Professional learning communities

I have the privilege in my work to be able to both facilitate and participate in a number of online communities of practice (CoP). It’s a great opportunity to learn from others as well as share my own experiences and what I have come across. Like many online communities, sometimes they seem to rocket along and at other times they appear to be rather quiet. This has got me thinking about the online communities I’m a part of and question what it is that brings people to them and engage in them.

I have been given the opportunity this year to undertake some research and have decided to focus it (broadly) on what fosters engagement or participation of educators in online communities of practice (particularly in the communities in which I facilitate). While still very much in the development phases, I would like to come away with a better understanding of where educators are accessing their professional learning from and why. It is also an opportunity for me to find out and hopefully trial different strategies to increase participation in the communities within which I facilitate.

I feel like my thoughts are still quite a jumble, which I think is okay at this stage. As I’m going through the process of thinking around why I want to undertake this research and just doing some general wondering around the topic, I’ve realised how the whole thing kind of aligns with the research I did for my MEd on online student engagement. While there are definitely differences (I’m working with adults rather than middle-school students; participation in the CoPs is completely voluntary), there are also similarities. For example, we still have those that are visibly active and those that are often called lurkers (I prefer the term ‘listener’ myself). We don’t know what impact is being had on those who don’t contribute but could still be reading/learning from the community. It’s also not clear how deep the engagement is going. For example, someone might be reading and commenting, but there is no impact back into their classroom. Understanding this could be useful in determining steps to encourage greater participation.

The expertise and knowledge held with an online CoP can be incredibly vast. Yet, it appears sometimes that we like to hold on to our own knowledge, or perhaps we don’t feel like what we have to share is worthwhile to others. Other times, looking at the various communities, it can appear like we’re just after a quick fix, or something to get us by, eg. “Does anyone have a resource/unit on…”. I’m not saying this is an issue. It is simply an observation. I’ve got quite a few other questions and thoughts at this stage as well, but won’t list them all here.

If you’ve read this far – well done on making it through my jumble of thoughts. Hopefully as the year progresses and I get further into my research things will start to become much clearer. I’m looking forward to developing a better understanding of what is going on in the online CoPs and further develop my facilitation skills as a result. I’ll try to remember to share my progress here as well.

Should the Key Competencies be integrated into teacher professional learning?

10191190673_2cba7027f9_zI’ve been working on a workshop for use in a school around integrating the key competencies (KCs) into learning using digital technologies. This got me thinking about whether I should be purposefully considering the KCs in regards to teacher professional learning.

Question: Should the Key Competencies be integrated into teacher professional learning?

  • Are the KCs only relevant to school age students?
  • As a lifelong learner, shouldn’t I also be wanting to continue to develop these competencies in myself?

The Key Competencies page from the New Zealand Curriculum website states (emphasis mine):

People use these competencies to live, learn, work, and contribute as active members of their communities. More complex than skills, the competencies draw also on knowledge, attitudes, and values in ways that lead to action. They are not separate or stand-alone. They are the key to learning in every learning area.

The competencies continue to develop over time, shaped by interactions with people, places, ideas, and things.

Let’s take a look at the KCs… (all quotes below from Key Competencies page on NZC website)

Thinking

Thinking is about using creative, critical, and metacognitive processes to make sense of information, experiences, and ideas. These processes can be applied to purposes such as developing understanding, making decisions, shaping actions, or constructing knowledge. Intellectual curiosity is at the heart of this competency.

In teacher professional learning, I don’t want teachers to take everything at face value. I want them to think, to question, to critically examine what is being suggested/demonstrated. I want them to question their own ideas, beliefs, philosophies and practices. It sounds obvious, but teachers have got to continue thinking critically. It’s a part of growing professionally.

Using language, symbols, and texts

Using language, symbols, and texts is about working with and making meaning of the codes in which knowledge is expressed. Languages and symbols are systems for representing and communicating information, experiences, and ideas. People use languages and symbols to produce texts of all kinds: written, oral/aural, and visual; informative and imaginative; informal and formal; mathematical, scientific, and technological.

Teachers do this daily. Not only do they support students to make meaning of the codes expressed in learning material, they also have to interpret the codes given through student body language, sometimes jumbled ideas/questions and more. In teacher professional learning it’s important for teachers to be able to make meaning of what is being shared within their own contexts for their particular group of students and their needs.

Managing self

This competency is associated with self-motivation, a “can-do” attitude, and with students seeing themselves as capable learners. It is integral to self-assessment.

If I’m running a teacher professional development workshop it is usually made quickly clear to me those teachers who don’t have a “can-do” attitude (at least towards the digital technology I’m using/introducing). They are nervous, and quite honestly, some of them don’t appear to see themselves as capable learners. Until now, I’ve always considered this as simply a lack of confidence but perhaps it’s more than that? It makes me wonder what I can do to help teachers manage themselves and boost their self-motivation.

Relating to others

Relating to others is about interacting effectively with a diverse range of people in a variety of contexts. This competency includes the ability to listen actively, recognise different points of view, negotiate, and share ideas.

Going into different schools is straight away putting myself in front of a “diverse range of people in a variety of contexts”. So I can see this important to me. For teachers in those settings, I guess I make that context change. Our teachers though will always have a diverse range of people in front of them and (at least) each year will have a different range of people as classes change. While the context might seem the same each year (it’s their classroom after all), the fact their is a new range of students means that the context will change. Those students have different needs and it’s so important that teachers continue to be able to relate to others.

Participating and contributing

This competency is about being actively involved in communities. Communities include family, wh?nau, and school and those based, for example, on a common interest or culture. They may be drawn together for purposes such as learning, work, celebration, or recreation. They may be local, national, or global. This competency includes a capacity to contribute appropriately as a group member, to make connections with others, and to create opportunities for others in the group.

This is big for me. When in a teacher professional learning situation it is quite important that those in the room are able and willing to participate and contribute otherwise the session can fall flat very quickly. Yes, there is a need for good facilitation, but the active involvement is also critical. It’s also important that teachers don’t wall themselves off in their classroom but become involved in their school community both on campus and with the wider community. Being actively involved in subject associations, as well as professional learning networks (PLN) is so important to help ensure we continue to be lifelong learners and continue to think and question what we (and others) are doing for our students. How can we grow effectively without making those connections to others?

My challenge

So now the challenge to myself is to ensure that I purposefully consider how the KCs can be integrated into the professional learning workshops I facilitate. I need to think about how I am helping those I’m working with grow professionally.

 

Image source: Flickr – Denise Krebs CC BY 2.0

Professional blogging for beginners—a reflection

For Connected Educator Month this year I thought it would be good to step out of my comfort zone a little and present a short webinar with someone I’ve never met before! So I contacted Alex Le Long (@ariaporo22) a few weeks ago and asked if she was interested to present on blogging. She was! Step one complete.

We had a quick Google Hangout where we talked for the first time ever virtually (other than through Twitter) and semi-planned out the session. There might have been a slight “wing it” attitude from both of us but we were a bit more prepared than that. Step two complete.

Stepping out a bit further we decided to run a Hangout on Air. I’ve used Adobe Connect a lot to run training sessions etc, but hadn’t actually used Hangouts on Air, so whether this was a good idea or not we were going to find out! In the end it seemed to work okay except that it seemed that the audience that we knew were there weren’t really a part of the session except through the odd question in the Q&A panel.

All in all it was an interesting experience and the recording of the session is available on YouTube (and embedded at the end of this blog post).

What did I learn? It’s good to try something new and once again step out of our comfort zone. Google Hangouts might not be the best “webinar” tool but it is definitely usable. And it’s fun to do something with someone you’ve only met through Twitter!

I’m looking forward to meeting Alex during the next few days at Ulearn in Rotorua!

If you want to watch the webinar, here it is.

24-7 professional learning

connectionOne of the most exciting things that has happened over the past couple of years in New Zealand education, in my opinion, is the uprising of professional learning that is occurring online.

The Virtual Learning Network (VLN) is an online community of practice space which was launched in 2011. Since then the VLN has grown to a community of over 15000 teachers. Many teachers have benefited from the conversations, sharing, questioning, learning and professionalism that has gone on since it’s inception. Many students will have also benefited from the sharings on the VLN as well—they just won’t know it!

Even more exciting in my mind is the growth of Twitter amongst New Zealand educators. The amount of quality professional discussion that goes on in this forum is unquantifiable as it occurs at all hours of the day and night! Teachers are wanting to do much more for their students and as a result they are using their time (if there is such a thing for teachers) to learn more; to grow professionally; and to share what they are doing.

In October 2012, Danielle Myburgh launched #edchatNZ to get teachers talking regularly on specific topics. #edchatNZ occurs on Thursday at 8:30pm every fortnight and has been a huge, growing success. As more NZ teachers take to Twitter, #edchatNZ gets bigger and bigger. While it can be a challenge to keep up with the incredible conversation at times, the sharing and learning that goes on is both inspiring and exciting.

Following on from the success of #edchatNZ, two new chats were instigated and kicked off only last night (the other Thursday in the fortnight)—#engchatNZ (kicked off I believe by Alex Le Long) and #scichatNZ (Matt Nicoll). The first of both of these chats were a success with I believe over 400 tweets made in both of them! These are our educators—committed to lifelong learning and the best for the children of New Zealand!

While a lot of this professional learning is happening online, there has also been an increase of teacher-led/organised face-to-face PD going on as a result! Danielle Myburgh and her awesome crew are about to host the first #edchatNZ conference almost 2 years since the launch of the first Twitter #edchatNZ discussion evening. Just last weekend I was following the Educamp Auckland hashtag trying to keep up with the goings on at the face-to-face meetup of awesome educators (who were certainly not all from Auckland)! Following the discussion kept me quite busy on a Saturday morning and I had to remind myself that my wife wasn’t home and I needed to check on the kids!

It’s exciting to see teachers wanting to keep learning during their time. It’s certainly not exclusive either. Recently Ngatea Primary School decided to try to get whanau involved in Twitter chats by launching #ptchatNZ. This chat is to encourage the wider school community to get involved and is certainly not exclusive to Ngatea Primary School. Principal Neil Fraser and DP Karla Hull are keen to get this discussion going throughout the country!

If you haven’t gotten involved in the great professional learning that is going on constantly in New Zealand, then jump in and give it a go! Join the VLN and/or get involved in the amazing #edchatNZ Twitter community. If you’re not sure about how to get started on Twitter go to the #edchatNZ site for info.

VPLD/FFI Hui

I’ve been lucky enough to attend the Virtual Professional Learning and Development/Future Focused Inquiry two-day hui in Auckland over the last couple of days as an observer (I say observer but as much as was possible I was an active “observer”. It was a privileged to be able to attend and meet a lot of awesome people, grow my network and learn heaps of what VPLD and FFI is! To be able to finish the second week of my new job at a hui such as this was awesome!

Anyway… there were a lot of great presentations and many amazing stories shared throughout the two days. I’m just going to pick the 5 things that really stood out to me.

  1. Probably the biggest thing that stood out to me was Suzi Gould summing up the somewhat complicated teaching as inquiry model into three words that somehow ended up with becoming four: ask — seek — change — reimagine. Ask and keep asking. Inquiry starts from questioning. Seek information from students, whanau, colleagues etc. Change, and to change you must take action. And as part of this, reimagine. It’s important to imagine and be creative and to continue to do so.
  2. Heather Eccles talked about needing to go outside of our comfort zone and our perspectives to get answers/solve problems we may have. As educators, this means we sometimes might need to not only talk with other educators/teachers to find solutions but talk to those outside of education. Outsiders can often have a very different perspective and bring new ideas to a situation.
  3. Catriona Pene shared about digital mihi. She talked about why you would share your mini, and that is in order to make connections with those you are with or presenting to, give a sense of identity and also credibility. She stated that sharing a digital mihi allows a bit more information to be shared in the form of pictures, videos or animations. Creating a digital mini is something that I have planned to do this year, but have not quite gotten myself organised with. We were given the opportunity to work on these during the session, so I’ve made a little progress and aim to be finished early next week. Watch this space!!!
  4. We heard about the 3 brains of leadership from Margaret Lamont who reminded us that following our heart and having those gut feelings/hunches can be just as valid as well thought through ideas.
  5. The final thing that really stuck with me was from Afoa? (please if I have this incorrect, tell me!) who talked about the idea of it ‘taking a village to raise a child’. He described how the Samoan chiefs in the Matai system when meeting each sit at a pillar. This is representative of the chiefs all being required to support, hold up and lead the village. What this means though is that the historically the chiefs are required to think and the others to do what is required. We need to encourage Pasifika students and families that it is okay to think for themselves. Afoa left us with learning the word, lotogatasi and broke it down into it’s parts to define it: loto=heart; lalaga=weave; tasi=together.

lotogatasi = hearts woven into one

Finally, I must share this video reminding us all to BE MORE DOG. Sounds a bit odd, but have a watch and think about the meaning behind it.

Enjoy!