We’ve Come so Far

While cleaning out my work mailbox the other day, I found this email I sent our eLearning (previously known as ‘Tech’) team.  Please read on and I’ll explain why it was so important (although risky) for me to share.

Date: February 8, 2012
 
Dear Technology Team,
 
I had some wonderings regarding the decision to block networking sites (i.e. Facebook, Pinterest) from our server during school hours at SIS (Shekou International School).  There was a time when I pushed for such a block, especially when students can access these sites and use them unproductively or even inappropriately during school hours.  However, as we reflect on the use of technology at SIS, I wondered about the disadvantages of blocking such sites.
 
From a support teacher’s point of view, one that feeds on the creative ideas provided online to continue to enrich the support given to the curriculum (Pinterest is a great example); I wonder if this restriction will have a negative impact in the way I look for inspiration online.  Also, as the Double Happiness Committee representative, I’m currently trying to encourage SIS staff members to ‘Like’ our new DHC page on Facebook (this undertaking was also an inspiration by the PD given by Kim Confino).  This is already a hard sell and the popularity of our page hasn’t taken off the way I would’ve liked; and I wonder if having Facebook blocked on campus has had an effect on the popularity of the page.  How can I ask staff members to ‘like’ us when our own server won’t allow us to visit it?
 
In my experiences, I’ve seen that any technology brought to the masses can have one of two effects:  impress or intimidate.  I wonder if blocking Facebook or other networking sites that are blocked in China, adds to the intimidation rather than inspiration that such networking can bring.  I’m very well aware that when technology is used inappropriately, the consequences can be brutal.  But if an educational establishment that fosters exploration and inquiry like SIS restricts the use of such websites, I wonder if the message we’re sending is that blocking the sites has a more effective impact than educating and training for their appropriate use.  Therefore if the teaching staff is restricted from using these sites freely, how can we impart our knowledge of the right uses of this technology to our students?  How can we learn to be guides for our students when they’re out there surfing networking sites in this technology heavy world?
 
And lastly, as a tech person myself, one who not only loves the use of technology but also strives to explore it in all its entirety to improve my practice as an educator; I wondered if I would be writing this email a few years ago.  Like I said, I used to be on the front lines when it came to blocking sites, always with the thought of protecting our students from using them inappropriately.  But that hasn’t made them go away and it certainly hasn’t stopped me, you, our families, our friends, our students, our students’ parents; from using them on a day-to-day basis.  And now I wonder if I want my role as an educator to be to stigmatize those sites, label them as ‘something you do at home’, and support the restrictions imposed on them; or if I would rather be an educator who asks questions about ways to educate everyone in productive, creative and effective ways to use them.
 
Like you, I want our school to move forward in its use of technology in all its aspects.  And I wonder if these restrictions are a step back as opposed to a step in the direction we want SIS to go.  I don’t want this email to sound like a complaint, it’s not.  It’s simply meant to be a seed that sparks up a real discussion about what this block really means in the long run and whether it’s time to look into other options as to how best to educate others in using these sites, whether it’s at school or at home.  I would love to be part that discussion if it happens 🙂
 
I’d be lying if I said my first instinct was to share this email.  It’s almost like ‘airing our dirty laundry’, so to speak.  But as I re-read my thoughts and reflections on this topic, I can’t help but emphasize how far we have come.
 
We as a school.  Shekou International School is now one of the leading tech-integrating international schools in the world.  Our Twitter hashtag #SISRocks is shared, used and ‘trended’ on a daily basis to zoom in on how SIS is transforming learning.  A vast array of media is used to enhance our classrooms and our curriculum.  Our teachers and students have self-managed devices, 1-to-1 iPads starting in grade 4, and MacBooks up to grade 12.  Our Kindergarten students build digital portfolios and tweet their learning every day.  Our community tweets, blogs, and collaborates online using Padlets, Google Docs, Edmodo, Evernote… And this is just the tip of the iceberg.
 
We as a professional learning community.  Our eCoaches who work tirelessly to provide us with the tools to enhance our teaching practices.  Teachers who are willing to take risks and challenge themselves to try new things as their classrooms are repeatedly ‘disrupted’, principals and directors who learn with us and support us while we explore a new age in education.  Students and parents who have embraced the changes and put their trust in us to lead this transformation.
 
And I as an educator.  Back in February 2012, as I wrote that email, I could’ve never imagined this.  Flipped classrooms, full transparency, enhanced learning for a generation of digital natives.   A transformation, a paradigm shift, in only 18 months!  Wow.
 
How far we have come indeed.
 

iShare on Behalf of Brandon Little

My colleague and friend Brandon Little (G4 Teacher, 1:1 facilitator, Reading & Writing Workshop expert), wrote this email to the team today.  I asked if I could share it on my COETAIL site since it is pure, pure genius, an ‘Aha’ moment for many on our staff.  Here is his message, verbatim:

Dear Team,

In the last two months we’ve completely changed the communication paradigm for children. No longer does the old axiom, “Children should be seen, and not heard”, apply. If anything the new axiom for our students is, “Children can be heard, without being seen.”

In the last two months we’ve almost tripled the modes of communication for our learners. On top of individual/small/whole group personalized communication in the classroom and access to email the students now have Message (on iPad), their WordPress blog, and Edmodo accounts. Each of these tools have a mostly unique purpose and mostly unique method for use.

This development has led me to create a chart addressing the different tools they have access to for communicating and reflecting on their learning in and out of school. Mick and talked about having an interactive session in the coming weeks when teachers and students can brainstorm and agree upon the most effective ways and most effective times to use email, messages, wordpress, and edmodo. What we can show them is what a complete and appropriate message looks like. An exemplar, if you will.

Here’s the chart:

I can’t tell you how proud I am to not just share this resource but also of the quality of teachers I get to collaborate with every day.  Thank you Brandon!