Category Archives: Professional Development

The thinking behind the evolution of blogging – 4 case studies (ALIA seminar)

Last Saturday, with barely a whisper for a voice (laryngitis), I presented ‘Blogging: My story’ at an ALIA conference, along with Catherine Ryan (Westbourne Grammar), Karen Malbon (Penleigh and Essendon Grammar) and keynote speaker, Kelly Gardiner, Online Learning Manager, State Library Victoria. It was a privilege to join these people, and to hear what they had to say. Kelly, thank you for settling my nerves with your lovely, relaxed, conversational manner. It was a privilege and pleasure also to meet and chat to everyone who came – on a Saturday! And I have to  mention how beautifully organised the day was – with lovely pastries from a special place in (I think) Seddon. Thanks to ALIA people (Anne Girolami and Karen Marston – as well as Catherine Ryan; I hope I haven’t forgotten anyone, and if so, sorry) and in particular to Anne who saved my voice by regrouping people so that I gave two instead of three workshops. I hope that Kelly’s talk will be available somewhere soon because I’d like to revisit it.

Here’s the visual presentation for my workshop. It doesn’t cover everything I spoke about but it gives you an idea. I wanted to focus on my own story in terms of 4 different school blogs I talked about, so it was more about reflection/evaluation and evolution of my use of blogging in four different contexts.


Doing the #twistedpair with teaching colleagues – taking a risk!

Flickr photo by Anktangle

As part of a couple of professional exchange days, I decided to use Steve Wheeler’s #twistedpair idea to invite my colleagues to write. When I say ‘I decided’, I mean I spent several weeks agonising over whether to do something safe or take a risk with the #twistedpair. See this post for the history. Finally I decided to take a risk and go with the writing session although I was convinced that nobody would choose my session over the other, more obviously traditional, professional development sessions.

I promised Steve that I’d report and here it is. I actually had 10 teachers come to my session (with 3 other choices). It was so much fun! With the changeover from the previous session, we actually only had 10 minutes to write after a shortish explanation with examples of #twistedpairs to get people going. We all shared; that was the best part.

Some people were happy for me to share their #twistedpairs (some in the early thinking stages due to time limit):

Professor Dumbledore and Frida Kahlo (group effort by 2 Art teachers) –

  • They are both larger than life
  • They both command an audience
  • They both express themselves through their clothing
  • Big picture philosophy
  • They have an intimidating presence yet they draw people to them at the same time
  • They are both story tellers
  • They are both very open-minded
  • They are both risk takers

Thanks Vanja and Mihaela!1

Joan (English and Performing Arts) wrote about how Ken Robinson and Doris Day inspire her:

Ken Robinson is someone who inspires me because he talks about creativity being central to education. His books The Element and Out Of Our Minds made me shout out loud as I read each new idea on the page. “Yes, I agree with that!’ or “Yes, that’s what I think/do in my classes!”

Doris Day also made me shout – I played Calamity Jane in year 12 and the musical was about a mix of love and feminism. As the character of Calam I got to explore ideas relating to feminism, I was in my ‘element’ as described by Ken Robinson, singing, acting, thinking and discovering things about myself and the world. The song that encapsulates all these things for me had the line about ‘my secret love, not being secret anymore’. “Now I shout it from the highest hill.”

We also heard about how Florence Nightingale and Nike worked as inspirational #twistedpairs for Jenny. We heard about Josh Thomas and Michael Long.  Some #twistedpairs I’ve forgotten because I didn’t force people to hand over their writing.

Alex is happy to share what she wrote:

Here Emily Bronte converses with William Shakespeare.

EB: I want to ask you whether you travelled to all the places that you wrote about. Italy, Africa and India.

WS: No but I was a robber of tales tall and true from the sailors at the docks.

EB: I live in a parsonage in a tiny village. I can’t move beyond my own footprints nor can I escape the influence of my family.

WS: Well of course you are a woman, and remember ‘your name is frailty’, you aren’t to be trusted in the world beyond your father’s house and will always need to be protected from ‘ the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune ‘.

(Excuse me for quoting my own work, but then again, on one else has ever come close)

EB: Too true, by your reckoning and insistence.  I have been gazing into the world of the human heart, having neither knowledge nor opportunity for experience I have had only human behavior as a model. What else might I have written if I had seen the world?

WS: Too many of your Victorian novels have remained in drawing rooms.  Even men were too bound by their own watch chains to look outside. At least you did examine the human heart.

EB: And you were excited by the prospect of defeating Spain and conquering the world. The age of exploration was dawning.

WS: Yet you Victorians in your plump complacency had conquered, but still you didn’t understand. You believed that you were the pinnacle of human civilization and the apex of intellectual life. That no one else could write or rule as well as you could.

Themes: feminism, gendered discourse, colonialism

Motivation: Looking at the contrast in political, social and economic contexts from the epochs represented by these two writers. More of a disciplinary focus, stimulated by the change in VCE Study Design and the introduction of a comparative essay for Year 11 next year.

Thank you for taking a risk with my session. I think we had fun. I learned a lot from all of you. In particular that I am blessed to be amongst intelligent, creative and talented people. I wish the students would see this side of you more often.

If you’re interested in reading what other people have done with #twistedpair see this list.



Why not #twistedpair for professional exchange?

I’ve mentioned my idea of using Steve Wheeler’s #twistedpair to inspire writing for a professional exchange session at school. I figure teachers are always attending PD which teaches them how to teach or how to use new technology in their teaching. What about just doing something instead of learning how to teach it? Why not? Just an enjoyable session being challenged to write something creative. Steve’s #twistedpair seems perfect. So here’s the slideshow introducing the session. (I hope someone comes to my session. Please come. Yes, I realise it might be threatening.)

Thank you to people whose examples of #twistedpairs helped me explain the challenge in this slideshow.

Engaging young adults in the library – Outside the Lines Unconference #getotlau

What makes a successful (un)conference? If at the end of the day participants are buzzing with ideas, happy with new connections – add to that a gorgeous location, beautifully designed new library with water views and perfect weather – you have a winning event. Thank you to the organisers of Outside the Lines: Third Biennial Youth Unconference 2015, for such a day.

It is your chance to gain insight into what young adults are interested in, how libraries can support and collaborate with them and how we can broaden our thinking about young people into a more creative, flexible and innovative framework that will take libraries outside the lines.

By participating you will have the opportunity to: Hear first-hand from young people and their experiences with the library and community organisations.

Here is the link to most of my tweets and those of others at the unconference. I think you’ll get a good idea of what the day was about through this Storify and the photos included.

In the afternoon we had a chance to take part in activities such as making zines, playing around with virtual reality and learning about 3D printing. We are keen to start some sort of Makerspace at MHS. Catherine and I loved the zines and would like to try a session at school. I have some photos of the zines displayed but it’s late now so I’ll keep them for another post.


Teaching a highly able (possibly gifted) cohort – Dr Toni Meath on differentiation and personalised learning

The final session I attended on our first day back to term 2 – a Select Entry Schools Professional Learning Day – was presented by Dr Toni Meath, principal of The Mac.Robertson Girls’ High School, on ‘differentiation and personalising learning for the unique cohort of academic select entry schools’.

Brief: This presentation will provide a perspective on understanding the needs of gifted learners. Meath will put forward that to meet the wellbeing, curriculum and pedagogical needs of gifted learners educators must reflect upon how they personalise and differentiate the learning within a culture of trust present in both the school and the classroom.

Two things jumped out for me in this brief – wellbeing and trust. A focus on wellbeing is obviously an important one  when we consider students and their learning holistically.  Trust is an essential component of a healthy and happy cohort. Both are necessary for academic success.

Dr Meath started by saying that we needed to first believe that there is such a thing as a gifted/highly able child. I’m not sure about the choice of word, ‘believe’, which sounds a bit like blind faith, but I agree that we need to do the research to understand and be convinced that gifted/highly able students exist and have specific learning needs just as, at the other end of the spectrum, students need appropriate support.  In my experience of giftedness an understanding of the affective development is also important.  Dr Meath explained that  our intervention as teachers is based on contemporary knowledge of the brain which proves that although giftedness is recognisable in very young children, it is not fixed from birth. It’s important we understand how our students learn best so that we can support and enhance their learning and allow them to develop their potential.

Creating a culture of trust in the classroom is the first step to supporting students’ learning, and I liked Dr Meath’s point that good teachers remove their ego in order to allow their students to fly. She reminded us that some of our students would no doubt surpass us in our knowledge and understanding of the subject content. It makes sense – and not just in a gifted school. In my opinion, there is no place for insecurity in teachers or an insistence on hierarchy which only results in a power struggle in the classroom. I’m not saying that I’ve achieved this but I continue to remind myself that respect is the preferred attitude to students; wielding power will make students defensive and resentful.

Fixed and growth mindset were discussed by Dr Meath as well as by keynote speaker, Dan Haesler.  Dr Meath identified Carol Dweck, psychologist and a pioneering researcher in the field of motivation, in terms of her work around growth mindset. I found the TED talk:

Carol Dweck researches “growth mindset” — the idea that we can grow our brain’s capacity to learn and to solve problems. In this talk, she describes two ways to think about a problem that’s slightly too hard for you to solve. Are you not smart enough to solve it … or have you just not solved it yet?

It’s an interesting idea to replace the fail or N with ‘not yet’, and I like Carol’s reasoning:

if you get a failing grade, you think, I’m nothing, I’m nowhere. But if you get the grade “Not Yet”you understand that you’re on a learning curve. It gives you a path into the future.

This is important information (from the transcript):

Scientists measured the electrical activity from the brain as students confronted an error. On the left, you see the fixed mindset students. There’s hardly any activity. They run from the error. They don’t engage with it. But on the right, you have the students with the growth mindset, the idea that abilities can be developed. They engage deeply. Their brain is on fire with yet. They engage deeply. They process the error. They learn from it and they correct it.

Just the words “yet” or “not yet,” we’re finding, give kids greater confidence, give them a path into the future that creates greater persistence. And we can actually change students’ mindsets. In one study, we taught them that every time they push out of their comfort zone to learn something new and difficult, the neurons in their brain can form new, stronger connections, and over time they can get smarter.

Dan Haesler spoke about this experiment with the 2 groups of students that Carol talks about here:

Look what happened: in this study, students who were not taught this growth mindset continued to show declining grades over this difficult school transition, but those who were taught this lesson showed a sharp rebound in their grades. We have shown this now, this kind of improvement, with thousands and thousands of kids, especially struggling students.

High achieving students deserve the same amount of support and encouragement to push out of their comfort zone as any other students. Sadly this doesn’t always happen in mixed ability schools because they might be perceived as already ‘being there’ with nowhere to go. How annoying it must be to be judged with a fixed mindset as being ‘smart’ and therefore not deserving of teaching or stretching. It’s also offensive not to recognise the effort put in by ‘smart’ students and instead to assume that everything they achieve is without effort.

Dr Meath asked ‘how often are students just marking time?’ I’m hoping that this happens much less in selective schools but who knows? I still remember how agonising it was for me in early primary school (and must have been equally for others) when I could already read, and had to sit silently and still while the teacher chose struggling readers to read aloud from our annual prescribed reader. Maybe it was easier for me to sit still and daydream the time away than others and of course I was determined to ‘be good’ but how boring it was! I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who had read the whole reader within the first few days and had nowhere to go after that. This was in the 1960s and in my school at least we were not offered library books although I did go to the public library with my mother. Things have improved a great deal since then in terms of differentiation for early reading and let’s hope schools hold onto their libraries, teacher librarians and library staff.

Dr Meath also talked about Flow Theory (Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi) in relation to learning at school and emphasized the combination of high challenge, high support and high success . I’ve included the TED talk and a link to the transcript.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi asks, “What makes a life worth living?” Noting that money cannot make us happy, he looks to those who find pleasure and lasting satisfaction in activities that bring about a state of “flow.”

According to Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, being in the flow is the ultimate in focused intrinsic motivation.

Dr Meath gave a good overview of what teachers should look into more deeply when thinking about how best to teach a gifted and talented cohort. I enjoyed her positive approach and confidence in teaching success based on a good knowledge of educational theories. It was refreshing for me because her view was crystal clear and her faith in what could be done for our select student cohort was absolute. Her students and school are testament to her success in putting theories into practice.

Anyone who has read my posts knows that I have more questions than assured answers but I suppose that’s the way I work through things. I have criticised the VCE as a system that sometimes seems to churn out test-taking students with a focus is on the final ATAR if they want to succeed and move on to their chosen careers. That isn’t to say that I can’t see the wonderful learning environments created by teachers but I also see how teachers’ passion is dissipated by increasing numbers of professional requirements and data charts to prove they are teaching properly. In my work as teacher librarian I’m not fighting the system but in small ways I ‘rebel’ by quietly colouring outside the lines – by taking student writing out of the classroom through blogging, encouraging the development of personal voice in writing rather than focusing on grammar and spelling (and believe me, I am a big fan of grammar and spelling), even by trying to take students out of their comfort zone through exposure to articles or images that make them stop and think.

I came across an old post written by Sean Michael Morris entitled ‘Schools needn’t fail’ (2007) and he talks about how over time he changed the way he ‘ignored’ the system in order to teach honestly.

When I originally started this blog, I started with a pretty self-important diatribe against the systemization of education, especially in the form of standardized testing, rubrics, and the like. I find myself wanting to return to that discussion again.

On the other hand, I feel the urge to exactly ignore that discussion, because ultimately it leads to an us-against-the-administration discussion, or a persistent feeling of hopelessness, futility, and desperation. Because I did not get into teaching to feel desperate, nor to feel oppressed by or to battle the administration (hey, I am the administration), I hesitate to the point of intentional inertia to enter that discussion.

Spot on. What is the point of fighting the system if it makes us feel hopeless, oppressed, and if it leads to inertia?  Morris goes on to talk about ‘any centre of power’.

Regardless of a subject’s posture, though, the center is reaffirmed: slide toward it and you acknowledge its power, rebel against it and you do the same thing. Protesting the government reaffirms the power of the federal administration; leaving in frustration a teaching post does nothing to dismantle the school.

So how does one ignore the power of the school?

Morris provides an example of how one of his favourite teachers did this very thing:

One of my favorite high school teachers was a certain Mrs. Meyerle, who taught me the five-paragraph essay. She used a couple of class days to explain the reasoning behind the form, told us we’d rarely actually write in it, and then moved quickly on to helping us discover what it was we wanted to write about. She fulfilled the expectations of the curriculum in as little time as possible, trusting entirely in our ability to master it quickly, and then, almost without missing a beat, kept the actual learning happening.

Morris describes how he teaches English/Composition:

I refuse to give tests (and now, as chair of my program, have removed them from all our online templates), and deny fervently and repeatedly that there is a correct way to write. Instead, I lead students through a process of ideation, creation, and revision. I let them explore their own authorities (both over their ideas and their words), and give them lots and lots of room to make mistakes.

Of course, as Chair, Morris has more autonomy than the classroom teacher in a school but I have no doubt his teaching is very similar to that of many teachers whose focus is generating passion and engagement in their students which goes beyond ticking the boxes of what is required by the department.

And so, in highlighting the passion of the teacher in creating a stimulating learning environment, I’m back to trust which is surely one of the first, most important, things to be established between teacher and students as well as between the students themselves, so that students feel free to be themselves and challenge themselves at school. Morris quotes Jonathan Kozol:

“Establishing a chemistry of trust between the children and ourselves is a great deal more important than to charge into the next three chapters of the social studies text … Entrap them first in fascination. Entrap them in a sense of merriment and hopeful expectations” (from Letters to a Young Teacher, p. 15).

I know I’m over-quoting Morris but let me finish this long, rambling post with his words:

There is no standardization around merriment and hopeful expectations. There is no rubric for fascination. But these are human things, removed from the power struggle of “schooliness” (thank you, Clay), and they are more important than measurable skills to a life spent learning.


Exploring ways teachers and students can use Pinterest

First day back at school term 2 is a curriculum day for us at Melbourne High School. The theme is ‘knowing highly able students and ourselves’. Apart from set keynotes we have the choice of running sessions and also selecting to attend others’ sessions. Mihaela Brysha (Head of the Visual and Performing Arts faculty) and I will be running a workshop about Pinterest. I’m sharing the presentation slides here.

I’ve been banging on about Pinterest for so long, you’d think I had shares in the company. For example, here, here, here, and here. Some of the earlier slides I’ve re-used from earlier presentations.

Pinterest is often overlooked by educators because it looks like a bit of fun with no substance. The power of Pinterest lies in the ability to find people who have curated the stuff you want. And then see who they are following. Although it’s an image-based platform – and that’s what makes it a preference for those who prefer visual collections – it’s also a good way to collect text-based things online as long as you can attach them to a picture. I use Pinterest and Diigo equally, sometimes saving the same thing to both. Diigo is more sophistocated in its options, allowing keyword searches, but also collaborative annotation. I just haven’t had much success selling it to teachers. When I want to share a collection of online resources with teachers, I often use Pinterest because it’s easy to see the contents at a glance. Of course, now everyone needs an account before they can even view what’s on Pinterest.
Meanwhile I find it difficult to comprehend that most teachers and students are happy either saving things to folders on their computers and therefore needing a USB, or going through their history. Come on people, there are much better ways to do that! And easier ways to share.

Connected Courses : Active co-learning in higher education – jumping in from the secondary school sector

This is the tweet from Howard Rheingold that grabbed my attention.

It looked worthwhile. I investigated. I’ve been looking for the right sort of professional development, something interactive and engaging with community.  Lately I find that I learn best by connecting with others rather than from traditional lecture style sessions. The one day conference isn’t doing it for me any more. The blogging network also appeals to me, and I’ve been running dry with my professional blog. Time to refuel.

The background:

The goal for Connected Courses is to build an inclusive and expansive network of teachers and students, and provide educational offerings that make high quality, meaningful, and socially connected learning available to everyone. The go-at-your-own-pace collaborative course is free and open to all.


Connected Courses is a collaborative network of faculty in higher education developing online, open courses that embody the principles of connected learning and the values of the open web.

Our goal is to build an inclusive and expansive network of teachers, students, and educational offerings that makes high quality, meaningful, and socially connected learning available to everyone.

Our Course on Connected Courses

For Fall 2014, our major focus is on running a course for developing and teaching connected courses. The course is designed and taught by faculty from diverse institutions, some of whom are the folks behind successful connected courses such as FemTechNet, ds106, phonar, and the National Writing Project CLMOOC. You can find the syllabus here, and the people involved here.

The videos address issues I’ve been thinking about: what if our education system is working because it’s been designed for a world that no longer exists? It’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately – are we preparing our students for their future world of tertiary studies and work? I’m in – I can use all the help I can get in making sense of how to move forward in a rapidly changing world.


[vimeo 72000377 w=500 h=281]

[vimeo 98763656 w=500 h=281]

I asked Howard Rheingold if I could join Connected Courses even though it was designed for higher education people, and was happy when he said ‘why not?’


I’m excited to be learning with the vision:

A world where all young people have access to participatory, interest-driven learning that connects to educational, civic, and career opportunities.

The Alliance supports the expansion and influence of a network of educators, experts, and youth-serving organizations mobilizing new technology in the service of equity, access and opportunity for all young people.

I’m excited by the leadership line-up and I believe in connected learning environments:

Connected learning environments link learning in school, home and community because learners achieve best when their learning is reinforced and supported in multiple settings. Online platforms can make learning resources abundant, accessible and visible across all learner settings;

in peer supported participation for learning:

Connected learning thrives in a socially meaningful and knowledge-rich ecology of ongoing participation, self-expression and recognition. In their everyday exchanges with peers and friends, young people fluidly contribute, share and give feedback. Powered with possibilities made available by today’s social media, this peer culture can produce learning that’s engaging and powerful;

in interest-powered learning:

Interests foster the drive to gain knowledge and expertise. Research has repeatedly shown that when the topic is personally interesting and relevant, learners achieve much higher-order learning outcomes. Connected learning views interests and passions that are developed in a social context as essential elements;

in production-centred learning:

Connected learning prizes the learning that comes from actively producing, creating, experimenting and designing because it promotes skills and dispositions for lifelong learning and for making meaningful contributions to today’s rapidly changing work and social conditions;

in shared purpose in learning:

Today’s social media and web-based communities provide unprecedented opportunities for caring adults, teachers, parents, learners and their peers to share interests and contribute to a common purpose. The potential of cross-generational learning and connection unfolds when centered on common goals;

in the importance of academically oriented learning:

Connected learning recognizes the importance of academic success for intellectual growth and as an avenue towards economic and political opportunity. When academic studies and institutions draw from and connect to young people’s peer culture, communities and interest-driven pursuits, learners flourish and realize their true potential.

And the icing on the cake is that this is going to be a guilt-free learning zone, so that being busy and missing things will not be a problem.

As we collectively kick-off Connected Courses I officially declare this a guilt-free learning zone.  What a relief to know that even though you might have missed a couple weeks of Connected Courses (or you never even heard about it until mid-October) you can still jump in and your participation is welcome. What a relief to know that you can customize and calibrate your “take-away” from this experience based on what matters to you.  What a relief to know that even if you would rather lurk-to-learn, you are still a valued member of our community of co-learners. (Mia Zamora’s post)

Will you join me?