Cross Post: Sharing to learn, learning to share – Why the path to teacher registration needs to be networked @coetail #coetail


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Induction into the teaching profession in New Zealand is serious.

Beginning Teachers are granted provisional registration when they start their teaching career and spend at least two years being supervised by an assigned mentor before they can apply for full registration.

In order to gain full registration, Beginning Teachers are required to gather evidence of their professional development to demonstrate how they meet each of the New Zealand Teacher Council’s Registered Teacher Criteria a set of quality teaching descriptors.

For most Beginning Teachers the evidence of how they made the journey from those first terrifying hours in charge of their first class to competent teacher are stored in folder (either paper or online) that one or two people possibly read.

Instead of languishing away in the depths of cyberspace or even worse a cupboard my registration portfolio is out in public for all to see. As another school year starts up downunder, I’ve seen Beginning Teachers on the Facebook group asking about how to gather evidence for registration.

I’m going to make the case for using a public blog to document that journey.

Tagging for learning = easy organisation and self management

I updated my blog once a week used the tagging feature to label each posts which I thought were evidence of the different standards of the Registered Teacher Criteria I met. Often I would find that posts met several of the standards. Tagging turned out to be brilliant way to be able to document non-linear learning. I might spend a few weeks thinking about the learning environment and not touch that part of the criteria for a few months. If I was documenting this through a site or google docs, it would be hard to make links. However through tagging I can quickly draw up all the posts on different parts of the criteria to demonstrate shifts in thinking.

Over time I was able to build up a tag cloud of posts gave a visual representation of my reflections. Through the tag cloud I was quickly able to self-identify areas of the Registered Teacher Criteria I wasn’t giving much thought to and start thinking about how to improve my practice. Tagging each post with different aspects of the Registered Teacher Criteria gave my reflections a conceptual framework on which I could hang my ideas on teaching and learning. It made my blogging purposeful and relevant.

Being public = More reflective practice

I still get a lot of surprise from teachers that my portfolio is online and public for all to see. I’m often asked if I’m worried about breaching privacy of my students and colleagues through choosing a public platform to hold my registration evidence. If by keeping 99 percent of what I do at school off limits in terms of what I write online, then yes, I am totally invading other people’s privacy.

Learning how, what and who to share with are important skills not just for our students but for teachers as well. As the awesome Dorothy Burt @dorothyjburt one of my ‘virtual mentors’ points out the pedagogy we implement in the classroom needs to start with us:

“kids are wee children, teens or almost adults, they can’t (and shouldn’t) replace the friendship, collegiality, professional energising and empathy our fellow teachers provide.”

WordPress has a feature where you can limit the audience of certain posts to a few readers or make a post completely private.  Yes there are risks to being public in your practice. Steve Mouldey @geomoudley another one of my ‘virtual mentors’ often points out, schools frequently do risk assessments without stopping to weight up the benefits.

I found the process of turing a ‘ZOMG this kid is driving me crazy, my classroom sucks I’m the worst teacher ever’ rant into something I’d be happy for my principal, the child or a parent to read was a healthy part of the reflective process. The public nature of my medium forced me to take a step back and think about situations from different perspectives. Moreover I needed demonstrate how I had taken action to improve the situation.

Some posts were immediate, others took many months of thinking to formulate.

Learn from others

The two real-life mentor teachers I was assigned in my school during my provisional period of registration were awesome. But they were just two teachers. Blogging opened up a world of mentor teachers to help and support me during registration. Through reading other people’s blogs I gained ideas, got support during tough times and always had a fresh perspective on a problem of practice. Over the course of my provisional registration period I had interactions with hundreds of ‘virtual mentors’ to help guide me on the way. My school mentors were important, but they were just one piece of the learning puzzle.

Informing others

Perhaps this is a tad arrogant, but I suspect that my reflections had school leaders and other teachers wondering about their beginning teachers and the systems in their schools to support their own beginning teachers. When I look back on the raw desperation in some of my posts from my first term from the perspective of an experienced teacher, I am highly concerned about first year me.

In fact there was a post or two that prompted visits from my school leadership checking in that I was ok and lending a friendly ear to problems of practice. Beginning teachers often want to ‘prove their competence’ which can make having in-person conversations hard especially during a busy school day. Blogging gave those conversations an outlet.

Measure progress

Effectively demonstrating small shifts in learning is a bit like nailing jelly to the wall. Blogging was a way to document those shifts. When I look at earlier posts I often cringe at what I’ve written, which is a good thing. It shows I’ve grown as a teacher which is what the purpose of professional induction.

Beginning teachers have something to offer the community

New teachers have enthusiasm and are willing to try new things simply because everything is new. The problem is that many think that what they are doing doesn’t offer value to the profession because they lack experience and gravitas. Beginning teachers don’t often get the chance to speak at conferences and few get published in established publications.

Yet I’ve been stealing classroom ideas from Matt Ives @hunch_box, who graduated at the same time as me, since we started teaching. I first met Matt at a group interview for an awesomesauce school. He got the job and I accepted my first teaching position at another great school a few kilometers away. The beauty of the internet is that we kept in touch. As a first year teacher Matt influenced my learning just as much as the highly experienced edurockstars simply by putting his ideas out there.

He still shares his ideas online and I’m still shamelessly stealing them to use in my class.

So go ahead Beginning Teachers put your ideas out there, you never know where that journey might take you.

from Teaching the Teacher

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