Tag Archives: Powerful Learning Practice

Powerful Learning Practice presentation is finished!

Well, when I say finished, I mean that the first layer of our presentation is complete. Whitefriars College Powerful Learning Practice cohort has documented their PLP journey on a blog which is the platform for all the projects, experimentation and reflection during the course of this year.

Marie Salinger and I have spent long hours pulling the presentation together, and at the end of it we feel deeply satisfied. As I was saying to Marie earlier today, the experience reminds me of the ‘Stone soup’ story:

a tale in which strangers trick a starving town into giving them some food. It is usually told as a lesson in cooperation, especially amid scarcity. In varying traditions, the stone has been replaced with other common inedible objects, and therefore the fable is also known as button soup, wood soup, nail soup, and axe soup (from Wikipedia).

It really was exactly like that – at first we thought we didn’t have enough for the presentation but gradually we gathered things from here and there, pooling our resources and forcing reflection and evaluation, until we surprised ourselves with the result.

So we have the first layer. And as Marie Salinger has said,

It has been a very positive and affirming experience to take the time to do this. Evaluating, reflecting on , summing up and consolidating the work we have been doing for the past nine months has been a very worthwhile endeavour.

Now that we have the blog as a space for sharing, we can continue to add to it as we go. I’m going to link to a new blog which follows the progress of 7M Ning, and I hope other team members will do the same. What would be even more encouraging – if the blogs inspired other members of the school community to have a go. It would be fantastic to see blogs for each faculty, documenting progress, reflecting, evaluating and celebrating.

Here is a short audiovisual reflection and summary of our journey.


Here is a link to the blog.

Reflecting again (still)

Last post I wrote a reflection for the culmination of my participation in the  Powerful Learning Practice program. Still, I felt I hadn’t drilled down to what was essential for me.

Listening to Howard Rheingold this morning, and rethinking things, I wrote another reflection.

My participation in PLP has been life changing. I know it smacks of evangelical fervour, and I’ve often written about this in my blog, but PLP came just at the point that I was ready for it. I’d just completed SLAV 23 things, and started a blog. Everything was new to me. Nothing was easy, I wasn’t a natural, probably more of a technophobe than anything, but something pulled me in. Jenny Luca must have read my blog somehow, and emailed me about joining the PLP cohort of Australian schools. It all avalanched from there. Soon I was blogging, wikiing, ninging, twittering, flickering, and having a great time.

Thinking about it more seriously, I realize there’s a big discrepancy between my personal awakening to online participation and what I’ve been able to do in convincing other educators at my school or anywhere else about what I see as a crucial path we must take in order to make learning relevant and engaging for students. Yes, I’ve made steps, and for me, these steps have been significant. I’ve been reflecting and sharing knowledge and resources in this blog, I’ve explored the literacy possibilities with Flickr’s image sharing, I’ve supported English and Art faculties with wikis, I’ve created a blog to inspire reading in the community, I’ve been working on a ning as a platform for learning, collaborating with a wonderful English teacher, I’ve sent countless links and resources to teachers as a result of my own connection to my online network. But it’s not enough. It hasn’t moved a significant portion of my school, it hasn’t changed the way my principal thinks, or other the way faculty heads function. Although, I suppose I shouldn’t underestimate small victories, such as the approval for an external fiction blog (read here and here).  On the whole, though, it’s often resulted in friends, family, colleagues casting a critical eye or making derogatory comments, telling me to get off the computerand get a life. Basically, I haven’t convinced many people that what I’ve spent an enormous amount of my own time on is worth anything.

It has, however, connected me to a network of people who are my lifeline. People I otherwise wouldn’t have met or known about. People who are experts in different fields, who are brilliant, engaged, supportive. It has crossed borders, transcended nationality, age-group, ignored physical apprearance and status – it’s been fantastic. I agree with many great speakers I’ve listened to: it’s not about the technology tools, it’s about literacies. Our students need critical thinking to navigate the flood of information and media that comes their way. They are learning outside of the classroom – and social media and technologies such as Youtube and Facebook provide a platform for communication, collaboration and collective action which is more important to them than their textbooks. One day it’s about organizing a large gathering through Facebook, and next thing, it’s organizing political action. None of it comes from teachers or parents; it wouldn’t spark that level of engagement.

I’m seeing the power of collective response to disaster. Why aren’t we thinking in terms of social capital? Why aren’t we thinking about how to mobilize people to do things using social media? What are we doing at school? How can we spark this level of engagement? Should we rethink the ways we are teaching, the content?

You can see that this isn’t about technology tools, although all of this is made possible through technology. These are the things that drive me today – as an educator, parent, citizen. I don’t have the answers but the questions are driving me forward, connecting me to others who find the conversation valuable. This is what my PLP experience has been about. Life is a series of new starts. That’s why we feel we never reach our destination. We’re always starting out with new questions and new problems to solve. That’s why it’s a journey.

Spider’s web

Photo courtesy of moonjazz.

The Powerful Learning Practice experience is coming to an end, and it’s time for us to gather our thoughts and share what we’ve done.

I’ve been putting off my reflection because, frankly, the thought of gathering my thoughts about this relatively short, but intense, period of PLP participation, is overwhelming. Scouting around in blogs and Twitter links, I came across something which describes what I consider to be the focus of what is most valuable from my PLP experience: connectedness. 

I love the way Lisa Huff compares the spider’s web-weaving in Walt Whitman’s A Noiseless Patient Spider  with our reaching out to connect with others through technology.

Whitman, writing in the 1800’s, observes how a spider ceaselessly launches forth filament to explore his surroundings, to travel from one place to another, to bridge his world. Whitman notes mankind’s similarity to the spider. We too ceaselessly seek to connect, to make sense of the world, to reach out to others.

 Technology of the 21st century is connecting us like never before. We blog, we podcast, we collaborate via wikis, webcams, e-mails, discussion boards. We explore endless information easily summoned with a few clicks. We are living in the midst of sweeping technological changes that are reinventing the way we live, learn, laugh. At the heart of this change, however, is the basic spirit of exploration–that same spirit Whitman captured some two hundred years ago.

This is what I have learned since joining the PLP team – how much richer my life has become through connections with people globally via technology. I’m connected through people’s blogs, wikis, through Twitter, and other Web 2.0 applications, to a limitless network of resources, ideas, discussions and creativity. At the risk of sounding evangelical (once again), this is a life-changing experience. It’s not just a matter of acquiring some technological skills with tools, it’s what we have in common with Whitman’s spider as we ‘ceaselessly seek to connect, to make sense of the world, to reach out to others.’

Coming down to earth a little, I must say that my fervour about 21st century learning, and that of my team members, is shared by few in our school community, and I hear it’s the same everywhere. At times it’s lonely, other times frustrating, to be convinced that networked learning and teaching are in step with our fast-paced, global world, and to know that our current education system supports an outdated society. Trying to take tiny steps in convincing others is perhaps the only way to move forward, taking care not to alienate others, but to support them, model new ways of teaching, and to celebrate small successes.

What have I enjoyed the most?

  • writing my personal and fiction blogs
  • reading others’ blogs, wikis; commenting; taking part in discussion
  • creating and supporting nings, joining others’ nings
  • the support of my personal learning networks on Twitter, Facebook, Friendfeed, etc.
  • sharing information and ideas
  • ‘converting’ others to the networks
  • discovering amazing people with great talents and wonderful minds
  • seeing engagement and joy in students, especially after the new ways of teaching have been a struggle to implement
  • being able to participate in professional development opportunities online at many different times
  • lifting up the minds of young people, seeing the spark in their eyes, hearing excitement in their voices
  • collaborating with others towards common goals
  • discovering unexpected and wonderful links to links to links
  • feeling energized by the depth of what’s out there
  • loving the learning

What have we learned, and what have we achieved? We’ve learned so much, and at the same time, we have so much more to learn. We’ve achieved a great deal, and yet we’ve only just begun.

What I’m sure of is that there are people I can rely on for help, ideas, support, resources, inspiration. These are the people I connect to as a teacher. I can never be bored, will never feel isolated, will always look forward to more.

Moving forward and pulling back

Well, hello. Haven’t been around the blog lately. Mid-year holidays and taking time out of my head for a change. And, to tell you the truth, I’ve needed the break. No blog ideas put up their hands in their usual impatient manner. Nothing was hammering inside my head, clamouring to come out. No clear thoughts were forming, no ideas were sprouting. For a while there, I thought I’d dried out for good. Until I realised that I was looking back, only I’m not sure if I’m having second thoughts, or if I’m giving things a second look over.

Our PLP presentation is very close now. I can’t deny feeling unprepared. How have we, as a team, moved forward in changing teaching and learning in our school? How far have we come, if at all?

The answer is simultaneously a great deal and hardly at all. Taking part in the PLP ning, connecting to a rich network of educators, great minds, variety of personalities and viewpoints, forming a personal learning network that I don’t feel I could do without  – this is a new dimension that has changed my life as a teacher and a learner. The Art and English wikis, the personal and reading blogs, the ning I created to support students and teachers at my school are initial experiments, attempts to engage students in new ways, to share resources, to present different types of media as possibilities for discussion or creativity, to use technology for the purpose of re-envisaging education.

But how far does this go in making any difference to the way teaching and learning occur at my school? How many eductors have seen these things, and if they do, how many are convinced that I’m offering them something valuable, something worth trying out? The answer is – not many.

Dean Shareski’s post has resonated with me today. He describes the architecture of learning as transformative where there’s no going back.

The landscape of learning is changing. Rethinking what control means, understranding the power of sharing and transparency all work to topple many of the foundations our schools are built upon.

His post strikes a chord with me at this stage of my journey:

I know this, you know this but after spending 3 days amongst 18,000 in the educational technology field, I still say very few else know this. I made this observation (jump down to #4) last year at NECC and while the number may have increased slightly, those who really have any sense of the changes that are possilbe and perhaps inevitable in education is strikingly small. Yet sometimes the conversations amongst them would indicate they think everyone understands. A good example took place in the last session I attended on a panel discussion on Web 2.0. The panel was made up of all people that I and many in the audience knew very well either because we’ve spent time with them or know them from varoius online circles. The panel and audience were calling them by their first names and having a good discussion One lady stood up and felt frustrated since she didn’t know these people, these terms and most of the content of the conversation. That wasn’t her fault that’s ours. The assumption amongst folks who live and breath social media is that most teachers know about but they just don’t understand social media. We jump in with disucssion about Web 2.0 when they aren’t ready for that discussion since they have absolutely no prior knowledge. I”m not against having these kinds of discussions but it’s a bit like Christopher Columbus and crew arguing over how they would organize and structure the new world when most of the old world didn’t even know it existed and if they did, had no idea why or how they would get over to see it, let alone settle there. It’s not a totally useless discussion but perspective is important.

This is what I’m finding unsettling at this stage –  Dean’s analogy with Columbus. Should I feel unsettled knowing that I’m trying to populate a new world with people who deny its existence? Am I going about this the wrong way? Should I be happy to go slowly with a minority of takers? Am I being naive and unrealistic? Is trying to change teaching and learning in a school insane or egotistical? Am I unrealistically trying to change society itself? Can individuals make this change or is it only possible for politicians?

But then again, I’m pulled back by a comment on Dean’s blog by a teacher who attended NECC:

I paid my own way, as did many of the classroom teachers and a few of the administrators I met, because we are hungry to learn and starving for people who have the knowledge and experience to teach us. Of course, there were sessions and conversations at NECC that were way over my head, but hearing them and trying to understand gives me guideposts and goals for my future development.

If my new, recent direction in learning and teaching came ‘out of the blue’, then why shouldn’t other people make that transition? If a teacher cares about students and thinks about the best ways to inspire students to learn, then who’s to say my little steps, and those steps of my fellow PLP members, or anyone else who is struggling through relevant and engaging teaching and learning – who’s to say these things won’t make a difference?

Should we despair that our efforts are mere drops in the ocean, or should we appreciate our small steps?  So many rhetorical questions…

Dean points us to Tom Carroll’s article, If we didn’t have the schools we have today, would we create the schools we have today? written 8 years ago and still very pertinent:

If we continue to prepare teachers as we have always prepared them, we are going to continue to recreate the schools we have always had. We have to start preparing teachers differently. If we are going to continue preparing educators to work as solo, stand-alone teachers in self-contained, isolated classrooms, we are going to perpetuate the schools we have today.   If we want schools to be different, we must start today to prepare teachers differently… significantly differently.

Yes, I do feel a few can make a difference, but it’s a slow and laborious process. Why isn’t teacher training aligned with the educational needs of students today? Who should we be influencing in order to revise teacher training, in order to go to the source of the problem?

I might stop before another flood of questions is unleashed. Please come in and help stop the flood.

Our own process

I’ve been talking a lot about process in the learning journey, so it’s a little surprising that process has flown out the window for me in my conception of what our team is doing for the PLP (Powerful Learning Practice) project.

Tonight the Australian teams had a live meeting with Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach, and I decided to cast aside the old familiar feeling of being seen as the idiot in asking a question, a question which I probably should not have been asking so far into the session, but one which I was certainly glad I asked.

21st century learning is the theme for schools involved in the PLP learning journey, and each school presents their 21st century project to the entire cohort. I must say, I’m a little apprehensive (so what’s new?) about our project, as I explained during our Elluminate meeting tonight. Yes, we’re creating a ning, and the ning will be testament to what we’ve done using Web 2.o technologies, and to ways we’ve enhanced teaching and learning in the school. As I said to Sheryl and others, I don’t know if that’s enough. Maybe we’re just putting up disjointed projects, and we need a unifying one. Is the ning this unification? Do we need connections outside of the school?

Sheryl’s answer was loud and clear (and I had trouble keeping up with my notetaking, but it doesn’t matter because the session was recorded). She said that the project was not the ning, and we should stop thinking about it as the ning. The project is about the learning. It’s about what we are trying to change and accomplish in our school community, whether that ‘s building community, creating an awareness of 21st century learning, helping start conversations, etc.

It’s about the big goal.  We need to look and see what others have done, then work on developing a comprehensive action plan. Our team should be having regular discussions about how to manage change, and we should be looking at strong evaluation at the end of the journey. Have we accomplished what we set out to do? The success or lack of success is not the aim of the project, it’s the evaluation. Haven’t I been saying this to students all this time? I need to remember that I’m a learner first, and teacher second.

How will we prove mastery? Will we use computer-mediated analysis? Could we, for example, look at blog posts for evidence of teacher discussion? Could we track/count how many times people have posted? How are we going to measure our big picture project?

We need evidence of change and successes in the way teaching and learning happens in our school. We need to be able to show the principal and school leaders evidence and examples of how we’ve grown, how much we’ve shifted, and what we still want to do.

At the moment, I feel that we are still treading water. Good things are happening around the school, but we are yet to come together and have a deeper conversation. We are yet to fuse. I’d like to have more discussions, not just with individuals, but with the whole team. This is part of the process. Realising what isn’t happening, what needs to happen, is part of it. Our last meeting was productive, and we need to do that more often. It’s not easy, but it should be a priority.

Having thought about this overnight, I think we should focus on what we always tell our students –  QUESTIONS.  Too quickly we run to embrace answers, to set things in stone, convince ourselves we’re there. Questioning broadens the scope of our vision, helps to unpack and redefine.

As for me, I’m hoping that my lack of clarity at this point is a good sign that I’m still on the way.

Ever felt you’re waiting for the click?

Captain Planet and Powerful Learning Practice

Did you ever watch Captain PlanetMy older son, now 18, used to love the show, and for some reason I’ve had an image in my mind of our PLP team as Planeteers. This Monday a small team from our school will be embarking on the Powerful Learning Practice journey led by Will Richardson and Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach from USA, and within our own sphere, Jenny Luca. I can see our only male member, Kevin,  as Captain Planet and the rest of us as Earth, Fire, Wind, Water, Heart. We will join rings and sing in unison (or polyphonically), only one of us will have to rewrite the words so that they cleverly express some kind of transcendentally splendid PLP message. Any suggestions? 
Why am I raving? I suppose I see this as a mission of sorts – a mission I have some idea about but also many questions; a journey that equips us with new understanding and skills for 21st century learning and teaching which we will pass on to the rest of the school community.  What’s important to remember is that behind the small team is the larger team – the rest of the staff: talented, hard-working, and committed people. Although we, the Planeteers, are excited about meeting the rest of the cohort, and taking part in the program on the first level, we are not doing it for ourselves, but will return to the larger team with our new learning, making a difference to the whole school. You see why Captain Planet comes to mind? We’re on a mission – hopefully not as pushy, holier-than-thou converts, but people who are priveleged to draw from the experience of others and eager to share with our colleagues. As the good captain says: by YOUR powers combined, I am Captain Planet!
Now excuse me while I find my lycra superhero vest.