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***

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.

Educator Innovation Day – A Reflection


cc licensed ( BY SA ) flickr photo shared by Bridget Coila

I have been having a tough time getting going this week. For the first time in my career I haven’t been overly excited to come back to school. After 2 months of steady “Daddy Duty” it has been tough to think that I have to go back to the busy schedule of work and coaching. I usually come back motivated and ready to start a new initiative or try a new project and this year, not so much. As the sun sets on another summer break, I have been in need of a jolt. Today, I had the perfect “jump start” in the form of our Educator’s Innovation Day and it was exactly the jolt I needed.

25 teachers and administrators took part in our Educator Innovation Day today and worked on projects of their choice with the only guidelines being that the project had to improve education. It was very inspiring to see teachers who signed up for this event on a day off, and worked so diligently on their projects. Even more impressive was the amazing quality of work that was produced. Projects on home reading programs, mindfulness in education, leveraging technology, and collaborative planning for student interventions, you couldn’t help but smile at just how much these educators were willing to challenge themselves with.

I had the pleasure of working with Travis McNaughton, assistant principal of Muir Lake School, on a project where we worked to create an option course designed around teaching entrepreneurship. While I am proud of the work we did, and while I am excited to implement our course, I want to talk about the experience.

You see, we love to do projects that provide opportunities for our students to challenge themselves to be innovative. But when we were planning our first Innovation Week it was George Couros who came to me and asked if I thought our staff would be equipped to put on a project like Innovation Week without first experiencing something like that themselves. Long story short, we went ahead with Innovation Week 1 & 2 but it always was in the back of our heads that we needed to ensure that we gave our educators a chance to have the same experience.

Today, I got to feel the excitement and energy of exploring an idea, with someone equally, if not more, passionate about the topic. I got to enjoy that feeling of time flying by as we worked through our plan. I got to experience getting stuck, and working through a difficult stretch. I got to stand in front of the group of participants while Travis and I presented the work we were proud of and eager to share. Take away the time it took to get started, the side conversations, the coffee and muffin breaks and I bet we really only worked for three hours, but it was the most invigorating, challenging and thrilling three hours of work I have done in quite some time.

I was a learner. An engaged and motivated learner.

I think there are many of us who have been trying to re-imagine the staff meeting experience, have been trying to re-invent the PD day process and who have been looking for ways to ensure that professional learning is happening in the most powerful ways possible. Today I experienced powerful professional learning, so much so that I don’t think I can settle for hearing excuses why we CAN’T change the way we learn anymore. I know the excuses – PD days are too valuable, money is too tight, we can’t ask people to give up their own time – but after today they just don’t seem so compelling anymore.

We are trying to re-imagine the educational experience for our students, and things are moving relatively quickly, so why aren’t they moving when it comes to our professional learning? We have to start thinking of ourselves as learners too, and create our experiences with the same ideas and goals we would have for the learners we are serving each day.

Why am I so passionate about this? You would be too if you had a day like we had today. I know we are going to work to find ways to put more of these days on for our school staff, and hopefully our division staff. I challenge you to find ways to have this experience for yourself, your school or your division. The sun is setting on “sit-and-get” meetings and “stand and deliver” PD and I think its about time.

Think Tank


cc licensed ( BY SA ) flickr photo shared by ToddMorris

When I was a kid, I felt I was pretty smart, and I was secretly proud of that. While I put up a front that I was really all about sports, I liked being good at Math and Science. I remember once hearing about a Think Tank, and asked what that was. I remember a teacher telling me that it was a group of smart people that got together to come up with solutions to problems or inventions or something like that. For some reason, I pictured these geniuses meeting in actual tanks, big metal bunkers with doors like on a submarine, locking themselves away from potential idea thieves. I know, I was a weird kid. Even as I got older, I thought the idea of being part of a Think Tank might be the coolest thing ever. To date, I have never been part of a Think Tank, but to me the idea still seems great.

Today I went for a coffee with my friend George Couros. I always enjoy our conversations, George is one of those people who is always a few steps ahead of the rest of us and challenging the status quo. What I enjoy most about our conversations is that they always bring the best out of me. We talk, we come up with ideas for my school and for our division, and I leave feeling energized and empowered. It was on the drive home that I realized that meeting with George is like having my own personal Think Tank. Earlier this school year I was able to spend time with Travis McNaughton, an Assistant Principal in my division. We spent some time in his building and at a conference. With our conversations, I had a similar experience. Travis is a dynamic and brilliant administrator and in our time together we helped each other develop ideas for each of our buildings and even some ideas of how we might help others in our division. There are many others in my division and in my school with whom I have shared these invigorating conversations.

I am sure that in most divisions, people have groups of colleagues they share conversations with that change their practice and the direction of their schools. We all have the potential for our own Think Tanks, but are we doing whatever we can to have these Think Tanks assemble?

I am bad for relying on Social Media to be my connection to the smart people. I am on Twitter, posting and reading blogs, and sharing whatever I can to those conversations, but there is something about meeting with George and Travis and others from my division that brings more to the conversation. Whether it is a shared understanding of where we work, our students, our parent community etc, for some reason those conversations have so much more meat to them.

I propose that regardless of whatever excuse we use to avoid these meetings from happening, we make them happen anyway. No money for subs, no time in the day, conflicting schedules, these are no reason to stand in the way of these meetings when we all know the power that lies in these connections.

I  am unsure if the power of the face to face meeting only exists when people work in the same school or division. In fact, I plan on putting it to the test. I am going to be traveling in less than  three weeks to BC, and while there I am going to make my way to Surrey, Coquitlam and Agassiz to meet with Gallit Zvi, Jess Pelat, David Truss, Neil Stephenson, and Chris Wejr for face to face meetings to discuss various education issues. While the five of them don’t work in the same division or even same province as I do, I know from our connections on Social Media that we do share a lot in common. I have great faith that might be all you need for a face to face meeting to have the potential for great things to come from it. I’ll let you know.

Do you have your own “Think Tank”? What does meeting with your “Think Tank” provide for you? Where do you meet? When do you meet? What structure do your meetings take on? I would love to hear from others on this topic so leave a comment and get the conversations started!