Spring is in the Air: Time for another #ISMTeachMeet

My school community is filled with educators who come from a range of backgrounds and have a wide variety of expertise so it would be foolish for us not to take advantage of such a skilled and knowledgeable bunch of teachers and encourage a professional sharing practice.

John Jones, @mrjonesICT, and I first introduced the idea of a TeachMeet to the ISM teaching community well over a year ago. Our first session was met with a mixture of extreme caution, some resistance but mostly curiousity and enthusiasm.  We welcomed some risk-taking teachers to stand up and share their experiences, wisdom, learning and innovative ideas to colleagues. They led the way in ensuring that gradually TeachMeets are becoming part of our School community culture.

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Many teachers found it an enlightening experience to hear what fellow colleagues who they share their morning break with every day actually find useful, engaging tools to inspire learning in the classroom. Since then the #ISMTeachMeet has gained momentum and we have scheduled to have these school-wide at least once a term. Our Spring TeachMeet is lining up to have everything from Design Learning presented by Jen Rhodes @JenRhodes to using Pinterest & Smore to create and share revision guides by Michael Cotgrave @Miclaaa.

Now, my next thought is how about we create a StudentMeet for teachers and students! Why don’t we ask students to present for 2 or 5 minutes about the technology tools and learning practices that engage and inspire them in their everyday learning….. Wouldn’t it make sense to hear what they find successful? My next goal has been set!

Focusing on Focus Groups

Consistent policy and curriculum review, responsive actions to school culture and embedding meaningful and lasting practices are, of course, always at the forefront of school leadership. In a busy, dynamic school environment time can be one of the most critical barriers to implementing changes effectively. One of the most effective models I have experienced in order to facilitate change in policy or practice was that of introducing Focus groups as part of leading the Primary School team. Once key areas to focus upon had been selected from the school’s strategic plan this approach was most effective because:

– teachers selected an area of interest from these identified focus areas, therefore allowing them to develop and invest time into something they were particularly passionate about or interested in.

– all community members were involved, class teachers, specialists, assistants and support staff.

–  meetings were flexible – the group decided when to meet each week and how to facilitate this.

– each focus group set their own shared goals.

– a simple, clear structure for the focus groups was developed with teachers.

– regular reporting back time was scheduled into the 8 – 10 week period with a final date given for groups presentations.

– emphasis for focus groups was placed upon gathering, reviewing data and presenting proposals for change or solutions to problems.

– discussion and collaboration became more embedded practice in professional culture.

– teachers benefitted from working in smaller groups, giving individuals greater opportunity to share their own personal ideas and discuss at length with colleagues.

– final decisions could be made in the various ‘focus’ areas by the whole team. This followed the group presentations and feedback, ensuring decisions were shared with the whole team.

Using time productively and effectively made everyone feel like we were progressing forward and sharing the workload in doing so. Just as we would do in a classroom, breaking tasks down, differentiating, giving ownership and allowing individuals the space and time to select areas of interest and take control is always going to be the most powerful approach for everyone!

BETT & the Blogging Journey

As I listened to the presentation by Head of ICT, John Jones (@mrjonesICT ) http://ict.ismonacoblog.org/2013/01/31/to-blog-or-not-to-blog-the-ism-question/
that charted the highs and lows of the blogging journey our school has been traveling along at the Bett 2013 Exhibition, I was struck by a number of things.
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Firstly, the immense progress that can be made in a relatively short space of time; what has been achieved is inspiring and is largely due to the passion and commitment of our Head of ICT. Our school has opened its doors to the outside world and invited others in to share in successes, provide inspiration for learners and give feedback and purpose to the learning taking place. What’s more, the reciprocal role of this experience, that is, that the students are also being asked to give their personal opinions and feedback has been transformative in many of our classrooms.
That is not to say that the journey has been smooth, in fact, in reality it has been anything but smooth! Nor does it mean that blogging has been embraced by all, although, it is gradually spreading school-wide as teachers explore what is the best fit for their classrooms and learners.
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Change, any kind of change = tension, heightened emotion and hopefully a great deal of reflection and debate. Being part of charting the unknown and navigating a pathway to successful blogging has been an enriching experience as an educator. Would I change anything about the journey so far, not at all, it has all been learning, the highs and the lows.
Relationships
Secondly, the greater realization that technology, rather than stand in the way of forming relationships has actually opened possibilities, broadened horizons and enriched learning for everyone. This is often the argument I hear against using blogging or indeed, technology as a tool in classrooms, that it depersonalizes  leaning, or stops traditional talk and collaboration.
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Relationships are really at the heart of any learning community and this is exactly why blogging has transformed much of the learning taking place in our classrooms.
No longer is it only the teachers’ opinion that provides feedback to students but suddenly there is a wider audience to encourage, critique and comment on student learning. The relationships that form from this online forum are key to its success. The one thing that has changed however is the definition of these ‘relationships’. That, I believe is the ‘new’ part of using technology as a tool in education.