both teaching and learning are continually being redefined. (Liu, 2012; Wang & Lu, 2012) Online professional communities of practice allow for teachers to find answers and share knowledge for everyday situations. (Tseng & Kuo, 2014) With sustained support over time, continuous education allows the focus to be on specific, sought after ideas, and social support, that will help teachers refine and improve their everyday lessons. (Holmes, 2013; McConnel et al., 2013; 2012) With the ongoing support of a community, educators gain confidence to try out new, cutting edge ideas in their classrooms and then ask for feedback for further improvement. (Cifuentes et al. 2011) Teachers will continue to invest in their communities and in continuous professional development if they see positive results from their actions. As teachers continue to build on their learning communities, they start to create a ‘learning habit’ of wanting to increase their knowledge from other members. This results in the investment of learning improvement and the desire to gain more insight on a regular, continual basis. (So & Kim, 2013) If educators believe it will improve their effectiveness, that they can focus on specific classroom needs and that their students will learn more effectively and show significant improvements in their learning, the investment of time and energy to PD will continue. (Holmes, 2013) Furthermore, with continuous learning, the opportunity presents itself for veteran teachers to help guide newcomers, for the collective brainstorming and solutions to what was once believed an insurmountable task, and “to consider teaching not as a magical calling but as a complex profession that can be refined over time.” (Lieberman & Mace, 2010, p. 85)

Part of this lifelong journey is also the ability and willingness to reflect on both successes and failures. Reflecting on practice is not a new concept. In 1910, Dewey talked about the importance of reflection.

Active, persistent and careful consideration of any belief or supposed form of knowledge in the light of the grounds that support it and the further conclusions to which is tends, constitutes reflective thought. (Dewey, 1910)

Sense making and personal reflection allows for educators to be aware of their own strengths and weaknesses. Lindberg expands on this by suggesting that “a reflective attitude is necessary for ongoing professional self-development. Professional development cannot be forced. The teacher has to be open to engage in reflective dialogues, to take personal responsibility and not to leave it to others.” (Lindberg & Olafsson, 2009, p. 9 ) Self-reflection, however, is only the first step to continuous teacher improvement. Once teachers are comfortable with inward analysis, they need to extend beyond the walls of their own classroom and reach out for advice from others, particularly from others within their communities. Ng and Tan (2009) delve into the impact of communities of practice and reflection for teachers. They argue that “communities of practice should move from sense-making that is too technical and narrow to enable and empower teachers to become creators of new knowledge and teacher practices, to critical reflective learning.” (Ng & Tan, 2009) Communities of practice can be the perfect setting for providing outside perspectives and suggestions. They allow for educators to look back on their progress, and develop a heightened sense of professional confidence by reflecting on their growth from their original teaching designs, to those done collaboratively and with tweaks and changes. (Coutts & McArdle, 2010) Equally, however, reflection needs to be shared with others, and that by challenging others thinking, in a respectful manner, continuous learning and improvements will only grow further, and in turn, lessons can become more memorable, which can help students succeed. (Beach, 2012) Educators need to stay on the cutting edge of their practice, while both reflecting and experimenting with new ideas, and then sharing those insights with others. This will not only promote personal growth, but improvements to the teaching practices of others in the community. (Frick et al. 2009)

Building social ties and connections in a community helps to build trust, as previously discussed, “but without the opportunity for learning to occur through critique, there is no point in membership” (Prestridge, 2010) and that both critical feedback as well as support are absolutely integral in order to grow professionally, in a social manner, and personally. (Lindberg & Olafsson, 2009) Reflection, however, must have a purpose. ‘Priority, relevance and insight’ need to be present when it comes to professional development and reflection must have purposeful action to remain of importance, and to encourage continuous investment in these methods. (Coutts & McArdle, 2010)

Role of the Facilitator

If online learning communities can decrease isolation, expand on learning networks, create social ties, and aid in continuous education and reflection, then why are there so many that fail, or seem to start strong and fizzle out quickly? Communities require a lot of work and maintenance. They are shared resources and a lot of the responsibilities will fall on the community members. (Tseng & Kuo, 2014) The teachers need to feel that they are equal as far as shared leadership in the community. If they do not feel valued, they may opt out of investing their time and energy into helping others. However, at first, there needs to be a strong leader/coordinator/facilitator to help organize the community and promote discussions. (So & Kim, 2013)

A strong facilitator is integral to the start-up of the community. Teachers need to feel welcomed, particularly new teachers, and social ties need to be encouraged and given time to develop. (McCluskey et al., 2011) It is “essential for managers of CoP’s to develop mechanisms to help members to strengthen their ties with peers without fear of criticism from their supervisors or other professionals.” (Tseng & Kuo, 2014, p. 44 ) Mak and Pun (2015) also refer to the need to address frustrations and to help encourage team spirit.

The responsibility of defining community expectations and norms also falls on the facilitator. These expectations may include guiding appropriate resources and effective collaboration skills and roles (Beach, 2012) guiding possible content, yet at the same time not taking full control over the direction of the group, but not leaving too much of the responsibility to the members. (Hofman & Dijkstra, 2010) It is a fine balance between shared and directive leadership. Facilitators need to also be aware of ‘lurkers’, or as Lave and Wenger refer to them as ‘silent participators’ or ‘legitimate peripheral participators.’ (Lave & Wenger, 1991) ‘Lurkers’, while still participating in the community, will do so from the outside until they feel comfortable enough to engage and contribute. (El Hani & Greca, 2013; Kreijns et al. 2013; Seo & Han, 2013) With the continual encouragement of social connections and trust, as mentioned before, these ‘lurkers’ will hopefully become all-in, invested participants. ‘Shadow’ issues must also be at the forefront of the facilitator’s mind. Shadow issues are “psychological issues which inform negative behaviours that can inhibit interaction and individual expression.” (Ryman et al. 2009, p. 40 ) If confidence and trust wavers, and participants are no longer willing to contribute to a community due to ‘shadow’ issues, the community will slowly fall apart.

Communities, over time, need to survive without the continuous direction from those who launched it… leadership can change. This can cause some discomfort with the members, as it does take awhile to ‘change old habits’ and teachers have been so used to the ‘top-down’ professional development approaches, that learning to take on joint responsibility for a community can be uncomfortable at first. (El-Hani & Greca, 2013) Ryman et al. (2009) talks about transformative learning “where individuals are critically aware of their own assumptions and are able to assess their relevance to the community. Deep transformative learning can occur within a community when the right environmental factors are present to establish a strong sense of community.”  In other words, members, once aware of their roles in the community, will be able to take over responsibilities and the community will then become more of a joint effort. Ryman et al. also talks about interdependency, and that there is still a focus on individuals, but it is what they gain as a group by coming together, and that goals become centered around a ‘common purpose.’ Goal and task interdependence are both crucial when designing an online learning community. Goal interdependence is the “extent to which group members believe they are assigned group goals or given group feedback” and task interdependence is the “extent to which an individual team member needs information, materials and support from other team members to be able to carry out his or her job.” (Somech, 2008, p. 365) Community members need to know their place within the group as individuals, but also as collective membership within that group.

Issues with online community integration

As with many platforms, there are always stumbling blocks that need to be overcome in order to create a successful environment. First and foremost, in an online community, the actual technology can be a burden and is often a ‘hoop to jump through’ in order to invest in the community. For some teachers, they feel like the tech is such an overbearing obstacle that they couldn’t bother investing the time and energy, often which will be on their own, after-school hours. (Holmes, 2013; Khalid et al. 2014) From personal experience, without the aid of a tech coach, who has more time to troubleshoot and provide suggestions, many teachers feel overwhelmed with trying to learn new technologies whether it is for an online community, or for lessons themselves.

As previously mentioned, a strong coordinator/facilitator is integral to the start-up of the community.  The coordinator must help to organize the community and foster the development and creation of professional relationships in an inviting atmosphere. (McCluskey et al. 2011; Khalid et al. 2014) Without strong guidance, which eventually can transform into shared leadership, the community will struggle with direction and a sense of purpose.

Extending from a strong coordinator, trust must be encouraged and established. Without mutual trust, participants will not feel comfortable sharing or engaging in the online community (Khalid et al. 2014) Without trust, acceptance and reliance on one another will be extremely challenging.

There is always the concern of the creation of ‘niches’ within the community and not complete acceptance of all members. At times, there is reluctance to share with new members, as participants have made connections with others, and are unwilling to let new members into their ‘circle’. (Khalid et al. 2014) These ‘cliques can make educators feel like they are not wanted or valued. Teachers tend to connect with like-minded individuals, or with those with similar grade content, and therefore there may be some members who feel like they are outsiders, like they don’t fit into the community, and that they cannot find a common thread with anyone else. (Cifuentes et al. 2011; McCluskey et al. 2011)

Many teachers take such pride in their ability to teach and in their students, that they will often become defensive when given suggestions for improvement. They do not want to seem inadequate at their job. There is often the fear of ‘nothing to add’ or ‘limited experience’ which leads to limited confidence. (Khalid et al. 2014) Participants in an online learning community need to be open to these suggestions, and have the desire to improve. (So & Kim, 2013) Often, teachers are reluctant to provide advice or possible tweaks to a lesson because they don’t want to scrutinize other teachers, and they don’t want to be scrutinized themselves. (Coutts & McArdle, 2010) Therefore, “reflection on practice often fails to get started, or lacks any depth or substance, or quickly falters and stalls altogether.” (Coutts & McArdle, 2010,  p. 205) Many members will share materials online, but those materials are rarely revised and reposted, which limits the amount of continual growth as professionals and in actual resource development. (Seo & Han, 2013) Educators need to realize that the benefits of sharing, reflection and revising far outweigh the fear of doing so. Teachers, and as a result students, will both benefit from the confident and ‘put your pride aside’ investment in an online community.

Continued investment in the community, however, depends on the usefulness of the community. If teachers feel like they are not gaining any useful information, or developing strong connections with other members, they will most likely choose to opt out.  Traditional professional development has been critiqued because the material is often not targeted for specific needs to specific teachers in their specific classroom situations. Therefore, if the online community is not providing this, members will not invest their time and energy into the community’s maintenance and continuation. (So & Kim, 2013; Twining et al. 2013; Khalid et al. 2014)

Lastly, sustainability can also be an issue within a community. Members come and go, and when certain members are integral to the flow and success of the group, their departure can create a large void that may be difficult to recover from. Often, conversations within a group will be initiated by a small group of participants, and others do not feel quite as comfortable stepping up to the positions necessary to maintain the flow.
Conclusion

In conclusion, top-down professional development approaches actually deprofessionalize teachers, and a model to address their concerns, the ones who are actually teaching, would be more effective for professional development. (Roseler & Dentzau, 2013) With technology at our fingertips, online professional learning communities have emerged as a way to provide the development of social ties and support and resource sharing, which reduces isolation, and eliminates the time and space barriers as it can be accessed at anytime, anywhere. (Seo & Han, 2013; Khalid et al. 2014) From “ a teacher professional development point of view, the finding imply that creating an environment where teachers freely share issues and emotions and receive appropriate advice and support is critical.” (Hur & Brush, 2009  p. 298) Based on Social Capital Theory within the Community of Practice, social ties and social connections are integral to the success of the community, as trust is a major factor to the initial participation, sharing, and reflection of lessons and ideas. As these communities thrive, professional development becomes a continual process, rather than a ‘one-shot workshop’ and educators can address issues, or insights as they arise. There is no fear of ‘disturbing others’ during busy schedules, as online communities are asynchronous. However, educators need to continue to adjust their beliefs that critique is purely negative, as professional critical reflection is absolutely essential to the improvement of thought and of lessons, and in the end, the students and teachers will be the ones who gain the benefits of this reflection and revision. Online professional communities do not just create themselves, however, and they cannot simply be left to run on their own once they have been created. There is a strong need for a facilitator at the start, and while that leadership can change overtime, the boundaries and expectations need to be set and issues such as cliques, ‘shadow psychological’ issues, promoting trust and acceptance, and encouraging thoughtful and deep reflection. Are there personal risks that one may take when joining an online community, such as personal pride, acceptance and concern of criticism, yes. But by not taking these risks, professional development lacks growth, and in a world changing as quickly as ours is, and with a crucial need to educate our students for what they may face in the future, our students depend on these changes.

REFERENCES

 

Adamson, B., & Walker, E. (2011). Messy collaboration: Learning from a learning study. Teaching and Teacher Education, 27(1), 29-36. doi:10.1016/j.tate.2010.06.024

Allen, D. (2013). Reconstructing professional learning community as collective creation. Improving Schools, 16(3), 191-208.

Beach, R. (2012). Can online learning communities foster professional development? Language Arts, 89(4), 256.

Borg, T. (2012; 2011). The evolution of a teacher community of practice: Identifying facilitating and constraining factors. Studies in Continuing Education, 34(3), 301-17. doi:10.1080/0158037X.2011.622717

Cifuentes, L., Maxwell, G., & Bulu, S. (2011). Technology integration through professional learning community. Journal of Educational Computing Research, 44(1), 59-82. doi:10.2190/EC.44.1.d

Coutts, N., & McArdle, K. (2010). Taking teachers’ continuous professional development (CPD) beyond reflection: Adding shared sense-making and collaborative engagement for professional renewal. Studies in Continuing Education, 32(3), 201-215. doi:10.1080/0158037X.2010.517994

Cross, R., & Borgatti, S. P. (2004). The ties that share: relational characteristics that facilitate information seeking. In M. Huysman, & V. Wulf (Eds.), Social capital and information technology. Cambridge, Mass: The MIT Press.

Daphnee H L Lee, & Shaari, I. (2012). Professional identity or best practices? An exploration of the synergies between professional learning communities and communities of practices. Creative Education, 3(4), 457-460. doi:10.4236/ce.2012.34070

Dewey, J (1910) How we think. New York: D.C. Heath & Company. Retrieved from: http://www.globalgrey.co.uk/how-we-think/, pgs. 1-234

Dewey, J. (1929). My pedagogic creed. In D. Flinders & S. Thornton (Eds.), The Curriculum Studies Reader (pp. 34 – 41). New York: Routledge.

Dodor, B. A., Sira, N., & Hausafus, C. O. (2010). Breaking down the walls of teacher isolation. Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences Education, 28 (1), 1-12.

El-Hani, C. N., & Greca, I. M. (2013). ComPratica: A virtual community of practice for promoting biology teachers’ professional development in brazil. Research in Science Education, 43(4), 1327-1359. doi:10.1007/s11165-012-9306-1

Frick, W. C., Polizzi, J. A., & Frick, J. E. (2009). Aspiring to a Continuous Learning Ethic: Building Authentic Learning Communities for Faculty and Administration. Educational Leadership and Administration: Teaching and Program Development, 21, 7-26.

Hadar, L., & Brody, D. (2010). From isolation to symphonic harmony: Building a professional development community among teacher educators. Teaching and Teacher Education, 26(8), 1641-1651. doi:10.1016/j.tate.2010.06.015

Hew, K.K, & Hara, N. (2007). Empirical study of motivators and barriers of teacher online knowledge sharing. Educational Technology Research and Development, 55(6), 573-595.

Hofman, R. H., & Dijkstra, B. J. (2010). Effective teacher professionalization in networks? Teaching and Teacher Education, 26(4), 1031-1040. doi:10.1016/j.tate.2009.10.046

Holmes, B. (2013). School teachers’ continuous professional development in an online learning community: Lessons from a case study of an eTwinning learning event. European Journal of Education, 48(1), 97-112. doi:10.1111/ejed.12015

Hur, J. W., & Brush, T. A. (2009). Teacher participation in online communities: Why do teachers want to participate in self-generated online communities of K-12 teachers? Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 41(3), 279.

Keown, P. (2009). The tale of two virtual teacher professional development modules. International Research in Geographical and Environmental Education, 18(4), 295-303. doi:10.1080/10382040903251166

Khalid, F., Joyes, G., Ellison, L., & Daud, M. Y. (2014). Factors influencing teachers’ level of participation in online communities. International Education Studies, 7(13), 23. doi:10.5539/ies.v7n13p23

Lave, J., & Wenger, E. (1991). Situated learning: Legitimate peripheral participation. Cambridge university press.

Lieberman, A., & Pointer Mace, D. (2010). Making practice public: Teacher learning in the 21st century. Journal of Teacher Education, 61(1-2), 77-88. doi:10.1177/0022487109347319

Lindberg, O., & Olafsson, A. (2009) Online learning communities and teacher professional development; methods for improved education delivery. Information Science Reference. Portland: Ringgold Inc., 24(4), 1-19.

Little, J. W. (1982). Norms of collegiality and experimentation: Workplace conditions of school success. American Educational Research Journal, 19(3), 325-340. doi:10.2307/1162717

Little, J. W. (1986). Seductive images and organizational realities in professional development. In Al Lieberman and L. Miller (Eds.), Rethinking school improvement: Research, craft and concept. New York: Teachers College Press, 26-44

Liu, K. Y. (2012). A design framework for online teacher professional development communities. Asia Pacific Education Review, 13(4), 701-711. doi:10.1007/s12564-012-9230-0

Mak, B., & Pun, S. (2015). Cultivating a teacher community of practice for sustainable professional development: Beyond planned efforts. Teachers and Teaching, 21(1), 4-21. doi:10.1080/13540602.2014.928120

McCluskey, K., Sim, C., & Johnson, G. (2011). Imagining a profession: A beginning teacher’s story of isolation. Teaching Education, 22(1), 79-90. doi:10.1080/10476210.2010.542807

McConnell, T. J., Parker, J. M., Eberhardt, J., Koehler, M. J., & Lundeberg, M. A. (2013; 2012). Virtual professional learning communities: Teachers’ perceptions of virtual versus face-to-face professional development. Journal of Science Education and Technology, 22(3), 267-277. doi:10.1007/s10956-012-9391-y

Michailova, S., & Hutchings, K. (2006). National cultural influences on knowledge sharing: a comparison of china and Russia. Journal of Management Studies, 43(3), 383–405.

Ng, P.T.N., and C. Tan. (2009). Community of practice for teachers: Sense making or critical reflective learning. Reflective Practice 10(1),  37-44.

Omidvar, O., Kislov, R., & Wenger-Trayner, E. (2014). The evolution of the communities of practice approach: Toward knowledgeability in a landscape of practice ; an interview with Etienne Wenger-Trayner. Journal of Management Inquiry, 23(3), 266-275. doi:10.1177/1056492613505908

Prestridge, S. (2010). ICT professional development for teachers in online forums: Analysing the role of discussion. Teaching and Teacher Education, 26(2), 252-258. doi:10.1016/j.tate.2009.04.004

Rivkin, S. G., Hanushek, E. A., & Kain, J. F. (2005). Teachers, schools, and academic achievement. Econometrica, 73(2), 417-458. doi:10.1111/j.1468-0262.2005.00584.x

Rodesiler, L., Rami, M., Anderson, G., Minnich, C., Kelley, B., & Andersen, S. (2014). Transforming professional lives through online participation. English Journal, 103(6), 52.

Roseler, K., & Dentzau, M. W. (2013). Teacher professional development: A different perspective. Cultural Studies of Science Education, 8(3), 619-622. doi:10.1007/s11422-013-9493-8

Ryman, S., Burrell, L., Hardham, G., Richardson, B., & Ross, J. (2009). Creating and sustaining online learning communities: Designing for transformative learning. International Journal of Pedagogies and Learning, 5(3), 32-45. doi:10.5172/ijpl.5.3.32

Seo, K. (2014). Professional learning of observers, collaborators, and contributors in a teacher-created online community in korea. Asia Pacific Journal of Education,34(3), 337-350. doi:10.1080/02188791.2013.860004

Seo, K., & Han, Y. (2013). Online teacher collaboration: a case study of voluntary collaboration in a teacher-created online community. KEDI Journal of Educational Policy, 10(2), 221-242.

So, K., & Kim, J. (2013). Informal inquiry for professional development among teachers within a self-organized learning community: A case study from south korea. International Education Studies, 6(3), 105. doi:10.5539/ies.v6n3p105

Somech, A. (2008). Managing conflict in school teams: The impact of task and goal interdependence on conflict management and team effectiveness. Educational Administration Quarterly, 44(3), 359-390.

Stoll, L., Bolam, R., McMahon, A., Wallace, M., & Thomas, A. (2006). Professional learning communities: A review of the literature. Journal of Educational Change, 7, 221–258.

Trust, T. (2012). Professional learning networks designed for teacher learning. Journal of Digital Learning in Teacher Education, 28(4), 133.

Tsai, I. (2012). Understanding social nature of an online community of practice for learning to teach. Educational Technology & Society, 15(2), 271.

Tseng, F., & Kuo, F. (2014). A study of social participation and knowledge sharing in the teachers’ online professional community of practice. Computers & Education, 72, 37-47. doi:10.1016/j.compedu.2013.10.005

Twining, P., Raffaghelli, J., Albion, P., & Knezek, D. (2013). Moving education into the digital age: The contribution of teachers’ professional development. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 29(5), 426-437. doi:10.1111/jcal.12031

Vavasseur, C. B., & MacGregor, S. K. (2008). Extending content-focused professional development through online communities of practice. Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 40(4), 517.

Wang, Q., & Lu, Z. (2012). A case study of using an online community of practice for teachers’ professional development at a secondary school in china. Learning, Media and Technology, 37(4), 1-18. doi:10.1080/17439884.2012.685077

Wenger, E. (2000). Communities of practice and social learning systems. Organization, 7(2), 225-246. doi:10.1177/135050840072002

We all just want some support

As I shared the admiration I have for my classmates in tiegrad, and closed the cover to my Mac, I continued to think about some of the conversations we just had, literally minutes ago, with @davecormier In his passionate and refreshing ‘say it like it is’ fashion, he stated, “If the people you engage with don’t care, nothing is going to happen.”

I repeated to myself… if people don’t engage, nothing will happen.

This phrase kept repeating itself over and over again in my head, and although it seems obvious that you need people to care and invest to make a difference, my hopes and strong beliefs, although sometime idealistic, are that teachers do care and ultimately want to make a difference for our students, our children and their future.

1793401696_a510030a8c

Lorrie and I are working on the topic of ‘online professional communities as a catalyst for change in professional development.’ While the conversation we had online tonight didn’t seem overly positive about online practices, I do think that giving teachers voices to share with others can only be a positive step.

I am realistic. I know creating an online community of practice is a lot of work. I know from countless readings, that based on our archaic need for top-down leadership, there needs to be someone who helps to organize or guide discussions, at least until the members within the community have built enough trust with one another to feel comfortable leading the way. I know that many participants will simply start as ‘lurkers’ and may never contribute. I know that creating an effective community of practice takes a LONG time. However, I also feel that many teachers feel like they are in this profession alone… that after PDP, much of the support seems to disappear, and that by at least offering a place for engagement there might be a place for new teachers to connect, for experienced teachers to learn and share and for all teachers to gain new ideas and resources. I also believe that creating social, and professional connections is integral to professional growth…. that from the bottom-up, teachers know the ‘real’ challenges in the classroom, and that they need to become part of these conversations.

Dave mentioned that in our Bluejeans group, we most likely learn so much from just simply having conversations with our peers… that without a set plan or a set curriculum, we have grown from our discussions, from our critical reflections, and from asking questions. The social nature of professional development is also something that I am exploring, through social capital theory, and I do believe that tiegrad in many ways is a community of practice with social ties at its helm. We gather each week to share, question, inspire, laugh, and ultimately support each other in our joint journey for masterdom. (Definitely not a word, but I think it should be!) We share similar frustrations, or joys and successes, and I believe we have developed many lifelong friendships, even though many of us have never met face to face. I also believe that, although we may not know of ins and outs of each others’ lives, the friendships and networks that have been created are very real, very genuine, and that we will continue to be a support system for each other in years to come.

While I am realistic about the difficulties Lorrie and I may have ahead in trying to get a community of practice off and running, I want to try to provide the feeling of belonging to others in our district. I want teachers to feel that there is someone who wants to help provide guidance, that there is someone to bounce an idea off of, that there is someone who can share a resource and give reassurance that we are not perfect, and we do not need to be critical of one another. We don’t always have the perfect lessons, or the perfect strategies, but if we continue to help, and think of teaching as a community that needs to support all teachers and students, collectively, our students will be better off with collective thought and action… idealistic maybe… but I’m still holding onto it!

(Photo Credit: <a href=”https://www.flickr.com/photos/25283395@N00/1793401696/”>kitchelcheerful</a&gt; via <a href=”http://compfight.com”>Compfight</a&gt; <a href=”https://www.flickr.com/help/general/#147″>cc</a&gt;)

Letting our guard down…

7790095302_386e880dd8_b

Photo Credit: <a href=”https://www.flickr.com/photos/55955607@N02/7790095302/”>Chiew Pang</a> via <a href=”http://compfight.com”>Compfight</a&gt; <ahref=”https://www.flickr.com/help/general/#147″>cc</a&gt;

Letting our guard down: Letting go of ‘Who I think I need to be’ and focus on ‘Who I know I want to be’

As I continue to read through articles about the reform of professional development, and the absolute need for online communities of practice, for educators in our case, there is a common theme that seems to speak to me.

Scott Preddy mentioned in class last night that there seems to be a shift from teachers who showboat and brag to a more conversational, collaborative focus. This really resonated with me, and allowed to me to reflect on the many ideas scrambling my brain.

Often, a hurdle to a successful online community of practice is the inabllity of teachers to let their guards down, to allow other to see their vulnerabilities, and to invite positive critique to effectively improve their teaching in the long run. This is my fear as Lorrie and I would like to create an online, resource sharing, community where teachers can connect and create networks with fellow colleagues in the district. I am concerned that teachers will not want to engage, post, share, or communicate with others due to fear of criticism.

As Scott spoke, I said to Lorrie, “Isn’t that interesting. Our whole lives we have been taught to be the best, to not show failure or limitations. “ When we apply for a new job, we are taught to play to our strengths, and show why we are the best candidate. Now we are asking teachers to admit to their limitations, so that collectively, we can learn from the critiques of others. This is a difficult expectation, when society has taught us not to share our faults, but focus on our successes. We should not fail, but isn’t that how we learn?

Admittedly, this has been hard for me, and I would say this has been the biggest change in my mentality since the beginning of TieGrad. I am competitive, and as my husband would attest to, I really do think I am right A LOT… but I have really learned to be humble. I have learned that students respond better to you as a teacher if you can also show your imperfections. Every teacher can improve, and I hope for the sake of all our kids, we can break down our defensive guards, and be open to learn from one another, because collectively, learning from others and sharing effective teaching practices and resources, we can all become so much stronger, which in turn, helps our students. This is our big goal, is it not?

Just wanting to learn a little history

Out of curiosity, I sat down recently.. which is not a good thing when I need to make 10,000 steps… and wanted to learn more about the founders of Fit Bit. I found a video on YouTube with the co-creator of FitBit, James Park.

John Biggs Talks to James Park of Fitbit

It was fascinating to watch him speak about the popularity of FitBit. He went into detail about the difference with the FitBit Charge HR and the FitBit Surge (which is the one I really want, but it wasn’t released at the time of my purchase.) The FitBit Surge definitely looks more like a watch, and it has GPS tracking, which would be much more beneficial during a run. The FitBit Charge HR has the other matching options such as step count, heart rate monitoring, and call display, which is something I have yet to look into. I’m just not sure at this point if I want call display to appear onto my arm and cause me more anxiety and pressure to call back on demand!!!

Park also talked about comfort. With the release of the Apple Watch in the near future, he discussed their company’s focus with the FitBit and said that comfort was one of them. Interestingly enough, this is not something that I ever thought about. Now that I do give it some thought, I have to say that the FitBit Charge HR is extremely comfortable. The fact that the comfort level has never crossed my mind gives credit to that! I don’t really realize that I am even wearing it, and have to remember to take it off when I’m having a shower, so that I don’t have to venture back to Future Shop to buy another.

The other comment from Parks that resonated with me was that his company will, at times, have office challenges. What a great way to motivate your staff to stay healthy, but also to build community within the office. I realize that every employee would need to have a FitBit, but it would be great to bring in a little healthy competition into the workplace, or even have a weekly, monthly, or yearly team goal. I know often that the conversations around our school revolve around how many steps we are at, if I’m beating Mrs. Burnham, or that the kids are excited to show off how far they are ahead of us teachers. It has created a little healthy competition around Lochiel, and the fact that the kids are now involved makes me happy because they are learning to be supportive and competitive at the same time, and they are sharing in our journey of becoming healthier human beings, and they too are taking part, as a few of them have their own FitBits now, and are monitoring their own steps and sleep patterns.

This journey so far has been one about goal setting for me. We always teach our children and students to set goals and aim to achieve them. The FitBit is really my visual to show me how little or how much I may have walked during a day, and a reminder that I need to attain my daily goal in order to maintain my fitness levels, or a way for me to give myself a little pat on the back for surpassing my expectations.

Video retrieved from:http://techcrunch.com/2015/01/09/fitbit-ceo-james-park-talks-about-wearables-and-the-apple-watch/

Learning by doing

IMG_5119

“Kids doing things really cements the learning in place.” This was a statement, made by Sylvia Martinez that really spoke to me last night.

The whole ‘doing to learn’ philosophy is not new. Back in our course with James Nahachewsky we learned about the philosophies of Franklin Bobbitt and John Dewey. As I had previously written, during the Progressive Period, Franklin Bobbitt talked about a need for “swift change”. Students should learn through experience, and from observing best practice. Dewey also believed in experience through living. He stated that education “is a process of living and not a preparation for future living.” (Dewey, 1929) Learning should take place in the ‘real world’ with actual organic experiences, relationships and communication.

This term, for the first time, we introduced a Passions class to our afternoons. The classes combined a wide range of ages from Grade 4-9. With it being our first time, I was concerned with scaffolding, as there are many kids who are very concerned about their grade, about my expectations, about how long the presentation should be etc…

The only criteria I gave was that they needed to come up with a question, they needed to create some type of research, and we discussed that this could even take the form of interviews of others to gain information, and that there needed to be a presentation.

As the weeks progressed, and some kids still struggled choosing and making a final decision on a passion, many of the kids became engrossed in their projects. The hour seemed to fly by, and the kids were accessing all different types and forms of information. One boy interviewed his father, looked for online tutorials, and then asked his uncle’s advice as he created his own working go-kart.

Another girl, created a step-by-step painting, and then proceeded to completely step out of her comfort zone and present to a room full of kids, when I had previously heard her speak only a few sentences throughout the year.

Another boy and his brother created an online business selling sweat-shop free t-shirts with motivational sayings, and then they also highlight the ‘cool kid of the month’. (www.redefinecool.ca)

Those who did struggle with setting their own goals, and feeling content with their own output, did eventually start to learn that they were not going to be critically graded, and that there were not stringent expectations. They started to learn to be happy with their decisions, and in turn, their final product and presentation. I really do feel that if I said that the presentation needed to be 5 minutes long and that the projects needed to focus on certain topics, that the students would have felt that they needed to complete less or more, and it would have stifled their creativity, and it would have turned into ‘what does my teacher want?’

I am very curious about the maker-maker movement. I have never heard about this before, and I am super passionate about getting kids excited in their learning. While Science and Math are not my fortes, it is important for me to remember that discovery is part of the learning, and that the kids can teach me so much as well.

References

Bobbitt, F. (1918). Scientific method in curriculum-making. In D. Flinders & S. Thornton (Eds.), The Curriculum Studies Reader (pp. 11-18). New York: Routledge.

Dewey, J. (1929). My pedagogic creed. In D. Flinders & S. Thornton (Eds.),
The Curriculum Studies Reader (pp. 34 – 41). New York: Routledge.