Managing #teacherlife in the pandemic

Education systems have come to the conclusion that schools are going to close. Some are really closed and others pretending they open, but have almost no students. In NSW at least, the last two weeks has been a daily roller coaster of what ‘closed/open’ means and each school seems to be managing this differently. But the PM says – we’re open and kids should go to school … blah blah.

For the last few weeks, schools have been trying to pivot online. This has been massive. It’s great to see so many teachers who are already working in a blended mode and for most, adding a Microsoft Team to their practice is going to be welcomed – and easy. Those who have managed to hide behind their paper desk-fortresses for the last decade – now have no real choice. Many seem to be getting on with it, and I’m sure some will cling on to the last swoosh and chhhuuring of the last ream of photocopier paper. I’m thinking these are probably the same ones who are still wandering around the shops … anyway … more or less, the classroom exodus is well underway.

What are you doing? Is going to be the next big management hang-up. While teachers are trusted, some are more trusted than others, despite the messages schools leaders will pump out into ‘social streams’. Any organisation that loves a ‘sign on sheet’ is feeling very dis-empowered this week – so how do you get in front?

Take control over your time. Now is great opportunity to demonstrate all the work you actually do – verses what people think you do, or will acknowledge you do. We know many teacher pump out the hours well above ‘the job’ so now is the time to record that with an application such as Toggle. Browser based project/task stop watch. Great to manage all those micro-tasks you’ll be doing already – as you flip between Google Classroom, MS Teams and everything you’re doing in between.

Set up projects:

  • PD hours applied  ANY new technology or process you’re learning
  • Your meetings with other staff via Teams or whatever
  • Administrivia – just dealing with the communications
    • Google Class messages
    • Emails …
  • Student support
    • whole classes
    • 1:1 student sessions
  • Peer support
    • Helping Karen fix her microphone (again)
    • Un-ravelling the dogs-breakfast Google Course Karen made on her own (she’s trying, so be patient)
  • Zig-Zagging (changing things you just did because someone said you need to do something else) – which is very common right now.

It will be very important to SHOW that you are working at home. Sadly, there is a longstanding culture of micro-managing teachers and not formally acknowledging the true work we all do.

But most of all – MANAGE YOUR TIME. Take breaks, listen to your body, move around … be well. I am sure many teachers will be at home – and that means providing the kind of parent-service children usually enjoy on the weekend. Your dog will be super happy to see you and invade your video-call. Just be okay with doing your best … and that TIME is all you have right now … and not to compare yourself with others online. There will be a stack of EDUMACATORS showing off … ignore them.

Why kids are being e-smashed today.

There is a lack of cohesion, comprehension, consistency and communication in public schools. There is widespread criticism of the Australian Federal and State Governments conflicting, confusing and convoluted messages towards the pandemic from numerous vectors. Education stands alone right now …  in that teachers are responding with their e-learning campaigns .. due to lack of direction. Let’s not be coy; there has been competition between school principles about how ‘totes’ awesome their school is at pivoting to e-learning in a matter of days. At the same time, school leaders (macro-suits) are posting ‘feel-good’ Tweets about how professional teachers are – to their imagined audience of colleagues and observers. Various authorities are giving formal statements and each appears to have a mysterious set of advisers whom hold such wisdom about all of education and health that it would simply not do to even ask their names, let alone ask what proof or what implementable solutions and resources they bring.

The has been a tsunami of ‘new resources’ being pumped out by experts, who seem isolated in some kind of war-cabinet, as they try and churn out materials to guide teacher online. It has been a didactic explosion of ‘how to do e-Learning’ – and again, no consistency between systems – and plenty of jostling for authority. In the middle, there is the ABC tying to help everyone. Politicians (bless them) are saying that the ABC could return to being the speaker-on the wall for education, but with laptops and take up the slack (what slack, who’s slack, why?).

Home school and Distance Learning are not the same thing. The interchangeable use of this leads to more confusion. Home School is largely associated with un-schooling.

The freedom for anyone, young or old, to choose why, what, when, how, and from whom to learn things is a key element in John Holt’s work. In short, if you don’t have the freedom to choose what to think about then you are in mental slavery; of course, we can choose to subordinate ourselves to a teacher (the master–pupil relationship) in order to accomplish or learn something, but that relationship only works well if the student wants to learn that subject or work with that teacher. – (John Holt’s view of un-schooling and ‘home schooling’.

Distance Education (ala public educations) is a formal, modernist arrangement wherein, classes are organised around time, content and grades. It doesn’t have to be online. E-Learning is another un-resolved term, as it can be at a distance of a thousand miles or two meters – synchronous or a-synchronous. Distance Education has been based on print for as long as it has existed in Australia.  To Holt, World of Warcraft would probably be okay, but School-arranged-Minecraft isn’t. Kid generated Minecraft okay if the kid thinks its useful and the view of the parent, not important. Right now, the media (and politicians) have made a dogs breakfast of this language – and so it’s impossible for anyone (especially those who have yet to engage with ‘digital’ – I know right? – to have a common langauge to even begin to decode what is said and then interpreted and translated from one place to the next. This means school variations, in-school variations and home variations ranging from insane over kill to dis-engagements.

Even, even, if you have a clear plan for online. Even if you have the skills and experience of forming and maintaining online communities of practice, in the vague notion of ‘E-learning’ – then you will still meet ROADBLOCKS.

I absolutely guarantee – even if you SHOW it working, someone will kill it. Either there will be a policy issue, or a support issue or just someones opinion – because Karen on Facebook said … the chances of getting your classes up in a way that meets your students and both their point of need and interest – remains low.

This is the history of innovation, the story of E-Learning. Even in a pandemic screaming out for innovation – someone is going to mis-understand the terms, lack the insight into digital, distance and shifting-cultures: resulting in a ‘stop’ notice. I’m expecting that to roll around very soon … as I’m not interested in pushing crap onto Google Classroom to look busy. I want to connect and engage with students and help them get where they want to go, inside the walls of the syllabus. I’m sure my ideas are about as clear as mud.

Probably why I gave up and Eddie Woo is a genius.

Day 7: Schools Back In

The MCR decided to break ranks late last night. The local Czar, let’s call her Addis, told her boss, Rupert that she was going to take schools offline as Addis has probably Googled things a bit more than Rupert. However, Rupert got rather cross again and today, Addis has rolled over and asked the citizens to tickle her belly.

On one hand, schools stay open: because there’s no proof (that which the CMO accepts exists) that children are vectors for the virus at school or on public transport. However, if they are left to wander the empty shopping centers or use a trampoline ” they are a massive problem. Almost as big a “pain in the arse” as when they take it upon themselves to climate strike.

In addition, Rupert incouraged True Martians to be True Martians last week and that he himself was off to the footy. This appears to have back-fired as True Martians buggered off to the beach or enjoyed a latte in active wear at the local cafe.

It turns out that Rupert didn’t mean this at all. When his people told him what was happening, he got cross and yelled “stop it” at some reporters – one of whom insisted on asking questions and not allowing Rupert to use the presser as another monologue — which these days feels longer than being in Spanish quarantine.

Anyway, that’s whats happening on the popular Martian syndicated show “S.O.A.P” and teachers – yep, you guessed it, teachers are back at work with no PPE or advisory on what’s going on.

Of course there is rumored panic in the MCR Command that feckless teachers can’t be remotely trusted to work from home un-supervised for 365 days. This is the exact number of days Rupert says is needed (some voices told him it seems) if people continue to be naughty and do what he says, or not do what he says …. yes folks, it’s very confusing.

My guess is that the MCR will make teachers work over the ‘traditional break’ which was never a really a break – that is just what feckless leftie teachers have been saying it is – and they are not proper Martians. The MCR will come up with some pre-existing ‘notional’ plan where in work hours and days are flexible in their favour.

So schools in: kids rolled up to class as usual – flooding out of trains where they have NOT BEEN incubating ANY FLU LIKE nasties for an hour or so. They head off to play handball, hug each other and do things that kids do when not staring at their iPonies.

And the news from the MCR this morning: noting, naaada, zip.

More news later,

Day 5: To video or not to video call

So I discovered that reflecting on certain parts of one’s practice and situation is unprofessional. However, as a blog is essentially a diary, and mine has been here for years, I shall press on with thinking critically about the world around me – who knows, this might end up being my only remaining presence should, erm … the protomolecule get the better of me and other Belters.

These daily posts are therefore “a set of free-floating instructions designed to adapt to and guide other replicating systems”.

According to Martian Congressional Republic (MCR) ” Home schooling allows parents/carers to choose to educate their children at home while distance
education provides schooling for students who are unable to access a local government school”

It seems that preparations are being made towards the latter, as there is no indication that students will be un-enrolled by parents from the MCR.

The MCR also says “Full-time enrollment in distance education is available to students who are isolated or whose special circumstances prevent them from attending a school or another appropriate local provision. ”

This all assumes that the student is indeed placed within the ‘distance education’ domain and associated governance. This requires MCR paper-work and removes the student from their current MCR school.

The MCR might also need parents to sign a statutory declaration to ensure the student is actually following the program of study – regardless of the whether the protomolecule has taken over the populus.

There are some other factors that will determine whether or not the student is eligible for MCR Distance Ed.

  • the student’s educational and/or well being needs cannot be met by a regular school with access to school, local and state resources
  • the distance education school is the most appropriate option
  • suitable supervision of the student’s learning during school hours can be established
  • a risk assessment/management plan has been developed that takes into account the specific circumstances of the isolated learning and attests to the safety and suitability of the home or other location in which learning will take place.

The last one is a problem for us Belters’ if we are faced with the protomolecule – how do we know a home is safe and contagion free to study. If the student is isolated and is sick then they cannot meet the MCR criteria.


Don’t panic: Ask the gamers for help

Warning: This post contains important information about COVID-19 and online schools. Some teachers might find this distressing and choose to waste a few more days trying to get Adobe Connect to work. However, if you want a fast and easy online space up in less time it will take to read this rubbish … welcome to the server.


All this fuss about closing bricks and mortar schools is distressing. It’s also a timely reminder of how the billions (yes billions) which has flowed into the pockets of “EdTech” which is a long, drawn out crash site of experiments and failures.

The current COVID-19 pandemic is a stark reminder of how poorly prepared western schools are for working at arms length, let alone ‘online’ in a meaningful way.

Today, I was informed my students need to be 1.5m apart.  – This is of course impossible. The message was telegraphed and then ignored due to pragmatics. Kids carried on in exactly the same way – because the paraphernalia of school was unchanged.

Schools are not ready of ‘online’ in the sense that few are able to meet students at the intersection of youth communications and actual usage. This results in dull conversations as to whether Google Classrooms “will do” or “can I just email it in”. A direct result of Audrey’s shit show of edtech.

95% of teachers are perhaps familiar with, or using, Ista, Email and FB with their friends and family, re-sharing photos of dogs or inspirational quotes.

95% of kids are online in Discord because they know it’s a productive way to save time and improve your chances of success and enjoyment.

Yep, Discord: That means every kid in you class can (or knows someone who can) use it right now.

They can also show you. You don’t need to panic or waste more time and money on “edtech” just because you’re a special snowflake teacher who only uses ‘teacher’ apps.

Just get your kids to create a server and relax. It took mine less than a minute and they are all over it.

Does information literacy matter?

One recurring problem around the digital is a fundamental omission. Information Literacy (IL) concerns the global shift from Industrial to Knowledge Economies. It is not how well you can use a computer, whether or not children have done a ‘cyber-safety’ class to use Insta or how well they can knock out a PowerPoint about some topic.

Schools have often adopted computers and the Internet at the expense of libraries, lowering costs and re-using space for other activities. Information is often widely available at marginal cost, but Information needs to be updated continuously and quality can deteriorate rapidly online. I’ve often seen teachers ‘searching’ for that nugget-resource to give students, but don’t appear to teach them to find their own.

IL is therefore about a shift in school thinking about ‘durability’. In the Industrial Economy, materials are usually stable and do not deteriorate over time. Schools tend to see IL as less durable than physical books, photocopiers, chairs and tables.

Aside from the skills needed to operate devices (not just phones and laptops) are two critical personal-traits: Do students recognise their information needs (how do they articulate them, what domains do they identify as most/ least important and how do they;  locate and evaluate the quality of information. Given young people are often immersed in information-cultures (another variable) – it’s very difficult to try and draw a line between what information literacies school subject require (often basic) and what they are going to need in the rest of their life. At the heart of this is not whether a teacher as ‘done the training’ but their understanding (and action) of knowledge.

Loveless and Longman (1998) have argued ‘that information literacy for teachers is more than competence and capability in information retrieval and presentation, but requires awareness of the ideological, cultural, epistemological and pedagogical practices in which these capabilities are developed.’ While this is some 20 years ago, it still rings true. Where students are engaged with teachers who demonstrate effective IL practices, they model the knowledge economy. Where their students are primarily filling out worksheets or making yet another poster or cardboard box model, they remain locked into the Industrial Economy.  This isn’t about belief about IL, it’s about twenty years of research which continues to argue the vast majority of teachers make little use of information sources and rely primarily on their senior managers and on informal exchanges of ideas with peers to ‘put’ ICT into the classroom and don’t see IL as a continuum of skills and knowledge to actively teach. Instead we see binary debates about banning phones, whether games are good, or which buy-in product will give a half decent assessment of literacy etc..,

So yes, I think digital matters – but Mario’s probably searching the wrong castle.


Loveless, A. and Longman, D (1998) Information Literacy: Innuendo or insight? Education and Information Technologies 3 (1) 27 – 40.

Clocking up the hours

A recent research report argues teens spend 1200 hours a year on social media (Facebook, YouTube and other social media channels). This, of course, does not include the time they spend gaming or streaming TV. The study claims the constant connection to social media was also linked to bullying, trolling and lower self-esteem.

In addition to this, the study did not account for time they potentially spend online at school, either at the direction of the teacher or covertly checking in. It would seem plausible that such a deep and compelling behaviour to pick up the phone while watching TV, eating dinner, walking around etc., isn’t somehow set aside during their six hours a day at school.

The problem is very real. Young people/students increasingly live in separate worlds, do not understand each other’s perspective, or are even unaware of it, which is paradoxical given their access to information.

Empty Pockets

I felt sad today when I had to tell someone I could not afford to go on what I believe would be an amazing trip next year. I only wish I could, and to be honest, it was all a bit weird watching other people try and come up with ways I could swing it, then trying to downplay missing out to make me feel okay. Some of them I didn’t know that well, so it was a bit difficult having to own up as being less-wealthy than perhaps they thought.

A natural decline.

I read an article which suggested that Minecraft Edu was out of new ideas with declining sales. Initially, as I was around at the time, this application was simply a series of mods The actual game was modded in such a way that main power was given to teacher along with tool which made it easier for them to regulate children and giving them Prêt-àPorter content and designs. Most of the videos posted about this educational version saw a teacher as the locus of control and the students as actors in the scene created.

I totally understand the potential business model here, and of course, with the buyout by Microsoft, the Edu Edition became a well rounded, promoted and supported product (as long as you also had Windows 10). Now, it is apparently stalled. There is no obvious replacement game to be modded and no new ideas in the Edu game it seems.

I never saw any value in the Edu edition, but plenty of people did. When Edu conferences talk about games, 99% of that is Minecraft Ed. So it’s been a rousing success for the developers so far. At the same time, games have expanded rapidly in children’s culture – yet classrooms remain barren. E-Sports, which is well regarded as a fast-growing, multi-billion dollar industry remains ignored by education as a valid pathway for learning or as a career, despite numerous traditional sports being over-saturated with potential players (those with a probable pathway to a career) and other sports which have no real career pathway due to a lack of national and international take-up. Yet children are still presented with these things as being more valid than E-Sports in their early teens. I’m sure if you love a particular sport, you don’t care if it’s a minority sport that won’t allow you to do it full time later in life. In many ways, established sports are, like Minecraft Edu, out of ideas when it comes to attracting children to take them up over the long term, but there’s often no alternative that appeals to schools.

I read some recent research on children’s digital life. It argued that children routinely break the suggested 2-hour use rule that is claimed to be the healthy limit. It also said that adults are aware of the rule, but don’t insist on applying it to children. In teenage years, there’s a split in what children choose to do with their media-time. Girls are four times more likely to be engaged in social media (esp Instagram) than boys, who by the age of 12 are well and truly more interesting in gaming – across multiple devices and platforms. It also suggested that boys were far more likely to be communicating in-game than girls and dominate the voice-channel – which stacks up in my experience.

So the question right now is not which games are good for children (and learning) as Gee said a decade ago, but at what point in children’s development do we acknowledge their preferences and create avenues for them to explore in a meaningful way – accounting for the growing research which argues gender differences play a massive role in screen-time choices and how they then activate that screen time experience into something that provides a positive, useful and meaningful pathway through the teenage years.

I don’t believe the ‘waiting for Superman’ behaviour is healthy. There is not going to be a new edu-game that appeals equally to girls and boys – and placates teacher belief or understanding of games and game cultures. Historically, all edu-games have been short-lived and commercial failures. Perhaps Minecraft Edu has simply ridden the ‘game wave’ at the right time — but is now failing to attract new teachers as the adoption curve predicts.

Why not engage kids based on their interests. If you have a few kids who are actually good at a game, then encourage it – as you do with a kid who’s half decent at cricket or rugby. For those who just like to play the game, well, there’s plenty of reasons (evidence) to suggest that games foster the core-values most people want – such as sportsmanship, communication, critical thinking and teamwork. What makes the material output of the game more important than that?

History shows that single-ideas decay in the face of new ideas and competition. Unique propositions are fraught with problems if they cannot re-invent themselves or alienate their first-adopter audiences. It’s also very hard to retreat to the ‘glory days’ if the audience and consumers have moved on. Right now, this is Minecraft Edu’s core problem – children have moved on in terms of what they are interested in, what parents allow and how family systems work. Teens are not playing Minecraft because parents allowed that, but banned something else. Teens are playing Fornite, Overwatch, COD, GTA, LOL, CSGO and are tuned into Twitch. This cultural shift presents Minecraft Edu with the age-old problem in gaming — how to remain relevant in shifting media landscape.

Why are schools still playing Minecraft Edu – because that is the extent of their investment and belief about games and E-Sports. It’s often the sole game allowed – which is perhaps better than nothing to a bored-teenager. Like many minor sports, Minecraft Edu has no obvious pathway – and yet the belief is that it’s good for children, whereas Fornite is bad. It will be interesting to see how Minecraft Edu overcomes the reported decline … and whether or not schools start to think about something more.