Collaborative Professionalism

I appreciate the writing of Educational expert Michael Fullan. He has written extensively about his view of how schools can embrace the professional practices of an oustanding learning culture, and one that closely aligns with my view of how to create a school for the future.

Collaborative Professionalism” happens when educators commit to really work together and share knowledge, skills and experience to improve student achievement and well-being. Collaborative professionalism transforms culture by continuously lifting everyone involved in the ecosystem. When the entire school’s faculty and staff are both teaching and learning, nurturing and being nurtured, giving and receiving help, the whole system gets better.

Fullan’s diagram (below) shows the elements of collaborative professionalism that he says interact, feed on each other, and self-correct. They operate like a flywheel— accelerating once on the move.

In a culture of collaborative professionalism:

Teachers have autonomy and trust — the freedom to choose how they teach, which fosters creativity, collaboration, ownership, and a sense of self-worth.

Teachers want to learn together, with and from each other — there is a culture of continuous learning.

All faculty and staff work together to improve learning — there are no special or elite groups in a school, just one team committed to students.

All faculty and staff are committed to continuous professional growth and improvement — teachers and administrators participate in the culture as learners.

Teachers seek ideas, sort them out individually and together, and press for precision of pedagogy in terms of what works best for a given student, crafting custom learning experiences.

Innovation is valued — all faculty and staff have a growth mindset in which they listen to, learn from, bring out, and support colleagues’ smart new ideas.

In this globalized, technology-rich world where change is constant, school quality will be closely tied to the ability of the faculty to adapt to the times. A culture of collaborative professionalism can bring out the best in teachers and support them through periods of uncertainty, and toward growth.

Talk to Strangers

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Talking to strangers is certainly not something we encourage children to do, but importantly, talking with and understanding the “other” is essential for citizenship in a democracy.

American schools generally understand that democracies need active, informed and responsible citizens who are willing and able to take responsibility for their communities and contribute to the political process. For our schools to be incubators of engaged and effective citizens though, they require diversity. Being in a community of people with different ideas teaches students to listen, try on ideas, grapple with difference, develop empathy, and build compromise and cooperation skills.

Democracy requires that citizens respect the “other,” and regard them as one’s equal regardless of ideological or cultural differences. Citizenship requires the will to live with and for fellow citizens.

The 2016 election campaign symbolizes the current breakdown in public discourse that threatens our democracy – name-calling from both sides, and too much shouting without listening. Partisan media outlets (FOX, MSNBC, etc.), 24-hour news cycles, and social media has given everyone a megaphone to broadcast their views, and it is difficult to hear anything when everyone has a megaphone. The way candidates, pundits, and prominent individuals use media teaches young people that if they aren’t the loudest, their opinion doesn’t matter, and it shuts down opportunities for cooperation and understanding.

Schools can counterbalance this loudest-is-best, shout-without-listening culture. Our classrooms are places where students exchange and receive feedback about ideas. But too many of our schools are “echo chambers,” where conversations reinforce commonly held views. The lack of truly diverse opinions at some of our schools makes it too easy for students to hear their own opinions echoed back to them. Similarly, friendships in social media with people of like-minded ideas hardens beliefs and builds wedges against other ideas. The reaction by students in “blue” parts of the country since the election of Donald Trump helps illustrate that our echo chambers reinforce our own present world views, making them seem more correct and universally accepted than they really are. A democracy that descends into tribalism will not be a democracy for long.

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By engaging in civil discourse with people who share different values, attitudes, beliefs, and partisan identification, our students can learn to be citizens who know how to understand others, are more humble in their own beliefs, and are willing to compromise to work for the common good.

What is civil discourse?

Civil discourse is “robust, honest, frank and constructive dialogue and deliberation that seeks to advance the public interest” (Brosseau 2011). It is “the exercise of patience, integrity, humility and mutual respect in civil conversation, even (or especially) with those with whom we disagree” (Davis 2010).

Civil discourse does not simply mean being polite – argumentation is a social good. “Creating a culture of argument, and the thick skin that goes along with it, are long-term projects that will serve democracy well” (Herbst 2010).

How can a school that has a clear majority opinion develop a culture of robust discussion of diverse ideas? It’s a challenge.

On many occasions, I have joined classrooms together from around the country, across time zones, for discussions of common academic content, and to work on projects. When I taught for an independent online school, my AP Government students did this as a natural part of the course, and the conversations about politics brought forth a more diverse group of opinions than in any single brick-and-mortar classroom I have ever been in.

I am working on a project to join schools around the country to do this very thing. This election has proven to us the divisions of attitudes in this country runs deep, and there is a risk they will harden if we educators allow our students to imagine the worst about people on the other side of a debate.

I encourage teachers and administrators at all schools to look for ways to connect with each other across the country. If you want to join in this work, please use the contact form on my website to connect with me and I will include you in the project I am beginning.

 


References:

Brosseau, C. 2011. “Executive Session: Civil Discourse in Progress.” Frankly Speaking (October):http://nicd.arizona.edu/newsletter/october-2011#125.

Davis, J. C. 2010. In Defense of Civility: How Religion Can Unite America on Seven Moral Issues That Divide Us. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press.

Herbst, S. 2010. Rude Democracy: Civility and Incivility in American Politics. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

 

How to Make a Class Backchannel


Yesterday I posted a “Twitter Matrix” for education, which generated a fair amount of buzz in the micro-blogging world. A few people sent me messages asking if I could explain how I make my class backchannel, so here goes.

First of all, I think of the backchannel as the conversation that might otherwise normally happen in class within students’ minds, or between each other. It’s the communication that happens between two or more students about their experience of class and their own learning. To be clear, classes have always had backchannels of conversation, the difference now ist that technology allows us to put them to better use. When these conversations become public, students and teachers have an opportunity to learn from each other, and questions get answered, and issues get addressed.

Here are two ways that I have used Twitter as a backchannel:

1. Make a Class Account. This year, I created a “LIVE” Twitter account for my US History class. On our private class wiki, I shared the log-in information, and students are allowed to access the account during class. Students can post anything they wish in this backchannel, and we all see it.

An advantage to this common account is anonymity – it’s impossible to know who posted since we’re all using the same acct. It’s been my experience that some students will ask questions or make comments that could be very helpful only if they don’t risk embarrassing themselves. Of course anonymity also means freedom to be malicious with the class Twitter account, so I highly recommend a discussion of netiquette and integrity before giving this privilege to students.

Creating a common class account is easy. Just think of a name, create the Twitter account linked to YOUR email address, choose a simple password (school name?), and share the log-in information on your private class website.

2. Make a class hashtag. When I first joined Twitter, I thought hashtags (# + short term, eg “#edchat”) were created by Twitter or something, and wasn’t quite sure how they worked. Well, they’re really easy – anyone can make a hashtag by simply putting # in front of a word or set of characters. Hashtags allow you to locate student tweets by searching the term. It’s Twitter’s way of organizing zillions of tweets.

In my class, I ask all my students to create an “academic” Twitter account, (they may not wish to share a personal account with class, if they have one) and then each unit I choose a hashtag that we can all use to post comments and questions (ex. #coldwar). We can then each search for this tag and see what we’re all posting and comment back and forth. I’ve also created a widget for our private class wiki that shows the results of our backchannel, so we don’t all have to search Twitter.

By using these public hashtags, we also involve people outside our class who may have common interests. If we tweet for a week or two with the tag #coldwar, we automatically find many collaborators on Twitter that may wish to answer questions, and we also learn from others who are sharing their ideas. Social Learning happens!

There’s plenty more to talk about on this topic of class backchannels, and certainly Twitter isn’t the only way to go. If you have other ideas, don’t hesitate to leave a comment here, or tweet me @MikeGwaltney. And why not use the tag #classbackchannel? 🙂

ITSC ’11 Mid-Day 1

First up for me at ITSC was “Digital Storytelling” with presenters Ginny Hoke and Rhiannon Kerr, two great teachers from Lane County here in Oregon.

Ginny and Rhiannon made clear from the start that digital storytelling is “not about technology, it’s about learning”. Specifically, they have found D.S. is great for building skills in:

  • communication (especially for writing and speaking),
  • vocabulary,
  • problem-solving,
  • teamwork, and

D.S. also helps students understand each other and their mutual struggles with school – its a learning and assessment tool with reflection built in! And yes, it’s also creative and fun.

It’s important to note that there’s much more to digital storytelling than giving kids the cameras and time to shoot and edit video. As with most things, the power is in the process – from brainstorming ideas in small groups, to storyboarding and scripting, to researching and working with sources, students are engaged in a challenging activity with equally rewarding results. After walking us through the steps, Ginny treated us to a sample D.S. project, her class’s “Through Our Eyes” video on Lebanon H.S. Alumni who died in the Vietnam War. Powerful stuff.

Because ITSC is a “hands-on” conference, Ginny and Rhiannon didn’t let us get away without proving we’d learned a thing or two. After introducing us to JayCut, an online (browser-based) video editing tool, they put us in groups and gave us 30 minutes to tell some stories about technology in education. Enjoy these samples, and keep in mind, we only had 30 minutes!

http://jaycut.com/sites/all/themes/jaycut/swf/player.swf

Why Teachers Should be on Twitter

Laura Walker (@mrslwalker) recently posted her 9 reasons why teachers should be on Twitter. Three of them really resonated with me as these are concepts always on my mind, and frequently in conversations with colleagues at my school: collaboration, reflection, and innovation.

I have no doubt that most educators on Twitter would agree with Laura. I wonder though what my colleagues who aren’t on Twitter would say. My question for them: “How do you collaborate, reflect on your practice, and innovate?”

Together we’re better
Twitter can be like a virtual staffroom for me, which I can step into when it suits me: in the queue at the supermarket or waiting for for the kettle to boil. I know that within seconds I can access a stream of links, ideas, opinion and resources from a hand-picked selection of global professionals.
Self-awareness and reflective practice
Excellent teachers reflect on what they are doing in their schools and look at what is going well in order to maintain and develop it, and what needs improvement in order to make it better. Teachers on Twitter share these reflections and both support and challenge each other. Reading about other educators’ experiences has made me question my own practice on a number of occasions, and whilst the resulting changes may only be incremental they are nonetheless important steps in the journey to improvement.
Newsroom and innovation showcase
Twitter helps me stay up to date on news and current affairs, as well as on the latest developments in my areas of interest:  school leadership, technology and languages. By following leading individuals and organisations, Twitter users can stay right at the bleeding edge of innovation and creativity, and literally be among the first to know when a new product is launched, article is published or opinion is voiced.Read more at mrslwalker.com

Collaboration in the Classroom with Google Apps

The tools now available to us make classroom collaboration a snap. If you haven’t considered using Google Docs, you should (how many times have I said that on this blog or Twitter?!).

Here’s another great example of a teacher using Google Apps for Education to empower her students:

Saylor is using Google Apps for Education to create a virtual domain for her students. They can use word processors, spread sheets and graphic tools to create projects which are done entirely online.
The kids can share with a teacher, the kids can share with another student, or they can share with a small group if they’re working together,” Brooks said.
Saylor says what might be the best part is the feedback. Students can go online, view another student’s project and offer comments right there on the web page.

“It’s good to get feedback from people our own age cause they think like we do,” Alex said.

Read more at www.9news.com