Over the last few months, I’ve been extremely fortunate to lead a number of weekend workshops at ISB and around Asia. I always really enjoy the experience (and am usually on a “workshop high” for days afterward), but attending ASB Unplugged in February and the EARCOS Teacher’s Conference last week helped me realize what was so special about those weekend workshops, compared to your “standard” conference.

TechTrain 2010Last year, after the EARCOS Teacher’s Conference, I realized that the most useful aspect of attending conferences (for me) is not so much about the content available, but rather about meeting people and building relationships. But, after all these weekend workshops this year, I’m realizing that just having the occasional opportunity to chat with someone in the hallway or between sessions isn’t really enough. It’s actually going through the process of learning together, creating something together, collaborating as equals over time, that really builds a meaningful and lasting connection.

Now, of course, that’s not to say that the connections you make in the hallways and after presentation sessions at conferences aren’t great (’cause they are), but after spending a whole weekend, working in a team with another group of teachers to actually create something that demonstrates your learning, well that’s a whole other level of connecting you’ve got there.

It’s the experience, the collaboration, the creation of something new, the feeling of being on a team, and the satisfaction of actually doing something with your time. It’s what I’d like to call “The Way of The Workshop”  (or The Next Generation Conference). You just don’t get that attending sessions at a conference.

I’ve attended a number of workshops like this in the past, and this year have had the opportunity to actually lead (and organize) a few myself. I’d like to think that the other workshop leaders and I tried to foster the kind of learning environment that we as learners would appreciate and enjoy.  Reflecting on two of the workshops from this past January, TechTrain 2010 (led by Tara Ethridge, Chrissy Hellyer, Dennis Harter, Dana Watts and me, hosted at ISB) and Create the Future (led by Julie Lindsay and me, hosted at Beijing BISS International School), here are some of the ideas we implemented:

Cohort Grouping

Create the FutureWe organized our workshop participants into groups that stayed together for the duration of the two-day workshop. For Create the Future, we (well, Julie) created the groups in advance based on subject are and grade level taught. For TechTrain 2010, we let participants self-select the appropriate cohort group based on comfort level with technology through a simple Google Form. This way we were able to expect that in the Create the Future Workshop, teachers would be able to focus on the practical and address real issues relevant to their curriculum and subject area, and in TechTrain, teachers would be comfortable asking any and all questions because everyone in their cohort group would be at a similar skill level.

Application of Learning

In both workshops we made sure that participants actually produced something by the end of the workshop. For Create the Future, we asked participants to follow the Understanding by Design method of unit planning and create an actual unit that they could implement in their own classroom, including a collaboration element for students to be connecting with others in different schools. For TechTrain 2010, we asked participants to use their new learning to create a sample project to be shared at the very end of the workshop in a SpeedGeeking session.

TechTrain 2010

Breakout Sessions

Because these workshops are usually smaller than a full conference (we had around 50 participants in both workshops), we were conscious of the fact that it can get tedious to sit in the same room hour after hour, day after day. So, we organized specific breakout sessions where each workshop leader gave a presentation on a new tool or idea (finding Creative Commons images, for example) and the participants were split between the two sessions, and then we swapped groups so that everyone had a chance to learn the same things. It was nice to be able to work with a smaller group of people, and to be able to go into depth on one topic, while knowing that someone else would take care of the other one.

A Common Experience

Working with the same team of people, experiencing the same presentations and hands-on sessions means that everyone who attended had a shared experience, one they can reflect on together and remember well after the workshop. In a “normal” conference everyone attends different sessions and shares the ideas later, which is a great way to diversify experience, but there is something special about having gone through the same training together. It helps build your own understanding when you have someone to deeply reflect and discuss it with, and it ensures that everyone in attendance gets the same message.

Create the Future

Time to Talk

In both workshops we built in specific time for participants to digest what they were learning through focused questions, group conversation time, and just general “down time.” All too often conferences are go, go, go, with no time to think about what you’re learning or to make sense of it all. We tried to build in that discussion time so that participants felt like they walked away with something solidified in their mind, still new learning, but something concrete instead of completely fuzzy.

Final Thoughts

This definitely does not mean that both workshops were perfect, I know I certainly have a lot to learn (as always), but I am so thrilled with the experiences and it’s great to start to understand better what actually works for teachers. Based on participant feedback, there are a few things, in addition to the above, that I know I need to always keep in mind:

  • Giving participants a chance to choose their breakout sessions.
  • Make sure the project is based on something that can actually be used in the classroom (not just an excuse to try new tools) following a sound curriculum planning process like Understanding by Design.
  • Trust in the self-selection process for cohort grouping, but make sure the descriptions are crystal clear of what will happen in each group. Ensure that ability levels are a feature of group self-selection.
  • Continue to utilize a variety of presentation styles and media formats (some direct presenting is good, some videos are good, some hands-on is good – mix and match throughout the workshop).
  • Model, model, model – if you say something works well in the classroom, do it in the workshop just the way you would in the classroom.
  • Plan for sharing time, but make sure it’s in small groups (like SpeedGeeking) to keep the environment safe, rather than in front of everyone.
  • Make sure workshops are voluntary, if not, make sure they’re during the regular work day.

I’m sure I’ll have the chance to both attend and lead more workshops over the coming years, and knowing the value of that time spent makes it all the more worth it to me!

Do you have any advice on what makes a good workshop? Am I missing anything from the list?

35 thoughts on “The Way of The Workshop

  1. Hi Kim,
    Nice post…I agree when you talk about sitting with colleagues and learning together as a highlight to the conferences. I remember sitting next to you in an EARCOS session in KL ’09 and we both had deep reflective moments of what kind of learners we are. Allowing those reflective moments in the classroom to share and learn from our peers is such a huge component of our learning–give time for processing with each other. If time and relationship are what we cherish in our own learning, passing that off into the classroom is probably what our learners cherish too.
    .-= Susi´s last blog ..Extraordinary Woman! Tracey Tokuhama Espinosa =-.

    1. Hi Kim,
      Your format for workshop presentations is the way to go. My question is how do you make it all ‘stick’ after the fact. This is the hardest part of the conference/ off-site workshop scenario. Research and personal experience demonstrates that unless you ‘use it you lose it’. People have wonderfully exciting and invigorating experiences at these two to three day workshops, but then come back to reality and the knowledge does not transfer which is, as we all know, the key to understanding. Thoughts on how we improve the transfer process once people return the the job and the realities set in? Figure out the formula to this and you have a winner.

      1. Krista,

        I’m not sure I have an answer for that challenge, but I think trying to make the workshops practical – something that can be used in the classroom on Monday – and asking participants for that commitment might be one way. I think sometimes we get a little carried away in workshops and plan things bigger than we actually are ready for, but if we focus on taking small steps and actually working on something immediately relevant, we might get to a place where we are actually using the new knowledge and skills. What do you think?

        1. Hi Kim and Krista
          Great post about workshops Kim! I am about to embark on an important workshop related to formative assessment and feedback with my staff next week and your post reminded me to consider some of the crucial factors associated with creating an effective workshop. One way I am going to attempt to make the information stick is to provide staff with a list of practical ideas that they can immediately apply in the classroom. It is important that people have some ownership of the workshop, so the intention is that the threads of the workshop will be picked up again in a few weeks via faculties who will discuss their own experiences of the practical application of the ideas as well as the consideration of future directions. I will then gather their feedback and revisit it in future workshops with the staff. It is so easy to forget great ideas you gain from workshops whether they’re off site or not, so emphasis needs to be placed on immediate delivery of ideas (staff presenting to other staff), application, committment and frequent revisiting of the ideas .

          1. Liana,

            Great point to have a handout or resource with practical ideas that can be implemented immediately. People always like to walk away with something they know they can count on when they try out the new ideas they’ve learned. Krista also shared the idea of following up with a reflective blog post. I like the idea of being able to continue the conversation, even if the workshop is off-site. A reflective blog post, or even a WallWisher or some other online quick reflection space would work really well. One challenging thing in tech workshops is that not all participants may have the same resources – so having everyone write their own blog post might not be an option, but they can certainly comment on someone else’s (the presenters). Or creating a simple collaborative Google Doc might be a good place to gather ideas and thoughts sparked by a good workshop. You guys have me thinking! Thank you!

    2. Susi,

      I couldn’t agree more. Sadly, it seems that time for reflection ends up being skipped as we move on to more and more content. It seems like a constant struggle, even though we know how much we appreciate it as learners ourselves.

  2. Kim, this sounds like what you really enjoy in a conference is the Open Space. If you haven’t experienced an Open Space Technology event before, I’d _highly_ recommend you try to get to one, or organize one, this year!

    The fellow who came up with Open Space originally noticed that, for him any many others, the most productive time at a conference was at the water cooler. He also had a background from international travel. He put some of his observations while in Africa (round groupings, no specific agenda) together with the idea of a conference and came up with Open Space Technology.

    The result is simply all the best of a conference plus all the best of a really productive brainstorming session, rolled into one event that works for 5-500 people, whether or not they have any experience with the format. It’s truly amazing and fun. The starting point online is http://www.openspaceworld.org.

    Thanks for your blog!

    1. Matthew,

      Thanks for the link, I’m checking it out now! Also interested to see an international school in Boise, ID!

  3. Kim,
    Your workshops sound like the best way you can learn new technology! As I am not a teacher yet, I have not had the privelege of going to a workshop, but I have had the oppurtunity to work some as students by passing out info and working the sound systems. These workshops (from what I could tell) did nothing and basically gave you the info without actually teaching you how to use the technology presented. I know that I personally learn better by doing than just seeing/hearing that way I can actually apply it later!
    Once again, thanks for your thoughts! And keep up the good workshops that actually teach teachers tools, and not just theories!

    1. @Meghan,

      I completely agree – learning by doing is so important! Best of luck in your new career!

  4. I love your ideas and insights. The workshops that work for me are the ones I can use on Monday – as you said. Sometimes the ideas are briliant, but not feasible for my reality, so… I forget. I recommended your site to an initiative called It’s worth keeping an eye on this blog. Please see details on my blog. Thank you for sharing your experience with us.
    .-= dani lyra´s last blog ..A mother’s day web2.0 project =-.

    1. @dani lyra

      I completely agree! Workshops need to be practical. Thanks so much for passing on my blog!

  5. Hi Kim and Krista Great post about workshops Kim! I am about to embark on an important workshop related to formative assessment and feedback with my staff next week and your post reminded me to consider some of the crucial factors associated with creating an effective workshop. One way I am going to attempt to make the information stick is to provide staff with a list of practical ideas that they can immediately apply in the classroom. It is important that people have some ownership of the workshop, so the intention is that the threads of the workshop will be picked up again in a few weeks via faculties who will discuss their own experiences of the practical application of the ideas as well as the consideration of future directions. I will then gather their feedback and revisit it in future workshops with the staff. It is so easy to forget great ideas you gain from workshops whether they’re off site or not, so emphasis needs to be placed on immediate delivery of ideas (staff presenting to other staff), application, committment and frequent revisiting of the ideas .

    1. @mbalib

      I love the idea of providing a list of practical ideas, and then revisiting the workshop topic a few weeks later. Thanks for sharing!

  6. Hi Kim, I read about your workshop, it’s interesting, and I haven’t been to a workshop of that kind in years! Do you plan to have any future workshops out in other cities? Have you thought about coming to Houston, Texas? Love your blog!

    1. @Solana,

      Thank you! I’d love to come to Houston! I’m usually in the States in the summer, but occasionally am able to come back during the school year, depending on dates. Thanks for reading!

  7. Great post and I absolutely agree with your style of workshops! I would never stand and lecture ALL day to my class and I think the same should go for teaching teachers! Hands-on learning, collaboration with peers, and leaving with a useful product keep teachers engaged and motivated. I have been fortuante to attend quite a few workshops with this format in my district! Keep up the good work! :)

  8. HI,
    I really enjoyed reading this blog. My name is Christina Motes and I am not currently a teacher but am a student at the University of South Alabama as a secondary education/math major. I am currently taking EDM310 and as part of my assignment I am going to be following your blog for the next few weeks and then posting a summary post on my own blog. I will also be linking my post to the blog for my EDM310 class.

    Since I am not a teacher yet I have not attended conferences or workshops like the ones you were talking about. However as a student I feel like I can relate on a certain level. You mentioned that working together with people and building relationships with people helps you to learn as well as makes it more enjoyable and that you are more likely to remember. I fully agree. As a student whenever a teacher conducts a class in a way to where he/she gets the students involved with the course content as well as the other classmates and we actually get hands on experience versus just being told it is much more beneficial, enjoyable, and I feel I walk away with much more.

    It sounds like you have really grasped the meaning of a productive workshop for teachers and are striving to improve with each workshop you conduct. Good luck with everything and I am looking forward to reading more on your blog!
    .-= Christina Motes´s last blog .. =-.

    1. @Christina,

      Thanks for reading (and summarizing)! It’s so true that the same practices that are good for working with students in a classroom setting are also the same practices that work well with teachers. Good luck with your new career!

  9. I can not agree enough about the power of colaberation. Studnets are so different today and we have become so skilled at differentiating instruction but one teacher can not have all the tools necessary to help all students. I would strongly encourage seeking out oppertunities to find that sounding board (weather it be on your campus or electronically). I am always amazed – How did teachers ever teach 20 years ago!

    1. @Ashley,

      I agree – I can’t really imagine teaching in complete isolation. My best ideas always come out of collaborating with others. Just being able to talk about the learning happening in a classroom (or not) is enough to springboard new ideas and solutions.

  10. Hello Kim, I connected when you expressed the importance of meeting people and building new relationships during workshops. Even though I’m a “newbie” for blogging and you’ve taken me way out of the box for technology, I can relate to workshops. But Asia! WOW!

    Your final thoughts were very detailed which explains your passion for being an Educator Technology Facilitator. I applaud you for recognizing the importance of a practical workshop. How frustrating it is to leave a 3 day conference and the notes were just not enough.
    Thanks for enlightening me for the journey ahead.

    1. @Cherilyn,

      Thanks for your kind comments, I’m so glad the post was helpful for you. It’s strange that teachers always seem to want a presentation with handouts at the conference, but when they get home they realize the handouts really weren’t enough. It’s hard to break out of the mold of “sit ‘n git.” You just learn so much more when you’re actively involved – we know this for our students, but we don’t always seem to want the same thing for ourselves. Strange!

  11. I enjoyed reading your post. The part that stood out the most for me was about the importance of building relationships and learning together. These are expectations found in my classroom, which creates a warmer and more enthusiastic learning environment. In the past when I have attended workshops that have not included these imortant aspects, I leave unmotivtated and I am less likely to share or remember the details of the day. I can only hope that your postive way of presenting workshops will spread across to all teachers. Keep up the great work and thank you for sharing.

    1. @Jenny,

      Yes! A warm and welcoming environment is so critical! If the teacher or workshop leader is warm and welcoming it will create a much more productive environment. It’s often a priority in the classroom, but somehow often gets missed at conferences.

  12. I just found your site and I love it! I started a site called “TeacherThink” which challenges educators to innovate by providing how-tos, reviews, and general educator must. I teach History and Math (nice combo huh?). If you get a chance, check out http://www.TeacherThink.com

    Thanks for a great site!


  13. Hi Kim,
    You aptly named the reason I avoid large conferences that keep me running from session to session. I’d much rather make deep connections with both the people and the content. I love your ideas for planning workshops and will try some of them. I also posted a link to your blog on mine as I think what you wrote will resonate with the coaches whom I work with. Thanks again for your terrific contribution.

    1. @Diane,

      Thanks for the link on Student Centered Teaching! I totally agree that it’s all about the deep connections. Would much rather discover/learn a few very meaningful things than walk away with my head ready to explode and nowhere concrete to start.

  14. Hi Kim,

    really interesting post! There’s a “proverb” that says something like “you remember 10% of what you read, 20% of what you hear, and 80% of what you do”. I think that’s really true.

    Theory is great, but everyone trying to learn something new, whether a child, a teacher, a grad student needs to be able to make knowledge their own before they can really feel like they know it.

    I guess there’s always the ego of wanting to expand on your great knowledge and lecture (haha, at least for me, I love talking!) but really everyone learns best by thinking things thru for themselves and trying to accomplish concrete tasks.

    Great list of concrete ways to make this happen in a workshop! Will definitely keep these in mind for my next photo workshop! :-)

    1. @Julie,

      Can’t wait to hear about your next photo workshop! I’m sure you will be very hands-on and practical :) I think the bottom line is that it’s easier to stand at the front and lecture – just get all your ideas out there. Developing quality experiences and goals for participants that the presenter can just facilitate is more challenging and requires more planning, which I think is how we often end up with the “sit ‘n git” format we find so frequently.

  15. Kim, this is so funny! I’m sitting in the ISB Curriculum Office and read your blog. It was then that I realized that you were here at this school. Such a small world.
    Stevi (from Denver)

    1. @Stevi,

      Ah, such a small world! Are you working with ISB as a consultant or are you a new ISB teacher? Either way, great to connect here!

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