My Edublog Awards Nominations

puzzled hearts water refractions linh_r0m I am so influenced by the work others that I often find it difficult to pick my own thinking out of the stream of  other people’s ideas. This is the chance for me to thank people whose creativity, insight, and nurturing have enriched my learning.

Best individual blog: Dean Shareski is a bit like the trickster raven in aboriginal mythology: sometimes he plays jester, but pay attention! Dean’s posts always make me think. He pushes me to reflect. I have learned a lot from his blog, in his open classroom sessions, in K-12 online presentations, and yes, on Twitter.
Best individual tweeter: “Tweeting” makes it sound rather insignificant, but Alec Couros’ influence on my thinking about open learning, community, generosity, networks, connectivism, family …well, on the stuff of life in general, has been quite profound. He is always pointing the way to the good things. And, having met him, I know he is who he represents himself to be online. No BS, straight goods, kindness, transparency, all in a flow of 140 characters or less.
Best group blog: Susan Stiff and Diane Hammond have created a great place for students to connect with science and scientists. Our class took part in a series of web casts with polar scientists followed by blog connections– a one-of-kind opportunity for kids. Theirs is such an amazing resource.
Best new blog: Jaki Braidwood is a colleague who has got the whole thing goin’ on. She’s new to blogging, but is such a pro. What a rich experience she provides her students!
Best class blog: Imagine being classroom teacher to not just 30 kids but over 500 kids (I am certain it was way more). Sue’s blogging challenge (her 3rd one) was a brilliant way to bring my new students into the community of bloggers and stretch their skills. She  has helped countless students and teachers become better bloggers.

Best student blog: I purposely did not nominate any of my current students, although I have outstanding bloggers this year. I nominate a Huzzahnian grad (whose reports I no longer write!). Daniel was my student last year and is in his second year as a blogger. I suggest looking back to his first post here to understand how far he’s come. Daniel is a gaming fan, a significant passion he has cultivated into an expertise. Take a look at his latest posts–I think this 12 year old should be writing for gaming magazines. Beyond his writing skill, Daniel is very generous with his comments and support to other bloggers. A great role model.

Best teacher (leader) blog: am actually cheating on this one because David Truss is technically an administrator, but he is always a teacher. I think it is time the Edublog Awards recognize the influence of blogging administrators. David has always been an educator who reflects on his practice. The whole community benefits from his thinking out loud, as well as his encouragement.
Best librarian / library blog: I feel Lesley Edwards is MY librarian. If I am looking for something, she and her six beejillian Delicious links are where I go. Such a sharer and encourager. Too bad for her district that she will retire soon, but lucky us that she is the epitome of a life-long learner.

Best educational tech support blog: There is no conflict here: they could not pay Sue Waters enough to do what she does to keep blogs of all kinds afloat. Fast, efficient, helpful, and not without attitude, Sue has profoundly affected my growth as a blogging teacher.

Best educational use of a social networking service: Even though I am not a tech teacher, I found this to be a rich community.  This wiki was started by Nedra Isenberg in April 2008 and her welcoming attitude has kept it active–as has the generous, talented membership. I think I was member 35. There are well over 800 members in this niche Ning.

Best resource sharing blog: Paul Hamilton gave the first blogging workshop I ever attended and has been a tremendous encouragement to me. His blog addresses special education, but the title reflects his UDL philosophy: Free Resources from the Net for EVERY Learner–Educational and Assistive Technology to support Universal Access and Universal Design for Learning. I am always seeking ways to address diversity in my classroom; his blog is often my first stop, and if I am lucky, I get to talk to him face to face.

Most influential blog post: Yes, Dean Shareski’s post is more than a year old, but I continue to quote and share it. It is essential context for sustaining blogging in the classroom.

There you have it.

Image: puzzled hearts water refractions by Lin R0n

Tech Whisperer: drive out fear

This post is my contribution to Scott McLeod’s Leadership Day 2009.  His site will aggregate the many excellent offerings from bloggers around the globe in the coming days. I’m writing my post for anyone who has influence in education–which is all of us, really. My hope is that it becomes a conversation starter. Please agree, disagree, and stretch my thinking.

Going to the dogs

I have learned a lot from the Cesar Milan, The Dog Whisperer. He’s a terrific teacher: he models, he encourages, he shares as much of the “why” as the “how”. His vision is transparent: achieving balance between people and dogs. He changes people by building a trusting relationship with them, and they in turn build trusting, balanced relationships with their animals.

On the episode I saw last night, Cesar was working with a family whose dog Hula was very fearful. Hula would run and hide when anxious, or bite the husband and children when she felt felt threatened. She was calm only when in her owner’s arms, but clearly the relationship was unhealthy. I can only imagine the ripple effects of Hula’s behaviour on the whole family: the tension, the anxiety, the resentment, the retreating from community. I am paraphrasing here, but Cesar’s response to Hula’s fear was to approach the dog from the side. His message to Hula was I am with you, I am not a threat, we can face what is ahead, we are together. Initially the dog struggled, trying to bite, trying to run. Cesar calmly persisted, and eventually Hula relaxed and found a more balanced way of being part of the family and engaging with the world.

Now, I don’t want this metaphor to get twisted. I’m not advocating for a “you’re my pack, I’m your Alpha, follow me” approach to technology leadership in education. But there is a lesson here about how to lead when teachers are uncertain or fearful, as many still are, when it comes to integrating technology. When people are anxious, stand with them. Edward Deming talked about driving out fear in his 14 Points:

8.  Encourage effective two way communication and other means to drive out fear throughout the organization so that everybody may work effectively and more productively for the company.

Most leaders are used to being out front, paving the way. Some lead from behind, distributing the leadership, helping others nurture their passions, find their voices, and influence others. In times of profound change, I believe as leaders we need to be beside the people we influence if all of us are to thrive.

Lead from beside, as well as from the front and from behind.

What does this look like in practical terms? I offer my thoughts on a 360° approach to (tech) leadership:

Lead from ahead:

  • have a vision for learning that includes the wise, ubiquitous integration of technology in education to connect, create, communicate, collaborate, and care. Live your vision.
  • model your own use of technology to meet your personal and professional learning needs and share your experiences with your colleagues.
  • Be transparent. Build your personal learning network (PLN) Read blogs, get on Facebook and Twitter and figure out why others are there.
  • advocate on behalf of the learners in your community (all staff, students, parents). Lobby for technology integration support positions in schools so staff, parents, and students can learn and practice new pedagogical approaches with a guide, not in isolation. Promote openness, not blocking.
  • focus on what technology affords, not what it costs.

Lead from behind:

  • encourage punishment-free risk-taking and experimentation. Be ready to prop up teachers and kids when they stumble–not shut them down. See failure as a stepping stone to success. Teach.
  • build capacity for technology integration by creating on-going, just-in-time professional development that meets the needs of teachers. This should not be done off the side of someone’s desk, but by a dedicated position.
  • translate the acceptable use policy into a document that kids, parents, and teachers understand. Frame it as an agreement to tap into the opportunity to learn and practice digital citizenship.
  • read, write, and talk about technology. Understand that learning is social, and that social learning is facilitated and nurtured by digital communication. Know too that kids are using the tools and we are obliged to get with the program.
  • do the behind-the-scenes heavy lifting by getting essential jobs done: for example, get data projectors installed in the ceiling rather than leaving them on carts. This will increase internet/Smartboard use ten-fold. Guaranteed.

Lead from beside:

  • relationships are built side by side. Leading from beside people means you and those you influence are facing things together. Put the problem/challenge in the middle.  You communicate more effectively when you are close, you build trust, and as you experience struggles together you can reflect and tell the story of your journey as “our story”. Trust drives out fear.
  • bring people together to talk about their challenges, successes, and failures with technology. People who complain about BCeSIS, ReportWriter, problems with logins, screen resolution, access to the lab–their concerns and frustrations are real–seek to understand, commiserate, and find solutions to problems. If you can’t, communicate the problems to those who can make a change. Understanding drives out fear.
  • learn and teach a trouble-shooting mindset and skills to kids, staff, parents. Getting unstuck builds confidence. Confidence drives out fear.
  • connect people to each other. Become a social convener. Create structures that allow people to collaborate face-to-face and virtually. Community drives out fear.
  • being close means you can strike a balance: provide scaffolding but don’t do for people what they can do for themselves. This is an old idea by Pearson and Gallagher (1983)–gradual release of responsibility: moving from demonstration, guided practice, independent practice, to application.  Adult learners need support as they learn to integrate technology into their lives.  Lev Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development applies, too. Learning drives out fear.
  • laugh together. So much of the net is devoted to humour for a reason. Laughing feels so good. The video below was shared by Lesley Edwards, a friend and mentor. Pay attention at 2:54. I haven’t met anyone who doesn’t see themselves in this sketch. Laughter drives out fear.

I’m not a tech whisperer but I am a learner. And I am working on driving out fear by leading and learning side by side.

My Teaching is Sticking

Well, I am just tickled.

Yesterday at 6 pm I published a post on our class blog about our Heritage Fair. At 7 pm I received an email from one of my students:

Hi Mrs. Smith

That is a great post you worte but i have some suggestions

  1. Add links to the names of the class mates
  2. Maybe share more info on what classmates said about the differences in presentations in the library to the class.

signed ***

I have to say I am thrilled with this email because this tells me a few things:

  1. What I’ve been saying about linking is sticking. She noticed that I didn’t do it.
  2. What I’ve modeled about the power of feedback to help a writer improve is sticking.
  3. What I have said about reading thoughtfully is sticking. She obviously read deeply enough to notice what was missing–I had not included the really important conversation we had following the Fair
  4. What I have been saying about the subtleties of what sorts of comments should be made on a blog, and what should be made via other means is sticking. Although her feedback would have been just fine on the blog, I think it was thoughtful to choose email instead.
  5. Most significant to me, her email says something about our relationship. She trusts me enough to feel confident that her feedback would be welcomed.

There are days when I suspect that I am just so much white noise in the lives of my students. And then there are others when I notice a change in attitude, a strategy applied, growth in thinking, or more mature behaviour. Blogging has created fertile ground for all of us. The roots go down and the plant grows up.

Have you ever had feedback from your students, parents, or colleagues that has made you aware of the postive effects of your teaching that you weren’t expecting?  I’d love to hear it.

Now I’ve got a post to edit.

Presenting…to those who need to know.

Sometimes opportunity knocks. Sometimes it tags you in the hall.

I joked with my colleagues that I should never stand outside my classroom door, as I am likely to get asked to do a job I hadn’t planned on. A few weeks back my principal asked if I would present something on Smartboards for the annual gathering of Vancouver Island school trustees which our district was hosting. I asked if I could do something on blogging instead as it is the focus of my action research.

What to say to Trustees?

As the event got closer, I was beginning to wonder what a trustee would know or want to know about blogging. I would have a context for a teaching audience–and a parent audience, but what would be the background knowledge, interests, and concerns of trustees? Enter the trusty PLN –personal learning network via Twitter. I tweeted and got some great responses from Lorna Costantini, Kathy Cassidy, Cindy Seibel and Heidi Hass-Gable, who was so generous with her time that we had a Skype call.

How much to say?

I had to think about how deep to go in the time I had (and that seemed to float–initially 15 minutes, then 45, settling at about half an hour), which wasn’t a lot. Or too much, depending… I decided they might need the context of Web 2.0 and an explanation of the concept of a read and write web. So I created a short PowerPoint (below) and decided to focus on two aspects of blogging that seem to be especially important to my students: their digital identity (pride, confidence, the desire to represent the best of themselves, their learning profiles are less visible or a barrier) and the audience that blogging gives them (family, peers, students around the world). After that I’d share a video of interviews that Paul Hamilton did with five of my students in December. I was then going to tour them quickly through our class blog, Huzzah!, and the student blogs, and then invite questions or conversation.

How it went

I arrived for the set up and realized I could load all the student’s blogs in the lab so the trustees could see individual ones after the fact. A senior administrator popped in, and gave me a really valuable head’s up: the trustees were from an older demographic than he expected. His job was to shepherd the 50 trustees between presentations, and they were getting tired (oh dear). My time was going to be about 25 minutes.

I am pretty pleased with the way that the presentation itself went. I have been living blogging with my students for four months and I am very proud of their growth. I was only somewhat nervous, and the technology didn’t fail me. The questions were interesting: Kathy Cassidy was right: the first audience statement during the presentation was, “You mean anyone can see them?” Other questions after I spoke were about parent involvement and education, one about spelling,  and my favourite, “What did you need to do before you were successful?”. I said I had to fail. I had to learn what blogging wasn’t before I understood what it was. I said I also have to be able to fail in front of my students so I can model the two most important tech skills: troubleshooting and having a plan B (and C, and…).


I wish I had:

  • first surveyed the audience about their use of the Internet, and knowledge of blogging;
  • been more thorough in defining or touring a blog–what a post is etc.;
  • edited the video–at eight minutes it was too long;
  • emphasized more the need for peer-to-peer teacher support while teachers are taking risks. It would have been the perfect opportunity to get the bug in the ear of people who can make change happen and maybe get technology integration support positions in our district.


  • I have a fabulous PLN through Twitter.
  • Drinking water and not wearing under-wire are important to presenter comfort (learned that before–this is gender specific advice).
  • I know enough about the richness of blogging with students that I can actually say I have expertise, which surprises me.

No doubt I’ll present again–in fact I have to in April. So I am open to suggestions from your experiences–any advice on how to plan for and deliver to an audience about the power and potential of technology? Love to hear from you.

Reflections on a Conference I Didn’t Attend

This weekend I was in Philadelphia. I met amazing people, had great conversations, and attended inspiring professional development sessions. All from the comfort of my office swivelly chair. And yes, I watched most of it in my pj’s.

I was at Educon 2.1 via Mogulus, a broadcasting platform that allows for video streaming and simultaneous chat. I really do wish I had been there in person, but to attend virtually was a great second-best. Maybe next year? I’d probably have to take a week off to get there and back! There were 350 physically attending. I wonder how many took part like me. Chris Lehmann, the faculty and students at Science Leadership Academy did a great job of bringing in a wider audience.

The conversations in the chat room were fascinating–at times a lot of “push back” on my own thinking (a term new to me in the last six months–not all heads nod, respectful disagreement, alternate points of view). I wish I could find the chat logs to see what I read and said.

In Bud Hunt‘s presentation he used a tool called Ether Pad. Looks like an amazing tool for synchronous collaboration. One chat room discussion was about the true value of blogging. Someone contended that most blogging was essentially drivel, and not worth an audience. (I hope I am being fair, because I don’t have the transcript). I guess blogging either finds an audience or it doesn’t, like any other form of publication. Think of those bins outside bookstores with deeply discounted stuff that won’t be read. At least dead blogs don’t clog the landfill.

Another discussion was about whether books belong in school anymore. I really want to read the chat log on that, because I was a bit incredulous. This is not about textbooks, but any book. The chatter said they were inefficient. Can’t get my head around that. Maybe I was feeding the trolls on that one.

Alec Couros‘s session on open learning was lively and satisfying. I wish I had thought to change browsers to Internet Explorer from FireFox as it was really choppy. They talked about online identity, sharing and the “gift economy”, who owns data and more. I actually recognized a dozen faces in the room, which in itself is quite amazing to me. Again, can’t wait to see the encore presentation.

I could not have pictured on-line learning being this engaging and inspiring a year ago. I have been taught so much by so many in such a short amount of time. It’s remarkable and humbling.

How has learning on-line through such virtual conference experiences affected you? What is missed? And does it matter?

Image: Grace’s Ghost by Pickadillywilson