Per / Con / In / Re – form

Perform 
I am wrestling with my thoughts again. In other words, I am restless again. When this happens many questions appear soon thereafter. Is there anyone out there that feels restless too?

I can’t be the only one in questioning a lot of things right now because most days I feel like a busker at a street festival trying to juggle a bowling ball(technology), a chainsaw(lessons), and a fishtank(learners). Nothing to see here other than a fairly confident educator having a tough time with something that he’s done before – delivering lessons.

So why am I struggling to deliver my lessons? It seems like a good place to start. Right now, I am questioning everything about my professional practice, and it feels like running along a path and tripping over an imaginary object. My week long tumbles are not so much about the content I am teaching, but rather how it is being taught, how it is being received, and how it can be assessed. It is leaving me limping into the weekend? Tell me I am not alone right now.

Conform
And then it hits. How long until the realization that some of my students are not completely engaging with learning right now even though their eyes and emotionless emoticons tell me otherwise? After extended times staring at screens and thumbnail sized student/profile memes I can tell my students are becoming exhausted too despite the brave faces that I see popping up on occasion when called upon. Is this happening to anyone else teaching right now? Are your students tired too? I am. 

Why am I so tired right now? Shouldn’t getting an extra hour of sleep each night, drinking 2+ litres of water per day, reduced caffeine, reduced personal device time, reading more books, and getting more exercise than in years past be helping me out here? I have even added Tai Chi, Yoga, and Hip Hop Dance to our DPA to increase movement during class time. To top it all off, I take daily walks whether I feel like it or not. 

Inform
You see, I force myself to take a walk after each of my hyper-telepresent virtual teaching sessions. Once the goodbyes are done, it is pretty much all I can do to get out of my chair, climb the stairs, and get geared up to go out most days. Especially, when I have to pass by a very comfortable couch whose cushions scream, “Remember us?” It is very tempting, but something even better calls, my daily walks.

Regardless of the weather, these walks are my motivational carrots to keep taking the steps that get me through the many muddy moments along each day’s unpaved path. Knowing that no matter how the day goes, a walk awaits has been all it takes to see me through. Whether a lesson went well or died on the screen in front of me ceases to matter when I inhale that first breath of fresh outdoor air. The exhale feels pretty good too. 

You watch enough TV, and very soon the inside of your head has become a vast, arid plain, across which you cannot detect the passage of a thought. Harlan Ellison

So far this year, I have only missed one day of walking. In hindsight it was probably the day that I needed a it most. Instead, I ended up planted on that inviting couch with a bowl of Smartfood staring at our television. Tuned out. Achy. Sullen. Grumpy. Numb. These feelings got me thinking about screens. 

Reform
Sci-fi author Harlan Ellison referred to TV as the “glass teat”. He even wrote a couple of books about it. I see parallels to how education is being delivered right now. We need to wean our students off of their screens more and more in order to preserve their minds from numbing and tuning out. 

Somewhere along my way outside a struggle ensued about the work I am doing in front of my screen. Is it serving to numb our students over extended periods of time? Will these extended periods of online learning cause irreparable tears in our socio-academic fabric? I am not ready to believe that this is the beginning of the end for in person school and that we are heading for our isolation pods as told in E.M Forster’s The Machine Stops

We cannot continue feeding content from one glass plate after another and expecting students to grow up smart and healthy. A dear friend suggested that cutting the learning day back to 4 days might be a good idea. Allowing the 5th day for asynchronous activities such as self-directed inquiry and catching up on assignments during the day rather than in the evenings when fatigue sets in. Teachers could easily use that time for office hours, for one on one/small group support, and conferencing. Everyone wins. 

Yet to form
This is much more than having the tools to master a domain that has yet to be tamed? Virtual learning means we are virtually learning how to do this while we teach? I can tell you there are few system leaders or consultants that have as much experience as any teachers in this medium, and it has largely been gained through self-teaching and experimentation with their classes.

I worry that too much emphasis has been placed on performance and conformity without serious consideration to being fully informed of the true social, emotional, and physical costs of virtual learning. Teachers, students, and families are feeling the stress from this and without an alternative I fear that there will be problems far greater than being behind on assignments or failing a test.

There is a definite need to refine and reform how we are being asked to serve and support our students. I’d love to take a walk around the neighbourhood with those making decisions on our behalf, share some ideas, listen to one another, breath in some fresh air, and take the steps that would best support students and staff -from a safe distance of course. Maybe if we took away their screens everyone might be able to see eye to eye here about helping to change things for the better, our students. 

In the meantime, I think another walk is in order. 

 

 

Follow Recommendations from a Twitter-Obsessed Nerd

I love Twitter. I spend an unhealthy amount of time on Twitter. I know what you might be thinking: “This is a terrible idea. Why would someone be on that site? Isn’t it all trolls?”

Look, reader, you’re not wrong. There are a lot of trolls on Twitter. There are a lot of people who are not very… diplomatic… about how much they hate educators.

But those people aren’t why I’m on Twitter. I mute them (or block the really bad ones) and carry on.

The real reason I’m on Twitter is that there are so many incredible, knowledgeable, passionate educators and education advocates on there who give me a lot of insight into the world, both as an educator and just a human being, that I wouldn’t have otherwise.

It’s hard to know where to start, though. I get that. It took me a few months to build up a feed that I felt was really worthwhile and meaningful. When I look for people to follow, I’m looking for people who challenge my worldview, inspire me, show me how to see the world through a different lens.

There are a few people whose posts I always stop to read when I see them. I want to share a few accounts that I think are worth your time if you’re on Twitter or thinking about joining. I’m not going to try to describe what each Twitter account is about, because I tend to follow people who don’t just post about one thing. I can’t reduce them to one topic, one idea, one thing. They’re people.

These accounts are not educators, but I found them all through #onted (Ontario education) threads and discussions.

In no particular order (well, the order is ‘how they appeared in my Following list as I scrolled it looking for the ones I wanted to mention), here are some great Twitter accounts that I enjoy:

@joyhenderson78

@ms_simsimma

@OttawaLouise

@MsDhillon6A

@MzMcKeown

@DPAWestonPhD

@vickitabhatt

@DeborahBWal22

@JHallinPeel

@DrKateTO

@LouisaJulius

@yolanda_bdacy

@natasha_faroogh

@BBFarhadi

@Drawn2Intellect

@mclolcat

@Teach_Laidlaw

@ESL_fairy

@XME_ImSpeaking

 

You should check out some of those accounts if you have a few minutes. They’re worth your time. If you have any favourite Twitter accounts that you follow, please let me know!

Overwhelming Resources

As we engage in distance/remote/online/emergency learning Educators are being inundated with resources and tools to use in their virtual classrooms.  It isn’t easy to decide which would be most effective and which ones are safe for teachers and students to use.  There is no one size fits all answer to this but there are a few things that I do in order to narrow down my choices of whether or not to use a particular digital tool or resource:

  1.  I search for tools that are designed by Canadian or better yet, Ontario Educators and where possible, data is housed in Canada.
  2. I look at whether or not the tool will still be free after the COVID crisis is over or whether it has always been a free tool.  I honestly don’t mind paying for a tool from the outset but I don’t really like the whole free trial thing.  I also don’t want to pay some kind of a monthly fee.  One time price, please!  I don’t want to love a tool so much while it is free and then have to pay for it when I go back into the classroom.
  3. I look at whether or not it is a one time fee or negative billing.  I won’t give anyone my credit card to start a free trial for a tool.
  4. I search for tools that I know will be supported by my ICT department.  Anything that wants access to email contacts in my school board is a non-starter.
  5. I search for tools that inspire collaboration and creativity.  I’m not one to sign up students for a gaming platform that is really just an engaging math drill.
  6. I look at bang for my buck (even if it is free).  Is it a versatile tool?  Does it allow for different forms of communication?  Can I embed audio and video?  Is there an opportunity for a variety of feedback methods?
  7. I look at the Privacy statement.  Although I am no expert in this, I can generally tell when something has red flags.  Anything that is attached to third party social media platforms like Facebook is a non starter for me.
  8. Right now while there are so many sign ups and passwords for students, I stay away from platforms that want to create student accounts and want information apart from an email.
  9. I look to see if it is a Microsoft or Apple Education certified product?  I know that for the most part, those tools are trustworthy.
  10. I look at user reviews and YouTube tutorials.  I want to know what the pitfalls are of something before I invest time and/or money.

At the end of the day no tool is perfect and few tools are unlikely to meet the specific needs of each and every student in your classroom.  However, I hope that what I do when choosing a tool might guide you to the most effective tools in the over abundance of resources that are floating around out there.

Content and Copyright Considerations in Distance Learning

The move to distance learning has certainly had some pitfalls. On top of all of the programming changes and logistical considerations, we’re hearing horror stories of the inappropriate use of digital tools and teachers unintentionally violating copyright laws.  It is crucial for teachers to make themselves aware of the privacy and security guidelines for their school board while also being aware of Fair Dealing and Copyright laws for online content.  Here is some food for thought, and a few tools and resources that may be helpful for teachers while creating and linking to online content.

Posting YouTube Videos

YouTube videos may be used for educational purposes in Canada so long as the creator and the source of the video is credited.  However, you might want to consider not posting a direct link to the YouTube video on your learning platform.  This link will take the students to the YouTube channel and the student may then freely search other content.  Maybe it is just me, but I’ve experienced the liquor advertisement pop up while watching a video in my classroom or the next video automatically plays and the content is not suitable for students. Teachers may want to try using online tools such as ViewPure or Safesharetv before copying the link into a learning platform.  These tools filter out advertisement and connects only the the video itself.

Reading Books Online to Students

A number of Canadian Publishers have opened up access to Educators to read published works online.  There are guidelines that an Educator must follow in order to do post an online story time.  For a list of participating publishers and more information on how to respect copyright for Canadian authors visit access copyright.  Scholastic Canada has also extended access to Educators to read published works online. The instructions on how to use Scholastic works is a little different.  Visit the Scholastic Read Aloud portion on the Scholastic Canada website in order to follow their rules and regulations.

FairDealing and Copyright

There are copyright laws specific to Education.  If you want to make sure that you can use something without violating copyright laws you can use the Fair Dealing Decision Tool.  Teachers can also refer to the Copyright Matters Document.

Privacy Policies and Statement

At the bottom of every home page for an educational digital tools you will find a link to their privacy policy or statement. I highly recommend reading what you are signing up for as a teacher when you click on a new Educational digital tool. Be aware of what data is being collected, where it is being stored and which third parties are attached to the company and make an informed decision for yourself.  Be proactive and check with someone in the Instructional Technology department at your school board to ensure that you are following recommendations before asking students and parents to sign up for a digital tool.  It is a lot for teachers to think about while at the same time just trying to get a handle on teaching in the midst of a pandemic. There is a big learning curve for everyone. Try to continue to go slowly. The move to distance learning is helping Educators truly understand the importance of digital citizenship.

Turning to Twitter when tested in #onted

Without dipping too far into my bag of clichés this month, I wanted to focus on the incredible work coming from educators in respose to the “new normal” brought by the COVID 19 pandemic. The same educators who were standing up for the future of our students last month have been working hard to support them through the most extraordinary global event of this century.

The only way to describe what I’ve gained via the #onted Twitter hashtag, as we cope with #COVID19 and our work as educators, would be through words like perspective, wisdom, and supportive ideas. They would go alongside countless daily reminders that mental health matters, concern for students’ wellbeing, equity in education(access, tech, food insecurity, options), and concern for each other’s safety. In this post, if you’re not already tweeting, I want to encourage you all to join an amazing cohort of Ontario educators on Twitter so that you can benefit too.

Why? I am glad you asked(no I am not a sales rep for Twitter).

Imagine having a 24 hour cohort of teachers to form professional learning networks(PLNs), share resources, be encouraged by and learn from? That’s what connecting with the #onted PLN can do for all of us by connecting you with your fellow educators. While our numbers continue to grow, it is okay to start off slowly, sign up for an account, check out who is out there already, retweet some posts you like, share something new you’ve created like a blog post, lesson, piece of art or something you found interesting in the news. Make sure you include at least the #onted hashtag. Once you take flight, don’t be afraid to join in on some conversations. Following the #onted #ETFO #ETFOStrong and #OSSTF hashtags will keep you connected and up to date on all things happening in Ontario and with teacher unions.

So now that you’ve decided to sign up for a Twitter account there are a few things to consider.

  1. Do I create a personal or professional account?
    Try to have one of each if you can.  You can always have a personal account and then create a class account(check with your school board and admin for parameters). I have @willgourley and @MrGs_Class. I have also created a few school accounts for admin to share information from our board with families on the platform.
  2. Should I use my name or the number they give me?
    It never hurts to be brief or creative here. It is dangerous to be @Taylor167895 as it will be hard to find or remember a name with so many users.
  3. Do I need a picture?
    Yes. It can be of your pet. Try to personalize your page using the Settings. If you blog, include a link to your blog site too.
  4. How do I avoid all of the negativity coming from trolls and thoughtless people?
    Hit mute, block, and report. If you stick to the #onted #ETFOStrong #education family you will seldom come across most of the Tweets coming from alt-right types and fake news spreaders.
  5. Who do I follow?
    I would suggest following your preferred news outlets, then find your colleagues who are already on Twitter, and then any or all of the following people who are regularly contributing to the well being of their students and education in this province. Many on this list, are people who I have had the privilege to meet in person and can constantly count on for information and inspiration.
  6. Do I have to follow someone back?
    Not necessarily. Make sure to check over who is following you first. Sometimes it might not be an appropriate site. It is easier to block them to avoid the hassle.

In no particular order are some of the hundreds of active and engaging Tweeps you will find in Ontario;

Albert Fong – Science teacher in Peel DSB and educational action taker

Andrew Campbell – friend of Albert Fong, Gr 5/6 teacher, frequent guest on CBC, writer, TEDx speaker

Matthew Morris –  passionate blogger, introduced me to #hiphoped via Twitter, TEDx speaker

Debbie Donsky – a leaders leader, principal, artist, blogger, TEDx speaker

Jenn Giffen – tech queen, librarian, podcaster, and sketchnote guru

Noa Daniel – mentor, podcaster, TEDx speaker, and blogger

Chris Cluff – poet laureate, podcaster, long boarder, and creative genius

Rolland Chidiac – blogger, podcaster, maker spacer, good deed doer

Doug Peterson – blogger, Voice Ed Radio stalwart, glue that connects the #onted family

Kimiko Shibata – ESL specialist, active and creative ETFO member, nerd

DroptheDottCraig Zimmer‘s alter ego, TED Ed Innovative Educator, TEDx organizer, History teacher

Dr Deb Weston – member of our Heart and Art writing family, SpEd and AQ teacher

Dr Carol Campbell – no relation to Andrew Campell, OISE prof, and global education sage

Geoff Ruggero – maker space innovator in the YRDSB

Jeewan Chanicka – focused on equity and justice, TED Ed Innovative Educator,

Lisa Mastrobuono  – ETFO, Tweets about bargaining, education & labour issues

Zack Teitel – seeker and speaker of truth, always trying to make school less crappy and more meaningful

Sunil Singh – author, lover of all things Math, disruptor, TEDx speaker,

Andrew Bieronski – TEDx KitchenerEd organizer, consultant for education companies/tech startups,

Fred Galang – builder of creative literacy, teaches how to mix art & design with technology

For the sake of not overloading you as you join the #onted PLN via Twitter, I tried to include a wide variety of educators and voices for you to connect with to start. I could have included another 50, but that will have to be at another time.

Along the way you will find many others. My goal at the onset of this post was to introduce you to many of the people that I can count on for advice and support when times get tough. Congratulations in advance on joining the family. Feel free to tag me in a tweet sometime. @willgourley #onted #ETFOStrong