The Reflective Journey 'The End of the Beginning' by Jordan Neil

Activity Six: Social Online Networks in Practice and Professional Development

The digital world is an international web that transcends beyond boundaries we could have previously considered. While, appropriately, we refer to it as the world wide web, we don’t fully appreciate the communication threads that we are now exposed to. Thanks to advancement in infrastructure and software “technology has taken us to a level where we can collaborate beyond our wildest imagination” (Office of Education Technology, 2013). When we combine this international notion of connectedness with the world of education we witness a marriage that can be viewed as harmonious or volatile.

Online social networks have become a huge asset to educators as within minutes’ ideas can be shared and deliberated on across the globe. According to the Office of Education Technology (2013) the most powerful thing we can do as educators is to become “connected” as the next tools for education can be found in technology. It encourages us to surrounds ourselves with passionate educators from a multitude of different backgrounds in order to learn and grow. Without these new perspectives and differing views, we are unable to sit within our zone of proximal development and attempt to shape our “unknown” into knowledge or understanding.

Kathy Cassidy, an elementary school teacher in America, clearly articulates the need to use social networking in educational practice, “digital is where the kids are at now” (Tvo Parents, 2013). As educators, we know that the most effective way to make a difference with our learners is to connect with them, to be ‘in touch’.

Technology is the tool that allows us to bridge the 'digital gap' between teacher and learner.

When I first started my practice, five years ago now, the need to connect and build strong relationships with akonga was a pertinent priority. But, I had zero training in the usage of social networks and e-learning in the classroom. Consequently, I was somewhat apprehensive (and intimidated) at the thought of using social networking in my practice. Shortly into my second year I created an ‘Edmodo’ homepage for my Year 12 Senior English class. The intention was to make learning accessible beyond the structured 50-minute time-frame, create a supportive network for learning and make activities more engaging. While my intentions were clear, in hindsight, my implementation and consistency was not. I was irregular at checking the page, sporadic with uploading resources, inconsistent with replying to students’ comments, and complacent in understanding the need to actively monitor the site. Although I had set up appropriate privacy settings, my presence on the webpage was not strong enough to engage students and keep their interest hooked on the learning. It was a quick learning curve that started, and ended, in the space of a term. This experience left me feeling somewhat like a luddite. Rather than critically reflect on this at the time, and make appropriate changes in my practice, I was quick to push social networking and online learning towards the “too hard basket”.

Edmodo was a steep learning curve that highlighted to me the need to have an active presence, set plan, and clear purpose when engaging in online social learning.

It has now been almost four years since this experience with online networks. I am still rather precautious towards the online world but feel more equipped in my ability to control this, as best I can. Within these four years I have had experience with: Edmodo, OneNote, Hapara, Instagram, Weebly, Wordpress, and Blogger. I guess there has been passive attempts at building an online presence but not enough that I can confidently boast about my digital practice and accomplishments. The Education Council (2012) offers clear steps for how to prevent potential barriers and establish safeguards in our practice. Firstly, we must think clearly of our purpose: Why am I using social media? What are the benefits for me? What are the benefits for young people? (Education Council, 2012). Although I had thought about the engagement and ‘hip’ side of using social media I never gave much thought to the wider “why”. Why was this the best form of platform I had to communicate? Consequently, how could I effectively and consistently use it to improve the learning for my akonga?

As a leader of an online network we must initiate, filter and engage (Sharples, et al., 2016). I now know of the need to be enthusiastic, committed and able to clearly co-ordinate content. Melhuish (2013) brings attention to the distinct need of ‘clear goals’ and the learner’s ability to ‘self-direct’. Critically, not everyone has the predisposition towards self-managed learning. With this in mind, we must integrate, model and implement online practice in our daily lessons if we are to expect engaged learning to occur asynchronously online. I am at a point in my practice where I feel it is integral to create online social networks to grow learning with my students and connect internationally with other educators.

The interdisciplinary connections, created online, feed into the eco-system of our practice and consequently enrich the learning experiences of our akonga.

Online social networks have become a symbolic key in unlocking the door to connected, collaborative learning that now features at the core of my professional development. The strength of collaborative networks has been showcased through our Google + Community, Twitter, online forums and various other online outlets. I still admit that I need to do more. I realise that when I do start connecting, I need to understand WHY I am doing so and be consistent with my engagement and participation in these networks. Before we engage we must first understand why. The why is finally a lot clearer to me.

References:

Education Council.(2012). Establishing safeguards.[video file]. Retrieved from https://vimeo.com/49216520

Melhuish, K.(2013). Online social networking and its impact on New Zealand educators’ professional learning. Master Thesis. The University of Waikato. Retrieved March 15, 2017 from http://researchcommons.waikato.ac.nz/bitstream/han...

Office of Ed Tech. (2013, Sep 18). Connected Educators. [video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?t=216&v=K4Vd4JP_DB8

Sharples, M., de Roock , R., Ferguson, R., Gaved, M., Herodotou, C., Koh, E., Kukulska-Hulme, A., Looi,C-K, McAndrew, P., Rienties, B., Weller, M., Wong, L. H. (2016). Innovating Pedagogy 2016: Open University Innovation Report 5. Milton Keynes: The Open University. Retrieved from http://proxima.iet.open.ac.uk/public/innovating_pedagogy_2016.pdf

Tvoparents. (2013, May 21). Using Social Media in the Classroom.[video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=riZStaz8Rno

Activity Seven: The Interdisciplinary World of my Practice

We live in a world where connectedness is an essential element to any workplace, so much so that it has become as vital as the air we breathe. Traditionally, in high school settings, it can be rather difficult to create authentic connections across curriculums and, to an extent, even the level of years’ experience shared amongst staff. We commonly see secondary landscapes divided into silos that feature department, top down styles of internal structuring. This is a deeply concerning model. It sticks out, more and more, like a sore thumb in the educational demands and needs for today’s young learners.

McDonagh (2011) talks about the need to build interdisciplinary connections as it ‘encourages and enables us to see life from many perspectives’. It is argued that through a diverse variety of interdisciplinary connections, we are able to view the world more holistically. A skill that is not directly instructed in the New Zealand Curriculum, yet a vital attribute if students are to fully engage in the global, connected world that is the backdrop of our 21st Century. Building a range of perspectives is no easy feat and requires one to grow their “empathic horizon” (Thomas McDonagh Group, 2011).

We can only grow this horizon when we engage in different contexts, with different people, and open our mindset.

A pertinent point from The Thomas McDonagh Group (2011) was the concept of “cross-pollination”. This encompasses our experiences with educational, social, and cultural backgrounds. Upon new employment, at Rototuna Senior High School (RSHS), I found myself in a very different educational context than ever before. Oddly enough, it was also a mix of cultural values and social customs, all in a melting pot of education. The melting pot consisted of modern learning environments and re-shaping the realm of the New Zealand Curriculum. It is common practice for faculty to often focus on their own stream. However, RSHS philosophy towards education (and consequent flexibility with timetabling) meant that we were taking part in an authentic merging of curriculums, personnel, experiences, and educational backgrounds. The ‘cross-pollination’ was so strong, it was like seasonal hay fever across the entire teaching staff. We shook off what we thought about our ‘subject areas’ and realigned this with common skills across curriculum, dispositional traits, and elements of the 21st Century Learner. By fully engaging in interdisciplinary connections, we were able to reshape education and build meaningful, authentic working relationships targeted at enhancing the achievement and engagement of our young learners.

When learning about the Ross Spiral Curriculum (Ross Institute, 2015) I found myself nodding, sparked with inspiration, and forming a deeper understanding of the educational model I find myself in. It promotes that “the world is a feature of interconnected systems, both natural and cultural” which is a strong point of reference in RSHS. Like Ross Institute, we create strong, contextualized studies that see curriculum areas naturally merge together to create either thematic topic links or valuable historical narratives. Staff at my school need to be able to think in interdisciplinary ways, naturally, in order to conceive new ideas and dream up future curriculum modules.

Capturing the web of current and future figures in 'My Interdisciplinary Connections'

Rather than only existing in the ‘English’ bubble I now find myself co-teaching alongside Drama, Music, Fashion Technology and Computer Animation. We have created rich modules that genuinely pull our subject areas together. Neither one is more valuable than the other, rather, the strength exists in the collaborative form. This was no water off a duck’s back. As highlighted by Ross Institute (2015), it took a large amount of hours, planning, collaborating, discussing, and refining, before we could get this off the ground. The Ross Institute recommends at least 150 hours of rigorous professional development prior to engaging in effective interdisciplinary practice. We commenced work at RSHS October 2016 and had roughly 300+ hours without students purely visioning, researching and creating ways that we could build an authentic, strong interdisciplinary system that enhanced the learning of akonga. We were heavily involved in ‘joint-planning, decision-making and goal-setting’, as described by American Association of Colleges of Nursing (2016). It’s easy to have common goals, but it’s not always easy to be on the same page to get there.

My future practice will see our interdisciplinary connections at RHS, and beyond, grow. When I consider what future connections will look like for me, I’m in no hurry to keep putting eggs in a variety of baskets. I’m now focused on building the strength of my connections with the current curriculum strands: Drama, Music, Fashion Technology and Computer Animation. I spoke earlier about connectedness being as vital as the oxygen we breath. Well, I don’t want to suck the ventilation from the building without first appreciating the necessity of each breath. One thing is for sure now, through both my Mind Lab studies and work to date at RSHS, an educational system that is not interconnected and diverse is of detriment to both staff and student body.

References

American Association of Colleges of Nursing.(2016). Interdisciplinary Education and Practice. Retrieved from http://www.aacn.nche.edu/publications/position/interdisciplinary-education-and-practice

Berg-Weger, M., &. Schneider, F. D. (1998). Interdisciplinary collaboration in social work education. Journal of Social Work Education, 34, 97-107.

Ross Institute. (2015, July 5). Ross Spiral Curriculum: An Interdisciplinary Approach to Science. [video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hHZhkB0FJik

Thomas McDonagh Group. ( 2011, May 13). Interdisciplinarity and Innovation Education.[video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kDdNzftkIpA

Activity Eight: Changes in my Practice

When we look at our life on a continuum of time, or even a calendar for that matter, 32-weeks certainly does not seem like a long time. My last 32 weeks have been very unlike any other. Whilst on a personal level, I have relocated cities, changed employment and become an integral part of a collaborative team, my professional identity, practice and pedagogy has been greatly influenced through my engagement and participation with the Mind Lab.

Confucius put it so profoundly – “study the past if you are to define the future”.

The past few months have provided social connections, educational networking, headaches, controversial views on careers, and the odd eureka moment(s). While experience is the basis for learning, learning cannot take place without reflection (Osterman & Kottkamp, 1993). Initially, I dreaded this last part of the Mind Lab and the consequent blogging that came along with ‘Applied Practice in Context’ however, this was quick to change. I find myself agreeing with Schon (1981, cited in Osterman & Kottkamp, 1993) as the writing quickly “became a dialogue of thinking and doing through which I become more skillful”. The headaches, mentioned earlier, weren’t so much out of frustration or boredom but that moment where something enters our zone of proximal development. It bounces around our head, causing irritation based on the difficulties of new knowledge we are now facing. As suggested by Osterman and Kottkamp (1993) it are these difficulties that “motivate us to absorb new information”.

While the importance of being cyclical in our critical reflections was highlighted, I am cautious of falling back into the ‘same old regime’. The weekly blogging has provided a greater depth of the elements in my practice and made me re-conceptualise my future interactions, courses, and possibilities. Prior to this course, I was very much a lone-ranger in the realm of education. And I was happy with this. However, I now value the richness of connections, both locally and internationally, and the fuel they can provide to reignite our views on education. I experienced a strong behavioural change based on the evolution of my educational values and pedagogy which saw me promptly resign from my teaching position at Westlake Boys’ High School and take up an incredible opportunity at Rototuna Senior High School. It is only now that I see how clearly this aligns with Criteria 4 of the Practicing Teacher Criteria (PTC), ‘Demonstrate commitment to ongoing professional learning and development of personal professional practice’ (Ministry of Education, n.d.). My personal practice now is exponentially different to that of my personal practice 32 weeks ago. I thought I actively collaborated, but in hindsight, I was great at co-operating. I thought I used digital technologies, but in hindsight, I used email and Kahoot. While these seem like minor comparisons it is quite resounding how different my day-to-day practice has become. I strongly advocate student agency and choice in learning and I’ve always valued the power of feedforward but now the countless social channels through which I can build this constructive dialogue with akonga has broadened.

The Post Graduate Certificate in Applied Practice has had an intrinsic influence on my desire to undertake future studies.

This time a year ago, I couldn’t dream of co-teaching the rich modules I am now part of. My engagement with ‘Criteria 6: Conceptualise, plan, and implement an appropriate learning programme’ is in stark contrast to the isolated units I would have previously prepared. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not throwing my old practice under the bus. Upon reflection, I still feel like I planned and delivered some exceptional units with rich thematic links and depth of learning experiences; however, the depth of these lay purely in the context. I am in a very different context now. My growth within Criteria 6 relates directly to my growth with Criteria 4. Due to the personal professional development I have engaged with I have felt competent and motivated to rethink, plan and implement learning in a new way. I am fortunate that my educational setting at Rototuna Senior High School allows me to shape such learning. Being part of a co-teaching model, collaborative staff and innovative take on the NZC has allowed my experiences with Criteria 6 to look remarkably foreign to that of my practice 32 weeks ago. It excites me to think of how this may develop as teaching at RSHS continues.

Engaging in The Post Graduate Certificate in Applied Practice has had an intrinsic influence on my desire to undertake future studies. I am strongly invested in the power of collaboration in an educational system and have joined the RSHS Professional Development Committee, wanting to advocate akō in my practice. I am intrigued by the power within the New Zealand Curriculum and curious to see how we can better the diversity of assessment modes to authentically connect with the skills of akonga, grow their confidence, and enhance their passions. It is the unknown that motivates us, but the breadcrumbs of new experiences that keep us on the learning journey. Whilst I’ve digested a loaf of new experiences, I’m not full yet. My hunger for bettering my educational philosophies and growing the effectiveness of my practice is yet to be fully-satisfied. I am thankful for the Mind Lab providing this entrée of learning and await what will be the main course.

References:

Ministry of Education (nd). Practising teacher Criteria and e-learning . Retrieved from http://elearning.tki.org.nz/Professional-learning/

Osterman, K. & Kottkamp, R.(1993). Reflective Practice for Educators. California:Cornwin Press, Inc. Retrieved on 7th May, 2015 from http://www.itslifejimbutnotasweknowit.org.uk/files.

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