#More than 140 – Get To Know Your PLN

A few days ago, I was very happy to be contacted by Matthew Ray, in order to start a great project we are calling “More than 140.” We hope you will follow the hashtag #MoreThan140, as well as our blogs and youtube channels (links are provided after the video).

Watch the video to find out more about our project:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

***Update: We are working on figuring out how to upload wetoku/vodpod videos to youtube. In the meantime, the videos will be hosted on vodpod, which you can access by clicking here.

Vicky Loras

1st collector for More than 140 – Welcome
Follow my videos on vodpod

Interview with Aki Puustinen, Finnish Educator and Principal

It is a great honour for me to host an interview with Aki Puustinen, Finnish educator and principal at Muurame Upper Secondary School in Muurame, Finland.

Aki is also CEO of Team Company, a company he runs with fellow Finnish educator Timo Ilomaki.

You can read Aki’s blog at http://apuustin-leadership.blogspot.com/ .

Kiitos for this great and informative interview, Aki!

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Number Sixteen – Change Your Environment – The 30 Goals Challenge

Change the displays, seating, rooms if possible... (image taken from http://www.newstreamz.com)

This is a period when lots of schools are re-opening worldwide. I love seeing educators on Twitter mentioning in their tweets that they are changing their classroom, redecorating it (some even share pictures or blog posts about that) or coming up with ideas about how they will be changing their classroom throughout the year. The reason I love seeing educators talk about how they will change their classrooms is manifold: they have their students in mind in doing so, they like changing the environment and because it has been proven that learning becomes more effective, either in a classroom that changes often or if the learning environment per se is the one that changes.

  • Educators can change the way their classroom looks as regularly as they like and at a low budget. There are so many ideas on the internet now, that one does not have to spend enormous amounts or ask for great financial support from their administration. There are so many printable posters, banners, signs to choose from, so that your students can be motivated and encouraged throughout the year. Some websites with great printable materials for classrooms, free of charge, are http://www.mandygregory.com/free_classroom_printables.htm and http://p-rposters.com/. Changes are good, as long as they are not too drastic and very often, as they need a sense of familiarity, especially for the younger students, so that it can be a place where they feel safe and where they feel they belong.
  • Two years ago I was very fortunate to attend a workshop by Ron Ritchhart, one of the great educators behind Project Zero of Harvard University. What I particularly loved about the workshop was that he was pointing out the importance of documenting the students’ work on the walls. Educators everywhere use their kids’ own work to put on the walls: posters the kids make, drawings, projects, absolutely anything! Do it often and fill up those walls inside and outside your classroom! Visual learningis at its best when students can see their own work on the school walls and also see other kids’ work. The learning that takes place there is amazing!

    ...or take them outside to learn! (Marcher Sur Le Sable by @Alice_M, from http://www.flickr.com/eltpics)
  • Take your students out of the classroom. Yes, it works wonders and they learn in the process. No matter what their ages are, I always try to take te students out. As I have mentioned in Goal Number Three, I take the kids out – we tried a cornfield near the school plenty of times and they have learned so much. It is also a change of environment and stimulates their curiosity to learn. Even with adult students, leaving the classroom every now and then is a great experience. We go to a restaurant or a walk and start talking about the things around us – especially at the restaurant, we take apart everything on the menu and look at the language of ordering food and drink, asking for things and any other relevant language.

Change can happen in many ways. Your students will love it and learn in the process!

Number Fifteen – Be A Guide – The 30 Goals Challenge

After a great online conference, RSCON3, time to get back to the 30 Goals Challenge!

Guide them and they will find their way! (Image taken by Carol Goodey, @cgoodey, from http://www.flickr.com/eltpics)

Being a guide in your classroom and your school is very important. It should be part of a teacher’s make-up and being to be a guide towards the students and towards other teachers in their school.

A Guide to the Students

  • A lot of the top educational systems in the world are exactly at the top because they allow students and show them the way to researching on their own. No ready answers from educators, no pressure – the teachers present the subject matter and let the kids explore and find the answers on their own. And that is why we are there for them. To facilitate their learning – not in giving them ready-made answers, but showing them their potentials, that on their own and through searching and looking and researching they can find the answer and their way to knowledge. Each student in their own way. In my classes, the best lessons come when I am listening to the kids speak to one another and debate and explain – I am only there and intervene to give them encouragement and praise and lead them perhaps to something else, when I see that they want more to learn.

A Guide to Teachers

  • There is nothing better than a school full of teachers who have a great relationship among them, communicate and always know they will be there for each other. A bit difficult to happen throughout the whole school, but at least it can happen for a number of teachers in a specific school – and then, who knows? The others might join them as well!
  • Let your teachers know you are always there for them, be it for school-related things or personal things, if you can help them of course. There is nothing better for them to know they can depend on you and come to you without hesitation, whatever your role in the school.
  • Guide them to new things: social networks like Twitter, Facebook and now Google+ and so on and let them know how they have helped you with your professional development. Let them know about conferences and workshops – I let them know I am going and sometimes they join, because they feel better when they are with someone else. Once we are there, they open up and meet other educators as well (and see what good stuff they are missing when they do not come!).

Be a guide for both students and other teachers – someone else has guided you and is guiding you too – everyone is a link to a great chain!

Number Fourteen – Build An Ideal Classroom Culture – The 30 Goals Challenge

An ideal classroom culture is achieved when everyone enjoys being there! (Picture from http://www.flickr.com/photos/eltpics, taken by Adam Simpson, @yearinthelifeof)

The fourteenth goal is, in my opinion, a very strong foundation for the rest of the goals to materialise. An ideal classroom culture has been successfully created when:

– Students feel comfortable in their classroom and view it as a place where they love to learn.

– Educators and students co-operate and see each other as members of a great learning team.

– Parents and caregivers are welcome to come in and visit at times, in order to enjoy the great learning atmosphere.

– There is mutual respect and everyone is valued.

– Students do not leave immediately when the lesson is over, but enjoy staying at school and working on their school material or helping each other. (Sometimes they even stay after school to help the teacher tidy up the classroom, which is very nice and reflects the atmosphere of helping and co-operation!)

– Educators feel comfortable in their classrooms, love what is happening there, that they even go there on weekends or stay longer after school (as long as they don’t overdo it!).

Number Thirteen – Help Them Reflect On Their Failures – The 30 Goals Challenge

Maths... (Image taken from atc.co.uk)

Maths was one of those subjects that I was not particularly fond of, but didn’t dislike either. Perhaps I favoured Geometry much more and Algebra less. I was pretty good at it. Or so I thought.

I was a freshman in high school and had a new maths teacher who was constantly challenging us with interesting stuff and I liked that. Until we had our first major test and…I did not do well at all. I was a bit disappointed when I got my paper back but thought that next time I should try a bit harder and check where my weaknesses were. What totally shot me down was my teacher’s comment after class. “Well”, he said, “you saw your test result. We are not all mathematical geniuses and you are well…more of a language person and I don’t think you’ll ever be good at maths, like some other kids. That’s life.”

With this short comment, this person completely shot down my interest in the subject and more importantly, my self-esteem. He did not even sit with me for one minute to explain where I had not done well, what could have been the cause and so on. His comment just translated for me that no matter how hard I tried, I was going to achieve nothing.

Of course after I graduated and became a teacher, some of my students had this same teacher who did it to some of them as well. It made me wonder: this person was working in schools, with kids who had dreams, thinking he was teaching (well he may have given them his knowledge daily in class), but was he missing the point or what: kids are going to fail for some reason or another. Perhaps they do not study as much. Perhaps it was a bad day – they might be students whose stress takes over them and who can perform well in those circumstances? Maybe they have a learning disability which hinders them from performing as well as they would like to and with some help could do wonders.

We can help kids reflect on their failures - by motivating them constantly, they will try to do better next time and always learn! (Image from commercialappeal.com)

What students need is constant encouragement and motivation. Does a failure define them as personalities or the rest of their lives? We should see it as an opportunity to teach them much more than the subject itself.

I have written about this before in a post on Goal Number Two. There you can read about one of my students I had in Greece who is really brave and faced his failure by trying even harder, even though he was disappointed at first.

I am positive and confident there are a lot of educators who constantly encourage their students and help them overcome failures. Congratulations to all of you and keep up the excellent work!

Number Twelve – Engage Parents – The 30 Goals Challenge

Engage the parents! (Image taken from http://leader.fhsu.edu/)

On to the twelfth goal of the 30 Goals Challenge.

When teaching young learners or teenagers, it is essential that the parents or caregivers be engaged in their kids’ learning process. This way they can see how their children are doing and what they are doing with the teacher.

I am sure you remember, either from yourself or from movies, when you arrive home after school and the first question mom asks is “What did you do in school today?” Well, moms (or dads or caregivers) can now become so engaged in their children’s education – they are even able to know what happens daily in school.

* There are more opportunities now for open days or open lessons. There are no longer teacher-parent meetings once a year – I hear from other educators that their schools actively involve the parents, by allowing them to sit in on more lessons, or even take part in organising parties, events and book fairs. This way, the parents feel closer to the school and a sense of a small community is born.

* School and class blogs and wikis. It is great to see more and more blogs and wikis popping up every day one the internet. Some classes choose to share projects written by the children, or the teachers update the parents what is being studied in class. That can give parents the motivation to extend children’s learning outside the classroom – if for instance they are studying dinosaurs, the parents can buy or borrow books on this subject, organise a trip to a museum (if the school has not already done it) or make crafts with the kids at home and make their own dinosaur.

* Lots of parents ask to help out in various activities. Educators should be very happy when this happens, as the parents feel closer to their children’s class – that is where their willingness comes from and is a very good sign. It can also save educators time and the kids are also happy to see their parents at school, helping out! Parents can read books to their children’s class, or describe a particular experience, anything at all.

I would be very interested in hearing how parents are engaged in countries around the world. Feel free to add any new ideas to the comments – and thank you in advance!

  • You can also read Shelly Terrell’s post and watch her video on Goal Number 12.

Number Eleven – Give Students Reign – The 30 Goals Challenge

Time to get back to the 30 Goals Challenge! Give your students the chance to become teachers for a day … or more!

Give your students reign - they can come up with some really good ideas! (Image taken from caitstanley.com)

This one has to be one of my favourite things to do in class. It depends on how educators use it and can be very successful if planned carefully beforehand – and it also depends on the students’ age.

Young Learners:

With children, I have seen that it works particularly well when a portion of the lesson time is devoted to their deciding on a new activity. If it is the whole lesson, chances are they might run out of things to do, or even worse, things may get completely out of hand in terms of classroom management.

So depending on when you think it is appropriate, it can be the first or last fifteen or so minutes of the lesson. Sometimes I give them a list of ideas – so we have, this, this and this to do…which one would you like? You can either have them quickly vote and go with what the majority decides (and promise to do the other activities another time in case some children start complaining – but keep to your word, they sure will remember!), or split them up in groups and they can do the activity they chose.

Adult Learners:

With adults, you can let them know beforehand that sometime during the year you will be giving them the opportunity to choose the course of the lesson. If a teacher just goes in class and announces, Ok, so what would you like to do today? your students may think that you have not prepared  (even though you may have the best intentions) or they might feel insecure about learning anything that day.

Again, as with young learners, either a portion of the lesson can be devoted or even the whole lesson, if they wish to. Once, I told a group of bankers that I teach that they could have the opportunity to choose to do whatever they wanted. They chose to prepare some presentations and they were so enthusiastic about it, that they had made the best presentations ever, complete with  PowerpointTM and this was one of the best lessons ever with them. (I just told them to e-mail me beforehand on what they would be doing, so I prepared some notes for them concerning presentations. And while they were presenting, I was keeping notes of all the super expressions and language they came up with, just to put them on the board afterwards for the rest of the group to see and use.) So if you participate in any of these ways, it shows that you do give them reign, but as educators we also have something to give back to them and not only let them do all the preparation  so we can revel in the free time. It is not why we are doing it anyway.

By giving them reign, we give them the opportunity to actively engage in their learning process and find out how they learn best. As educators, we can also gain insight into that from the ideas they come up with.

If you have any other tips on how you choose to give your students reign, I will be very happy to read about them!

Number Ten – Plant A Seed of Belief – The 30 Goals Challenge

Yours truly in kindergarten in Canada!

Starting with a little flashback: As some of you may already know, I was born in Canada and when I was eight my parents moved with us to their homeland, Greece. Before we moved, we went to Greek school in Toronto every Saturday and every afternoon we had the (dreaded by us and what my mom called) To Elliniko Tetradio (The Greek Notebook), where we copied endless texts in Greek selected by mom. Our Greek was okay by the time we moved but not perfect. Personally speaking, my accent and pronunciation suffered a lot and I did not have such a wide vocabulary (probably because I did not really like Greek school in Canada and I refused to speak to my mom, who insisted and looking back on it now, I am so glad she did!). Anyway, my sisters and I were unfortunately tormented at our new school and bullied for our accents – we were also called the foreigners for quite a few years. While my sisters coped with it, my confidence totally sank and I thought I would never learn. But my teacher at that time and for the rest of primary school, Anthony Kontos (with whom I am still in contact today), believed in me and helped me so much, even staying extra with me and showing me how to pronounce words correctly, patiently and in his truly lovely way. My Greek improved quite a lot and I started to believe in myself again.

When I became a teacher, I vowed never to let any student’s confidence falter and try my best, just like Mr. Kontos had tried with me. So one year, a new student appeared at our school – let’s call him John. He was a bright-eyed boy (now he is almost eighteen!) and he loved playing soccer and with his Playmobil. His mother informed us that John was dyslexic and had many problems at school. Other kids made fun of him and challenged his intelligence and other horrible things. The worst thing was that his schoolteacher never bothered to help him and also had told him he was “not so bright”. I was around 22 at the time and had never worked with someone who had a learning difficulty before. I could not sleep in the beginning, thinking of how and if I could help him. I knew he could do great things – only if he could believe in himself.

So my sisters and I set our hands upon any specialised book we could find on dyslexia and even consulted a specialist who worked in the local university. But what I was thinking was that John himself had to open up and really see what he could do. So when he did not understand something or found it difficult to apply something he had learned, I asked him what he thought would help him most of all. He said something very important: Only when I see pictures, then I can remember things. So when we had a lesson, I never sat down, but wrote everything on the board and made little pictures and designs, underlined with colourful board markers (but not too many flashy things as they could overwhelm him). Simple and clear line designs. And a few months later…John could apply complex grammar such as the passive voice – and he could explain how it worked and even use it in his speaking. His schoolwork also started to improve as he believed more and more in himself. He even started dreaming of becoming an architect.

Plant a seed of belief in every student! (Image taken from sloatgardens.com)

There are so many students out there, not only with learning difficulties, but from broken homes or with other issues that hinder them from believing in themselves. It is up to the educators to find these issues, help their students overcome them and raise their confidence levels. It is definitely worth all the sleepless nights and thinking and studying, because once you see them with faith – it is all the motivation you need to help the next kids you find in a negative mindframe.

Planting the seed of belief in one student can help and then another and another!

Number Nine – Make a Global Connection – The 30 Goals Challenge

So…have you ever wondered what is happening in a classroom in another country? In a country far from you, or near you, but cannot easily visit? I have a heard a lot of instances where teachers have connected to classrooms in countries they could not easily have the chance to visit if they wanted to. And it is super easy! What you need is a computer with an internet connection (and permission from your school administration)! If you do not have it, there are many other ways as well.

Connect your classroom to the whole world! (Image taken from http://www.plus2city.com)
  • Social media. If you are on Twitter or Facebook, or something similar, it is already a step in the right direction. I never thought I could make so many connections with teachers from all over the world, when I first joined Twitter. So if you are connected on any type of social media, there are surely educators out there who would love to connect to your classroom, through:
  • Skype. It is free and it is super! Your students will love seeing the people at the other end of the webcam – it gives more immediacy.
  • Wikis and blogs. Invite other teachers and their students to write articles on your wiki or blog (which are also for free). Plan projects together. Some educators I appreciate and admire have made these global connections. You can read about Naomi Epstein’s global project on her blog Visualising Ideas and all the super things she does with her students! Arjana Blazic is another star teacher in Croatia, whose blog Traveloteacher is full of these projects! I have just one link from her many here for you to read. Eva Buyuksimkesyan and Alex Francisco, based in Istanbul and Portugal have made such a fantastic collaboration between their classes on their wiki! Shelly Terrell, the person behind the 30 Goals Challenge, has a blog and wikis with a multitude of such projects – you can literally spend hours reading about her work with kids.
  • Good old-fashioned mail. Younger children really enjoy writing letters, notes, making drawings, taking pictures and sending them to other schools around the world – and receiving them, of course! Receiving real objects from other children around the world excites them and love seeing how other schools in the world work, how life is and so on.

Have you got any other ideas? I am sure you do! Feel free to add them.