Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Power of Believing!


If you believe you can, you probably will.  If you believe you can't, you probably won't.

If you believe students can, they probably will.  If you believe students can't, they probably won't.

Believing in someone is extremely powerful. Believing in someone can inspire him/her and also motivate oneself to do great things.  We all know this from experience...when someone believed in us and when we believed in someone.

When I pose a challenge for a student, I pose it believing the student is capable of accomplishing it and reaching a certain level of proficiency.  I work hard to ensure the student is successful in meeting this expectation.  This may include providing encouragement, offering smaller prompts, redirecting, spending extra time working with the student and most importantly, not letting the student off the hook when he/she is capable of better.

When students know their teacher believes in them and is willing to takes the steps to ensure they reach  their potential, they do their utmost not to disappoint that teacher.  Students also begin to believe in themselves and their abilities.  It is this internal belief and self-confidence that leads to resilience when they experience challenges and setbacks.

For those of you who have experience coaching kids, I'm sure you can draw from some of your experiences when you led a group of kids to an accomplishment that very few others believed they were   capable of.  Why were they able to rise above other people's expectations? They most likely reached the level they did because you believed in them, instilled confidence in them, challenged them and worked with them.  So despite the fact that people around them may have been doubting their chances, you demonstrated your belief in them and in return they believed in you and believed they could.

I reflect on my experiences coaching basketball, softball and soccer to both boys and girls of many different ages. In all of the cases where we accomplished more than others thought we would, it was because we believed in ourselves.  Whether it was rising to the challenge and defeating a team that we had lost to many times that year, playing without a key injured player or simply hanging in and competing when others gave us no chance, these were some of the most rewarding and gratifying experiences as a coach.

I also recall a memorable experience when I taught a very reluctant learner who, after years of negative experiences at school, saw himself as having little chance of success in my Science class.  I remember thinking to myself, somehow I have to keep him interested, hopeful and gradually build his self-confidence.  In one of the first conversations I had with this student that year, I told him 'You are going be successful in this class this year'. He was surprised to hear this, probably because for the first time one of his teachers had said this to him.  As the year progressed it was obvious that the class was challenging for him.  He experienced moments when, just as he had done in the past, he was ready to give up.  The most powerful thing I did was to tell him that we weren't going to focus on his marks, rather we were going to focus on him improving each day.  We spent many mornings, lunchtimes and afterschools working together.  He would explain concepts to me while I constantly assessed his progress. I did my best to fill the gaps in his learning by explaining concepts differently and a little more slowly. We constantly reviewed, I would re-teach and he would re-learn.  Somedays I was so encouraged by the progress he was making and other times I was frustrated at the fact he couldn't seem to grasp a concept.  But, as long as I demonstrated to him that I believed in his ability to learn, he continued to put in the effort. Although I can't claim that he ever became extremely proficient in Science, I can say that he successfully completed the course and easily surpassed his original goal of 'passing'. More importantly, this accomplishment boosted his self-confidence and he became a more committed, more determined and more resilient learner.  This once reluctant learner went on to have considerably more success throughout high school and continued on to pursue a post-secondary education.

As I head back to school in January I am making a point of not just saying to students that I believe in them, but demonstrating it to them.  I encourage you to do the same!


Tuesday, December 21, 2010

On Becoming a Tweep!

Back in October @terryainge introduced me to Twitter and the idea of starting a blog.
Until this time, I viewed Twitter as a forum for people to post very short comments and descriptions about what they are currently doing, how they are feeling and whatever thoughts came to mind.  My familiarity with Twitter was limited to hearing about the tweets of actors/actresses and athletes.
I admit it took a bit of an explanation for me to see how I could benefit from Twitter.  Somewhat understanding the possibilities but more so, just choosing to be fearless and dive in, I signed up for a Twitter account and became a Tweep.

Tweep: definition 'Peeps using Twitter'

Upon signing up, I immediately started following other local educators who I am aware of.  Initially, I remained a passive Tweep, reading others' tweets, visiting their blogs, and gradually adding to the list of people I chose to follow.  After a few weeks, inspired by other Tweeps and Bloggers, I started blogging. I soon saw that I was connecting with others who are equally passionate and interested in education as I am.

Twitter has also facilitated some in-person introductions and meetings with other educators.  At a recent B.C. Principals & Vice-Principals Association gathering and Phi Delta Kappan meeting, I had the pleasure of meeting some fellow Tweeps in person.  Twitter has also enabled me to connect with a group of local educators that is planning for the upcoming EdCampVancouver 'unconference' in April.  It is amazing that the idea for starting this unconference originated through Twitter, resulting in a TweetUp! I look forward to participating in a TweetUp in the future.

Unconference: definition 'a facilitated, participant-driven conference centred on a theme or purpose'

TweetUp: definition 'a meet up of people who us Twitter'

My PLN (Personal Learning Network) continues to grow as I am exposed to the thoughts and perspectives of different people from all over the world.  Twitter continues to be a tool through which I can share my ideas with others, read others' ideas and engage in conversations. Regularly, the ideas of others challenge me to reflect on my own beliefs and practice.  In particular, I must thank local BC educators @gmbondi, @birklearns, @chrkennedy, @remi_collins, @MrWejr and @terryainge for influencing my thinking.

The beauty of creating my PLN is it is always there, at my convenience for me to tap into whenever I want to. Unlike a workshop or conference I am not forced to attend at a specified time.  My PLN has also made my world smaller, allowing me to communicate with like-minded individuals globally who I would not otherwise be able to do so with if I was limited to conversing with them in person.  I am not advocating that my PLN replaces face-to-face contact but it is a perfect supplement to the discussions I have with colleagues in my Professional Learning Community.

I have used twitter to:

  • establish a PLN
  • ask questions
  • answer questions
  • share resources (teaching & leadership tools, blogs, video clips)
The following video "Twitter for Teachers " is from the Learning Blog. It describes simple ways that educators can use Twitter as part of their own personal professional development as well as to directly support their students' learning.

Undoubtedly, I attribute my PLN with broadening and deepening my thinking.  It is a form of personal professional development that I envision myself accessing regularly.  I recommend that all educators move beyond their hesitations and take the plunge to establish a PLN through Twitter.  Once you do, you'll find it hard to turn back!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Distracted Students or Distracted Educators?

Apple iPhone 3G S

Nowadays almost all students arrive at school with a cellphone or smartphone in their pockets.  Sit in most high school classes and you will witness students secretly checking text messages or emails without the teacher realizing.  Even parents are sending their children messages  when they know their children are in class.  It is no wonder many of us are becoming increasingly more frustrated by what we see as a distraction from student learning.

Distracted this actually a new phenomenon? Didn't students used to write notes to each other and secretly pass them to others in the classroom? Weren't other students composing notes to pass on to friends later on in the day? I would argue that distracted students are nothing new.  No, our students may not be writing notes to each other with a pen and paper anymore.  But the reality is our students are simply using new tools to communicate with each other.  Instead of pens and paper, our students are now using phones to compose their messages. Yet, suddenly we are using technology as the scapegoat for a problem that has always existed.

The better question to ask is 'Why are our students so distracted?'  The simple truth is they are more interested in communicating and interacting with their peers than they are in some of the things they are doing at school.  Unfortunately, there are some students who probably feel as though what they are doing in class is distracting them from their ability to interact with their friends.

Students, much like ourselves, are social beings.  They want to interact with each other and the majority of them are quite willing to interact with each other about the topics covered in their classes.  In most cases, it's not the content of a lesson that they find boring.  More often than not, the reason our students tune us out is because we have not given our students an adequate opportunity to interact with each other about the material.  In some instances, technology may be a useful tool that enables our students to interact with each other, but again, I'd like to focus on the fact that the incorporation of technology or social media into a lesson isn't necessary in order for our students to interact with each other and engage in the content.

The point I'm trying to make is that we shouldn't focus on the digital tools as the distraction.  Schools can create policies banning cellphones from the classroom and we can micro-manage our students in an attempt to police them, but in the end is this where our energy is best spent?

I believe it is time for us to accept the fact that the reason our students' attention gives way to distractions is because they are not engaging in their learning.  The tools that our students bring to school are not the distraction.  We should derive some comfort from this because the reality is that our students are not going to stop bringing these tools with them to school.  We must take responsibility for the fact that as educators we hold the power to engage our students in their learning, thereby minimizing their tendency to be distracted.  Much like our students, we should not allow ourselves to be distracted by the prominence of cellphones.  Our focus should be on improving our pedagogy in an effort to increase student engagement.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Encouraging, not banning Social Media in schools

Everywhere you turn nowadays, you see evidence of the popularity of social media networks.  They are on our laptops, Ipods and Smartphones.  

Our students are even more connected and engaged in various forms of social media websites. Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, the list goes on and on. Our students are far more confident at navigating their way through social media sites than the average adult is.  As educators, many of us fear social media and shudder at the thought of incorporating it into our classes. Why do so many of us hesitate to use social media with our students? Are we worried that our students will be off-task, more engaged socially than educationally? Are we concerned that our students are so advanced that we may no longer be the expert? Or, do we believe that social media is not a part of educationally sound practice?

Some schools ban access to social media sites. Why?  Students still find ways to connect to social media networks despite the fact they are supposedly banned.  Furthermore, a 'social media-free' world is not our students' reality.  Each day, at lunchtime and afterschool there is a big spike in our wireless internet usage at school. This is because when students leave our classrooms, where they are often prohibited from using their smartphones, they immediately connect to social media websites.

Social media has become so popular that some students no longer have email addresses. Many students no longer communicate in that way.  Facebook is by far the most popular network used by students.  Kids use Facebook for social reasons because it is one of the easiest ways to contact their network of friends.  Facebook also provides students the ability to control who views the information they post. Unquestionably, high school students have all had their taste of social media.  Elementary students have been born into a world of social media.  One thing is for certain, they are not turning back!  Banning these websites and completely prohibiting the use of smartphones in classes means we are creating an artificial environment in our classes, an environment that does not resemble our students' worlds outside of school.  We musn't shy away from our responsibility to teach students how to be respectful digital citizens, how to use social media appropriately and in a positive way.

Often times, we work with students who have posted inappropriate photos, comments or messages on Facebook or other social media networks.  I'm not advocating for social media to become the content or to be included in every lesson of every class, but when and where it is approrpriate as a learning tool for students to engage in the curricular content, we should encourage the use of social media in the classroom.  Examples include using Twitter as a forum for a class discussion around an open-ended question or topic.  Twitter could also be used as a way for students to request ideas and thoughts of others. Facebook can be used by students as a way to promote or market an idea to the student body or the local community.  It is through using these tools to accomplish these types of projects that students will learn to use social media in not only an appropriate way, but also a way that promotes positive change.  Where else are our students going to learn how to communicate properly and effectively in a digital world if they don't learn it at school.  Schools should be safe places for students to make mistakes.  If we don't allow our students to make mistakes at school, where we can guide or redirect them, where else or who else will they take their cues from?  Who will model for them what we consider appropriate digital communication?

Our students already know how to operate the technology. What many of them don't know is how powerful a tool it can be and how to use it to inspire positive change in their local and global communities. Students are growing up in a shrinking world, where people from all over the globe are being drawn closer and closer together through the use of technology.  Social media can facilitate a reciprocal sharing and learning process between students from distant parts of the world. Our students of today are going to become our leading thinkers of tomorrow.  They are the ones who will be asking the challenging questions and collaborating to solve the world's problems.  If they aren't already doing so, in the future our students will be drawing the attention of people worldwide by publishing thought provoking questions, statements, pictures, videos, etc.  The information they publish has the potential to initiate local and global change.

I know many of us are hesitant when it comes to using social media in the classroom, but we must be willing to take the risk.  We can't hold our students back any longer.  It's time to let our students communicate and influence the world.