November 11, 2015

How do you reflect on your craft?

Page 3 by Epershandrea on Flickr

Page 3 by Epershandrea on Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

When I paint or draw or work on some sewing, it is easy to lose myself in the details. I can spend hours – days! – on a small corner of an art project. Many more times than once, I have had to paint over or rip out stitches from that small corner because it just didn’t fit with the bigger picture. Each time, I am reminded of the importance of stepping back on a regular basis to make sure the details support the project as a whole.

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.

Posted in: Blended Learning, PD
November 6, 2015

The community was the star of the show at #NFSBMeCamp

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 ….

No set agenda

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 ….

Creating the day's sessions

Creating the day’s sessions

and then spends the rest of the day in sessions that are important to them. We called the day #NFSBMeCamp, after the school board’s continuing education website NFSB.Me

(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…

Consultants hard at work

Consultants hard at 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!

John's take

John’s take

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.

Posted in: PD
May 11, 2015

(still!) Struggling with technology

internet_error In 2015. we should not be struggling with technology at teacher conferences.

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?

Let’s embrace our realities and then forge ahead.

If the realities of our centres are weak technological infrastructures, let’s work from there. I can absolutely work with teachers to develop robust and relevant learning situations that focus on collaboration and creativity in a concrete box – but I need to know the parameters.

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.

image source: Gawd! i hate computers!by Chrstphre Campbell on Flickr, shared via a CC BY 2.0 license.

February 18, 2015

What is PD?

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?


Posted in: PD