Online tutorials: What I learned

After many hours of planning with colleagues and setting up my platform to facilitate online learning, yesterday was D-day. I had two, 2 hour tutorials back to back of the same unit. This arrangement seemed fine back in February but then COVID-19 happened. I sat in my chair here in our study at home for 4 hours knowing many of my colleagues in universities and in schools are doing even tougher. It is draining, yes, but strangely rewarding – especially when the chosen platform works. Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, I am hearing today that some platforms are not coping, making it even more stressful for both teachers and students. That aside, the reality is here and it’s here to stay. I wonder how we might change as educators, as learners and as humans once it’s over? I do hope we bring with us what we have learned and evolve into even better humans. Time will tell.

In the meantime, I want to share with you all what I learned during my online sessions.

The many faces of me!

Firstly, I missed the physicality of a class, seeing my students walk into our learning space – being able to move around that space, see them react to the learning, laugh at my jokes (or not), see them working collaboratively – all at the same time. In the Adobe Connect platform I could move them into break out spaces but then I had to continuously pop in and out of the groups, and while it was great to spend a few minutes there I was also conscious that I couldn’t see or hear the other groups simultaneously. I realised I had FOMO (fear or missing out), so while I had the opportunity to focus on just two or three students and really listen, I found I couldn’t and I really regret that. Nothing beats a physical space full of learners.

I did, however, love seeing them on the webcams and hearing them speak up, even if it was a few of them at one time, but it was better than the chat window where I’m sure I missed many of the comments written. Next week I’m going to risk having them all turn on their webcams at once and see what happens. Just for a bit while we all say hi. I’m imagining the Brady Bunch opening credits but with 30 faces staring back at me (assuming they’ll all be online)!

Brady Bunch

Next week I’m also going to have them send emojis in the chat so I don’t feel like I’m talking to myself! I learned I need a lot more interaction if I can’t see or hear them while I’m speaking.

Finally, while there will be glitches, it will get better. My youngest daughter, who is an early career teacher, (2nd year out) heard some of my sessions and thought I was lacking my sassy self. I should just be she said – maybe I will.

One last thing, as we are both running our classes from home, I learned that my daughter and I could feed off each other. apparently she enjoyed listening to my sessions and was going to steal a few of my ideas. My daughter should know that I was sooo proud to hear her interacting with her little Year 7 Drama class on line early this morning and that I’m going to steal some of her ideas!

Stay safe everyone. Stay home.

Thanks for reading 🙂

My mum

Prompt number 24 of the #Edublogsclub asks us to write a post about parents.

My mum passed away 27 years ago, 2 weeks after her 49th birthday.

My mum

My Mum has always been an inspiration, even though most of the time she drove me crazy. She always seemed to know everything about what was happening in my life as a kid. I couldn’t understand it. It felt like I couldn’t do anything without her finding out. I must admit, I wasn’t a terrible teen – but having been raised in a very strict Italian household even talking with boys who were not family was frowned upon back then. In the end after many tantrums, when I wasn’t allowed to go to parties or go out with my friends, in general, I soon gave it up and just made excuses to my peers to avoid the embarrassment. I just had to accept that this was how it was and that there was no use trying to get away with it. As an adult – I think I finally realised just how my mum always knew in the times before social media…


That aside, my mum was the best in many ways. She always supported our learning, both my brother and I were encouraged to go that extra mile with our studies. My mum always attended parent/teacher meetings and made sure we were on top of things. We are the first lot to go through post-compulsory studies and gain university degrees. If you follow my blog you’ll also know I’m currently chewing through a PhD. I love learning and so did my mum. She was the only one of her 7 siblings who finished school and if it wasn’t for the antiquated thinking by my maternal grandfather, she would have gone onto university. But alas, ‘there were things to do other than filling your brain with useless knowledge’ as he used to say.

At 20 she migrated to Australia, learning English on the boat, she landed with at least some idea of what awaited her. Mind you, she never really gave herself away, choosing to just blend into the already growing community of Italian migrants in and around Melbourne. She joined her big brother and his family, along with her 2 sisters and together they formed a new extended family. She worked and lived as they all did to make a better life for themselves. She learned heaps on this journey, though she never boasted at how much she understood English – choosing instead, to blend into the Italian community.

In 1963 she married my father, an Italian migrant, her brother’s friend and together with my dad’s two sisters and their husbands, they moved to the house in which I am currently writing this blog. My own family now live in this wonderful house – though it has been extended and refurbished over the years. Still, it holds all my childhood memories and will forever be my sanctuary.

Wedding Day, 1963

I remember my mum always used to say she wanted to be a social worker. She was a great listener and problem solver. She supported many people and often as a child there were many friends who came by to have a chat – little did I know that they were actually seeking out my mum’s for advice on all manner of things – but mostly about relationships. My mum loved having people over and organising wonderful dinner parties. Our extended family always gathered to celebrate everything and anything. My childhood and young adulthood were a stream of parties, dinners, celebrations with family and friends.  She was an avid church goer and loved being part of the Italian Community. Many can attest that they met their partners at some ‘do’ that mum helped organise for the community.

My mum loved learning and so do I. She is and always will be my inspiration to continue my work in education. I hope to make a difference, to make trouble, to unsettle, to challenge and encourage others to think, to take risks, to go beyond that which they think possible. I owe it to my mum and I owe it to myself.

Thanks for reading 🙂

Eat in or take away? Day 1: Evidence Based Teaching Summit 2016

Last week I was invited to chair a panel discussion on policy and practice at the Informa summit on Evidence-Based Teaching and with that came the opportunity to attend two days of professional learning. I gained some wonderful insights and follow up for my own research, but I also came away with many more questions. You’ll see them filtered through the rest of the post.

Angela Carbone from Monash University opened proceedings delivering a keynote on the

What is student success?

What is student success?

resurgence of evidence-based teaching. She spoke of the need for evidence in order to ‘bust’ educational myths. To increase student success, we need valid, reliable, rigorous, accurate and timely evidence. But what is student success? What does it look like in the diverse classrooms of the 21st Century?

The second keynote was delivered by Dr. V. Darleen Opfer from the US. Teachers need to use a data driven approach in order to improve student learning but how do we support teachers to do this? Dr Opfer’s presentation was very practical and I could easily imagine her 5 recommendations working in our schools. She suggested:

  1. Making data an ongoing cycle using a variety of sources.
  2. Teaching students to examine their own data and set their own learning goals accordingly.
  3. Establishing a clear vision for the whole school.
  4. Providing the type of support that fosters a data-driven culture.
  5. Developing a data system that incorporates data from multiple sources.
Change doesn't kill you...

Change doesn’t kill you…the difficulty is not in developing new ideas but in escaping from old ones  (reflections from case study on literacy program by Jeff Symms).

In making data an ongoing process teachers will need to be taught how to collect and analyse the data. This may be facilitated through the appointment of a data facilitator, who is not just a number cruncher but one who can organise, explain and disseminate the data. Teachers can then interpret, develop hypotheses and modify instruction to suit -well if they had time… .Dr Opfer advised that teachers collect a variety of data including classroom performance (formative assessment) regularly and to look for patterns.  Unfortunately, we don’t seem to have time and thus it often takes a back seat when in fact data should be out on the field, playing and contributing to the learning and teaching in schools. Hence the need for a data-driven approach to be established as a whole school endeavour.  What could we do without in order to make time for targeted professional learning, access to data and to developing a whole school culture?

The conversation continued in Chris Ramsden‘s presentation. He challenged educators to make a

Create the climate

Create the climate

difference and thought teachers need ‘actionable’ data that is tangible and accessible. He introduced the notion of practice-based evidence instead of evidence-based practice. Ramsden discussed the general capabilities and questioned whether they are indeed visible in the learning and teaching in schools. In making a difference do we challenge our students to persevere, to grow and be hopeful of the future? Are we arming them with strategies, modeling empathy and humility and displaying a growth mindset? After all, we do need our students to figure things out for themselves and hence the need to encourage risk-taking and the skills to deal with failure.

David Zyngier (Monash University) was up next to discuss the evidence on the issue of class sizes. Of course, there are many arguments for and against smaller class sizes. I’m sure most teachers would support having fewer students in their classes but what we don’t seem to understand is that reducing class sizes requires a different teaching approach, jut as lengthening or shortening periods in secondary schools require a change in mindset. Dr. Peggy Kern from the University of Melbourne and Janis Coffey from PESA presented arguments in separate presentations for positive education. To create ‘better’ learners said Kern, through a focus on positive psychology, a ‘thrive not just survive’ mentality of holistic education needs to be adopted in schools. With one in four young people diagnosed with a mental disorder and one in four teachers in Victoria suffering stress-related illnesses, Coffey believes that schools can make a big difference in this area.

A lively panel discussion with Kevin Donnelly, Peter Goss and Justin Mullaly followed provoked by my opening remarks:

Are policy and practice truly that separate and what role does research play in the scenario? In evidence-based teaching –what is the evidence on which we base our teaching? Does the evidence that tends to prove or disprove something become the basis of belief or disbelief? And what of belief, which is essentially an opinion or conviction, what role does it play in schools?

Can our judgements as educators be credible? Might the empirical evidence we see, hear and think emphasise a more informed approach to evidence-based teaching? In fact, can it be that instead of evidence-based we perhaps adopt an evidence-informed teaching practice?

As Dylan Wiliam suggested in 2015 “…the simple truth is that, in education, everything works somewhere and nothing works everywhere.” So are we to continuously believe the headlines we read – homework is bad, feedback is good, funding is not making a difference in our schools, or will we ever be able to make and follow through on our beliefs based on evidence-informed judgements? Are we to continuously answer to policy driven practice? What changes need to happen to successfully marry policy, practice, theory and experience in education AND have it truly enhance this highly complex and multifaceted notion of effective pedagogy?

Again and again the importance of giving time to educators so they can collaborate, attend PD, collect and analyse data. Here the implementation gap between policy and practice appears. There is no one answer, yet I think we all agree that evidence of student progress is required to inform practice and influence what teachers do. Justin Matthys (Maths Pathways) uttered one of my favourite lines of the first day “What matters is growth along a continuum – not keeping up with the course.” I wish more teachers would take heed of this advice.

Know your staff...

Know your staff…

I have always maintained that to ‘learn’ your students is a most effective way to assist them in their own learning and to experience ‘success’. The same can also be said in this final message visualised here in a slide presented by Jeff Symms: Know your staff…

End of the first day.

Thanks for reading 🙂

Day 2 reflections here

Moonshots and other really cool shooting stars

Last Sunday night’s Aussie Ed tweet chat was all about moonshots. You can read the storify later.

A Moonshot is literally the launch of a rocket into space. In more recent times the term has been introduced in education as a means to think ‘big’, think ‘innovatively’, think ‘huge’, think ‘change the world’ one small step at a time.  It can be big or small, done on your own or in collaboration with others.

What we said

The first question in the #aussieED chat asked this: In your opinion, what is a moonshot? My initial response was

What is a moonshot?

What is a moonshot?

You’ll notice my question mark at the end – obviously I had not heard this before and was taking a stab at it. As the chat continued and others shared their thoughts, it got me thinking about my own personal experiences with moonshots and those of the people around me, family, friends, students, colleagues, and parents. I really enjoyed reading what others thought about moonshot. I’d like to share a few -there were many others that you can read for yourself once you’ve finished. I’ll even give you the link. Keep reading…

Kim said this

Kim said this

A crazy idea

I love this! I’ll admit I’ve had some really crazy ideas over the years and was not afraid to see if they could go anywhere. My crazy idea that I could write a book came about simply because I thought I could. Mostly it’s pretty much finished but needs a little tinkering and possibly updating given I began writing it some years ago. Maybe I’ll shoot this one early next year.

Joel said this

Joel said this

It just won’t work…(really?)

This kind of comment just makes me more inclined to go after that which others think won’t work. I’m an optimist but more importantly I work hard to solve problems or issues. There are a great many things out there that people thought impossible  – imagine if we still thought the world was flat and if you went to the edge you’d fall and plunge to destruction. Thank goodness that belief was proved wrong. What else? Better still what other beliefs are there today that could be holding us back?

I’d like you to imagine a place where all children had the opportunity to learn in their own preferred way but also engage in other ways of learning so as to grow their repertoire as an ‘all round’ learner. Imagine a place where children and adults collaborated to change the world to make it an equitable, safe and sustainable place for all living creatures. Some have already started but it would be much more logical if we all worked towards it. So…let’s do it!

We can begin making a difference by taking Carl’s advice and developing a plan to save the world. Impossible? Do you mean making the plan or saving the world? Nothing is impossible.

Carl's plan

Carl’s plan

As Steve points out:

Steve said this

Steve said this

It is most important that we adults model how to deal with failure; after all without it we cannot learn. To make a mistake we have to take a risk, if we fail, we analyse why it happened and move on to make it better next time. Imagine if Edison stopped work after blowing up the first bulb.

Never give up

Never give up

Shake it out

Shake it out

Shake it out

I really like Karen’s idea of a moonshot too. I enjoy shaking things up – in fact I make trouble all the time. I say what I think and I back it up because taking a shot at something you truly believe will make a difference – so worth it. A major component of moonshots is to believe.

Last week I had to deal with a family issue interstate but had a consulting gig already booked which couldn’t be undone. So I asked a colleague if they would consider workshopping it for me. I never doubted her ability to do it – not because I’m so good but because she is. It’s a little like paying it forward – someone gave me a chance to shine long ago so I’m passing it on. Its success is in your hands.

exploding moonshots

exploding moonshots

What’s your moonshot?

Thanks for reading 🙂

(Now you can read the storify)

Sunday nights 8:30 AEST #aussieED

Pimping my PhD thanks to #TLAP

Over the last 6 months or so my twitter feed has been pirated – don’t panic – I don’t mean by hackers  – I’m tlaptalking about Teach Like a Pirate (#tlap) – pirated. Almost every other day there is a tweet chat discussing #tlap -the book, the pirate, the pirate’s wife, the energy, the passion, the adventure into unchartered waters, the educators who follow, who model, who teach with a renewed vigour, a re-kindled flame, a spark, even an eye patch, a pirate hat and a full pirate outfit! Classrooms are being re-decorated, students running to class not wanting to miss anything, enthusiastic and ready to learn, eagerly willing the next lesson that cannot come quick enough! The sub title of the book reads “Increase Student Engagement, Boost Your Creativity, and Transform Your Life an as Educator” and guess what? It actually has! One only has to visit any of these twitter hashtags to get the picture – #tlap, #bfctlap, #sstlap. There are also a few book reviews happening including one of my favourites run by #aussieED #bookclubED.

It was only yesterday that I was on chat about the book that I happen to ask my PLN (twitter talk for Personal Learning Network) whether I could use #tlap motivations and ideas for my PhD and so that was when I decided to ‘Pimp my PhD’. I spent most of the night thinking about it – lucky it was too hot and humid to sleep  – and this morning here I am – in words from the Pirate himself “bringing it”!

Here’s what I think…

Passion – “We are not passionate about everything we teach” (p. 3).

I’m definitely passionate about my area of research  – special needs – it comes from deep within and is a personal experience of mine from my early years at school. You can read about it here. I so want to make a difference to the experiences of these kids in schools, especially for those who are not funded and those who come to school with a feeling of self-doubt and a nagging pit in their stomach – actually that’s probably most kids. We as educators really need to know our students – I don’t mean know them by name or what they look like but really know them – what they like, don’t like, how they learn, why they learn – to me teaching is not about delivering content – it’s about relationshipsget this right and the rest will fall into place.

Immersion – “An instructor who is fully immersed in the moment has a special type of intensity that resonates with great power in the classroom, regardless of the activity” (p. 16).

I have to say that I could be way more immersed in my study – no that’s not true, I mean more immersed on a more consistent basis. You see I’m easily distracted – now I hear you laughing out loud – especially those of you who know me well. Actually, just a minute – I feel a distraction coming on now….

Rapport – “If you’re paying attention to what excites them, you can connect with them almost instantly” (p. 20).

In my experience, there are many classrooms where excitement is scarce and it becomes all about getting though the content, or preparing for the test. As part of my research I have been investigating the idea of action research. Just the thought of doing it gets me really excited. I love active participation, intervention. In fact my whole teaching career has been about just that – how can I intervene so that the best learning can happen? I think this is one of the areas I would really like to investigate further. My initial idea centres around intervention. I’d really like to test my theories about lack of communication and collaboration, scarcity of appropriate PD for BOTH teachers and teacher aides (learning assistants) to attend together and a lack of consistency in appointing same aides with teachers are at times impacting on the learning of special needs students. I’ve been cautioned against this due to a vested interest in the success of the invention but I really feel that I could contribute to the body of knowledge with my study. And isn’t this what research is all about?

Ask and Analyse – “The ability to manipulate questions to make them even more effective is crucial…” (p. 35)

Actually I have already taken steps to ask about the possibility of incorporating action research. Now I just have to begin analysing why, how, what, where and when. I have already been challenged a number of times about my initial research questions – you see these are the core motivators. If I can get these nailed then I truly believe things will fall into place. What is it I would really like to investigate? Is there room for ‘creativity’ in academics? I know the answer is YES but sometimes I wonder…everything always seems so serious…

Transformation – “If you feel your message is important, and I do, it is worth the effort to go to any lengths to make sure it is successfully delivered” (p. 56).

Well, if the above quote doesn’t say it all for a study then it’s best I just put it away and get on with something else. Rest assured I’ll be breaking some rules about research AND I’ll be having fun on the way, along, no doubt, with many disappointments, frustrations, failures and the like. I am realistic as well as optimistic.

DUECOMEnthusiasm – “I pride myself on flat out bringing it whether I’m teaching a class of students or leading a seminar for teachers” (p. 66).

Me too! And I’ll also add that I would bring it to anything else I’m doing!

So…“The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing” – Walt Disney Company.

Thanks for reading 🙂