Using Facebook for Collaborative Practice at Hastings Education Centre

The Vancouver School Board has six Adult Education (AE) schools that offer courses for adults that lead to high school graduation. This paper investigates the leadership of an initiative to implement a technology-mediated environment at one of these six schools, Hastings Education Centre (Hastings).

MA ELM 560, July 14, 2013

Overview of the Context and Goal of Proposed Initiative

Hastings is a small school with three classrooms and a learning centre. It is located in the inner city and serves a student population that is diverse in age, culture, educational experience, language skills, and leaning ability. Student computer skills vary greatly and therefore cannot be assumed, regardless of the level of study. Because familiarity and ability to use technology are increasingly relevant to all members of society, the school needs to incorporate technology into programming. Before this can take place, however, the teachers at Hastings must increase their own understanding of the uses of technology for learning.

Asynchronous teaching schedules and limited access to professional development have de-emphasized the importance of professional improvement and fostered independent practices in AE. The recent layoff of all teachers hired in the last seven years has depleted AE of any recently trained teachers and thereby further intensified the problematic aspects of the established professional culture. Bringing this all to a head are changes in the provincial funding formula which have rendered established student retention rates inadequate. Teachers will have to make changes in their practice if the AE program is to remain viable. Change of this magnitude requires collaboration to identify problems and set goals.

Teachers at Hastings need free access to asynchronous, reciprocal, formal, and informal communication that facilitates and encourages improved teaching practices. The social media website, Facebook, offers a platform for this communication. It can also lead to an increased familiarity with using technology as a learning tool. As teachers add technology to their current focus on student success, the benefits of using technology in the classroom will become increasingly apparent.

Challenges and Risks A few teachers are comfortable with technology but they use it more for practical delivery of curriculum than for improved practice. Two staff members, one with computer expertise and one without are strident objectors to Facebook. This challenges the willingness to participate and increases the level of frustration if the initiative experiences a problem. This frustration can lead to rejection of the initiative and may reinforce the perception that it is not necessary to build a collaborative learning community for professional development. Nevertheless, stringent limits on time and money make the benefits of social media a very attractive option.

Literature Review

In Professional Capital (2012), Hargreaves and Fullan state, “We get a high return from teachers and teaching by investing in, accumulating and circulating the professional capital of the teaching profession.” I would argue that this capital is best accessed through opportunity for collaborative solutions to increasingly complex stresses on the system because “collaboration often leads to improvements in teachers’ instructional practices; these improvements, in turn, enhance student learning” (Leithwood, 2005, p.4).

Meaningful change at Hastings must be generated within the school if programming is to maintain its established flexibility that accommodates specific needs of students. Doing so will keep improvements relevant to the context of teaching and learning in AE and continue Hastings’ practice of democratic (Hooks, 2003) and community-based (Corson,1998) education.

Meaningful debate that stems from identifying and addressing the concerns of all stakeholders is an essential component of successful implementation. This debate can be both formal and informal. It can be informed by organized group activity such as creating a Rich Picture as specified by Checkland’s soft-systems analysis (Naughton, 1984). It can be further aided by distributed leadership, which acknowledges a more varied degree of contribution and creates a sustainable system that is not reliant on charismatic leadership (Spillane, 2005, p.143).

Implementing any new system is challenging and it is helpful to understand the organic nature of the process of change (Vaughan, 2001). These challenges can be further alleviated by

awareness of the components of change. Wheatley’s 10 Steps for Healthy Change (2007) offer an accessible explanation that can be used as a touchstone for those experiencing change.

Using Facebook as a learning platform will allow for the active learning typical of constructivism. A constructivist approach will appeal to Hastings’ established culture of independent practice by encouraging the creation of personal meaning and can be used to encourage collaborative learning. (Ally, 2004, p. 11- 14).

The seven dimensions of transformational leadership as proposed by Leithwood and Duke (1999) are a useful way to structure a plan for implementation:

  • Create a shared vision
  • Set goals
  • Provide intellectual stimulation
  • Supply individual support
  • Model effective practice
  • Meet high expectations
  • Develop a positive culture and create structures that support active involvement in decision making

The teaching culture of Hastings is transformational in its continual and conscientious focus on creating the best possible system for the students. It is lacking, however, in a shared vision for professional excellence and student achievement because teachers rarely have or take opportunity to collaborate for improved teaching practice.

Although the system condones intellectual stimulation and student achievement, it does little to provide it. School improvement goals are generally set by external bodies and focus on practical issues related to school management. Online courses are facilitated off-site. The provision of only two professional days per year mean that this learning is not sustained and teaching expertise as related to student achievement outcomes is not a common topic of debate.

Implementation Plan

The plan to initiate Facebook as a platform for collaborative professional development reflects a transformational approach to leadership. It can unfold as follows, but an eye for relevance may reorder or repeat steps as necessary.

  • Leader sets and monitors a S.M.A.R.T. goal for improved collaborative practice in the school.
  • Establish a professional presence on Facebook.
  • Offer alternatives to discussions on Facebook.
  • Spark discussions that lead to goal setting.
  • Distribute leadership to increase participation and spark meaningful debate and learning.
  • Teachers collaborate to set a S.M.A.R.T. goal for improved student outcomes
  • Encourage and summarize discussions of excellence in andragogy in both formal and informal communication.
  • Provide easy and reliable access to coaching.
  • Acknowledge all feedback to the initiative, including dissenting views.
  • Model effective practice.
  • Foster a positive culture that supports active involvement.
  • Amend goals as necessary.
  • Celebrate successes.

Plan for Leading and Managing Implementation

The time has come for Hastings to embrace collaboration for improved student achievement. Although altering the culture of an organization is a risky endeavour, in this case it is not an impossible feat because the teachers are already working together to ensure individual students’ programing needs are met. The challenge comes in securing the time and resources required for teachers to increase the scope of their collaborative action without the benefit of increased funding.

The least senior teacher at Hastings was hired in the last millennium. While this means that all teachers have a veteran understanding of the school’s systems, it adds risk any attempt to create change in the established school culture. Even though it seems self-evident that teachers should want to improve their practice, they will need to be prevailed upon to accept change in the established culture. If leadership models best practices, the chance of acceptance of change will be improved.

Strident opposition to social media is significant not only because it influences acceptance of the initiative, but because it poses a challenge to balanced communication. Leadership must offer alternatives such as email and face-to-face reciprocal communication about topics addressed on Facebook. Although this can be time consuming, it is essential to address the concerns of all stakeholders in order to foster commitment to the initiative. Furthermore, value can be added to a discussion by expanding its scope.

Lack of familiarity can be intimidating and/or demotivating. A plan of the change can help minimize surprise and establish a realistic expectation of change. Although it is socially awkward to plan change in culture, Facebook itself can be used to set goals related to effective collaborative practice and thereby indirectly create the desired change in culture. Leadership can model effective practice by collaborating to set improvement goals.  Benchmarked goals, such as S.M.A.R.T. goals (defined as specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound), can increase participation because they orient teachers to the task and the timeline of school improvement by measuring success. Although the school has not set improvement goals in the past, the current school culture supports active involvement in decision making, so barriers to setting improvement goals are not anticipated.

Change is an organic process that will continue to be challenging until it becomes connected to roles within the school. Effective leadership must be prepared for the ramifications of ongoing discomfort. At the outset, the use of Facebook to chat about andragogy amongst adult educators hardly seems like an imposition, but it is important to recognize that the implementation of any new initiative disrupts established culture.

The initiative to use Facebook for professional development will have a better chance of success if leadership fosters trust in the process through open, unbiased, reciprocal communication that addresses concerns of all stakeholders. Discussions that arise from this communication can be transitioned into action through distribution of leadership. Finally, action can be sustained only when actors are given reliable and relevant access to coaching.

Conclusion

As a leader it is important to consider the big picture. Teacher expertise and collaboration are the immediate and laudable goals of using Facebook to tap into relevant issues of expert teaching. This initiative also has an underlying objective: to increase teachers’ facility with a technology-mediated environment and thereby prepare them for the burgeoning demands of 21st century learning. In the end, this simple initiative can lead to improved practice in the short term and relevant practice in the long term.

 

References

 Ally, M. (2004). Chapter 1: Foundations of educational theory for online learning. In T.

Anderson & F. Elloumi (Eds.), Theory and practice of online learning (pp. 3-31). Athabasca: Athabasca University.

Corson, David. (1998) Community-based education for indigenous cultures. Language, Culture and Curriculum, Vol 11, No.3.

Hargreaves, Andy and Fullan, Michael. Professional Capital: Transforming Teaching in every School. Teachers College Press, New York and London (2012).

Hooks, Bell. (2003). Teaching community: a pedagogy of hope. New york: Routledge.

Kowalski, T.J., Petersen, G., & Fusarelli, L.D., (2007). Effective Communication for School

Administrators: A Necessity in an Information Age. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield Education.

LaBonte, R. (2008). Part 3: Implementing Technology. Leadership and e-learning; Change processes for implementing educational technologies. In BC Campus (Eds.), Education for a Digital World: Advice, Guidelines, and Effective Practice from Around the Globe (pp. 277-286). Vancouver: BC campus and Commonwealth of Learning. Retrieved July 134, 2013 from http://www.colfinder.net/materials/Education_for_a_Digital_World/Education_for_a_Digital_World_part3.pdf

Leithwood, Kenneth. A Review of the Research. The Mid-Atlantic Regional Educational Laboratory at Temple University for Research in Human Development and Education (2005). Retrieved July 13, 2013 from http://casel.org/wpcontent/uploads/ReviewOfTheResearchLeithwood.pdf

Spillane, James P. (2005). Distributed leadership. The Educational Forum, Volume 69, pp.143-150.

Vaughan, Paula J. (2001, January). System Implementation Success Factors; It’s not just the Technology. Paper presented at the CUMREC Conferences, Boulder, Colorado. Abstract retrieved from http://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/cmr0122.pdf

Wheatley, M. (2007), Creating Healthy Community Change. Changed Minds. Retrieved July 13, 2013 from http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL57D3F5FDE5856188

 

 

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