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.
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 (nearly) 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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