Why we Protest…Class of 42 students (My Story)

Dear Reader,

It was almost three years ago that I  shared with you why I stood strong with my Union.  “Why I Protest”. Then, for several weeks, I spent my days in solidarity with many teachers across Hamilton Wentworth District School Board, and across Ontario, in Protest against Bill 115, a legislation that would eventually force a contract upon us and force Teachers to return to work without respecting a mutual bargaining agreement – one that would could improve our Standards of Education.

Now, three years later – the Elementary Teachers across Ontario are once again asking the Government, and the public, to support Public Education with the highest possible standard.

In this round of contract negotiations,  ultimately, teachers are asking for better working conditions. This means smaller class sizes, more support for special education students and the autonomy to use professional judgment during non-instructional time.  This brings me to a story I want to share with you – One that hits all of these issues.  I see now how it has helped shaped who I am today and why I stand tall with the Elementary Teachers Federation.

 Last week, I was having dinner with my family when a young man approached me. “Mrs Pipe?” He asked.  It took me a minute to recognize him, but then the memory of that school year came rushing back.

I’ve never shared this story before, but I want people to understand just how demanding, overwhelming and debilitating our jobs can be without the proper support, choice, and autonomy with how we spend our time.

 A few years ago, I was the teacher of a class of 42 Grade Five students.  I was super excited to start this new job…at first. It was a brand new school. I was leaving a small community school that I worked at for several years and I was ready for a change. In June, I said goodbye to my class of 20.

The first day of school that year, I had 38 students. Because the classrooms were smaller than what I was used to, I had to get rid of all tables, teacher desk, quiet reading corner, additional book shelves, or any extra furniture in order to make room for 38 desks. It was a challenge.  Quite honestly, I wept coming home from school that day. Space is important to me. I wasn’t sure how I could do it.

Then, on day two, I got the news that 2 more students had registered and would be put in my class, bringing my total up to 40.  There were no more desks available so two students would share.  That week, I began reading through my OSR’s (Ontario Student Records) only to discover that more than 14 of my students were on an IEP for a variety of reasons (Learning Disabled, Gifted, Developmentally Disabled, etc. ). I also had two students that did not speak a word of english. The biggest challenge was the blind student because we had to ensure the room was clear of obstructions. Due to the needs of this blind student, there was an Educational Assistant (EA) in my classroom. Thank Goodness! I had fifteen I.E.P’s to co-write which included meeting with parents and the Learning Resource Teacher. 

I soon realized that my running routine (a personal love of mine) was going to abruptly come to a stop. And it did.

On day three,  4 more students registered and were split up between my classroom and the other classroom (who also had 38 students). That would bring me to 42.

I have heard some educationalists argue that class sizes do not matter.  Let me tell you just how much they matter.  Just do the math. Parent communication became scarce. If you were parents of a student in my class, you could speak to me, say, once every two months. That is IF I found time to contact a parent everyday. Assessments and grading?  I had to become really good at oral feedback and ensure that I only spoke to each students for a short period of time each day.  I taught Math, Science, Social Studies, Language, Art, and Drama. I became good at both cross-curricular teaching and assessment. That’s a positive.

By week two, I was finding ways to manage my class. I had developed a very strong online network. I felt isolated lonely in the school since so much of my time was dedicated to simply managing the class and the duty schedule. Way back then, my online colleagues  (and now my good friends) became my supports – @dougpete @thecleversheep @courosa @crutherford. They kept me grounded.

Unfortunately, the amount of students that I had, did not change the type of support or expectations that I had in other areas of my job at the school level.

By mid-September, I had to start my DRA’s (Diagnostic Reading Assessment).  42 DRA’s. Again, unfortunately, the support staff in the building (Literacy Improvement Teacher, for example), were there to assist teachers with programming needs, not with student assessment, so I was on my own.  I would try to do 4 DRA’s per day in order to meet the deadline. This meant photocopying hundreds of booklets and assessment pages for the students to complete. My mom came in and helped me.

I was happy when the weekend came because this gave me a chance to do what I really loved. Plan my program. This was the year that I started classroom blogs and skyping in the classroom. This was an olympic year (Vancouver 2010) which connected so well to our Inquiry Big Idea – How do International Events strengthen Canada’s connections with other countries?

At school, the September/October deadlines and meetings continued. We have annual learning plan (ALP) goals (a several page document) to complete and hand-in. This was late. It is hard to explain the frustration and embarrassment I felt when my VP sent an email to me (and some others) reminding me this was due. Then there was the TLCP framework template. Also due and also late.

By week three, I was told that there would be some reorganization of classes and my class numbers would be reduced. But this would need wait another couple of weeks. This reorganization was a district initiative, not a Provincial mandate.

In the meantime, I became quite unaware of most things around me. My friends, my family and my colleagues.  The honeymoon phase for many of my students was over and their needs became more and more prevalent.  One student, a ward of the CAS cried most days. Another, slept on his desk because he rarely slept at night. Another, would often leave class and not come back for a long time.  The students’ parents wanted interviews (all 40 of them), the ELL teacher needed my time, the LRT needed my time, the EA needed my time and then  there was the new protocol to have “divisional meetings” during  our nutritional breaks.

At home, I was barely present. I regret that now.

I remember this one meeting (during a nutrition break)  as if I was watching myself, rather than actually being in the meeting. I sat down in the library with 5 other teachers and the Vice-Principal (VP) of the school. I had a stack of books, papers, and files in one hand and some food in another. As the VP began the meeting, without thinking,  I abruptly interrupted her and asked if I could share how I was feeling – perhaps seek help/support from my co-workers. I’m not sure if I’ve ever asked for help like that before. But, her response wasn’t what I expected. She hushed me and explained this wasn’t the time. I’m not sure what I felt, but I couldn’t let it go. Again, I explained I needed help, and again she said that the divisional meeting was prescribed and that I needed to focus on the task at hand.  But I couldn’t and I left the meeting in tears. And I had to teach Math in 10 minutes.

I don’t regret that year because I eventually connected with some of the most incredible students and teachers. I was working in one of the first tech oriented schools and learned and unlearned so many strategies that are only now being seen as mainstream and innovative.  I found ways to make it work. I began presenting at conferences and unofficially became a GAFE (Google) teacher.

But I also lost a lot too, and so did my students. 

Clarity…

Not too long after that meeting,  I had a moment of clarity on what can be lost when we forget about the human aspect of our jobs as educators. I lost and found myself sometime during this school year.  Clarity came as I sat on that bench at the side of the road, watching as my brand new Subaru was towed away.  I don’t quite remember the drive or how it happened. On my break that day, as I drove to Tim Hortons for a coffee, I simply went into a daze and hit the bus in front of me like a brick wall, totalling my car. I wasn’t hurt seriously.  In fact, I was given a chance to really reflect on the demands on our job and how we need to stand up for our work conditions and our needs as teachers – because ultimately, this impacts our students. It has to.

The student that approached me during that night out with my family, surprised me with a hug. He towered over me. He looked at me and smiled, “You were my favourite teacher.” He said. I teared up.  He has no idea!!


This is WHY I PROTEST.

The Big Ideas in Social Studies, History and Geography – Collaborative Inquiries

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Starting January 2015, I began facilitating a series of Collaborative Inquiries focusing on History, Geography and Social Studies (Ontario Curriculum) with Pre-Service Education Students at Brock University.

 

The objectives of this 10 Week course were to: 1) have a strong understanding of  approach, content and rational of the Ontario Social Studies, History and Geography Curriculum, 2) use 21st Century tools and teaching methods to design lessons and learning opportunities for students, 3) have a strong understanding of the theories and research regarding History and Geography as it relates to Education and 4) to use collaborative inquiry planning tools and  4) to publish and share a series  of co-created TLCP’s Teaching Learning Inquiry Cycle (adapted from Ontario TLCP)

Adapted from the Ontario TLCP (Teacher Learning Critical Pathways), we used a similar Framework to guide our INQUIRIES

In each section/week of this course and as directed by the learners themselves (depending on readiness), Teacher Candidates would use one area of the Framework to guide their inquiry and investigation.

For example: In week one, teachers investigated the curriculum (purpose, changes, content, rationale). In week two, Teachers picked a ‘Big Idea’ and using an Inquiry Framework decided on a Grade, Topic and Objective for a 6-8 Week Teaching Cycle. In the following weeks, Teachers would use questioning, discussion and investigation to complete the Planning Framework. The below examples demonstrate how teachers incorporated Critical Literacy, Inquiry and Design Thinking  as well as using a variety of assessment and evaluation strategies.

 

Design Thinking ~ Make Urban ReDevelopment a Reality in Minecraft

The purpose of this lesson is to inspire and engage students to use creative and critical thinking skills to make decisions and designs that impact an urban area. This cross-curricular approach to Design Thinking, allows students the freedom to use and connect  their inquires to real examples. The activity is intended for group or collaborative learning and uses a combination of whole class and small group facilitation with access to a variety of tools. The final product is a Design and proposal of a chosen Urban Landscape in their own community. Minecraft (and lego) are ideal platforms for students to use resources and tools collaborative to display their concepts.  The example lesson (below)  was facilitated with a group of 7th and 8th Graders in the Gifted Program at HWDSB.

Design Thinking – How are Urban Landscapes changing to meet the needs of people and communities of the present and future?

Throughout their schooling, our students learn why cities are built along waterways. Most Social Studies  (History, Geography) curriculums emphasize the impact of Early Settlements and Explorers at the turn of the 19th Century. Students learn about industrialization and as they move along in grades and age, they begin to make connections between the age of industrialization, globalization, communities, Social Justice and Environment.  Our learners have and will make strong connections about how the age of industrialization has impacted them and the world around them. Eventually, they will use this knowledge to move forward and apply 21st Century technologies to make change and adaptations to the world around them.

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The picture here is Hamilton, Ontario, situated on the Western part of Lake Ontario (across from Toronto, South of Niagara Falls). The area at the bottom of the picture display the industries and factories that gave Hamilton it’s nick name – Steel Town.  Over the last few years, many of these factories have downsized, been bought out, or have shut down.

This is a REAL  example that IMPACTS my students. It is their community, their city, their economy. They need to feel compelled and INSPIRED to care, to understand why this single example connects to people and events around the world.

Ask the Learners to think Big: How can  old technologies and industries be transformed to meet the needs of today..and the future? WHY does it matter?

In most big cities, there are areas just like Hamilton where the industries that occupy the space are changing in scale and nature. Many are approaching the end of their time. This is an excellent opportunity to have students explore, investigate and make real world connections. Who knows, maybe one of their ideas and concepts will become a reality.

Ask them  to think BIGGER.

What makes a good city? Why?

What is the difference between demolishing and restoring?

How are cities changing or how should they change to meet the needs of a growing population?

Invite students to make GLOBAL Connections – In this short and compelling talk Kent Larson gives many examples of how cities and industries are changing to meet the needs of the future.

Kent Larson: Brilliant designs to fit more people in every city gives some examples that apply to the now and the future….

Bring it back to a local example and invite students to share potential ideas, concerns and insights from those shared by Larson. Are the innovations realistic? Doable? Possible? How do the ideas and theories from other communities impact our community?

Return to Barton and Tiffany (Hamilton’s Industry Land)

http://www.raisethehammer.org/article/2029/return_to_barton-tiffany “The Carr/Curran “vision” was presented to planning committee councillors in the late summer of 2012 and was greeted politely if not enthusiastically.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Invite students to explore examples from other local areas. Examples that are real and possible. Here is one from Hamilton’s Neighbour – Toronto.The Cherry Beach area, along the Toronto Waterfront that seems to only be used by locals. Paths, and parks boarder along industries and along the waterfront.

 

 

 

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Invite students to share the many examples of how land and space can be restored to attract people and improve communities. This picture is an example of bike and pedestrian paths that were added behind roads, beside roads, on the side of factories and even along old rail lines, eventually leading to the Beaches area of Toronto.

 

 

 

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The TASK:

1) In pairs or groups, continue to investigate the history and examples of urban redevelopment both locally and globally.

2)Draw, Sketch and Discuss alternatives to the land.

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3) Co-create and build the land in the Minecraft and/or LEGO Environment – Flat Land (collaborative server).

 

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4) Using a shared Document, presentation style, ADD a captured screen shot of the proposed concept/design.

 

 

 

 

 

 

https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1bMz0s5L1sdf6CHRAVBraqnURGGw3jW03S4GSGCVZga4/edit#slide=id.g2a828f7ba_00

Design Thinking, Teaching and Learning with Minecraft and Lego

Our Class Picture

This lesson was facilitated with Grade Five Gifted Students. This is an example of how to combine a variety of collaborative tools (Collaborative thinking/planning, Blog, Web2.0 Doc, Minecraft) with a hands-on approach to building and designing prototypes that focus on world problems. Minecraftedu, large amount of assorted lego, a class full of engaged students and a teacher/facilitator provided the necessary resources. 

It was incredible to witness the dialogue, creativity and critical thinking as the students explored and designed their ideas into something concrete. 

Inventions

Big Idea: How do past and present inventions impact our world of today?

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This is a sample lesson that can be used at a variety of ages and grades. Because this lesson is based on the concepts around Design Thinking, it is easily adapted to a variety of curriculum and standards (Writing, Oral, Research, Presentation, Media, Social Studies, Digital Citizenship).Students will engage in a workshop involving a problem solving and design process. They will connect their knowledge of inventions as well as the literature/history they are studying (in this case, DaVinci) and will plan, design and co-create inventions that focus around a real-world problems.

 

Students will use a variety of collaborative (face-to-face and online) tools and will be challenged to think creatively. Is this a new invention? What was the inspiration? How will this invention impact the world? Why is it needed? What are the important details that need consideration?

What is the role of collaboration and sharing when designing and creating a concept? How does creativity change when we change the mediums (talking to writing, to drawing, to designing, to building….etc.)

 1) Introduction and Group Discussion (Breaking the ice)

In Circle, have students share and discuss a favourite invention and why. Ask them to think of the problem that the invention solved. Encourage strong open ended questions and descriptive vocabulary. Introduce the “Big Idea” …and discuss.

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Connect the topic “Inventions” to the overall theme of “DaVinci” (relevant in our situation). How did DaVinci get inspired? What triggered his ideas? Were they realistic? Which inventions were meant to solve a problem and why?

2) Mini-Lesson and Task Overview

IMG_0570*Discuss the terms “Concept”; “Concrete”; “Idea” and “Abstract”

*Connecting back to the DaVinci theme, show students TedX video – Robot that flies like a bird http://www.ted.com/talks/a_robot_that_flies_like_a_bird.html

  • How does this invention impact the world?
  • How does this invention impact a single human being?
  • What problem can be solved by this invention and why?

 Share and discuss (whole group, pairs…) the following information: Canadian Inventions http://www.mediatrainingtoronto.com/blog/2013/6/29/50-great-inventions-canada-gave-the-world

IMG_0450Ask students, in partners, to once again think of the above questions as it relates to each invention and then  create “Criteria” that makes a good invention (and post)

  • impact on environment
  • safety
  • medicine and healing
  • social justice
  • realistic, creative
  • positive impact on world

 3) Task, Process, and Sharing →


IMG_0565Students will collaboratively design and build their own invention using inspiration from real-world problems.

Screen Shot 2014-01-23 at 6.47.37 PMThey will (depending on age, post these steps for reference during work time)

 

  1.  in teams, first think of a concept/idea that relates to criteria
  2. draw, discuss and describe their invention
  3. use Minecraftedu – flat world to co-create a model of their invention/idea
  4. return to their drawing and description and edit, change and add as needed
  5. using their plans and model, students will build their invention using lego
  6. Access the collaborative document (in our case this was posted on blog) and add description, picture and screen
  7. Whole class sharing -* In pairs/groups students can give ‘virtual’ tours of their inventions using a shared Minecraft Server

(At some point, demonstrate how to take and retrieve screen shots from Minecraft and insert into Shared Google Presentation)

Congrats to the students who shared in the excitement of writing this collaborative book: 

Extension:

* Persuasive Writing Activity

* Dragon’s Den Type presentation

* Advertisement/Media Literacy

* Science Fiction Story

* Trade Inventions…write and describe about each

* Add on to each other’s inventions

* Descriptive Writing

* Poetry

 

Why DO I protest? I am looking beyond the present.

Dear Reader,

It is with great concern and much confusion that I write this post,  as there are so many dichotomies at play in the conflict between the Ontario Government and the Ontario Teachers Federations.

I spend my days in solidarity with many teachers across Hamilton Wentworth District School Board, and across Ontario, in Protest against Bill 115.

To clarify, I am participating in a “pause” of any non-instructional work that I do during the school day, which includes all extra-curricular activities, clubs, and homework help.

It has not been easy. I love teaching and like many of my colleagues, working extra hours, participating in trips, plays, concerts and sports  is a huge advantage of this profession. I can’t help to be filled with not only anxiety and trepidation but also confusion. The last several weeks have been filled with voices across my own community and Ontario debating the issues at hand. Do teachers have the right to Strike? Why are students being made to “suffer”?

I’ve noticed that people are focused on the present. Perhaps it is because they have a child in the system right now and  they have a very personal stake.  They want their children to have the very best education and they know that extra-curricular activities are an essential part of the schooling process. Research proves this. They know that their children need choice and flexibility at school and need to be enriched with a variety of learning that includes field trips, clubs, and opportunities to practice ARTS during non-instructional times. We know this well. I understand this because I am also a parent with two children in this system.

Student designing a “concept” for the Barton and Tiffany land in Hamilton Ontario.

However, as a teacher, and as many of my teacher colleagues, I am looking beyond the present.

I protest for my students next year, in five years and in 20 years.

I protest to protect their future in the labour force.

I protest because  I want my children and my students to experience an environment where labour rights are respected, debated, and upheld. I want them to continue to feel safe to voice their opinions in a democratic society. This debate itself – what an excellent learning opportunity this has been for them!

Students using Inquiry Methods to interview a group of explorers via satellite

I protest to ensure that Ontario continues to uphold the high standards of instruction and respect for students and teachers that we have.  I am proud to work for one of the most well respected systems of learning in the world. My stomach turns every time I hear someone try to compare our system to a US State that uses high stakes testing as a way to measure their children and teachers. I grimace at the thought of lowering our standards. What kinds of teachers would we attract to our profession? I am confused when I hear the community criticize teachers. Shouldn’t we support those that are working with our children?

Students creating proposals for a community project

I protest for change and progress in education. I push for innovation in teaching and learning. I push for new methods and insist on meeting the needs of our 21st Century children. I push for the ARTS in education. I am fortunate to work for a system where I feel safe and protected to take risks, while also getting the support that I need.

The last few years have afforded me opportunities to travel to many places across North America and the world where I would visit, share and collaborate with educators, researchers, parents and students. As an Ontario Educator and Activist, what I learned most from these experiences is how fortunate our children are to be attending Ontario schools and how fortunate I am to be a teacher in a Country that values my profession. I learned that even with a highly regulated system (much more than other countries), there continues to be a great deal of trust and autonomy amongst educators, which has led to much progress and innovation in many of our classrooms.  Our organizations strive to work in partnership to empower teachers, as I have witnessed as part of the Teacher Leadership Program (OTF and Ministry partnership).  In Ontario, our students and teachers are valued which is why we are constantly implementing new research and finding new ways to teach students that prepare them for 21st Century jobs.

If we accept Bill 115, I fear that the balance between Trust and Regulation in our system will swing irrevocably too far, creating a rigid system that is lead by those far removed from the realities of the classroom. Good teachers will leave. We will condone mediocrity and will fear risk taking. Our most valuable assets-  our children – will ultimately be the ones that lose.

 

 

 

One Teacher’s Passion about ART changed everything for my child

IMG_4982I dedicate this post to my son’s teacher – Christopher Stewart. I thank him – sincerely – for giving my son the gift of art.

My little guy had a rough start at school. For the first few years, he wouldn’t speak (at school) in front of any teacher. We worked with his teachers (excellent teachers!), and specialists and educated ourselves about selective mutism and how to help our little guy cope better with this anxiety. This year – his third grade- was different.

IMG_4980From the start, Mr. Stewart made it very clear that he was very passionate about art and insisted that children need to be exposed to art. In fact, he integrated his curriculum whenever possible with visual art. He arranged artist visits in the classroom, and took the class to the Hamilton Art Gallery on five separate trips where they toured the exhibits, and created art themselves inspired by a variety of genres. He found time to do teach students to think and reflect about art and he made the realize that every single creation was unique and special. He integrated current technologies such as digital cameras, and the Livescribe Pen to allow students to reflect and talk about their art and critique the art of others. As his year culminates to an end, Mr. Stewart invited the school community to an art show where he and his students stood proudly in front of their art.

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But this passion – this education that he gave my child extends far beyond the classroom. A few weeks ago, a friend of mine excitedly invited me over to show me the art that she had recently purchased. She was so proud. So thrilled. It was a fine piece of art. As I examined the print, trying to figure it out, my eight year old boy, stepped up and confidently blurted out, “Wow, it’s a Norval Morisseau, Mom!”. I didn’t know who that was. Then, a few days later, as we toured the famous Hamilton North End’s Art Crawl, over and over my son made connections to Matisse, Carrriere, Group of Seven, Norval. In awe, I watched him examine the art wondering what he was thinking. Then, one of the artists approached him and said, “Amazing – you know so much about art.”. My son, who had never spoken to a stranger before, looked at the artist and said, “My teacher showed me”. I was so proud. Thank You Mr. Stewart – You impacted our son in a great way.

Who is your Doug Peterson?

IMG_3488A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to spend some time with Doug Peterson (AKA @dougpete, AKA yoda <my master>) in Windsor, Ontario. It may have appeared that the purpose of the visit was to ‘Faceoff at Maxwell School”. But the real purpose was to connect face to face with a colleague and friend that has truly impacted my professional growth by inspiring and teaching me to think outside the box and challenge me in so many ways –to be authentic, creative and innovating in my teaching and learning.

My visit with Doug has truly made me reflect about a dichotomy of learning that I have been thinking about and I ask, why has this learning community – this PLN –  had such a strong impact on my relationships within my workplace (the brick and mortar workplace)? Have I become more distant and less social and even less collaborative? Does it matter? Is it just that our learning spaces are changing and that I am adapting?

In fact, this is a dichotomy that I struggle with in a profession where collaboration and team work are key ingredients to success. On one hand, my organization tells me who to collaborate with, when to collaborate, how to collaborate and what to collaborate about – but most important – to be there in person. Choice is rarely an option. I admit – this has resulted in disengagement. I wish it hasn’t. But, on the other hand what I have discovered through learning networks is so incredibly empowering. I have become fully engaged and inspired by learners (YOU) and educators (yes, you again) across the world that challenge me and engage me, EVERYDAY to be creative and critical at the same time.
Doug Peterson is a perfect example of a colleague that has helped me improve my practice and yet lives over 400km’s away.  In spending these days, (in person) with Doug -as we toured schools and drove across the countryside,  Doug explained to me the importance of authenticity, 

“We need to use the tools and strategies ourselves first and tell our stories, that’s what makes us connect to our students”.

Perhaps it is this very statement that has caused such a struggle for me–  and so I asked Doug, “How do I be fully engaged within buildings that I work in, while also embracing these new digital coaching platforms?” Doug has been a leader, a coach and a mentor and to him, distance or time zones or buildings is not essential when developing supportive learning communities or learning spaces. It is simply about the people and their choices.  I am not sure if it really matters whether or not Doug works in my immediate building, or collaborates and coaches from a distance. I am not sure it really matters if  my learning and professional development and growth happens in networked environments vs brick and mortar – as long as the learning a growth happens, builds capacity for others, and is sustainable.  I wonder how long it will take our organizations to embrace the idea of choice and customization when developing our PLC’s. Who is your Doug Peterson?

Do we need Social Media policies?

JUST THINK……

Web 2.O promotes sharing, openness, transparency, and collective knowledge. Web 2.0 tools  are low cost (sometimes free) and accessible anywhere with Internet access. These tools are available in several mediums (video, text, audio, images). They don’t require a great deal of computer or tech knowledge to use and are generally usable on any computer or mobile device and from almost anywhere in the world. These characteristics would at first glance seem like a perfect recipe for any teacher, classroom or student. But they come with a price. Content is public. Anyone can post anything about anyone at anytime, from anywhere. Regardless of skill, knowledge, age, or ability, anyone can publish his or her work. And yet, even knowing this price – this risk, some teachers and their students across our globe are doing it anyway. Some have fully implemented social media into their classrooms and in their own professional development often without policy, without guidelines and without district support or professional development. They use social media to empower students, to promote discussion, critical thinking and problem solving. But often due to the lack of public or community understanding, these educators face scrutiny in the media.

I argue that social media policies in education are lacking and require attention. However, because of the fast changing pace of social media and the lack of knowledge and research of its use in education, policy makers are taking a cautious stance.

The recently published, ‘Professional Advisory – Use of Electronic Communication and Social Media(Ontario College of Teachers, 2011) is an excellent example of this – where the problem is defined and framed by focusing on teacher behaviour and appropriate conduct, rather than framing the problem as being the lack of teacher preparedness and lack of district initiative for ongoing professional development about the appropriate use of social networking tools at all level of education.  The intended message of the advisory is very clear  – in large blue font on the cover of the document reads,

This professional  advisory  is  intended  to  provide  a   context  for  the  responsible,  professional  use  of     electronic  communication  and  social  media  by   members  of  the  College. For the  purposes  of  this  advisory,  electronic     communication  and  social  media  encompass     software,  applications  (including  those  running     on  mobile  devices),  e-­mail  and  web  sites,  which     enable  users  to  interact,  create  and  exchange     information  online.  Examples include,  but  are     not  limited  to,  sites  such  as  Facebook,  Twitter,   LinkedIn,  Flickr,  YouTube,  Wikipedia,  Picasa     and  MySpace. (Ontario College of Teachers, 2011)

In this case, the Ontario College of Teacher intention is to set guidelines about teacher use of these tools. Since many teachers have already been using these tools in their classrooms as instructional practice, without these guidelines in place, it will be interesting to see what changes, these cautions will have in Ontario classrooms. Will teachers stop using these tools? From the point of view of the College, whose mandate is to provide guidelines for the teaching profession,  the recently published advisory would seem appropriate. However, the real problem should be the lack of training and knowledge that the members have about the use of the tools as they pertain to education since professional conduct is nothing new. And, it is nothing new that some teachers and educators  breach their professional conduct, as told by our history. Further, simple searches on the Internet lead to thousands of blogs, Wikispaces, classroom Youtube videos, and even classroom Facebook pages. Almost every night (or day) of the week, teachers from around the world are gathering to discuss strategies and research based methods both using synchronous and a synchronous learning methods. Real people around the world are using these tools to advocate for change and social justice. Teachers across the world are using sites such as Skype in the Classroom™ or Voice Thread (and so  much more) to connect students with other students and classrooms, authors, and experts. School districts, directors of education, superintendents, trustees, teachers and students can follow and contribute to the same news feeds and respond to one another in real time using social media tools. I am fully immersed in this world of knowledge mobilization and interactivity and yet I still find it incredible.

Regardless, policies continue to focus on those teachers that are not using these tools effectively, instead of addressing the issues at a system level. Policies need to be putting the responsibility on the districts to provide proper and ongoing training for teachers which includes professional conduct. Policies need to allow districts room to move and grow at the same speed as the tools our students are using when they go home.  Such policies should insist that schools are teaching proper use of social media tools rather than discourage it. Above all, such policies and guidelines need to be considered priority. If schools are not teaching and modeling these tools, who will?

As educators, are we content with letting our children use web 2.0 social media tools without proper instruction? They are doing it anyway, so lets bring it into the classroom and teach them to use it safely and properly. Policies and guidelines should take a proactive approach

Consider the following questions –

1.     Why are some teachers and schools making decisions to use social media tools into their instructional practice without district policy or guidelines?

2.     Has the growth in cloud based instructional tools and individual use of social media forced districts to develop related policies?

3.     Are teachers putting themselves and their students at risk by using tools and strategies that are not addressed by policy?

4.     Finally, is it possible to create a policy about social media when the tools and programs are changing at exponential rates?

Collaborative Reflection – Our 21st Century Fluencies

This video is a collaborative effort from people across Ontario, Canada, and the world to demonstrate and reflect how they have incorporated 21st Century Fluencies and NETS (s) with their students and colleagues. These interviews and discussions were done over the past two weeks using Skype and incorporate a large demographic of perspectives in education (students, teachers, principals, consultants and faculty members). Thanks to @Royan_Lee and his class from providing the background music (via Skype)!

Consider widening the perspectives in this video by answer the same questions (audio, video or text form)

1) What is your name, your role and where are you from?

2) What was your favourite learning activity (yourself or with your students)?

3) What advice do you have for other educators learning (and using) about the NETS (ISTE standards)?

4) What are you looking forward to for next year?