Our families are crucial to our success and the risks we take in our Unit. Without their support we would not have the freedom to push boundaries, try new things and ultimately make mistakes. Involving our families and providing them with voice is essential to developing the trust this requires. The introduction of our Unit Blog has provided a space to connect and has been an amazing avenue for sharing our experiences in “real time”. The truth is though that not all our families have access to the internet nor the inclination to get online to see what has been happening. It is thus important for us to connect and involve our families in multiple ways.
Connecting with our families using texts messages and sending pictures via mobile has proven to be a great way to engage them in real time. We almost use this in a similar fashion that most would use a twitter account. We send out general reminders, updates and information. We also share photos of what we are doing and places we go. One consideration we negotiate is having students who cannot have their images shared on social media. This means these students are never included in photographs on our blog, in our newsletters or on our YouTube channel. Sending pictures via our mobile means these students can still share these experiences with families and carers.
We engage our families in many other ways including open forums, technology workshops, student led expos, family conferences, celebrations, volunteer opportunities and invitations to participate in learning experiences. Our reporting process (Semester Reflections) is another way we ensure that our communication to families is valuable and meaningful. This was a priority for me when I came to my current site and I was very fortunate to be given the flexibility to start from scratch. I wanted to ensure that our families knew we were responding to their children as unique individuals. This process continues to evolve and it is through the feedback we solicit from our families that we continue to develop and grow.
It is hard to believe that it has been a year since I began this blog and in recognition of some people that have influenced my online learning, I decided to devote a post to acknowledge some whom regardless of their popularity deserve a hat tip.
Dean Shareski (@shareski) – embarrassing father and voice of reason.
It seems he wears many hats (but perhaps not so many pants) if you follow his twitter feed. They include taunting his wife and her shopping habits, animal photography (mainly dogs) and of course golfing. Sounds like a “dad” to me!
Dean’s twitter feed is a place for a giggle, interrupted intermittently by work stuff. Dean’s blog Ideas and Thoughts takes a more serious tone and I always find that he strikes a nice chord between being agitated by inaction and maintaining a rational productive approach to improving education and communities. If I actually played golf, I imagine a round with Dean would be littered with laughter and Seinfeld references.
George Couros (@gcouros) – “The Principal Of Change” no doubt
George is the reason I started this whole blogging caper. George writes regularly and is reliable for both humourous and educational gold on twitter! He came to our school a year ago and facilitated several sessions over the day. As anyone who has seen George speak would know, he always includes humour and speaks from personal experience in his presentations. Whether adressing a small group or an entire hall, George makes you feel like he is talking to you alone.
I amongst many of my colleagues were inspired by George and started our own blogging journeys. For me it was his actions beyond that day that impressed me most. George continued to follow our progress and respond and retweet the birth of our online presence over the following months. George is as generous as it gets online and I am truly grateful for his continued support, inspiration and guidance.
Chris Lehman (@chrislehman) – the educator I would like most to be at a dinner party with!
Whilst I have never met Chris, his openness across his twitter stream which shares his sporting passions and his family, means I feel I have an insight into who Chris is. I have not seen Chris present live, though I have watched his TEDxPhilly talk Education is Broken which is definitely worth a view. His blog Practical Theory comes across with such honesty and passion that it is hard not to include in my reader. If you want examples of how to celebrate student success, take learning from homogenous to personalised, then Chris is your man.
Bill Ferriter (@plugusin) – Radical Uncle Bill, I can hear his accent in every word he writes!
I was fortunate to meet Bill in Melbourne this year when I attended his workshops at the annual Hawker Brownlow Teaching and Learning Conference. Since then I have followed his twitter feed and added his blog The Tempered Radical to my reader. Bill is a passionate and dedicated professional with much generosity and spirit. I have gained a great deal in regards to building and maintaining PLCs and how to provide meaningful learning experiences for students from his examples. His accent is something else too y’all.
Justin Stortz (@newfirewitihin) – still a teacher (though not currently practicing) who is honest and extremely humourous – wins teacher I would like to sit in class with!
Whilst Justin is not practicing in the classroom at this point, his honest reflections about his nine years of teaching before he walked away are inspiring. Justin writes warts and all which is unfortunately something of a rarity online. Any educator will benefit from his writing as too would anyone living with or around depression. You can find him here Pursuing Context .
All of the educators above have an online following that reflects their connection to others and are by no means my only source of inspiration online and make up a small part of my reader. What they do provide is a written honesty that draws people to them, a regular presence online and engagement with their online community. If you don’t already include them in your PLN then I encourage you to do so.
I have also chosen to include one of my own students among this online inspirational group. Her name is Gemma and you can find her blog here. Gemma is an amazing young lady who also happens to be Aspergers. Her passions and interests are unique and not shared amongst her peers. Blogging has enabled her to connect with others who share in common and establish connections she can develop in a non-confronting way. Gemma needs no encouragement to write honestly, in fact her writing can be somewhat confronting at times but always refreshing. My hope for Gemma, is that she continues to maintain her writing space beyond her time at school and continue to connect with people all over the world.
I had a discussion today with two colleagues about why I blog. In the past I have had it said “you must have too much time on your hands” or “you need to work less and get a hobby!”
I tend to laugh this off because if I didn’t, I might get annoyed. The time complaint is nothing further from the truth. I do spend a lot of my “free” time on my iPad or computer, but no more time than others spend at the footy or watching TV. I use my technology because I love reading (books via kindle, blogs, Zite and online news) , listening to, finding and adding new music to my library online and exploring new digital tools for use personally and professionally. Previously this would have gone unnoticed because I didn’t have the ease of sharing as I do now via this blog, twitter and Facebook!
Each of these mediums serve a different purpose for me. Whilst other people blur the lines between professional and personal with twitter, Facebook and blogging, I tend to use Facebook exclusively for personal connections. The people I “friend” on Facebook tend to be restricted by a few conditions. I only “friend” people whom I know personally. I would most likely have been in their home, met their parents/children/partners and socialised with them by choice! I know their family by name and they know mine. Facebook is a space I use to share information about my children, connect with friends interstate/international and share music and humour. I don’t spend a lot of time on this domain, but tend to check in from time to time (every couple of days).
Twitter has been a dynamic addition to my online presence. It has connected me with a developing PLN that supports my learning and empowers my teaching practice. I use twitter for professional purposes generally, but do still like to show some personality and not keep it too clinical! I generally access twitter daily.
This blog is a space that has had the greatest impact on how I reflect upon and develop my ideas in a public arena. It enables me to:
- work through feelings
- stay positive
- clarify my thoughts more clearly
I have always written to work through my frustrations or confusion, it was previously just kept private. I have always recorded my reflections, just that it would take the form of a letter or email to my mother, a friend or colleague. This blog provides an avenue to do this in a public forum. Whilst some of my colleagues are anxious about how their writing is interpreted or judged, I don’t tend to be concerned by this. Sometimes I see what is shared via other social avenues and think my few spelling or grammatical errors or misplaced clarity of writing is nothing to agonise over! The benefits for me far outweigh the risk of a negative comment (still waiting) or someone bored by my ramblings! The bonus is that at the same time, I am developing a professional portfolio that is a growing digital footprint, tagged and categorised for ease of reference, no longer a linear record.