My name is Matt Nicoll and I am a high school teacher in New Zealand, interested in improving the classroom experience for my students. I am open to trialing new approaches and hope to use this blog to reflect on my ideas and practices.
Recently, I have been doing some writing for NZ Science Teacher and been interviewed by the lovely Melissa Wastney. I am quite humbled that Melissa thinks my work is worthy of publication. Let me know what you think:
I look at where I am with my philosophy and ideals of teaching, and the initiatives that I have tried in the past 10 years. I have been incredibly lucky. Yes, I have the kind of personality which allows me to take risks and to learn from mistakes (after a few moments of throwing my toys!). But the reality is that, on more than one occasion, someone else with control over a Professional Development budget (phew!!!) decided that it would be good for the school/college to send me to ULearn, Learning@School and ICOT conferences.
Someone else decided that it would be good for the school/college for me to be exposed to some amazing educators and learned researchers. Someone else decided that I was someone (often the person) to spend a large chunk of the PD budget on. Talk about lucky!!!
It didn't really dawn on me after my first two conferences that I had an obligation to my peers to share what I had learned, whether I agreed with it or not. I failed to see that I was being trusted to be both a filter and a mouthpiece in exposing my colleagues to some amazing innovations in teaching, and the new shifts in the evolution of pedagogy and education. I was very selfish with what I had learned. You lucky soul; you selfish sod!
Maybe I am being a little tough on myself, because I did share. But I only shared with my department and in meetings of others who had been identified as being leaders of pedagogy and innovators of technology in my previous school. I also presented at "cluster meetings" but these were rare. It is only with the 20/20 vision of hindsight that I feel guilty for not sharing more. I am also aware that I was oblivious to more effective ways to share.
Fast-forward to 2012. Thank goodness for ULearn and thank goodness for Twitter! Not only was I even further inspired by amazing educators, I also had found a vehicle for connecting with other educators and to share what I had learned. How things have evolved since then!! #edchatNZ, Virtual Professional Learning network, Ethos Community, my own blogs, class blogs, a few articles in NZ Science Teacher, and now #hackyrclass and #edSMAC. I think I'm doing my part to share after the luck of having others believe in me.
It would be remiss of me not to mention those who did believe in me and those who continue to support my passion for sharing. Thank you to Ross Brown, Headmaster at Napier Boys' High School, for sending me on those first conferences. Thank you to the ICT Directors at St Andrew's College, Grant Saul (now Westlake Boys' High School) and Sam McNeill, as well as to our Head of Teaching and Learning, David Bevin.
Then there is the wonderful Danielle Myburgh of Hobsonville Point Secondary School, who set us on the #edchatNZ journey. Philippa Nicoll deserves a special mention as my fellow agent-of-change and "hack buddy"; without her support and ideas, #edSMAC would not exist, nor have the potential to connect my current colleagues with the world! There are many others, but without being lucky enough to have the support of these people, my journey would have probably sent me down a cul-de-sac and I may not have persevered. I have been a lucky devil...
What a week! Back to the routines of the school term, but something is a little different, and a little more exciting. Over the holidays, Claire Amos of Hobsonville Point Secondary School put out a call via Twitter and her blog to challenge fellow educators to "hack" their classrooms. I accept...
I have "buddied up" with Philippa Nicoll (yes, a relative) at Samuel Marsden Collegiate. Our first step in "hacking" our classroom is actually to hack our staffroom first. We want to help support some fellow teachers in our schools to create a PLN which will help them hack their own classes, and to share and challenge their own practices.
Philippa and I are both avid supporters of using Twitter to help establish and maintain a PLN, so are using this as our vehicle to get things started. We are building a group of interested peers and encouraging them to connect with each other via the hashtag, #edSMAC, on Twitter. From these initial bilateral connections, we hope to support and facilitate the growth of their PLN via Twitter and ultimately via other online communities.
I am really lucky to also have the support of a couple of other Twitter "junkies", Sam McNeill and Ginny Thorner, to help mentor the group at St. Andrew's College. This should help make the mentoring and guidance phase a lot more manageable for me and make these wonderful volunteers feel well-supported.
Stage One: Connect with the #edSMAC Community
As each staff member comes on board with being part of "my team", I am getting them set up on Twitter and installing TweetDeck, along with #edchatNZ, #hackyrclass and #edSMAC as search columns so they can manage their news feeds, which we expect to get busy sooner than later!
After they are set up, they are encouraged to "introduce" themselves to the community using #edSMAC in their introduction. Today, I have also tried to foster some connections by tweeting the twitter handles to some people in my PLN who I think might be useful connections for these "newbies".
I have also recorded what these colleagues already do to collaborate and a few goals they have which we think might be more easily achieved by building a PLN.
Once the initial group have started to connect with the #edSMAC community, I am hoping they will start finding more connections out there. There are also online communities, such as Virtual Professional Development, which they may wish to become part of.
Then the hacking can truly begin...
Once our #edSMAC community has made some connections, it is time for them to try hacking their classes and to share their research, experiences and resources. It is time for them to ask for advice and seek guidance. Maybe we can get them blogging, even!
Looking even further ahead, I am hoping that this initial group can become mentors for other staff wanting to build their PLNs and to shake up their respective teaching practices. At our school, we run Professional Learning Groups as our primary source of Professional Development; I really hope that this initial group could lead their own small PLG to help them connect and collaborate with others to hack their classes.
From 2015, it would be great if we had small groups, led by the 2014 group, finding (and trying) ways to hack their classes and sharing their experiences. We are starting small in Term Two, 2014, but you have to start somewhere...