Bridging the Gap
This has been a fantastic week of learning here in the YIS community. Actually, it was a pretty special week, because the learning took place on three different levels: within the school, within the wider local community and within our regional, global community.
Our week ended with an annual conference we hold at YIS called Bridging the Gap, but I think the whole week was a process of bridging the gap: from one teacher to the next, between school divisions, among parents, students and teachers, and across schools in cities in Japan and countries around Asia. It is humbling and inspiring to see how willing our community is to connect with others, to share our learning and to collaborate in order to improve our school.
Within Our School: Accreditation
To start us off, on Tuesday, we had a professional development day to continue our self-study for the accreditation process. For those of you that offered suggestions and feedback about my list of questions designed to prompt a discussion about technology at the school, you will be pleased to know they did just that. We were able to implement all of the bolded questions in the original list, and it is amazing how quickly those selected questions helped bring several important points to light in almost all of the accreditation self-study committees.
A few of the highlights from our discussion (in the middle school committee) were:
- Teachers are proud of the work we’re doing with the Learning Hub (our blogging portal) - building an open and collaborative learning community, along with implementing eportfolios.
- Teachers are feeling supported in the use of academic technology with the addition of a Technology and Learning Coach (my job) this year (for the first time), but one person is not enough.
- Teachers want to utilize digital learning communities, but they need both professional development and in-classroom support, beyond what is possible within the average school day.
- As part of our current curriculum mapping process, we need to ensure that opportunities to enhance learning through the use of technology are also well documented.
With Our Global Community: A Meeting of Minds
Next, on Thursday, we held an informal meeting of 25 school administrators and technology directors from 5 countries and 11 schools around Asia to discuss the logistics of going 1:1. The idea for the meeting came from our very forward-thinking (and obviously very smart) Headmaster, James MacDonald, who suggested that the best part of any conference is the opportunity to network and discuss big ideas with other colleagues (couldn’t agree more) – so why not create a mini-conference, right on our own campus, that does exactly that, bringing together a number of like-minded schools interested in discussing the details of going 1:1.
It was my job to bring those people together and to structure the meeting to be most productive and beneficial for all involved. And to be honest, I am both amazed and impressed at how well the day went. When I originally agreed to organize the meeting, I have to admit, I didn’t really think it would ever happen. I mean, really, how many people were going to take time off school to pay for their own flight to Japan (not cheap, even from within Asia), stay in a hotel for a few nights (also not so cheap here in Japan), just to chat with other schools from our region (even with the added bonus of staying on for our Bridging the Gap conference the next two days)? Quite a few people as it turns out. And it really was worth our time (I may have mentioned how smart our Headmaster is before…)
I tried to invite as many schools (similar in size, structure and vision) as I could, including as many of my regional tweeps as possible. Though only a few could actually make it out to Japan (thanks Rob, Bruce and Dana!), through contacts made at the Learning 2.010 conference and via Twitter, we were able to bring together a perfect number of educators with a wealth of ideas, practical tips, and pitfalls to avoid. In order to keep the conversation flowing, but structured enough to stay on topic, Stephen (my fabulous IT director) and I developed a simple agenda with small breakout groups for every topic. Feel free to read through the notes from each discussion (taken by various participants and linked directly from the agenda via Google Docs).
A few of the highlights for me:
- The more we can involve both parents, teachers and students the better – in every phase of the process.
- Ensure that policies are more than just pieces of paper with signatures – find ways to actively engage students in understanding what they mean and why we have them. Start with having students design the policies, finish with developing activities or mini-projects so students can demonstrate their understanding.
- We may not be able to bring all teachers on board with new (some might say “old”) models of teaching and learning in this environment. And that’s OK. We have to work with the teachers that are interested, engaged and willing to move forward.
- Build in as many opportunities for parent education as possible (not just discussion or information). Try a book club, continue the Parent Technology Coffee Mornings, offer evening sessions.
- Cultivate a culture of responsibility and respect – both for hardware and for behavior and attitudes. Within this, a pastoral care program or curriculum that emphasizes digital citizenship will have the most success.
- Having a collaborative team to help implement this program is crucial. It can’t all be on one person.
A lot of what we discussed fit right in with what I learned at ASB Unplugged last year, but having a chance to revisit those ideas in an informal (and very well-fed, I might add) setting here at YIS helped me frame some more specific strategies for moving forward within our school community.
With Our Local Community: An Annual Opportunity
Finally, on Friday and Saturday, we finished up the week with our annual Bridging the Gap conference. The spirit of the conference is wonderful: it was designed (9 years ago) to bring together the entire school community (students, parents and teachers) to challenge our assumptions about education and learning. To offer an opportunity for all of our stakeholders to learn together, as a community-building experience, to examine what we do on a daily basis and to inspire new ways of thinking. Past speakers have included Stephen Heppell and Ian Jukes, this year’s keynote was Alan November.
Alan offered two keynotes, one for teachers and one for parents. You can read my notes from both sessions here, follow the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #btg2010, and see all of the pictures taken by Genki from the event.
An interesting side-note: while I was madly taking notes during Alan’s presentation, I tweeted out the link for my Google Doc. Quite a few people joined in and read along as I typed. And even though the presentation wasn’t being live streamed, so those readers couldn’t actually hear what Alan was saying, they were adding to and commenting on the notes. Dave Truss was sourcing quotes, Hiram Cuevas was finding videos and articles, and Steve Hall was thinking of ways to use the chat feature with US Embassy employees here in Japan. We were having a full fledged, on-topic, conversation about a keynote presentation based only on my notes (remember, no live stream) with people in at least 3 countries.
Between the keynote sessions, Stephen and I also facilitated two breakout sessions with our staff where we discussed the implications of a 1:1 program here at YIS. I was impressed with the positive attitude and open-minded insights that my colleagues shared (and so thankful to have Rob and Bruce, as well as a few others from our 1:1 meeting) there for some practical advice as well.
As an added bonus, Alan also spoke with a small group of YIS teachers (someone from each department) just before his first keynote (my notes). Personally, I love hearing Alan speak. I like that he doesn’t do a set presentation and that he spends his time telling stories & interacting with the audience. Although his ideas might challenge some beliefs, he does it in an approachable and comfortable way.
A few of the highlights (for me) from Alan’s sessions were:
- It’s all about the pedagogy, not the hardware. (Yes, I knew this already, but it was a nice reminder).
- We need more time for deeper discussion about teaching and learning. What do we believe good teaching and learning looks like in action – forget the technology, how do we want students to learn, what do we value?
- We need to cultivate an environment where it’s ok to take risks, teachers are learners and students are teachers. We need to break out of the current mold and develop a vision for the future.
- And my old favorite, which I first heard at Learning 2.0 in 2007, we need all classrooms to be a global communication center.
- We need more time discussing these ideas with parents.
I’m so glad Alan came, and that I had the opportunity to spend some extra time with him, and his fabulous colleage Sara Wilkie, exploring the temples of Kamakura on Saturday. The conversations we had are helping me refocus back on what’s important – the teaching and the learning. I need to stop putting out the tech fires, and remember to keep redirecting my energy back to improving pedagogy. There are a number of things I’m struggling with, but there’s another blog post in the works for that…
Last, but not least, Saturday night was the first Pecha Kucha (ever!) in Yokohama. It was fabulous! Both teachers and parents spoke from the heart about their passions. We didn’t really talk about education at all and we mixed and mingled with at least 100 members of our school community (the fabulous snacks and wine didn’t hurt either). What a great way to build a comfortable, collaborative, safe and accepting community. This is my fourth school in ten years, and I’ve never experienced an evening quite like that. I had no idea what I was missing, either!
To be honest, I’m not really finished processing all that I’ve learned this week, but I just wanted to get the big ideas out of my brain before I forgot them. Overall, I’m just amazed at how much we learned in such a collaborative, open, and welcoming environment. Over the course of the week there were opportunities for groups and individuals to collaborate, make plans for the future, and challenge and engage one another in authentic dialogue focused on making our school a better place. Isn’t this what professional development should always be about?
How does your school bridge the gap? What have kind of community building opportunities have you seen implemented well that we could/should emulate?