Tag Archives: Collaboration

Connecting Teachers: Whose job is it anyway?

Collaboration is the new black. Every conference I attend; every commentator I hear trumpeting the success of coder dojo; every colleague who has tried it in their teaching agrees. Collaboration works.

I’m not talking about glorified group work. I know what that is; I’ve done it. It’s where I the teacher set a task so I can feel that my students’ opinions are valued when all the while I know I’ll end up feeding them my answer in the end so why should they bother? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not defending the fact that this happens in my classroom. There are days when I hate myself for it. But sadly, unlike J Alfred Prufrock , I’m not always convinced that “there will be time, there will be time, for decisions and revisions that a minute will reverse” particularly at senior cycle. So I plough ahead because after all there is a course to cover and if I don’t get it covered I’ll be hanging up my “Teacher of the Year 2012” boots and adopting a rather fetching “Jackass of the Year 2013” limited edition instead.

No, I’m not talking about group work; I’m talking about the really meaty process of collaboration where people work together to create something that didn’t previously exist; something that fills them with the overwhelming urge to share.”Look at this thing we created. Look how great it is“.

But now that we know how valuable collaboration is; now that the research tells us what an effective learning tool it is, I find myself asking why the enormous potential of this wonderful invention known as the world wide web isn’t being used more effectively to facilitate greater collaboration between teachers in Ireland? Better connections, shared expertise, opportunities to connect.

I know it’s happening in pockets. I’m on the CESI list; I’ve conversed with hundreds of Irish teachers on twitter thanks to #edchatie; I’ve joined the INOTE facebook group to share ideas and resources and to tease out both new and old ways to teach effectively. But I’m also aware that there are thousands of teachers out there completely oblivious to the help and expertise that’s right there within their grasp if they just reach out and touch it. I know this because for eight years I was that person, living in a cave of my own invention and I wish, how I wish I had seen sooner what was just out of sight. Don’t assume reluctance, or laziness or complacency. For now, just assume ignorance – you can’t miss something you don’t know exists.

So what do I want?

Well a national database of English teachers would be a start (hell, let’s do it for every subject for that matter). This already exists. The Teaching Council have all of these details and I’m pretty sure there’s a smart computer programme out there somewhere which could cull this data into a usable list of email addresses. I think English would be a good place to start because ours is the first subject which will change in the new Junior Cycle so surely we’ll need to be kept in the loop and informed of new developments? Or am I just being a crazy person expecting to actually be informed about the changes which I will be introducing and implementing in my classroom? The teaching council website informs me that CPD is part of their remit. One of their aims is to facilitate networking among teachers. But I’m told they won’t give out this information to INOTE, the English teachers association (probably because of issues around confidentiality) and they won’t use it themselves. But goddamn it, listen to the voice of the people I say. Give us what we want. An Irish TES where we can share and connect and collaborate. You’ve got 10 million in the bank. What’s the problem?

So that’s two things on my wish list. A database of email addresses for English teachers and an Irish TES. But then I think, well maybe it’s not really the Teaching Council’s job? Maybe I should be looking to the PDST? Their job is definitely to facilitate CPD for teachers. They’re low on funding I know and swamped trying to deliver literacy and numeracy in-service (I attended a day long session recently that was just amazing). I also know they too have been compiling a list of English teachers in an effort to ensure that all teachers attend these literacy for English teachers in-services. Maybe they contacted the Teaching Council looking for this info and they too were refused. Who knows. Word on the street is they can’t share this list with the English teachers association either. Confidentiality I presume. We need to be protected from each other it would seem!

And what about the NCCA? They’re the ones driving the change and I know they’ve got a teachers network going among the pilot schools who are trying out ideas for the new Junior Cycle. I hear it’s great. But I’m on the outside not looking in but staring at a blank wall. I’ve been told that the new English syllabus / specification will be available for consultation in April/May. But don’t for a moment think that this means a letter will be sent to all English teachers. Or an email (from the list that exists but must not speak its name). It will most likely appear silently one day, I predict just as the State Examinations kick off. It will quietly lurk on a website unseen, unheard of by the vast majority of English teachers in this country (assume what you want about whether or not this is their own fault for not obsessively checking the NCCA website daily for updates). The book publishers will probably get their spoke in. And then with a flourish the new Junior Cycle English Specification will be introduced with minimal input from the people it effects the most – teachers and students – unless you’re in one of the pilot schools (and even then I’m told, by teachers in the know, that the consultation process often involves offering your input and then being completely ignored. Forgive me if I sound cynical – I try so hard not to be).

Perhaps I am naive. Perhaps I am too demanding; too vocal; too politically incorrect. Perhaps I am foolish to think for a second that anything I say makes the slightest ripple of a difference to anyone in these organisations. Maybe if I care so much I should be taking this on myself? Free and gratis. Just the way this government likes us to operate. More for less. More and more and more and more for less.

Or perhaps  I’m right. Perhaps it’s time the hand started speaking to the arm and the arm to the body and the whole lot to the bloody head. If I’m making it sound terribly straightforward that’s because I believe it should be. Today we learned that a baby was cured of HIV; surely this is not beyond us?


Virtual Collaboration

I’m here in the town hall in Claremorris, hidden up on the balcony watching our school musical ‘Hairspray’ and typing this blog post. It’s fitting that while looking at the results of an incredible collaboration between staff and students, I’m also thinking about how easy online collaboration is and how much easier it’s made my life as a teacher.

Every year we participate in the Concern Debates, but finding the time to tease out the subtleties of each motion; to divide up the topic between the four speakers; to edit and re-edit the speeches and yet leave enough time to learn them off – all of this is a real challenge. Last year however, we started using an online learning environment and seriously, it’s made my life so much easier. The team pick a time that suits them – let’s say Tuesday evening at 9pm – then we all log on and tease out how we’re going to approach the motion. Everyone can ‘talk’ at once and still achieve loads; we can send each other links to relevant articles online; the team can post their speeches; critique each other’s work; anticipate opposing arguments and generally make the kind of progress that simply isn’t possible during a half hour meeting at lunch!

We use www.edmodo.com which is basically like facebook for education. Some of the time I take part but increasingly I feel like the team don’t really need me (which is great: independent learning is where it’s all at if you ask me!). Getting closer to the debate they can work together from the comfort of their own homes every evening. Honestly, I don’t know how we ever managed to take part in the debates without it. So at the risk of giving away the secret of our modest success so far (we’ve got one victory under our belts!) can I suggest that if you’re doing the debates and NOT using an online forum, you need to jump on this bandwagon pronto.

Setting up an account is instant: go to www.edmodo.com, click on “I’m a teacher”, create a group (we’ve given ours the very original label “Debating”), give the code to students, then they create an account using this code and voila, you’ve got an online classroom up and running. You can also give the code to any interested students who didn’t make the debating team or who decided they want to help but don’t want to actually speak out loud in public. Once the group is full you can change the code to prevent randomers from crashing the party (in a virtual sense!).

The possibilities are endless. I use edmodo for all of my class groups, so do the Claremorris coder dojo group and I’m told there are GAA teams and community groups up and down the country using it too. You don’t need to use edmodo though – I don’t want to come across like they’re my sponsor or something! Google docs works – I read a blog post recently from a proud dad whose son and his mates were using google docs to collaborate on a feature length film script! Twitter could work too if you used a hash tag specific to your group but this would be a very public way of preparing for a debate 😉 And hey, with class sizes getting bigger all the time, corrections piling up, CPD and Croke Park hours, anything that helps us to use our time more efficiently is a god send. If you want to know any more send me a message by clicking the feedback button on the left side of this page.