inquiring minds

international teaching


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Go Where the Students Are

This article by Clarence Fisher on his Remote Access blog resonated with me.  I started following Fisher’s blog because he was on the COETAIL list of recommended blogs to follow.  It’s quickly become one of my favorites because I am interested in many things Fisher has been doing and writing about for years.  (Like makerspaces and coding. Funnily enough our Raspberry Pi computers arrived at around the same time.)

But it was Fisher’s article reflecting on his practice of using individual blogs for his students that clinched it for me.

Fisher throws out a bunch of solutions at the end of his article. I like this one: “Interest / passion based communities that exist outside of schools that we simply help them to locate and join?”

What a powerful idea! Students joining an online community based on a personal interest or passion and beginning to connect, share, and create within the community. Sounds like they’ll be geeking out in no time!

My favorite comment was from Juliana Bonilla Garcia who said “I appreciate your honesty… It takes a reflective practitioner to know when to abandon something that is not working for their students even when it goes against the mainstream. I hope you figure out what the “new” thing is that will get your kids excited about sharing their thoughts, reflections and voices. When you do, I look forward to learning from you.

When it comes to anything we do in the classroom, what has worked in the past will not necessarily work forever.

Here’s where I’m going to connect what Fisher and Garcia were talking about with my own experiences. Please note that my experiences are different. From what I understand,  Fisher has been a middle school classroom teacher for many years and a pioneer in student tech use. I, on the other hand, before ending up at tech-savvy YIS, was teaching elementary students at a school with one tiny computer lab. Then I moved on to teaching PE at a school that was beginning to explore the importance of technology in the everyday curriculum, but was not quite there in terms of implementation.

This is just a head’s up that my experiences have to do with student – teacher communication – not connecting authentically with a global community like Fisher’s struggles. Because of my limited experience these are the only connections I’m able to make at this point.

When I was teaching PE in Helsinki, I was having a hard time keeping in touch with my MYP classes because I only had class time with them once a week.  Communication was essential because our lessons depended on the weather and the facilities available. I had to communicate to them where to meet and what to bring, sometimes at the last minute. Every year I tried something different; text messaging, a class blog, finally closed Facebook groups combined with a class blog to post resources and assignments that they needed to access outside of class time, (+ we used our mobile phones for emergency purposes or to text last minute messages).  With this combination of tools, our interactions became more frequent and more collaborative. They made authentic connections beyond the classroom. Using these tools, they were even able to rally their community to support a charity event that was successful because they advertised and built hype where everyone they knew was hanging out.

I was trying to meet the students where they were hanging out, and in the case mentioned, it worked for me and the group of kids I was with.

So my suggestion for Fischer is to find out where his students are hanging out and ask them how they authentically connect with their community and beyond. Is it Facebook? Twitter? Tumblr? ReaditFlickr? YouTube? How do they connect in these communities? What do they create? What do they contribute? Maybe it’s different for each student.

How do you get beyond something that doesn’t seem to excite your students anymore, especially when it’s been so successful in the past?

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I’m Back / Vulerability

“Do you have a blog?”
“Yes, but I haven’t posted on it in a year.”
“Well then, no offense, but why do you have a blog then, what’s the point?”
“…I don’t know…”

-An actual conversation had between me and a fellow COETAILer at our first official face to face meeting. 

When I think about not blogging all the usual excuses surface, ‘I’m so busy…I have my class blog…I don’t have a desk…I just moved half way across the world for heaven’s sake!’

The truth is I know myself as a writer and it takes me a painfully long time to write anything I feel is worth posting. On top of that I continually psych myself out, analyzing every phrase, guessing what others will think about my ideas, thinking up my own counter-arguments. I think everything sounds fake, superficial, pointless, it’s endless.

I don’t want a blog that feels like a mask. I want it to feel like me.

I also don’t need a blog to show the world what I do in my classroom. I have one of those.

The actual truth is – I’m chicken.

I’m just plain afraid of what others will think.

The worst is when I start to think of all the great bloggers already out there. How they somehow tap into their souls and write from the heart.

How can I be vulnerable and still keep up the illusion of ‘teaching excellence’? It takes courage to allow yourself to be vulnerable to the world, to open yourself to judgement and ridicule. Can I admit that sometimes I feel like a garbage teacher? That I make mistakes? Sometimes show my anger?  That I have bad days where I’m not as prepared as I should be?

The blog I want to have includes honest reflection on the good and the bad. My unabashed feelings about learning and the future of education.

I like it when teachers can be open and honest with their practices. My favorite blogs are the ones filed in my RSS reader under ‘Introspective Teachers‘.  Teachers like John Spencer, Pernille Ripp, and Royan Lee make me rethink how I teach and what I teach and why. They leave me feeling raw and ashamed but also like I’m not alone. I’m not the only one who struggles with these issues.  The best teachers do too. Truly reflective teachers face them every day.

What can I learn from these expert bloggers who aren’t afraid to be real? Can I be vulnerable on this blog? Do I really want to?