Relationships are at the center of so much of what we do as teachers, coaches and leaders of professional learning. Open, inclusive conversation rooted in active listening is at the heart of those developing relationships. Which technology tools can support these kinds of meaningful conversations?
Experience: Jewish Educator Book Club Zoom Meetings
Tech Tool: Zoom
Zoom is an online web conferencing tool that is easy to set up, easy to manage, and easy for participants to access - already removing barriers to online conversation! What I particularly love about Zoom and conversations is the variety of ways you can view participants - everyone, just the person speaking, or the speaker larger than other participants. You can not only hear everyone, you can see their body language and their facial expressions. You can be online without missing many of the important cues for active listening and conversation that you miss without that visual. The breakout groups function is another excellent way to seamlessly provide small group conversation time, not just whole group. Participants I’ve worked with have noted that the Zoom “room” creates a quiet space to focus on each other in conversation. This educator book club meets on Zoom every other week. We have gotten to know each other while listening to each others’ ideas and providing the visual feedback that enhances a conversation.
Experience: #ETCoaches Book Study Slow Chat
Tech Tool: Twitter
I’ll admit that I wouldn’t have put Twitter in the “rich conversation" category a few years ago. However, participating in the #ETCoaches slow chat has helped me see Twitter conversations, “chats," in a new light. A slow chat works by spacing out questions and response time over a longer period of time (as opposed to a typical Twitter chat where questions are fired off every few minutes and the flow of answers is fierce in those minutes before the impetus to move on). In the case of the #ETCoaches book study, a new question is posted each day. You have the entire day (and longer if needed), to review responses, to ask clarifying questions of others, and to craft your own responses without intense time pressure. I find that this kind of chat has allowed for more actual conversation, back and forth interactions, between me and other participants. It allows for literally seeing more of the offered perspectives as well as exploring them more deeply. I feel more connected to the individuals as well as the flow of the group in this slow chat format.
Experience: Mandel Teacher Educator Institute Action Group
Tech Tool: Edmodo
There are a lot of learning management systems (LMS) out there, but Edmodo has been my LMS of choice. For a free tool, it has a lot of features, including hosting nested online conversations. In the Action Group that the Mandel Teacher Educator Institute hosts on Edmodo, we’ve been brought together by the common interest of text study. We choose texts, explore them, and consider how they would work with students and staff. We share resources. We ask questions. We have all the information about our conversations, including conversations themselves, all in one central location. Having this central place to talk and share makes other interactions that we have (notably those in Zoom meetings, see above) more efficient and effective. Our group knows that we can always find each other for support and conversation in our Edmodo group.
I’ll close with the reminder that it isn’t the tool that is making these conversations so rich, it’s how we are using them. Actively choosing the tool to support our conversations and collaborative work requires thoughtful reflection and an understanding of what each tool can bring and how it can support our goals. However, without these tools, I (we) would be missing opportunities for discourse and learning with and from colleagues.
Where are you finding spaces for rich conversations?
When was the last time you hit pause?
Last week in one of my book clubs, we did just that. Despite the many directions we were being pulled in for our work and for our families and friends, we, leaders representing a wide variety of educational settings, each consciously set aside the time to come together to think. Inspired by Margaret Wheatley's essay "Am I willing to reclaim time to think?" (from Turning to one another: Simple conversations to restore hope to the future ), we listened and spoke to each other about ideas and concerns and emotions that we care about. We took just 1 hour to let everything else go and just think with each other. We allowed our minds to expand. We asked questions that we weren’t necessarily looking to answer. We didn’t meet to make a plan or make decisions or evaluate anything. We came together to think with each other and talk about our thinking.
If we can pause for a moment and see what we’re losing as we speed up, I can’t imagine that we would continue with this bargain. - Margaret Wheatley
As I sat down to write this post, I realized that this is a significant part of the motivation for me in writing #6wordsaweek. Here, I am reclaiming time to reflect - to think about the ideas that are swirling in my brain and to explore what is motivating me and inspiring me to stick with the work, be creative, and take risks. I didn’t get to sit down on Friday (as was the plan). Saturday and Sunday flew by. Then, I thought about our book club. We actively reclaimed that time to think. Reclaiming isn't about waiting for that time to find you; it is about you finding that time. So, today I made that conscious effort to start the day and the week by reclaiming time. I didn't check email yet. I'm holding off on checking the Twitter feed. I'm not yet heading to today's project work. First, I’m giving myself permission to take time to consider, to percolate, to contemplate - to take time to think so that my thinking can lead me towards clearer action. Next week, when book club meets again, I'll be all the more ready for that coveted think time in conversation with my colleagues.
How are you reclaiming time to think?
Wheatley, M. (2002). Am I willing to reclaim time to think? In Turning to one another: Simple conversations to restore hope to the future (pp. 95-101). San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.
As I reflect on the two hour session I attended this past Friday, I'm stuck on the first 3 minutes.
I had the pleasure of sitting in on a professional learning session with teachers from St. Augustine Preparatory Academy (Milwaukee, WI) led by colleagues Sara Wilkie and Dale Truding of BalanceEdTech. What was so empowering about this session? It wasn't just that teachers had authentic opportunities to converse with each other about the ways students learn, though they certainly did that. It wasn't just because there was time to play with Seesaw, a technology tool that has the potential to document reflection and thinking processes, which also happened. And it wasn't even because of the embedded opportunities for self-reflection on instructional practice and ways to apply the morning's learning in the next day's class, which we also did. All of which is impressive. However, it's the first 3 minutes in which Dale, Sara, and St. Augustine Prep's Elementary School Principal, Nathan Carlberg, opened the session that has stayed with me the most. I paraphrased their words in my notes from the morning as follows:
Nathan - The morning is not just about learning about a tool, but also a framework-mindset for how we empower students - this tool drives us towards a mindset.
Dale - Our goal is to empower staff to empower the students.
Sara - Kids are at the center; when struggling with a decision, always take it back to the kids to lead you.
Nathan, Dale and Sara set the stage for the teachers to be leaders in their learning and the learning of their students. These words, partnered with the subsequent session, encouraged teachers to take in knowledge and try it out; to reflect, play, tinker; roll with it and fail with it; learn as you go and adjust; know when to push on and when to ask for help; and, recognize all the places that they, as teacher-leaders and teacher-learners, can seek and find support -- all while keeping in mind how this learning will subsequently impact student learning. Nathan, Dale, and Sara started the morning by telling these teachers, "This is all about the kids and you can do this important work because we are in it together and will give you the tools and support you need." Wow. Now that's empowering.
This past week was a winner. I attended a professional learning session from Systematic Inventive Thinking (SIT) sponsored by the iCenter. Innovation facilitator Alon Harris shared a window into one of SIT's innovation processes called "Subtraction." The idea is that if you start to look at all the elements of your lesson, project, activity, etc. and then subtract an element that you think is essential, you'll be forced to truly evaluate the essential-ness of that element. And perhaps, even more importantly, by letting go of the requirement to have that element, you might come up with new ideas that push your lesson, project, activity, etc. beyond where it was and into something even better.
My thought partner and I took a look at the processes I use for partner-based text study (also called havruta learning for those of you in the Jewish education world). First, we took out partnerships to see where that led. How do you do partner-based text study without a partner? I subtracted and, while staying focused on possibilities not challenges, looked for ways to keep the learning rooted in relationships despite the lack of partnerships. Maybe we could study the text individually and then create communal artistic pieces to share our insights? Or, maybe we work in a larger groups of 3-6 where each person looks at the text from a particular lens? Or what about "pass the text" - you read, you annotate, you pass the text to your neighbor, and repeat - each time reading previous comments and adding more?
Now, let's put partnerships back in and take out... the text! How do we do text study without a text? Let's co-create a text from our experiences. Or, let's look at an artifact as text, analyzing structure and form and artists choice. Maybe we even study ourselves or our behaviors or our interactions and relationships as "text?"
Using subtracting, I surprised myself by generating a number of ways to add to my practice. Next up: trying this technique out as I plan for online learning sessions. Interested? You can learn more in SIT's related book, Thinking Inside the Box (the newest climber to the top of my reading list). Tried this yourself? Would love to hear about your experience!
I'm starting something new. Actually, I'm starting something new based on something familiar. Makes the risk feel a bit safer, yes? In the last year, I've been working hard to grow my professional learning network (PLN). In particular, thanks to the PLNs for Educators Course and inspiration from #ETCoaches initiatives, I've been working to curate my PLN so that it is more focused, effective, and goal-oriented. In an effort to put myself out there more, to move away from just reading and following and to move towards increased engagement and interaction, I've decided to start blogging my reflections in a weekly six-word memoir. The six-word format balances my goal to be thoughtful, yet concise, and easily accessible for those who (hopefully!) read it. Just 6 words to help me reflect on my professional work and learning and to (again hopefully!) start conversations with others. So here we go... My first week of #6wordsaweek lays out my PLN path for the year.
What was so inspiring about Matt Bar’s ELI Talk that I stopped all other work to write about it? Connections. As a person, I am always looking to connect myself to the ideas and world around me. This is also what I do as an educator. In every seminar I teach, each teacher mentoring conversation, each student interaction, I am asking myself:
How does this concept or idea connect to what I know?
I may not know a lot about hip hop, but I know that text! I was sitting on the edge of my chair as I heard Matt describe the word-based interactions between Rabbi Yochanan and Resh Lakish (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Baba Metzia 84a-84b) as an “original rap battle.” I had studied that same text in havruta (partner text study) just last March. And certainly not in the context of hip hop. So how exciting would the reverse inspiration be from a student: "I may not know that text, but I know hip hop!"
How can it connect to what the learner knows?
Seeing text through this lens is the kind of connection opportunity we seek for our students. As I look for multiple ways to access a text, comparing Rabbi Yochanan and Resh Lakish to Tupac and Biggie, honestly, hasn't occurred to me. But it might occur to others (as it did for Matt) and it certainly might occur to students if they are given the opportunity to interact with text in new and, maybe, surprising ways. As Matt takes his viewers and listeners from Talmud to hip hop to the importance and weight of words, I can imagine the eyes of today's generation lighting up, their interest peaked, their surprise, “Huh. This relates to my world?!?!”
How can we use this information to make new connections previously undiscovered?
Matt is exemplifying meeting students where they are to help them see Judaism through their own lens, not just the lenses that we, as parents or educators, might suggest. As a hip hop novice myself, I now have the riveting opportunity to learn with my students. If we want students to be lifelong learners, we should model how we still experience the thrill of learning something new and looking at something from a different perspective.
So where do all these connections lead? I started by connecting Matt's ideas to one of my professional goals: providing multiple pathways to access Jewish text study. I'm inspired to offer this kind of connecting opportunity to the teachers and students I have the privilege to work with. And, most importantly, I'm excited to explore these kinds of connections as one member of a larger community of learners, each of us "sharpening" each other.
Reference: ELI Talks. (2016, March 1). Matt Bar: The greatest rap battles started WAY before Tupac and Biggie... [Video file]. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/bfPlQts5Nas
I've been taking a lot of new educational risks lately. Being a teacher-researcher feels like the most prominent one. I recently began action research to study my instructional practice leading professional development. I'm recording my teaching, analyzing transcripts and participant commentary, and reflecting on who and what and how I am as a teacher of teachers. This risk, this close look at what I do and how it effects others, seemed a bit scary at first, but then I had a nagging sensation of "I've been here before." Upon further reflection I realized, not only have I been a teacher-researcher before, I was a teacher-researcher from the beginning.
When I was teaching in the public school system, I was given a notebook with a list of learning goals and told "Teach them!" Every day as a new teacher was a risk. Each time I wrote a lesson plan that first year, implemented it, and took notes on how it went I was essentially taking risks in the classroom and doing a form of assessment that could qualify as part of a research cycle, although I certainly wouldn't have called it research at the time. I may not have started with a formal question and finished with a formal writing exercise, but I was assessing what went on in the classroom and looking to make changes to ensure what I was doing was more effective for students and their learning. How helpful would the language of research have been as both a validation of the work process and an encouragement to focus in on particular aspects of teaching/learning/students to effect change! The structure of research would have helped me narrow the focus and more efficiently apply the assessments and reflections I was making.
As I delve deeper into my graduate work and the accompanying action research, I continue to be struck by how much the language of research applies not only to actions that I took in my classroom, but also to what I do now in my role leading professional development. So many of the daily activities of teacher-leaders are also inherently authentic research experiences. I ask myself if an instructional module helped teachers achieve the learning goal. I ask if I met the specific learning needs of a teacher. I look for assessment tools to support each of these prior questions. I narrow my questions: "How can I help Joe feel supported and successful during partner text study sessions?" As I ask questions and seek answers, I am beginning to revel in the process that is making me better at what I do.
Taking a the research risk has led me to deeper thinking and new goals. I'm going to work on incorporating a language of research into instructional coaching times and professional development modules with my teachers as I continue to embrace my own research process. The application of teacher-research language to what many teachers already do, is not only validating to our work, but also adds to the professionalization of our field. This language of "question, data, analysis, research" heightens the already present reflection on and adaptations to teaching. We, as teachers, may come to the field for a variety of reasons, but I aim to see we stay not only because we love it, but also because we continue to work at it and can revel in sharing our learned expertise with others.
Are you currently doing action research in your classroom? Looking to start? Have thoughts on the process? Share comments below to continue the conversation.
My Current Inspiration: The Art of Classroom Inquiry (Hubbard & Power, 2003)
I am a Twitter convert. My initial thought about Twitter was , "Why?" Why would I want to share my thoughts in such a public space? Why does the world care about what I'm doing? Why do I want to encourage myself to write in often improper English in only 140 characters when I'm prone to big words and long sentences (this question being a fine example at a mere 201 characters)?
The real question was , "Why not?"
I have grown increasingly enamored with the possibilities of Twitter. I have grown my PLN by leaps and bounds, connected with other educators and professionals who share my interests, and been exposed to a multitude of opportunities for stretching my thinking. Just last night I went from being a TweetChat observer to a TweetChat participant (Thanks #educoach!). I found it both overwhelming (so many posts so fast) and exciting (so many ideas to ponder in such a short time).
Worth the risk to put myself a little outside my comfort zone? Absolutely. Asking all those questions in the first place had me really thinking about how, when, and in what contexts I wanted to use Twitter. I can't ask the teachers I work with to challenge themselves in how and when they use technology in their classrooms if I haven't and don't continue to challenge myself. Acknowledging the questions and trepidation we might feel before trying something new can only make the experience richer. We are thinking about our thinking. Processing our process. I'm all about that kind of learning!
Integrating technology is a lot about risk-taking. At the most basic level, it's a risk that any of the darn things will work in the exact moment that we need them (see previous post). On other levels, it is about taking risks to affect change. Integrating technology requires not only a change in tools, but can also be a a change in the classroom dynamic, the role of the teacher, the experience of the learner, to name a few. So many variables. I see a large part of my job as being the "Model Risk Taker." Some might say the guinea pig. I'm OK with that.
I was very unsure about using Twitter initially, but I came, I saw, I keep learning. And I did that in a public sphere where other educators could see my successes and failures in real time. Bottom line: One must try. This is the true first lesson in technology integration.
I didn't start my career as an educator. I was a scientist. I studied cell growth and sequenced DNA. In my last semester of college (as I was deciding where in the field of research science I woud like to go), I participated in a program where science majors taught hands-on science in Atlanta public schools (ESEP - which has since been expanded and is still going strong). I didn't realize it then, but this was truly my first opportunity to participate in innovative education. At the heart of this innovation? Connecting. Connecting those doing science with those introducing it at its most basic levels in order to educate and excite students about the possibilities of science. It was then that I became interested in education.
The biology degree was followed by an MAT and teaching experiences in grades 5, 4, 2, and 1. I took more classes, tried out new techniques, collaborated with colleauges. With each new experience, I realized how much my peers and I learned, and how much better we became at our chosen vocation, by working together. Our face to face connections, the basis for developing ongoing collaborative relationships with colleagues, was invigorating and purposeful. It was then that I became an educator.
As my role in education has evolved, so too has my "connectedness." Through Twitter, emagazines, blog posts, Hangouts, and a plethora of other online resources, I have immersed myself in the offerings and potential of a digital world of professional development. I am connecting with an even wider array of experts and colleagues in my field than when I started with ESEP. I am conferencing and collaborating with learning partners across time and distance more effectively than during my initial classroom teaching experiences. And why? Because I am most connected to the concept of lifelong learning. This connection, and the drive to inspire it in others (with the help of an impressive array of technology-based tools), is how I have truly embraced being a Connected Educator.
As I've been thinking about what to write for my second ever blog post, many ideas have gone through my head. What kept coming back to me was the idea of working with reluctant tech users.
The most recent workshop I gave was for a group of teachers and their teen assistants. Quite a mix of tech comfort levels and familiarity! In my pre-workshop conference with the educational director, "reluctance" was a theme. Throughout many of these pre-conferences, reluctance has been at the forefront: reluctance to use tech at all, reluctance to try something different, reluctance to give some of the control to students, reluctance to allow students to use their own devices, and so on. As I planned for the day, I thought about tools to model that were simple, applied to a variety of content areas, and allowed for teachers and teens to work together with their students with just 1 device per grade level owned by the school. (Yep, one!) The final choices for tools to model: Padlet and Plickers.
Padlet is one of my all time favorites. I've used it to provide a resource bank, as a student response system, and was ready to try a KWL (a la this idea from Richard Byrne) where the K = tech tools that participants were familiar with, W = tech tools we want to learn about, and L = how it all came together in the classroom. This worked kind of like a job board to match teens and teachers with prior tech skills with others who were looking to learn a new tool (per questions in the W column). All was working well until...
Wrong #1 - Internet down. No one's posts were adding or refreshing on the page.
Same workshop. Internet back. Let's try Plickers with questions to start discussions about organizing for tech like: "I must have one device per student to use tech in the classroom. T/F" and "I need to know everything that an app can do before I use it in my classroom. T/F" (Side note. I'm going "False" on both counts. One, I really wanted to point out how the one device that teachers had access to could be used in so many ways and it only takes one to get started. Two, I want the teachers I work with to know WHY they are using an app and what LEARNING GOALS the app is best for before knowing what every tap and click will do.) Again, all going well until...
Wrong #2 - Page load error and the cool Plickers response graph is a no show.
It happens. To all, or many of us. The WiFi only goes out when the technology presenter is visiting, yes? Sure enough, all the evaluations of the workshop were along the lines of "Great tools, so excited. Biggest concern is that it won't work when I need it!" Sounds good, but not really what I was going for in terms of taking away some of the reluctance to use tech in the classroom.
So... turning my two wrongs into a right? What a great opportunity to model what really could happen when you have a great plan with tech (I suggested teachers check out this planning tool from our website.), but it goes awry. During the workshop, we moved on to creating questions that would initiate discussion instead of answering a few to start. We went old school with thumbs up-thumbs down and had a good chuckle about it. We looked at screen shots instead of live Padlet walls to get the idea. This was a great time to model what teachers have to do all the time: think on their feet. How many of us have had lessons with no tech at all go differently than planned? Do we stop using whiteboards when the marker dries up? Do we skip the whole lesson if one handout is MIA? Nope. We keep going. We find a way to turn it around because the tool is just a tool, but the teaching and learning happens with the thinking. And what isn't right about that?
I'm an elementary school teacher turned professional learning/edtech coach, avid reader, and lifelong learner. For 2018, I've set the goal to create a 6 word memoir for each week to find my voice, reflect on my own professional learning, and set goals for how my learning will impact my practice.
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