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The freedom to learning anything, anytime, anywhere and with absolutely anybody is a gift that today’s online world affords educators.  It is a gift which empowers educators to create their own learning opportunities and challenges and enables them to meet up with other like-minded people who have similar interests.

Writing about the process of learning within the safe boundaries of a Personal Learning Network is an opportunity which has been given to me by Education Technology Solutions, an Australian based publication.  This, the third in a series of articles I have written for this magazine around the theme of lifelong learning: Develop a Personal Learning Network to inspire lifelong learning in which I describe the nature of PLNs, how to create one and what can be gained from participating in one, has just been published – Issue 67, August/September 2015.

ABSTRACT: Encouraging teachers to become self-starters, who are able to take control of their own learning, design its path and learn based on their own interests and needs should be the aim of all school professional learning programs.  Participation in Personal Learning Networks (PLNs) is a resource which can liberate teachers from the confines of traditional learning opportunities such as those offered in staff meetings, curriculum days, workshops and conferences. PLNs in which connections with other learners is a key component is the perfect vehicle to attain this aim. Participation in a PLN is both exhilarating and inspirational and is the essence of lifelong learning!

Also published online on the Educational Technology Solutions website, I’m pleased to also be able to share my article here:

Develop a Personal Learning Network To Inspire Lifelong Learning!

pic1By Bev Novak.

Encouraging teachers to become lifelong learners should be the aim of each school’s professional learning program. Learning success inspires a sense of achievement, self-satisfaction, increased confidence and motivates continued learning, leaving teachers feeling empowered to set their own agenda and pursue knowledge just for the sake of it.

To motivate this kind of learning, there is perhaps no better resource than that of Personal Learning Networks (PLNs), a resource which can liberate teachers from the confines of traditional learning opportunities such as those offered in staff meetings, curriculum days, workshops and conferences. PLNs, in which connections with other learners is a key component, are both exhilarating and inspirational.

“Education is far less about a set of facts than a way of thinking,” says the professor and theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss. “And therefore what I always think should be the basis of education is not answers but questions.”

Published on Jun 10, 2015

Krauss suggests that the task of educators is to teach kids to think and question.  In this short Big Think video he also argues that educators are the ones who should set standards, not school boards who are elected to run the schools.

Perhaps most controversially, he strongly suggests that standardized tests do not advance the education of kids one iota and that they have no place in our school programs.

Take a listen:

I just read a great article about the impact that technology is reaping on teachers in the Term 1 Edition of TechnologyEd – a great quarterly publication by EducationHQ.

Nodding my head in agreement at virtually everything that was written, I found myself reflecting on my own career – the then and now.

It may come as a surprise to younger teachers to know that the base line in the education sector hasn’t really changed all that much.  Being stressed and overwhelmed by the enormity of the job has always been a part of a career in education. Nothing, really, has ever changed.

Back then, in my early days of teaching, there was always

  • more to be done than could be humanely completed in a day
  • heaps to learn which invariably had to be done ‘on the job’
  • a never ending stream of correction and lesson preparation
  • constant communication demands to have responses ready for
    • students
    • parents
    • work colleagues
    • Heads of Department
    • School Admin

Nothing has changed.  We are still working at an impossible pace.   The same demands as then loom large on a daily basis.

Today though, technology has layered itself across everything we do.  For those not born with a mouse or a device in their hands, we’ve had to become familiar with technology whilst simultaneously using it and figuring out how to incorporate it into our teaching repertoire.   As I see it, there are two major aspects of technology that we need to get a handle on: technology as an adjunct to teaching and learning and technology as an adjunct to communication.

And from whichever way we look at it, technology ratchets up the stress level by more than just a few notches.  Many claim that stress levels today are higher than they were.  Back then the catch word was ‘teacher burnout’.  Today the new jargon is “technostress”.

So what is technostress?

stress or psychosomatic illness caused by working with computer technology on a daily basis (Wikipedia)

a feeling of anxiety or mental pressure from overexposure or involvement with (computer) technology (Dictionary.com)

It’s real and its constant.

There probably are few of us who can’t identify with ‘technostress’.  Knowing how to deal with it can be baffling because it is multi-layered.  Unfortunately there isn’t just one ‘fix’ to make it go away.  Some obvious suggestions spring to mind though:

  1. Designated ‘time out': Set aside a regular time slot in the day or the week to not use technology.
  2. Self discipline: Make decisions and stick to them!
  3. Establish routines: Create on and off times for using technology.
  4. Set priorities: Weigh up the importance of daily routines and prioritize them.
  5. Restrict response: Set limits on the amount of time spent using technology.
  6. Create quiet time: Find time in a day to just ‘be’.
  7. Separate work and home: Work at work and relax at home.
  8. Do one thing at a time: Be offline when you read, listen to music, cook, eat or play with your child.
  9. Switch your smartphone off: Let replies go to message bank. Turn off the alarm for incoming call.
  10. Technology Sabbath: Yes! One day off a week!  Check out the gains to be had in this Sabbath Manifesto:
Sabbath Manifesto

Sabbath Manifesto

How often have you considered your state of mind and your level of productivity when you have felt happy?

In our fast paced lives, most probably few of us ever consider the correlation of the two. But, according to Shawn Achor in this TEDx talk: The Happy Secret to better work the correlation is very high.

This very fast talking psychologist injects a hefty chunk of humour into his talk to not just garner our attention, but to drive home his point.   Happiness, which he has studied and researched, is, he claims, a powerful tool which can transform not only our productivity in the workforce, but our ability to learn.

In short, a happiness revolution can re-wire our brains.

The outcome of success is not happiness, Achor maintains.   Rather, success leads to us constantly resetting our goalposts which does not achieve increased levels of happiness: “You got good grades, now you have to get better grades, you got into a good school and after you get into a better one, you got a good job, now you have to get a better job, you hit your sales target, we’re going to change it.

But our brains work in the opposite order. If you can raise somebody’s level of positivity in the present, then their brain experiences what we now call a happiness advantage, which is your brain at positive performs significantly better than at negative, neutral or stressed. Your intelligence rises, your creativity rises, your energy levels rise. In fact, we’ve found that every single business outcome improves. Your brain at positive is 31% more productive than your brain at negative, neutral or stressed.” (10.03 mins)

By finding a way of becoming positive in the present, our brains work harder, faster and more intelligently.  Dopamine, which floods into our bodies when we are positive, not only makes us happier, but it turns on all the learning centres in our brain allowing us to adapt to the world in a different way.

The key to becoming positive is to train our brains to think and see our world in a more positive way.  In other words, to rewire our brains!  The process is really quite simple:

  • once a day – for 21 days
  • take two minutes
  • to write down three things for which you are grateful
  • each day write down three new things for which you are grateful

Further processes include:

  • writing about a positive experience in the previous 24 hours allows our brain to relive the experience
  • mental exercise teaches us that behaviour matters
  • meditation enhances our ability to focus on the task at hand rather than multitasking
  • random acts of kindness become conscious acts of kindness
  • writing a positive email to praise or thank someone in our support network

After just three weeks of thinking positively, we will have retrained our brains to see the positive before the negative.  The process of focusing on the positive will create a mindset more attuned to happiness.

Achor has worked in both business and schools, helping to sew the seeds of a happiness revolution.  Have a listen and be inspired!

A newly opened library in the Carver County city of Victoria is being touted as a prototype for achieving the maximum amount of community benefits from a minimum amount of space.” (Star Tribune, May 14, 2015)

I found myself intrigued by some of the ideas noted in this and another article about the Carvery County Library in Minnesota, USA.

Carver County LibraryWhile there are some pretty cool libraries out there, when faced with only a tiny space and an enormous need, challenging issues revolving around use need to be tackled in an innovative way.   And I really like some of the solutions adopted here:

  • flexible design allowing use for varying purposes without the need to rearrange furniture
  • introduction of a ‘digital-in-person’ concept: using library space for people to interact with each other
  • providing a delivery service link from a nearby library in place of storing expansive books collections
  • computer stations in the library to allow patrons to easily browse our eBook collections
  • long, farmhouse-style tables equipped with power and data connectivity which can be used by individuals and small groups to classes of up to 24 students; space is “flipped” without any rearranging
  • using colourful furniture to create zones and define spaces
  • adaption of the Apple stores’ Genius Bar tech support counter to assist library patrons navigate the digital library

The notion of adapting ideas from Apple into our schools and libraries is something I enthusiastically blogged about some time ago: What Apple can teach us about learning! so, as you can guess, I’m a big fan of the idea of introducing the ‘Genius Bar’ as a tech support counter to assist library users.

Being able to teach patrons how to better use the library in a ‘spiced up’ manner has to be a win-win for Teacher Librarians. Imagine teaching a dedicated/attentive small group

  • how to search the catalogue
  • how to download e books and other materials
  • how to use e-resources
  • how to effectively run a search
  • ensuring patrons feel ‘at home’ and comfortable in the library

Yes – I know this is what we do now, but giving the process a ‘facelift’ can go a long way.

Guess it’s time for a change!

I have a friend with whom I often text.

This friend is younger than me, considerably younger.  Though fluent in reading and writing in English, English is not their first language.  So when I saw the preponderance of exclamation marks in texts sent to me, I put it down to either an age difference ‘thing’ or a lack of grammatical knowledge – for after all an exclamation mark has a specific use in the English language.

Quoting from Wikipedia:

Exclamation mark

I regularly found my eyebrows raising at short texts like this:

Have a nice day!

or

Thanks!!!

or

See you tomorrow!

not understanding the meaning intended by the added explanation marks which just didn’t ‘fit’ the communication we were having.  Was there an element of cynicism, sarcasm or aggression tucked away in the comment?  Most often I thought it was message tainted with unsaid words like

enough ….. I have to go now ….. I’ll speak to you another time ….. goodbye!”

It’s taken me ages to just ignore these meaningless-to-me exclamation marks and go with the flow.

And then I read Simon Castles superb article The exclamation mark is murdering the full stop!!! in The Age (May 13, 2015).  The byline to this article hooked me straight away

Resistance is pointless. In the digital age, the exclamation mark conquers all.

Suddenly I found myself on a path of discovery and explanation.  Suddenly, my young friend’s texts were making more sense to me.  Suddenly I found myself acknowledging that the frequency of that beastly little exclamation mark meant nothing sinister, nothing untoward, nothing intentional other than being a friendly and engaging way to conclude a text!!!

Exclamation marks (Castles says) exploded with the rise of the digital age because they gave people a shorthand way to sound friendly and upbeat in their messages, whatever the subject. They acted as markers of sincerity and amiability, as a hedge against being misunderstood.”

As I read the article, a memory flashed through my mind – advice I was given when I first embraced Twitter: the use of apostrophes, commas, fullstops and the like in tweets were a give-away sign of age.  Ever since, I’ve found my fingers hovering over the keyboard, constantly tempted to include those all important dots and dashes known to my age group as punctuation.

It’s hard to let go of this.  If you are of the ilk who had the importance of punctuation drilled into you as a student all those years ago, you’ll understand how I feel.

Woe betide – what is to become of our English language?!

I’m passionate about the importance of teachers not just modelling lifelong learning, but being active learners themselves.

No matter how busy we are, making time to read, engage, discuss, learn and share is an essential practice.  School administrators need to play an active role in not just encouraging this practice, but making it an achievable goal for our teachers. It’s time to consider alternate ways to excite teachers’ interest in their own lifelong learning.

The second in a series of articles I was asked to write for Education Technology Solutions Reinvigorate professional learning programs to inspire lifelong learning!  has just been published – Issue 66, June/July 2015.

ABSTRACT:  Exciting, stimulating and meaningful learning programs in our schools are vital to entice teachers to become lifelong learners.   Alternate program delivery which incorporates creating time for teachers to learn on the job and encourages professional reading, active use of social media and a new look at conference attendance as well as exploring how the skills of both students and teacher librarians can contribute to the professional learning of teachers should be considered as ways to upend traditional professional learning programs.

Also published online on the Educational Technology Solutions website, my article can be read here:

Reinvigorate Professional Learning Programs To Inspire Lifelong Learning!

picBy Bev Novak.
Exciting, stimulating and meaningful learning programs in schools are vital to entice teachers to become lifelong learners.

Apart from updating basic skills, teachers must constantly master new skills and new pedagogy that continue to evolve at an overwhelming rate in a fast-paced world. Rather than having to sit back and wait for learning opportunities to come to them in the form of staff meetings, curriculum days, workshops or conferences, teachers should be encouraged to embrace those many learning opportunities that constantly present themselves in both formal and informal settings. By developing independent learning skills, teachers will discover a wealth of learning opportunities they never knew existed.

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