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.

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***

You Don’t Want To Hear From Me Today


cc licensed ( BY NC ) flickr photo shared by Ceridwen

Today, it is very true. You don’t want to hear from me. I am not good today. I am tired, I am feeling a little stressed, I am worried. I am clearly not at my best. But today is a chance to look in on someone who has not done what is necessary to be at their best. Today I can tell you what it is like to have neglected balance.

My principal, Carolyn Cameron, has been on me for some time to be cognizant of what I need to maintain the balance that will keep me effective at my job, and in my life. I coach basketball at a small local University, often get home after midnight from practice, and struggle to get to bed before 1 or even 2 in the morning. During basketball season we practice and/or play 6 days a week. I have a one year old daughter who has, at times, found 3:30am a great time to get up and play. I find it hard to find time for her and for my wife when I get busy, and the guilt can be tough. I rarely exercise as I am often tired or unwilling to make the effort. Sometimes the lack of sleep, the strain of living in two worlds, and the difficulty with feeling like a good father/husband wear me out.

Busy has always been my style. I rarely say no to an opportunity, I am always looking for more challenges and I look at sleep, and even eating regularly, as “hopes” not “musts”. I have paid for it. I get sick more than most people, I get run down and ineffective for short stretches and I can neglect important parts of my life more than I should. I have never had the impetus to make lasting changes because it has never caused me too much grief. I still believe I am good at my job, I believe I am able to make time for the ones I love, and the only one that suffers is me. I always thought Carolyn was right, but I also thought it would never really catch up with me.

This week, it has caught up with me, and because of that I have learned the most important lesson about balance I believe I ever will learn:

If you aren’t in balance, you never know when it will affect you, but eventually it will affect you when you can least afford it.

We are only two days from the beginning of Innovation Week 2, tomorrow I am presenting to our school’s parent community about our plans for technology, my daughter currently has chicken pox (and is miserable), and our school is winding down the year and enjoying all the usual fun that goes with that (PC enough for you?). This is the time I NEED to be at my best. This is the time balance is crucial. I guess I am lucky to have gotten by for this long without it really biting me in the behind, but I sure hope this lesson will stick with me. It’s time for me to make changes, well actually its long overdue.

How do you ensure balance in your life as an educator? As your job, or family situation changed, how did you make the appropriate adjustments? Have you had similar experiences with balance? I would love to hear some feedback, if not for my learning, to know there are others out there who have dealt with this as well. Now… off to bed!

Innovation Week Day 5 – Taking Flight


cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo shared by Andy.Schultz

“Once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.”
― Leonardo da Vinci

I have always loved this quote. In conversation with George Couros at our Innovation Week wrap up he talked about the scene in the Matrix with the Red and Blue pill. Both are fitting, I find mine a little more eloquent though.

But I’ll come back to that…

Yesterday was our final day of our Innovation Week. We finished the week with an Open House, with each individual or group set up at tables to show case their work to the rest of the school and to the parents and members of the community that attended. It was a really great couple of hours with students proudly displaying their projects, walking each passer by through each component, and eagerly explaining the step-by-step processes that took place to complete them. For these students, they became the star of the show, as the people walked around to see just what they had done. It felt great to see that our project was able to make celebrities out of learners.

After the Open House we finished with an assembly just for the students involved in Innovation Week. We rode our Principal in on a hovercraft built by three Gr. 9 students (trust me, there will be a post about these three young men and their project). We had a selected number of groups come up and show their projects, and gave them the microphone to talk about their experiences during the week. There were many cheers and a great deal of excitement, especially when our Principal let them know that there would be another Innovation Week coming sometime this school year.

While there are things we will do differently, we were very pleased with the event (see post from our happy Principal here). I think a lot of great learning came out of this week for us as a staff and we have a lot of sharing and reflecting to do when we return from the break.

Which brings me back to my conversation with George…

As we walked around the Open House, we talked about the impact the event would have on our students. George talked about how after an event like this, any type of “old school” lesson just wasn’t going to cut it for these kids anymore. I have to agree, and I believe our next step is to pursue ways for us to implement Innovation-style activities into our day to day teaching. Whether it is in a one hour class, over the course of a unit or in a week long project, ensuring that students have a chance to choose what they study, how they do their work, or what they produce, will foster the innovative learning we are hoping for.

I would hope that if you are reading this and you have an Innovation activity that you have used or read about that you would share it here, or if you have ideas or tips for our next Innovation Week those would be great as well. Josh Stumpenhorst, the creator of Innovation Day, and Matt Bebbington, who ran his own Innovation Day in England, both helped me a great deal in bringing Innovation Week to our staff and students, and we would love to help anyone else looking to run a similar event. Please feel free to contact me if you would like to discuss any of the details further. There will be more Innovation Week posts to come, as there is so much more to reflect on and discuss, but as for the week recaps, that’s a wrap.