Make One Change: Learning Road Trip – A Professional Learning Experience!

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The idea was inspired by the great conversations that happen in the car as you travel to or return from a conference. It’s where all the ideas you have just experienced, or are going to experience, spark conversation about how we can change the system, improve our practice or impact student learning in our classrooms. Its where we dream big, we leverage great ideas, we start to plan for the action we will take once back in our buildings.

What we were after was recreating the road trip experience through a professional learning event. What was developed was a two day opportunity for educators from our division to travel to schools across our jurisdiction, see quality learning in action in a number of settings, and then have the time to develop an idea to bring back to their students in their classrooms. It was called the “Make One Change: Learning Road Trip” and it ended up being a pretty great two days together with a great group of educators.

 

Day 1 – Learning Road Trip

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We started off the morning meeting at our division office to board our rented coach bus, with our coffees, muffins/donuts, and materials in hand to embark on our learning road trip. The bus was equipped with televisions (although there were some technical difficulties) which we would use to show some thought provoking videos to spur on conversation while we traveled from school to school. Our videos included a video from Simon Breakspear about “Pursuing Inspiration” which acted as a great intro to our day, as well as videos from Seth Godin, Chris Lehmann, and Mitch Resnick


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As seat-mates engaged in conversations about learning, they wrote down big ideas, inspirations and extensions that came up on to Post-Its and placed them on the windows of the bus to collect them throughout the day. These would serve to inspire the work on Day #2 and were available to connect with new ideas throughout the trip. It was exciting to see the spaces fill with ideas throughout the day as our participants were inspired by the school visits. We also tweeted to the hashtag #make1changePSD throughout the two day event (Storify to come!).

 

 

 

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Our participants represented K-12 educators from almost every school in our division, and we were able to visit K-12 classrooms in four schools. We saw maker-inspired learning, literacy centres, differentiated instruction in multi-grade classrooms, personalized learning, critical thinking exercises and so much more. It was so great to have the administration, staffs and students of Parkland Village School (K-4), Memorial Composite High School (10-12), Blueberry School (K-9), and Seba Beach School (K-9) welcome in our group of 40+ to see the learning in action in their buildings. The experiences in each building served to get our participants thinking of what it was they would develop on Day #2 to “Make One Change” in their practice to impact student learning in their buildings.

 

 

 

Day 2 – Educator Innovation Day    

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On Day 2 we met at the 360 degree Wellness Centre (Thanks for the room Ken!) in Spruce Grove to embark on an Educator Innovation Day and create the initiative, project or intervention that would be the one change we would bring to our students. We worked through a Design Thinking process that members of our group adopted from Ewan McIntosh, a process that involves four phases – Immersion, Synthesis, Ideation and Prototyping. The Learning Road Trip acted as the bulk of the immersion phase, but we finished up the immersion phase with interviews to understand our group members thoughts and aspirations for their projects. From there, driving questions were developed in the Synthesis phase, carefully crafted to drive the ideation phase and worded as “How might we…” questions. In the Ideation phase, our participants were challenged to come up with as many potential ideas as they could in a ten minute period, with the group developing nearly a thousand ideas! Groups sketched out visual representations of their ideas in the Prototyping phase and arrived at a place where they could get to work on their projects.

The rest of the day was used to work on the projects, with groups accessing resources, planning out lessons and developing learning experiences to bring to their students. The final hour involved groups sharing their projects, and processes, with each other and discussing the inspiration and plan for action behind their “One Change”.  Our plan is to come together again as a group on May 11th to check-in on where the projects are in their development, to share successes and look to solve challenges that have emerged and keep the momentum going!

Overall it was a great experience, and it was so much fun to work with Carolyn Cameron, Travis McNaughton, and Shaye Patras to develop this professional learning experience for our division. We have surveyed our participants, and will look to gain feedback from schools as to the impact of this event, as we hope to bring more of these “Learning Road Trips” to the teachers of our division. We have a lot of ideas already bubbling up about different ways we can leverage this model and can’t wait to start planning the next one.

Thanks again to the schools who hosted us, to the participants for their engagement and enthusiasm (even on the hot bus), to the organizers and to everyone who contributed to making this day a success.

Take A Step Back


creative commons licensed ( BY-NC-SA ) flickr photo shared by D. Garding

This is for you new teachers out there…

One of the best pieces of advice I ever received in my teaching career was a simple one:

“Sit back, relax, and enjoy your time with the kids.”

I had just started a new alternative program for junior high in an Outreach School, and I had the great opportunity to work with some very unique and special young people.  Now with all the great things these students brought to our class, they also had some issues with behaviour, issues that could lead to some very trying and stressful situations. By the end of October I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to do the work the rest of the year, I wasn’t sleeping much, I wasn’t eating a lot, and I was stressed out and exhausted.

My principal, one of the greatest mentors a teacher could ask for, came in to observe my class and offer his thoughts. After the students left for the day he flashed his knowing smile and chuckled, and I knew right away he had me and my issues figured out, that’s the way he was. He told me how I spent most of the class walking around looking for problems, or on the edge of my chair waiting for something to go wrong. He explained how I had amped myself up into a hyper-vigilant state, moving from problem to problem, just waiting for the next thing to go wrong.

Then he asked me “Have you had anything happen so far that you couldn’t handle?”, I told him no. Then he asked “Whatever might happen, could you handle it?” and I responded yes. “Well” he responded, “then stop looking for something to happen, or waiting for something to go wrong, sit back, take a deep breath and try to enjoy your time with the kids. If anything happens, you’ll be fine, and if you’re not, I will help you, but this will never be work you will enjoy if you move from crisis to crisis without taking any enjoyment from your day.

From that moment on, my time in the school and with my students got better. So much better. I spent time with my students and was able to bring more of me to my teaching as I relaxed and let down my guard a little. We still had issues from time to time, but they became mild inconveniences that we worked through rather than the dreaded storm that always seemed to be on my horizon.

For you new teachers, you are two weeks (or more) into your year and if you haven’t done so already, it’s time for you to take a step back and just watch the magic that is students learning together. Whatever might happen, you can handle it, so don’t worry about the class getting a little loud, or the learning heading off task, it will be fine. Students can sense when we are anxious or stressed, and it is not helpful in creating the relaxed and open learning environment you want for your kids.

We work in a great profession, and the part that makes it great is the kids, so make sure you take the time to enjoy them, and enjoy learning with and from them!

Have a great year!

Collaboration

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So a few weeks ago I attended the Innovate West Conference at the Connect Charter School in Calgary, with a team of 7 teachers from our school. Along with Claudia Scanga, our school’s learning coach, Lynn Lang and Ashley Solomon, teachers from our school, we facilitated a discussion we called “Collaborative Teaching Models”. My hope, as I put our presentation together, was that we would share our story and what we do at Greystone Centennial Middle School, and then open up the floor to hear about other models, and maybe discuss how we could create more opportunities for teacher collaboration in all schools. It didn’t end up going that way.

We shared how we embed three blocks of collaborative time for each teaching team into our timetable,

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how our school design team put together a planning document that guides the conversation in those blocks,

 

and how our staff choose to use the time provided to collaborate with their teams rather than grab a coffee, photocopy work or mark assignments. From there the conversation ended up being focused on how we are able to do this in our building and how we got there. A couple people dismissed what we told them as “too pie-in-the-sky” and walked out of the session, while others wanted to ask us question after question about how it’s possible.

By the end of the session we did get to talk to teachers from BC who shared with us all the issues they are currently dealing with that limit their ability to create collaborative models. We talked with teachers from small schools who spoke about limited resources and limited numbers of teachers, and how that can hinder their collaboration. We also heard from a group of high school English teachers, who talked about the massive size of their department, and how that made collaboration difficult.

While I already knew that we were lucky in so many ways at Greystone, this reminded me of so many more ways. So much of our collaboration model works because of A) The size of our school B) the grade levels we work with C) and a culture that it took 9 years to build (I had nothing to do with it, I joined the staff 3 years ago). But whether its presenting at a conference or hosting visitors from other schools, we know people are looking for advice when it comes to making teacher collaboration a reality in schools.

So rather than talk about our model of collaboration, I believe it would be more helpful to talk about what can be more easily re-created in other buildings, by highlighting the important keys.

1. Start with a Shared Vision  

Teachers collaborating are going to come to the table with their own perspectives, shaped by their experiences, their education, their passions and their beliefs. When it comes down to a discussion without a shared vision, it becomes a battle of two (or more) people’s perspectives and someone is more right. The shared vision brings all conversation back to what is agreed upon as the most important focus, and then its not a battle of competing perspectives but rather how to best realize this vision. So if you don’t have a vision, create one… together. Our time at the Connect Charter School (formerly the Calgary Science School) inspired us to create a visual representation of our vision at Greystone and it is mounted on the wall of every classroom in our building.

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2.  Challenge Each Other to Grow

Collaborative conversations can’t just be about watering each other’s gardens, they have to also be about pointing out the weeds. If the conversations start centered around a shared vision, then we have to be able to call each other out when we aren’t doing what we need to get there. That shared vision means we are not pointing out flaws or claiming some sense of superiority over our colleague, but rather helping each other to ensure we are always improving and always doing what’s best for our students. I wouldn’t say we have completely gotten to this point, but we continue to talk about the importance of pushing each other and identifying moments for growth. This is easier said than done, but in the end it is important enough to work towards.

3. Find Ways to Validate the Importance

If collaboration is important to you as a school leader, you have to be doing everything you can to help facilitate it. Maybe you can only afford a collaborative block once a week, or once a month, but whatever it is, it shows you are committed to the importance of collaboration enough to help make it a reality. I was talking recently with a senior executive member of another division, and her concern was that embedded collaboration might not be achievable in the next school year. My first thought was Twitter and Social Media, and I recommended providing staff with a day where they bring in a facilitator to help get their staff on Twitter, to work on developing an online PLN. If you can’t immediately implement collaboration into your timetable, at least provide another avenue to experience the power of collaboration. In doing so, you help people see that you believe its worth the time and the money. It was definitely the leadership at our school who professed their firm belief in the power of collaboration for the past 9 years, namely our Principal Carolyn Cameron, and this no doubt led to a culture where people readily spend their entire prep time working with colleagues instead of doing all the housekeeping they could be doing.

4. Celebrate the Successes

There are so many aspects of our building that the collaboration of our teachers impacts in a positive way. Having new teachers on a team helps them get acclimated to the building, get to know our culture, and support them through the first tough couple months. Having teachers on teams helps veteran teachers of all ages and experience levels keep pushing to bring the best to students as they are opened to new ideas from their team. The way our teachers collaborate is modelled daily for our students and I can’t help but believe it helps them see the importance as well. In our “team times”, as we call them, our teachers work not only on planning great projects and assignments for students, but also they share important information on students so that everyone is on the same page, they reflect on assessments and how to improve them, and next year our focus will be on providing quality student feedback. I have no doubt the conversations in those team times will be deep and meaningful as we explore what great feedback looks and sounds like. We celebrate these successes with our staff and our school community, and we share them with every school that comes to visit our building and in every presentation we do at conferences. Collaboration is an idea that needs to spread, first in your building of course, but then everywhere it can, so that more and more schools and divisions will work to support it.

What do you do in your buildings to facilitate collaboration? What gets in your way from making it a reality? What do you find the most beneficial part of Teacher Collaboration? I’d love to hear from people, and whether or not you agree with these four points.

What You Value…

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A quote I heard from a friend but have no idea who to credit for, which I use all the time is

“What you value, you dedicate time and resources to”

I mostly use it to call out current practices, and call attention to not backing up what we say with the actions necessary to truly show our support. As I sat down to write my professional growth plan reflection for 2013-2014, I found another instance where this quote applies.

I had two goals for this school year, one was to put together and facilitate a group of teachers to take a long hard look at our practices when it comes to mathematical instruction, and to come up with a long term plan and solution to improve said instruction. The other goal was to work to spend more time in classrooms, observing and working with teachers, to do some informal observations of our teachers on temporary contracts and to work on my role as an instructional leader.

I was unable to achieve either.

Add to that I never once participated in the School Admin Virtual Mentor Program  (#SAVMP) which I signed up for, and was assigned a fantastic mentor in Jason Markey, who could have helped me in my professional growth immensely. And add to that I blogged considerably less this year, spent less time on twitter, and lost touch with a great deal of my PLN.

Don’t get me wrong, I got a lot done, and a lot of my year was fantastic, but now as the year comes to a close, and I reflect on goals for my year that were supposed to be a priority, I realize I lost track of what was supposed to be my focus. As I fumble through this post, I can physically sense the loss of connection to something that was so dear to me and important in my professional learning.

So while I am quick to call others on saying one thing and then not backing it up with what it takes to make it a reality, it is only fair I call myself on the same behavior. What I supposedly valued I didn’t dedicate time or resources to. There was always something else to do, some excuse like being tired or busy, or even justifications like doing what was needed at the time. I did nothing to place any type of deadlines for myself. I created no reminders, no string around my finger, to keep myself on task. I failed miserably and did nothing to improve my chances for success.

So when it comes to my growth plan, and my reflection as a professional on my learning, I can truly say I learned a lot. I learned from what I failed to complete, from what I didn’t focus on, and what I must have hoped would just happen on its own. I learned that nothing I want to make happen will in fact come to be if I don’t dedicate my time and my resources to these goals. I learned from the way I feel staring at the document, that I WILL NOT again put down a goal (or two) without being sure I am committed to making it a reality.

While this wasn’t my intended learning, it will no doubt be valuable, and when I sit down to write next year’s plan, it will include at least one of my goals AGAIN, only this time I hope it also includes some conviction behind the words.

Educator Innovation Day #2

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Innovate | Flickr – Photo Sharing!Noah Scalin Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

I am very excited to share that we will once again be running an Educator Innovation Day on Saturday May 3rd, at Greystone Centennial Middle School. The idea behind Educator Innovation Day is two fold: 1) to explore ways to improve education by pursuing a project that you are passionate about and 2) to live the innovative, risk-taking experience so that when we have our students undergo a similar experience, we can speak from a place of understanding rather than just conjecture.

In our first Educator Innovation Day this past August, we had over 20 participants explore projects that included literacy assessments, timetable models, and course design, along with many other topics. It was a good first attempt, but the timing definitely made it tough as it was the last day before we all went back to work. We are hoping that with the early May date, people will be able to focus a little more on their project. If it is something they are hoping to implement into their schools immediately, there will still be 2 months left to give it a try, if it something they are hoping to implement in September, it will give them a good start to continue working on over the summer.

There is no cost for Educator Innovation Day – we will provide the space and, if necessary, the technology you need to assist you with your project. Lunch will be on your own and the only requirement is that we come together in the afternoon and share the work with the rest of the participants. We have the support of Parkland School Division in coordinating this event, as well as Parkland Teachers ATA Local 10, but this day is open to educators from outside Parkland School Division as well. We will meet in the gymnasium at Greystone at 9:00am and should be done by 3:30pm that afternoon.

We would love to have you join us for the event, and the registration form is embedded below, or can be accessed at the link http://bit.ly/psd70eid. Share the link with any educator you think may be interested in attending, the more the merrier. Also, we will be tweeting to the hashtag #psd70eid before, during and after the event so keep an eye out for these tweets and to get the conversations started well in advance of the big day.

Please feel free to contact me with any questions you may have, and we hope to see you this May.

I Wanted To Blow Up PD

explosionExplosion | Flickr – Photo Sharing!Andrew Kuznetsov Attribution 2.0 Generic / CC BY 2.0

Sometimes I get a little too big for my britches. I get excited about an idea, and I think everyone should be as excited as I am. I am glad that I have people in my life that are there to help me see the big picture and can bring me back to reality quickly.

Ever since we ran Educator Innovation Day this past August, I have been excited about the idea of trying different ways to change how we engage in Professional Development. Previous experiences in Ed Camp models and conversation-driven conferences like ConnectEd Canada have really opened my eyes to PD that is more self directed and participant driven. I held a firm belief that this was the future of Professional Development and I wondered why we weren’t overhauling everything.

My principal, Carolyn Cameron (follow her on twitter and read her blog), is someone who helps me dream big but also reminds me to keep my feet on the ground. As principal of Greystone Centennial Middle School, she plays a key role in the planning and facilitating of professional development activities for our staff. When I joined Greystone, I was quickly amazed at how different PD days were there. The day was filled with conversations and activities rooted in the school vision but always pushing practice and improving the education of our students. I was used to heavy sighs and occasional apathy on PD days, but I found myself engaged in deep and meaningful conversations with my co-workers and leaving each PD day feeling like we made the most of the time spent together. Carolyn, along with her school design team (That’s a whole other post), have found a way to maximize the effectiveness of PD days, and within the traditional timing and framework, they make it work, and work well. This made her the perfect person to discuss the idea of blowing up PD with.

My belief is that with the self-directed models of Professional Development, we push educators into a place of risk taking and engaged learning. Teachers will need to venture beyond their comfort zones to develop their skills and abilities, but will be doing so in areas they are passionate about. They can develop solutions to problems that exist in their daily practice, and in doing so address the needs of their students, the ones they know best. Big ideas can turn into innovative new practices with action research and collaboration with colleagues when educators are given the freedom to explore.

When I asked Carolyn about PD, she reminded me of a key idea that my thinking was missing. Carolyn talked about how they had experimented with more self directed PD activities in the past but that they hadn’t always worked as well as they had hoped. The big component that was missing was the idea of accountability. When we sit in a room now with our whole staff, our PD activities are always connected to our school’s vision, we work together with our teaching teams and the work we do is always meant to impact our practice in our building with our students as soon as the next school day. Carolyn agreed that there was great potential in self directed professional development, but that it needed accountability built in to it.

As so often is the case when I get rolling and excited, I had missed a very important component. Accountability. Not in the sense that we need there to be “homework checks”, but that there needs to be accountability to follow through, and when you work together with your colleagues there usually is. When I sat and thought about our Educator Innovation Day, I realized I hadn’t done anything to try and help push for follow through. No check in months later, no twitter hashtag to keep the conversation going, not even an email to see how people were doing. How could I not have seen that?

When it came to my own project for Educator Innovation Day, I had all the follow through measures in place. I had developed an option class about Entrepreneurship with my good friend Travis McNaughton and implemented it in November. Because we would be implementing the course in his school and my school, and our students would connect and share with each other, we had every reason to make sure we made the course a reality. When Carolyn and I talked about the day, she was willing to admit that there hadn’t been a lot of follow through on her project. This of course just confirmed for me that she was right.

Now this doesn’t mean we should scrap self-directed professional development, of course not. Ed Camps and Educator Innovation Days still have amazing value. Even if a project or activity doesn’t go beyond that day, directing your own learning, taking risks and confronting traditional practices are all important exercises. We need to practice thinking of education in different ways, and challenging our assumptions to make sure we are always doing the best we can for our students. But I do believe, with a little bit of purposeful planning and support, these PD models can have all the benefit and the accountability they need to push our development further.

I wanted to blow up PD, but I needed to be reminded that you don’t have to blow something up to improve it. Carolyn has shown me that the way we have done PD can push practice and help create a great education for our students when done correctly. She has also shown me that no matter what the model is, it needs to have the chance to take root and to live inside our classrooms and schools. So rather than blow anything up, I think I’ll just try to spin it another way, no explosions necessary.

***Stay tuned for our next Educator Innovation Day, which will take place this May***

Connections

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I owe so much to the people I have connected with. I am sure you feel the same way. Whether face to face or virtually, I have been able to connect and work with brilliant people who have challenged me and opened my eyes up to so many possibilities and exciting ways to move my practice forward. I wonder sometimes just how different my career, and life for that matter, would have been if I wasn’t able to make those connections.

I have seen blog posts about why we should use twitter, or why we should blog, why we should join google communities or even why we should join/create a PLC. I am pretty sure they all share the same answer when we get down to the root of it – to make connections. I am not telling you anything you don’t already know. Connecting with other educators opens us up to new ideas and perspectives, it gives you a sounding board for your thoughts and often a cheerleader when you are nervous to take a risk.

So we know we should seek out beneficial connections and we know that there are tools to do so, but my question is how many school leaders are looking to facilitate this in their buildings? In their division? We show something is important to us when we dedicate time to it, so if you are in charge of PD for your staff and this is something you deem valuable, then you probably need to be dedicating time to make it happen. So working from your building out, why not take the following steps to help your staff make meaningful connections.

1. Connect in your building: In our building our teachers work on grade level teams and have time embedded into their schedules to work and plan together, but this doesn’t give them time to connect with others in the building and see or hear about all the wonderful work they are doing. So why not book a sub for a day and cover teachers to get them out and about, or maybe cover their class if you have the time. Another great activity we did was Speed Dating (Thanks to Scott Johnston) where we had groups on a PD day move around and connect with every other group in the building to share exciting lessons and activities with each other. Connecting in our own building is something we take for granted and can be a valuable resource.

2. Connect in your division: We have joked in our building about how we are so willing to spend thousands of dollars sending educators to conferences all over the world, but we don’t book a sub and send a teacher down the road to the other middle school. I am so lucky to work in Parkland School Division, there are so many people I have had the chance to learn from (George Couros, Travis McNaughton, Kelli Holden etc.) and with. These connections are key to me and my learning not only because they are brilliant people, but also because they work in the same area and understand our community and our kids better than someone would outside of our area. Being able to bounce ideas off someone who knows the demographic, the perspectives and attitudes in our community is invaluable. Find ways for your staff to get into other buildings in your area, and you will probably see projects and ideas grow between buildings and across the division.

3. Connect with the world: The tools for this are numerous (Twitter, Google +, Facebook), and in your building you have people who work well with these tools. We can talk about how important this is until we are blue in the face but until we model it’s use and provide time for people to learn how to use the tools, we really aren’t backing up our words. An afternoon of PD spent setting up teachers on Twitter or Google + and introducing them to Twitter lists or Google Communities/Hangouts shows that not only is this something we believe is important, but it is so important we will dedicate this time to get the ball rolling.

I am always bothered when we talk about something as “important” but the session to learn about it is after school. We encourage people to connect on their own time, but that makes connecting pretty much optional, or at least that might be how people take it. We want people to believe in the power of connections, and the best way to do this is to bend over backwards to help make it happen for them.