Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Loyalty and goodness

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.
And I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

As a shepherd leader, I know that my journey as a Masters student in ETAD will stay with me forever.  Coming to the end of my journey, I feel a twinge of sadness and loss.  What will I fill my time with, if not reading textbooks, participating in discussions and writing papers?  But I know that the knowledge and experiences I have gained have solidified and validated my educational practice.  They will form a backbone in my future decisions and colour the path that I pursue.  
I think of Oprah, who says “when you know better, you do better.”  Entering my ETAD program, I had my own conceptions, my own methodology, and my own beliefs.  I am amazed, reflecting back on my learning, to see how far I have come personally in less than two years.  I have gained so much, and in large part due to the online community I am a part of.  Just the other night, in presenting our research proposals for a Research in Education course, there were three people, including myself, from my division here in Calgary.  How interesting it was to discuss their ideas with them, people in my own division, who I have never met in real life and who I may never have come across professionally.  We now have a connectedness based in our scholarly work together.  I will definitely seek them out the next chance I get. 
McCormick & Davenport talk about a shepherd leader who fosters loyalty.  I can’t help but feel that I will be loyal to the Educational Technology and Design program at the University of Saskatchewan.  The program met my needs in a profound way, and brought so much more into my professional understanding than I imagined.  

This exercise of reflection on my graduate experience and using it to look to the future has been a very worthwhile experience.  Looking at the whole of what I learned, a few themes pop out.  Firstly, I gained a real appreciation for the rigors of academic study.  Relying on the structures that exist help me to understand and frame my decisions and practice.  Second, I learned about leadership in a roundabout sort of way.  We all had our role to play in the leadership within our courses.  With the professors, each had a unique way of guiding us through our studies.  As an adult learner, I could pick out what I liked and what I didn’t and how I could use these observations in finding my own leadership path.  The shepherd leader concept was also evident in the leadership of my colleagues.  In each online community, we all voiced our opinions and thoughts, but a few in each course inevitably fell into the roll of leader, based in their passion for the subject.  That type of “along side” leadership showed me how I could bring my ideas back to my professional community in a non threatening way.  Finally, the collaboration and community in this program was phenomenal.  Sharing clearly outline thoughts and opinions with others was such an important step in my learning process.  I learned so much about education, issues and ideas though my peers.  We all come from our own experience, and I got to get up close to over fifty colleagues in this journey.  Learning from the varied experience and ideas was beyond what I thought I would get in this program.  It has been invaluable.  

I will take what I learned, and the networking and community I experienced even more so, into my own practice and my shepherd leadership.  I am constantly forming and reshaping a positive vision for my educational practice.  I will live in the house of Educational Technology and Design.  

Abundance in ideas

My cup runneth over.

When I think of abundance in light of my masters journey, I think about the create supply of ideas we as educators have access to.  Never before have so many ideas and reflections been publicly available.  
Social media is a real treasure trove for the educator in today’s world.  In a few of my ETAD courses, we used Twitter as an informal tool to stay connected with each other.  Twitter, with it’s 140 character limit, is truly a transformative tool in education. Following classmates and collegues, and following the “tweeps” they followed, brought an abundance of ideas to my fingertips, in digestible bite sized pieces.  I would log in a few times a day, see what people were talking about, follow threads and join conversations.  It made me feel connected to world of educators, with their wealths of information.  
I teach in elementary school, where using Twitter is not feasible yet, but I can see the possibilities in older students to comment and respond in real time.  Like my experience with the discussion boards in Blackboard, Twitter allows for a richness of conversation beyond the walls of the classroom, where everyone can share their two cents, and pursue what interests them the most.
With Twitter as a starting point, I began to consider social media as an essential component of my professional practice.  Daily, I follow links to read blogs and articles that are relevant to my teaching.  I use Facebook to stay connected with the educators I know, who have moved on to other sites.  I trawl Pinterest for ideas and activities for my classroom.  The cup of knowledge and idea truly runneth over.  I am part of the global world of education. 
One way that I brought this world into my class was through pen pals.  Pen pals in education is not a new idea, but with technology we were able to modernize it, and teach new skills along the way.  In grade 2, we study different communities in Canada.  I used a website to connect with some Acadian students in Nova Scotia.  We created secure email addressees (used only for this purpose), and communicated throughout the year with our Acadian buddies.  Not only did my students learn about Acadie from the perspective of a peer, we also worked a lot with writing, creating digital text, courtesy and digital citizenship.  
Social media, used properly, is a transformative tool for students, teachers and leaders.  It can bring the world outside into the classroom, to foster understanding and respect for others.

Removing irritants and conflict

Thou preparest a table for me in the presence of mine enemies.
Thou annointest my head with oil.

Shepherd leaders transform conflict and remove irritants.  Working in the education sector, we are often faced with conflicts, with others, with ideas and with policy.  We can become bogged down and irritated by the seemingly endless information that we receive.  
Working though my ETAD program, I have come to a place of deeper understanding, where I know what I believe in my core as an educator.  Relying on the ideas and structures I have explored in my courses, I can stand firm in what I believe.  This sureness help me to listen and discern the information I come across in my practice.  Some of my beliefs have changed and some have been solidified by what I have learned.  An important aha moment that I had was surrounding technology in the classroom.  As I said, I had worked with several teachers trying to bring their teaching and learning in line with 21st century realities.  It was a struggle, for them and for myself as I went back into my own classroom. It was a place of discomfort, trying to match the old with the new.  Personally, I get really excited by the possibilities that new technologies afford in teaching and learning.  I can be a quick shooter when it comes to trying new things.  Sometimes the new ideas and activities would go off without a hitch.  Other times, it just didn’t work, and I couldn’t really pinpoint why things didn’t turn out.  In my Masters journey, I was really able to explore different epistemologies, ways of knowing and doing.  Many of us learn about learning theory, about behaviorist, cognitive and constructivist theory in our undergrad. I had a basic understanding, and in the Foundations of Educational Technology course I really dug into these understanding of how we learn.  I was able to draw clear parallels to how I, and my students operated in the classroom.  It helped clarify for me how my presentation and use of new technologies in the classroom wasn’t quite aligned with understanding how we learn.  Returning to the basics of learning theory, I was better able to outline my strategies innovating with technology.  Framing my lessons based on these theories explicitly led to cleaner and more effective teaching.  

Trying to find the sweet spot, and not quite getting there can be especially irritating.  I know moving forward, as a shepherd leader, I will refer back to the basic structures of education I explored though my program to better manage irritants and conflicts around me.  

Sunday, 7 April 2013

The right tools for the job

Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.

The tools of any trade are paramount to success.  The shepherd carries a rod, to discipline and control the sheep, and the staff to protect the flock and to support the shepherd.  The tools for a modern shepherd leader are obviously more modern and universal, but still essential for success. 
 McCormick & Davenport identify two metaphoric tools they see as the rod and staff of the contemporary shepherd leader, the compass and the frame.  The compass is a guidance tool, but beyond step by step directions, or even a map, it empowers the leader and the followers to chart a course.  The shepherd leader should define the bearing, but allow the followers to use the compass as a tool in their own journey.  When I translate the compass as a leadership tool in my own life, I liken educational research as the compass that will guide me as an informed leader.  The wealth of knowledge that exists in the body of educational research is staggering.  As teachers, we often talk about always reinventing the wheel. A significant learning that I take away from my ETAD journey is that we don’t need to reinvent the wheel.  We, as teachers, can access the academic articles that are published, to validate our practice, to inform different teaching and learning methodologies, and to spark our own creativity.  We can even access research conducted close to home, I was delighted to find research produced by our own Alberta government and Teachers Association that reflect realities in our classrooms.  I am truly passionate about sharing scholarly articles, as they will makes us better educators.  Even in my B.Ed program, we didn’t access educational research,  and not many teachers know how much is out there, so I think it is a hidden gem that we can mine.  As a shepherd leader in education, I know that current educational research and scholarly articles will be the compass that guides my practice.

The second essential tool for the shepherd leader is the frame, a framework in which we operate, the boundaries we respect to stay on the right path.  The reason that this tool is so indispensable is that we live in an economy of knowledge.  Long gone are the days of anyone, a king, a leader, a teacher, a father, knowing best.  With the abundant availability of knowledge and ideas, no one person know best about anything.  In my experience, the gifts and talents of each individual are honoured and utilized in a school. The frame is so important because we know great things can happen when people have freedom to experiment and think outside the box.  While the room to create is essential,  a shepherd leader must set out the boundaries, name important priorities and set the playing field for ideas and innovation.  Relating back to ETAD, I think of instructional design and program evaluation.  These two frameworks are the beginning and the end of instruction.The theories of instructional design inform us to make a well planned design, considering the needs for the instruction, the learner and the context.  We must be guided by sound instructional strategies, as well as proper  visual composition.  Usability testing, and program assessment than allow us to gauge the success of the design.   Program evaluation, at the tail end, gives structure to ask the right questions for assessment and improvement.  The practice of reflection, evaluation success and identifying areas for growth is essential for framing leadership in education.  

Walk with me

I will fear no evil; for Thou art with me.

Being with someone is sometimes the best support we can offer.  The shepherd leader is with the people, in times of normal times and times of crisis.  This verse reminds me of an online discussion I participated in about action research.  Action research is really what teachers are doing on a daily basis, collecting real time data, informally in a natural setting, like assessing students on an ongoing basis in the classroom, and using the data to inform decisions,  areas for growth and possible improvements, in short assessment for learning.  Many in the discussion acknowledged that we as teachers do the first steps of action research.  Where we stop short is reporting the data we collect, and to formalize the actions we take.  
A shepherd leader is active in normal times, and can act decisively in times of trouble.  The example I shared was when the Provincial Achievement Test results of my school were lower than was acceptable to us.  We formed a professional action group, we looked at the results, identified tangible areas for growth, for example the skill of using inferencing to answer questions.  We then set about teaching that skill explicitly in our classrooms, but without a unified strategy.  What we didn’t do, in terms of an action research methodology, was articulate our process, or re-assess after we took action, to identify our successes and failures.  We didn’t actually report our action research.
What I take away from this example, in light of what I have learned in ETAD, especially in the course on Educational Research, is that the leadership was there, but it wasn’t seen through to the end.  The leadership wasn’t present enough in the normal time, and so decisions weren’t as decisive in the time of trouble.  
As controversial as Provincial Achievement Test are in our province, the students are required to write them, and they do provide a snapshot of data.  Knowing what I know now, I would actively encourage using an action research methodology in normal times to set a baseline for practice.  Then, in the years where there is trouble with the scores, the precedents are in place, and real action can occur to make improvements.  

Knowing the valley

Yea, though I walk thought the valley of the shadow of death.

The valley.  Education often feels like a valley of doubt that we, as teachers, need to navigate.  We are often in the darkness of uncertainty, financial constraints, program changes and challenging interpersonal relationships.  Educational technology and design sounds like a program about gadgets and flashing things, thats actually what I thought it was to begin with.  It is really about the structures needed to construct the best educational experiences possible.  Curriculum studies focus on the what, ETAD focuses on how we get there.  
The shepherd leader, while in the valley, is focused on how to emerge from the valley safe, but changed.  The shepherd leader needs to recognize the lessons learned in the valley, and must use the lessons to make improvements.  
As I said before, I don’t know if other professions experience the doubt and re-imagining that educators do.  Teachers definitely travel the valleys and peaks regularly.  I held a position for 2 years where I worked in various schools to achieve goals set by the schools, often relating to technology and pedagogy.  Working with over fifty teachers and hundreds of students, I heard their concerns and expectations, their challenges and their achievements.  I had to respond and do my best to lead them to a better understanding of educational technology and a more confidence practice using the technology. It was the biggest valley in my career so far, but as the deepest valley, it is also the greatest peak in terms of what I know about myself and teaching and learning.  As an aspiring shepherd leader, I will always carry this experience with me.
Again, my ETAD experience would have greatly benefitted me at the time.  I have taken comfort in the planning and structures outlined in the practices of Foundations of Educational Technology, Instructional Design, Distance Education, Program Evaluation and Research in Education.  I recognized the instructional need in these schools, and I muddled my way though creating sessions to build competence and confidence.  If only I had already taken the Instructional Design course.  My session would have been better organized and structured to ensure maximum success.  You can’t change the past, but I will carry that knowledge with me forever.  The learning from my ETAD program will help guide me ( and my flock) out of the inevitable valleys we encounter in the future.  

Another characteristic of a shepherd leader according to McCormick & Davenport is being present in the valley AND to be proactive with the flock in navigating the valley.  I’ve said it already and I will reiterate it again.  My path through the ETAD program illuminated valleys in education, through course readings and with the experience sharing of my colleagues.  Each one of the courses I took showed both tangible and abstract strategies to negotiate the challenges in education.  The program has filled my tool box with diverse strategies and ideas.   

Knowing the right path

He leads me in the path of righteousness for his name's sake.

The shepherd always endeavors to lead her flock on the right path.  She uses her knowledge of the needs of her flock, her understanding of the terrain, and her vision of what she desires for her sheep. I see so many parallels I between this ancient shepherd and my own role as a leader among a flock.  As a teacher, I am always searching for the right path, for my students’ in their inquiries, and for myself as I try to constantly bring my best to my job.  Being a scholar in ETAD has not shown me the path, but it has done something much more significant.  It has shown me how to find the path.  I didn’t only learn about the whats and hows of technologies and designs in education, I discovered so much of the underlying reasoning for what we do, and where to look for currents trends and issues.  

McCormick & Davenport explain that the shepherd leader depends on the relationship with their flock for the mutual benefit of all.  The shepherd employs his voice as an essential tool in his leadership.  His flock listens and trusts his voice. 

Finding my voice was one of the biggest challenges I faced as an ETAD scholar.  As I already mentioned, the online community was a major advantage in my learning, but the sense of belonging, accomplishment and worthiness was not instant.  Far from it. I struggled a great deal in the beginning to find my voice and share my knowledge with others.  I believe that I am on the cusp of the generation who puts everything online.  I am a regular user of social networking sites and I like to share and see what the people in my extending community are up to.  In fact, being far away from my large extended family, social networking is a key way that we share big life moments and tender memories with each other.  But, I am not of the mind that I should post every detail of my life, or that my thoughts are witty enough or worthy enough for the wide world to care.  I read a lot on online material, from blogs that relate to my professional life, to inane thoughts and pictures to entertain myself.  
The move from consumer to producer of online content was not easy.  I felt that there were so many other more inspired and insightful educators out there sharing.  What did I, as a veteran teacher of just 7 years, have to contribute?
The change came as I was writing on this blog as part of an assignment.  To that point, I had been writing just to fulfill my course requirement.  I posted my blog on my Facebook site to get some traffic to the site, which was a requirement.  I didn’t think anyone would actually want to read what I was writing, except for those close to me, as a favour.  To my surprise, a student in a B.Ed program reposted my link, and encouraged her classmates to check it out. From then on, the purpose of my writing changed.  I knew I did have something to say to those in preservice education.  My struggles and learnings were relevant to what they were about to face as new teachers.  From then on, I realized that I could share some insight and that someone might find a kernel of inspiration in what I was saying.
Finding my voice in the ETAD program has brought me the confidence to share all the knowledge and insights I have gained from my professors and colleagues with those I work closely with.  My shepherd voice is not an authoritative shout, but a comforting invitation along the journey.  The journey I take is informed and guided by the tools and knowledge I have encountered along my ETAD path.