Friday, 12 July 2013

Shameless Ana or what happens when a teacher puts herself out there

Photo by Sebastián Suarez Meccia
One of the most inspiring people I have listened to is researcher/storyteller Brené Brown. She shared her findings on the Power of Vulnerability at TEDx Houston 2010. Even though she was not satisfied with her performance, the talk was so enlightening that it has become one of the most watched on (more than 9 million views). That’s why she was invited to give another talk at the 2012 TED Conference in Long Beach. This time she focused on Listening to Shame.

What is Brené´s message? Her research shows that connection is what gives purpose and meaning to our lives and that in order for connection to happen, we have to allow ourselves to be seen, deeply seen , VULNERABLY seen. Brené encourages us to face imperfection, to have the strength to love ourselves no matter what, and the courage to let go of who we think we should be and become who we really are.

What am I really like?

Well, most people think that because I’m a teacher and work with others I’m an extrovert, but in fact I’m not (in case you are interested my personality type, according to the Myers-Briggs test, is INTJ). I suppose saying I’m an “outgoing introvert” would be more appropriate. I’m challenged to put my feelings out there and when I feel insecure I usually wear my armour- nice and tight.

Of course this affects my professional life. I prefer interacting with students, the people I am familiar with, rather than with a wide circle of colleagues. I feel the classroom is my territory and I am comfortable there. I enjoy the autonomy and creative freedom making decisions on my own gives me.

However, a few months ago, I began asking myself: What would happen if I shared my points of view, if I let others scrutinise my work? Would I feel confident enough to face criticism (or applause)?

Shameless Ana

“You can be amazing, but if you do not share it, no one cares”, says actress/photographer Maya (better known as “Shameless Maya” on Youtube). With her bold an “ in your face” style Maya convinced me - I should embrace vulnerability and become “Shameless Ana” . After months of doubt I embarked on a journey of personal and professional development.

The first step was to give a presentation in front of more than 100 EFL teachers. Yes, I decided to start sharing classroom experiences with complete strangers. I knew making my reality visible was necessary to grow as a professional so when my colleague and ex-high school classmate Carla Raguseo told me about a conference in Villa María, Córdoba I decided to apply for a place in the “Teacher’s Forum”, and I got it. Carla and I gave our presentations on My 24th ( you can read a detailed post describing our experiences in her blog).

I talked about Facebook in education and how I am using it with colleagues and students. The presentation was well received, so much so that the topic was mentioned in an article published on the UNVM website. And then, something amazing happened, a local newspaper got interested in the story, I was interviewed and an article was published. The impact of a front page story with a lovely photo was huge. My face, and my ideas, were everywhere!! A couple of days later, my students and I were interviewed, this time at school, and the story was...on TV! If you want to know more about this “media boom”, have a look at the brand new blog Carla and I have created and the article I wrote on my experience.

What have I learned?

Embracing your vulnerability, taking off your armour and sharing what you know (and what you DON’T know) is a powerful experience. It leaves you “naked”- and I know, that’s hard- but your ability to be okay with that can bring surprising results.

If you are still in doubt, just remember what Marianne Williamson says “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us…Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do…And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

Friday, 1 March 2013

1 year, 6 blogs and...a wonderful prize!

In December 2012, almost a year after creating this blog, I decided to take a long break from it. In fact, I hadn´t been able to post anything for almost 2 months. I was tired, had run out of original ideas and needed to recharge my batteries. Don’t misunderstand me, I LOVE the blogging process (reflecting, writing, rewriting, editing, finding the right picture to illustrate the article, etc) but the truth is last year I ended up having... 6 blogs! Although I wasn’t in charge of every single aspect of all of these projects, I felt responsible for them and what was (or wasn’t) published. 

Anyone who has tried blogging knows how much time and effort it requires, especially if you want to feel proud of the final result. Well, anyone but me! At first, I thought I would be able handle everything but I couldn't have been more wrong. After months of trying to keep a balance between online and offline living, I discovered that as much as I would have liked to be wonder woman, I was not. Finally I had to lower my expectations and assess my priorities. This is what my mental priority list looked like:

  • My personal life (my boyfriend, family, friends)
  • My job
  • My studies (“Especialización Docente en Educació y TIC”, a post degree course)
  • 2 of the blogs I was in charge of (this one wasn’t so relevant )

2 important blogs with a common objective

As part of “Laboratorio Pedagógico”, a project the Ministry of Education had chosen me to coordinate at school, my students and I decided to set up a students-run blog, one which would help them express their ideas and show how talented they are (I know my students are talented, because ALL PEOPLE ARE). As all of them should be able to contribute and parents should be able to read, the blog was set up in Spanish, our mother tongue.

We decided to cover important school news, publish interviews, surveys, videos students created, photos, and much more. The project was so ambitious, I felt a little intimidated. But, guess who weren’t? My students! The only problem was they needed guidance on what web 2.0 tools they could use to say what they meant.

That is precisely why I created “Laboratorio 2.0”, a blog which focused on blogging! The truth is I had to set up a blog as part of the course I had enrolled on and I decided helping my students was what it was going to be about. This site also had to be in Spanish (all students and teachers taking part in the project had to be able to understand it, regardless of their level of English). 

Organizing our work  and... getting a prize!

How did it all start? As soon as I knew “Laboratorio Pedagógico” wanted student-generated content  to be published online, I decided to involve all the school community. I asked for the headmister’s permission, told colleagues about it and asked all students for ideas. As many teeenagers had been working with blogs as part of the English class (with me,of course) creating one was the most popular idea.

Once we agreed on what to do, it was necessary to form a team of dedicated students to be in charge of the blog and its content. I invited everybody to a meeting during the lunch break the following Thursday but I was very clear about one aspect: those taking part would not have better marks or privileges, they had to consider the idea only if they wanted to share what they knew or wanted to learn more about technology. I also warned students the project would require some of their free time. 

14 students turned up the first day (most of them  were 14-15 years old) and as soon as I evaluated their knowledge and we discussed their tastes, we divided the tasks among the group members. The ones who knew the most about technology became blog administrators (and, just in case, I became one,too) and those who loved art were in charge of illustrations and design. There was obviously a team of writers and another one with journalists and interviewers. From that day on, each person knew what to focus on and “El blog de los alumnos de la EES Nº 572” was born.

We decided to keep on meeting once a week, every Thursday during the lunch break. I created a facebook group so that we could keep in touch and the other blog,“Laboratorio 2.0”, to explain what I didn't have time to when we met. It was soon after this that one of the boys, Guido, told me about a blog contest held by the most important newspaper in our area, La Capital de Rosario. As we fulfilled all the requirements, we decided to take part in it and that was a great motivation for all of us. During the following weeks the team brainstormed ideas, took photos, interviewed teachers, filmed and typed. We did all the work with mobile phones, my laptop (which I took to school as frequently as I could) and some digital cameras. Sometimes we worked during school hours or breaks, but we frequently continued after class. 

By December, I must confess I was awfully tired. The school year was finishing ( with all the work it implies), and I kept on helping the blog team and trying to update the rest of the blogs. Luckily, it was then that we found out we had won the 2nd prize in the contest, which meant we would be interviewed, and a brand new laptop and digital camera would be given to us so that we could continue working during 2013. How did my students feel? They could hardly believe the news! It was a tremendous self-steem boost. They understood they could produce quality material professional journalists and educators appreciated. I was SO PROUD of my team!! If you want to have a look at the newspaper article,click here

My experience was amazing but pretty exhausting. What do you think about it? Have you ever helped students create their own blogs? Would you like to? And what about taking part in competitions? How motivating can it be? Please, share with us any ideas, tips and tricks.

Monday, 29 October 2012

Why do you teach?

"It is going to be a good week. I am overflowing, holy cow, I am so full of joy! I feel like my job gets better and better, and not because it is changing— but because I am changing."

I read this a couple of weeks ago in Melody Joy's blog (which I strongly recommend) and it describes exactly how I feel now. I used to hate Mondays. Why? Simply because they were long and tiring - and so was the rest of the week. However, these days I can't wait to see my students every morning! A profund transformation has taken place and it is not because I have a new job!

What has been going on? Well... first, I must confess there have been some changes at work, some of which I applaud, some of which have left me feeling a little sad. I'm not going to go into details today, but all I can say is that facing difficulty at work has made me stronger. And, you know what? Something amazing has happened: I've been able to react against aggression in a non-violent way. I can do it quite well when a teenager gets angry, but NOT when an adult is the one who does it. It wasn't an easy task, but I managed to keep calm and make my point clear without raising my voice - even when I was being shouted at. When I came back home I was genuinely shocked. I felt a totally different person!

So what has happened to me? Melody Joy was talking about a leadership retreat with her church and how it had left her "shaking from the impact", but in my case I can't say there has been such a clear turning point. I haven't travelled a unique spiritual journey or embarcked on a new professional path. What I believe has changed the way I feel is the fact that I have been able to reconnected with WHY, why I chose to become a teacher when I was 17, why I work where I do and with the people there. And what have I discovered? I teach because I love helping others, I teach because I care for the students I work with, and I teach there because I know those students and colleagues care for me. I feel I am part of a team, I feel respected and ...loved.

If you read the post I wrote in September you'll see I am going through some huge personal changes, but the person who made me think again about why I do what I do is called Simon Sinek. I found his videos a couple of months ago and I have been thinking about the ideas he shared ever since. Please, spend 20 minutes of your day watching this talk or any other you can find online. YOU WON'T REGRET IT.

Monday, 24 September 2012

When in doubt, choose change

Image: 'artjournal4'
I always tell my students: "If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten”. For me, learning means changing. I know what many of you might think, change can be messy, frightening or frustrating, but I suppose you'll agree with me it is undoubtedly necessary. Making progress means facing challenges, developing new skills and solving old puzzles.

Sometimes life runs smoothly and learning becomes a slow process, but that is not what has been happening to me since August. From that moment I have been experiencing a deep transformation which has set an inflexion point in my personal and professional life. Embarking on this whirlwind adventure forced me to take a break from blogging, but now that I have gotten into a new routine, I have finally found some time to sit down and write.

Let me share with you the biggest changes I have undergone and the best lessons I have learned.

Change #1: Home alone

For the 1st time in my life I’m living on my own. By the end of July my boyfriend, with whom I had been living for 8 years, moved 250 km away to do his residency. He’s a doctor and it’s too hard to get a position here, in Rosario, so he had to go. We chat almost every day (now I know more about skype, facebook chat, and google + hangout than ever before, hehe), but do I feel lonely? Well... sometimes. I must confess living by myself is not something I would have chosen, but it does feel good, at least at times! 

There are 2 main things this experience is teaching me:  

  • The gift of quiet: A teacher’s world is filled with bustle and noise, but life has given me quiet! After school, when I close the door behind me, I have nothing to distract myself from the thoughts and feelings I don’t focus on during the day. When I am alone I can unwind and learn. What I learn about is myself, my own strengths, my weaknesses, my insecurities. Knowing myself better will help me become a better person and, hopefully, a better teacher. If you can, spend some quality time with yourself.You’ll be surprised how much your “inner voices” can tell you about the aspects of your life you must work on.

  • Time alone is important and so is time spent with others: When my boyfriend was always around, I did not cherish every moment with him. Now that we see each other once or twice a month, I listen more closely to what he says and choose more carefully what to do with him. I suppose we can also apply this to sharing time with colleagues and students. Every person around us is important, but we are usually too distracted to really connect with all of them. Let's cherish every moment we spend with the people we love!
Change #2: Officially a student 

Ever since the beginning of the year I had been meaning to start formal training on ICT but it was not until August that  “Postítulo de Especialización en Educación y TIC ” ( Post Degree in Education and ICT) started. I’m so happy I'm officially a student again! Up to now, we have only focused on analyzing our context, needs and ideas. I hope in the future we’ll learn much more. I keep my fingers crossed!

Change #3: From working with colleagues to working with students.

In May I was chosen to train a group of colleagues at school in the use of ICT. The experience was time and energy-consuming, but absolutely fantastic. However, in August I was informed my role had to change. The Ministry of Education decided it was time students produced digital material. What do I have to do now? Basically I have to find out what cross-curricular topics students are interested in and what projects on these areas are being carried out at school so that I can help students create videos, digital posters, audios, etc to express their ideas. Sounds good, doesn’t it? Well, it is very interesting but I would say this is definitely more time-consuming than my previous task, at least now that I am helping students get organised and teaching them about “Audacity”, “Movie Maker”, “Glogster” and other useful tools. This is a huge challenge even if students know a lot about web 2.0 tools. The thing is, they need to become a cohesive group working effectively and that is the hardest part.I'll keep you updated on our progress.

What about you? Has your life changed recently? Do you feel you need to modify some aspects of your routine? Why?

Friday, 20 July 2012

Let's learn, unlearn and relearn!

Image: 'Lamp'
Do you think teaching EFL to teenagers can be a tough task? I know how lack of motivation and behaviour problems can make it extremely hard at times. And what about teaching adults? Is it difficult? Well, I have worked with young professionals and travellers for many years and the truth is teaching adults can be a fine art. In general, they have other things on their minds. Family, work and a variety of other circumstances can make staying focused on learning difficult. Couple that with bad previous experiences and the result is a really complex picture. However, there’s something much more challenging, something that is testing my teaching skills: training educators in the use and application of technology.

Delivering an ICT course for colleagues at school is one of the most complicated tasks I have ever undertaken. Even those who are extremely motivated find it hard to learn to work with computers or other forms of technology. Is it because they are intimidated by new tools or uneducated on some technology terms (which makes it difficult to understand what is being taught)? Well, these are some of the problems they face, but not the most important. Learning new skills will take a long time, of course, but in my experience, the hardest aspect is reconsidering old ideas and unlearning reinforced habits.

Alvin Toffler brilliantly explained this in one of his famous quotes:“The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” In the era of technology it seems we, teachers, have a lot we need to unlearn. “Turn off your mobile” used to be my mantra. Now, I’m learning mobiles can be a useful tool. Writing as much as possible on one page was the norm in the age of photocopies, but not including too much text on a single page is what designers recommend if you decide to have your own website. Countless examples of these paradigm shifts could be mentioned.

A few weeks ago, when I was precisely looking for material to help my colleagues learn, unlearn and relearn, I came across “Eight Big Ideas Behind the Constructionist Learning Lab”, a list of suggestions written back in 1999 by Seymour Papert, the father of educational technology. These are great tips for those learning technology skills, EFL or anything in the modern world. I have discussed them with the teachers I’m training and they also feel the tips have helped them re evaluate some pre-conceived ideas. These are my favourite 5:

Learn by doing. When it comes to technology, theory is definitely NOT enough. When you need to install a new programme or use a modern gadget, do you ever read the instructions? Most young people just learn by trial-and-error but, if you are not so brave, you can always watch video tutorials. Having a look at how people do things is much more enlightening than reading. I have encouraged my colleagues to forget about theory or instructions and JUST DO IT!

Technology as building material. Many times ICT courses focus on the “how”. If you are lucky you end up knowing how to use “Prezi”, “Voki” and “Glogster”, but what can teachers or students produce WITH these tools? Technology itself is not what we should focus on. It’s the things you can make with technology what should matter. I have kept this in mind when delivering the classes. I always ask myself (and everybody else!) :“How can we use this in class?” The answers have been really interesting! 

Learning to learn. “Nobody can teach you everything you need to know. You have to take charge of your own learning”, says Papert. This is probably the best tip (well, I wrote a post explaining how important I believe being an independant learner is!). Every day new things are being discovered and there are no “experts” we can refer to. Any ICT course should be a starting point. I hope I have given my colleagues enough strategies so that they can continue experimenting after they finish the course. 

You can’t get it right without getting it wrong. Papert says, “Nothing important works the first time.” I wish all of my students could understand this! He explains,“The only way to get it right is to look carefully at what happened when it went wrong. To succeed you need the freedom to goof on the way.” I couldn’t agree more! Mistakes are a substantial part of the learning process. 

Do unto ourselves what we do unto our students. The 21st century world is an uncertain place. Jobs have changed, social interaction has changed and most aspects of life will probably change. Most of us have been trying hard to adapt and know how frustrating it can be. Papert says,“The best lesson we can give our students is to let them see us struggle to learn.”

So, what 21st century skills do teachers need? What things do we need to learn, unlearn or relearn?