Category Archives: teachers

#edchat discuss social media

I learned a familiar lesson about professional development – you don’t have to go far or pay much.

Today I grabbed the opportunity to join the Twitter stream #edchat, something I’ve wanted to do for a while. This regular Twitter discussion was created by Tom Whitby and  Shelley Terrell.  For me in Melbourne, Australia, #edchat takes place on a Wednesday morning so school interferes. This year I have Wednesdays devoted to my role as learning enhancement coordinator, and so I jumped into the #edchat stream for the first part of my morning, frantically trying to keep up with my racing #edchat Twitter column.

A more exciting and informative form of professional development you will be hard pressed to find. The topic was:

What are specific ways educators can incorporate Social Media as a tool for learning into content-driven curriculum?

Being the dymanic multi-tasker that I am, I started pulling out shared links which caught my interest and ended up with a very long list.

Using ipods to increase reading comprehension

We love you Japan. Messages from teachers and students around the world to Japan in crisis.

Teachers really do inspire

Social media revolution 2 (video)


It’s not only about the technology

Embracing the reality of change – Learning with the world, not just about it

Quick list of iPad resources for the classroom

When rethinking the school itself

Twitter for teachers (youtube)

Quality commenting video

8th graders creating the concept for an iphone game for learning Spanish

Links to many educational chats on Twitter by Cybraryman

Your students love social media and so can you

An easy, secure way to find, organise and share educational videos

Engaging students through communication and contact

C2C Twittup: bringing classrooms together via Twitter

Cybersafety by Cybraryman

Mastering marking madness

100 helpful websites for new teachers

Critical thinking: problem-based learning, creative thinking by Cybraryman

Problem-based learning video by World Shaker

The #engchat Daily

Social media and social networking links by Cybraryman

5 things in education we need a new name for

Facebook’s new anti-bullying tools create a culture of respect

Chimacum’s science blog

Using the snap-block teacher tool in maths

Twitter for teachers on YouTube

The state of the flipped class model

Come together (post by Shelley Terrell)

Common Sense education programs

Mr G’s science classes ning

YouTube tools for teachers

Mathchat wiki

10 teaching questions to make you comfortably uncomfortable

Teacher uses Twitter in the classroom

Social media and education

30+ places to find Creative Commons media

Twitter 102 video

Let kids rule the school

Writing prompts

Schools use digital tools to customise education

Education transformation through collaborative videos

Creating effective programs for gifted, low income urban students

Learning 2025: forging pathways to the future

National Science Teachers Association US

About #edchat

Make your videos compatible with all devices with the help of

In a transparent world, we’re always being observed

Do blogs develop content learning? (kids’ maths blog)

An Adoption Strategy for Digital Media in Schools Turning Great Individual Practice into the Norm

Well, that should keep me busy and fill out my curriculum-based wikis and Diigo bookmarks. AND I have new educators to follow on Twitter, more blogs to save into my Google Reader. I highly recommend the experience. Hope I get to do it again soon, but meanwhile the tweets are always there.

Interview with Judith Way, author of Bright Ideas

If you think about people who are a constant and inspirational support in your professional life, you know that you are indebted to these people on a daily basis.

I’ve decided to feature an interview with Judith Way, a Victorian teacher librarian who has made a significant difference in the professional lives of teacher librarians and others, and whose unassuming, friendly nature has endeared many, both in Victoria and globally.

Judith’s blog, Bright Ideas, which she writes for the School Library Association of Victoria, is one of the first things I check daily because I know that she is on top of what’s happening in the world of education. Although she may not need an introduction since so many are connected to her through the blog, Twitter and OZTL-NET, to mention only a few platforms, I’ve included a short biography as an introduction to a recent interview I conducted with Judith.

Judith Way is a teacher-librarian with a Graduate Diploma of Children’s Literature and a Master of Arts. Recently she was recognised for her work with the Bright Ideas blog through the  2010 IASL/Softlink International Excellence Award .She has also been the recipient of the School Library Association of Victoria’s John Ward Award for outstanding contribution to teacher librarianship in 2007 and the SLAV Innovators Grant in 2009. She was awarded the Children’s Book Council of Australia Eleanor E. Robertson prize in 2003. She has presented at conferences locally and internationally. Judith writes the Bright Ideas blog for the School Library Association of Victoria.
How did you come to create and write the Bright Ideas blog?

Due to the success of the School Library Association of Victoria’s Web2.0 online program in 2008, there was a real momentum for more online resources for school libraries, and the idea that schools would showcase what they had developed to encourage others was a big part of that. I was honoured to be asked by SLAV to write the blog on their behalf. I had undertaken the ’23 things’ course through Yarra Plenty Regional Library in 2006.

What were your initial thoughts/feelings about the blog?

Excitement! What a fantastic opportunity to delve into the web 2.0 world and see what we could all make of it in school libraries.

Was it difficult to take the first steps in creating a blog identity and developing a readership?

The first thing was getting a body of work up on the blog. No-one is really going to read a blog with one or two posts on it, so building it up was vital. I then promoted it via the OZTL-NET listserv and down the track joined Twitter. That really developed the readership. Then I joined the ILearnTechnology blog alliance in January this year and that furthered readership again.

What were some of the difficulties you experienced along the way?

School library staff tend to be a modest bunch, so encouraging people that their web 2.0 efforts should be highlighted and shared with others was a challenge.

What were some of the highlights?

Getting lots of positive feedback from readers, especially in relation tothe school library examples that were shared.
Last year Bright Ideas also had the honour of being voted the “FirstRunner Up” in the Edublogs Awards for the ‘Best Library blog”. What a fantastic vote of confidence that was.
Notching up 200,000 hits earlier this year was also a terrific milestone and it was an unbelievable recognition to be awarded the 2010 IASL/Softlink International Excellence Award in September.

How is the role of the teacher librarian changing, if at all?

In one way it is changing dramatically. In another way, it isn’t changing at all. What do I mean by that? We are facing enormous changes in the way we present learning opportunities to students. Social media and eBooks have changed the landscape for many school libraries. But we still want to teach our students how to research well and to love reading- whatever the medium.

What would you say are the most important goals of the teacher librarian/ of educators in general in these times?

To remember the power you have to make a difference to the lives of your students. You have the ability to be a positive role model in terms of using information well, both content and morally. To teach students how to make a positive digital footprint and how to be cybersafe and cybersavvy. To pass on the love of reading. These are lessons they will carry throughout their lives.

Thanks, Judith, for your thoughts, and also for the untiring support you provide for teacher librarians and educators everywhere.

Nicholas Carr at The Wheeler Centre: We’re drowning in the shallows

Last night I attended a talk by Nicholas Carr at The Wheeler Centre.

One of the world’s most ground-breaking and thought-provoking writers on technology and its impacts talks to Gideon Haigh. The celebrated journalist and author of The Shallows, presents his arguments about how the internet’s pervasive influence is fostering ignorance.

Nicholas Carr has a point: the internet is addictive; there’s so much to investigate and dip into, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to move from A to Z without darting off into various directions along the way, and you may not even get there at all.

The pioneering neuroscientist Michael Merzenich believes our brains are being ”massively remodelled” by our ever-intensifying use of the web and related media.

I’m not even going to go into the topic of brain rewiring, but I think that if our neural pathways can change depending on the nature of our activity, then we are still not doomed as long as we don’t turn into robots.

It is possible, though, that we might be at risk of losing our ability to focus on any one thing in a deep way, what with so much clamouring for our attention and our focus being diffused  through a myriad of hyperlinks.  And this is worth thinking about especially in the context of school education.

However, during Nicholas’ talk and subsequent question time, I realized that the culprit for the loss of deep concentration, defined loosely as either ‘the internet’ or technology,  was being bandied about in a disconcerting way, and that it is important to define exactly which activities on the internet we are talking about when we start blaming ‘the internet’ for rewiring of neural pathways and even ignorance.

Nicholas Carr referred repeatedly to online activites such as those on Facebook, Twitter and instant messaging/chat, when he spoke of distractions which prevented us from deeper concentration and understanding. He was using a broad brush to paint a picture of what the internet has to offer,  focusing on the more superficial exchanges as if this was all there was to the internet. Gideon Haigh, the presenter, jumped on the bandwagon and made a disparaging remark about Web 2.0 in education, saying that Facebook and Twitter were hardly learning – and he got an applause for that remark. It was obvious that the audience were not all on the same page. How is it that ‘the internet’ is limited to the more superficial social media? And please, inform yourselves before you judge technology as the cause of lower academic performance. Technology and the internet are only as good as the people who use them, and that is always about educated and intelligent teaching.

From  my own experience, it’s clear to me that the introduction of new technologies requires support, not only how to use these technologies, but also the thinking behind pedagogy – how to use these technologies  to enhance learning, not to tick off boxes for technology use. Obviously technology without the support is going to mean a backwards movement.

If the internet –  and Nicholas Carr also mentioned ebooks with the distractions of hyperlinks and commenting, online research, and multimedia –  if all these things are responsible for the loss of deep concentration, then why don’t we blame television for distracting us from serious novel reading, and why not blame popular music (and the radio) for taking away generations from an appreciation of more serious music and the ability to listen to a long ‘classical’ music performance? Even years ago how could we compete with Sesame Street when teaching young children in the traditional way?

If Nicholas laments the quietness which, he claims, is conducive to deeper thought and concentration, solitude even, then we should really retire to a convent and possibly an Amish community, so that there is no electricity to enable all these distractions.

I know that’s a little extreme but really – aren’t we being a little purist? Who are the people who focus deeply on reading? Are we talking about a scholarly article or book, because then we are talking about academics, not those of us who prefer to sit in front of the television for light entertainment after a long day.

As one of the guys in our computer centre said to me recently – by encouraging teachers to use the internet, aren’t you leading them along the path to addiction, and what will happen to stillness?

I think ‘stillness’ disappeared long ago even with the advent of radio and television. Yes, modern technologies are more mobile, more interactive, more engaging, but aren’t we in control of our online behavior? And if not, we should be. Pick out the wheat from the chaff, or teach yourself to do it. And if you want stillness, perhaps you should consider monasticism.

So Nicholas, before you say that what we need is money going into good teachers instead of into technology in education, please do your homework. Why should the two be mutually exclusive? We have always needed good teachers but we also need teachers who prepare kids for their world. And like it or not, that world is connected. More than ever we need to understand what engages young people and how they learn and socialize, so that we realize the power of social learning. Not because we think Facebook is the answer but because we think Skyping a class from the other side of the world and engaging in authentic conversation is more engaging and informative than reading from a textbook. Because we think that choice and hands-on creativity is more productive than passive learning. Because we find experts all over the world, and not just in the teacher who happens to be standing in front of the class.

I was amused that Carr quoted a 6th century bishop, Isaac of Syria, when he said that our furtive internet behavior was responsible for the permanent loss of the capacity for dream-like concentration:

“With prolonging of this silence,” wrote Isaac, “the turmoil of memories is stilled in my heart, ceaseless waves of joy are sent me by inner thoughts, beyond expectation suddenly arising to delight my heart.”

Bishop Isaac of Syria was a monk, an ascetic. The silence he speaks of is no doubt the silence that comes with private prayer and monastic isolation. Should we then go back to eating in silence while we listen to the readings of the lives of saints?

Finally, Carr discovers shocking statistics about multi-taskers. New research shows that multi-tasking results in poor comprehension. I say there is a difference between multitasking well and dividing your attention between too many things and not doing any of them well. Definitions, people! Let’s not be sloppy with our definitions, let’s be specific when we judge an activity such as multitasking, or something like ‘the internet’.  It’s just as easy to blame the internet as it is to blame society. As Alison Croggon says

The internet is whatever we make it. It isn’t an abstraction: it’s the collective creation of millions of individual human beings.

To conclude, if Nicholas Carr has decided to take a break from being connected 24/7, then rejoined online life after discerning what was valuable and what wasn’t, then isn’t this just part of the evaluative process we should all be going through? Aren’t we doing that already? As teachers, isn’t that part of our job in forming critical thinkers?

I am reminded of the episode about ‘the Internet’ on the IT Crowd. Seems appropriate for today’s post.


Nicholas Carr’s latest book, The Shallows,  is worth reading – or skimming…

Top 100 best of everything

Photo courtesy of Beverly_&_Pack on Flickr

A while ago I was surprised to discover that my blog was included in a list of 100 most inspiring and innovative blogs for education published by Online University Reviews.

At the time I just skimmed the extensive lists, but this evening I have been poring over lists in different categories, and I must say, they’re definitely worth looking at.

Not one for business or gossip, here are some of the lists which caught my eye:

50 best blogs for grammar geeks

10 important writers who went to jail for their work

100 best scholarly art blogs divided into the categories of best art news, best art critic, best art communities, best artists’ blogs, best artist inspirational blogs, best children’s art, best art photography and best art resources

(also including Art forum Australia)

50 free games for teaching literacy online

100 useful tutorials for the twittering librarian including for the beginner, best blogs for Twitter, best way to find other twittering librarians, best timesavers for Twitter, best ways to promote your library using Twitter, best tools for Twitter, best games for Twitter, best add-ons for Twitter, best image tools for Twitter, best video tools for Twitter, best books for Twitter and best librarians to follow on Twitter.

50 best websites for modern Shakespearean scholars

50 incredible books every educator should read

100 famous writers you can follow on Twitter

100 most inspiring and innovative blogs for educators – these are divided into the categories: general teaching blogs, specialty subject blogs, best podcasts for teachers, best video blogs for teachers.

top 100 poetry blogs

100 open courses to take your writing to the next level

top 100 liberal arts professor blogs – these are divided into art, economics, education, english, history, maths, media/technology, music, philosophy, psychology, political science, science, sociology and theology

50 best blogs for literacy teachers including ESL/EFL, grammar, literary criticism and reading promotion

I hope you have an enormous amount of time on you hands because you’ll need a small lifetime to investigate all these links. I’ve been madly saving some of these to my Diigo library. Although I doubt that these lists even cover most of the best of the best – obviously other bests exist elsewhere – it’s definitely a list where you can find something for everyone.

Learning: that’s how we live

Learning is not something that can be captured, predicted or assumed. It doesn’t fit neatly in a table, it’s not defined accurately in a chart, a survey, it doesn’t happen the same way for you as it does for me.

We try to prove that we understand it, control it by conducting research, analysing results, following assessment rubrics, but we should just keep our eyes open and watch. It’s happening around us, at breakfast, in the classroom, the playground, during the holidays, on the bus, and even as we sleep.

Sometimes, as educators, we think that we haven’t influenced the learning process in any of our students (or even our colleagues). We may have been too impatient, too hasty in making that assumption. Evidence of learning can surprise you at the most unexpected times.

I have to admit I wasn’t thrilled to return to school after many weeks of holiday, but it had to happen. Last year I was very happy to join forces with a dear friend, teacher of English, who was brave enough to weather the uncertainties and hazards of ning learning. We tested the Web 2.0 waters together, and made learning interactive with real-life connections and conversation for our students. It seemed that this kind of teaching and learning was not going to catch on fast.

In the first couple of days at school this year, to my delight, several teachers have approached me to help them create a ning, blog or wiki for their class. I’m stoked. I hope that this year will be as fulfilling for them and their students as it has been for me in my own participation in learning communities online: learning from each other wherever we are.

One (or even two) of our classes will be participating in a photo blog project with Marie Coleman in Florida, USA, and Sinikka Laakio-Whybrow. Inspired by our own experiences in the Flickr 365 day photo challenge (and similar projects) – and this is how we met – we wanted to try this out in the classroom. With a weekly theme for photos, we hope that students will enjoy learning from each other,, and that literacy development will naturally spring from curiosity and an exchange of cultures.

A seemingly simple task, posting a photo and writing about it, can actually be a higher order exercise. Marie’s and Sinikka’s posts attest to the depth of thought which can be achieved.

Sinikka’s post:

Today’s Daily Shoot also became the theme of my 365 photo:

“Let’s have some fun on a Friday. Make a photo that goes with the title (or lyrics) of a song. Interpret away!”

Another ordinary day at school, in the familiar red-brick environment. I am thinking what is the state and purpose of education today. I’m sure many students would still sign Pink Floyd’s message of not needing any education from back in 1979. At least not the same old, numbing and repetitive, factory style.

Aren’t schools still too often working like the meat grinder in the brilliant Gerald Scarfe animation of the song where kids are dropped only to spew out uniform minced meat at the other end? Is there any space for individual thinking, learning methods and goals, or chances for each individual to realize their full potential? Why does it seem that the spark, the passion, the joy and creativity are all buried and forgotten inside these walls? Can our students, in their bright pink and red coats, be themselves, and not just other bricks in the wall?

By the way, there is a Finnish expression ‘counting the ends of bricks’, meaning to serve a prison sentence. Sometimes, for me as a teacher, the brick school seems prison-like, too. There are too many outside pressures, constrictions, national assessments and rigid attitudes, which tie my hands.

Marie’s post:

While keeping an eye out for right angles (today’s @dailyshoot assignment), it became apparent that there were a large number of examples in ‘man-made’ structures. On the other hand, there were fewer (or perhaps less obvious) instances in nature and humankind.

Though there is an expectation of support from the angled structures, this cobweb’s network may exemplify the ‘real world’ much more accurately! It certainly reflects the ‘hyperlinked’ nature of today’s youth in their learning and in the interconnectivity of the Internet and all of its tendrils. The web is also much more appealing to the eye, but where would it be without the support and structure of the foundational right angles – guess we need the synergistic relationship of both!

I think these examples illustrate the depth of thinking and fluency of writing which can result from a single image selected to address criteria which still allows choice.

One more thing…

The learning that springs from passion is a wonderful thing. My elder son, who has never studied photography or even art (as an elective) at school, has recently discovered a love of photography, and is learning on the fly. He has joined Flickr groups, and has challenged himself to a daily photo blog. Just last week, he was approached by Zulya and the Children of the Underground for a photo shoot for their next album!

I’m holding onto these examples of learning in the hope of making a difference to student engagement with learning, not for grades, but for life.

Who needs to learn first?

Amanda Marrinan shared this video on Facebook today – Kevin Honeycutt’s song I need my teacher to learn 3.0.


Yes, I think the learning needs to start with us. Thanks, Kevin, you’re amazing – doing so much to make real learning happen and sharing it with all of us. Not sure how he manages to find enough hours in the day. And thanks, Amanda, for finding the video.

Web 2.0 is like a dinner party – Steve Hargadon at VITTA09

Yesterday I attended the VITTA annual conference 2009. There were many highlights, and one of them was the keynote speaker, Steve Hargadon.

Steve has an interesting quietness about him when talking about dramatic things. His message of the revolutionary changes taking place in the world of work, education and play was presented without any eschatological overtones. All the more effective.

Instead of summarising the entire content of my notes, I’ve pulled out a small selection which is playing around in my mind.

Web2.0 has reshaped our life.

We’re about to go through the biggest change in education in centuries, maybe ever.

It’s going to feel like a tidal wave. How are people reacting to this? Some have their back to the wave, a few are out surfing the wave, but to most of us that wave looks impossible.

I still don’t get how people – intelligent, dedicated educators – do not see the wave. I just don’t get it.

We go to Web 2.0 applications to see peer content, to have peer relationships. We are taking off attributing, collaborating, and creating.

We are changing the nature of communicating; there is a significant cultural change with advent of the internet.

Yes, a cultural change. Notice Steve doesn’t say ‘technological’. Technology is the platform, it is becoming ubiquitous, absorbing the new culture of sharing and co-creating.

The web is a conversation. Many feel it’s a tidal wave.

Yes, the sheer size of what’s there is overwhelming.

It’s changing us into becoming a conversation, not unlike going to a dinner party, engaging in conversation and leaving the party,  fulfilled by conversation. To understand what’s happening in Web 2.0 platforms, we must shift our view of web content as being a conversation.

We don’t follow everything, we choose what we follow, just as we would at a dinner party, selecting conversations that interest us.

We are living in an era of increased openness. Here’s an example: Mitopencourseware, a world-class university, offering all the course content free. This is an enormous historic change. Massachusetts Institute of Technology are intent on being in the forefront of a new way of delivering information. is another example of the interest people have in peer information; we read what other readers have said about book, not published reviews.

Social networking will become the foundation structure of our educational experience.

Hmmm…. I wonder how, given that most people, even leaders, have their backs to the wave.

Here’s the all-important question for educators:

How well are we preparing our students for this world?

We don’t know how, we’re not really sure ourselves. But we do know that eduction will change. It will feel like tidal wave.

There are all kinds of ways that schools resist change. What can we do? Breathe deeply, turn toward wave and figure it out. The best way to predict future is create it.

Be a learner first. Get back into learner mode. Learn about these technologies.

And here’s an interesting example of innovative use of social networking for marketing purposes. Ikea has used Facebook to get users to willingly promote their merchandise.

Does this have anything to do with education? No, but why can’t we as educators be as innovative?

Have you learned to share?


Photo courtesy of Eliselovesprada on Flickr

Marie Salinger just shared with me an excellent blog post written by Andrew Douch, No learning for unauthorised persons.   Andrew expresses his disappointment in the fact that many teachers are reluctant to share what they create for their students’ learning. I recommend that you read the entire post.

In my comment following Andrew’s post, I mention that my role as teacher librarian automatically puts me in the position of finding and sharing resources, and that I don’t see why I shouldn’t share outside my school, or even outside my country. Since forming a personal learning network on Twitter, Facebook, Delicious, Diigo and similar networking platforms, I’ve realised that what I share with others is a drop in the ocean compared with what I receive. If only all teachers would experience this.

My blogs and wikis are also a way of sharing ideas, resources and discussions which would otherwise only be shared with a couple of colleagues or not at all. It seems that blog authors find all manner of things useful and edifying, and write about these. I’ll often share resources this way, or even re-post from someone else’s blog if I think it’s worth passing on and giving my two cents worth.

More problematic is the sharing of material which I’ve read in a hard-copy publication. Currently, I’m reading the current edition of Fiction Focus: New titles for teenagers published by Curriculum Materials Information Services, WestOne Services, Department of Education and Training, Western Australia. It’s a teacher librarian’s treasured resource, providing excellent critical reviews of adolescent fiction, as well as reviews of resources of professional interest to teachers. I’m also reading the Centre for Youth Literature Newsletter published by the State Library of Victoria.

It’s frustrating for me to read these excellent resources and not share them online. What may normally occur is that we read them and take out ideas and resources for our own practice, or at best, email a few teachers if we think there is something of interest for them.

So what’s problematic? Well, it’s common practice to re-post online content written by someone else because you can give a synopsis and hyperlink to the actual resource; you don’t have to do more than give a quick summary of the original post since the reader can go directly to the source for more detailed information.

Not so in this instance. I would really like to feature some of the articles in these publications, but how much should I say? I don’t want to overload my readers, and I can’t presume they will obtain the hardcopy publications. I’m not sure if the publishers will consider my efforts a breach of copyright.

For example, there’s an excellent special feature in Fiction Focus, Wow websites – book inspired web wonders, which links to Young Adult fiction websites which

use high quality art and web design to create spaces and interfaces that reflect the character of the fiction that they represent,


spaces for young readers to do what they have always done: play, discuss and imagine…

I applaud the promotion of such websites because I’ve realised that reading becomes an experience when adolescent readers become involved in the art, interactive activities and games, author blog and videos. Providing such websites increases the chances of hooking young people into reading fiction.


Here are the links to author websites provided by this article:

P.B.Kerr’s site, Quertyuiop

Angie Sage’s Septimus Heap series

Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments series

Anthony Horowitz’s Alex Rider series

Charlie Higson’s Young Bond series

Robert Muchamore’s Cherub series

For Picture Book authors, there are links to the following websites:

Shaun Tan

Matt Ottley

Chris Priestley’s Tales of Terror   Gothic feel site

Darren Shan

The Bad Tuesdays

Scott Westerfeld’s new Steampunk-inspired website

The selected works of T. S. Spivet by Reif Larsen

The CMIS Fiction Focus blog include more extensive links to more blogs and websites of young adult authors and illustrators.

Fiction Focus also has an excellent article on Steampunk,

a sub-genre of fantasy and speculative fiction. At the core of steampunk is the notion of altered history (often Victorian and London-Victorian at that) combined with technology that is historically impossible, and therefore all the more intriguing.

There are great links included, so you can see my dilemma – I’d like to share all these wonderful resources with people, but I really think they should subscribe to the magazine, or even, the magazine should go online. CMIS has also given us a taste of Steampunk in their blog which is worth adding to your RSS feed reader, but I can’t resist including all the Steampunk blog links given here as well.

Brass Goggles

The Steampunk Home

The Clockwork Century

Steampod (podcasts)

Antipodean Steampunk Adventures  with an Australian slant

The Antipodean League of Temporal Voyagers

Do read the Fiction Focus blog post about Steampunk.

And guess what? From May 2010, the Centre for Youth Literature Newsletter will be going online. Yes!


Should teachers be more like conductors? TED tells

Orchestra conductor Itay Talgam has discovered that the secrets of good conducting shed light on leadership in general. I found the messages in this TED talk to be very relevant to teaching.

[ted id=663]

Itay Talgam’s TED biography observes that Talgam

finds metaphors for organizational behavior  — and models for inspired leadership — within the workings of the symphony orchestra. Imagining music as a model for all spheres of human creativity, from the classroom to the boardroom, Talgam created the Maestro Program of seminars and workshops.

Talgam’s workshops aim to help everyday people develop a musician’s sense of collaboration, and a conductor’s sense of leadership: that inner sense of being intuitively, even subconsciously connected to your fellow players, giving what they need and getting what you need. It’s this art of listening and reacting in the moment that makes for a swinging jazz combo, a sublime string quartet, a brilliant orchestra — and great teams at work.

Talgam talks about the conductor’s ability to use a small gesture to suddenly create order out of the chaos. When he asks who we should thank for the success of the performance, he is asking what the role of the conductor really is. In the same way as the teacher, the conductor is the single leader responsible for the success of his people. The question is – how does he create music out of the chaos?

According to Talgam, it’s not all about complete control of the orchestra. It’s about the joy of enabling other people’s stories to be heard at the same time – the story of the orchestra, that of the audience, unseen stories of people who made the concert hall and even those who made the instruments.

Talgam shows examples of different styles of conducting. There is the example of the conductor who is so clear about what he wants that he becomes overclear. Talgam describes this type of conductor as having a strong sense of responsibility. This type of conductor insists that there’s only one story to be told, only one interpretation of the music, and that’s his interpretation. In this case, the musicians feel they are not allowed to develop, but are only used as instruments. 

Talgam insists that leadership of the orchestra can be achieved with less control, or with a different kind of control.

One of the conductors is shown conducting with his eyes shut, confusing the onlooker with his apparent withdrawal from control. Talgam explains that, in this case, the musicians get their cues by looking  at the conductor’s face and gestures, and then looking at each other, with the first players of each section leading. This conductor claims that the worst damage he could do to  his orchestra would be to give them an overly clear instruction which would prevent them from listening to each other.

In another example, the conductor explains that by not telling the musicians exactly what to do, he’s opening a space for them to put in another layer of interpretation, another story. Talgam explains that this method without clear instructions works because it’s as if the musicians are on a rollercoaster, whereby the forces of that process put the action into place. You know what to do and you become a partner. This experience is exciting for the players. 

And what happens when there’s a mistake? The conductor’s body language is enough. When it’s needed, the authority is there  but authority is not enough to make people partners. This kind of conductor is there 100 percent but not commanding, not telling them what to do, instead enjoying the whole experience with them. In this case the conductor creates process but he also creates the conditions in the world in which this process takes place. The soloist is allowed to be autonomous and is consequently proud of his work. Developing a partnership brings about the best music.

I think we can take a fair bit out of this talk and apply it to teaching. Teaching is like conducting or leading. What resounds with me is the fact that overly explicit instructions and tight control can be at best limiting, and quite possibly suffocating. Setting up the process and allowing room to move seems like a good way to teach. Realising that your interpretation is not necessarily that of everyone else opens up rich possibilities for learners. Understanding that members of the orchestra or class learn from each other. Getting to the point where you know the students so well that they can read your every nuance, and standing back and smiling, just enjoying the process unfolding before you, is possibly every teacher’s dream.

When, as a teacher or leader, you create the environment, give support, and then step back – you get to the wonderful point of ‘doing without doing’. As Itay Talgam says,

if you love something give it away.

What do you say to a student who says your reading blog updates are spam?

What do you say to a student who says your reading blog updates are spam? And what do you say when more than one student sends you an email like this one

Could you please stop spamming me. You are cluttering my inbox and inhibiting me from working.

Now, there are several things bugging me about this email and those like it.

I know that students receive many emails aimed at a general audience and that my weekly email is only a drop in that ocean. Emails about sport they’re not involved in, activities, general information, etc. I get the feeling that these emails are just deleted on a regular basis (or left to gather dust, so to speak). I might be paranoid but I think the emails I’ve been receiving are symptomatic of the way students see staff who work in the school library. Now, I may not be about to describe the situation in your school, but I’ve seen a few school libraries where teacher librarians, librarians and library technicians are considered similarly. To some extent, students don’t consider library staff in the same way they consider teachers. Hence, the email without any greeting or mention of my name – something I’ll bet they would never do to any subject teacher.

Some teacher librarians claim that they teach a class (at least) so that they’re seen as ‘real teachers’. That makes sense. It’s a good idea if you can. Currently I teach a year 7 English class collaboratively on a regular basis, and I enjoy the ongoing relationship with the students, getting to know them in a way I wouldn’t when I come into classes here and there to support information literacy or reading promotion.

But if I taught more classes regularly, I wouldn’t have the time to spread myself around the school, offering my expertise across the curriculum to different year levels at point of need. A teacher librarian’s skills are diverse, and as we keep up with changes in education (which respond to changes in the workplace and the world in general), we have the potential opportunity to become involved in rich ways.  As an example, I’ve been teaching within a ning for the first time, experimenting with enriching learning possibilities for the year 7 class I’ve mentioned. I’ve been constantly developing resources within wikis for English and Art, and I’m about to begin the same type of support for Maths and LOTE faculties. This is a time-consuming, out-of-hours, but ultimately satisfying job. I can do it because I’m not having a full load of face-to-face teaching. I love this work, and I believe teacher librarians have a lot more to offer now than they ever used to. I know many colleagues will agree with me on this.

The other thing that I find problematic when I think about the student’s email to me is the view that reading is not relevant to him. Information about books and related films, animation and the such, belong to the library, and are not relevant to this student’s subject-based focus. I think this reflects the problematic nature of developing a reading culture in the school. I started the fiction blog in order to begin to address this very important aspect of school life. I absolutely believe that developing a strong reading culture within the school community, including everyone in that community, is essential to and will have direct bearing on every other aspect of education. For a start, research demonstrates that reading is directly associated with academic results. And why wouldn’t it be? The more you read, the more you understand, the more ideas and perspectives you glean, the broader your outlook and access to diverse information will be, the more you will engage in discussion to further develop your ideas, practise delivery of what you want to say, etc. You get the point.

And yet, reading is still associated with libraries and librarians. That’s what we do. Other people do other things but we just read books. At least that’s the common perception.

This is what I want to change. I take responsibility for perceptions of reading and librarians such as those expressed by the above-mentioned email. I intend to work through this problem until I’ve made some progress. Not single-handedly, of course. My colleagues and I are united on this one. I admit it’s hard not to take emails like this one personally. But I also think that disciplining the student, as important as it is, will not solve the problem. The problem of reading’s relevancy to learning must be analysed, and the approach of the teacher librarian to this problem, as well as to the role of libraries in schools, must be worked through. Otherwise, if we are seen as not being essential, or even worse, irrelevant, to learning and teaching in schools, we’re in trouble.