Balance, not division. Compassion, not attack. Conversation, not war.

Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It’s a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity. ~ Pema Chödrön

by @debsnet

Often I am struck by argumentative battles in traditional media, on social media and around the blogosphere. I appreciate those writers, commentators and educators who share their musings, experiences, readings, and perspectives, without using divisive loaded language or attack. I think the rantiest I have gotten was this post on the APPR reforms in New York and this one around whether teachers can be researchers, but I attempted to frame my criticism through making transparent my perspective and asking clarifying questions. Balance.

I have written a lot about my school’s coaching model, as it is kind of my baby and it’s something which I think is worth sharing; others might gain from hearing our story. Yet this coaching model is not stand alone. It is not as though teachers at my school are only coached by teacher-coaches in a non-evaluative, non-hierarchical model. In their first year at the school, teachers participate in a rigorous evaluative permanency process. Every year they have a conversation with their line manager, who touches base with them on their work, goals and classroom practice. Every third year, teachers have their coaching cycle with their manager. This is more evaluative and performative by its nature, and by the nature of the relationship. Teachers additionally work with instructional consultants. Leaders work with coaches. Professional learning community teams and action research projects work alongside. Growth and evaluation. Balance.

I have written about the creative things I trial in my classroom like a term without grades and genius hour for students and teachers. These are things at the experimental end of the spectrum of what happens in my lessons, so I share them as stories of experience and part of a conversation. I do these things to develop engagement of my often-reluctant high school English students, to build their self-efficacy and to help them learn to rely on themselves as drivers of learning, rather than entirely on me as Teacher with a capital T.

Does that mean I don’t use explicit instruction? Of course not! I explicitly teach concepts, skills and texts, although I temper this with encouraging students to do their own thinking and to trust their own thinking, rather than expecting that I can fill them, as vessels, with the answers. What are the ideas of the text? What interpretations might be drawn? Answers can come from me or from Spark Notes, but if I do my job properly, students will have the skills, understandings, language and cognitive capacity to draw their own interpretations, from their own contexts, and justify these using logic and evidence. The best student responses comprise original thinking, not regurgitated knowledge. The best teachers focus not just on effective learning (our core business, of course!) but developing learners and passion for consuming, curating and creating knowledge.

In my Head of English roles at three schools I have ensured a balance between explicit instruction and those strategies which propel love of reading, power in writing and deep intellectual engagement in ideas and discussion. Interestingly, Charlotte Danielson’s heavily-researched Framework for Teaching has its ‘proficient’ descriptors describing teaching which is expertly directed by the teacher, and its ‘distinguished’ teaching descriptors outlining lessons in which students are taking responsibility for their own learning and behaviour. Creative and explicit. Balance.

I have written about lyrical metaphors for PhD study, and only occasionally about the unsexy logistics of what the graft actually looks like. My conceptual framework draws in part from fictional literature. Does this mean my PhD is devoid of hard, critical, scientific work? No. My PhD is of course the result of the logical, systematic working through of literature, data and research problems. When writing the Limitations section in the conclusion of my thesis I was highly aware that all research has its limitations. Extensive quantitative data can show us patterns and effects, but these may be faceless. Qualitative data can drill down deep into the messy humanness of lived experience which may be unrepresentative of wider groups and therefore not generalizable. Yet each study adds its tiny piece of understanding to the layers of what is known. Research is conversation. Imaginative and systematic. Broad and deep. Balance.

I would love to use the line ‘I’m a lover not a fighter’ but I think I’m both. I believe in sharing and celebrating our stories, but I will advocate fiercely for my students, fight for what I believe is right and argue for my research. Balance.

From a history of my posts, it is probably clear that I am seduced by the lyrical, by storytelling, by creative approaches and by metaphor. Yet I am not one dimensional. Nor is my teaching, my thinking, my researching or my living. Balance.

I came across this excellent recent TED talk from Jon Ronson on the way social media has moved from giving voices to the voiceless, to an angry mob mentality of shaming and abuse, in which people seem to forget compassion and morality.

While I love robust discussions which take us out of the echo chamber of we-all-agree-high-fiving, I also think we need to approach these with compassion, thoughtfulness and a view of each other as human beings. We can disrupt with respect. We can disagree gracefully. We can advocate with civility. (And if you throw in a metaphor, you’ll totally have me!)

by @debsnet

The Connected Learner: Reflections on Connected Educator Month #CE14

spring in my garden: iceberg roses blooming

spring in my garden: iceberg roses blooming

Adventure is a path. Real adventure – self-determined, self-motivated, often risky – forces you to have firsthand encounters with the world. The world the way it is, not the way you imagine it. ~ Mark Jenkins

As Spring springs here in Australia and Fall falls in the USA (where I am headed in two weeks), I have been reading a lot about how October is Connected Educator month. You can read more from Craig Kemp (Twitter as PD), Tom Whitby (on the connected mindset) and Pernille Ripp (the downside to being a connected educator).

It has me wondering: what about being a connected learner? Because for me, being a ‘connected educator’ means connecting to be challenged, to be supported and to learn.

Twitter is a platform which allows plenty of connection and learning. On Twitter I …

  • Learn from others around the world – educators, thought leaders, researchers, students, people in other industries, friends and like-minded individuals. I get to read others’ ideas and share my own, and this means I am in a constant place of learning.
  • Contribute to a localised community hub of learning and thinking, sharing ideas on-the-spot such as at conferences during presentations; I simultaneously contribute to and consume the stream of learning-community responses.
  • Engage with people with whom I disagree, thereby engaging in debate and widening my perspectives. Corinne Campbell has written about why we need to be careful about the ‘echo chamber’ and only connecting with those who mirror ourselves.
  • Connect to those in similar situations to myself. This is why I follow #phdchat and #acwri, because as a working parent who is also a PhD candidate (read more about that here), I am not part of a student or researcher community, apart from during my supervisory meetings. Engaging with these hashtags allows me to learn from others while feeling that I am not alone in my PhD experiences. It means that when I am deep in my researching or writing burrow, I can send a shout out (a Twitter SOS, if you like) about my research experience (something that most people in my day to day life don’t connect with) and feel connected to others in the same boat. It allows me, in my moments of isolation and academic struggle, to feel heard by someone out there! I agree with George Couros in his post about why we need to be able to find these kindred spirits outside of our own immediate contexts.

Now, with this recently-begun blogging experiment (Will it continue after my professional learning New York trip? That is yet to be decided!) I have been connecting by sharing my musings (in more than 140 characters), my photographs and my journal scribbles. The very act of writing helps my thinking and the growth of my professional ideas. The subsequent connections with others is about mutual interest and growth. Blogging has helped me refine my own thinking while widening my global learning community (or professional learning network).

Similarly to the ACEL Conference at which I presented this month (you can read my reflections here), my upcoming visit to New York will have me really connecting, face to face, with inspiring thinkers, school leaders, educators and researchers, with whom I have found connections through various avenues, from introductions to cold-emailing. Here Clara Galan reminds us of the importance of connecting in real life as well as in the virtual world.

So for me October is definitely Connected Educator month, but more than that, it is about connected learning. Educators and others around the world connect online and in person, learning together to grow themselves and come up with better outcomes in their arenas of work and influence. Fellow nerds of the world, unite, in any and every way you can!

O, Manhattan!

O, Manhattan!