“The connections we make as teachers and the collaborations that students are able to get involved in are crucial in students developing international-mindedness.” – Switzerland

Maggie Hos-McGrane understands the needs of today’s students to learn collaboratively — anytime and anywhere — and she’s made it her mission to transform the schools where she teaches to accommodate that need. Rather than limit the study of technology to a fixed period each week, Hos-McGrane has found ways integrate technology (and the collaboration it enables) into all learning.  But Hos-McGrane hasn’t achieved this all on her own. She credits her success as an international educator to her global personal learning network.

“Nowadays I connect with wonderful educators around the globe every single day – they
share resources and ideas, give me feedback and answer my questions.  These teachers inspire me to reflect on and refine my own professional practice; they challenge my thinking and push me to consider the hows and whys of what I do,” Hos-McGrane says. Here, she shares with us what she’s learned in her efforts to not only teach collaboration, but to live it each and every day.

Can you describe how your professional achievements have advanced innovation in education?

I think that I have been instrumental in bringing a new vision of how technology can transform learning to the schools where I have worked.  When I worked at the international School of Amsterdam, I made the change from a fixed IT period each week to a flexible schedule based on the needs of the students, the teachers and the curriculum.  This led to developing more shared responsibility for the lessons with my colleagues, and more co-planning and co-teaching.

Recently I have started to use the SAMR (substitution, augmentation, modification, redefinition) model developed by Dr. Ruben Puentedura to explain to teachers the difference between using technology to merely enhance the curriculum and support what is already being done and how they can use technology to transform and redefine learning.

A couple of years ago I was also lucky enough to be invited by the IBO (International
Baccelaureate Organization)
to attend a curriculum development meeting to discuss the role of ICT in the PYP (Primary Years Program).  We drew up new ICT strands, and based on these I completely rethought the way IT could be used by teachers when supporting students during their inquiries.

What has changed as a result of your efforts? 

I think one of the most important changes in recent years is that our students have collaborated more with others around the world.  My students have connected with different classes and with experts around the world using Skype, they have been involved in Quad Blogging, and have used VoiceThread to create and share information with a worldwide audience.

How can others facing similar challenges implement what you’ve learned through your work?

The most important thing for me in recent years has been building a personal learning network.  In previous schools I’d always been able to rely on a fantastic supportive learning community within the school itself, but on moving back to Europe again three years ago, I struggled to match my vision with that of the school’s. I tried several different approaches when trying to create a community to move learning with technology forward.  For example, I tried offering before-school sessions, drop-in sessions at lunchtimes and after school, and mentoring one teacher per grade level who could in turn act as a mentor to others.   I would say that the impact of these efforts was limited because of the lack of support within the school and because of a lack of time on the part of the teachers. Therefore I had to reach out further so that my own learning was not dependent on who I worked with or where I happened to be located, and I started to “attend” free online conferences as a way of professionally developing myself.  For other educators who are facing similar challenges of working with people who don’t share their philosophy, values and dreams of education, I would recommend connecting and building up a personal learning network of global educators who will support you.  

What educational “trend” do you think is helping students? Is there a trend that is getting in the way of learning?

I think that the whole movement towards mobile computing is something that is transforming the way that students can learn – where they learn and when they learn.

If you could give one educational tool to every child in the world, what would it be? Why?

First of all, I would change school policies so that students could use the devices that they already own.  I’m a real fan of BYOD (bring your own device).  If I was to give a device to everyone, it would be a smartphone.  This would allow students to access the Internet, take photos and videos, create using various apps and so on, and it’s small enough to fit into a child’s pocket.

How have you applied technology in innovative ways to support your work?

I use technology all the time, and by blogging about what I do I try to reach out to others.

What is the biggest obstacle you have had to overcome to ensure students are receiving a quality education?

From an international school perspective, I would say the challenges we face as educators are that students are very mobile and so are the teachers.  Continuity is often difficult in these circumstances.  With teachers and students moving around so much, it’s sometimes hard to find agreement on what a “quality education” looks like.

What is your country doing right to support education?

I think the IB programs have been a great benefit to students whose families are mobile and to teachers who move from country to country.  As a parent who is also a teacher, when I moved between Europe and Asia I only ever considered schools that did all three IB programs – these would be familiar to myself as a teacher and my son and daughter would also have some continuity in their education.  Howard Gardner has described the International Baccalaureate as the most important transnational educational initiative of our time, and I feel very proud to have played a part of developing these programs.

What conditions must change to better support education?

I think that in international schools the administrators are crucial for improving education – some support innovative ideas and teachers who are prepared to take risks and others try to block them or to silence teachers who question the status quo or who suggest better ways of doing things.  Some international schools are run as businesses, with those in leadership positions very far removed from what teachers are doing in their classrooms or what students are actually learning and there are also school administrators who are looking backwards instead of looking forward.  They lack vision of what a 21st century school could be and are entrenched in old models of education that push for standards that are no longer relevant for our children’s futures.  To me the future is very personal and individual, yet too many school leaders are still going for a one-size-fits-all approach.

What is the best opportunity for innovation in education?

The connections we make as teachers and the collaborations that students are able to get involved in are, to me, crucial in students developing international-mindedness.  Also I think that online and blended learning will become much more important.  Nowadays with so much online, free and accessible to all, there are few limits to what students who are really motivated can learn – and they can learn it at a time and place that is most convenient for them.

What advice would you give a new teacher (or to anyone wanting to make a difference in education)?

There are three words that seem to be at the heart of almost everything I do in my professional life:  inquiry, collaboration and reflection. In the IB PYP, all the units are driven by inquiry and it’s only possible for the technology to support these inquiries by collaboration between the specialists and homeroom teachers.  Success comes through being able to reflect on what you are doing, to be able to think critically and deeply.

The other advice I would give is that you need to continue to be a learner yourself.   Throughout my teaching career I have completely reinvented my role several times – moving into different subjects, teaching students of many different ages, moving to different countries and cultures.  Each time I have done this I have benefitted tremendously as an educator and the knock-on effect of this is that my students have benefitted, too.  My advice to new teachers would be to focus on learning.

About Maggie Hos-McGrane
International Educator, Tech Coordinator, Switzerland

Maggie Hos-McGrane is an international educator who has taught for over 30 years, 24 of those years in international schools in Europe and Asia. Her current focus is integrating information technology and communication into the broader curriculum. Hos-McGrane has taught all of the International Baccalaureate programs, and has presented at conferences in Europe, Asia and South America.

Birthplace: London,UK
Current residence: Switzerland, but I’m moving to India next month
Education: Leeds University, UK
Website I check every day: BBC News
Person who inspires me most: Kim Cofino at Yokohama International School, Japan. However the person who first inspired me to use technology with my students was Linda
Swanson, an ESL teacher I worked with in Amsterdam.
Favorite childhood memory: Looking at the stars
Next travel destination (work or pleasure):  I’m going to the ISTE Conference in San Diego
When was the last time you laughed? Why?  I laugh all the time
Favorite book:  At the moment, it’s Stop Stealing Dreams by Seth Godin
Favorite music:
  Jazz
Your favorite quote or motto:  “Everything will be alright in the end. If it’s not alright, it’s not the end.” – John Lennon

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