Posts Tagged professional learning

Creating Time for Teachers to Tinker With Ideas #RSCON4

Finding out what we are curious about.

Finding out what we are curious about.

We often hear criticisms about the lack of innovation and creativity from administrators and staff in schools.  I understand these concerns; however, my response is, “if innovation and creativity are important, why do we provide educators almost no time in the schedule to explore and play with questions and ideas?”

UPDATE:  The YouTube Video as well as the slides from the RSCON4 session are at the bottom of this post.

A couple years ago, I offered to cover 8 classes (spread out over a few weeks) prep-free so a teacher could tinker with an idea.  I called it the “Fed-Ex Prep: Time for Innovation” (based on the idea shared by Daniel Pink in Drive – you can read my reflection here) as I was providing time for teachers to explore… with the idea they would have to deliver something back to the staff. Although this was successful, it only provided time for one teacher at a time and relied solely on me to cover.  It was a good idea but not something that changed the structure or culture at our school.

In our school, like many others, we see pockets of innovation and brilliance but I think we need to work to create the conditions for staff to connect, share, and collaborate on ideas.  I wanted to build on the Fed-Ex Prep to encourage more time for innovation and I also wanted to create more time for teachers/staff to meet during the day so I spent much of last year reflecting and trying to determine ways to implement collaborative time into our school schedule.  I already knew the WHY so my how/what questions were:

  1. How can we create time for teachers and staff to collaborate without any additional cost?
  2. What will we focus on during this time?

I spoke with many people and toyed with many ideas around shifting the school schedule (that is tied to the bus schedule that impacts most of our students) but this was going to take at least a year to gather input and support from parents, community members, and educators… and after those discussions, we still may have had hurdles to clear.

At the same time I was exploring ways to create time, I was also reading/researching the idea of a Professional Learning Community (the DuFour model).  Many people were helpful in this research (big shout out to my friends Bill Ferriter and Cale Birk) and I began to try to engage our staff in moving toward a PLC model and creating time in the schedule.  I had an idea for time in the schedule and staff were on board for this time to collaborate; however as we started to move into the PLC model, I felt it was not fitting the culture of our school – I felt I was following a slightly top-down recipe rather than meeting our staff where they are and growing from there.  (This is not a criticism of the PLC model… more of a criticism of how I was trying to implement it. I learned a ton from the reading and conversations that shifted my thinking.)  After a few meetings with staff around this, it didn’t feel right so I threw a tweet out there that asked for Canadian educators’ experience (as our system is quite different than the US) with implementing a PLC model in an elementary school.  One response caused a significant shift in my thinking – Delta principal Dr. Janet Lauman said she had done her dissertation (a must read) on learning communities in BC schools and she had seen successes and failures.  She encouraged a “Living Systems” model she was using in her school that created time for staff to collaborate but was way more grass roots and free for innovation.  After a few phone calls, coffee at Tim Horton’s, and dinner with a few of our teachers, Janet and I came up with a plan of what it was to look like at our school.

This was not going to be a PLC model nor would it be focused on specific school goals (although the majority of our staff meeting time is professional learning based on our school goals).  This would be time for teachers to meet and tinker with ideas.  Here is a summary of the simplicity and how it works for our school:

  • In the final months of school, we created a new vision and mission statement for Kent School.  We also discussed the WHY of collaboration time.
  • In the summer, we decided that on Tuesdays and Thursdays, during the period before lunch, we would have our teacher-librarian, our music teacher, and me available to cover classes so teachers can meet (2-4 teachers/staff – our special ed teacher is also able to cover for special education assistants so they can meet with teachers).
  • In the summer, we also went through the details of the scheduling and then asked the question, “what are you curious about? If you were given prep-free time during the schedule, what would you explore?”  We then posted all the questions and ideas on a board and put them into themes (ex. Technology, writing, self-regulation, outdoor education, and fine arts were some themes that stood out).
  • Once the year started, I would create the schedule a week in advance and either staff would come to me with a need or question or I would go to them with encouragement to explore one of their questions.  The time could not be used for a typical prep.

The simplicity of this model concerned me.  Would this really have any impact on our students?  Would staff use the time effectively?

We are one month into our experience of being a living systems learning community and the impact thus far has been significant.  We have had a teacher and special education assistant completely redesign their room so it supports more students in their self-regulation needs.  We have had our intermediate teachers meet to discuss cross-classroom art themes to explore and teach.  Our music teacher worked with me to create a website that will help to better the communication with parents and share the musical learning happening in our school.  We have had teachers (classroom and spec ed) meet with our child care counsellor to develop ideas on how to more consistently work as a team to teach the needed social skills of some of our students who struggle with behaviours. Our teacher-librarian met with a few teachers to discuss inquiry-based learning and implementing a different reading framework. The best part of all this is the simplicity.  Our grade 6 teachers met with our First Nation Support Worker to discuss ways to embed learning around Residential Schools into many parts of the curriculum.  The time we have created is basically “seed” time.  The conversations do not end after 45 minutes; they continue through lunch as well as after school (in person and online).  The time gets the ideas growing and more and more staff are asking for more time to meet to continue to grow these ideas.

We have had a challenging September with a number of new students coming to our school that require significant support (that we do not always have).  The stress level is very high but in spite of all this, there is a culture of learning and positivity in the air.  Staff are excited to learn and grow with each other.

Although we have not provided Google’s 20% time and we have not provided time for every teacher each week, the seed time we have created has encouraged teachers to set aside their busy schedules, meet with another staff member and simply tinker with an idea. There is never enough time… but this model has provided a window in to the impact that just a little bit of time can have for teachers to create positive change by meeting and tinkering with ideas.  This model is messy and I do not know where this time together will lead us; however, it is also grassroots, strength-based, organic and all about meaningful, relevant, personalized professional learning. I am truly excited to see where our staff takes these ideas in the coming months.

This post will be one of a few stories shared to initiate dialogue during my presentation, “Educational Leadership: Creating the Conditions For Passion and Innovation”, at the FREE Reform Symposium Worldwide  E-Conference that happens October 11-13.  My session will occur at noon Pacific on Saturday, October 11.  Hope you can join us and share some ways we can create the conditions for more innovation and passion in our schools and learning environments.

#RSCON4

#RSCON4

Thank you so much to Janet Lauman for her insights and leadership.

Here is the YouTube Video as well as the slides from the RSCON4 session:

 

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Spirals of Inquiry Chat With @jlhalbert & @lkaser – May 26 #inqBC

Judy Halbert and Linda Kaser (image from http://bit.ly/10TVG39)

Judy Halbert and Linda Kaser (image from http://bit.ly/10TVG39)

Chris Kennedy and I are excited to host an upcoming Twitter chat with BC educational leaders and authors Judy Halbert and Linda Kaser. The chat will focus on key areas from their latest book “Spirals of Inquiry” (see below) and will take place this Sunday, May 26 at 8pm Pacific with the hashtag #inqBC.

Here is more info taken directly from Kennedy’s recent post:

Judy Halbert and Linda Kaser have been at the forefront of teaching and learning in British Columbia for decades. I have written previously about their work with theNetwork of Performance Based Schools (now the Network of Inquiry and Innovation). Their latest book Spirals of Inquiry For equity and quality is a welcoming book; it takes us from where we are and invites us on a team journey. Halbert and Kaser have a wonderful way of bringing us aboard and to become part of their team – “We have had the privilege of working together on system transformation for a number of years. We have experienced the joy of teamwork and the support that comes from facing challenges with a trusted learning partner. Inquiry is not a solitary pursuit. Meeting the needs of all learners is simply too big a task for any one leader, teacher, school or district to attempt alone.”

I have taken a stab at defining inquiry in my post All About Inquiry; I referenced the work of the Galileo Educational Network and in reviewing previous posts realize that I have made reference to inquiry in one out of every five posts written. Inquiry is THE buzz word in education, but while there is opportunity there are also drawbacks that can be attributed to one word used so often, by so many, in so many circumstances. There is general agreement we want more inquiry (the anti-inquiry movement is quite quiet), but exactly what this is and means is not clear. Although the work Halbert and Kaser describe is hard work, their approach is straight forward. I find it far more accessible than other frameworks and they provide structure without recipe.

Halbert and Kaser encourage us to start our investigation into inquiry with four key questions that “help move our thinking from a preoccupation with content coverage, to a focus on what learners are actually experiencing with the learning we are designing for, or with, them”:

  • Can you name two people in this school / setting who believe that you can be a success in life?
  • Where are you going with your learning?
  • How are you doing with your learning?
  • Where are you going next with your learning?

They move into their spiral approach, quoting Madame Gertrude de Stael, “The human mind always makes progress – but it is a progress in spirals.” Halbert and Kaser focus their spirals around several key questions continually coming back to the first:

  • What is going on for our learners?
  • What does our focus need to be?
  • What is leading to this situation?
  • How and where can we learn more about what to do?
  • What will we do differently?
  • Have we made enough of a difference?

While I researched the book to better understand the process of student inquiry, it reminded me that we, as teachers, need to be committed to the same efforts with our own learning.

Halbert and Kaser have created a book with useful approaches to both student and adult inquiry; more importantly, they validate the work in British Columbia, link the efforts they describe with existing practices in districts across the province, and do not hit us with a stick if we are not all doing it yet. I would argue this book should be a must read for all new teachers, and for educators with decades of experience, it is a reminder that we are all part of a big team, who need each other and that our students need us, for as Halbert and Kaser conclude, “Let’s stick together and stick with this work until every BC learner does indeed cross the stage with dignity, purpose and options.”

WANT TO LEARN MORE

Spirals of Inquiry is available through the BC Principals’ and Vice-Principals’ Association for $20 (all proceeds support innovative and inquiring schools).

I encourage you to join us and add your questions and insights May 26 at 8pm Pacific for this important Twitter chat on professional learning through inquiry.

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Leadership 2.0 – A Collaborative Learning Opportunity for School Leaders #leadership20

“It’s not what I know, it’s what we know. And my reality is that I would suddenly become much dumber if you told me I had to disconnect when seeking answers or solving problems.” — Will Richardson

No words can express how much I have learned from those that I have connected with both online and face to face.  The learning conversations that I participate in on a regular basis are often informal, ongoing, and thought-provoking; these connections have also led me to even more formal and informal learning opportunities.

My good friend George Couros has organized a fantastic learning opportunity that I am going to take advantage of – a learning series or MOOC (massive open online course) that is completely free, reflective, open to everyone, and based on the Alberta Principal Quality Standards.  Please join me and many others as we collaborate and take our learning to the next level in this 9 part webinar series on Tuesdays beginning October 2, 2012.

 
Leadership 2.0 Open Course #Leadership20

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Rethinking the Traditional Conference Model

Diane Ravitch gives the opening keynote at NAESP 2012.

I recently spent 3 days in Seattle at the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP) annual conference.  The 3 days were jam-packed with keynotes and plenary sessions by some well known thinkers and speakers like Diane Ravitch, Douglas Reeves, Rick and Rebecca Dufour, Rick Stiggins, Yong Zhao, Andy Hargeaves, Rafe Esquith, and Eric Jensen.  I came away from this event truly inspired…

My personal learning network at NAESP.

However, my inspiration was not solely from the speakers – much of my inspiration came from the brief but ongoing dialogue I had with 3 principals I met through Twitter: Scott Friedman (@irishscott), Christian Pleister (@cpleister), and Jeff Prickett (@jdprickett) – follow these awesome guys on Twitter – well worth connecting with them.  I attended the conference alone but because of social media, I was able to connect with these educational leaders, along with a few others, to discuss the words of the speakers and how we could use the ideas in our schools and education systems.

I have described before how my learning has been greatly impacted by social media… but I have to admit, although I was inspired at the conference, I was also very frustrated.  After 3+ years of learning alongside others through Twitter and blogs as well as participating in 2 Edcamps, I have learned the importance of taking the time to reflect and engage in powerful dialogue around ideas in education.  The schedule of this conference was similar to every other conference I have attended: keynotes and number of sessions compressed into a few days (although this conference had more “famous” speakers than any other I have attended).  The problem I have with this format of session 1, session 2, session 3, session 4 is that there is no time to reflect and discuss the HOW’s of education- HOW do we take the ideas of these thinkers and create change in our schools?

The Edcamp model allows a large chunk of time in between sessions for participants to dive deeper into the ideas.  In addition, the sessions themselves are not about being a spectator but more of being an active player in the discussions.  At NAESP, not only was there no time to connect with others face to face, but there was no wireless and thus, the multiple conversations that often occur in backchannels on Twitter was lost.  There was also no lunch provided… I am not disappointed in this because I had to reach into my pocket to buy lunch; I am disappointed because participants dispersed into their own schools and districts so very few opporunities were there to connect with new people (but as I said, I was privileged to be connected with others prior to the conference through SM).  At one point, as Andy Hargreaves was discussing innovation, I leaned over to Jeff and said, “how innovative is getting 1000′s of educational leaders in one place and have them… NOT talk for 3 days?”.

Now, I am not being critical of NAESP as the speakers they brought in were educators that I had looked forward to hearing and as I said, I came away inspired… but I think it is time to truly challenge the traditional conference model of professional learning.  The Edcamp model is one idea but I strongly believe that conference organizers just need to steal the collaborative idea of edcamps and build it into the conference.  Instead of going keynote, session 1, session, 2… why not have rooms dedicated to those who want to collaborate and dive deeper into the learning and ideas presented by the keynote(s)?  These areas could be completely free for participants to choose or could be focused on a specific topic or area of interest facilitated by an individual(s) determined prior to the conference.

It is no secret that funding for professional development is down and therefore, attendance in conferences is down.  I love the Edcamp model but I also think there is still a role for keynote speakers and session presenters.  In addition to rethinking the entire methods of professional learning (professional development days, etc), it is time to rethink how we do our professional learning so it is more cost effective and more collaborative.  It is time to rethink the traditional conference model.

What are your thoughts on conferences and professional learning?  Have you attended conferences that had a traditional conference model WITH time for collaboration?

A special thank to all those I met at NAESP – the inspiration for this post is the slight disappointment we did not get to learn more from you.

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You’re Invited! Edcamp Fraser Valley – Dec 3

Last April I attended the best professional learning day of my career: Edcamp Vancouver (for more on my experience as an “edcamper”, please click here).  Following this experience, I knew we had to bring an “unconference” like this to the Fraser Valley so along with some other admin, teachers, and parents, we have organized Edcamp Fraser Valley for Saturday, December 3 at Garibaldi Secondary School in Maple Ridge.

So what is Edcamp and why is it such an amazing learning experience? Grant Frend, one of the Edcamp FV organizers, describes it as:

One forum that enables educators [including students, parents, community] to engage in meaningful and relevant professional development is the Edcamp model.  What is Edcamp? Edcamp is organic, democratic, participant driven professional development for educators. There are no keynote presentations, there is no formal pre-set agenda, and participants set the course of the day.

My thoughts on Edcamp:

  • flattened hierarchies – voices from ALL people passionate about education can be heard rather than one expert and many listeners
  • participant driven – have a topic you want to learn more about – put up an idea and then join up with other interested people
  • all about conversation – the “empty vase” model of professional development does not exist at Edcamp -YOU drive the learning!
  • relationships – you get to meet new people that share areas of interest AND/OR you get to meet those people whom you have already connected with online
  • flexible schedule – the schedule is decided on the day and participants are encouraged to vote with their feet – they can decided to move to a different session at any time
  • networking sessions – there is much more time in between sessions to continue the dialogue or meet up with other participants to reflect on the sessions. Click here for the schedule for the day.
  • price is right – it is FREE! (unless you want lunch which is $5)

Here are some slides from David Wees (the educator who brought Edcamp to BC last year) that describe the Edcamp Vancouver model:

If you are a ANYBODY (students, parents, community members, trustees, educators, etc) interested in education in the Fraser Valley or beyond, come join us in Maple Ridge on December 3rd!

With the release of the BC Education Plan, this is a great opportunity to share and discuss the future of education in the province.  For more information and to register, please go to the Edcamp Fraser Valley website.  Join people already registered from the Frasey Valley, Lower Mainland, Vancouver Island, Okanagan and Washing State!

Also, like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter.  For an information sheet to distribute, click here. For more info, please contact me.

 

For a more in-depth talk on Edcamp, please watch the embedded video from Kristen Swanson:

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