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I’ve spent the past week doing four things. I have:
* Been prepping our classic boat for the sailing season
* Following the peripatetic Think Global School as they get into their third and final trimester for this academic year
* Become thoroughly obsessed with the educators who inhabit Twitter
* Spent many hours pondering how we educate our children.
I have also found that Michael Gove, the widely, roundly and rightly reviled new Secretary of State for Education in the UK, has accidentally managed to introduce one inadvertent benefit to teaching among the morass of disastrous foolishness.
In this first of two posts, I want to explore a few reasons why I have found following TGS so valuable and float the idea that Twitter is an ideal medium to have rounded and thoughtful conversations – despite, or possibly because of, the 140 character limit.
Those of you who know me personally may know that I spend a great deal of time publishing materials and working online with a variety of schools and colleges; most of what I produce is for use within those schools. This week, however, I’ve been feeling pretty tired after a long term. So, as it’s the Easter Holidays, I have bunked off from normal work and I have spent my time sharing thoughts and ideas with educators in completely different parts of the world. I’ve dug through mountains of ideas and explored wildly different educational systems and totally different approaches to how we help our children to learn. I have seen ways in which we, in the UK, are terribly behind other parts of the world in how we educate. And I have seen that we are miles ahead in other ways. It has been re-invigorating and re-enlightening.
Over the course of the week, I have had the privilege to share a very enjoyable twitterversation ™:-) with Lin Cheng, (@becomeFORREST (http://twitter NULL.com/becomeFORREST), IB Mandarin Teacher) and the Think Global School (@TGSThinkGlobal). They are in Michigan and Beijing respectively so the conversation has crossed at least a dozen time zones and has, necessarily, involved quite a lot of thinking time between tweets. The topics have been varied but, as TGS has recently landed in Beijing, they have loosely revolved around China, Chinese culture and language.
In the conversation we have meandered from cultural perceptions of walls and boundaries to how proverbs reflect language and culture and we have then returned to base via haggling in markets and methods to eliminate light bulbs with nun-chuks.
It has obviously been enjoyable…but there’s a lot of technology used out there in education which doesn’t deliver real and tangible benefits for learning. So I habitually ask myself the BigSoWhat? question.
BigSoWhat? if we know about what people in another school in Beijing are doing? Why are they tweeting about what’s going on anyway? How can what their students are doing be of any interest or use to me or my students?
Reading back on the tweets we have shared this last week, I was faintly disappointed at first as I realised that, if an outsider were to read the text of the tweets, there is not that much said really… Yet I am aware that I have done an enormous amount of thinking and reflecting this past week! In between each tweet I have pondered, processed and paraphrased the topics under discussion. And at the end of that process, my thoughts have been summarised in these short 140 character comments to my fellow conversees.
Incidentally, if you take this approach when arguing with your wife/husband/partner of only delivering a short pithy phrase after hours of sulking it doesn’t work at all well. Not that I have any personal experience of this kind of poor communication – oh no… Fortunately, in this professional context with fellow educators, it works perfectly as we are all trying to communicate on a positive level and are using the tweets simply to explore new ideas and share our individual explorations collaboratively. The tweet becomes a summary point, a node if you like, in an ongoing personal think.
And it is the personal thinking process where I do my learning and where my students might do their learning.
There are two points which arise out of all this.
1. That the death of the art of conversation has been much exaggerated, it has merely moved place of residence from the dinner table to the interweb
2. That conversations lead to ideas and ideas lead to questions and questions lead to learning…
The three parts of the conversation we have had might be broken down in the following way; each of which is potentially critical to a satisfactory final outcome.
For each conversational thread:
* TGS provides the catalyst, a nugget of info from their time in Beijing.
* Myself and Lin Cheng are then the main protagonists. We bat around ideas freely until we have arrived at an educationally useful coalescence
* The ideas are then flung out – hopefully in the form of an interesting question for the TGSers in Beijing to think about in their educational explorations.
At the same time Lin and I have advanced our own understanding of the world and what might make an interesting topic within our own classes.
It is probably true to say that in most face to face conversations, there is relatively little time to think and digest. Something is said, the other responds and, all the while, there is the background chatter in the brain as you think about what was just said. Eventually, the conversation ends and, later on, you think of all the things you might have said…if only you’d had the time to think of them…
Perhaps, therefore, twitter is a better way of conversing?
Each time you tweet, you have had time to think. To ponder. To assimilate. To work out whether what you are saying is true, relevant, useful and pithy…
To bring this back to the BigSoWhat? and something concrete and educationally related: are these not key skills we want to promote in our students?
* Considerate response
At the end of this week, I have come to a deeper and more exciting view of how I can use twitter in my classes’ exploration, reflection and evaluation sessions. I feel excited about the idea of helping my students learn how to précis down their thoughts into 140 characters, how to get the gist of what they need to say across in tiny, meaningful chunks, to bat around ideas between each other until they come up with a question to relate to their work. In other words, they will have truly thought about their work and how to improve it next time. This sounds like real learning to me.
Has all this personal reflection and exploring and re-invigorating come about just because TGS in Beijing took the time to let us know about what they are up to with their students? Because Lin Cheng took the time to share his thoughts and wonderful humour with us? For me, sure it has. And along the way I hope I’ve added a little back in to my fellow conversees.
Plus, I feel ready to get back to school after the holidays and try out some new cool stuff! That’s chicken soup for my teaching soul.
(http://twitter NULL.com/home/?status=The+BigSoWhat%3F+%E2%80%93+Why+tweeting+is+good+for+a+teacher%E2%80%99s+soul+http%3A%2F%2Fis NULL.gd%2FFUSDBb)
A few months back I started a discussion within the National College for School Leadership website asking what Sacred Idols people were prepared to change at schools. I started with:
- How about if we had an 11.30 start for teenagers?
- Or a 10pm finish time for high achievers?
- What if we abolished homework?
- Wrote weekly reports to parents or, alternatively, abandoned reports altogether?
- How about if we just went super-deep on a few examined subjects and then teach everything else as non-examined subjects?
All of these things are common in the private sector, but not in state schools and they would represent a pretty radical departure in the public sector.
The conversation that followed was wide ranging and absorbing but eventually it all boiled down to one point.
What are the values that we, as educators hold dear, and what are we prepared to do to deliver on them?
Then I came across Think Global School (http://thinkglobalschool NULL.org/) and have found some of their work pretty inspirational. These are some of the reasons why.
If you Google TGS, the first thing you see is their tag line in the search engine which says:
Don’t teach me what to think, teach me how to think.
That’s a good start in my book. It’s a tenet I hold to in my own IT classes: less button clicking on the screen, more button pressing in the mind. However, it’s no more than we might expect from all forward thinking schools.
Pressing onward, you discover that they move city and country every term. I’ll repeat that again. The whole school moves. To a new country every 90 days. Students, teachers, Head Teacher, the lot. OK, you think. Now that’s different. Why do they do that? What’s the point? This is the point where scepticism seems to creep in when I tell people about this school!
Next up, every student and teacher gets an iPad, Macbook and iPhone. Which is nice. But isn’t that like any school that teaches IT but with fancier bits of kit?
So all of this is interesting and different but ultimately I still found I needed to ask my two default questions when faced with something new in education:
‘What about little Johnny? How will this make a long term difference to him?’
So, a little more digging is required. Why were TGS doing this? What are the benefits? What are the results? How does Little Johnny feel about this? So, here is inspirational point number one about TGS.
They are communicators
You have the thinkspot (http://spot NULL.thinkglobalschool NULL.com/), the twitter (https://twitter NULL.com/#!/TGSTHINKGlobal)feed, the blog (http://thinkglobalschool NULL.org/blog/), the facebook (http://www NULL.facebook NULL.com/THINKGlobalSchool), the photo gallery (http://spot NULL.thinkglobalschool NULL.com/pg/photos/world), the youtube (http://www NULL.youtube NULL.com/user/ThinkGlobalSchool) and probably a bunch more I haven’t found yet. And their Little Johnny’s are talking about what they are up to. And singing and playing and learning. There’s plenty of schools out there that have these social network tools but I have never come across one where, when I watched and read the posts, I felt I was watching a family at play. Each and every picture and message shows a group of people who respect and like each other and who feel a commitment to change the way that education is perceived. And that brings me to inspirational point number two.
They learn together
We have all heard the blah blah about teachers as facilitators and guides. But honestly, how often do we really see it? You see it in many teachers for patches of time and then along comes a new league table and people start drilling for the test. It’s not the fault of the teacher! They have to deliver the results or their job (or a colleague’s) will go. So we end up back at square one with Sir at the front and Little Johnny sat at his desk, fidgety and bored. How do you solve this one?
Well, maybe you need to throw out the desk and go and do some research together on the Great Barrier Reef (http://www NULL.youtube NULL.com/watch?v=HNvzTfO9hAc&feature=player_embedded) for a time? Not busy-work research but real research which contributes to the census of species on the reef. So that’s inspirational point number three.
They do work that matters
And this is where I really start to get fired up and excited.
In the UK in particular, there has been a great deal of attention paid to Vocational Education (http://wordnetweb NULL.princeton NULL.edu/perl/webwn?s=vocational%20education). This has often been interpreted as ‘work related contexts’ – dull and patronising in many cases. In the best colleges, vocational education involves genuine work which the students enjoy and value. However, it is still commonly seen, at least in the UK as a poor-relation to ‘academic’ education (c.f. the great education debate in the UK (http://www NULL.14to19 NULL.co NULL.uk/2011/03/michael-gove-accused-of-trying-to-bring-back-grammar-schools-by-back-door/)). Without wanting to stir this hornets’ nest too vigorously, I ask myself two further questions:
- Why should students do work scenarios when they could do work? and,
- Why can’t ‘academic’ kids do work in their chosen fields while still at school?
Now, I know that the way that TGS works is not possible in all schools. It takes money, time and hyper-commitment. But surely we can do better than we are now?
(http://www NULL.fotopedia NULL.com/items/flickr-2049233526)
What if we strip away all our pre-conceived notions of what is possible and say to Little Johnny, “Hey kid, what’s the coolest thing you could possibly imagine doing? How much do you want to do it? And how do you think we might do it together?”
I know that TGS are small, independent, well funded (I imagine!) and very new, but they are still doing things which we can all do. The communicating, the networking, the real work, the learning together. So this for me is inspirational point number four.
They do not believe in barriers.
And actually, I suspect that’s one of the big reasons for them travelling and living in a different country every term. If you jump over the barriers on a regular basis then you forget they are there in the end. You see the wide open country on the other side rather than the great wall in front of you.
And that’s something we can strive for in any school.
(http://twitter NULL.com/home/?status=Inspiring+Little+Johnny+http%3A%2F%2Fis NULL.gd%2Fyr2XJB)
Just returned from a school leadership course and the end of a long year of self-analysis and thought. I found it interesting that, whatever topic we ended up discussing, it all came down to two questions:
- What do I value?
- How can I communicate what I value to others?
The first question is, I suppose, about me. The second is about whoever else I come in contact with, i.e. You. (Well, someone who isn’t me anyway.)
I feel 2 lists coming on…
- Free thought
- A willingness to question even the fundamentals
- A sense of what is right and wrong
- Being open to new ideas
How can I communicate that?
- Understand what you value
- Feel what you value
Once we get there, aren’t we most of the way towards effective leadership?
(http://twitter NULL.com/home/?status=What+value+leadership%3F+http%3A%2F%2Fis NULL.gd%2FNbtoAz)