Back in my early days of blogging…somewhere before and around 2007… there was a lot of talk about shifting priorities in education as a result of technology. Just for fun, I looked through my old blog archives and found these articles from that time:
Learning the way they’re living … where I write about the teacher’s evolving role as a connection maker, connecting students to their learning with technology.
Why technology in schools? And how do I lead something that is constantly changing? 😉…where I write about how technology can not be separated from the rest of life.
Also at around that time, I remember the hype around Shift Happens. They are a series of videos that were first published in 2007, based on a presentation created for a staff meeting in 2006, called Did You Know? Basically, the videos show us statistics about how and how often technology is used and the underlying message is that we are preparing learners for jobs that do not yet exist.
Recently I was at a Google Leadership Symposium where the facilitators were sending the exact same message – that we are preparing our learners for jobs that do not yet exist and that technology needs to play an integral role in that preparation.
10 years later and we are still preaching the same message with as much fervor.
So I ask myself – what has (or hasn’t happened) in the past ten years to replace the skip on the broken record?
Is it time to shift the shift?
A 2015 study by CEFRIO (a centre that facilitates organizational research and innovation around technology) came to the conclusion that Quebec teachers are, at best, in the infancy stage of technology use. Early adopters? That number is at less than 15% of teachers.
CEFRIO (2015) Usages du numérique dans les écoles québécoises (Use of technology in Quebec schools)
So. Preaching hasn’t worked. Scare tactic or shock videos like Shift Happens, haven’t worked as much as we might have liked them to. Targeted training by a network of consultants in technology hasn’t worked as much as we might have liked it to.
I remember a poster in the classroom of a colleague many years ago – it went something like
If you have explained it to me the same way a million times and I still don’t get it…who is the slow learner?
It was in response to well-meaning teachers or tutors who sometimes just re-explain things, only louder and slower, in the hopes that their charges will ‘get’ whatever it is they don’t understand.
So what do we do? Do we continue to offer technology training, only louder?
Yesterday I had a conversation with a colleague about how, too often, the important conversations about our students and the roles technology play in their learning are happening between the people who already agree with the outcomes.
My conclusion? Those are interesting conversations but they are not the important conversations.
EdCamps and Twitter chats – PD that happens on Saturdays, in the evenings, on our own time – are fabulous for inspiration and motivation because when we get together with like-minded people we become a mutual cheering society and that can be motivating in the We. Are. Awesome! kind of way. But again – the conversations are happening with those who already believe in the outcomes. They are interesting but not important in a change the culture kind of way.
Important conversations need to include many voices. Not only the ones that echo each other.
I think we have moved past the point where EdCamps need to remain voluntary and on our own time to be valid. What if we move the edcamp philosophy into our places of work? What if we
allow expect educators to have conversations about what is important to them as a part of their in-service PED days? It is something we are experimenting with in Quebec’s Adult Education community.
Simple, truthful conversation where we each have a chance to speak, we each feel heard, and we each listen well. Conversation is the natural way we humans think together. We may have forgotten this, or no longer have time for each other, but it is how good thinking grows into actions that create real change.
~ quote from Margaret Wheatley
Conversations about what matters to us are necessary to the human existence. Necessary! How human to have these conversations in the places where we congregate to help people learn how to participate in society and create a better future for us all.
These conversations may be difficult ones. They may get messy. But, facilitated in a caring, open, and practical way they may likely become the important ones.
I think they will form the basis for the shift.
That is why I call teaching a craft – the same process applies. Sometimes I can be so intent on teaching a specific concept or skill that I lose focus on the big picture. In fact, it happened the other day: I was working with some teachers, doing some professional development around the idea of using stations in adult ed. Usually when I work with teachers, I feel a sense of flow but…not that day. I had tried to fit in a specific activity that I really liked but it just wasn’t right for the kind of work we were doing and the afternoon ended up feeling … disjointed. More tragically, I felt I had wasted the teachers’ time.
Luckily, I had facilitated the afternoon with a colleague and we were able to de-brief right away as the session ended. The centre’s pedagogical consultant participated in the afternoon session and she gave us some immediate feedback as well.
Like I wrote, we were fortunate in that we were able to receive immediate feedback and reflect together. But what about the teacher who is alone in the classroom? How can you reflect on your craft?
Sure, there is lesson planning but I know that what is planned is not always what actually happens when I am live with students! And classroom time always goes by so quickly – how are we able to capture and reflect what actually happens with students in a classroom?
As a student teacher 20 years ago, my advising teacher used to videotape me from the back of the classroom. Some of my richest learning as a student-teacher happened while viewing those videos. I had no idea that I put my hand in front of my mouth each time I spoke! Seeing it happen and hearing my muffled voice was a much more concrete lesson for me and my teaching than if she had written me a note on my evaluation.
A few weeks ago I shared Daniel’s story about why he records his lessons. In that video, he talks about how the recordings help his students to be more successful in his math courses. That was the first reason why he records, the second reason is as a tool for reflecting on his own practice, his own craft of teaching.
Hear it in his own words:
Daniel’s video is part of a new PD Mosaic tile called Reflective Practice: Using Video to Improve Teaching.
Earlier this year, I was honoured to work with some some administrators at the New Frontiers School Board in Chateauguay, Quebec who were willing to take a risk. They handed over the control for their staffs’ professional development to…well, to their staff!
Not only that but they documented the risk-taking, which I find both courageous and generous. My favourite parts are when teachers describe what they got out of the experience. So here is a video of the day and once you finish watching it, continue reading below to find out how this day came about. The video was filmed by Chris Alsop of Captura Video and coordinated by Chuck Halliday of the NFSB.
How it started
A group of us, RECIT consultants, local and external consultants, centre directors, and school board directors and coordinators, got together to plan a service PED day – traditionally a time when everyone involved in NFSB Continuing Education – teachers (Academic and Vocational), office staff, technicians, maintenance staff, EVERYONE – gather to attend workshops on various subjects. This time, we weren’t going to offer workshops and they weren’t going to separate the participants by job description. We were going to facilitate a day of participant-centered and participant-directed conversation about connecting with diverse learners, whatever your role.
PD that just makes sense
It made so much sense to do this. As one of the administrators pointed out – we ask our teachers to differentiate learning for their students, to create student-centered classrooms…shouldn’t we be doing the same for our staff?
They decided to model the day on an EdCamp style of PD, which is essentially an un-conference. That is, a conference that has no set agenda ….
but is basically a space for like-minded people to get together to talk about the things that are important to them. Whoever attends, defines the agenda in the morning ….
(by the way – just an aside – Avi and I have decided that the post-it is our technology of choice this year.)
Making the shift
I was thrilled with the day! Energy levels were high and there was a buzz of conversation throughout the centre. Was it perfect? Did every single participant get what they needed out of the PED day? No, probably not. But it was a perfect start. We are so used to attending workshops where we sit and listen so making the shift to participant-driven PD takes practice!
It’s a shift for consultants as well as participants. Instead of presenting a workshop about how to collaborate online, we designed a workshop where the participants were asked to document their learning with collaborative, cloud-based tools. It is hard for a consultant to let go of the PowerPoint! In fact, there were no presentations beyond a short intro to the day and a photo montage summary at the end of the day. Instead, it was a day of conversation-based PD.
So where was the technology, guys????
It was a pervasive and seamless part of the process but it was not centre stage. We modeled using technology for collaboration (Google Drive for session notes), extrapolating data (Word clouds based on session notes), and generating instant artifacts of the day’s events for the closing session (slide show of images and word clouds from the sessions). Most importantly, we got out of the way and allowed the community the space to talk about what matters most to them.
So basically, this is what consultants do while the staff do all of the work…
Not a bad gig, eh?
So, what’s next?
You’ll have to wait and see… Looks to me like there are some high expectations, though!
Quick edit – Avi wrote about our first follow up session to this day here: Tackling absenteeism through technology and we are doing our next follow up session in January. The idea that the work we do with teachers is based on their conversations, their preoccupations is more important to me than you can know.
Over the past little while, I have participated – as both presenter and (not so innocent) bystander – in a few teacher conferences or PD sessions. At each of them, there have been major issues with the technological infrastructure (ie – the wifi!) that got in the way of the learning that was going on.
At one conference, I was asked to speak about allowing for mobile technology in the classroom. I had spent a lot of time preparing hands-on activities for the teachers who chose to participate in my workshop. Once I arrived and was ushered into a concrete block classroom with a techie who had to hard-wire my laptop to a wall so I could access my presentation and show a video…I had a feeling there might be a problem with my regularly scheduled programming…
…and I was right. The teachers couldn’t even access the Internet on their personal devices since we were essentially encased in concrete.
At another conference, I was a participant in a workshop where two teachers who had spent a lot of time preparing their presentation on using technology with their students were unable to show us some of their work because of weak wifi.
And we wonder why teachers are reluctant to use technology in their classrooms.
If anything, the scenarios described above reflect some of the frustrating reality in our centres of learning and our methods of professional development.
–> Think about it – I was presenting a session on mobile technology in a room whose very architectural structure blocked access to mobile technology to a group of teachers who were going to go back to teach in the same kinds of rooms the following Monday.
So what do we do? Where do we go from here?
So I need to start asking questions about those parameters before I plan for PD. I tend to ask conference organizers about the participants – who are they, what levels/subjects/programs/student groupings do they teach and if they allow for student devices in the room, but I need to ask questions about the classroom environments they work in. I need to ask about teaching environments and the infrastructures that support those environments within the centres as well as outside of the centre walls. Think of the usefulness of providing PD that supports tech use in an area where the majority of a centre’s clientele does not have access to technology for cultural or socio-economic reasons. That kind of data is necessary to help shape the design of my PD.
When it comes down to it, I want to make sure that what I provide for teachers is relevant and useful for them and the learners in their care. I do not want to waste their time with anything less.
On another level, we (all of us, teachers, consultants, parents, administrators, students, community partners) need to put pressure on our school boards to ensure that we have what we need to create learning environments that meet our needs – and that goes for technology as well as safety and security.
Access to technology. Technology infrastructure. These are things that we need to think about. And we need to think about them long and hard before we frustrate people with professional development that does not reflect their reality.
Short answer: it’s professional development.
Unpack that, though. What is it?
Is it something I do because there are days in the school’s calendar that are identified as such?
Is it something I look forward to or something I tolerate?
Does it usually represent my specific needs or those of my students – subject matter, classroom configurations, background, culture, role in the school system (if you are not a teacher or wear many hats)…?
Do I consider it as an important part of my teaching (or consulting, or administrative, or insert role in education here) practice?