I Have a Dream

I know there are many good and principled school principals, but imagine if each and every school had a principal that made a positive contribution to the welfare and learning of students, and a positive contribution to the work that teachers and other staff do.

Imagine if that large and expensive apparatus that supports principals supported students and teachers instead.

Imagine if all that energy that went into flashy self-promotion went straight into classrooms.

Imagine if all that energy that went into nit-picking went into making school positive and effective.

An effective and decent principal is a marvellous asset to a school, and I do think that schools need leaders, but I think those leaders should work in the service of the students, rather than the staff and students should work in service of the principal, no matter how they behave or perform.

I’d like to think that one day this is where governments, school councils, and education departments will direct their efforts. Fingers crossed.

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Mixed Messages, or How I Kept Loving Paper

Certainly the title of this article is provocative, The Case for Banning Laptops in the Classroom, but it led me to think about my own evolving views about eLearning.

Last year, when I was my school’s eLearning leader, I did my utmost to make the most of all those devices in the learning space. And perhaps I overdid this because, now that I am back with the same students and we are using the devices less, the environment runs more smoothly and more learning appears to be happening. I know this is a controversial assertion, so let me unpack it for you a bit.

1. Computers are not always better.
Computers are powerful and, if you have the right device, they start up quickly. But they don’t do all things better than a pen and paper and, in many cases, they are slow to start and a certain number of them don’t work at any given time. I’m sadly not in a position to mention specific numbers, but when a sizable minority don’t have functioning devices, then it’s not actually a one-to-one environment.

Writing prose is perfectly fine on a computer, in my experience. Working out an algebraic equation on the screen, however, is slower than a pencil and paper. Computers are great for some things, perhaps even many things. But they are not the best tool for all tasks. There is a vital place for real-world and paper-based tasks. Dissecting a virtual heart is not the same rich experience that actually cutting into and experiencing a real heart is.

2. Some computers are more equal than others.
iPad start quickly and have some amazing apps. A laptop has a full-sized keyboard and is often sturdy. A Chromebook is cost-effective and makes real-time collaboration easy. And I’ve heard Microsoft reps at a conference assure the audience that Windows 8 will be ready for the educational big-time in the next two years. But each and every device has strengths and limitations. And when you lock yourself into doing all your learning on a single device, you close as many doors as you open. I have heard that some schools now have a two-to-one program where each student has an iPad and a laptop, and this certainly increases your options dramatically. But I maintain that there is a place for non-screen based learning as a significant part of the mix.

3. Screens are distracting.
It’s hard to keep your eyes off a glowing screen with a moving image. You’ll notice this whenever you walk into any room with a screen. This is hard enough for mature adults with an obvious economic imperative to stay focused, much less a person with a developing mind. But being fixed on a screen, even with people at the other end on other screens, is not always the best use of your brain cells. I am more and more convinced that eye contact, body language, tone of voice, laughter, tears, and physical contact reinforce relationships and positivity in a way that all our clever electronic tools cannot do.

So, am I suggesting that we ban computers? Not at all. I think that teachers should make the most of blogs to communicate with students, parents and other teachers. I think that we can all use blogs, podcasts, videos, and social media to share our creations with a wider audience and this brings an authenticity that is hard to beat. I also think that we can bring in all kinds of resources electronically that are just not available otherwise.

But…

But, I am also saying that we should use them in a genuinely blended environment, where we turn off the screens for a decent amount of time and do other rich learning and interacting. Non-screen doesn’t mean medieval. It can mean all kinds of positive things, things that we should embrace just as much as we embrace eLearning.

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Serving Two Masters

My students spotted that I was in a suit yesterday, and they were curious, naturally enough. I figure there is no value in being dishonest, so I told them when they asked, “I am going for an interview this afternoon.”

“At another school?”

Yes.

“So you’re going to leave us?”

I’ll be sorry to leave you guys, but I don’t know what things will be like here next term or next year.

“But we don’t want you to leave.”

Obviously, I felt awful. But we have to take care of our welfare first at times. We are no good to our students on stress leave or worse.

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Quick and Handy Excel Trick

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To Thine Own Self Be True

This is my eighth year of teaching, and I’ve been in leadership roles for all but two of those years, mostly as a learning community leader (which is similar to a year-level coordinator) but also as eLearning leader more recently. Part of this has been pragmatic. As the primary breadwinner for our family, I can earn more as a leading teacher than otherwise, especially in the early years of my career. Just as important for me, however, was being able to make a greater contribution and do things that help more people. Students spend so much time at school that if you can make a positive change to their day-to-day experience, then that’s a really big thing, and a really rewarding thing. I’ve also enjoyed having a seat at the “big kids’ table”, where some of the more substantial decisions are made, which is certainly in part about my own ego and sense of importance.

However, all organisations experience cultural change, and this seems to be especially true in schools. There are trends in teaching and learning philosophies and schools tend to subscribe to a particular set of beliefs, which can sometimes manifest themselves as a kind of orthodoxy. When your own values align with the school, then the fit in the leadership team is straightforward and positive. But when the organisation shifts to a new way of thinking, one that is perhaps at odds with your own values, then this relationship can become strained and difficult. You can stay inside the leadership team and try to act as a moderating influence, or you can jump ship, either out of the team, or into a new organisation.

In the end, I decided to make the shift to another organisation, but this is taking time. In the meantime, I have stepped down from my leadership position and have returned to full-time teaching duties. In this role, all my school energies can be directed the welfare and learning of particular students. And in my teaching I am able to tow the party line, and treat students with respect and help them learn.

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