Thursday, February 13, 2014

The Long March to Spring

     Sitting here at my keyboard on a snowy New Jersey day, I reflect back on the first snowfall of the winter in mid-December,( which was actually Fall) and I remember thinking that either it was going to be a one shot deal and a mild winter would follow, or that the early storm was an ominous sign of things to come.  Several Winter Storms and countless days of  below average cold temperatures have resolved matters with brutal clarity. While the endless "Winter of 2014" continues to be one of historic consequence, I continue to find ways to ignore the "winter doldrums" and look for ways to march towards Spring, where conditions will ultimately, vastly improve. The comfort has been found in growing my PLN on Twitter, reading inspirational literature and continuing to feed my passion for writing, through "blogging".
     In mid December which ironically coincided  with the arrival of the first snow storm, I began to research the value of Twitter as an educational tool. Within weeks I was not only gathering resources to strengthen my craft but I was also providing contributions for others, as I began to develop my PLN. (Professional Learning Network) Over the past two months as I have watched the network grow to include, authors, publishers, military officers, educational administrators, and classroom leaders, I become consistently more and more impressed by the quality of people that have decided to hop on board and make a contribution.  I am  indeed fortunate to be able to learn from their, experience, wisdom and leadership. Members of my PLN are not only successful educators but also accomplished authors and their message has provided both inspiration and the opportunity for professional growth.
     Within the past several weeks I have had the opportunity to connect with several different amazing books and authors. One that will not soon rest on my book shelf, is Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess.  In Teach Like a Pirate, Dave Burgess promises benefits for both the educator and student, suggesting that his approach will improve student engagement exponentially while transforming the educators life in the process. Burgess understands the risks of burnout for veteran teachers that result from day to day routines. He challenges his readers/educators to "walk the plank" and take risks in order to avoid the day to day monotony,while also keeping the student engaged at all costs.  The books first "hook" is contained within Part I where the focus is on the Pirate System and Philosophy. Here , Burgess discusses the importance of "passion". The reader is forced to examine their own passion for their craft at this point and it is here that the inspiration begins. Part I concludes with the examination of "enthusiasm" and the point is made that even if the content of the lesson is lacking in excitement, all educators are always capable of bringing enthusiasm to the table that will engage their kids.  After setting sail in Part I the reader is truly inspired and eagerly awaits, as Burgess charts the course for Part II.
     In  Part II , Burgess takes on the role of Captain Hook and provides dynamic tried and true engagement strategies for the reader.  The strategies are enclosed in the form of " hooks" both appropriate for the title and also as a method of engagement. The belief is that students will be engaged once the proper hooks are provided.  The inclusion of the hooks in this section are numerous descriptive, detailed and provided on various levels of learning from beginning to more advanced.  The beauty however, is that they can be implemented with immediacy, once one figures how they fit in to their own units. Also in Part II Burgess challenges the educator to take a look at themselves and their own inhibitions. He challenges them to overcome them, in order to provide the most powerful engagement experiences possible for their students. As Part II comes to a close, the educator has a substantial tool box from which to work in order to " hook" and engage their students.
    Part III  signals the end of the journey but questions the destination of the educator. Here Burgess challenges the educator to question their own aspirations. The question he raises is "Do you want to become great"?  He again pushes the reader to overcome their own inhibitions that might get in their way such as "ego" and cautions that "mediocrity will not motivate".  He implores the reader to understand that their own greatness will lead to the greatness of their students and ultimately  he says will allow them as educators to accomplish their true purpose.
     The thing that must not be forgotten by those that read Teach Like a Pirate is that  at the end of the day, its author Dave Burgess is an educator. He understands the daily challenges that we all face,  he understands kids and he knows what it takes to engage and motivate them. He is real! and he is willing to do anything either through his writing or his professional development workshops to improve the quality of education for all stake holders who will ultimately benefit from his efforts.
      While the sound of snow blowers echo in the distance I reflect upon the inspiration gained from Dave Burgess and the other members of my PLN.  I look ahead to the near future with optimism when that sound is replaced by the "crack of the bat", as I march toward spring.

Monday, February 3, 2014

The Potential of Collaboration in the 21st Century

     Ever since humankind began to inhabit the earth, over hundreds of thousands of years ago we have long understood the value of working together.  Whether it be our early ancestors who traveled in bands as hunter-gatherers, or our more modern ancestors who lived in villages, evidence exists to support the notion that our success is a direct result of our ability to work in "collaboration" with others. In the modern world the successful business model works because employees collaborate and work collectively to accomplish goals that are in the best interests of the company. In education, teams of passionate educators are formed, where collaboration occurs in an effort to fulfill a common vision that is established in the best interests of the students. While today's educators have the opportunity to come together and engage in passionate collaboration they don't always have to, due to the advent of social media.
    The twenty first century has brought about new global opportunities for collaboration. Our ability to access Twitter or other forms of social media from the "internet" has created the potential for educators as well as others throughout the world to digitally exchange ideas and acquire resources that pertain to a vast array of content. This has led to unprecedented personal growth for both teachers and administrators that have embraced Twitter and other forms of social media.. Furthermore it has led to the consistent strengthening of their commitment to their craft. The ability for individuals to acquire followers and create Professional Learning Networks, based on their passions, their interests and their ability to provide potential contributions to their followers, has taken the power of Twitter to new heights.  Each follower has the ability to provide resources for others within their network and as the network of followers grows in scope, the size of the collection of resources grows as well.
    The sharing of resources is just one of the many benefits of using social media. Other benefits consist of  "topic chats" ( ie. technology or school culture) with other PLN members, seeking to gain new ideas or perhaps new perspectives.  When all is said and done, the networking opportunities whether in the form of sharing resources or perspective is an excellent form of professional development. Twenty first century collaboration, in the form of social media is immediate,  far reaching and has unlimited growth potential. Anyone who has made a life long investment in education and the future of children will surely reap the benefits of this amazing tool.
    The challenge that we face as educators is how to best share the wealth with our students. How can we guide them towards an understanding of the potential academic benefits of the global peer to peer collaboration that are available through Twitter and other forms of social media? Once we figure this out, then we can help them gain an understanding that Twitter and other forms of social media have an intellectual collaborative value that far exceeds its social benefits..