Going Global: Culture Shock, Convergence, and the Future of Education

Cross-posted on the K12Online Conference blog

I could not be more honored to be the pre-conference keynote speaker for this year’s K12 Online conference!

I have been participating in this annual conference since its inception in 2006 and every year I am amazed at the quality of presentations shared by educators around the world. The opportunity to learn together over the course of the conference (and beyond) is one of the most inspiring and engaging experiences of the year for me. Of course, this year’s lineup is no different!

When I was asked to keynote this year’s event, I knew right away that I wanted my presentation to have a global focus. Thinking back over the course of my ten years of living overseas, I realized that in many ways my exposure to new ways of thinking about technology has been paralleled by some similar learning experiences in the real world. I wanted to explore those links between virtual and real-world perspective shifts, and in the process try to share what I feel is an interesting and unique perspective in the expat mindset.

I’ve also decided to try to practice what I preach and make this presentation a true global collaboration, and although I will be putting together and presenting the final product, I really wanted to make it based on group input. Thankfully, my personal learning network includes a number of outstanding international school educators who’ve been willing to help me in preparing my presentation (thank you!). Right now I’ve gotten a lot of great input and material from (in no particular order):

While these teachers have already sent me fantastic material, I would love to include other perspectives as well. Knowing that the deadline is just over a month away, I’m beginning to put the final pieces together, and would love to hear your thoughts, include your perspectives, and emphasize the power of global collaboration in the final product.

Here’s the presentation overview:

Going Global: Culture Shock, Convergence, and the Future of Education

Everything I need to know about the future of education I learned, not from kindergarten, but from living overseas. Looking at daily life in foreign lands reveals a colorful spectrum of inspiring metaphors for the shifts we need to make in education. Featuring voices from students and teachers from around the globe, this presentation will start with a look through an expatriate’s eyes at some vibrant details of daily life in many lands. Often what we may find initially chaotic, disorienting and strange in other countries can actually spark new ways of thinking about teaching and learning.

Then, again through the voices and viewpoints of teachers and students from all around the world, we’ll examine the unique aptitudes which allow successful expats to thrive in any environment: adaptability, flexibility, the ability to understand differing viewpoints and constructs, and the communications skills to collaborate across cultural, religious and linguistic barriers. These are exactly the skills that future students and teachers will need to confidently enter the digital, global, converging, collaborative world of tomorrow – wherever they might be physically located.

What do you think? Does this sound interesting to you? Are you an expat or Third Culture Kid? Have you or your students participated in a global collaboration? What did you gain from that experience?

How To Connect Your Students Globally

Cross-posted on the TechLearning Advisors Blog

Two weeks after returning from the Flat Classroom Workshop in Hong Kong, I am still inspired and energized about what learning could (and should) look like.

The key component for me was connecting students, both face to face and virtually, from a variety of backgrounds to work together to solve a common problem. Although we might not have the luxury of bringing together diverse groups of students every day, we certainly have the capability to connect them using technology. No matter what subject you teach, I truly believe adding a global component is not only possible, but necessary to prepare students for our increasingly connected world.

As Fernando M. Reimers writes in Leading for Global Competency:

Good educators know that the real world is ever more interconnected and interdependent. We all share in facing such planetary challenges as climate change, health epidemics, global poverty, global economic recessions and trade imbalances, assaults on human rights, terrorism, political instability, and international conflicts. We also share opportunities for global collaboration in such areas as scientific and artistic creation, trade, and international cooperation. These challenges and opportunities define the contours of our lives, even in their most local dimensions. Yet in spite of growing awareness of the importance of developing global skills, few students around the world have the opportunity today to become globally competent.

As exciting and enriching as globally collaborative projects are, it can be a daunting task to start one on your own. Even if you have a great idea, you might not always know how or where to find the right partner(s). Ideally you would know the people you’ll be collaborating with personally before starting a project, but sometimes you don’t have that luxury.

So, here are a few ways you can get started:

Window shopping

These social networks are great places to start looking for teachers who have planned a project and need collaborators, or just a place to see other projects and how they work. I always like to start with a little “window shopping” before I jump into my own project – often someone else has already started something that will work perfectly for me!

Find a Geographic Focus

If you’re looking for a classroom in a specific country or city, try exploring the network of international schools around the world to try to find teachers who might be interested in working with you. These schools are often well-resourced, well-connected in their country, and offer a western-style curriculum. Even if you’re looking for a local school in a different country, international schools can be a great way to start making international contacts. You might want to start with this list of international school teachers who are blogging and/or on Twitter.

Ask the Professionals

A few weeks ago I was honored to be part of a panel on Global Awareness hosted by Lucy Gray and Steve Hargadon. I certainly felt like a small fish in a big pond speaking alongside the directors, presidents, and chairs of so many well-respected and established organizations dedicated to connecting teachers and students around global issues. If you’re looking for an organized, formal connection with other classrooms, these would be a great place to start:

Build Your Own PLN

It can be difficult at first, but developing and expanding your own personal learning network may end up being the most rewarding professional development of your career. Connecting regularly with individuals and groups that can push your thinking, support your learning, and collaborate on projects both in and out of the classroom means that you are learning what you need, when you need it.

Last week, I had the opportunity to participate in the plenary session of the AIS ICT Integration Conference coordinated and led by Chris Betcher. As a member of the closing session, alongside 5 other amazing educators – Sharon Peters, Matt Montagne, Toni Twiss, Tom Barrett, and
Cindy Barnsley – I noticed that all of us described using technology to make a positive impact on the world.
These are the people I want to be learning with! And it all starts with simple steps – commenting on blog posts, participating in online conferences, joining regular online live events. These two posts might help you get started:

Jump In!

Once you have an idea that will work and a classroom (or two) to connect with, get started! This post outlines the process I go through when beginning a new project: A Step-by-Step Guide to Globally Collaborative Projects.

Final Thoughts

Oftentimes, when I’m working with teachers new to technology, I end up suggesting a project idea which is easy, fast, and convenient, just to ensure that they (and their students) have a successful experience. But, now, after leading the Flat Classroom Workshop, participating on the Global Awarenes Panel, and joining the AIS ICT Integration Conference, I’m reminded that these globally collaborative skills and experiences are critical. Even if global projects are not always the easiest or the fastest to plan, and even if they don’t always work out perfectly, this is what we need to be doing with students and teachers on a regular basis. With the right approach, using technology in the classroom can be about making the world a better place.

Works Cited

Reimers, Fernando M. “Teaching for the 21st Century: Leading for Global Competency.” Educational Leadership, ASCD, September 2009, Volume 67, Number 1.

Peace on Earth image by cayusa

The World of International Schools

When I tell people back home in the US that I’m teaching in Thailand, they usually assume I teach English to Thai children. When I try to explain by saying “no, I teach at an international school”, I’m often met with a blank stare.

Understandable enough – before moving overseas, I never realized that there was a network of English-speaking American (or Canadian, Australian/New Zealand or British) curriculum schools all around the world. I have now worked at three international schools in three countries – Germany, Malaysia, and Thailand – and I often receive questions about where I work and how to start working overseas.

So, I thought I’d share some very basic information about this type of school for those who aren’t familiar with them.

What is an international school?

International schools are private schools serving mostly expatriate children (diplomats, multinational corporation executives, NGO staff), and usually some local families (that can afford the steep tuition). Student population is usually diverse, with students from many different countries. Most schools offer grades PK – 12 (ages 5 – 18), but some are restricted to high school or primary school, depending on the needs of the population.

International schools usually choose to follow a curriculum model from the US, UK, Canada or Australia/New Zealand. Sometimes you can tell by the name of the school (like the American School of Dubai) but others are more ambiguous (like the International School Bangkok). Still others choose to pull from all different curriculum options, finding the mix that best suits their student population.

Many international schools also choose to run the International Baccalaureate program, which consists of the IB Primary Years Program, IB Middle Years Program and the IB Diploma Program. Schools which run all three are referred to as IB World Schools. Usually students from international schools attend top universities around the world due to the high quality of their education, advanced placement and/or IGCSE course offerings, and test preparation (for US universities).

The language of instruction is usually English, but you can often find German, French, Japanese or other international-style schools in major capital cities as well. There is usually at least one international school in the major cities of every country in the world. Here in Bangkok we have over 90 “international” schools, although, as I will explain later, some are less international than others.

International schools are usually affiliated with other schools in their region by the following associations:

What are the differences between schools?

Every international school (with a few exceptions) is its own entity. Even though I’m using the term “network” here, they aren’t really connected to each other. What might be common practice in one school could be unheard of in another.

One of the biggest differences between international schools is their management/ownership. There are really two types of schools: non-profit, board governed schools and privately owned (usually for-profit) schools. It’s well worth checking in detail which kind of school you’re investigating as the management/ownership can have a huge impact on educational practices within the school.

It’s also worth noting that schools labeled “international,” “American,”etc, are not always such. It’s common practice in many countries (especially developing countries) to label privately owned, for-profit schools, “international” to secure native-English speaking teachers and to provide a high standard of education to local (usually wealthy) children. Although these schools often do provide a more international-style education, the student body is not usually as diverse as you would find in true international schools.

Who are the teachers at these schools?

Teachers in international schools are very diverse, as schools often make an effort to hire a mix of nationalities and ages. Most are native English speakers, but certainly not all. You will find teachers who have been overseas almost their entire career working alongside teachers who spent many years teaching in their home country before choosing to move abroad.

Interestingly, schools usually prefer teaching couples, where both spouses work at the same school, so it is quite common to be working with families where both parents are your colleagues and their children are your students. This helps build a close community, ensures that teachers have some stability in their lives (moving to a new country is stressful), and provides the most economic method of hiring and employing foreigners.

Teacher contracts are usually for 2 years initially, and then will be renewed on a year-by-year basis (though some also renew for two years). It’s fairly common to stay at a school for just two years, although plenty choose to stay much longer.

How do teachers get jobs in international schools?

This is rapidly changing as both Rhonda and Jeff have explained so well (so I won’t do it all over again). It’s worth noting that the “traditional” method of finding a job is still effective, and may be the best choice for teachers new to the international school network.

In the past, the majority of teachers would be hired at a job fair, the two major fair operators are International School Services and Search Associates (also COIS operates a fair as well as UNI and several others). Each company provides pre-screening for potential employers by requiring a detailed application process (plus fee). The companies then provide detailed listings of available jobs via a database. Finally, they organize “job fairs” in several locations around the world beginning in early January (usually Bangkok, Dubai, London, NY/Boston, San Francisco, and Philadelphia – but the locations change year by year).

The job fair is an intense experience, usually resulting in an emotional rollercoaster from moment to moment. You can walk in on the first day expecting to land a job in one region of the world, and walk out on the third day heading to an entirely different country (or, sometimes, without a job at all). Julie and Clay shared their ups and downs from the Bangkok fairs this year – so many of those points could have easily described my experiences at past fairs as well.

Most of these schools operate entirely independent of each other (though there are a few that are connected), so getting hired at one school does not ensure that you’ll be hired at another. Each school is privately owned and operated and some are more highly respected than others, so it’s worth investigating a school’s reputation before accepting an offer. However, it’s also worth noting that many school directors, principals and teachers move from school to school, bringing their previous connections with them.

What are the benefits of working in international schools?

The main benefit of teaching at an international school is going to work every day in a diverse and stimulating foreign cultural environment, with the chance to explore new places during every holiday break. As if the travel were not enough, there are tons of additional benefits to teaching overseas.

For starters, the less developed a country is, the more benefits schools usually offer, including: free (often furnished) housing, utilities paid for by the school, free tuition for children of teachers, annual flights to your home of record, shipping allowance, transportation allowance, Cost of Living Allowance (COLA), and local taxes paid for by the school.

Most schools offer comprehensive health insurance, transportation at the beginning and end of your contract, and a professional development fund. All of these benefits vary widely, usually dependent on the location of the school (for example, most schools in Italy offer a limited benefits package because so many people want to live there).

On the professional side, most international schools are very learning focused and provide extensive professional development for teachers, expectations are usually high, as is support for teachers. These schools are usually very well resourced in terms of both technology needs and teaching supplies and resources.

Of course, all of this is very general and should not be viewed as fact for every international school. This is just my opinion/perception of teaching overseas and working in international schools after 9 years abroad.

What other questions do you have about international schools? International school teachers, what did I miss in my basic overview here?

International School Teachers Roundup!

A few weeks before our semester break, I wrote a post called International School Teachers Connect! in the hopes of discovering more international school teachers (those teaching outside of their home country in a school catering to expatriate families) on Twitter (or blogging).

Amazingly, within just a few days dozens of teachers had joined the Twitter group I created and left their contact details via this Google Form (please feel free to add yourself if you haven’t already). As of today, there are 65 teachers listed! Wow!

As promised, here is an organized list of all of the teachers in international schools who responded. Please add yourself in the comments or on the Google Form if you’re teaching outside of your home country in a school for expatriate children!

Note: I linked the names of teachers to their blogs (if listed) and their Twitter @username to their profiles (if listed):

Asia

China

Korea

Vietnam

Japan

Thailand

Singapore

Malaysia

India

Indonesia

Taiwan

Middle East/Central Asia

Qatar

Oman

Khazakhstan

Latin America

Mexico

Brazil

Argentina

Europe

Spain

Switzerland

It’s certainly interesting to see how many of these teachers are in the Asia region. I wonder if that’s because that’s where I am, and I was the one who sent the request, or if schools in Asia are more tech-savvy than those in other regions of the world?

With recruiting season upon us, it seems like a great time to connect with other international school teachers around the world! These are the people that can give you the greatest insight into life in a new country and working at a new school. There’s nothing better than actually knowing people at the schools you’re interested in to make an informed decision about where to go.

Having said that, I know there are loads more international school teachers on Twitter and maintaining a blog, so please, add yourself in the comments or to the Google Form!

International School Teachers Connect!

This weekend I discovered TweetDeck and I am totally in love! (Yes, I am late to the party with this one @JavaJive, Jeff showed it to me ages ago, but better late than never, right?).

As you may know, I am obsessively organized (often mocked for the obscene amount of folders I have for storing old e-mails) so the fact that I can actually organize my twitter friends is just about the best thing since sliced bread. All weekend, I’ve been categorizing and organizing all my twitter friends into convenient groupings – so much easier to follow what I want to follow, instead of just what rises to the top!

One of my fun new groups is “International Teachers.” I had been following quite a few teachers that I know personally, but being able to categorize them in TweetDeck has helped me find dozens more just this weekend – and now they’re all nicely organized into my “International Teachers” group, so when they post something new, I notice right away.

I love connecting with international school teachers, because even though our day-to-day experiences may be very different, we all share the common bond of teaching overseas, our schools are often very similar, and it’s amazing the number of times we will cross paths during our careers – despite the fact that we may currently be on opposite sides of the planet!

In an amazing coincidence, I woke up this morning (far too early, I might add), to see that Lucy and Vicki had found TwittGroups, a way to create groups of Twitterers with a common interest (Lucy started one for Apple Distinguished Educators Worldwide and Vicki started one for Teachers).

I figured this would be a great way to find even more international school teachers, so I created a group for us! I’m not so sure how this works yet, but even if it just ends up being an opt-in listing of international school teachers, this would be a great way to connect and find more international colleagues in one central place. Please, join!

I’m also curious about international school teachers that are blogging. I’ve been organizing (of course) my Google Reader account as well, and I have an “international teachers” folder that I’d love to add more feeds to – I just need to find them!

It’s amazing to see how we’re all connected – despite being so widely spread across the globe – connecting with one international school teacher in one city begins an amazing chain reaction of so many others in that city, and then their connections around the world. I love it!

Is there a central place where I can find a listing of international school teachers who are blogging? If not, anyone want to share some links in the comments here? I’ll be sure to write a follow up post with links to all the bloggers and twitterers that share! What a great way to connect with our fellow international school teachers!

Update: I just had a brainwave! I’ve been wanting to try out Google Forms for a while, so I just made one for international school teachers to share their blog and twitter info. If you’d like to be listed, please fill out the form here and check for the results here. Looking forward to connecting with even more international school teachers!

Amongst the Flags by thadman

The University That Comes to You!

One of my favorite things about working in international schools is the consistent, quality professional development on offer. Because we are, in many ways, isolated from the wealth of PD offerings available in our home country, we get to pick and choose exactly what we want and bring it to us!

This year ISB is offering a very exciting Certificate of Educational Technology and Information Literacy course through Buffalo State, State University of New York (SUNY). Not only is this course a direct reflection of the work we have been doing on our ISB21 Team, but we get to teach it as well!

The course will be a direct reflection of our vision of the 21st century learner:

Here’s the general outline of the 5-course certificate program:

Course 1: Information Literacy and Ourselves as Learners:

A foundation course, introducing learners to the methods of information literacy in the 21st century. Independent learning requires that students and teachers are able to evaluate the authenticity, relevance and bias of information that inundates us. Tools and strategies for teachers and students for accessing, filtering, evaluating and applying information will be addressed. This course will address meta-cognition and an awareness of how we learn in a digital landscape. Students will be provided with strategies for reflective practice and using prior knowledge to build understanding and deal with new technology will be incorporated in the course.

Course 2: 21st Century Literacy Ideas, Questions, and Issues:

The 21st Century learner has been bombarded with new technology, access to wide ranging global communication, and a plethora of information. Accompanying this new world of learning are ethical, moral, social, and emotional considerations that are changing the way in which our students are interfacing with the world. This course will explore current issues inherent in our technological world.

Course 3: Visual Literacy: Effective Communicators and Creators:

The curriculum of design and attention to aesthetics has always been the property of the visual arts, however as so much our media is now consumed and created electronically a new set of visual literacies have emerged. Awareness of how an audience interacts with that medium and how to take advantage of this to strengthen their message or purpose for communication will be addressed.

Course 4: Technology: A Catalyst for Learning

Research based best practice for the embedded use of technology for learning will be shared and practiced. The focus will be on the habits that provide students with the ability to use technology for its greatest learning advantage. The best use of laptop computers, Smart boards, etc will be addressed as embedded tools to foster optimum learning of the curriculum. The optimal use of communication tools such as podcasts, blogs, nings, wikis, and voice threads will be addressed with tips for management and strategies to promote maximum learning in classrooms.

Course 5: Alive in the Classroom: Applied Web 2.0 Technology for Learning

The course will be about the classroom application, and reflection on the use of web 2.0 technology in the classroom. Participants will be asked to create a plan for the embedded use of technology to foster learning, share with the group and offer feedback on their cohorts’ embedded use of technology for learning. Did the use of technology lead to deeper learning?

Each course will focus on specific ISTE NETS For Teachers as they relate to our Enduring Understandings and Essential Questions for the 21st century learner.

Jeff and I will be teaching the first course starting in January 2009 (more details here). We’re looking at running 3 face-to-face Saturday sessions between late January and the end of February, and also offering several evening sessions via Elluminate to bring in some experts in the field and to make authentic use of online professional development tools.

Dennis and Chad will be teaching the second course from March – April 2009, and then we’ll most likely pick up again with the third course in the fall of 2009, with the goal of finishing the full certificate program by the end of the 2009-2010 school year.

We had our first introductory meeting with staff last week to see how many teachers would be interested in participating and the room was packed! It’s exciting and inspiring to see how many of our teachers are ready to jump into this kind of course. It will be very interesting to see how this course further develops our growing grassroots professional learning community. I can’t wait to get started!

Have you ever taught or taken a course like this? What advice do you have for us?

K12 Online LAN Party in Bangkok

Inspired by Silvia, Johnathan and Simon, Chrissy and I will be hosting a K12 Online LAN (local area network) party this Saturday morning at my apartment in downtown Bangkok. Unfortunately we’re a little late getting started because of the way our October break fell on the school calendar this year, but we are no less enthusiastic!

Already we have some of my amazing colleagues joining us: Heather, Sara, Ali, Tara, and of course Chrissy and I. I was fortunate to also attend a meeting of Bangkok international school librarians yesterday afternoon and hope to see a few of those familiar faces Saturday morning. I wish I knew more of my fellow teachers here in the city – given that there are over 90 international schools in Thailand, I would guess that we have a captive audience. It’s just a matter of getting the word out!

So, earlier this week, I sent around the following e-mail to all of my colleagues at ISB and to as many fellow international school teachers as I know here in Thailand:

Dear Fabulous Colleagues,


As some of you may know, there is an amazing (and totally free) conference happening online right now! It’s called the K12Online conference and it features digital presentations (videos, podcasts, wikis, VoiceThreads) by some of the leading minds in 21st century learning.

Topics range from project-based learning, to using video conferencing in the classroom, to connecting students through global projects, to dealing with the rapid pace of technological change as a classroom teacher, and more.

All of these presentations are described and posted online at the conference website: http://k12onlineconference.org/

But wait, there’s more!

Chrissy Hellyer (grade 5 teacher) and I would like to invite you to a K12Online Local Area Network pot-luck brunch party on Saturday, November 8th from 10:00 – noon to watch the best of the best presentations and discuss how we can use these new ideas in our teaching.
What: A mind-bending, inspiring, and energizing conversation about new teaching and learning practices based on a variety of K12Online presentations
When: Saturday November 8th from 10:00 am – noon (and now you’re already downtown for a day of shopping and dining in the city!)
Where: Kim’s apartment, downtown Bangkok
Why: to get geeked! And to enjoy a delicious pot-luck brunch!

I will download all of the presentations so that we can watch as many as we want and everyone can walk away with all of the presentations to watch when you have time.

We would also love to open this up to other international school teachers here in Bnagkok, so if you know any other teachers that might be interested in attending, please pass it on!

Please let us know if you’re planning on coming so we can prepare 🙂

Kim and Chrissy

So if you’re teaching here in Bangkok, or just happen to be in the city (it’s amazing how many people come through Bangkok on a regular basis), or even if you’re not, we would absolutely love to have you join us – either in person or via Skype!

Anyone have any suggestions for how to host this kind of party? I barely even have any wall space to project the presentations on to… I definitely need to start thinking logistics!

First Steps Toward Becoming a 21st Century Educator

Recently I was asked to write an article for the European Council of International Schools Shortcuts Newsletter about using web 2.0 tools to develop professional learning communities for international school teachers, at an introductory level. Having just finished giving a presentation on that very topic in Qatar, I, of course, had lots to say (not quite as eloquently as others, unfortunately).

As usual, I figured I would share it here… Though if you’re reading this, you’ve probably already developed your very own (and totally fabulous) PLN, so any advice or tips you can add would be greatly appreciated!

The 21st Century Educator: Embracing Web 2.0 Tools in Your Professional Practice

After working as an international school teacher for the past eight years, I am all too familiar with the isolation of teaching abroad – being the school’s only teacher of a certain class or grade level, having limited professional development opportunities compared to your home country, and being without a support network for feedback and inspiration.

However, all of that changed when I started to embrace web 2.0 tools in my professional practice. I went from isolated and alone to supported and inspired in just a few short months! The power of web 2.0 technologies to help me communicate, collaborate and connect with like-minded educators amazes and inspires me. In all honesty, I have learned more in the last year and a half than I had in the previous six and a half years combined.

The development of a personal learning network (or PLN) is absolutely essential for any successful 21st century educator. This interconnected network of learners whom you select based on interests, skills, or experience will soon become an integral part of your daily learning and thinking.

Here are a few tips and tricks to get started developing your own personal learning network:

Join a Social Network

We’ve all heard of MySpace and Facebook, and while those are great ways to connect with friends and colleagues, an even better place to start is a social network with a focus, like Ning. There are quite a few networks on Ning that center around teaching and learning. Here are a few of my favorites:

Set up an RSS Reader

Once you’ve gotten a taste of all the amazing work that is being done by educators around the world, you’ll most likely want to keep up with those teachers you find especially interesting or insightful. The best way to do that is using an RSS reader like Google Reader or Netvibes.

Once you’ve set it up, your RSS reader will aggregate all of the new posts on those fantastic blogs in one place – like an e-mail inbox for websites and blogs. Instead of scrambling around trying to find all the best new posts, just sit back and let them come to you! Another excellent development is the new “shared” feature in Google Reader, which brings all of your address book contacts’ favorite posts into one place in your RSS reader.

For those who prefer listening to reading, Apple’s iTunes Store provides perhaps the easiest way to download and listen to the huge selection of educational podcasts available online – for free, of course!

Attend Amazing Conferences (For Free!)

Over the past few years more and more conferences are either happening entirely online, or offering unrestricted content from physical conferences online, using web 2.0 tools. These conferences utilize social networks like Ning, blogs, wikis, podcasts and vodcasts as a format for presenters to share their work.

Instead of requiring attendees to physically fly to a central location, all presentations are posted in a central place – available anytime, anywhere – for free! Not only is this a great way to learn about new techniques for your 21st century classroom, but you can also see a wide variety of web 2.0 tools in practice. Here are a few highlights for the upcoming school year:

Become a Blogger (and a Twitterer)

Once you’ve gotten an idea of the web 2.0 world in education, you may want to add your voice to the mix. Everyone has something different to offer and there is an audience for every author in the demographic “Long Tail” of global education. In order to really bring your network together, you will need to share your own thoughts and learnings with your PLN.

Blogs and Twitter go hand in hand. A blog is the perfect space for thoughtful reflection, a place to connect your learning and create something new. Twitter is a powerful tool for sharing quick snippets of your thinking, for connecting with others, and for widening your information consumption a little bit at a time.

Develop Personal Connections

There are many free, web-based tools to help you connect with your PLN through video or audio chatting. Many expats already take advantage of the free, and very easy to use VoIP provider, Skype, but there are many more ways to connect to your network. A venture into Second Life could be a great way to meet more teachers and explore new potential teaching tools. Services like FlashMeeting, WizIQ and Elluminate offer comprehensive options for teaching and learning together – with your PLN, and potentially with your classes.

Embracing the power of web 2.0 is as simple as having an open mind and a sense of adventure. There is more to see, hear and experience than one person could ever consume. Take a look around, you’re guaranteed to find exactly what you need, right when you need it!

Note: Of course as soon as I sent the article off, I realized I had forgotten a few key things like social bookmarking, and some helpful books I read before I started. What else am I missing?

Tags: 21stcentury, internationalschool, 21st century literacy, technology, curriculum, development, professional development, training, web2, teachers, ECIS, Shortcuts, PLN, network,

Making the Shift Happen

Sometimes it’s hard to believe that this is the third international school I’ve worked in – and the third school that I’ve helped shift from the “computer class” mindset to an “integrated” technology program. In all honesty, it’s quite amazing to me that every school I’ve worked in has very similar problems, very similar history in terms of technology education, and very similar ideas of where they want to go. And the majority of the staff has the same fears, concerns and questions about how this “new” technology environment will function.

What’s really interesting to me is that:

  • If all of these schools are facing similar issues, why isn’t there a common process or framework to work through them? Why aren’t we more actively sharing (and I don’t mean the individuals contributing here on the blogosphere, where sharing is the name of the game), I mean the schools themselves. We’re all linked by accrediting bodies, councils, etc., why isn’t there any help or insight offered through those networks? Is it competition?
  • If all these schools are working through these issues – some sooner than others (MIS started in 2001 – and I’m sure they weren’t the first), why isn’t there a common understanding of what needs to be done to move forward? Why does it always feel like reinventing the wheel every time we move to a new school?
  • If the group of international school teachers is a closely connected network, and let’s face it, it really is, why aren’t more teachers arriving at schools with some background in this model of teaching and learning and anxiously paving the way for those teachers that may not have transitioned as recently? Why are we always selling this idea like we’re the first ones to ever think of it? Shouldn’t most of our new teachers (and possibly administrators) have experience in this model already?

As you could expect, each of the schools I’ve worked at has approached this transition a little differently – from administrators mandating change, to allowing the enthusiasm of a smaller group to push the thinking of the whole, to strategically placing influential and enthusiastic teachers in positions of leadership. No matter what the model, I do think there are some commonalities that must be addressed when making the shift to a 21st century learning environment.

Vision & Philosophy

Given the fact that we all need to work together to make change happen, it only seems logical that we need a uniting vision and shared understanding of the goal we’re trying to reach (see: example vision). Expecting teachers to change their practice, without providing a thought-out vision and philosophy for why they should change will only result in frustration. In order to work towards a common goal you need to ensure that all staff have a shared understanding of the school’s vision. Staff buy-in from all levels is essential to the success of institutionalizing this type of change. There are lots of places to get started thinking about this kind of vision, from the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, to NCREL, to TechLearning, to the Alabama Best Practice Center, to Apple, to AT&T, to Information Fluency, to the 21st Century Learning Initiative, to the AASL, to all of the wonderful edubloggers that are sharing their vision and their school practice.

Leadership

Although it would be absolutely wonderful if change could spontaneously happen because teachers have a shared vision for their future, the reality is that, at some point, school leadership needs to clarify and confirm that this is the direction the school is heading. There needs to be an official acknowledgment of the vision and philosophy and clear expectations that change will happen. I’ve heard plenty of teachers say, “if the Head of School doesn’t tell me to do it, it means I don’t have to do it.” Right or wrong, that’s the reality of our schools. We have school leadership for a reason: they help us steer the ship, and they define our course. We look to them for the priorities – and they need to take the responsibility to share them with us.

Paradigm Shift and Transparency

Along with a clear vision and philosophy for why this shift is so important and what your desired outcomes are, you also need to develop a clear framework which details exactly what the roles are for each individual involved (see: example framework). From teachers, to teams, to coordinators, to facilitators, to administration – each person on staff will be responsible for some aspect of this transition and they need to know how they fit into the bigger picture. From roles and responsibilities to the process of putting this vision into practice, this framework needs to be completely transparent to all stakeholders (including parents). We all share a common need to understand where we fit in the big picture – laying it all out for everyone involved just ensures that everyone has the same picture.

Curriculum & Professional Development

Embedding this new model for teaching and learning into the curriculum development process is a natural way to institutionalize change – if it becomes part of our curriculum, it becomes part of our teaching and learning practice. As new aspects of curricular units which authentically embed technology are collaboratively planned, these changes need to be clearly documented in a shared curriculum mapping tool (whether it’s Rubicon-Atlas or a wiki – the tool doesn’t matter, as long as the changes are clear and visible).

Along with shifting curriculum practices, teachers will need professional development support through technical training, pedagogical training, mentorship, outside voices, on-site experts, and one-on-one support. This could include the establishment of a professional learning network for teachers like Julie Lindsay has done at Qatar Academy, or it could be the creation of streamlined and consistent professional development like we have running at ISB, or developing a formal teacher-mentor program.

Staffing & Equipment

All of this thinking and learning will, sadly, be lost without the personnel and technical resources to make your vision a reality. Although schools usually (but not always) see the need to increase software and hardware purchases, oftentimes, because the expectation is shifting to embedding technology within the core curriculum, staffing can be overlooked. Why would we hire someone with no teaching load – someone who just “helps” people all day? Unfortunately, without the human support (which can range from being a teaching model in the classroom, to curricular or pedagogical support, to technical support, to a “safety blanket”) the technological troubles can end up feeling insurmountable for teachers new to this model of teaching and learning – exactly what you don’t want.

Infrastructure and Communication

Once staffing and equipment are sufficient, clear infrastructure and communication strategies need to be put in place. Who to contact for technology support, or how to book the school’s hardware or peripheral equipment, or where to find the latest information about available resources all needs to be documented, explained and demonstrated to all stakeholders, and then utilized effectively over the course of the school year. Having resources and knowing how to access them or how to get support are all very different things. Oftentimes technical troubles become emergencies simply because the lines of communication or infrastructure are unclear.

Resources

To help teachers and administrators cope with the rapid pace of technological change, developing easy to use resources (like “how to” sheets for both students and teachers, or common rubrics and assessment tools) can make the use of new tools far less intimidating. Keeping these kind of resources in a central location where they can be accessed any time and adapted based on individual teacher’s needs is essential – as is promoting and sharing the usefulness and success of these types of documents. Creating a school-wide technology toolbox takes the pressure off the teachers and allows the experts in each area to shine.

Reflection and Adaptation

No matter how well you plan, it’s only to be expected that we will all face very different individual situations, and anyone trying to implement something new needs to be aware that challenges will need to be faced. It’s an important skill to be able to quickly identify problems or concerns and face them head on. Whether it’s parental questions or difficulties among teachers, it’s important to expect the unexpected and to have adaptive, self-reflective, and changing strategies for dealing with the causes of roadblocks or problems.

Another important aspect of reflection is sharing our successes. Finding consistent ways to publicize success – not only within the school, but also to the wider school community, helps teachers gain confidence, explore new areas of teaching and learning, and promote positive attitudes towards this change. We can often get bogged down with solving problems, but sometimes the solution is sharing success.

Working through these challenges at three different schools in three different countries and cultures, I’ve realized that you really do need all of these pieces in place in order to ensure that change happens and, perhaps more importantly, that new paradigms stay in place after the initial push to change has passed. We all know that passionate voices can inspire and propel change, but what happens when those voices move on? As one of those passionate voices myself, I want to ensure that any changes I help create become a part of the daily life of the school.

I’m sure there are other pieces to this complex puzzle that I forgot. What am I missing?

Tags: 21stcentury, internationalschool, flatclassroom, classroom, 21st century literacy, globalcitizens, collaboration, learning, creating, vision, philosophy, understanding, framework, embed, technology, curriculum, planning, development, professional development, training

The Outside Voice

Two weeks ago I had the absolute pleasure of traveling to Doha, Qatar as a consultant for Qatar Academy. I have to admit, it was a little ironic, being invited to speak about 21st Century Literacy at the school where Julie Lindsay is Head of Information Technology. I mean, really, who knows better about 21st Century Literacy and global collaborations than the co-founder of the Flat Classroom Project? She’s the one mentioned in The World is Flat, not me!

But, that’s the interesting thing about schools, isn’t it? Working together day in and day out, we often lose sight of the experts in our own midst, and can’t see the trees for the forest, so to speak.

One common remedy for this problem, in international schools, is to bring in some new trees every year. We spend about 6 months out of the school year actively recruiting the absolute best of the best, selecting the top candidates in their field, interviewing and weeding through the hundreds of applicants for each position. Then we proudly share our spectacular staffing for the coming year, ensuring that everyone both inside and outside of school knows what amazing new teachers we have on board.

And then the new year comes, those outstanding new hires get to work, prove themselves, show their stuff, and by October or so they’re part of the institution. Everyone’s heard their message, their voices become routine, their ideas stitched into the fabric of daily life at school.

Unfortunately, sometimes it takes a little longer than those first few months to create change, sometimes it takes a little more than those first few months to really get that message across, sometimes those first few months go by in a blur and you’ve really only scratched the surface. Yet once someone is established within the daily routine of a school, their voice becomes less powerful to those who work in close proximity to them.

So how should schools go about fostering constant change and growth within the faculty, if, as seems to be the case, even expert teachers gradually stop feeling energized by each other’s ideas the longer they work together? The answer can’t be to simply wait for the new hires to inject some excitement every autumn. Schools need to keep their teams of teachers working productively for personal and institutional change throughout the year, whether they’ve been working together in the trenches for two years – or twenty.

That’s where the power of the “outside voice” can really make a difference. There’s something special about having someone who doesn’t sit in all the faculty meetings, who you don’t see in the hallway every single day. There’s something exciting about knowing that there are other “experts” that are recommending the same thing that your stellar staff are talking about. There’s something enticing about that “outside voice.”

So, although I am fairly certain that I didn’t say anything that Julie hasn’t already said, and while I know that there are a number of amazing staff at QA that have been working diligently on the exact type of issues I raised during my two days on campus, I think that my “outside voice” was able to make an impact – just by virtue of the fact that it was an outside voice.

Julie and I talked about creating a network of “outside voices” that can come and inject some excitement into our international schools. Teachers who are currently in the classroom, working with these tools every day, who know the ups and downs and ins and out of teaching and learning in a 21st century classroom in an international setting. Instead of (or in addition to) sending groups of teachers out to conferences, from which new information can be filtered back to the rest of the staff, what if we brought these practicing experts in, to deliver a consistent message to the whole staff within the comfort of their daily working environment, with their tools and their on-site experts? What if we could rotate through each other’s schools, presenting and consulting on our individual areas of expertise, ensuring that the momentum that starts each August continues through until June every year? What if all of the teachers in our schools (those with an RSS reader, and those without) could benefit, in person, from the learning that some of us read about online every day?

What do you think?

Image 1 from docman
Image 2 from hebedesign

Tags: julie lindsay, qatar academy, 21stcentury, consultant, professional development, training, internationalschool,  21st century literacy, collaboration, learning, creating, vision, philosophy, understanding, framework, embed, technology, curriculum, planning, development, professional development, training