Less, More and None (2019) – Review

Less

  • eating out
    • Jen and I ate out less than once per week on average over the course of the year. In fact, our approach to eating and nutrition evolved significantly; trying at least two to three new recipes every month, as well as eating more vegetarian and vegan food as the year progressed. 🍅🥑🌽 FTW!
  • being wasteful
    • We did really well on this one, helped in part by relocating to Hastings in May. There is nothing like moving house to place perspective on how much junk you’ve amassed. Reducing our belongings down to the things we need was very therapeutic. Be assured, we sold, donated or recycled everything that we could.
  • spending time on ‘urgent but unimportant’ tasks
    • Having changed school and role in May, it was difficult to exercise control over this at times. However, as VP, I do have the capacity to decide what to work on and how to approach it which has helped. I plan to continue to work on this as I continue to grow into my new role in 2020.

More

  • listening to others well
    • I feel that I got better at this as the year progressed. I have always been a good listener at work, having headed some prudent advice from the first Principal that I worked with. But, I definitely needed to be better in personal and social contexts. I feel that I was able to listen well and also learned to better judge when to respond and when not to; although I can definitely improve on this further and will feature in next year’s list.
  • running
    • I knocked this one out of the park; setting new goals run after run. I ran further than I have ever done before and continually improved my personal best times for 5K and 10K. 🚀🥇🏆
  • strengthening my core and gluteus muscles
    • This was going very well up until the move to Hastings in May. Access to a gym at my previous school made this very easy to fit in to my weekly fitness routine. With no gym at my new school, I struggled after the move. However, I have begun to incorporate core exercises and mobility work into my warm down after each run.
  • writing
    • This was was also going really well, even after the move in May. However, from the start of the new term in September I have struggled. Must do better in 2020.
  • random acts of kindness
    • Managed at least one per week. 🧘‍♂️
  • buying/eating local foods
    • This one was strengthened by the move Hastings. We were pushed out of our Waitrose comfort zone and have had to adapt to buying our food from a range of different sources, including the local grocers, deli and bakery.
  • reusing and recycling
    • I did as well with this as ever and there was significant shame in downsizing for the move. The realisation of how much surplus stuff we had amassed over 15 years of marriage was revelatory. However, as noted above we made a significant effort to ensure that very little was thrown away. ♻️
  • being selective about the projects/opportunities I say yes to
    • In the comfort of my previous role I was in a good place with this and I feel that I have done a fairly good job since the move. However, the role is evolving so I must continue to focus on way to exercise control over this.
  • improving/optimising my organisational systems
    • I had all the right intentions with this one and I have continued with OmniFocus. However, I have found myself wondering if I really need such a complex app? Too often I find myself working from a simple list; perhaps this is all I need as it appears to be my default. The only caveat I would add is that sometimes this happens due to a lack of effort on the organisation/planning side of things.
  • learning how to solve cryptic crosswords
    • This lasted all of two weeks! However, I did add the Guardian Weekend crossword to the Quick and Speedy ones and my streak went uninterrupted; that’s 417 crosswords for the year. ✍️
  • sitting/lying still and listening to albums from start to finish
    • I did not do as much of this as I would have liked but it did happen every now and again which was very enjoyable. It will remain on next year’s list and has also inspired another goal for next year.
  • visiting galleries and museums
    • This started well but due to relocating we have had little time to get back into the city. We have lots of plans for next year, though.

None

  • looking at my mobile phone when people are talking to me
    • Again, this remains a struggle. Next year, I am going to take to putting my phone in another room when I get home from work. It scares me; the hold that this device has over me. 😟
  • spending money on unnecessary things
    • We were much more frugal this year. As previously mentioned, the move brought to light just how much unnecessary things we had purchased over the years. We made a significant effort to downsize and not replace things if they were not needed.
  • finishing a workout or run and not stretching properly
    • I added a roller and some mobility exercises into my cool-down and recovery routines. As such, I had my most injury free year of running. Alongside reading Runner’s World, this YouTube channel helped a lot.

Less, More and None (2018)

I can’t remember who originally drew my attention to the idea of Less, More, and None on educator Jacoby Young’s website, but the notion of prioritising your life around these three determiners appealed to me.

Unlike Jacoby, I did not publish my list publicly. However, I did write it down and I returned to it regularly to give some focus and attention to aspects of my life that I felt could be improved. I found it to be fruitful and rewarding. So much so, I have decided to share my 2018 list with a reflective commentary about how I got on.

Less

  1. social media (Twitter, Instagram)
  2. bringing work home
  3. procrastinating

I was very successful with number one. Twitter has been relegated to a liminal space that is fed updates from my blog. This happens automatically using IFTTT so I never have to actually visit Twitter or log in. I have also removed Tweetbot from my iPhone and MacBook. I narrowed my Instagram use to specific accounts related to running and fitness. I am not posting anything; it is simply an ‘inspiration’ tool when I feel I need it.

Items two and three were work related and I did well with both of them. I have not really brought work home at all this year and I have been far more productive at work. Doubling down on my use of OmniFocus was significant in ensuring that my daily routines and projects were well thought through and planned out. Moreover, the updated ‘Forecast’ view in OF3 had a huge impact on helping me manage my work. The updated perspective allows you to interleave your ‘tasks’ in with your ‘calendar’. This helped me plot out my day better and ensure that things got finished rather than half-done.

More

  1. fitness (gym/running)
  2. eating healthy food
  3. trying new foods and recipes
  4. spending time with my wife
  5. travel
  6. listening to others well

I also did well in relation to the things that I wanted to do more of. As I have written about a lot recently, I lost a significant amount of weight and also became addicted to running. I go to the gym three to four times per week and run on weekends. This was supported by an excellent weekly menu. Jennifer and I worked really hard to build more vegetarian meals into our diets, including lots of beans and pulses. We have tried a new recipe every week and it has been a wonderful culinary journey that we plan to continue next year. I now walk to work in the morning (yes, even in the cold and pouring rain) as well as home from work. Jennifer has been walking with me and then she runs home. We live in a pretty area so this has been lovely and it has also helped ensure that Jennifer and I get to spend as much time together as possible.

In terms of item five, I will give myself a bye. Jennifer and I have been reviewing our priorities and travel got pushed down the list a bit. That said, we did visit Copenhagen again (our eighth trip to Denmark in four years) in the summer. 👫❤️🇩🇰

In terms of item six, I’ll give myself a C grade. I have done better, particularly when my phone was not in my hand… see item one in my ‘none’ list. However, I could still be much better at this and will add it into my ‘more’ list for 2019.

None

  1. looking at my mobile phone when people are talking to me

I did not do well with this. I am going to carry this over to next year’s ‘none’ list and really try hard to put my phone away when people start speaking to me.

Overall, I really valued the impact this had on my life over the course of 2018. By making some intentional decisions about what I wanted to do ‘less, more and none’ of at the start of the year, I focussed more on the things that matter and also achieved a level of personal growth that has been missing over the previous few years.

One of the unforeseen benefits, particularly in terms of items 2 and 3 in my ‘less’ list, was that I had a much better year in terms of reading for pleasure. Also, I completed The Guardian crossword everyday… the Quick crossword on weekdays and Saturdays; the Speedy crossword on Sundays.

I have already noted down some ideas for 2019:

  • Re-engaging with my blog since August has been very satisfying therefore a goal to write more regularly seems appropriate.
  • At work, I want to spend less time on ‘urgent but unimportant’ tasks.
  • And, I want to get even more out of my running – finding opportunities to run in interesting places and over longer distances.

Once I have a complete list I will post it here on my blog.

The Great Discontent

“…there’s always this feeling of wishing or hoping that you’ll eventually arrive somewhere. But, I don’t know anybody who’s ever arrived anywhere. Everybody I know with half a brain is always a little bit nervous about how long they’re going to be okay doing what they’re doing.”

Merlin Mann, 2013

As Merlin implies, life is a perpetual journey. As I return to this blog, after a lengthy hiatus, I am firmly engaged in the next stage of mine.

I completed my M.Ed. in September. It was one of the most enriching experiences I have had since becoming a teacher over ten years ago. As I worked to complete my dissertation I was promoted to Leader for English. While I might have hoped for a steady start, it has been an intense beginning to my tenure. During my first two months in charge I have: introduced setting at KS3; established a support programme for Year Seven students with low reading ages; participated in a departmental review; encountered Ofsted for the third time; and continue to learn how to lead a department made up of eleven unique individuals. Nevertheless, as I sit here reflecting, I can say that the last two months have provided the challenge and reward that I crave.

Had the past few months been more settled, I would not have gained as much from them. Learning, like life, is also a perpetual journey. If I was not challenged, if there was nothing left to learn, I would become discontented. Fortunately, as a teacher there is little danger of that. The variable nature of teaching make it deeply stimulating and fulfilling.

MOOC MOOC – Day Four

Before I could join in with Day Four’s activities, I decided that I needed to better understand the concept of ‘Connectivism’.

Connectivism

Stephen Downes states that: “At its heart, connectivism is the thesis that knowledge is distributed across a network of connections, and therefore that learning consists of the ability to construct and traverse those networks.” Which in my mind, could easily be describing my experience in using Twitter to develop a personal learning network (PLN). Through Twitter I have connected with a network of individuals, shared and aggregated resources and ideas, which has resulted in both learning and the (co-)construction of new ideas and resources.

He goes on to outline four process that are integral to connectivism:

  1. Aggregation
  2. Remixing
  3. Repurposing
  4. Feeding Forward

Considering this list closely, it would appear that connectivism is very similar to constructivism, particularly given that these activities encourage sharing, creation and collaboration.

However, Downes et al., see connectivism as a distinct model of its own. In ‘What is the unique idea in connectivism’, George Siemens explains that “learning is defined as the creation of new connections and patterns as well as the ability to maneuver around existing networks/patterns.” While this sounds very similar to Downes’ interpretation, Siemens emphasis on the “creation of new connections” implies that the learning occurs through networking as opposed to the act of construction. Artefacts created, either individually or collaboratively during MOOCs are, to some degree, a byproduct. The dialogue and connections generated before, during and after their creation is where the learning occurs. The network is the essence of connectivism; the essence of the MOOC.

Siemens continues, asserting that “Coherence. Sensemaking. Meaning. These elements are prominent in constructivism, to a lessor extent cognitivism, and not at all in behaviourism. But in connectivism, we argue that the rapid flow and abundance of information raises these elements to critical importance.” This is certainly true, and within MOOC MOOC this has been more than evident. However, for some participants, the sheer scale of information generated by the network can be overwhelming. Therefore, I would argue that, to be successful in a MOOC, you have to be well-versed in the use of tools that can help you make sense of the information. Moreover, as I have previously written, it is important for participants to be willing to plot their own paths and not feel that they have to read/do everything.

Moreover, connectivism, is a pedagogy that places significant emphasis on interdependence. Perhaps then the most important facet of the MOOC acronym is ‘openness’. Relatively free from geographical, economic, social and cultural constraints, the cMOOC gives rise to democratised, networked-learning that emphasises participation and collaboration.

Participant Pedagogy

Day Four’s task was to consider participant pedagogy. I entered into this having not really had time to look at the reading, but with some strong views about learner participation and the student/teacher paradigm. In my own words

Learning is and should always be in the hands of the learner.

A number of us, decided that some face-to-face interaction was needed and so a Google+ Hanout was instigated. After a few technical problems, Sheila MacNeil, Martin Hawksey, David Kernohan, Alan Ng and I engaged in a fruitful discussion.

The discussion covered a number of related topics:

  • the pedagogical models found within the cMOOC/xMOOC dichotomy;
  • the position of teacher/lecturer and the way that we (educators) view education/learning;
  • the problems with systematised education (sage on the stage, teach to the test culture);
  • participant pedagogy, including the problem of the teacher/student paradigm

As I suggest a number of times during the discussion, I believe that the dichotomy of the traditional student/teacher relationship is a false one; based on an out of date system of education. If our goal is to foster a love of learning, then I believe it is necessary for educators to position themselves as learners, facilitators, guides; not as experts. A scary prospect for some.

Pete Rorabaugh argues that:

Critical pedagogy, no matter how we define it, has a central place in the discussion of how learning is changing in the 21st century because critical pedagogy is primarily concerned with an equitable distribution of power… Digital tools offer the opportunity to refocus how power works in the classroom. In its evolution from passive consumption to critical production – from the cult of the expert to a culture of collaboration – the critical and digital classroom emerges as a site of intellectual and moral agency.

This is certainly a thesis that I can support, given that I would describe my own classroom in similar terms. However, I am left asking whether or not such an evolution requires ‘digital tools’ to achieve such equity? Can learning not be democratised within traditional educational settings, without the influence of technology? Does this not, have more to do with shifting beliefs and values about pedagogy and the student/teacher paradigm?

Teo Bishop, makes a similar case, asserting that:

A teacher and a student, when presented as text on the screen, look exactly the same. They are just text. The internet is the Great Equalizer not only because it provides the world with a seemingly unlimited amount of information, but because it reduces us all to font, to pixels, to bits of sound and noise that only begin to approach our full complexity.

Perhaps… although I think this is a naive view. Technology, in this case ‘the internet’, is being given far too much credit. Social status, expertise and power are in no way absent from the world wide web. Blogs and social networks may have given everyone a voice, but that does not mean that everyone is listening.

Technology, itself, does not have the power to improve education. Nor does it have the power to democratise it. The participatory pedagogies alluded to by both Rorabaugh and Bishop require a change in values and beliefs on the part of not just educators, but society as a whole. Moreover, they require a dramatic shift in the priorities of educational institutions. It’s better economics for institutions such as Stanford and MIT to proffer xMOOC style courses, as the investment in participant-based co-creation and the development of networks is labour intensive and difficult to control.

Earlier in the article, Bishop asked what I think is a more important question: “I’m in a position where I can do my best work, and inspire the most dialogue, by openly not having the answers. Do teachers have that luxury?” Yes they do, but they have to be prepared to take risks; to be willing to redefine their role within the classroom. As I shared in the Hangout, I do not consider myself to be a teacher anymore. I am a learner, facilitator, and guide.

On reflection, I wonder to what extent teaching Media Studies has impacted on the way I view education and my role within it. Media Studies is in a continual state of evolution, built on theoretical ideas rather than absolutes; responding to a changing landscape, influenced by social and technological developments. There is always something new to learn, to understand, at no point would I therefore, profess to be an expert.

Jesse Stommel (on Twitter) shared: “Every semester I teach at least one book that I’ve never read before. I read it with the students and actively under-prepare.” Within his words, there is a clue to a deeper philosophy, a belief in shared, interdependent learning between teacher and student. I take a similar approach with my own students, wishing to participate in a ‘learning journey’, where the opinions of student and teacher are of equal value.

Of all of the reading that was provided to support this part of the course, I found Howard Rheingold’s article ‘Toward Peeragogy’ provided the most compelling narrative. Reflecting on the development of what he has coined “peeragogy”, Rheingold draws out, what I believe to be, key tenets in encouraging independent/interdependent learning in any classroom.

In retrospect, I can see the coevolution of my learning journey: my first step was to shift from conventional lecture-discussion-test classroom techniques to lessons that incorporated social media, my second step gave students co-teaching power and responsibility, my third step was to elevate students to the status of co-learner. It began to dawn on me that the next step was to explore ways of instigating completely self-organized, peer-to-peer online learning.

In his classroom, both online and in the lecture hall, Rheingold’s “peeragogy” is built on ‘openness’, ‘social media’, and ‘student voice/choice’ – the same three tenets advocated by Catherine Cronin during a presentation at #EdTech12. Three tenet that can easily be applied to cMOOCs.

The Role of the cMOOC

Returning to one of the articles, from day one of MOOC MOOC, I would argue that Siemens is correct. c“MOOCs are really a platform”, out of which an interdependent network is built. A network that encourages, openness, social connectedness/collaboration, and voice/choice. The cMOOC is nothing without its participants and its participants are in control of the pedagogy.

MOOC MOOC – Day Three (Learning is Messy)

I was unable to participate in MOOC MOOC yesterday as I had a full day visiting with family. While I managed to fit in some reading in the evening, I didn’t have the time to complete the task. Therefore, I got up early this morning, finished writing a post reflecting on Day Two, and then began work on Day Three’s activity.

We were given a video to watch and then asked to make our own, responding to the question: ‘Where does learning happen?’

I enjoyed the task as it gave me the opportunity to share a number of ideas that I have been ruminating on for several months now; influenced by the focus of my research proposal for the M.Ed I am studying towards.

I don’t feel too bad about not being able to participate fully yesterday, as I feel MOOCs are as much about plotting your own path as they are about networks and collaboration. I hope to get involved in a discussion about participant pedagogy today, as that is what we have been tasked with, but I will just see what the day brings. I have collated a number of articles about connectivism and my immediate plan is to sit and read those next. The learning is messy but I am managing to create order from the chaos.