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
We’ve had a pretty successful first year of our Connected Learning Community. For the most part, things have run really smoothly, and our Responsible Use Agreement (the green section of our CLC Handbook), designed last year by a team of students, parents, teachers and admin, has stood the test of time (so far). But there has been one specific area where we’ve done quite a bit of work this year: appropriate consequences for the misuse or unethical use of technology.
Of course, we had all of the rules and expectations outlined from the start, so that students and parents would be clear on what is responsible and appropriate behavior, and what is not, but it wasn’t until our first “incident” this year that we developed a clear process for how we would deal with unethical behavior. We call it the “Three Strike Rule”.
For the most part, the kinds of unethical behavior we’re talking about are:
- engaging in cyberbullying at any time
- illegal behavior at any time (for example, illegally downloading copyright material)
- “hacking” or attempting to access another students accounts or laptop
- excessive or repeated off-task behavior in class, resulting in loss of learning opportunities
We are lucky to be working with amazing students, in a very progressive and supportive community, where responsible Digital Citizenship is a regular part of our everyday conversations and expectations, so we haven’t had too many incidents like this, but for the issues that have come up, we’ve handled them well with the Three Strike Rule.
Here’s what happens:
Please note: this is a general description and may not follow exactly these steps in every single case, based on individual student needs.
If a student is caught breaking the Responsible Use Agreement, the teacher will inform the principal. For teachers, we have a quick survey they fill in to track exactly what they saw, which student, and when the incident occurs. The teacher will collect the laptop and bring it to the MS/HS Assistant’s office, where she will then scan the QR code on the laptop to record the incident in our hardware database, and arrange a meeting with our fantastic MS/HS admin team.
As soon as possible, our MS/HS admin team (with, our amazing counselor, Adam Clark, as needed), meets with the student to discuss what happened and the following steps, should the behavior be repeated. At this time the laptop is returned to the student. The students have started calling these RUA violations a ‘CLC Infraction’. The end result of this first visit is a warning.
If the same behavior is witnessed again, or something along the same lines, the process above is repeated. This time during the meeting with our MS/HS admin team, a letter will be sent home to the parents describing what has happened, and the following step (should the behavior occur again). The end result of this second visit is a letter home to the parents.
If the student continues this same behavior a third time, which has happened maybe three times this year, we move on to a more formal consequence: First, all of the above steps are repeated. Then our MS/HS admin team and the observing teacher and counselor (as needed), along with the student (and the parents, as needed), create a behavior contract to identify exactly what needs to be improved and the time expectations for doing so. When necessary a meeting will be held with the parents.
Finally, the student’s CLC laptop is taken away, and they receive a “YIS Corrections” loaner laptop from our CLC Tech Support Center. We can customize this loaner to fit the student’s needs exactly: for example, if the issue is with accessing specific websites during class, we can limit the browser and which websites can and can’t be accessed. Each loaner is tailored to the needs of the student and their agreed-upon behavior contract. The amount of time a student will have the loaner laptop depends upon the behavior contract. The end result of this visit is a loaner laptop and a behavior contract.
The Three Strike Rule in Action
So far this year, we have only had two or three incidents that have required the formal Three Strike Rule. Although we do regularly speak to students about making good choices for smaller incidents (like checking Facebook during class, when not part of the lesson; or playing games in class, when not part of the lesson). Generally we don’t move on to this, more formal, process unless a serious violation of the RUA has occurred.
There are three important things that I really appreciate about this process:
The consequences are fair and appropriate
During Digital Citizenship Week, the students participated in a number of activities (Digital Citizenship Court, in particular) where they thought about the RUA and appropriate consequences, and they regularly came up with a similar style consequence for every ‘CLC Infraction’. It’s clear the three steps is a natural process for students to understand the choices they make, and how to improve their behavior.
The process is pastoral in nature
Just because these incidents involve a computer, does not mean the technology is at fault. What we’re dealing with is student behavior, responsibility and decision making processes. When these issues don’t involve a computer, the process is handled by admin and/or counseling team, therefore, so should the ‘CLC Infractions’.
There is no loss of access
One of the main concerns we had at the beginning of the year was that if we took a student laptop away (as a consequence), they would not be able to participate fully in class, and would miss out on learning opportunities. We wanted to make sure we had a system in place that would address the behavior issues, and not impact their use of technology for learning. This process solves that problem.
Although we have not had to issue a “YIS Corrections” laptop to too many students this year, it’s clear from what we’re hearing that the process works well (I’ve also had my own personal experience this week with a loaner that makes me realize it’s a perfect consequence, but more on that later). Students are well aware of the “three strikes” idea, and appreciate that the process involves two formal warnings before a serious consequence. Generally, I think teachers are happy that poor choices with behavior do not impact learning opportunities (I know I am). We’re planning to continue this process for next year, when these kinds of incidents occur.
How do you implement the Responsible Use Agreement at your school? What are the consequences for misuse or unethical behavior?
Original Image Credits:
Last week was our first Digital Citizenship Week at YIS, and it was fantastic! We focused primarily on the Middle School to get an idea of how an event like this would work for our students, teachers and parents. Here’s what we did:
Learning objective: A renewed focus on the choices we make and how they affect us, specifically about balance, responsibility and safety.
Guiding Question: How are you a responsible digital citizen?
Conversation Starters (Daily Theme)
We started each day with an open discussion (based on the themes listed below) in morning tutor group (homeroom) inspired by a short video (see videos and guiding questions at the links below). Our goal was to get students thinking about the big ideas behind digital citizenship, and give them an opportunity to reflect on the choices they make.
Estimating & Tracking Time Spent Online
On Monday, we asked our students to estimate the amount of time they spend online (at their grade level, and as a whole middle school). Each student had the opportunity to guess how much time we spend online, with the winners announced at our MS Assembly on Friday.
At the time time, we asked students to start tracking the amount of time they spend online. They had three options to do this: use Rescue Time (which would allow them to automatically track what they were doing and when), use this simple Balance Journal spreadsheet as a template to keep track of their own hours, or keep a paper journal.
On Thursday, we asked all students to share the amount of time they spent online each day (Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday) so that we could calculate the numbers and announce a winner the next day.
Special Tutor Group Activities
1. A short digital citizenship survey (this is a .pdf, since the survey is closed to YIS accounts only, to make sure the data we receive is actually from our students). The survey is based on this Google Doc, thanks to all who contributed!
2. Adding a pin to our collaborative map to see how, where and when we connect
View Our Global Connections in a larger map
3. Adding a slide to our collaborative presentation to highlight something we learned together this week
Each middle school year group had a 90-minute pull-out session with either me, Adam (MS Counselor), or Damien (Secondary Technology and Learning Coach). These activities were based on the ones we ran at the beginning of the school year, during our CLC orientation (two days of non-formal school).
Subject-Based Digital Citizenship Focus
Several subject areas were also able to devote time to Digital Citizenship during their classes for the week as well:
- PE: Balance
- Technology: Grade 6 and Grade 7 also completed the Digital Citizenship Court activity
Middle School Assembly
To me, digital citizenship means….
- Being a good, thoughtful person online.
- To me I think it means to use your technology responsibly.
- I think digital citizenship is how you use your computer overall. If you mostly go on Skype or Facebook to chat, or if you go on youtube to watch videos, or even if you download stuff illegally. Digital citizenship is how you spend your day with the computer, do you do the right things or the wrong things?
- I think digital citizenship basically means being good and responsible online, which includes tons of different things. They can be from not revealing personal information, to being nice to people instead of cyber bullying.
- It means being a part of a community where you get to know people that live in a different place/country than the one you live in.
- To be a good citizen online and offline and to balance your time on an electronic device with your time you spend with family and friends.
- To me, digital citizenship means to behave properly on the internet. Digital citizenship is basically general citizenship, although the only difference is that it’s online. It’s saying something over the internet that you would say face to face. Digital citizenship is being responsible for your actions online.
- Being responsible, caring, sympathetic, and open minded for you actions online and what you write and considerate of other peoples feelings. As well as the amount of time you spend online.
- Taking care of each other
- Your reputation online and how you act online.
- Being in a community and respecting each other on internet.
- To be responsible and respectful online to other people, what they have created and what belongs to them. Also to be aware of the consequences and dangers on the internet.
- to me, digital citizenship means to be a responsible and balanced user on online.
- …being an online member of the internet community and using the powers of the web responsibly.
Throughout the assembly, highlights from the week, as well as examples of digital citizenship from throughout the year were shared (thanks to our amazing humanities teachers Alex and Rebekah, and our Digital Dragons curriculum). One student per tutor group speaking about what they learned this week, as part of our collaborative presentation activity (see above). We ended the assembly with the winners of the Estimating Time Spent Online challenge:
An enormous thank you to Rebekah, Adam, Susie, Damien and the rest of our fabulous MS teachers for making this week a success! Big events like this kind of freak me out, so I never would have been able to even attempt coordinating something like this without my fantastic colleagues.
Rebekah and I had a chat yesterday to reflect on how things went, and really, they went well. We have some ideas for next year, of course:
- We need to clarify what our focus words are (the daily themes), and re-use them throughout the year – would be great to have posters, or other activities throughout the year highlighting these themes, like we do with the IB Learner Profile.
- Timing: coordinating Digital Citizenship Week with #beyondlaptops was an idea that sounded great in theory, but was kind of crazy in practice. Plus, this year it feel the week before MS Exams (which was really not fun for anyone). So next year, we’re thinking we should move it to before Feb break, the week of Feb 11 – 15
- It would be great to see more involvement from different subject areas, we have ideas, and we’ll seek input from the department heads and subject-area teachers to make this relevant to their curriculum at the time.
- We would love to have HS students facilitate conversations from their perspective – what would you tell the 11 year old you? Maybe they could they facilitate the double-block pull out?
- The map idea was cool, but not sure the kids understood what it was – we can either drop it, or have it take place during a specific lesson so that there’s a discussion around why it’s important
- Would be nice if the survey could include time for discussion as well. Next year we’ll use the same questions, so that this year’s questions become the baseline.
- We need to make sure to filming some activities to show later – they were great!
- We would love to coordinate timing so we can collaborate with other schools – this was an idea that actually came up last year, but I was never able to follow through. Next year for sure!
Do you have a Digital Citizenship Week at your school? How do you help bring the concepts behind digital citizenship alive with your students?
- Keeping track of time we spend online by superkimbo, CC Licensed on Flickr
- Day 1 by superkimbo, CC Licensed on Flickr
- How to achieve balance by gr7 by superkimbo, CC Licensed on Flickr
- Gr8′s discussing responsibility by superkimbo, CC Licensed on Flickr
- Grade 6′s using the CLC Handbook by superkimbo, CC Licensed on Flickr
- Yuki starting the MS Assembly by superkimbo, CC Licensed on Flickr
- Day 3 by superkimbo, CC Licensed on Flickr
Last week was a busy one at YIS. We had our first Digital Citizenship Week, with tons of great learning and reflection opportunities for our middle school students (more to come on this later), two meetings (Tues night & all day Saturday) of our YIS COETAIL cohort, and our #beyondlaptops mini-conference. Needless to say, by the time Sunday rolled around I was exhausted. And exhilarated.
I am so fortunate to be working at a school that encourages risk-taking, creativity, openness, collaboration and sharing. Not only is everything we do open and accessible, but we regularly welcome other schools to visit and see what we’re doing, in action. This is what #beyondlaptops is all about, and this is why we’re able to host this kind of event here at YIS.
Last year, while we were still planning our Connected Learning Community, our Headmaster, James MacDonald, had the brilliant idea of inviting school administrators, technology and curriculum leaders to YIS to brainstorm, together, based on our collective experience, how to successfully implement a 1:1 program. We had about 20 educators from around Asia join us for a day of informal discussion.
After what we consider a very successful first few months of our CLC, we thought it would be worthwhile to host the same event again, this time with the new focus of moving beyond discussions about hardware, infrastructure and visioning, including things like:
- Essential skills: what are they and how do we teach them?
- The future and beyond: envisioning a future we can not know
- Changes to learning environments and curriculum structure
- Staffing needs to support continual development
- Embracing Digital Citizenship as a community
- Embracing digital connectivity: when, how, why and where do we share?
- Evaluation and reflection: how do we know the program is “working”?
- Logistics and Management
- Student panel, sharing feedback from YIS and beyond
Building upon the year before, we wanted to keep it open and informal – no presentations, no “big name” speakers, no real structure, just ideas and facilitated discussion. We didn’t do much of a follow up last year since the group was so small, and it was more of an experiment than anything else, so we figured we could do something similar again this year.
Little did we know that we would end up with over 55 educators in the room.
Clearly, this is the type of event that people are looking for. A time to chat, to think, to share, to create together something more than we can do in our isolated, individual schools. An event, where the conference is the participants (thanks Simon for that gem of a tagline!).
As easy as (I hope) we made it look, this was not easy to pull together, and I learned quite a bit:
Even though I regularly read blog posts where people complain about what they don’t get out of conferences, that the time most useful to them is the conversations in between formal sessions, I wasn’t entirely sure if all of the participants really understand how informal this event was going to be. We had a lot of “big name” schools attend, with quite a few administrators. Would they want to be told what to do? Or would they jump in with both feet?
I knew my tech coaching friends and colleagues would have no problem, but what about the people I didn’t know that well? The people that were being grouped together by one liaison at their school, so I never actually had any interaction with them at all before the conference started?
It turns out people not only felt well informed about the format (thanks Heather, for reassuring me), but that it was one of the key reasons they chose to attend:
Although I facilitated the discussions, and (ahem) perhaps over-planned the two days so we were constantly busy, people really jumped right into the conversations. They were open, they shared, the questioned, they left wanting more time to collaborate. In the feedback, almost every single person responded that the chance to have informal, but focused discussions, was a major highlight for them:
- The conference format allowed for engagement and relationship building with nearly all participants. not sitting and listening, but engaged in collaborative “work” and meaningful conversations.
- Discussions were rich with ideas and information…so much knowledge in the room.
- I loved having time to just talk about the issues, I got so many ideas that are easy to implement, I had just not thought of them. Being with other like professionals was amazing, there need to be more opportunities like this.
- Conversation, student participation, relaxed environment. Freedom to go down different avenues regarding different topics. Flexible schedule.
- I liked the sharing of this conference and that it was not a sit and get time. The conversations were meaningful and effective.
- Conversational style was great – allowed for diverse sharing of ideas, and exploration of approaches to shared concerns. I simply learnt a lot, and more importantly got to think of higher level things than nuts and bolts details of one to one.
The Conference is the Participants
OK, I’ll be honest. We didn’t charge anything for participants to attend, all they had to do was get themselves here and pay for their (very reasonably priced) hotel room. YIS covered all of the food for both days (amazing snacks and lunches at school thanks to Zest, our fabulous school caterers; and dinner on Thursday night at Green, our favorite local organic bar and grill).
So, I kinda thought that maybe, some people wouldn’t show up. That on Thursday morning I would wake up to a flurry of e-mails in my inbox saying that people got bogged down with work and had to cancel their plans. Aside from one minor aviation emergency (we missed you Rob!), and one health issue, every single person that signed up arrived, ready to start right on time.
Clearly, everyone in the room wanted to be in the room, and wanted to learn from the expertise in the room. We don’t need a “big name” speaker, although it was awesome to have Scott McLeod Skype in for an hour on Thursday (more on that later). As long as the conversations are facilitated, we can make the conference what we want, together.
Being “in the room” was a highlight for a number of participants:
- Unconference aspect; meeting old tech tribe and making new contacts
- Having the opportunity to meet people who I’ve been connected with online through Twitter
- Liked the small size of the conference which allowed for greater opportunity to develop relationships and connections
- Opportunity to discuss issues with well informed and passionate people
- I love that the focus was on discussion with people doing similar jobs as me. The most valuable take away from most conferences are the conversations with people. More and more, I am finding that more valuable than the workshops I attend. To have 2 whole days for discussion was the best PD I have had in a long time. Thank you.
Involve Students & Be Open
I’m not entirely sure that every school could host an event like this. I am overly positive about YIS, but it’s for a good reason. Although we think we are doing many things well, we are not afraid to share our mistakes and to learn from them. I’ve worked at a number of schools that emphasize competition over community. I’m so proud that YIS is the opposite.
So much of formal PD is about sharing what we do best, and highlighting our school’s strong points. Hardly any of it features actual students. We wanted to make sure that we listened to and respected our student voices, so we included them for both mornings:
- Thursday as part of our discussion of the essential skills for the future, Scott’s presentation and our debrief.
- On Friday, we had a student panel of ten 6 – 11th graders facing an audience of 55 school leaders and their only rule was to “be honest”. And they were. And we are so proud of them.
That’s not an easy thing to do, but it’s almost the norm here at YIS. We have students presenting and collaborating to and with visitors, teachers and admin on a regular basis – not the same students, either.
We have a community that values the input of it’s members, that respects everyone equally and supports open and honest dialogue. It’s a pretty good feeling.
It’s wonderful to see that our students were also a highlight for many participants (I’m not going to put the survey results here, because although they are very positive, I wouldn’t want any of the students to be upset by any of the work they did – they were amazing!)
- The inclusion of the students on both days were great! We need to keep the students directly involved in both these philosophical and decision-making processes.
- Including the students in the conference. Do it again!
- Hearing from students. Student voice is so important and not present enough in our P.D.
- Involving students was invaluable.
Teachers Like to Eat
I am one of them. Any event that feeds me well gets a gold star. In typical YIS fashion, we definitely earned our gold star. Zest, our amazing (and I do mean amazing) catering company provided healthy, delicious, organic snacks and lunches both days.
Plus, YIS sponsored Thursday night’s dinner at our favorite local organic restaurant, Green, with all-you-can drink craft beers (and anything else you might want). And then, I organized a “field trip” to Tokyo on Friday night (not sponsored by YIS) to Gonpachi which was equally wonderful. Considering the event was free, providing all of these amazing meals really was above and beyond. Thank you YIS!
Respect the Room
In our James’ opening to the conference he talked about the value and knowledge in the room, that we don’t have an easy answer to any of these questions, but we can find it together. There is so much value in acknowledging and respecting the experience and expertise we have together.
Likewise, it is so important to actually being in a room, physically together, seeing how people react, getting to know people on a personal level, and making deeper connections with the people you know already. As much as I love networking online, it’s clear to me that we need time to come together, in person, to delve deeper into the discussions we have online. We need this time to come together.
A few people came with a very focused agenda, and they were not all able to accomplish their goals, so we’re thinking of adding one more day to the conference as a totally unstructured pre-conference. A time when people who have a clear agenda (that may not be the agenda of the entire group of participants) can come together, undisturbed, to hash out the answers to their questions. (Thanks to Will Kirkwood for the idea!)
Organization is Key
So, turns out people love the unconference-style format. But that doesn’t mean that there was no organization involved. Just like facilitating learning in the classroom takes more organization than lecture-based lessons, so does an unconference. Just organizing the readings and resources was a handful!
A couple of items were especially challenging this time around:
Privacy: Because this event is “invite-only” (due to space limitations) most of the organization was done in Google Docs (I hate the feeling of excluding people, even if it’s not my choice). I kept one doc running with all the questions people were asking and kept referring everyone back to that one document. Now that the event has grown in size, the Google Docs method has really become unmanageable so most of this information is on the website, which will make things easier next year.
Local Information: Because we had such a small group last year, I really didn’t provide any information about Japan. I expected people would figure it out on their own and they did. This year, with such a large group, this really wasn’t possible. Thankfully, we had a very active Twitter hashtag with questions, so I could keep track and start posting the responses. Huge thanks to Brian Lockwood and Rob Newberry for their suggestions to many of the answers too!
Input: I really had no idea what people would want from this event. I was only confident about what the participants from YIS would want, so I wanted to make sure I included as many participants as I possibly could in all of the decision making. I created a separate Google Doc and invited 12 of the external participants (and all of our YIS participants) to share their input, to help guide the outcome:
- Susan Sedro
- Simon May
- Jabiz Raisdana
- Will Kirkwood
- Rob Newberry
- Colin Gallagher
- Stacey Stephens
- Dana Watts
- Thomas Galvez
- Adrienne Michetti
- John Turner
- Nick Sauers
Huge, huge, huge thanks to our YIS team of Stephen, Genki, Bob, James, John, Dennis, Elif, Rebekah, and Adam, plus Rob, Susan, Will, Thomas and John for all of your thoughtful feedback and participation in the planning. Without you, I would not have been able to pull it together, and would not have been able to come close to meeting the needs of the majority of the participants.
Next year, I’ll make sure to formalize this planning committee a little more so that different participants can take responsibility for different sections of the agenda. Not only will this be a great way to ensure variety, but it means that I can participate too! (Thanks to Tim Wojcik for the idea)
It’s All About the Team
Two of my biggest take-aways from #beyondlaptops unfortunately contradict each other:
- limit the number of participants (it will be capped at 30 people next year)
- ensure that everyone who participates comes with a team (minimum 2, maximum 4 people from each school)
We need to limit the participants both because of space, and because of the level of conversation we want to have. Although this was a very select group of people (I actually only sent out 3 e-mail invitations to a group of people that I know, and we ended up with 45 people from outside YIS), we still had some competing dialogue, some discussion that wasn’t quite what we were hoping for. Now, of course, it goes without saying that you can not stop people from having their own agenda or priorities, but it would be nice if we had a clearer vision of what those priorities were at the time of registration, so we could better select a group that would work very productively together.
So, limiting sounds like a great idea. Except that we know when people go off to a conference on their own, it’s so much harder to implement the ideas they learned about. So we also want to encourage teams to come. Specifically teams that include an administrator, a tech coach, a curriculum coordinator and a teacher – with no two people from the same job. In this way, we hope that not only will we get a more rounded perspective, but we can actually hope that some of the learnings will be implemented when they get back. This means that we’ll probably only have a maximum of 15 schools represented, instead of the 21 we had, but that’s OK. More focus, more productive sessions, and hopefully more action taken will be worth the slightly more limited exposure. (Thanks to Tim Bray for the idea!)
We Need to Be Pushed
Our only formal “speaker” was Scott McLeod, and he presented via Skype on Thursday. It was fantastic to see how Scott could actually facilitate a discussion and activity in Japan from the US via Skype (well, I may have helped a little). As usual, Scott’s presentation was controversial. He talked about the various companies that are working toward replacing teachers with computers (Knewton, Rocketship Education, New Classrooms, etc). Although the idea was not entirely new to me (thanks to Disrupting Class), I still enjoyed the feeling of being a little bit uncomfortable with the future Scott described.
Many of the participants are the change agents in their schools, they are the ones doing the pushing, they feel they are “ahead of the curve”. To have a conversation where we feel as confronted as some of our teachers do on a daily basis can only be a good thing. Thanks Scott!
Well, it’s seriously hard to believe that all I did was send out three e-mails (in January) to a group of educators I know personally, and we could all be sitting in Yokohama in April having a deep, thoughtful, respectful and open dialogue. I’m sorry that I didn’t get to participate in many of the discussions because I was facilitating, but I could feel the vibe in the room, and it was exciting. I love that so many of my colleagues around the world want to spend time talking together about these issues, and that they’re so passionate they will fly all the way to Japan to sit in a room together to hash things out.
Thank you so much to all of the participants for joining us. It really was our pleasure. We hope to see you again next year!