Thursday, 24 April 2014

Importance of PLNs, PLCs and a VLN - Working Title for the Longest Post ever on this Blog...

Where would I be today without technology? Most likely reading a book to get out of the world I was in. Now that's not to say I don't read any more.. because I do. I just don't seem to have as much time as I used to for reading. Perhaps this is because I'm constantly reading my phone or laptop... whichever is in front of me.

To me this isn't a problem... except that I'm not actually reading fantasy novels or historical fiction as much as I used to. Some of you may think this is an added bonus because I should just be reading scifi instead.... But when it comes down to it... I think I've grown up a bit. I still love reading. I still love writing. If I didn't, I wouldn't put so much effort into cultivating my online presence and the multiple sites and journals and blogs I read on a daily basis.

With this thought in mind and the multiple others I seem to be having late at night lately... I wonder where we will be in five years, ten. Twenty even. Because at the end of the day, this is where our students will be and where they're headed in such a short amount of time.

Four things to discuss:
1) Cultivating an Online Presence
2) Staying True to Yourself
3) Digital Citizenship
4) Seek Relevant PD



Cultivating an Online Presence

To me, an online presence seems to be the backbone of the internet. Without it, without us, there would be no point to the Internet. I remember vividly as an eight year old kid using Encarta (the cd-rom version) to find information. Very soon after I learnt how to use the internet. It came at the same time I learnt about Neopets and how to effectively use chatrooms and what asl meant and why it was never cool to say your real age. I dont know how I learnt all this knowledge except for the fact that I was an information sponge.
About eight years ago I began to get overwhelmed with my online presence. Its damn hard trying to make sure your neopet is still alive and that your shop is still making a profit when you have to also make sure that your blogs are up to date, you've posted on the recent Harry Potter fanfiction forums and uploaded your own stories.. let alone the energy it took up keeping a cool MySpace and controlling the spam in both your Bebo and hotmail accounts. At this time I was in my last year of high school and I also had two cellphones... one for Telecom users and one for friends that had Vodafone.

When we look back at the way some of us early internet addicts interacted with the world around us... It makes me wonder how our students do it on a daily basis.

Now there's Soundcloud, Imgur, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Ask.fm, Youtube, Pintrest, Google books and the myriad of other apps out there that I'm still trying to learn how to use... or in fact decide whether I want to.

Because quite frankly... keeping up an online presence is exhausting. Yes it is ironic that I'm writing these points back to front and that its 12.30am. But the fact of the matter is... our students do it on a daily basis.
However, this is not to say that we shouldn't be cultivating an online presence, because we should. We should be as public as possible with it. Because everything we put up into the cloud should be something we would take accountability for... and hopefully be a positive aspect of ourselves.

As such we should be fully aware of the social media guidelines set out for us to use.. basically to be aware, to think before we share, to think about how it will affect ourselves, our students, their whanau and ours and also the community. Because whether we like it or not... teachers have a mythical aura around them where we must be seen as upstanding citizens at all times because we are students role models. Slightly double standards in a lot of ways but thats how we're viewed. As such we should always be aware of what we're doing.

So while being aware of what you're doing... check out your online presence. Make a list. What parts are the most important to keep updated and what dont you actually use? Because some way or another you found yourself here... reading this obscenely long blog post. How? Twitter? Facebook? Updated Blogs?
And while you're making that list... write a similar list of things you would like to learn more about... and think about how you will search for that information.

But in all things.. remember - you cultivate what you sow... so if your seeds aren't great info or people who post negative things only... then ultimately what you get back is what you've put out to the universe to receive.


Staying True to Yourself

Regardless of all I've said above... there is nothing more important than staying true to yourself. This can be taken many ways, but in particular with teaching.. we tend to have a face we share with the kids, a way of being at home and then who we are and always have been with whanau and friends.

The problem with this is that as we cultivate an online presence it can become easy to tangle ourselves in our own web of fun and interesting facts we share... about ourselves, our lives, our students and ultimately the people we work with. Those little pictures may come back to bit you in the butt one day.
Now as above - this point is about staying true to yourself. It's about finding that line that sits right with you. Decide where you sit with sharing. Some people are more likely to share small pieces of info to a select few friends.. whereas others are comfortable sharing their life story publicly. The same goes in the class - to share or not to share - and how much is the question.

With all this in mind - its important to stay true to yourself - your own values and of course every single thing you say and post will be available for viewing. Yes I know there is privacy settings.. but not even the best privacy settings can stop someone from copying what you've said and sharing it to someone you didn't intend it to ever go to. If you share something.. be prepared to own that. Take accountability for it and be proud.

Because surely you wouldn't share something your grandmother wouldn't want to see... right? Luckily in my online presence both my grandmothers are involved...are active participants and have been told off several times so I know where the line is and what is appropriate for me staying true to myself but also being aware that I'm a role model to all my younger siblings, cousins and to the many friends of the whanau.


Digital Citizenship

How do we teach our students how to behave correctly within social media and in a digital world when there are still so many completely at a loss with where to begin or how to start asking questions.

And the second thought... if their parents are in the same position where they don't know how to teach their kids correct ettiquete... PARTICULARLY IN REGARDS TO THE USE OF CAPITAL LETTERS... because who wants to be shouted at in a text when it wasnt meant to come across that way? ... then whose job is it? I think it's ours. We're already learning how to teach appropriate behaviours... why not extend that digitally as well?

Throughout this whole post I've basically been leading to this. Our students are digital natives. The students we'll have in 5 and ten years will be even more so. Do we assume they come to us and arent shocked by our lack of tech in our classes? Or do we hope that by that time we'll have adjusted our way of teaching to their much more advanced way of learning? I don't mean to condescend... what I mean is that there will definitely be a time when we will all have to upskill and learn better ways to engage with our students.

Some are using flipped classrooms.. and while I can definitely see the benefits, I still think like a poor kid and worry about the many kids who wouldn't have access to the required tech at home.

But regardless of this... students need to be well - rounded citizens. And with this comes the huge aspect of their globalization... digital citizenship.

My resounding question is who makes them a digi citizen? But the most important one is what makes a good digital citizen? Because at the end of the day... they already are digital citizens.. but are they acting appropriately and do they know they're not if they aren't?

These thoughts continue to go through my mind at early morning times when I should be sleeping and getting required holiday catchup sleep. Why? Because it worries me that my students may not know what is appropriate or not... and in a lot of ways... no amount of role modelling from me will make them see what they need to do... that they are accountable for everything they share too... and even more importantly that whatever goes online now is easily viewed by their future employers once they too know how to look for that information.

So I think we should be teaching digital citizenship and digital literacy as well.


A Need to Seek Professional PD

This point comes mainly from the viewpoint of a beginning teacher and being consistently lost in a whirlpool of faces, names and information chucked at you, with no way of remembering.

Sure alot of this point goes along with my inane thinking that if everything was digitised it would be easier. But this isnt always true. You cant learn how to create relationships with kids by reading a book online or in hardcopy. That kanohi te kanohi (face to face) creation point is it. Its my milk and honey. Easily the best thing Im good at. Mainly because I see it as the pathway for good behaviour management in class and also to good teaching and learning. More on that some other night...

The point is.. when you're teaching you don't have time to sit down to read screeds and screeds of information. You want to be well informed... but there's a limit on just how much time, effort and energy you're willing to expend.

As part of the Registered Teachers Criteria... we must be actively seeking professional development and doing our utmost to use it to improve our teaching. There is an aspect there too which says we should be seeking ways to show leadership within our school, to our colleagues and ultimately with our students.
To me - this is why we should all actively seek relevant professional development. For some they are still wanting to learn the basics of technology in the classroom, while there are others who want to do more practise on behaviour management and ways to develop better marking skills. Personally there is so much I want to improve on its hard decide where to start.

At the centre of it all, we must realise we arent the digital natives. I like to think of myself as one... but I consistently feel that I'm in the race but it can be a little bit of a struggle keeping up.

Which is why I think its important to at least try keep up. I may never be as onto it as I want to be... but I'll damn well try to be the best teacher I can be.

As a beginning teacher.. I was at a loss with what to do with my little angels as I once called them in an earlier post. My HoD at the time said I didnt need extra pd.. to use what I knew. As I've said above and below... I'm an information sponge. I may not use everything I find but I'll use what suits me and what I need to do. If she had given me the links to the TKI and  other forums she discussed at every dept meeting... perhaps I would have found a willing and sympathetic ear... because I was way too shy to ask for help from the experienced teachers around me. They looked like they were too busy for my little problems... and when I look back.. they weren't little at all and as a Beginning Teacher I was struggling... drowning at times... merely having my head above water.

This is why I'm such a huge advocate for seeking your own professional development. Go out. Seek and you shall find!! Haha. But seriously... there are so many amazing people out there who will tell you the same thing those 'scary' experienced teachers will say. They support you when you don't feel your message has come across the way you meant it to. What's more amazing is the inspiration and passion you regain after a quick ten minute pd session.

Twitter is easily my favourite VLN at the moment. Create your own virtual learning network using the hashtags #edchatnz #ntchat #21stedchat #teaching #edutopia #techchat and the many others you'll undoubtedly come across.

Or check out the Virtual Learning Network that the Ministry of Ed has created: www.vln.school.nz

Just honestly... go have a look because there are alot of people out there asking the same questions.. and most likely will be some in your own school too so make a PLC! A Professional Learning Community is a great way to start you and fellow colleagues on a path to seeking relevant pd for you!

Lastly, make use of the schoolwide PD you are given, sent to or in some cases are forced to sit through. There will always be something new and if not, perhaps you can help someone else improve in that area.



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And that whanau... is easily the longest post I've ever written. Night!