Every time I sit down to write in this blog, I struggle with what to say and how to organize my thoughts. I have so many things to share about the work I’ve been doing with colleagues, students and online with my PLN but it’s almost like there’s too much to share. I feel like I’ve got enough material in my head to write a series of books on what has become the new normal in education. That’s not to say I have all the answers; I don’t. It’s just that there’s so much happening I don’t know where to start or whether any of it matters to anyone, but I always feel better when it’s out so let’s do this!
In an effort to give structure to my thoughts and post, I’ve decided to revisit the work of Michael Fullan and share what I’ve been doing through the lens of the 6C’s, or a variation of them anyway. Some have been adapted to fit the purpose of this blog post but you’ll get the idea.
While most everything in our world has been turned upside down by the current COVID-19 crisis, some things have remained the same or at least similar. For example, living abroad and being away from friends and family for the last decade has meant that depending on technology and the internet as a means to connect is standard practice for me. In some ways, the recent increased use of video calling and operating on multiple time zones has made it easier to adapt to these changes. As a school, we are seeking meaningful ways to stay connected to our colleagues, students, and the wider community through all this craziness. Here are some of the ways I’ve been maintaining connection:
BYOB & Virtual Happy Hours: This initiative was started a few weeks after moving to online learning and has been a great way to offer up a virtual space for people in our community to connect, collaborate and explore their experiences throughout this displacement period. But also, one of my favorite monthly events has made a comeback and is happening later tonight- PubPD!
Student Mentorships during PYP Exhibition: Our Grade 5 students have started their exhibition journeys and with that, their meetings with mentors. Because I don’t teach my own classes, it always feels like a special treat to be able to work with students. While far more of that tends to happen when school is in session, the mentor meetings have created an opportunity for me to connect with students in a meaningful way. More on this in a later blog post!
Expanding my PLN: I thought I spent a lot of time on social media engaging with my PLN before all this, but it’s nothing compared to how much I’ve been leaning into the community of educators in my virtual circle lately. I’ve been able to strengthen existing connections with others and even expand into new online communities over the last 10 weeks and it’s been such a great experience for my professional growth. One of these is a new initiative that my PYP Coordinator and I started after discussing the uncertainty of the PYP Exhibition during online learning and has now turned into a group of 200+ educators in 30+ countries from around the globe coming together to share resources and ideas with each other. It’s been incredible.
The ways and frequency with which we communicate have been greatly impacted by our current situation. Those face-to-face interactions with students, colleagues, and teams haven’t happened in months and the looming fear of a pandemic has kept people at safe physical distances and limited the ways we interact with others in person. For the sake of this week’s post, I have taken a hard look at the ways I’m using technology to communicate with others and the things I miss most about the old ways of communicating.
Virtual Town Hall Meetings: Staff meetings have never been something that got me really excited but the current situation has changed my thinking a bit because they’re always scheduled when big news is about to drop. In the last town hall meeting, we learned that we would not be permitted to re-enter China until the foreigner ban has been lifted. The next meeting is actually scheduled for 1am tomorrow my time and this time we’re awaiting details of a recent email about a confirmed reopening date in the high school and what that will look like when half our staff is not there.
Weekly Newsletters to Staff: Another way that I communicate virtually is by sending out weekly tech and innovation newsletters, something that I do throughout the school year but has changed to reflect our new normal. Two new features of particular importance are the addition of a ‘Celebrating Our Success’ section and the Micro-PD series. In the ‘ Celebrating Our Success’ section, I share what people have been doing well during online learning as a way to commend them and spark ideas for others who may need inspiration in their own classes. The Micro-PD series is brand new this week and came about from discussions and feedback about supporting teachers in a longer-term online teaching model.
Virtual PYPx Channels: As mentioned above, my PYP Coordinator and I have started an initiative to bring PYP educators and coordinators together to discuss the exhibition in our current global crisis. These discussions through video calls and on backchannels in Slack have helped move our efforts forward at AISG and have provided a place to give and support.
CITIZENSHIP- Digital & Global
Making a shift to online learning made my heart sink a bit. Aside from the immediate crisis of accessibility and devices, I felt a tremendous amount of worry and anxiety at whether I’d provided enough support in the area of digital citizenship in the months leading up to all of this. Not to mention that it’s a huge part of my ISTE Certification and COETAIL classes. My brain was flooded with questions:
- Do they know about fair & acceptable use of materials they pull from the internet?
- Will copyright even cross their minds as they scramble to create lessons?
- Have they considered privacy and data when selecting tools to use during online learning?
- Do they feel confident in their students’ (and their own) abilities to carry out teaching and learning virtually?
You can see where this is all going. As it turns out, everyone was and continues to be in a different place. And that’s okay. I’m doing what I can to support those who need it. Lately, that’s been taking many forms. Here are a couple of examples:
Digital Citizenship: Passing along helpful resources from publishers and authors that I come across on social media and working closely with our librarians have been nice ways to bring the topic to the surface and remind people of our responsibilities. Another strategy I’ve been using is embedding the ISTE Educator standards in the weekly tech and innovation newsletters as well as in the Micro-PD videos when I can. This feels like a non-intrusive way to get important information out to teachers.
***Let’s not even start the conversation about Zoom. It’s a whole other post***
Global Citizenship: This is not something I can say that I’ve been actively pushing in any way, although components of global citizenship are coming up in conversations as a mentor and in my PLN almost daily, but rather a strong sense belonging and that has come along with this pandemic. And then how this belonging can be the catalyst for real change in the world. Maybe it’s that I’ve been in isolation for weeks and weeks now, or maybe it’s that I’ve had a lot of time to reflect, but I can’t seem to shake the feeling that this will have a profound and lasting impact on the way we live our lives and work from here on out. Again, I think this topic is one that deserved its own post but for now, I’ll leave you with this short piece on Sonya Terborg’s site where she poses a challenge to schools to use this collective experience as a catalyst for change. More talk about the educational system revolution later.
A former colleague and fellow EdTech enthusiast, Craig Kemp, often makes the analogy of trying to keep up in a Twitter chat as ‘drinking from a firehose’. This is an all too appropriate analogy for our current situation. Back when Asia was the only region closing schools and doing online learning, you could almost keep up with the resources being shared on different social media platforms, but now that the rest of the world has joined us, the floodgates are open and it’s become harder to find and evaluate resources that are useful. I have to admit that I’ve been spending a tremendous amount of time on a screen and on Twitter since this whole thing started and I’m starting to feel burnt out.
But it wasn’t all for nothing because I came across a really valuable piece from Jennifer Gonzales’ on Cult of Pedagogy. I know, I know, everything she does is great, but really, this one was just what I needed for where I am right now and an even better reminder of how the teachers in the throes of it are feeling. The sentiment? Less is more, quality over quantity, rinse and repeat. If you’ve been drinking from the firehose lately and are starting to feel overwhelmed by how much is out there being shared, this episode is for you.
Perhaps the C I’ve been enjoying most over the last few weeks is this one. The kinds of collaboration I’m doing right now are some of the most fulfilling of my career. It hasn’t looked anything like I’ve expected it to but I feel like I’m adding real value to teachers and students even if it’s only happening in small steps and pockets.
It’s hard for me to believe that we’re approaching the end of the school year and my first year at a new school is wrapping up… and I’m not actually there. To say this year has been anything but what I expected would be an understatement, and for the most part, I wouldn’t trade it. The growth and opportunities, the relationships and connections, the new skills and experiences, all of it has been memorable and helped me move forward in my journey.
Final Unit Kick-off Meetings: As we embark on what’s left of our online journey and school year, we are preparing for our final units and I’m excited to hear what their ideas are for these and find ways to support and collaborate in meaningful ways. While I much prefer and miss having these particular meetings face-to-face, the brainstorming and energy that comes during the planning stages is still there and it’s just what I need to kickstart my work and get me through the remainder of the year. Depending on what happens in these kick-off meetings, I may be completely restructuring my final project, so stay tuned.
Upcoming Webinar: As previously mentioned in some other C’s farther up, I have been working on a little collaborative side project with Lydia, our PYP Coordinator, surrounding online exhibitions. One thing has led to many others and last week, we were approached by a company called Toddle to collaborate on a webinar that they do to offer up professional development opportunities to PYP educators. Needless to say, we were flattered and accepted even though it’s been a fair amount of additional work for both of us. Our webinar is happening live this weekend, so look for a follow-up blog post about that whole process soon.
Mentoring in Exhibition: By far, the most rewarding collaborative experience recently has been my work with the two 5th graders I’m mentoring for PYPx. Our journey together has just started but already it’s the highlight of my week. I have missed interacting with students on a daily basis, so it’s been a nice treat and I’m actually looking forward to seeing what kinds of learning is possible without the constraints of the big share event at the end.
Don’t get me wrong, I hate this. I’m tired of being cooped up in the house and away from anything resembling my normal life. I’m ready for this whole thing to be over and to get back to China. BUT, this time at home in isolation hasn’t been all bad. I’ve started exercising regularly, have been able to meal plan and prep with consistency, and I’m finally starting to make time for some creative endeavors. Here’s a look at how I’m balancing it all through creative channels.