Where is your focus?

FocusAs you may (or may not) know, I am a secondary-trained teacher who presently have the honour and privilege to be in and out of classrooms of all levels in my role as technology activator. With a wife who is primary-trained and like to remind me (intentionally or by the mastery of her practice when I have had the opportunity to see her teach) of how well primary teachers are prepared to work with students, I have developed a deep respect for my colleagues in primary.

The difference

Lately I have come to the realisation that there seems to be a major difference between primary and secondary education: primary education tends to be student-focused and secondary education tends to be subject-focused (yes, I know it is a generalisation). Some of my secondary colleagues will object to this statement, so please allow me to give three reasons for my observation:

  1. In all honesty, as a secondary-trained teacher, I loved my subject area long before I decided that I wanted to become a teacher. Us secondary folk can’t help ourselves: we gush about the beauty and marvelous complexities of our preferred subject area. Now don’t get me wrong: this is important and I don’t know of any principal who wants to employ a secondary teacher who is not excited about her or his subject area. However, I believe there is a danger that I can become so subject-focused that I forget about the individuals that I teach and their stories.
  2. Secondary school subjects have been taught in relative isolation for years, or “siloed” as some educational futurists like to say. How much time do we make to talk to each other and learn to appreciate each other’s subjects? I believe this only reinforces the subject-focused mindset in secondary teachers and prevents us from becoming more student-focused. Imagine being a student in the middle of all of this “unconnected” competition for attention …
  3. Primary teachers in New Zealand don’t just look at the achievement of a student in one learning area (except perhaps if you are a specialist), but they tend to have a good grasp of a student’s overall progress and achievement. Secondary teachers seldom have this level of insight. I think this enables our primary colleagues to truly be more student-focused.

I am going to go out on a limb and say that because of the individualistic (“single focus“) love we have for our subject areas and the “siloed” operation of the secondary school system, secondary teachers risk the danger of unintentionally competing against each other instead of recognising that we are all part of a team. As members of a team we have different roles to play and these roles are essential for the team to succeed.

I am also of the opinion that innovative learning environments encourage teachers to develop a “team” mindset whereas the “cell-based” architecture of the industrial model of education discourages it. I have taught in single cell classrooms for years but now spend most of my teaching time in innovative learning environments. I have detected a major shift in how much more I value my colleagues as team members. I need to dust off some of OECD’s research on the topic …

By the way, I am sure I am not the first person making this comment and if you have any research on the topic, please leave a comment with a link to the research.

The impact of special character

I am a staff member of a special character school. Our special character is founded on the Bible. The Bible teaches very clearly that we (followers of Jesus) are part of a “team” called the church. Paul describes the church as the “body of Christ”1 and just as the human body has many parts with special functions that are essential for the functioning of the body as a whole, so the members of this team each have a special role to play that contributes to the healthy functioning of the church.

In the book of Mark2 we read …

They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, ‘What were you arguing about on the road?’ But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest. Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, ‘Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.’

I believe God encourages us to see ourselves as members of a team who are not in competition with each other, but who all have specific roles of service that contribute to a student-focused vision of our school. We need God’s help to accomplish this!

Jesus went on to say3

He took a little child whom he placed among them. Taking the child in his arms, he said to them, ‘Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.’

I want to welcome Jesus. How about you?

Photo credit: UnknownNet Photography via Foter.com / CC BY-SA

Sources:

  1. Blom, B.J. The problem of fame. Retrieved 28 August 2016 from http://www.disciplinedlife.info/?p=456
  2. Mark 9:33-35 NIVUK. Retrieved on 28 August 2016 from https://www.bible.com/bible/113/MRK.9.33-35
  3. Mark 9:36-37 NIVUK. Retrieved on 28 August 2016 from https://www.bible.com/bible/113/MRK.9.36-37

The key competencies and transformation

TransformationDuring a presentation to a group of educators who came to visit the Elim Christian College Junior Campus, one of my colleagues (Emily Bagrie – @emilybagrienz) linked the key competencies to the transformational use of digital technology (as described by the SAMR model1). I think she has struck gold!

Of course we don’t always use technology to modify or redefine learning tasks. However, we owe it to our students to always ask whether we can improve their learning outcomes with the digital technology we have at our disposal. When we design learning tasks in which we try to promote thinking, relating to others, using language symbols and texts, managing self and participating and contributing2, we are allowing our students to engage in transformational learning experiences.

I know some people are immediately asking, “How do measure that?” … great question … and a topic for another post. Thank you Emily for your epiphany!

To lifelong learning!

Photo credits:

Sources:

  1. Educator video: Introduction to the SAMR Model. Retrieved on 28 August 2016 from https://www.commonsensemedia.org/videos/introduction-to-the-samr-model
  2. Key competencies of the New Zealand Curriculum. Retrieved on 28 August 2016 from http://nzcurriculum.tki.org.nz/Key-competencies.

Brick or foundation

brickI wonder whether those of us in Christian education sometimes struggle with Christian worldview integration because we try to add Scripture to what we already do instead of starting with Scripture and then adding the curriculum to it.

Are we building the “fortress” of teaching and learning on the foundation of Scripture, or are we adding Scripture as a “brick” instead? Could it be that the reason for our “faulty” building plan is a “lack of knowledge”, as Hosea puts it?

Photo credit: joostmarkerink via Foter.com / CC BY

Looking in the mirror

Reflective practiceThis post marks the end of a 32 week journey completing a Postgraduate Certificate in Applied Practice (Digital and Collaborative Learning) with The Mind Lab by Unitec1. I will use the “Practising Teacher Criteria and e-learning”2 resource from the “enabling e-Learning” website to discuss three of the criteria I have met well. I will conclude with outlining a possible plan for future development and the justification of two main goals related to this.

Celebrating areas of growth

Fully registered teachers demonstrate commitment to ongoing professional learning and development of personal professional practice3. When I heard about The Mind Lab at the Interface Expo4 of 2015, I was quite curious about the kind of learning students and teachers were doing there. Now, after being stretched and challenged for about 32 weeks, I realise that the programme has made a positive difference on how I view the intersection of teaching, learning and technology. So initiating this learning opportunity has advanced my personal, professional knowledge and skills. I have been able to identify a professional learning goal with a colleague, the year 0 to 2 team leader at our school, which has led me to do a literature review5 that has enabled me to start developing a research-focused understanding of the integration of educational technology into the curriculum (follow this link6 to read about it). The resulting collaboration between me and our year 0 to 2 team has enabled me to participate responsively in professional learning opportunities within my school’s learning community by addressing a need that presently exists to use digital technology more effectively.

Fully registered teachers show leadership that contributes to effective teaching and learning. In my post “My communities of practice, version 2016“, I identified three communities of practice that I am part of, i.e. educators using technology, educators teaching technology and educators teaching Christian Living7. As I have mentioned in the previous paragraph, I have been able to actively contribute to the “educators using technology” community of practice. I have also started working on a digital and collaborative project to improve the communication of our school. I have called the project ARISE Media and I am presently working on one aspect of the project, the redesign of the school website. The principal has asked me to be the project manager for the redesign process and I am closely following the lean canvas8 and project plan9 that I have created during the first 16 weeks of my studies at The Mind Lab. I am striving to undertake this area of responsibility effectively. We hope to have the new website live at the start of term 2.

Fully registered teachers respond effectively to the diverse language and cultural experiences, and the varied strengths, interests, and needs of individuals and groups of ākonga/learners. The weekly interaction with teachers from a wide variety of cultural and contextual backgrounds during the first 16 weeks of the course has reminded me of the rich funds of knowledge that our students bring to the classroom every day and the importance of creating learning activities that are inclusive and effective for diverse learners. In the past, the coding courses I have taught to my students were pretty much a “one size fits all” approach. All of the students followed the same recipe to create a project. Yes, they were able to add some personal touches to the project, but everyone produced a similar end product. In an effort to recognise the varied strengths, interests and need of my students, I have redesigned these units of work by integrating design thinking. I believe that design thinking recognises that students are unique, that we learn from each other and that when we combine our efforts it often results in a product that appeals to more people. This diagram10 from Richard Wells may help you visualise it.

Design Thinking by @EduWells

So far my students have produced amazing, personalised projects. I have also come to realise that my students and I can use the design thinking process to ensure that I keep on modifying my teaching approaches to address the needs of my students, especially since no group of students has exactly the same needs.

Planning for change

Although I have learned to value cultural responsive pedagogy over the years11, I realise that there is room for improvement in how I address it in a New Zealand context. I have not been intentional enough about utilising the cultural funds of knowledge that my students bring to the classroom, neglecting being a “learner among learners”12. Fortunately technology is a wonderful learning area to celebrate and respect the impact of technological innovation on culture. I want to work on the following goals.

  • “Acknowledge and respect the languages, heritages, and cultures of all ākonga/learners”13 by asking students to provide culture-specific examples of technology related to the units of work I plan for them in order to develop students’ technological literacy14. I will try to accomplish this by ensuring that at least one lesson at the start of each unit is dedicated to reflecting on how relevant, cultural examples of technology have impacted the societies represented in my class. I hope that this process may help students think through the possible impact their products may have on their target audience.
  • “Specifically and effectively address the educational aspirations of ākonga Māori, displaying high expectations for their learning”15 by “actively facilitating the participation of whānau and people with the knowledge of local context, tikanga, history and language to support my classroom teaching and learning programmes”16 in technology. I will measure the success of this intervention using the outcomes that has been outlined in “Tātaiako: Cultural Competencies for Teachers of Māori Learners16.

Conclusion

The past nine months have been a good example of reflective practice17 in action. It has not been easy (as I have written here18) but it has been beneficial. It has shown me how challenging it can be to change one’s practice, something to keep in mind if you are responsible for the professional learning of your colleagues.

I feel more equipped to have a meaningful conversation about future-focused education and I have a better appreciation for the resources New Zealand teachers have at their disposal to confidently go wherever the future of education may take us.

Although I have had a love-hate relationship with my studies at times, I want to thank The Mind Lab staff for patiently working with me. You have mostly practised what you preached and I really appreciate that. To lifelong learning!

References and notes:
1. Postgrad Studies – Programme Overview – The Mind Lab. Retrieved 26 March 2016 from http://themindlab.com/programme-overview/
2. Practising Teacher Criteria and e-learning – enabling e-Learning. Retrieved 26 March 2016 from http://elearning.tki.org.nz/Professional-learning/Practising-Teacher-Criteria-and-e-learning
3. Criteria 4 – Practising Teacher Criteria and e-learning – enabling e-Learning. Retrieved 27 March 2016 from http://elearning.tki.org.nz/Professional-learning/Practising-Teacher-Criteria-and-e-learning/Criteria-4
4. Interface Xpo New Zealand. Retrieved 27 March 2016 from http://interfacexpo.nz/
5. Blom, B.J. (2016). Knowing with digital technology. Retrieved 27 March 2016 from https://app.box.com/s/yj9nsgm0vzr6bxmwsh6h215w2yozh6pb
6. Blom, B.J. (22 February 2016). Exploring the impact of professional connections. Retrieved 27 March 2016 from http://mrblom.com/?p=279
7. Blom, B.J. (8 February 2016). My communities of practice, version 2016. Retrieved 27 March 2016 from http://mrblom.com/?p=252
8. Blom, B.J. (10 November 2015). Lean Canvas for Launching ARISE Media. Retrieved 27 March 2016 from https://app.box.com/s/e4abbcc495qacub3ow3frwuk6yrxgy36
9. Blom, B.J. (10 November 2015). Launching ARISE Media. Retrieved 27 March 2016 from https://app.box.com/s/l5vdsm7tbpdxyrjj4qi79yny7s4688xz
10. Wells, R. (2015). Learn, Empathise and Prototype with Design Thinking. Retrieved 27 March 2016 from http://eduwells.com/posters/
11. Blom, B.J. (25 March 2016). Relationship is the key. Retrieved 27 March 2016 from http://mrblom.com/?p=325
12. Bishop, R. (1 September 2009). A culturally responsive pedagogy of relations. Retrieved 24 March 2016 from http://www.edtalks.org/video/culturally-responsive-pedagogy-relations
13. Criteria 2 – Practising teacher criteria and e-learning – enabling e-Learning. Retrieved 27 March 2016 from http://elearning.tki.org.nz/Professional-learning/Practising-Teacher-Criteria-and-e-learning/Criteria-2
14. Criteria 10 – Practising teacher criteria and e-learning – enabling e-Learning. Retrieved 27 March 2016 from http://elearning.tki.org.nz/Professional-learning/Practising-Teacher-Criteria-and-e-learning/Criteria-10
15. Technology in the NZC. Retrieved 27 March 2016 from http://technology.tki.org.nz/Technology-in-the-NZC
16. Tātaiako: Cultural Competencies for Teachers of Māori Learners. (2011). Retrieved 27 March 2016 from https://educationcouncil.org.nz/sites/default/files/Tataiako.pdf
17. Osterman, K. & Kottkamp, R.(1993) Reflective Practice for Educators.California.Cornwin Press, Inc. Retrieved on 7th May, 2015 from http://www.itslifejimbutnotasweknowit.org.uk/files/RefPract/Osterman_Kottkamp_extract.pdf
18. Blom, B.J. (4 February 2016). Key competencies to success. Retrieved 27 March 2016 from http://mrblom.com/?p=231