I hate being labeled a Knowledge Worker. I am aware of the official designation and teachers are often sorted into this category, but I am unsettled with the implication of this term. Labeling teachers knowledge workers is like calling farmers seed planters. Certainly farmers plant seeds and teachers do work with knowledge. However, if you ask any farmer about planting seeds the conversation leaves the act of dropping seeds into the ground and will begin to include a discussion of how the weather, weed control, fertilizer, tilling practices, soil quality, compaction, drainage, and seed quality interact to produce a crop. In short, farmers understand these interactions. Teachers are not knowledge workers. We are community organizers who nurture the interactions of our students. How might we deliberately and strategically cultivate group interactions that lead to classroom communities?
Let me share an experience from the end 2004 / 2005 school year when I first began collaborating between classrooms using social media tools online.
It was June 2005, the last week of school before the summer holidays, and a heat wave had taken hold of the city. The computer lab on the second floor of the school was registering temperatures in excess of 30 degrees Celsius and was packed with my class of adolescent students. Instead of the usual comments, drama, and pre-teen behaviour that accompany many grade 7 activities, the students were each focused on their writing and reading assignment. Students were writing posts for a blog (a website with individual entries that appear in reverse chronological order and allow commenting or discussion based on each entry) about their two day field trip at a local camp and posting them to an Internet site shared by their classroom in Sarnia, Ontario, Canada and a classroom in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. After writing their posts, students entered the other classroom’s section of the site and read each post. Students commented on these posts and explained how it connected to other texts, their own experiences, or the world. In this hot room with stale air eyes were peering into this virtual looking glass, the rhythmic tapping of keyboards accompanied the hum of ceiling fans, and the ticking of the giant clock signified that over an hour had past. The silence masked the intensely social conversations that were occurring. The conversations were not with the immediately neighbouring students. Rather, the asynchronous conversations were occurring with students sitting half way across North America. Their conversations were within academic parameters. The reading strategy, making connections, had been taught and was now applied. Upon reflection, I realized that I was experiencing cross-classroom collaboration that fully engaged my students and myself as a professional. We made use of technology to focus on the social learning opportunities that arose. Since the beginning of my teaching career, I have incorporated several recent technological developments in my classroom. In the summer of 2000 I purchased my first Internet address, mrhazzard.com, to set up a classroom website. This website featured student work that was captured and enabled with • digital cameras (cameras that capture images in a digital format to a memory card instead of file),
• digital camcorders (video cameras that store movies in a digital format that can be edited using video editing software),
• interactive whiteboards (interactive devices that enable users to interact using fingers or pointing devices to control the computer and annotate with digital ink via the computer’s desktop that is projected onto the large interactive device),
• publishing software (computer program that allows the creation of several different paper documents such as: brochures, posters, and greeting cards),
• web design software (computer program that allows the creation of a static website using a “what you see is what you get” [wysiwyg] interface that can be uploaded to an internet server),
• concept mapping tools (computer programs and websites that allow ideas to be entered into symbols and linked to related symbols via arrows and grouping to indicate related concepts and ideas), and
Each of these tools revealed potential and limitations. However, the turning point came when I began to collaborate with another teacher, teaching 2000 kilometres away, whom I had met at an interactive whiteboards conference. This collaboration began as a professional sharing of ideas and interactive whiteboard files before including our students. Then students became engaged in cross-classroom collaboration projects that included reading groups between classrooms as well as writing and reading assignments on the joint classroom blog. Students began to display interest as they used technology in the classroom to collaborate with other students but they did not comment on the technology tool.
Instead, students commented on their relationships with members of the other classroom whom they had never met. A student in Winnipeg observed that he had made friends with members of my classroom without ever meeting them. A student in Sarnia noted that blogging was just like what the students did at night, except that they talk about different things. Anecdotally, this social connection seemed to engage and motivate my students. The value of linking classrooms for cross-classroom collaboration began to crystallize in my professional practice.
Implied in this experience was the value of community within a classroom and between classrooms. Before we engage in cross-classroom collaboration we should ask if our own classroom is a community? How can we extend the community of our classrooms when participating in cross-classroom collaborations?
By the way, my name is Ben Hazzard and I’ll be chatting about classrooms as communities as an Expert Voice. Are you a knowledge worker? Might teachers be community organizers? Let’s discuss.
THIS POST WAS ORIGINALLY POSTED ON THE INTERNATIONAL PLP NING AS MY INTRODUCTION AS AN EXPERT VOICE.