Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Lessons from Teapots

On Monday morning two of our teaching staff were discussing the media beat up of the phenomena known as ‘planking’. The two psychology teachers were musing that planking in itself wasn’t a problem, rather the unsafe behaviour of the unfortunate young man who tragically died while performing the stunt on his balcony, was. They decided in fact that planking itself was no more or less dangerous or interesting than ‘teapotting’, the act of standing with one hand on your hip and one extended as a spout.

During the luncheon after our special Education Week assembly that morning, they mentioned the teapotting idea to our student leadership team and for a bit of a laugh, took a photo of the group ‘teapotting’ and created a facebook group.

So begin a very interesting ‘living’ social experiment conducted by the teachers with their students on a social network. How many people would be happy to ‘like’ and repost teapotting? The goal was 100 in a night. By midnight the tally had reached 200. The next day it topped the 1000 mark. One of the national TV networks heard about it, lifted some of the photos from the site and claimed the idea as their own. Likewise the Herald Sun newspaper. Suddenly there were over 2000 followers on facebook and the thread had picked up it’s own hash tag on Twitter.

For awhile, the thread looked like it might be sabotaged by a few naysayers who used the urban dictionary to portray a nasty side to teapotting or who encouraged or predicted gloomily that teapotters would become planking risk takers. But the group was undeterred. The teachers monitored the site continuously and reminded visitors to the page that it was a digitally ‘safe’ space where profanity and disagreeability would be swiftly removed. Teapotting, by it’s definition on their page, is only authentic if conducted in a safe and sensible manner.

Today the media coverage intensified and then an awesome iteration occurred. Someone on Twitter suggested the connection between teapotting and the Cancer Council’s Australia’s Biggest Morning Tea fundraising event on May 26th. Now the idea had wings and a cause. An idea born in jest and then nurtured in educational philosophy had suddenly become a random act of kindness!

Next Thursday our school will host Australia’s Biggest Morning Tea and the media are coming to cover it. We will have our 15 minutes of fame and more importantly, the Cancer Council will get a boost for their research.

Since my current Master’s research is based on the positive influence of adults on social networks this incident is like a data gift for my project. As a school leader however, my glee is tinged with terror that someone will railroad the group and turn it into a negative for our kids and the ‘social media in education’ cause.

Most of all though I am excited by Liv & Alison's 'big think' and overwhelmed by the rich learning opportunities offered by such a simple idea. Thanks to everyone who has come on board to support the concept and helped point out the teaching points along the way.
So what have we and might we learn from teapotting?

• Social networking is a powerful medium for spreading information. If you post a photograph online it can end up on national TV without your permission in less than 24 hrs. The need to examine privacy settings and check our digital footprints is suddenly very real.

• Teachers & students can have fun learning together through social media

• The world is a closely connected place. From our tiny town, teapotters around the world have appeared and to some extent we can trace and draw their connections to the source. Great for studying the transmission of epidemics!

• Social Identity theory is alive and well. It’s important to be part of a group. It feels good to have a common purpose. People who don’t feel part of the community will try to devalue it.

• Generally, people are good and they respond appropriately. They like to make connections with people they don’t know, in a positive way.

• Role modelling on facebook works. Generally speaking, kids don’t like swearing on social networks. Everytime one of the teachers removes a post or reminds posters of the need to be digitally responsible, they get lots of ‘likes’.

• We do care about copyright and we don’t like it when other people fail to acknowledge our ideas. Our classrooms will be much more careful with creative commons and source acknowledgement now that we feel something of ours has been ‘stolen’.

• However, we’ve also learnt that it doesn’t really matter whose idea it was in the first place if it achieves something worthwhile and for the common good. Social networking groups can collaborate to modify and expand small ideas into giant ones.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Education Week

I knew I'd be a hopelessly intermittent blogger :-(  
The only time I actually manage to get words on the page is when I should be writing something else (in this case a 6000 word literature review). It seems Blogging has become my preferred method of procrastination!

Tomorrow marks the beginning of Education Week. We'll be celebrating the occasion by opening our new BER building. The building isn't what we wanted. We have an excellent performing arts program that desperately needs a home and the 2 million dollars allocated for our building would have created a beautiful space for that. No longer would we have had to traipse our cast of 70 plus up the road to our local hall where we pay exorbitant fees to rent the space for our non profit making performances. No longer would we have had to squeeze our huge cast onto a tiny stage or let them freeze backstage in the unheated and unlined bluestone side room. If we were an independent or catholic school we would have been handed the 2 million to spend as we saw fit. Unfortunately, we are but a humble government organisation, not to be trusted with such autonomous suggestions!

However, that is a political argument that's now in the past and not worth revisiting. We have a beautiful building and it's going to very useful for many things. It's clean, it's shiny and it's full of state of the art gadgets including an awesome sound system that even I can manage.

It's a multi purpose building and when I was having one of my 'thinks' this morning, (as I do now that we are in the Seussical swing), it occurred to me that that's a perfect analogy for our school. We are, in many respects, a multi purpose school. We take all comers, we offer all subjects. We allow and encourage our kids to be the best they can be in a huge variety of areas.We teach about the real world in a school of 'real' people.All cross sections of society are represented in our school. Just as in life after school, our students learn to deal with difficult people and to monitor their own behaviour and develop sound relationships with people who come from different backgrounds to themselves. At our school, kids can be athletes, performers, academics, musicians, equestrians, leaders and world travelers. They can do all of these things at the same time and they don't have to leave their home town to do them (with the exception of the traveling part!). They're taught by people who know them well and who have a vested community interest in seeing them succeed. We teach our kids within their own community, for their community. In doing so, we build efficacy in the community itself.

This weekend I read the local regional paper and noticed a lot of very large, expensive advertisements from other district schools, public and private, all vying for the educational rights to the children of the area and beyond. Some of them were making some big claims and the colourful pictures painted a very rosy picture.We've been suffering lately from a spate of private school transfers and looking at those ads I can see how parents might be persuaded to believe that the grass is greener where the pastures look more lush.

We haven't put any ads in the paper or on TV. Quite frankly, I think there are hundreds of better uses in our school for the sort of money those advertisements must cost. In fact, if I were a fee paying parent at one of the schools who pay for the ads I'd be asking questions about how my money was being spent.I think the calibre of the students who graduate from our school is all the testament we need. I just wish more people would draw the logical conclusion that such success doesn't happen by chance. Amongst all the strengths we encourage at our school, maybe we should ease up on the modesty thing!

I think there's a blog post waiting to happen about local vs regional or private schooling, but this government school teacher has way too much on her plate at the moment to write it.
Suffice to say, I'm very proud of my school and all who learn in it. I couldn't wish for a better place for me to teach or my children to learn.

Happy Education Week everyone.