Saturday, June 9, 2012

Types of teachers

There are a number of different types of teachers.  Support at critical points in careers make or break teachers.  The availability of this support is something that is often in question.

Who can supply this support?

Collegiate support is the first line of defence.  Supportive colleagues is important to navigating the issues of the teacher gaining competency.  A colleague with the ability to support another is worth gold in an organisation (not only giving lip service but also providing practical help).  Without that support I know I wouldn't have made it through my first few years of teaching.  I'm pretty grateful to these people.

The second line of support is friends, family and the community.   Without this support, a teacher could not have made it through university, much less the first year of teaching.  It's a hard time learning classroom management and tying together content, pedagogy and support requirements can continue for many years.

The third line and last line is administration.  The strategies available at this level are pretty dire.

For those with limited support at a family level, in schools under stress with limited ability to provide collegiate support, administrative support is going to be fairly limited and action fairly direct. The half cohort has placed a number of schools in this category - with considerable pressure placed on relatively few. Filling in the gaps from this point is predictable.

I have thought that is why teaching is full of assertive personalities that "win over" students rather than  those that have the best teaching ability (with regard to content and pedagogy). Teaching also has a few teachers hiding beneath the radar, giving good grades but doing the bare minimum.

I know that assertive and avoidant teachers are not all, but it would be good if those that were good at teaching, trying hard but not "assertive" also found their place through support at critical times.  These people could make phenomenal teachers in the right location.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

The important of positivity

It's been a busy term and everyone is a little frayed.  It's time like this that a school like ours can start to wear on you a little.  You see only the negative and miss all of the good things that are being done.  You start to become that teacher that has been at the school a little too long and starts to believe the reputation of a school rather than see the potential of students.

If this happens, I hope you are able to take a step back and look at what you are doing.  I hope you have great people around you that can fill your sails with enthusiasm and drive you past the negativity - and similarly you can be that person for others in the organisation.  I hope you can look over your shoulder and see all the kids that have passed through the system successfully and realise that you are a part of something that makes a difference in your community.

I only noticed it this week because I was doing long hours and getting tired.  I was at a social function and a few jokes were bandied about our school (which is fairly normal - we have a reputation that we no longer deserve) and probably for the first time I wasn't one of the ones leaping to our defence.  Yet, I was surrounded at the time by two math teachers that graduated from our school (and were now working in the local area), my current practicum student is a graduate from our school, three of our past practicum students keep close contact with the school because they are keen to work with us (not only did practicum not scare them off - they can see the support and challenge of a school like ours), past students at university drop in all the time and visit.  Nearly every student that I have taught stage 3 courses to is now at university and is successfully traversing their degree.

We are lucky at the moment to have an administration that is challenging us to do more, and is helping those that want to rise to the challenge. They are supportive of our hair brained schemes that may help our hair brained students, ideas born from the extensive experience of the teaching team and through discussions with students.  There are even levels of real performance management entering the system - which is exciting as this is the heart of real change in the school.

We are doing things that very low SES schools don't do.. overseas trips, winning state and national competitions in multiple areas (science, history, home economics, dance from my knowledge in the last 5 years). We develop leadership.. With each PD I find that our school department has developed teachers in TiC and HoD positions all over WA that remember the school fondly.

I hear comments about how students miss our school once they have left and it's not just our stage 3 kids.  With the development of an active PE department, a T&E dept (focussed on vocations not just skills), dedicated dance and drama teachers and a MESS group that is getting their head around national curriculum delivery, we should be positive about the direction of the school.

It was a little surprise to discover I had become a teacher that had real pride in our school, rather relying on my more natural cynicism about everything!

Sure, we'll take hits in year 11 exams, as students start to realise a work ethic is needed to succeed but past experience says that the majority will get there (at least the ones that can surmount the problems the area brings).  The kids make the transition (giving us more grey hairs whilst making this transition) and it is ok.  Perspective needs to be maintained.

I think we need to be mindful of staff that focus on the negative aspects of schooling and miss the great things that are happening.  These members are always there, and it is a group I don't want to be a part of.

For someone like me that is developing their leadership skills, I think positivity is a real area I can work on.  As an art of leadership, inspiration of a team requires real belief in what you are doing.  If you feel that your belief is waning, take a good look around and see what you have done to make a difference, listen to colleagues that are in the zone, if that does not work, go make that difference instead.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Underestimating the impact of fly-in fly-out

I read the paper and see people write, "fly-in fly-out will buy me my house" and I can't believe my eyes.  The idea of being away from my family for extended periods for money would keep me up at night, if it was the only solution.  It seems naive and short sighted.

The impact on a family must be horrendous.  One parent effectively looking after everything to do with the house, another 4000 km away with nothing to do but work.  The only payback being a few extra dollars per hour.  It may pay off the house, but it would certainly put my marriage under strain.  I value time with family a lot higher than that.

In schools we see this impact emerging with dual income families and one parent FIFO.  Kids get limited support from parents as instead of sharing the load of parenting, it is placed on one overworked person trying to juggle 100 balls in the air and usually a job aswell.  I could only liken it to the load of the single mum, something that I wouldn't wish on anyone.

Needless to say the load ends up somewhere and typically it is with kids in schools unable to socialise effectively and study adequately.  There is a cost to FIFO and we haven't paid it yet.  It's on its way and we had better put some thought into it.  These kids are coming and many may be underdeveloped and lack self discipline after being left alone for extended periods of time.  It has the potential to be a mental health issue (with kids lacking belonging), a policing issue (with kids not being adequately monitored), an education issue (with attendance and performance dropping) and a social issue (with families under strain).

Encouraging true regional areas seems to be the only real solution and it will take years to create viable communities in outlying areas.  Royalties for regions was a ridiculous notion but if refocussed now that money is available, it will be an interesting exercise spending money to make regional centres attractive - fixing health, education, lack of amenities and creating a broad spectrum of service based jobs (built around decent populations); rather than risky exiles from city centres with fear of never being able to return due to increasing land values.  Just ask a teacher trying to return from a regional centre how easy it is to get a job in Perth after a regional posting now independent public schools has reduced the available pool of places.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Extinction Event: School Librarian

As a kid I loved the library, I was a book a day kid.  I didn't really care what it was, as long as it was interesting in some way and over 300 pages.  I never understood picture books as the picture created in your own mind was the fun of it.  I still own a decent science fiction collection from the 50's and 60's.

but.. I think the school teacher librarian and the idea of a library itself is on its last legs.  The non fiction section completely lacks relevance (it always was too small to be useful) and has been surpassed by online resources or class based texts.  The day of the printed book, even fiction, is passing.  I realised this when I watched my wife prefer to read her book on a backlit iPad than the paper copy next to her.

Specialist research tasks are no longer the domain of the librarian.  There's no reason why a bibliography by a student can't be written using a tool like 'Papers' - it's a task now that does not need a specialist teacher.  There's no reason why a teacher can't prepare a list of articles for students to research from and keep for later use - I've never seen this done by a librarian anyway (albeit it was more common with paper books).  Electronic documents can be annotated and highlighted just like paper - without printing and photocopying time/expense.  Students with laptops are ringing the death knell of the library being IT centres, distributed computers in classrooms are just more useful.

When I look at a library I see a shell of the learning centre it once was.  I see broken computer labs with kids playing games, too loud to promote study.  I see old mouldy books last read in a previous decade.  I see old brown furniture that wasn't even that well made to begin, not old enough to be retro, not new enough to be modern.

Libraries could become study centres again with the right management in place.  Librarians though are too expensive to use managing study centres.  Once a fertile ground for breeding librarians, now that paper books are becoming extinct, so are librarians.  The person choosing, storing and sorting books has been overtaken by digital resources selected by the masses or distant experts.

Where does this leave the librarian?

Sadly, I'd suggest out of a job.  I can't see such traditionalists re-inventing themselves into something as required as the librarian was.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Papers: Creating a glossary of terms

After writing my last article on using Papers I thought to myself, I need to write a glossary of terms at some point, maybe Papers can help.

If I use the search function in Papers, I can search for the term and view how other authors have interpreted them.

I started with 'microblogging' and came up with 8 documents:

Then I clicked on the first document, on the right hand side a list of pages and entries appeared where the term 'microblogging' was used:

The entry itself was highlighted at the bottom of the page.  This entry did not have a good definition so I clicked back on my search list and tried the next entry:

In searching for the glossary item I discovered a table that I had missed and thought may be useful later in defining what microblogging was and why microblogging was important from Halse (2009).

My first glossary item came from a post from Romania of all places:

"Microblogging is a Web2.0 technology and a new form of blogging, that let the users publish online brief text updates, usually less then 140-200 characters, sometimes images too. The posts can be edited and accessed online, or sent as SMS, e-mail or via instant messaging clients. Usually the microblogs authors embed their posts as a widget on blogs or sites." (Holotescu, 2009)

A second item:

"Microblogging is a variant of blogging which allows users to quickly post short messages on the web for others to access. These messages can be restricted to a certain number of individuals, sent exclusively to a specific contact, or made available to the World Wide Web." (Costa, 2008)

Both came from conferences, indicating that completed formal research may be still coming and that microblogging is a relatively new phenomenon.

Quite a cool use of the search function, something that would have taken ages trolling through multiple pdf files or rewriting from sticky notes attached to paper.

I will need to look further into why ellipses are turning up in reference lists though.


Costa, C., Beham, G., Reinhardt, W., & al, E. (2008). Microblogging in technology enhanced learning: A use-case inspection of ppe summer school 2008. Proceedings of the  ….

Halse, M. L., & Mallinson, B. J. (2009). Investigating popular Internet applications as supporting e-learning technologies for teaching and learning with Generation Y. International Journal of Education & Development using Information & Communication Technology, 5(5), 58–71. University of the West Indies.

Holotescu, C., & al, E. (2009). Using microblogging in education. Case Study: Cirip. ro. 6th International Conference on e- ….

Papers: Finding lost articles

Here's something I do a lot.  I'll read an article, quote it in a document and then forget where I quoted it from.   Then I'll have a rummage, fail to find the document and have to remove the quote, undermining the argument I was trying to build.

This happened to me this morning and I had an idea.  Perhaps Papers can find it for me.  The quote was:

" However, most Yers ...".

I selected "Papers" at the top of the left hand pane to bring up all articles.

Then in the search box typed my quote:

And up came the relavent document:

I was then able to click on the document and find the quote that I had highlighted previously.

This may sound like a trivial task but I can see that this would also be very useful when checking the validity of quotes when proofing a document.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Papers: Using Collections

Papers collections can be a bit confusing at first, but once you figure it out, finding articles is considerably easier, especially when you are reading 50-60 papers a week preparing for a literature review.

A collection (folder) of articles can be created by

File->New Collection->Manual Collection

All unfiled articles are automatically added to the "Unfiled Papers" collection

To add an article to a collection, drag it from the main pane to the collection.  Once filed it will disappear from the "Unfiled Papers" collection.

If you make a sub collection (a collection in a collection) articles will be automatically added to parent collections.  I found splitting Case studies and Editorials handy, since case studies typically have more depth (useful for a literature review) and reviews/editorials are wider reaching (useful to get a big picture look at where research trends are developing).

Things to remember about collections:
  • If you delete an article from a collection, it will again appear in "Unfiled papers".
  • If you delete an article from "Unfiled papers" it will be moved to Trash.
  • If you move an article directly to Trash, it will be deleted from all collections (but can be restored from the Trash).
  • If you delete a file from Trash it is permanently deleted.

This can all be disorientating at first (with articles appearing all over the place), but once figured out, it is quite useful.

A useful tip when wanting to move a file between collections is to delete an article from a collection and then add it to the desired collection from "Unfiled papers".  This will save you from having multiple copies of the same paper in different collections (but takes a bit of courage the first time).

Another interesting feature is the detection of duplicates.  If you download the same file twice, Papers detects it and prompts you to delete it.  The indicator is on the far right hand side near the bottom when looking at an article or in the main pane on the left hand side column.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Papers: Citations and Referencing (Mac)

I'm a fairly lazy researcher and loathe the tedious process of referencing - like many in the new generation, I enjoy finding and using a new idea, care little of the source, file the articles poorly and then find it difficult to reference them properly.

Luckily technology has come to the rescue.  EndNote, Papers and Sente can do some of the menial tasks in the past I may have written applications to do for me.  They do the work of filing and scraping references from online journals and all I have to do is verify the results to make sure it is correct and adequate.

My first efforts were with Papers for iPad which made the process relatively easy, and now that I have Papers for my mac, creating bibliographies and citations is a trivial task - at about the level of complexity I am comfortable with.  It's not to say EndNote and Sente are not better, it's just that I am familiar with this relatively cheap ($49 for a student version) option with iPad support.

I know why referencing is important, I do - I just don't care that much, the implementation and spread of good ideas is what a research practitioner is about; and a good idea can come from anywhere not just a renowned journal or academic.  Being able to recognise a good idea is a mark of a real practitioner, especially where early adoption is concerned.  If you can't do this, you end up implementing ideas that are aging and reaching end of life cycle, taking high risks on projects that are likely to fail or using ideas that have little merit.

Back to the problem at hand.. Papers installation and setup is quite simple.  It took me a little longer than this to figure it out, I hope this can help save you a little time.

Install papers from here. A 30 day trial was available at time of writing.

In the Papers application go Papers->Preferences->Access and enter the university library journal search url at the bottom of the page.

Now go to File->Open Library Website

Use your search page to find a journal article.  The journal search pages are widely different but the process is usually quite similar.  Here's one example:

Papers will attempt to scrape the page for the citation and is generally quite good.  To increase accuracy of the citation download a citation file (the endNote/RIS citation format works well)  and Papers will automatically detect the downloaded file and use it instead.  Quickly you will find that although not perfect, it is superior to manually recording citations.

Next click on a fulltext pdf representation of the journal article.  Papers will add it to the citation and the unfiled papers section for later reading.  Each pdf/citation can be added to a collection for use when generating an article or research proposal.

Once the article and citation is downloaded, the tab will be renamed with the name of the author (an important check to ensure the right citation is linked to the right article - sometimes it gets confused and overwrites the library website tab, restart the app if this happens).  Sections of the article can be highlighted whilst reading the article and notes can be added for later use.  The journal articles get automatically renamed and can be filed in folders (collections) to aid in relocating the article file later.

You can also add a bookmarklet to other browsers to add articles directly from a browser.  This also works quite well but lacks the workflow listed above.
Liking creature comforts, I enjoy reading articles on the couch on my iPad.  Papers allows me to link to my iPad effortlessly and annotate articles.  Grab it from the appStore.

The true heart of Papers though is in the ease of adding citations to articles that you are writing.  This works in Pages and Word, even Blogger!  Within any of these apps press control twice and a citation menu appears.  Type the author or title and then select the article that you are working with - it inserts the citation directly into the document.  When you are finished adding citations, go back to the citation menu and at the touch of a button a reference list can be created.

For the article above to get the the reference in APA format for Blogger would be "control, control" then

The citation is:

(Nehme, 2010)

The reference found is:

Nehme, M. (2010). E-learning and Student's Motivation. Legal Education Review, 20(1/2), 223. Australasian Law Teachers Association.