Apr 252013

[Note: This has been cross-posted from my quotidian truth blog.]


I’ve been reading this book.


And I’ve been thinking about it A LOT.

I can really identify with having a fixed mindset when it comes to sports. I think I need to change this. I’m about 55% through the book (that reference was for you, Alex) and that’s the main area I’ve identified so far that I need to re-think, but it has certainly got me thinking about other areas where perhaps I have a fixed mindset. I need to seriously re-evaluate these areas.

One of the stories that struck me most in this book is the story of Michael Jordan. Before reading this book, I quite honestly had no idea that he was pretty much a crap basketball player when he first started playing. He was cut from the HS Varsity team! He wasn’t recruited by the college he wanted and he wasn’t drafted by the first two NBA teams that could have taken him. He worked his butt off — doing things like practicing for hours after the last game of the season after they had lost; he was preparing for next season (Dweck 85-86).

I remember once getting into an argument with an administrator — a principal at a previous school — about professional growth. I had started the argument, because I was really miffed that an entire year had gone by and I had not participated in any formal professional development activities. My then-principal told me that there would be times in my career when sometimes I just needed to sit back and slide through, that I didn’t always need to be reaching for something bigger and better. He told me that maybe one day when I had a family I would understand (which I found interesting because he himself didn’t have a family). He said that I really just needed to “sit tight” for the time being and coast for a bit, and that that was okay, that I didn’t always need to be “so ambitious.”

This man clearly did not know me well.

I told him that I couldn’t ever — ever! — imagine plateauing in my career, that I didn’t think that way about being an educator, that I never wanted to coast, and that I was dedicated to always wanting to become better. I told him I would be going to a conference that year whether the school paid for it or not.

(And I did. And the school did end up paying for it, thankfully. But I was fully prepared to go on my own coin that year.)

He still argued with me. I remember him muttering something about how I’d been teaching long enough that I should know that there’s really a limit to what you can know about being a teacher, and that after a while it all is the same, anyway.

He had a fixed mindset.

I, thankfully, did not. And I daresay it’s the reason I’m a better teacher now than I was then, several years ago now.

Dweck tells the story of the one time Michael Jordan decided to coast, the year he returned to basketball after trying out baseball, “… and he learned his lesson. The Bulls were eliminated in the playoffs.”

You can’t leave and think you can come back and dominate this game. I will be physically and mentally prepared from now on.

(Michael Jordan, in Dweck 99)

The question I’m ruminating over now — and it may well be a question I spend my lifetime thinking about — is this: how can I transfer the growth mindset that I have about being an educator to other areas of my life? How can I continually keep growing, developing, and learning as a human being?

I have a lot of work to do.


Dweck, Carol S. Mindset: How You Can Fulfill Your Potential. London: Robinson, 2012. Print.

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Apr 302012

I returned from Yokohama more than a week ago.

(It’s been busy. Well, you know.)

Since I returned, a lot has been said. Really, a LOT. But I haven’t said anything here yet, though I’ve spoken on other peoples’ blogs and in the Twitterverse. So, here goes.

I’ve been a “recipient” of professional development ever since I’ve been a teacher. I’ve been a “professional development provider” of some kind for a much shorter length of time, but enough to feel like I’ve seen and done it all.

#beyondlaptops was the best yet.

  • it pushed me
  • it pulled me
  • it made me uncomfortable
  • it made me think
  • it made me DO STUFF
  • it made me wanna DO MORE STUFF
  • it was collaborative
  • it was not sit-and-absorb
  • it was differentiated
  • it was not structured-workshoppy[1], nor airy-fairy
  • it was conversational

I could go on, but those are the off-the-top-of-my-head reasons.


Okay, I’ll go on.

Here’s the thing: we spend all this time going to PD sessions where we sit and are challenged by Ms. BlogsALot and Mr. BigNameTechDude to DO STUFF. And we do it. And we sit and muse, and go, “Ahh yeah, that was good. Man, I’m going to use that next week.”

And maybe we do.

But even in the unconference types of conferences, I’ve found there’s a lot of unstructured sitting around talking about coffee and sharing practice — which can be good.


(you knew that was coming, huh?)

But, what are we doing after we share our practice? Where and how does it evolve? How do these PD experiences — even the unconference types — push us to contribute to the continual development of the practice within our profession? How do novices and experts alike collaborate to push our practice and our profession further?


In the case of those working in the field of ICT/tech integration/facilitation/coordination [2], there are few opportunities for us to move beyond our practice. I personally feel that this is because our practice is still relatively new, and we often disagree about what it encompasses.

“Change leads to disappointment if it is not sustained. Transformation is sustained change, and it is achieved through practice.” -B.K.S. Iyengar

“Whatever it takes to make mutual engagement possible is an essential component of any practice.” -Etienne Wenger

Here’s another thing: even most unconference types of PD don’t facilitate this kind of stuff.

#beyondlaptops was organized. Without some framework, the conversations simply become back-patting and sharing, and “Oh, I wanna do what you’re doing with that task in year 10!” This is nobody’s fault, per se. But with better design, I think we can have better PD experiences similar to those at #beyondlaptops.

#beyondlaptops involved (primarily) decision-makers and change agents within schools. This was key. This was not (primarily) a PD experience for teachers. That’s not to say the teacher voice wasn’t there — loud and clear! — but rather that our conversations were about how to move schools forward. And let’s face it: sadly, in many (most?) of our schools, teachers aren’t the ones moving the institution forward: the leaders are. If you have good leaders, you luck out. If you don’t, you can find your way pushing and pushing and pushingandpushingandpushingugh to make all that wonderful transformational change you dream of…. only to see it end at your classroom doors.

To have decision-makers and change agents in the same space is important. This is one of #beyondlaptops’s primary success points. I found it extremely valuable to hear stories and experiences from other practitioners in my role, and to hear also from other leaders’ perspectives in a very non-threatening, honest way what drives them crazy about what people do in my role. Not only was it valuable just to sit and listen, but to probe their thinking, and to find out why something worked or didn’t work a particular way, and to then reflect on whether it would (or wouldn’t) work the same way at my school, and why or why not.

#beyondlaptops was contextual. It allowed for the differences that exist between schools. Participants represented 21 different schools in 10 different countries. Sure, many have similarities — American curriculum vs. IB frameworks, and more. But none of us have the same student demographics, and therefore none of us can or should be doing exactly the same thing. Conversations at #beyondlaptops allowed for that. I found that I took few notes about the things I learned during the two days. Rather, my “notes” were mostly questions: How can we maximize PD during the school day at AIS? Can I convince our MYP coordinator to help me map the ISTE NETS standards? How can I help parents see value in using mobile devices? How much influence will our Tech Director have on our 1:1 program in the Junior School, and how will this affect my role in the Secondary School? Where will we keep our e-portfolios, and who will use them? 

#beyondlaptops was small. Fewer than 60 attendees. I would argue — and I think Kim and other participants agree — that it should be even smaller. The conversational setup of the two days meant that it really was about dialogue. I wanted to be able to engage in conversations with everyone there, but sadly I probably only was able to engage with half the participants. Still, this allowed for some powerful discussions.

#beyondlaptops allowed discussions to be framed, but also allowed for us to push them in another direction if we wanted. The conversation frames sometimes pushed us out of our comfort zone (Thanks, Scott!) and other times made us work hard to understand.. Hey, why do we need to talk about this topic, anyway? [3] There were also break-out sessions for interested parties to Get On With Things — namely, those separate agendas of our own we all brought. Kim was good at giving us space to do this, and I suspect after the first day we maybe could have even had more.

Back to what I was saying (and what Iyengar and Wenger were saying) earlier about practice…

Practice makes our profession. Practice makes the change. Practice pushes us forward.

Practice is the action. 

Sitting and talking and planning and sharing is great, but what comes next?

#beyondlaptops was the closest I’ve come to discovering a Community of Practice in the making for our fieldand you know I don’t say that lightly.[4] I want our profession to grow. Unlike some, I don’t think that the role of “ICT facilitator/coordinator/whateveryoucallyourself” is going to disappear any time soon. I also don’t think that it’s the goal of our job to make our job obsolete, but that’s another story. [5] I want us to be supported and I want us to support others. And I want us to do it well — in the ways that are best practiced in the specific contexts of our learning environments.

Those of us at schools in Singapore are already talking about a #beyondlaptops “support network” to share what we are doing and challenge each other to carry out the great ideas and goals and actions that came out of discussions in Yokohama. I am excited about this initiative and I think it has potential to be powerful and transformative. I also love that it would be ongoing and highly contextual, rather than yearly and external. I suppose I’m excited about the idea of a Community of Practice within a Community of Practice. :)

I can’t wait to see where this all goes. I am confident that #beyondlaptops is “bigger” than just a group of us like-minded peeps sitting around and chatting.[6] It will drive the action. It is bigger than us.

Already at AIS we’ve begun to implement two fairly big “things” that came out of discussions at #beyondlaptops:

  1. Our Laptop Bootcamp[7] for new starting students will become student-led (rather than Tech Director-and-ICT-Coach-led) and will be offered weekly, rather than bi-weekly. We have new students nearly every week at AIS, so frequency was becoming a concern. Further, we wanted to capitalize on the well-established Home Group buddy system already in place at AIS thanks to our Student Welfare Admin team, which previously we really were ignoring, TBH.
  2. Our Behaviour Management protocol is being re-designed to include clearer processes and procedures for students with regard to actions and consequences for behaviour related to digital citizenship. This will be in place within the next few weeks, but prior to its implementation it will be subject to feedback from our student leadership team at AIS.

There are a few more irons in the fire, but this is all I can definitively share at this point. Neither of these were on the action agenda prior to #beyondlaptops. I hope to share much more as we move… #beyondlaptops.[8]

“Communities of practice are groups of people who share a passion for something that they know how to do and to interact regularly to learn how to do it better.” — Etienne Wenger

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  1. [1] don’t get me wrong – workshoppyness has its place
  2. [2] (could we have any more descriptors?)
  3. [3] budgets, data, and parent input, anyone?
  4. [4] If you’re new here, you might not know that this is what my monster Thesis was about. Yeah, I’m a Communities of Practice junkie and it really revs me up to think that we might be onto this here.
  5. [5] For those who know me well, you’ll note that I’ve come full circle on this now, after having looked at bundles of research and history of education and technology/media.
  6. [6] which, really, admit it, is what Twitter is.
  7. [7] I hate this term, but that’s also another story. Picking my battles!
  8. [8] cue cheesy music and credits
Jan 272011

I began this post about a week ago, and have been coming back to it from time to time over the last few days. At this very moment, I’m sitting at Newark Liberty Airport, Terminal C, with a significant wait ahead of me before boarding a flight to London for a job fair for international schools. It seems as good a time as any to finish up this post…

… which is long overdue, but really, the truth is that I needed a break.

When I wrote my last post, I really did feel as though I would be excited about finishing my thesis document and I would post a big long reflection here about what I learned and blahblahblah. But I found that as soon as I was done — and I mean literally, THE MOMENT I handed it in, I was finished with it. I just breathed a giant sigh of relief. I mean, I did speak about it with people after it was handed in, of course. And I have spoken about it several times since then. But not once have I wanted to re-hash it, re-open it, explore a new side of it, or re-examine it. A few weeks ago I had to open the 86-page document, as I had promised several colleagues I would send them chunks of it — different chunks for different people, as it turned out. Just the process of having to split sections and review it in its massive coherent form, made me realize that I was so not ready to get back into any kind of academic mode any time soon. I still very much feel that way, but I know I need to look back on all of this while it’s still tastable in my memory, before it disappears… and while I still have time on my hands (more on that in a later post).

Firstly, the logistical stuff: I *will* post my thesis in its entirety on my main site as soon as I can. By “in its entirety” I mean that monstrous document. I also mean the slide presentation I gave on December 10th, accompanied (hopefully) by the audio of my presentation. I’m still waiting on the official video which has the quality audio, and hopefully once I have that I can put it all together. It’s on my to-do list.

In the meantime, I’ll give you a brief overview of what my thesis was about. Actually, perhaps the best way for me to do that is to post the abstract here (hyperlinks added, of course):

Bridge to Success is an online learning environment for International Baccalaureate teachers in the Middle Years Programme, and was developed as part of a Gates-funded access initiative to International Baccalaureate programmes. This paper firstly aims to examine fundamental concepts of community of practice theory and research and the evolving new area of virtual community of practice research, in order to determine if a community of practice approach is the best fit for the current Bridge to Success environment. Further, this paper examines whether design principles can be derived from community of practice research, and subsequently applied to the mindful design of an online learning environment. This paper concludes that community of practice research can provide a sound theoretical framework to the design of an online learning environment, specifically by way of providing a social context, distributed cognition, and wisdom of the periphery. Design recommendations to promote user activity and participation are suggested and illustrated.

So there you have it, in a nutshell. I took an existing online learning space for teachers — in this case, for IB teachers of MYP, a curriculum framework I’m very experienced in and feel strongly about — and applied Communities of Practice (CoP) research to the space, with the idea that design recommendations could be made to better facilitate learning.

And… in terms of reflecting on all of that… wowza… where does one begin? I guess I’ll start with content — also known as All That Stuff I Read And Then Analyzed And Wrote About. But this leads very naturally into my process, and how it all developed. Well, here goes…

I can’t even remember how I became interested in Communities of Practice theory (CoP theory). I know I had to read some Lave & Wenger in my first Cognitive Science course in Fall 2009, so it probably crossed my radar then. However, I can’t recall how I became interested in it so much as to do an entire thesis on it. Perhaps it will come to me later, or one of my NYU colleagues/classmates remembers having a conversation with me when I confessed my desire to dig deeper into CoP. All I know is that once I discovered it, I just wanted know more and more about it — that’s the sign of something thesis-worthy, I suppose. However, the way my thesis came about was more serendipitous than just a single interest and subsequent exploration.

It began last spring when I wrote a theory paper for a course on Architecture of Learning Environments. The paper could take whatever form I wanted it to, and Dr. Ricki Goldman gave us free reign in terms of applying course concepts to something that was in our realm of experience or knowledge. I decided to apply it to the theoretical design of an online professional learning space for MYP teachers, building on the core philosophies and tenets of the International Baccalaureate in general. The paper was fine — I did my research — but it was just a theory paper. It was the kind of theory paper I affectionately call, “Just a Nice Idea.” And so, that Nice Idea sat around, as nice ideas are wont to do.

Over the summer, I took a course titled Leadership for School Improvement, taught by Dr. Gary Anderson. The course was fascinating to me on many levels, not least of which was that it gave me insight into different school models here in the USA. (If you know anything about me, you know I have much more to say about this, but am refraining here.) In that course, we looked at many different leadership approaches, models, and practices as fit different school types, models, and situations. Most of the people in this course were interested in becoming future administrators, I believe. I am not. However, I am interested in becoming a better instructional leader. I know I have much to learn, and this course was just an appetizer.

Dr. Anderson filled the syllabus with very relevant readings, videos, and websites. I learned from every one of them. But one of the readings in particular really sparked my interest. It was a book chapter written by Dr. Anderson himself, with J. Blase, and it was about leadership and micropolitics (if you are interested, it is taken from this text: Blase, J., & Anderson, G. (1995). The Micropolitics of educational leadership: From control to empowerment. New York, NY: Teachers College Press). As I read about micropolitics, I wondered how it translated to teachers’ and admin’s feelings in online spaces, as opposed to purely physical ones. Did the same rules apply? Not only was I surprised to discover I was even remotely interested in reading about micropolitics in professional relationships (that’s for you, Jon), but also that I was thinking about the design implications of this — could a professional development space be designed so as to minimize the negative micropolitics in professional relationships, but capitalize on the positive ones?

I expressed my interest to Dr. Anderson after class one day — truthfully, I was looking for the full reference list of the chapter he had assigned to us. He confessed that he didn’t have it on him and suggested I look for the book itself in the library (I did find it there, and kept it for the next 6 months!). He also asked why I was interested, as it was such an “old” book (1995!) and seemed less relevant than other things we were reading about. I told him a bit about my background and interests. Upon hearing that I had experience in IB, he asked if I had read any of Leslie Siskin’s studies. I admitted that I had not. Later that day, Dr. Anderson sent an email of introduction to both me and Dr. Siskin, and I did a few searches to find out more about her work. I was pleasantly surprised to find that Dr. Siskin’s recent work had been looking at the IBMYP and DP as reform approaches in Title-I eligible schools nationwide. I read all the reports (yes, all of them!) and arranged a meeting with her. What I was most interested in: how did teachers new to MYP feel about the professional development they received? What made it good/bad? What could have made it better? How did they feel it impacted their teaching practice?

My chat with Dr. Siskin was fantastic — she was eager to listen to my questions and answer as best she could, and she was also eager to hear about my now-forming idea for a thesis project. At the time, I don’t know that I had any idea how it was going to come about, but I had an inkling that I wanted to design some kind of online space for MYP teachers to learn, grow, develop, and become better teachers. I talked with Dr. Siskin about the existing space for MYP teachers to (theoretically) do this — the IB’s Online Curriculum Centre (OCC). We agreed, and her ethnographic data confirmed, that the OCC sucks. Badly. Really badly.

I took Dr. Siskin’s advice and sat, brainstorming, in several different locations with nothing more than blank paper, a pen, a pencil, and a glass of wine/cup of coffee. I mapped out — literally — different paths my interests could take me. I did this on three or four different occasions, and ended up with 4 or 5 pages of mind-maps, with notes.

It didn’t happen overnight — rather, I think it took about three weeks — but eventually, my thesis began to take shape. I continued to explore the reasons why I felt the OCC was missing out on some amazing potential; there was a void there I desperately wanted to fill. I kept coming back to communities of practice and situated learning, and felt strongly this social learning theory would be a great base for teachers’ continued professional development, particularly considering MYP teachers are geographically separated. I thought back to when I was in Qatar and Hanoi, without access to other MYP teachers outside of those within my own school, and how often I wanted to know, “What are other schools doing? How are they handling [fill in the blank issue here]?” Given that the OCC failed miserably in this respect, I found my answers to those questions via Web 2.0 social media like Twitter and blogging. But I couldn’t help but think that if the IB got on board and cultivated the community itself, that teachers would flock to it, and use it purposefully.

In the early stages, I had the idea to design this professional space for MYP teachers myself. I thought I would look at what existed currently (the OCC and the new IB Virtual Community), do the relevant theoretical research, look at some similar non-IB online spaces for teachers, and design incorporating what I found. However, my plans found several roadblocks, the most significant of which was that the administration behind the OCC denied me access for research purposes. I went through all appropriate channels, but the staff at the OCC were adamant in that access was only to be given to teachers currently in IB schools, and given that I was a full-time Masters student, and not currently teaching, the answer was a firm, “No.” And so that door closed.

In my efforts to find a way to open it, I approached every MYP guru I’ve ever known — past and present mentors, colleagues, administrators, curriculum coordinators, and more. (You know who you are! Thank you!) People were incredibly helpful, offering me what they could, but it wasn’t enough. A few people offered to give me their sign-on details just to have a look around, but I felt strongly that I couldn’t ethically publish my work if I had gained access through the back door.

One of the people I contacted was Tim Cunningham, instructional designer and director of development at Triple A Learning. Tim and I know each other from the time we spent at Qatar Academy. In fact, Tim hired me to work there; I came on board as one of few MYP-experienced teachers in 2003. Tim had since gone into the direction of professional development provider, firmly rooted in both MYP and DP. He shared with me that Triple A was at the moment working on an online space similar to what I was suggesting; a pilot project with IB Americas was emerging whereby several Title I-eligible schools in the USA were implementing MYP and DP as part of an access project. Tim told me he would talk to the relevant people involved with the project to see if I could be involved.

Before I knew it, we were up and running. IB Americas and Triple A were happy to have me talk to them, examine their space, pore over their documents, and generally prod around here and there so that I could apply CoP theory to their space by way of design recommendations. Tim in particular was quite excited, which was great because I was even more excited! And off I went…

I don’t think I want to go into too many details about the scope or range of the project itself; that will all be obvious enough once my thesis and relevant media are uploaded for those interested to see. However, I do think it’s useful for me to reflect on what I learned. I’m narrowing it down here to my ten big takeaways / surprises / a-ha moments. In no particular order:

  1. I had no idea that writing a thesis would involve so much uninterrupted time to simply sit and THINK. After reading, reading, reading, and making heaps of notes, I often found myself with the need to just sit and think, to process. I often wasn’t “doing” anything — but the wheels, they were a-turnin’. Sometimes for an hour or two at a time. I am pretty certain that I’ve never done that kind of intense, academic thinking before. I simultaneously loved and hated it.
  2. I learned way more about the library than I ever wanted to. Seriously, if you ever need to study at NYU’s Bobst Library, speak to me first. I can tell you which floor has the most / least undergrads, the best water fountains, cleanest bathrooms, fastest Wi-Fi connections, and cleanest tables.
  3. There are a remarkable number of organizations across various industries applying CoP theory to their employees’ learning, but not nearly enough. Perhaps the biggest surprise for me was finding that the US Air Force uses CoP theory and does so brilliantly. (If you’re curious, contact me and I’ll send you details.)
  4. Sometimes, it is simply easier to design something from scratch than it is to redesign or add on to what is currently there.
  5. The IB is, IMO, one of the most progressive educational models out there, and this is why I support all three programmes. However, they still have a long way to go in some respects, particularly in the areas of applying and implementing technology, especially into teachers’ learning. Also, as I make the case in my project paper, the IB would do well to open up their professional development with the rest of the world. They are only just now beginning to open up the educational model more, increasing access, etc., but I think all on both sides of the “IB divide” would have much to benefit from some sharing with non-IB educator folk. Let’s start bridging!
  6. Instructional design does not happen in the real world the way most of my professors said it would. :) I knew this already, but I really, really had to say it again. I mean no disrespect to my professors, but I would like to have seen some real-life project management infused into much of the academic fluff we looked at in terms of instructional design models.
  7. I was very saddened to discover how many vCoPs (virtual communities of practice) had been begun for research purposes, or even practical ones, but then died out after a couple of years due to lost funding or poor management.
  8. Intense, sustained writing requires a lot of food and drink. A LOT.
  9. The two apps I fell in love with while working on my thesis were Keynote and Scrivener. To be fair, I was already in love with Keynote, but the more I tried to use other software, the more I realized how much I love Keynote, because I feel like it does everything. And makes it look slick, too! Scrivener took me a bit of convincing, but really not a heck of a lot. The people at Literature and Latte do a great job with tutorials and online help, making it super clear how to do various things. They are also marvellous with customer service, responding to me via Twitter an email, often within 24 hours. It’s one app I did not hesitate to pay the bucks for — and it’s not expensive if you are a student! Really, really love it.
  10. I am capable of even more than I thought I was. And this continues to astound me. If you had told me in Sept 2009 what I would have been writing my thesis about, and what form / shape it would take, I would have had a hard time believing you. My intentions for study were so different when I entered the ECT program than they were when I began my thesis — testament, I think, to how much I learned during my time at NYU. I began wanting to explore literacy via technology with middle schoolers, particularly the writing process — an area, I’ll add, that I’m still interested in! However, I became so interested in so many other things, primarily teachers themselves, that eventually I found myself feeling like they needed more tech support and literacy to do their jobs best. And… here I am.

The thesis is over, but the learning is not.

** for more photos documenting how my early process went, see the this set.

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