Greedy for blogs!

In the last year at work/, we’ve formed at least three new professional learning groups that extend beyond our one school and take in other local schools with similar goals and projects. Inevitably, these networks mean even more after-school committee meetings, but the value of the results these groups can produce, means it’s usually well work the time invested.

On Friday, I found myself volunteering to create another blog for the teachers, teacher-librarians and consultants involved in two of the groups – this one a little more in-house in theme, purpose and audience/participants, so I won’t be promoting the URL far and wide at this point, although if it takes off it may well find a niche beyond its original brief. It’s only very early days yet.

Essentially, it’s a blog about our school (and other schools in our learning support group)’s quest to select, purchase and efficiently utilise interactive whiteboards (IWBs) in our school programs. I had suggested to the network that involving ourselves in some group projects would be a great way to support each other, proactively on several learning journeys with the IWBs. Me and my big mouth. (A new wiki activity just wasn’t enough!)

As my third blog (fourth if I count helping out with the Wilfrid rap blog last term), I was astounded how quickly I could go to Edublogs, throw together a few pieces of already-created information and have a slick-looking set of posts, attachments, links and models of previous examples in about an hour, with a few hours of after-work tinkering to get the presentation looking user-friendly.

It’s empowering!

Where’s that whiteboard?

Chalk up another one for the subtle art of networking and being proactive.

Our school is soon to be granted funding to spend – as wisely as we can – on interactive whiteboard (IWB) technology: the latest whiz bang piece of seemingly essential school hardware, which is an important tool to have in the school library, especially for maximum usage in collaborating teaching situations.

Of course, the decision making process, about where such expensive hardware can go, and who will have ready access to it, is not going to be easy. Our library is made up of portable building modules, and has a very low ceiling and a shaky floor to boot. The other obvious location for an IWB is outside the senior classrooms – and upstairs, thus making transport upstairs and downstairs highly unlikely. But up there, we are also cursed: by incredibly high ceilings.

About a week ago, I heard that a gathering of local area teacher representatives of schools would be soon meeting to discuss some strategies for incorporating an interactive whiteboard in each school. At first, I quietly panicked that I wouldn’t be invited; two staff members were already going. I began devising a set of points for why I might be able to attend as well – but I needn’t have worried. During a staff meeting yesterday, the forthcoming gathering was mentioned and someone asked, “Is Ian going to that?”

I’m feeling rather chuffed. I didn’t have to even consider a cap-in-hand routine. The staff wanted me to be there and, so it turns out, did the others going to the meeting. It would have been easier to be all negative, dash off to a listserv and complain loudly, but I sat on my hands just long enough to realise that all my subtle lobbying was vindicated. My old adage of “If one keeps proving one’s worth in a school, then one will be included in important decision making” holds firm.

Further to all that, I was also asked (earlier in the week), if I wanted the library mentioned specifically in the Annual School Report. Although I’d contributed several important bits last year, the idea of putting all of the library’s contributions to improved student outcomes under one heading is very exciting. So now I can mention our exciting new wiki, our outstanding achievements in the Premier’s Reading Challenge, the two 2007 book raps, the local newspaper’s book review program, and many other things, all in one place! Of course, now I have to write it.

The IWB meeting was on this afternoon. I’m very pleased I was able to put in a good word for the benefits of book raps, blogs, wikis, and collaborative teaching with teacher-librarians in relation to maximising the use of IWBs. I also backed the suggestion that, if the schools in our group were to work on a communal project of some kind, with a shared purpose, it should help teachers learning about IWBs to put their new knowledge into a context. From experience, I know that purpose is one of the best ways to get people to embrace new technology.

At this point, I still have no idea where our IWB will go. Who knows, maybe there’ll be more than one? But, where ever it ends up, I consider it part of my job to ensure it gets used as (a lot) more than a regular whiteboard.

It pays to network

Sometimes I network with other teachers and students without realising it, and it’s fantastic when it pays off.

One of the advantages of collaboratively programming and planning lessons with each Stage group at school is that I can adapt each library activity to suit the various classes, taking into account the need to share available resources, and how best to complement the learning styles of the students and the teaching styles of their teachers.

Essentially, though, the lessons are repeated several times in a week – albeit with variations. By the end of the week, I’ve usually mastered my patter that leads into the activities. I also like to keep every stage informed about what units other stage groups are studying, simply because one never know when networking possibilities will arise. In fact, in my last school, I kept a large noticeboard in the library foyer – updated, week by week, as to which unit of work, key learning area or KLA, and type of text each class was being focused upon during their library lessons. (I’d do it at my current school, if only we had a noticeboard in the right place.)

Last week, no matter whether intending to use the Chinese New Year Parade photos (taken for Early Stage 1 and Stage 1) or the Bridges photos (taken for Stage 2), I recycled the same jokes with each class (ie. “Unfortunately, I didn’t have time on Sunday to get to Antarctica to take some photos for Stage 3…”). I’m so glad I did, because one teacher announced that her brother had just returned from a vacation to Antarctica – and had CDs filled with photographs of… icebergs, Antarctic cabins, icebergs, penguins, more icebergs, humpback whales, and did I mention – icebergs!

What a lucky break! And so, I was able to add a third slide show to my Flickr account, called Antarctica which the Stage 3 students will be able to use this week without worrying about the copyright of other Antarctica photos they may have found on the Internet!

As I said, it pays to network. Or rather, it often pays to be loquacious, because that can lead to very effective networking.