Monday, 16 June 2014

Survival of the fittest

“It is not the strongest or the most intelligent who will survive but those who can best manage change.” 
― Leon C. Megginson, Professor of Management and Marketing at Louisiana State University at Baton Rouge

With such a broad horizon and seemingly limitless possibilities it is important to establish your non-negotiables in the classroom. For me, this means making my expectations around organisation of work and also my availability very clear from the out-set.

Naming work and taking responsibility for backing work up

I have never named students work. If a student hands me a piece of paper with an amazing essay on it and no name, it will not get marked. I also place the responsibility for naming work squarely on the students' shoulders. The same goes for 'backing up' your work. Students in my classes are frequently reminded not to hand me a piece of hand-written work if they don't want it to get lost. I am organised and I have my systems but there are days when my desk will end up looking like a pigsty and, shock horror, I have lost work.
And this philosophy is still in practice in my classroom. If students share their work with me through Google Drive I expect them to do the following:

  1. Select the correct folder so I actually see it when I'm marking work
  2. Name it as follows: Hamilton, Polly: The Hunger Games Essay or Hamilton, Polly: Research notes
  3. Take responsibility for creating a back up at regular intervals

With Year 9s you should probably back up work to your laptop every so often (just don’t tell them about it!) until they are used to this process.

Establishing boundaries and how to maintain them

Student-student interaction
I am fairly ruthless about maintaining a professional environment on our Edmodo page: if the comment or question isn't about our learning in English, I press delete. It doesn't matter where you draw the line, as long as you maintain it. You may not think this matters very much, but I have found that deleting the 'lols' and 'rude!' comments mean there is no slippery slope into disrespectful or inappropriate comments.

Parent-student-teacher interaction
Because I established clear expectations with my students, I was able to deal with the one occasion I have had a student over-step the mark (and then parent...) quite painlessly. The parent 'element' is an important one to consider. When interacting with your students on Edmodo their parents are able to see all of the comments you write. This is further incentive to keep the conversation focused and appropriate. You are modelling positive digital citizenry to students and parents.

Student-teacher interaction
Further to this, it is important to remember that you can just ignore messages from students that are inappropriate or inconvenient. Creating an online learning environment does lend itself to students blurring the lines and suddenly they will message you with inane questions through whatever mode of communication is most handy. I have a 'teacher' Facebook profile that I use very occasionally and students do use it to try and ask me about school work. I just don't respond. Edmodo, email and Google Drive/Docs are the way that I will interact with my students online and they do not get to dictate the terms of our interactions. Prepare yourselves for the following 'questions':

  1. i dont get it
  2. can u tel me wat to do next?
  3. I'm stuck!

When they sit down and type to you, they are forgetting that what they are typing has no context and makes no sense. They are used to sitting with you one-on-one and often having the question teased out of them. What might take one minute of concentrated 'teasing' time in the classroom could be an exchange that takes place over 48 hours online - who has the patience for that! So you may want to consider teaching your students how to formulate effective questions.

Well, what is the point of all of this? As the title suggests, you need to avoid spreading yourself too thin. It can be tempting to just take five minutes and re-name their documents so they're organised, or just reply to that student's question on Facebook, or just check to see if Johnny has uploaded his document before you go to bed. Just because you can be available 24/7 doesn't mean you should.
Our role is not to baby students through this process at the expense of our own sanity, but to manage the change in order to maximise its benefit for all involved.

 Whāia te iti kahurangi ki te tūohu koe me he maunga teitei
Pursue excellence – should you stumble, let it be to a lofty mountain

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