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?
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'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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