Reconnecting With Connectedness

(#Bloggermore2015 15/26)

I have long been fascinated with the idea of connectedness. I have written about it previously on this blog and also penned an article on Global Connections for Australian Teacher Magazine in August 2013. It is no coincidence that this blog is called The Connected Teacher or that @connectedtchr is my Twitter handle. Recently, I have “reconnected” with the entire concept after coming across an article referencing the new book “The Relevant Educator” from Steven W. Anderson and Tom Whitby.

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I am fortunate to have met both Steven (he of the bow ties) and Tom (invariably in Hawaiian prints), albeit fleetingly, at ISTE 2014 in Atlanta. I also attended a session conducted by Steven with his other long time collaborator, Kyle Pace. No surprise, the idea of connectedness (and how to achieve it) was also high on the agenda there. Of course, in October each year, the USA celebrates “Connected Educator” month whilst Australia is busy focusing on Oc-sober. (Probably says something significant!)

In “The Relevant Educator” the authors identify the 8 tenets of being a connected educator. For Steven and Tom, these teachers maintain educational relevance by …

1. Practicing and modelling lifelong learning 2. Viewing failure as part of the process of learning 3.  Sharing and collaborating 4. Connecting with other educators 5. Putting relevance ahead of doctrine. 6. Exploring the possibilities of technology 7. Employing this technology to personalise professional learning and 8. Using technology to learn and teach

I would like to think that I model most of the eight but that connectedness requires many hours, huge energy and has left my life “out of balance.” It would seem to me that there is a real need for schools to start employing what I have decided to call digital specialists. These specialists could be employed to deal exclusively with numbers 6-8 on the above list and to craft digital resources on demand. They would act as an intermediary (and filter) between time poor classroom teachers and the ever expanding digital world. Would your school be prepared to invest money in such specialists?

In the interim, here’s an infographic summary of “The Relevant Educator” which was created by yours truly (the digital specialist) using Piktochart and with the permission of Tom and Steven. As always, please feel free to use this resource in your own writing or presentations.

Food for (Christmas) Thought

So, finally the marking of exams is complete, I’m on a reduced teaching load and … I’m long overdue for a blog post. Christmas is my favourite time of year; it has to be when you’re married to a woman with a serious decoration addiction. Our house already has enough flashing lights to cause suburb wide seizures! Yeah, I know, I’m rapidly veering off track. For schools in my home state of Queensland there are only a dozen days of school left. Christmas is also, of course, a great time to recharge (…not just your wine glass!) and think ahead to the 2014 academic year.

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Earlier this year I came across a great free app called Quotes Folder. It comes with a huge number of famous quotes but also gives you the opportunity to create your own folders of tagged quotes. (It’s easy to copy and paste tweets straight into Quotes Folder too!) This morning I discovered that I had saved 99 quotes; everything from Einstein to W.C.Fields and a whole range of techs-perts. (Is that even  a word?) So now, in true end of year fashion, here in ascending order are the top ten quotes sourced from my Twitter stream in 2013. They are meant to be … Food for (Christmas) Thought.

10. “Beware of geeks bearing GIFs” I’m a great fan of Australian comedian Will Anderson and I teach Ancient History so this one had to make the list … even though it’s “just funny.”

9. “Society no longer cares how many facts we can memorise because facts are free.” Mr. A. Nonymous has always been a great source of inspiration. The ability to ” just Google that” has changed the very face of education. But I can still recite the first 25 emperors of Rome in order, with dates!

8. “I don’t want my son to be limited to learning only what his teacher already knows.” This particular gem is from John Couch, the Apple VP for Education. Surely, letting go of control is a difficult adjustment for teachers of a certain vintage (i.e. the over 50s like me!) but it is necessary. I’m certain that Alan November would just look at some of us and ask … “Well, who owns the learning?”

7. “I’ve yet to have a student tell me they can’t use technology in class because they haven’t had any PD on it.” Anonymous strikes again! I’m a great advocate for teachers adopting a new mindset. It is mindset which sets young people apart from their teachers … they aren’t more naturally, natively gifted at technology; they’re just prepared to try, fail and try again.

6. “One does not simply teach digital citizenship – it needs to be observed, modelled, practiced and lived by all members of a school community.” Alec Couros tells us here where so many schools are going wrong. I know mine is failing; digital citizenship can not be a once a year tokenism. It needs to be embedded deep within the curriculum across all subjects and year levels. And whilst I’m on this particular high horse; it’s time for teachers to be empowered to model the effective use of social media in establishing and maintaining connectedness. (End of rant!)

5. “Why are digital copies still perceived to hold less authority than paper?” This excellent question was posited by Tom Barrett of No Tosh and I sincerely wish I knew the answer. In 2012 my school had a photocopying bill of over $80,000. I simply don’t know how this is possible in our paperless society. We have emails, scanners, Dropbox, Pinterest, Blendspace, Google Apps … and you know I could keep going. Just think of the ways that $80,000 could (and should) have been spent.

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4. “Homework doesn’t teach kids responsibility. It teaches compliance. A better solution is self-directed, independent, optional learning.” John Spencer (no, not the guy from The West Wing) has, in my opinion, absolutely “nailed it.” Homework has become quite the hot topic on Twitter and elsewhere in recent weeks. I must agree with his belief that all it teaches is compliance! So many great alternatives are emerging; my favourite, the “Homework Menu.”

3. “The underlying assumicide is that schools of the future will be like the schools of today, only with more technology.” This quote from Ian Jukes simply had to make the list for his creation of the term assumicide. It’s surely time for us to stop making a whole range of errant assumptions in the educational field. We have to be creating schools for a future that is envisioned as “a promise fulfilled” not an apocalyptic threat (or a Will Smith film!)

2. “The only difference between a rut and a grave is the dimensions.” If you look around your school … do you see disengaged students who are being “taught by the undead.” The Zombie Apocalypse has already arrived in schools … You’ve been warned!

Do you know this teacher? Image Credit:

Do you know this teacher?
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1. “If you don’t like change, try irrelevance.” Only seven words, but my quote of the year, tweeted by George Couros. If you “just Google that” you’ll find it attributed to various people in various forms. But it says it all … none of us willingly welcomes a change (unless you’re a baby in nappies) but my greatest fear is that schools are rapidly becoming irrelevant.

What do you think? I’d love your feedback on my ramblings and the quotes I’ve chosen. Or, do you have a favourite quote of your own to contribute?


Using Technology to Combat the Boys’ Literacy Problem

A few months back I was approached by Robin Canedy who works with the Pathways Charter School in San Diego. Specifically, Robin had teachers who were interested in contributing a guest post to my blog. After several delays (all of them mine!) I now want to introduce my guest contributor, Alanna Gasser who is a teacher and freelance writer in California.
Her post seems particularly pertinent given the subject matter of my recent workshop on visual literacy at the Queensland History Teachers’ Association annual conference. Alanna quite rightly, in my opinion, points out that boys “…will generally respond to visual and kinesthetic teaching strategies more effectively.” I ask you to give Alanna’s post your full consideration and as always, please do post comments.

Using Technology to Combat the Boys’ Literacy Problem

It is a rather well-known educational issue that boys tend to fall behind girls when it comes to reading and writing skills. National studies including those in the USA, Canada, and the UK show that boys’ literacy scores are lower than girls’ on standardized tests, that boys are more likely to be placed in special needs programs, and more likely to drop out of school. It is also fairly well recognized that most boys will generally respond to visual and kinesthetic teaching strategies more effectively. Could embracing visual and social technologies in the classroom be just the thing we need to help boost boys’ literacy scores?

The Problem

Robert Lipsyte argues in this New York Times essay “Boys and Reading: Is There Any Hope?”, that part of the problem lies in the female domination of the book publishing business, schools, and more specifically, school libraries. He claims that boys are generally more inclined to read non-fiction, and that the kinds of books boys are interested are not the same kinds of books supported by the education system.

Judith Kleinfeld, founder of the not-for-profit Boys’ Project, has similarly argued that the literacy gap between boys and girls is far wider than the sciences/maths gap for girls which has, in the past, been another hot education topic. Astonishingly, she claims that more than 25% of American male high school students cannot read and understand a newspaper article. A summary of her Boys’ Project findings can be found here, as explained by Richard Whitmire.

A common complaint amongst male students’ parents is that they wish their son would drop their video game controller, turn off the computer, put down their smart phone…. and pick up a school book! Something a few educators have begun to catch on to is the idea of using this kind of excitement and engagement with technology, and turning it into a tool for student success.

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Video Games

Why not, for example, let role-playing video games play a role in literacy learning? These games certainly involve a degree of reading and comprehension, as the player must read the back story about the characters and purpose of the game, and understand the tasks he is being asked to complete.

One assignment could involve having students create their own video game world, and write the script for the game’s back story. Another assignment could be for students to write a short summary explaining the back story of their favourite game, or an episode from one of their latest role-playing video game adventures. In this way, the students are engaged by the visual and kinesthetic excitement of video games, and the teachers get to sneak in some very complex reading comprehension and creative writing practice.


While we are at it, why not turn to boys’ love of action-packed comic strips/graphic novels into yet another technology-based literacy tool? This is essentially the premise behind using Bitstrips, a web-based, teaching-friendly tool which allows teachers and students to easily create unique and interesting comic strips for the classroom.

Teachers can use them as another medium for presenting content to students, or as a creative writing assignment for students. One of the main reasons Bitstrips are so effective for teaching literacy is because the student (or teacher!) can choose from banks of images rather than relying on artistic skills, and can thus focus more time and attention to the written content of the comic strip. Boys in particular will respond to the visual element Bitstrips provide, and students will enjoy sharing and discussing one another’s work.

Text Messaging

Another popular topic in the field of technology and education is the debate surrounding the use of cell phones in the classroom. One camp is prone to arguing that cell phones are a constant distraction and that their use only hinders effective teaching and learning. The other camp argues that their use is inevitable – text communication is so pervasive that fighting students’ engagement with it is a losing battle – and that educators should embrace the technology instead. In fact, one report claims that 54% of teenagers opt for text-tech communication, and that most of them choose this form of communication over face-to-face or oral communication methods.

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A few resources have come about which limit the number of privacy and ethical issues associated with text messaging in the classroom. For example, Celly, a mobile social networking application, allows teachers to keep phone numbers private/anonymous, and gives them the control to keep messages on-topic and appropriate.

There are many ways of using text messaging in the classroom. Teachers can encourage students to use text-messaging shorthand when taking notes, they can compare text-messaging lexicon to formal writing as a means of discussing audience and purpose in texts, they can use text messaging to promote conciseness and brevity in writing, and text messages can be sent as a medium for class discussions and debates. The possibilities are virtually endless, and because students are already so very involved in the texting phenomena, these assignments will be ones that they can relate to, and which they will be more motivated to participate in.

Despite some popular concerns related to the availability of resources (not every student will have video games, a computer, and a cell phone), privacy (sharing phone numbers), and with the possibility of cyber-bullying looming in the background, the possibility that technology can improve boys’ literacy rates is promising. Boys respond to the visual elements of video games and comic strips, and the conciseness/brevity of comic strips and text messaging make literacy more accessible to boys. If technology makes literacy skills practice more interesting and accessible for boys… well then, what are we hesitating for?

The Curse of Competence


Warning: This post will, at first, appear to be a vehement, unrelenting rant. But please read on.

Yesterday, May 7, I had “one of those days.” All teachers have those days; you know what I’m talking about, the days when you seem to do anything but teach. My day went something like this …

 7:45-8:30 am – Plough through a mire of largely insignificant emails

8:30-8:40 am – Fill in with a Home Room group for an absent teacher

8:40-9:25 am – Attend the school Library with my Year 8 English class for the Literature Circles program devised and conducted by our Teacher-Librarian

9:25-10:10 am- Supervise a small group of Year 11s in Study Line

10:10-11:00 am – Explain OPs, SAIs, QCS and QTAC (Don’t ask!) to a class of Year 10s because “Their teacher’s sick! We need you to do this, because you know all the material.”

11:00-11:35 am – Attend a meeting about the administration of NAPLAN (If you’re Australian you’ll recognize and curse this particular acronym!) because I’m a “required” supervisor, even though I don’t teach Year 9!

11:35 am – 12:20 pm – Supervise Year 12 students in the yard who are on a break from a full day QCST (Queensland Core Skills Test) practice. This was my one “Marking and Preparation” lesson for the day but, you guessed it, with a number of teachers absent I was “needed.”

12:20 – 1:05 pm – The one lesson I actually spent in a classroom with Year 8 History. Alleluia!

1:05 – 1:30 pm – Lunch, yeah right! I spent this time assisting teachers and students who came to the IT Service Centre with computer problems. You see, our Help Desk operator is on long service leave!

1:30 – 2:45 pm – Working with Year 12s in the QCST practice because … “You’re so good at that stuff!”

2:45 – 3:00 pm – Lunch (I guess it was lunchtime somewhere.)

3:00 – 3:35 pm – After school bus duty; always such a delightful experience!

3:35 – 4:35 pm – Attend, as required, the Head of Department meeting even though I don’t head up a department. This included watching a John Hattie video that I’d seen several times previously.


A candid photo of The Connected Teacher taken at 4:59 on May 7.
(Not really, I don’t dress that well.)
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5:00 pm – Arrive home and open a nice Victorian produced Sauvignon Blanc (I like to call the first glass “memory wipe.”)

And that, as they say, was that! Now, you rightly ask, what is my point? Well, recently my Twitter feed has provided a number of links to articles presenting lists focusing on “what makes a great teacher.” I have read these with interest and have discovered that while I might be considered good, I’m unlikely to be great. This is, of course, disappointing for someone who is 53 and a genuine History tragic … I mean, look what Alexander achieved in twenty fewer years! It might be appropriate to detail one such list by Iain Lancaster from  The link which follows will take you to the relevant article.

Please do read it in full; all I’m providing is my shortened version of the “8 Characteristics.” Great teachers have:

  1. Confidence
  2. Life experience
  3. An understanding of student motivation
  4. An ability to connect with students
  5. Technological capability
  6. A willingness to take risks
  7. A focus upon the “Important Stuff”
  8. A tendency to not worry too much about what the administrators think

Now, I have plenty of confidence (some would say too much) and plenty of life experience, 53 years worth to be exact. I also believe that without some capability in numbers 4, 5 and 6, I wouldn’t have survived for over 30 years in the classroom. This brings us to Number 7 and what I believe is the “curse of competence.” School days are shaped by the imperatives of administration; a fact that elsewhere in this blog I have referred to as administrivia. Over the years I have gained a reputation for being highly competent, for being able to get things done. And that is the curse; when they need someone to fill a gap, to pick up the pieces, to get things done, then I am one of the “go to teachers.” The downside is obvious … there are far too many days like yesterday when I am taken away from the “important stuff” and that of course is student learning. If I could just be left alone to teach, and I do think I’m good at it, then I might still have time to become “great.”

PS: Generally, I don’t worry too much about what the administrators think. Unless of course one of them happens to read this!

PPS: And what do I believe makes a great teacher? Simple it’s about surviving May 7 and still fronting up on May 8.

Not me Either!
(After all this guy was great. But, I do dress like this!)
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Social Media: Choose the Bandwagon not the Soapbox

OK, here’s the thing … I’ve finally had enough; enough of colleagues ranting against social media! Yes, I know this sounds like a rant too. Be calm Simon, “get your Zen on.”

The latest edition of Australian Teacher Magazine (Term 4 2012) has its customary “Technology in Education” insert. Feature stories in this particular issue are dedicated to the ever present furore surrounding the use of social media in education. In all fairness, the editors have provided a well balanced view with articles from both experts in Cyber Safety and classroom teachers. Susan McLean, a former police officer who now conducts professional development sessions on the theme of “Respect and Responsibility,” concludes her article with a simple yet powerful statement.

“Education is the key to empowerment – we must act now!”

For McLean it is a matter of establishing “professional boundaries” while still focusing upon the positives of social media. A further story provides the results of an online survey conducted by the magazine with over 3000 school educators. Disappointingly (for me at least) 72% of the respondents were strongly against students accessing social media sites at school. Yet, I admit to having used Twitter (ever so quietly) in class with great success, despite the punitive nature of my school’s social media policy.

Midway through this school year I took on the newly created position of Learning Technologies Coordinator at my school. I feel my success rate so far has been OK with respect to the adoption into classrooms of some cool Web 2.0 tools. Likewise, I’ve had small but willing groups of attendees at voluntary after school professional development sessions. The one area where I know I’ve made no headway … you guessed it, social media. How do I know? Despite my constant campaign to have my colleagues create a Twitter PLN, I have close to 200 followers worldwide and … 2 at my own school. And I receive e-mails including statements like this:

“… it’s hard to guarantee that the Macbooks are being used for educational purposes. In fact, many teachers are already reluctant to use Macbooks within their classroom because of this issue of students accessing Facebook and YouTube … and many more will follow if we are unable to effectively monitor and ban their use in the future.” 

GOD … give me strength! The Australian government’s Digital Education Revolution (DER) acknowledged that social media sites deliver “… educational outcomes, facilitate supportive relationships, identify information and promote a sense of belonging and self esteem.” (Nolene Callaghan, “Embracing Social Media the Key to Student Engagement” in Technology in Education, Term 4 2012) Well, we can’t have things like that happening in schools!

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So, to conclude, because I’m banging the keys of my Macbook way too hard! Where to from here? I’ve convinced my supportive Deputy Principal to give me the same Year 8 group for two subjects next year and I have “permission” to use Edmodo, Twitter, Twiducate and Smart Phones within the classroom. My aim is to model “best practice” in an effort to showcase for the naysayers that social media can work in an educational setting. A big part of that will be teaching students the respectful and responsible use of social media. (Thanks again for those words Susan McLean.) I know that you don’t throw a 16 year old a set of keys and say, “Here you go, teach yourself to drive.”

But, (and this time I’m really concluding) I would welcome the thoughts and comments of anyone who reads this post. Can you suggest other ways that I might convince my colleagues to get on the bandwagon rather than the soapbox?

15 Quotes to Inspire

The ideas of others, encapsulated in a perfectly rendered sentence or two, have always been a great inspiration for me. This list of fifteen quotes, many garnered from my time in the Twitter-verse, might just work for you too! (… and, I promise to frequently update this collection.) They can also be a great starting point for a blog post of your own.

On Leadership

1. “The pessimist complains about the wind. The optimist expects it to change. The leader adjusts the sail.”     John C. Maxwell

2. “The task of the leader is to get his people from where they are to where they have not been.”  Henry Kissinger  

On Reaching Your Potential

3. “It is never too late to be what you might have been.”  George Eliot

4. “I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it.”  Pablo Picasso

5. “Only those who risk going too far will ever know how far they can go.”  T.S.Eliot

6. “When the winds of change blow, some people build walls and others build windmills.”  Chinese Proverb

7. “It is not because things are difficult that we dare not venture. It’s because we dare not venture that they are difficult.”  Anonymous

On Education, Yesterday and Today

8. “Education is not the filling of a pail but the lighting of a fire.”  W.B.Yeats

9. “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”  Mark Twain

10. “I don’t need to know everything, I just need to know where to find it when I need it.”  Albert Einstein

11. “To be conscious that you are ignorant of the facts is a great step towards knowledge.”  Benjamin Disraeli

12. “Learning any time, any place, any path, any pace.”  ACEC 2012

13. “We’re operating on a 200 year old paradigm in a world that needs an entirely different skill set …”          Madeline Levine

14. “Today, kids can create profound artefacts of their learning that are most times better than what’s in a textbook.”  Chris Lehmann

15. “Banning technology is like grabbing water; it’s not very effective.”  Anonymous