The Reflection Pool

Bill Hughey – #HWDSBacclerate series

Here in HWDSB, we’ve been talking about how to transform relationships, environments and learning opportunities. The driver is pedagogy, but the accelerator is technology. Asking students to do this is one thing – but what about the educators? I’m asking connected educators around our district how they use technology to accelerate their learning. 

Bill HugheyBill Hughey is an elementary teacher who uses digital tools in the classroom such as his student centred blog: Hughology. His focus on students and how he can not only help them learn but learn with them is evident. It’s great to have the perspective of a junior classroom teacher and insights into his journey of using technology. Read on to get to know Bill better!

What is your role in HWDSB?

I am currently a grade 5 teacher at Chedoke School although I have spent the bulk of my career in a middle school environment. Having just moved this year from an assignment where I was a Language specialist for the better part of a decade, it has been a big change teaching all the other curricular areas again!

What led you into education?

Teaching is a second career for me. I began my professional life as an archivist working for the Ontario Government and the City of Guelph. At a certain point, I was looking to re-energize myself professionally. As a student, I always loved school. I have also always admired the energy, positivity, and optimism of children. What better way to get energized than to step into a classroom? Is there a more dynamic workplace?

What are your go-to pieces of tech?

This is a difficult question as it applies to the classroom. I believe that technology in the classroom should not be a separate consideration. Fundamentally, programming in a technology-rich classroom is no different than in a more traditional setting. Technology just gives you so many more options for how students do their work. In our class, we access the technology that we need depending on the demands of a given project. Students decide what they want to do. They then decide on what technology is the best tool to actualize their ideas. That said, Google Drive has become a cornerstone tool. It allows us to work on multiple devices and applications and to always be able to access needed files. In an environment with limited resources, it is important that students have flexibility to access files regardless of the type of device they are using. Google Drive allows us to do that. The HWDSB Commons is also an incredibly valuable tool in my classroom. This year, my students have not used it as much as they normally do (their projects have required other tech tools), but having a public space for student work has become an important extension of our classroom. I continue to be delightfully surprised at how robust the platform is. If we want to accomplish something in the class, The Commons is often flexible enough to accommodate it.

Twitter or something else?

Though I lurk on Twitter, I am not active on it. Facebook is my go to social media tool.

How has technology shifted the way you learn?

In the classroom, technology has forced me to become a more effective co-learner with my students. I used to think that I was a co-learner with my students but in retrospect, I was paying more lip service to this idea than living it. Adopting technology and integrating it into the classroom has necessitated that I open myself in a more authentic way to learning together. Students will conceive of ideas, will experiment with how to present these, and will suggest a wide variety of tech tools that they think will do the job. It is impossible for me to master all of these tools and to provide direct instruction on their use. Students become the experts and teach me, and, more importantly they teach other. It can be an empowering experience for students that may not take leadership roles in other areas of the classroom. At the same time, it places me in the role of learner. This has helped me to rethink and to redefine my role in the classroom in a broader sense.

What’s your best piece of advice for those wondering how to use tech to accelerate their learning?

Experiment. Try something new. Be open to failure. Be willing to surrender some control over the process. Above all, conceive of technology as a tool. It is a means to an end. Do not start your planning by thinking about what technology you intend to use. Think about what you want to achieve. This is familiar to every teacher – i.e., starting with effective programming. Then, consider how technology might be used. Better yet, leave some choices open to your students as to what technology they may use to tackle a task. Be willing to let them take the lead.

(This series inspired by the innovative and trailblazing Royan Lee and the #workflow series on his Spicy Learning Blog. Thanks, Royan!)

Teachers, Don’t Worry About It

I like to spend time in classrooms with students.  I work with sixteen schools and try to be in each school at least once a month. And when I’m there talking with principals and vice principals, one of my favourite things to do is go into classrooms. It gives me an opportunity to meet school staff and talk with kids. And all educators know that the big payoff of being in education is that you get to hang out with kids.

I do know, however, that my presence in classrooms can cause some stress, even some consternation. What I am there for? Am I evaluating the teacher? Will I report something negative? When I approach students and ask them what they’re working on, I get that some teachers hold their breath and hope it will be OK.  Sometimes, it’s not. But teachers, don’t worry about it. It’s not your fault.

Students don’t always tell me what they know. They can get nervous too. They know that I’m someone who doesn’t often come into their classroom and I’m usually with the principal, which must mean something. Or they just forget, because the learning goal or success criteria simply isn’t at the top of their mind. That’s OK.

When I go in classrooms and see kids working together, or reading, or helping someone out, or thinking, or even texting, I smile. That’s kids! I know teachers are doing their best and want the best for their students. I know how hard you work and how thankless the job can sometimes seem.

Nonetheless, it’s my privilege to visit your classroom.

“Why Would I Want to Learn from Someone Who Doesn’t Want to Learn from Me?”

This is a powerful quote from an Ontario student on the Minister’s Student Advisory Council. It challenges every educator to think about what students have to teach us. It uncovers the power differential inherent in today’s schooling model.  It points the way to a real interaction between teacher and student where ideas are respected and where communication is two way.

Art by Liisa Sorsa and Disa Kauk. The graphic was created by the Minister's Student Advisory Council for 2013-14.
Art by Liisa Sorsa and Disa Kauk. The graphic was created by the Minister’s Student Advisory Council for 2013-14.

When I was a teacher, I tried to give students a voice in my (notice the adjective? I didn’t start using “our” instead of “my” until much later) classroom by incorporating some choice and collaboration. After I read Alfie Kohn’s Beyond Discipline: From Compliance to Community, I wanted to make the classroom more of a community where we learned from each other. I did my best, but I’m not really sure how successful I was.

Every teacher, educational assistant, principal and superintendent I know has endured a deadly professional development session. You know the kind – where you want to poke your eyes out with a pencil. I’ve heard people complain about presenters being the “sage on the stage”, or about the “sit and git” model, or about Health and Safety compliance modules and the tests that accompany them.

These days, when I go into some classrooms and see students sitting passively in rows and listening to the teacher, or doing worksheets, or writing a 90 minute test, I wonder if teachers look at their classroom through students’  eyes. Can we look at our classrooms and meeting spaces with the same critical eye we bring to those bad PD sessions?

Here is the big question: would you want to sit in your classroom 100% of the time? Would you want to attend your meeting? Would you want to be in your professional learning session? And before you say that everything can’t be “fun” all of the time, I’ll agree, but I will say that everything should offer a way to become interesting by beginning where people are, embedding ideas into their real work and through interaction.

Listening to what students and others have to say to us can be hard. And really listening often means we have to change. Even though I’m not in schools, I often think about how to solicit and respond to feedback from all the people I work with. I know I’m not always going to hear positive things, but I also know that I can learn from their ideas.

Teaching is a very challenging profession. I can pretty much guarantee, however, that if you act on student feedback, you’ll find your job more fun and more satisfying.