Over the past few weeks I’ve been doing some reading, when I have a few moments, both online and the hardcopy book/magazine version. There have been a few different things that have me pondering and wondering about what we are doing in school and how things will change and when we’ll get around to looking at how change will affect what we do at school.

Being rather overwhelmed with a number of different managerial tasks these past few weeks and having to increase my teaching time, I really haven’t had time to focus on the educational leadership side of what I do. However, this past week at our last Administrators’ meeting, we were asked to do a number of things that really have me thinking about school, learning and the whole paradigm shift thing.

Portfolio - My Administrative Story

We’ve been asked to gather together different artifacts and categorize them under different headings to demonstrate various aspects of our leadership. Everything from shared leadership to continuous learning is part of this portfolio. Of course, being the keener that I am, I began to put my portfolio together a few years ago knowing that it is going to be essential if I were to search for a new position. However, I hadn’t put all the innards in their right places so last weekend I took some time and sifted through my collection of artifacts that I had assembled. What I found noteworthy was: I had a number of items that demonstrated continuous learning, contributions to educational learning, leadership and community, leadership and school and the various activities in my present school with which I have been involved. What was missing? Pictures. I don’t have a single photo of my actions and what I’ve been doing over the past 5 years. Actually, I have few pictures of my teaching and administrative journey. Contrast this with the portfolio of a young teacher and their is a huge difference.

So I lack photos. But in this culture of the picture, where everyone is snapping digital pics with their cameras or phones and then posting them or saving them, it would seem that photos are essential to telling the story of one’s life/career. Without the pics there is an empty spot where coloured glossies should be showing what was happening. Especially now when you can take, oh, 4000 pics on a single card and stash them on your harddrive or upload them to Flickr or Picassa, it is even easier to gather the visual story of one’s life and put it together for others to see.

Is it Really That Important?

Are visual representations really that important in a portfolio? My small investigation into this has produced a resounding YES! In fact, they are as important as all the letters and other items since they demonstration interactions or actions that cannot be conveyed as easily in words. Saying you do community work and a set of photos showing you do community work do have a different affect. Not only that, but they create a longer lasting impression for the person that is viewing.

The Shifting Paradigm

People are mostly visual - or so I’ve been told by a number of people especially my wife who has commented more than once “Do I need to draw you a picture?” Visuals help us in remembering things, in making connections and, if you are like me, reminding me of things to do. Funny how my wife telling me to take out the garbage three times isn’t nearly as affective as the visual of opening the shower to find the garbage bag. (And, no, I didn’t ask her why she didn’t take it out herself. If the garbage bag ends up in the shower, get the message and just take it out.)

So, while I’ve been waiting in hockey rinks this weekend, I pondered how this shift should be affecting how we do things in school and I came up with these things;

- we need to take advantage of the visual tools of the web to help students create connections instead of giving them notes on the connections. There are enough mind mapping tools out there that the only excuse we have for not using them is they are blocked.

- we should be getting students to incorporate more visuals into their storytelling and their demonstrations of knowledge. Let’s face it, a picture says so much and the right picture/chart/diagram can make clear something that is hard to put into words. With the number of creative commons available photos and such, students should be learning to bring the word and picture together just like we see in textbooks!

- bullet point slides are dead and we, as educators, need to take advantage of the tools available to pose questions that push students to think and challenge their present knowledge. All teachers should be learning the art of the presentation and then using it to engage students in questions that challenge them, are present and have some connection to their lives.

- use visuals to help students make connections between their lives and what is happening in school.

- be open to students’ desire to share their knowledge in a number of ways. This doesn’t mean that they don’t have to write well but, instead, we encourage them to give story to the visuals they select.

- connect dots, create webs, draw inferences - use the visual to communicate with everyone in school - not just the parents. One of my favourite scenes from a movie is when, in Teachers, Nick Noltee has given a young student, Ralph Macchio, an assignment and allowed him to use a camera to take pictures and present the information visually in a slideshow. Really, that movie was before its time - I still recommend all teachers watch it as it captures all that could be but isn’t. Best teacher - Richard Mulligan - awesome!!

- draw on the visual to make connections - help to make things real by giving visual examples of history, literature, social problems, mathematical problems, science and the rest. And if we can’t find a visual, have students create it.

We need more 365 programs in school

I’m not sure if everyone is aware of the 365 picture meme or whatever it is now but it has people take a picture each day and post it. Many people I know from my PLN are taking part and, from all accounts, it’s a great way to begin to take time to focus on the world around in a visual manner. Kind of a “Stop and smell the roses” idea. So, why aren’t we doing this in classes? Why aren’t we having students take pictures that reflect whatever we are studying and have them comment on them? Or, finding photos that they can use (CC available) and putting together conversations using different online tools and getting feedback? What’s holding us back from taking advantage of the mushrooming explosion of online photos that are available to the public or having students use their own to build knowledge, bridging between in-school and out-school.

We need to begin to take advantage of these tools and this shift to the visual. For the first time we have inexpensive and easy access to visuals and images that could add so much to what we are doing in school. Combine these with the ability to record audio that goes along with the visuals and we have a powerful one/two combination that we are not using enough in school but is so vital in the social networks in which people are involved. Writing is powerful but, as we begin to explore the possibilities of the visual and audio, we need to embrace these and incorporate them.

This Dilbert cartoon says so much! http://www.dilbert.com/2009-03-07/

What are we waiting for? What’s keeping us from surging ahead? Why does it seem there is denial that it is possible and available?

I’m not sure but I know I’ll be seeing how I can do this more in my own teaching.

- Kelly Christopherson

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