One of my goals this year was to focus on job-embedded PD for our teachers. Basically professional development that happens within the school day, and directly impacts teaching and learning through practical application. I also wanted to find a way to support and reward our “high fliers”, the teachers that are frequently trying new things, taking risks, and sharing their learning with others. Often they are the ones giving training, but rarely have the opportunity to receive appropriately-leveled PD.
So, waaay back in January (actually probably farther back, but I can’t actually remember), we developed the idea of the Tech Pilots program specifically for these “high fliers” (thanks to Damien for the awesomely cheesy name!). It took a while, but we finally had a chance to meet, twice (!), in these last two weeks to kick start our amazing group of educators. It was worth the wait!
Key Features of our Tech Pilots Program
Creating the Team
All teachers were invited to join the Tech Pilots team, all they had to do was fill out a very short “application” stating what they wanted to get out of their membership. We had 11 people sign up, and all 11 were “accepted” (I honestly can not think of a reason to turn someone away, we only would have had to deal with this if we had too many people sign up).
Amazingly, we had people from almost every department sign up, and many of them in pairs. We have two people each from PE, Modern Languages, English, and Humanities, plus one each from Art, EAL and Student Support Services. This will be a great opportunity to share the learning among almost every subject area of the school. I’m really hoping we can also have at least one teacher from the Science and Math departments join in the future as well, to ensure that all subject areas are both represented and supported.
Making Time For Professional Learning
One of my priorities for this group is to make sure it’s not perceived as extra work, that there is clear value for the time spent, and that teachers aren’t exhausting themselves to be part of this learning experience. So, all Tech Pilots are given time off, with cover, during the school day to meet together. These last two meetings happened to be double-blocks (90 minutes) at the end of the day, which worked out really well.
Just having the time to meet, in an informal environment, with like-minded enthusiastic colleagues, knowing that it’s actually part of the school day, and not something extra really helps demonstrate the how valuable this time is, and how much the school supports our professional learning. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to walk out of that meeting and realize that it’s not an hour later, but actually just the end of the regular school day.
Developing Common Goals
We started our first meeting by valuing the expertise that everyone in the room brings to the team. We all have different skills and opportunities for learning. Our time together is meant to be an open dialogue where anyone can learn and anyone can teach. Because what’s obvious to you, is amazing to others (thanks to Clint for pointing me to this gem at ETC this year!):
After we set the tone, we spent a good about 45 minutes discussing what we would like to get out of our time together. We took a look at some Professional Learning Community resources and how we could get there (this being my first time facilitating this kind of discussion, I would love any advice!).
We then determined what our individual and team goals could be. We have quite a long list, and all the ideas that were shared were fantastic, we came up with things like:
- Helping each other stay “up to date” through sharing something you saw/found/heard/did quick with the group. This could also be a “wish-list” share focused on“What’s the most boring part of your class right now?” This would help us better understand what kinds of tech would best support/enhance learning at YIS.
- Become more proficient at school-priority tools (Google Docs, blogs)
- Spread the skills/interest in “independent learning through efficient use of technology” throughout the school. How do we build a culture of learning through sharing? What opportunities do we have for sharing vs training: sharing what you’re doing, as opposed to “training” other teachers.
- How do you use technology to develop inquiry? (esp in practical classes like PE, Science, Art)
- How do we make sure that we don’t create a “clique”? How can we ensure that we’re inclusive.
- Cross-divisional collaboration: right now this group is Secondary only, but we would love to involve the ES as well.
- Kids offer suggestions for teachers to use tech in their lessons (during a special 2 hour session) “Teach the Teachers Day”
- How to make resources more available to staff – how do we share with each other?
- Survey staff about a resource or tutorial they may need and then they get follow up time to create that tutorial.
Sharing Our Learning
One of our common goals was to find easy, efficient, and scaleable ways to share our learning both within our subject, and grade level departments, as well as with the wider school community. We decided to create a collaborative blog (which is our platform for school-home communication), and use ifttt.com to auto-post resources from other platforms like Twitter. (I think UWCSEA and KIS are using this pretty effectively already, is that right Jeff, Keri-Lee, Louise, Andrew Tim, Steve, and Ben?)
Next time we meet, we’ll go through the set-up of ifttt to ensure that the right posts go into the right category on the blog for easy searching by our staff members. As we work through this process, we’ll also start to develop a list of common expectations for what and how we share. We have also created a Diigo group to organize our online resources (which of course can also be auto-posted to the blog as needed). Naturally, we also have a common hashtag for Twitter (#techpilots) to keep our conversations open and ongoing both within the group and with a wider community.
Tiny Teach: Learning From Each Other
When we discussed our goals for this time we will spend together one of the highlights was the opportunity to learn from each other in this cross-curricular setting. Adam suggested the idea of a “Tiny Teach” at the beginning of each session, where everyone in the room can share something small (or big) that they discovered or found valuable in their classroom.
It’s fantastic to see how quickly teachers in different departments can see how applicable tools are for their subject area. After just one session, I’ve already seen our Tech Pilots team using the tips and ideas they learned from the other members! Plus, we’ll be posting these Tiny Teach resources on our Tech Pilots blog after every meeting so that everyone on staff can benefit from what was shared.
This team will be the first to hear about, see and explore new tools that we’re planning to use at YIS. Right now our focus is on the transition from SmugMug to Flickr for photo sharing. Although SmugMug is great for high resolution photos and customized sharing preferences, it doesn’t do the kind of open sharing in a variety of formats that we’re looking for (and that will complement our Learning Hub blogging platform well). So, we’re switching over to Flickr for the everyday photo sharing that most teachers do on a regular basis.
The Tech Pilots had a chance to play around with the new (to us) Flickr features, to discuss our structure for organizing photos, and to share their feedback and advice on how to implement this new tool with our teaching staff. As a tech coach, these kinds of conversations are invaluable. The team had such great ideas for how we can help make the transition to this new tool as easy and seamless as possible. (Naturally, there’s also quite a bit of work for me to do, based on their advice, but I know that the work will be exactly what teachers want!)
Just to make the environment even more relaxed, and feel more like a fun and informal event, we’ve had fantastic snacks provided by YIS parent and amazing baker, Spike. It’s a very small thing, but these delicious treats go a long way towards keeping our energy up at the end of the day, and helping people feel valued and rewarded for their time spent.
A Mindset Not a Skill Set
One of my favorite things about this group (and one that I will prioritize as long as I am the facilitator) is the positive, enthusiastic and open-minded attitude of everyone participating. Some of the people in our group are the most advanced users of technology in the school, some would not categorize themselves that way, but this doesn’t matter at all. Every single participant is enthusiastic and excited about learning. Everyone in the room is willing to take risks. I haven’t heard a single person say “no” or “I can’t do that in my subject because…” (or my other favorite “I can see how that would work in X (not my) subject, but it would never work in X (my) subject”). To me, this is the most important element of our team.
It doesn’t matter what we know. We all have something to share and we all have something to learn. It’s the time we have together that’s valuable.
It has to be said: none of this would be possible without the support of our amazing administrators at YIS. I am thankful every single day that I work with such supportive, engaged and open-minded leaders. Not every school would support this kind of release time for something so open-ended, and yet they do again and again. In addition to that support, Susie and John (our MS VP and Secondary Principal, respectively) also pour over our teaching schedules to find a time that works best for everyone, considering the amount of cover involved (not a fun task, I’m sure). So, just wanted to make sure there was a huge thank you in here to both of them. Thank you.
I knew this was going to be fun, and I knew it was going to be worth our time together, but I’m not sure I knew how great it would feel and how far we could go (see below for thoughts on that). Walking out of the room at the end of the day after a not-too-short, but not-too-long meeting full of practical and innovative ideas for enhancing student learning, with a group of teachers you know you’ll see again tomorrow, in a work-place that supports this kind of learning is pretty awesome. I’m not even sure I can really describe the feeling, but I know we left feeling empowered, engaged, excited and able to make things happen, to improve our school, to support our teachers, and to help our students. I’m not sure I could say that about most meetings I attend (although I am fortunate to be working in a great place where I do feel that way almost every day).
Ideas for the Future
From these two meetings, I’ve started to see where we can go (grow?) with this group:
A Sustainable Labsite Model for PD
One of the many things I took away from my years at ISB is how valuable it is to see effective and innovative teaching and learning in action, in the classroom with students. At ISB, we called these labsites (thanks Maggie!). Last year we were able to run a few workshops this way with visiting consultants, which were well received. Of course, we don’t really need visiting consultants to offer these sessions, we have tons of expertise and different skills right here at school!
So, why don’t we start to use each other to challenge thinking and inspire new ideas? Our Tech Pilots could offer sessions to people in their department to see some of the new ideas we develop in our meetings in action, in the classroom. They could then use department meeting time to debrief the session and talk about how these strategies, ideas, tools or techniques could be used across the department. What a great way to promote sharing and to create ongoing department-specific professional development.
Another idea could be to use our Tech Pilots for sharing cross-disciplinary expertise. My first thought was to highlight some of skills of our PE department. They’re doing tons of great work in brain science and brain-friendly learning. Wouldn’t it be cool to have a PE teacher co-teach a class, bringing in all of the knowledge they have for keeping the body moving to keep the brain working? I know I love seeing other teachers short tips and tricks to keep a class engaged, I am sure our PE department has tons of ideas I can be applying on a regular basis.
Overcoming Obstacles to Meet Teachers’ Needs
We have a lot of new initiatives at YIS. We’re moving at warp speed over here. It’s exciting, but it can also be stressful, especially for teachers who may not be ready for these changes. We can use our Tech Pilots team to brainstorm ways that we can help support these teachers and ease the transition time for everyone when we have new initiatives. This team can become like a “think tank” for meeting challenges head on and developing systems and structures for solving problems. By testing out new ideas and collaborating on solutions, we can find ways that will meet all teachers’ needs through this focus group of classroom teachers.
Developing Networked Goals
Every teacher has goals for the year. Some of them we are required to document through “official” school channels, but many of them are unofficial, just thoughts or ideas we want to see happen, but sometimes don’t take the time to write them down or even envision what the end result could be or how to get there. What if we started the school year by sharing these kinds of informal goals with each other, as well as who we think can help us get there, and what we could help others with. We could then use the Tech Pilots (or possibly even more of our staff members if possible) to build in support structures to help make those goals a reality. Basically, teachers helping teachers reach their goals, and making the connections between the amazing expertise we have on staff that teachers may not know about already.
Taking SpeedGeeking to the Next Level
We’ve done quite a bit of SpeedGeeking at YIS in the last two years (as well as some variations), which teachers really enjoy. The problem is that it’s over too fast. You get tons of ideas in a very short amount of time, but you don’t have a chance to actually try them out. I’m hoping we can use SpeedGeeking as a “teaser” for an organized year of teacher-led PD.
Basically, once we have developed our PD goals for the year (through the admin, PD, and coaching teams) the Tech Pilots could determine which topics they feel interested to run sessions on. We could then schedule sessions throughout the year (most likely after school, but how great would it be to have them during the day too!) and share that calendar with teachers at the beginning of the year, during the initial SpeedGeeking session. This way teachers would get a great overview of the opportunities throughout the year, we would be highlighting different teachers and subject areas, connecting and sharing the expertise within our community, and tapping into the beginning of the year enthusiasm that we all have!
I’m not entirely sure where this group will go, but I’m excited to be part of this new(?) model of professional development. I get goosebumps when I start to think about what we can do in this kind of environment. Can’t wait to see what happens next!
Have you ever tried something like this? Do you think it would work in your school? Can you see other opportunities for our Tech Pilots?
- Mt. Fuji & 777-220 by kanegen, Creative Commons licensed on Flickr
- Super excited for our first #techpilots meeting (and the snacks)! by superkimbo, Creative Commons licensed on Flickr
- A Mindset, Not a Skill Set by superkimbo, Creative Commons licensed on Flickr
- Northwest Airlines by caribb, Creative Commons licensed on Flickr