The League of Ordinary Teachers

I am declaring that in order to create a manifesto for sustainable school change in Australia. I am founding (but don’t want to own) the ‘League of Ordinary Teachers’.

A movement of teachers to share and exchange ideas on professional practice AND make firm, fair and friendly representation of what teachers want – to government. (After all, the government seems to happy to make public statements about what parents want).

The draft manifesto of the League is to be created by it’s members.

I hope there will be regional TweetMeets in schools for both parents and teachers. If that get’s banned, lets just get coffee and do it anyway. The rest we can figure out as we go.

Please add one item you would like to see on the manifesto – as an ordinary teacher. Here are 3 I came up with (as no one wants to go first, everyone likes to watch blah)

please vote or add another at the LOOT uservoice poll here.

    Right now we are a thousand teachers, doing a thousand things. Join the League, combine efforts and make sustainable change with a peer developed manifesto that pressures policy.

    Please RT the forum and add a link in your blog. Comments welcome and appreciated. – LOOT (League of Ordinary Teachers). Follow @AULOOT on Twitter. I hope you will support the League and help get it off the ground.

    Realism, Relevance, Retention


    This is a bit of a passion piece, but I think it’s important to say. I listened to some of the audience’s questions during Will Richardson’s presentation in Sydney last Friday. As ever Will was pulling out the main issues that face parents and teachers. As ever, some questions were very specific ‘which blog do I use’ or system-damming ‘but it’s blocked’ and ‘but I don’t have time’.

    The Industrialist 3Rs (Reading, Writing and Arithmetic), are still being cited as the capstones of learning –  when learning is cited as ‘failing’-  the call is to go back to basics – as if technology is somehow disconnected from these things. Learning with technology is part of the ‘digitial’ 3Rs – realism, relevance and retention. These are things to strive for in relation to a broader array of classroom activities. They are enhancing the capabilities of gifted teachers, not displacing them. But even motivated teachers find it difficult to access professional learning that is going to allow them to learn to do it. We have the ability to transform learning  and increase motivation though technology, and still address traditional ‘values’.

    Imagine a global virtual world in which students have to negotiate through the complex politics surrounding a wildlife habitat construction project in the developing world, making the case for its economic and environmental benefits. Students take on the ‘role’ of diverse stakeholders, and though classroom research – the can role-play, using exploratory and explicit learning to put forward their solution for a negotiated outcome. They interact in a virtual world, develop models and ideas – blended these with reflection and discussion in other online media such as a blog or wiki to collect and justify their collective action.

    picture-11We now have 6Rs, Reading; Writing; Arithmetic; Realism; Relevance and Retention. The above experience can be created using a range of technologies; MeetSee, Edublogs; Skype; Google Docs etc., and easily blended into the classroom. Teachers can connect with other schools (see Jenny Luca’s recent presentation), and can easily ‘chat’ using very low bandwidth, low-tech web tools such as Tiny Chat. In primary years, this can be created with Quest Atlantis, or ever the excellent eKidnaworld (an Australian parent developed virtual world – that needs your support!).

    What is critical is that teachers have access to ongoing ‘mentors’ that can show them how to create this – though adaptation of existing, readily available technologies.

    To be effective, teachers need to learn about more than Bloom’s taxonomy, but to learn how to develop learning frameworks that contructively align outcomes (what do we want them to learn), activities (how to be create motivating classrooms) and assessment (how to we know they did it). Teachers also need to learn about ‘communication’ with digital media. More often that not, they focus on ‘marking’, and not ‘talking with’ students using more informal strategies.

    So before teachers begin to utilize new laptops and faster networks, there remains a huge need to help schools develop goal-orientated, achievable learning frameworks to renew curricula, and will place valid, relevant arguments to the Department of Education as to why students need to access curricula that motivates. Duty of care relates to a physical state, not a virtual one.

    The current policy of ‘banning’ sites is at best inconsistent. Are schools breaching Google’s AUP in schools?. If a child is bullied on their way home on a mobile phone – does the school breach it’s duty of care? If someone complains about a ‘blog’ then, despite following policy,are teachers are left at the mercy of the legal system? In short, unless ‘we’ move to a  position where we have effective policy, effective leadership, professional learning and on the ground ‘help’ for teachers, we might as well return to the 3Rs of the 1950s. We will fail and continue to orbit the issues and not end the digital winter. The best professional learning is happening inside personal networks, not systemic ones – and I don’t see any movement forward in public schools.

    The DET needs to be brave, it needs to release teachers to mentor based professional learning, and link that with clear assessment via the NSW Institute of Teachers, in co-operation with the Teaching Unions to ensure equity. Instead we find Queensland and Western Australia blocking Quest Atlantis (as the data is held off-shore) and the DET using Twitter to make announcements, but blocks it in school. In short it is a mess and the debate over laptops and school intrastructure is meaningless unless clear policy and action is taken at DET level. I’d love to have that conversation.

    Will’s session was another demonstration that teachers want to learn, but lack access to people who can help curriculum leaders, libraries and classroom teachers renew curricula and develop 21st Century pedagogy. There is no preparation for the introduction of fibre connectivity or laptops in the classroom, and well over a decade since the DET ‘re-trained’ teachers.

    Realism is not present; what we are doing is no longer realistic. Relevance; current professional learning is limited to policy implementation. Retention; motivated teachers are ‘expelled’ by systems unable to recognise the significance of what they are trying to do. In our desire to be equitable, we fail students. Access to powerful professional learning and therefore powerful schools is increasingly limited by geography and social capital. Bringing any scale to what is a massive problem is difficult in Australia, imagine how much more complex it is in the UK or USA.

    However, I wonder at what point someone (maybe me?) form some organisation to deliver 21st Century Learning in whole school, public access level in Australia. PLNs are great, but I think that we need to start something far more significant, that is recognised as professional learning and in some way aligned to recognition and motivation, and in such a way that it transcends the organic and provides constructive advice, policy and lobby for change.

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    Teachers Without Borders (Kenya)


    Konrad Glogowski has come back from his mission with Teachers Without Borders Canada.

    At the Jokaydia Unconference in late September, Konrad introduced a fantasic exhibition of photography and textures as part of the two day teaching and learning conference.

    Teachers Without Borders – Canada is a non-profit, non-denominational NGO devoted to closing the education divide through teacher professional development and community education.  TWB organization focuses on the building of teacher leaders.

    They work primarily, but not exclusively, in developing countries, in order to build self-reliance, health, and capacity.

    Konrad talked about how TWB is trying to develop sustainable teacher professional development, using connections waith global education, finding teacher leaders and building capacity.

    Teams 5-10 teachers – conduct workshops and seminars in Kenya, which has poor access to computers and internet. So communicating with teachers is usually via internet cafes. TWB sees connection as a major goal in Kenya and are working with over 60 teachers in 2 townships in South Africa – to get them more connected to communities of practice. He spoke about how TWB have formed partnerships – with local organisations, government and commercial sector – to respond to local needs identified by local organisations

    This work is based on the needs assessment to  plan, design and deliver workshops but TWB does not work with students, apart from observation. His Second Life build give opportunities experience Kenyan classrooms that can’t be achieved in 2D media like FlickR. The exhibit was designed to give an experience of what a classroom looks like and feels like.

    The build includes textures from walls and the envronment, together with a very graphic photo exhibition to explore. It gives a graphic idea of how Kenya’s elementary classes might have 140 students to 1 teacher or secondary with 60/70 kids. The tin roof is scortching hot, and classrooms rarely have anyhing on the walls. Paper based resources such as maps and charts are too expensive for the schools to buy, so most classrooms are hot, crowded – but enthusiastic. In the photo above – there are several nations represented from tertiary, secondary and primary – all sharing ideas on how a build like this could benefit students in learning about Kenya and the massive issues they face in education.

    Second Life is adds a new dimention to presenting, what is essentially a photostory. The ability to create a school in proportion, use authentic textures, and recreate details, such as the blackboard – which is not a board, mearly that the wall is painted black, due to costs made the discussion with TWB in the space an air of reality, that I don’t think would be as impactful as a slideshow. Avatars were free to wander the compound and get a feel for the spaces and issues that TWB were talking about.

    The TBW website says that At 59 million, teachers are the largest single group of trained professionals in the world AND the key to our children’s future. Equally amazing is the estimated need for more than 30 million NEW teachers to achieve the goal of the U.N.’s “Education for All” initiative by 2015.  The issues are complicated by the number of children who do not go to school at all – 104 million, 50% of who live in countries touched by conflict.

    Konrad is an amazing educator, and I am looking forward to woking with him and Jokay in the next year in researching and developing sustainable projects using Second Life. At a time when teachers ‘want more’ else have lots but don’t maximise the opportunties – I think that projects like this make a very powerful statement about the growing digital divide. For more information, check out the TWB global site.

    Where did the work go?

    What do parents think when their kids school really starts delivering on the promise of 21st Century Pedagogy? Not the end result, when they sit the exams, but right here right now. There is a possible issue if we don’t effectively communicate what happened to their work. As parents, we soon learn from primary years, that our kids get homework. We are keen to see them doing it, and keen to help them if we can. That homework used to come in a familiar book. In our school, kids also write their homework in an official diary. Parents are instructed to sign it, so they know that we’re giving them work to do.

    This, to parents, is what learning looks like. A physical book, a record and observable activity somewhere between getting home and bed time. If you then start getting kids to work online, then the line becomes really blurred. There is less observable evidence, and therefore parents become concerned that their child is ‘doing less’ and therefore may be ‘learning less’.

    Communicating a radical shift in the process we’ve been insisting on for a long time, must lead to some concern. For example : I have a project running with 156 kids all working online in their current project.

    This is a massive shift, and we’re working hard to embed reflective, critical literacy inside the project. Writing in a community, reflecting on their learning is a critical 21st century skill, and doing it on this scale poses teachers with a very different pedagogical challenge. How do we co-ordinate feedback ‘visibly’, so that parents can ‘see’ what their kids are doing, and how their teachers are supporting this.

    One way is to ensure that parents get the URL and get to observe, not just the work, but the collaboration, success, frustration and creativity that as teachers, we see, but couldn’t before give parents a value added shared experience.

    Secondly, we encourage teachers to reflect on the week, using the same scaffold that we are modeling to students. It also helps with the comment challenge. If we comment too much, we are overtly interfering with the very ethos of project based learning. If we don’t comment enough, then we are seen as apathetic – doing little more than ticking off the event of posting a journal entry.

    I am encouraging, and modeling, the idea of teachers using a weekly post in their page of ‘Ning’. It is an opportunity to show kids that we are learners too, and that we are listening to them. It is also a powerful way to ‘weave’ the learning scaffold – by referencing the work of kids using hyperlinks. Rather than say ‘It been great to see students understanding the project’ – we can hyperlink a few words to a few examples of what we are talking about – so we are evidencing teaching success and student support.

    In a class this week I gave an example of how blogging communities give students more opportunity to demonstrate their learning than can be done in our normal mode of operation.

    I asked the class a question. Immediately, a dozen hands went up, and kids all started pulling the usual faces to catch my attention – in the hope they would be selected to answer it. So I asked the teacher – “what happens to the other 11 kids, how do they feel at the very moment we make our selection”.

    We empower one student and de-motive 11, that seems like a stupid thing to do. But thats how classroom questioning works. But in a classroom blogging community – every kid gets to answer it. Not only that, the kids are asking the questions, and teaching each other.

    So I really think that teachers need to consider the effects of moving their classrooms online. Sure the parents like the idea that their kids are online-savvy – but they don’t really know what that means or looks like. Its critical to consider the implications to parent confidence when the ‘books’ and ‘worksheets’ suddenly stop being the normal method of evidencing activity. As kids don’t communicate what they are doing on the computer much of the time, there is a real risk that we loose some degree of confidence.

    Giving parents the URL, allowing them to see the work in the community and being able to see what the teacher is thinking about, what they are doing reflectively – significantly changes the communication channels and the relationship that parents have with teachers. I think it is a great move away from the passive nature of parent-teacher relations – but equally some teachers are not going to be too happy about being ‘outed’.

    Just an observation following a parent comment this week – “I am not sure he is studying as much as he used to”.

    3 points of change

    This I found interesting from Greg Whitbys YouTube. Talking about changing the system through three pressure points. It made me think that the perception gap between what ‘administrators’ are doing and teachers are ‘doing’ is out of alignment with what I’ve been hearing in Online sessions the last few weeks. I especially like the comments about the strategy to put ‘mentors’ in schools to help develop teachers and support them. This would give a clear indication to the classroom teacher that they are connected to policy directors – often people that we never meet. On the the other hand, I think that there are now so many teachers doing amazing things in their classrooms that their line managers do not know about, so they may be pleasantly suprised when this alignment takes place. I hope that this message and approach is adopted – getting mentors into classrooms to train, support and deliver is a critical link – not just as one off PD, but ongoing support with regualar follow ups.

    One of the great strengths of the New Tech Foundation (PBL) is that school teachers in that ‘network’ have IM access to each other, and more importantly to mentors and senior foundation staff.

    I don’t think that we are there yet in terms of transparent communication between teacher, mentor and executive – but this video points to the fact that it’s on the agenda, which is great!


    On 13th April 2008, a bunch of teachers got together and discussed the need to begin a debate with our communities about a range of issues facing 21st century teaching and learning. Not to blame or point the finger, but to begin a global conversation around the shift away from the read only internet, to one in which teachers and students are now reading and writing. The consensus of opinion is that the structures in place in most schools, governing bodies and legalities do not adequately address the read/write web that students are already engaged in (MySpace, Bebo, YouTube et al).

    Initial debate via Illuminate session, was the working title “Advocacy for Global Digital Citizenship” – or at least I think it was, there were so many ideas from so many people!

    The issue:

    As teachers and educators, there is conflict between the skills students will use in their immediate future, teacher desire to deliver using these skills for learning and the rhetoric of the media, politicians and other pundits about 21st Century Learning.

    Just what is it we are talking about?

    One the one hand, 21st century learning is celebrated as the ‘future’ yet on the other, participation by learners conflicts with existing duty of care, given the discourse around child-internet-safety.

    This is NOT an official group, nor is this an official LOGO. However, in these early days, perhaps this logo might serve a stop gap graphic purpose, should anyone else feel these issues are important and want to use it as part of their own conversations within their immediate educational environment.

    It is a conversation that has to happen – globally.