Prior to this school year, the only connections I made were one sided. By that I mean, I never contributed to the connection, I merely took. I would search Google, Pinterest, chinuch.org, read blogs, listen to podcasts about teaching looking for ideas and inspiration. While I was busy taking, I didn’t stop to realize how much I could be giving. Furthermore, I didn’t see how making global connections could enhance the experiences with my students. Thankfully after joining the Silvia Tolisano cohort, I see the value in these connections and how they must be at least two sided!
When I began reflecting on my year, I was going to start apologizing for how far I didn’t get in the process of making global connections, and then I sat down and literally wrote out everything I had accomplished. It was only then that I realized I am not just floating stagnantly, but I have come so far! This is what documenting AS learning is all about! Wow! I was amazed with my progress and then, my documenting for learning coach Silvia Tolisano said to me, “you have actually come much farther than I thought you would”. Now I truly felt like I am on the road to accomplishing my goal, and that learning and growing had taken place in a meaningful way. Now I am invested in making global connections and have began to witness how myself and my students can benefit in so many meaningful ways. At the same time, I wonder why making these connections is so difficult and why it takes so much time and effort? Silvia shared with me a blog she wrote “Collaboration Projects Doomed to Fail”. I learned that it’s not going to be so easy after all, and these obstacles are exactly the ones I’m facing in growing my professional learning network (PLN).
How did I begin? I told everyone I knew that I was looking to make connections globally with other Jewish Schools. To prepare my students, I had them first investigate their roots and family stories that could later be compared with those of our global connections. This was a great first step. Once I began the process of searching for a partner school, Rabbi Finkelstein had an idea. He had a contact in Panama that he would reach out to. We got a response right away and I was so excited. I put all of my eggs in one basket and waited for this connection to pan out. Ultimately, this connection fell through perhaps because my over eagerness scared them off with my “big project idea”, or maybe lack of time or interest. I quickly learned that relying on one connection is simply not enough and I would need MANY other connections and LOTS of patience!
I’ve learned that there are many stumbling blocks that lie within making global connections. The three major ones that I found are: personal teaching schedules, time zones, and lack of interest on the other persons’ end. I trolled through Twitter countess times looking for connections that that would expand my PLN. I sent out tweets looking for schools to participate in Mystery Skype sessions. I took time during class to have my grade five students search the World Wide Web looking for Jewish schools around the world. We looked for email addresses, researched time zones, school hours, and we brainstormed questions we could ask these schools if we made contact. The grade five class sent out 10 emails and didn’t get one answer. I got some bites on Twitter from my posts, but nothing came of them. The students and I were getting discouraged, but we kept going. Then Melissa sent me a contact of a Jewish school in Toronto. Not exactly the kind of global connection we were looking for, as they were in the same country, time zone, cultures are the same… but we would take it! The teacher at this school was very receptive to trying out a Mystery Skype and I (the experienced one) helped guide him through the process. I sent him some useful documents that I created for my use:
The teacher and I emailed back and forth a few times and then, we did a Mystery Skype. My students were prepared, they were all assigned jobs and were ready to go. The other class had not done a lot of the prep work that I believe is required. They didn’t do a practice run between them to “feel” what it’s like to be on camera. It appeared that they had been assigned jobs, but these jobs were not clear. It was disorganized on their end. But this was all ok! We were the teachers and we were teaching them what to do during a Mystery Skype call. We felt good after, even though it only took a few questions to learn each others’ location. In order to further embrace this connection, I asked the partner teacher to collaborate on a Flipgrid where the students could reflect on their Passover traditions. Even though all the kids live in Canada, I wondered if they have unique traditions they do at their Passover seder that come from their grandparents or different cultures. It seems like putting an orange on the seder plate was the most common and afikoman hunting came in second. We didn’t get to hear many unique or different traditions, but they did have the chance to talk about Passover with kids they don’t know. Reflecting on the activity, I should have allowed the partner teacher to be a co-pilot, so that he could delete posts that were not relevant. Some students comments were slightly inappropriate and the Flipgrid was no longer being used for Passover comments so I had to take it off line.
This leads me to talk about digital citizenship. This has been a big part of our learning. First we discussed that when we are online, we are ambassadors for our school, and how others view us, is a peek into the halls and classrooms of OJCS. We want others to see that we have good manners, we are competent in the use of technology and we know our online netiquette. Students practised looking into the camera, beginning a skype session with a short greeting, eliminating background noise, sitting still, speaking loud and clear, and being mindful of your facial expressions. The grade 5’s are now ready for future online interactions and hopefully this learning will help guide them during other social interactions.
For my planning perspective, I had to plan for a global audience and global learning. I used the KWHLAQ chart “for the 21st Century” in my mind to help guide me. The first 5 steps came naturally for me: assessing what I know already, gathering information, creating a plan, executing the plan, showing our learning, teaching others, even reflecting on what we’ve accomplished. The area I struggled with and still do is the Questions step. This is not a natural step for me. I usually do my unit with a goal in mind and once that goal is met, I consider myself done. I don’t normally reflect afterwards on the process or think about what new questions I have. In my monthly conversations with Silvia, she often brought up the “Q” step and how beneficial it could be in documenting for learning.
So, where do I GROW from here? I have made some further connections in Budapest, Panama and Ecuador due to an email rampage I went on one Sunday afternoon literally searching up random schools all over the world and sending a blanket email to them. I hope that these teachers will make space in their busy schedules to consider how investing time and energy into making global connections can enrich their programs. My goal is to do a Pineapple PD during my next Mystery Skype session so that my colleagues can learn from my students and me! As I head into these new connections, I want to document my learning as I go. I want to ask questions to myself and my students to help us reflect on not only what we learned, but what we could change in the future. I want to ask what new questions we might have as we are in the process. Additionally, I want to reflect in new ways. My “go to” is to write about what I’ve done. There are so many other interesting ways to document: video, pictures, post to Twitter, take more pictures, interview each other and more. And lastly, I want to be an inspiration for others.
This is an exciting journey and I know that I have only scratched the surface, but with every step, I am learning, understanding and appreciating the connections I am making.