I have been teaching and consulting - from primary school through adult education - since 1996. Currently an education consultant with la Commission scolaire de la Seigneurie-des-Mille-Îles in Montreal, Quebec, I believe that sharing our stories is the key to getting better together.
I need to make a confession. I used to hate webinars. Like, really hate them.
As a participant, I found them insufferable. I’d be one of a list of faceless people to whom the animator asked, on repeat, “can you hear me?” In between those questions, the animator would present her or himself as a head with a microphone, reading the bullet points off of the presentation that surely accompanied them. I’d think – just let me read it myself. More often than not the sound was horrible, amplified by feedback and 2-second delays via participants who left their own microphones on during the presentation. And, when it is all happening in French it becomes not just hard to understand but plain exhausting.
And as an animator, I would be the one asking, “can you hear me?” since it was often the only time I’d get proof that there were actual people behind the list of names to the left or right of my screen.
I said that I used to hate them. I am starting to like them. Like, really like them.
Webinar on Flexible Classrooms
Earlier this year, I listened to Martin Lahaie, pedagogical consultant from the Commission scolaire du Chemin-du-Roy, tell the story of a research project on flexible classroom environments involving two teachers: Yannick Buisson (French, CCBE) and Sylvie Gravel (Math, DBE). The project is in conjunction with Nadia Rousseau, researcher from Université de Québec à Trois Rivières.
What I enjoyed about that webinar is that we were a small group, so there was interaction throughout the presentation. The smaller a group is, the more people can talk. This is true in the classroom, the conference room, or via distance education. I felt that he was talking with us and not just presenting the content of his presentation.
Social Media and ME webinar
The following week, I co-hosted a webinar with Caroline Mueller, teacher from Place Cartier Adult Centre of the LBPSB. We wanted to do the same thing – talk with small groups of people instead of at them, but we had a larger group of close to 40 participants. So we took advantage of online breakout rooms and organized the webinar into stations. We were each at a different station and so we each spoke with all of our participants even though it was a larger group. Here is the result of that webinar, including resources and some video: Social Media & ME Webinar resources.
Quebec Social Integration Network webinar
Soon after that, I was involved in an Apres-cours webinar offered by the Quebec Social Integration Network. The teachers who began the network presented a website they had created via an interactive webinar. Each teacher was in a different breakout room to facilitate discussion and sharing about different parts of the website. Participants were able to access the material and presenters easily.
Each of these webinars mattered to me as a co-presenter or participant for different reasons – mainly because in each one I was able to interact with the material and the people in different ways.
It is just another environment for learning so…
That last bullet point is huge. So what can that look like?
And please don’t forget to…
So, my hate affair with webinars is starting to end. When we think about online learning as just another way to learn then we realize that, just like when we are face to face, we want to focus on creating opportunities for connection and interaction with the learning materials and with each other.
Last night, I worked with close to 60 student-teachers in McGill’s MATL program. I was invited in by their instructors, Caroline Mueller and Heather McPherson. They asked me to plan a lesson that would allow the student-teachers to experience learning with technology (as opposed to learning how to use technology) in the context of their course, Cross-curricular Teaching Methods. We worked together in one of McGill’s Active Learning Classrooms, which provided an environment that allowed for flexible ways of working together.
Since the course is about the CCC, what I taught wasn’t as important as how I went about it. Caroline suggested I recycle a lesson I did with her students at Place Cartier last year and then again last week so that is what I did…and it worked for close to three times the intended audience.
I organized the entire lesson via a website. I can’t emphasize enough that visual instructions are more effective than oral instructions. How many times have I given extensive instructions to a group of learners and as soon as I say, Go! There is a moment of inaction and then I see and hear this:
Organizing everything on a website solves the issue of having to re-explain the instructions any number of times after having already said them. It saves time and it allows the learners to help each other without having to rely on their memories for important instructions . This can be helpful for students who aren’t sure as well as for students who may arrive late. The website deals with the logistics of a lesson, saving my time for interacting with learners around their learning. I prefer this to paper-based instructions because, frankly, I am fed up of cleaning those papers off of the floor after a lesson. Also, if I decide to change the instructions at any point, the website always has the latest version.
When students interact with a website, they are also practicing literacy skills. Finding the information, reading the instructions, being able to move easily between the different pages of a site in order to accomplish their tasks – all of this helps them in their ongoing literacy development.
I used Google Sites to organize my materials. Google tools are great BUT they have horrible URLs or web addresses! I use QR Codes and Short Links to make sure that my students have access (without frustration!) to the materials I create for them. If you teach second language learners, little kids (or actually – just about any clientele!) you have probably experienced the torture of everyone trying to type in a web address at the same time and the inevitable, “It doesn’t work“s that are yelled out when letters are omitted during typing. You can do a search for QR Code generators or Short link generators to find one that you like. It means the difference between asking your students to type in a link that looks like this: https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1C8EAbZtMvOHxDOrt4OnxJVU-MWYP-_okZGP-Ut7wQk4/edit?usp=sharing
or one that looks like this: http://bit.ly/selfiespresentation Even easier? Point your phone or tablet at this QR Code and it can bring you to the same place without having to type anything at all – saving a student’s time and energy for interacting with the material, not accessing it.
The way that I organize my materials and ensure that students have access to them has a lot to do with how they will interact with the course content. With this lesson, I divided the students up into groups and they went through each section of the lesson using a Station Rotation model.
Working in stations allows for so many things to happen. Most importantly, it helps to increase relationship around learning – between student and teacher and between students themselves.
Last night, I had close to 60 student-teachers working in three stations. The groups were not small so I organized the activities within each station to be done in even smaller groups. Caroline and I each had a teacher station so that the groups could be divided down even further when it came to interacting with the teacher. Because of this, I was able to speak with each of the students in a way that would never had been possible had I presented to them all as a large group. In the classroom, this station becomes a rich site of formative assessment.
For the other stations, students were asked to be active participants in their learning. They were making sense of the information together. They were able to choose between different activities that spoke to them. I organized their interaction so as to amplify their thoughts and input as much as possible. There was time for reading, for recording, for designing, for writing, for viewing, for talking, for reflecting, and for helping each other.
Here is the website I created to guide the students through all of these experiences:
At the end of the lesson, I usually present something similar to the info in this blog post alongside descriptions of what competencies we were working on at the different stations. This time, I added an interactive slide to the presentation I was using and asked the students to indicate which CCC they felt were being targeted over the course of the evening by moving little dots around the slide. The final result looked like this… For the course instructors, the mixed results may indicate that CCC are still not fully understood in the same way by all of their student-teachers.
Some of the dots you see above were actually much larger at one point. I think the student-teachers who decided to blow up the dots minimized them a bit since last night…
My favourite part about this activity had to do with the conversation it opened up about how this will likely be how many of their students will act the first time they do a new activity with them. And that usually students try to find fun in learning – especially when they are trying new things that they aren’t sure about. And that is ok, it is their job as students to do that! And it is our job as their teachers to talk with them and to keep trying new things so that they become used to doing things differently.
I did not explicitly talk about the framework with the student teachers. I felt that I was already asking them to do a lot last night! But what I did do was model how to target and develop the CCC using technology and digital resources. Much of the new Digital Competency Framework does address the CCC from the context of learning, teaching, and doing with technology.
When working through the framework with some TLTs a few weeks ago, a number of the teachers were concerned about how too much of an emphasis on a specific technology framework might continue to keep technology as something separate from everything else we do.
I think that modeling the features described in the framework while addressing elements of the programs we teach could be a first step towards truly integrating what we do with technology and digital resources into everything else we do with our students and colleagues. Explicitly. Actively.
That title totally doesn’t make sense. But at the same time, it does. We are at the beginning of a new school year and with that comes new initiatives and new focuses. Schools have Welcome Back! PD days where we are told we have to design and deliver explicit direct instruction through high impact practices or use blended learning to revisit mastery-focused literacy solutions within professional learning communities or use design thinking to collaborate on innovative solutions for competency development in our 21st century at-risk learners!
Ok. Full disclosure – those sentences were created with this Educational Jargon Generator. They make us laugh (maybe) and that is because they are so close to the truth of what we hear maybe a little too often in education. (And those didn’t include any acronyms! How’s about we PLC about RTI with CCBE and DBE teachers in FGA and FP? We can submit a PDIG application for that.)
We so often throw around these words and phrases without really thinking about or clarifying what it is we actually mean. I think we use jargon because it is much quicker to throw out a catch-phrase than to spend time talking about what we really mean by it. And when we are quick to identify THE solution, THE key to all of our problems then we assume that it won’t take long to fix whatever it is we think our problem is.
And we can say we ticked the box next to this year’s must-have professional development about innovation or technology or whatever.
But, then, what happens when our problem isn’t fixed? We give up, go onto the next theory or catch-phrase, and start all over again.
Oh, Flexible Spaces, we tried that last Fall. It didn’t work.
The thing is, the downside of using buzzwords or jargon too often is that they lose meaning. You just may end up with a group of people who all say they are “differentiating” or “innovating” or “designing flexible spaces with UDL” or “using design thinking” or “leveraging technology” or “insert buzzword here” without actually checking in with each other that we all carry a shared understanding of what each of those words or phrases mean. Even worse, the word can end up ruining the practice:
“[Buzzwords] are a dangerous mechanism to lose sight of things that bring value to organizations and affect the bottom line. Buzzwords make us tired of hearing about it. They make us crave the day before we heard about it. They solidify patterns that hold firm on the status quo. Sometimes that buzzword may be something you actually need to do, and dismissing it puts your business [or practice] at significant risk.
Beyond Buzzword: Innovation and Design Thinking by Erika Bailey
Each of those buzzwords originated in a practice built on respect for student learning and the teachers who work with students every day. Any of those things, when given time and space and clarification (and…more time and space and clarification!) CAN be a solution. They CAN be a key. But none of them are THE key or solution.
I think if anything comes close to THE key or solution, it would be the time and space to talk about and act on what matters to us as educators – and to include students in those conversations. This quote is almost cliché, it has been used so often, and it is so true:
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”Margaret Mead – disputed citation
So my focus this school year will be on innovation without “innovation”.
In other words, I don’t want to innovate without having conversations with my colleagues and with students about why and what and how. This process takes longer because, well, change and planning for great things takes time.
I feel this way because I love my job. I care about learning. I care so much about the people I work with and the students we all work for.
And really, I don’t want to tick an innovation box, even if we leverage technology to do so 😉
I spent Wednesday morning watching some students present their final websites to their classmates in Caroline Mueller’s Social Media and ME course at Place Cartier Adult Education Centre.
I am so glad I did.
Behind all of the work we do developing resources,
integrating technology, making websites, writing grant proposals, going to conferences, presenting workshops, collaborating with different groups, getting better as teachers and consultants…. there are the students.
The websites ranged from a presentation of a variety of favourite things to very specific purposes. One student created a site as a way to start her own photography business, another created one to support her brother’s business in St Lucia. In each site, I could sense the personal relationship to its creator.
Some of the students talked about overcoming their personal struggles throughout the course and through their sites. I heard stories of dealing with depression, of managing as a young single parent, of working night shifts before coming to school, and even one person who had just lost a close friend. One student had never typed before, let alone use Google apps to make a website! His first job was in a gold mine in his home country to make money to come to Canada.
And this was all over the span of two hours.
One student said, “There were times where I was frustrated and wanted to break things. It was difficult but worth it. Especially with a 2 and 3 year old at home!”
So, when I am tired and frustrated about the work I do I am going to remember these brave people who are working so hard to become their better selves. They give me hope for the future – they should give us all hope for the future.
You can visit their sites and find out more about Caroline’s course at her course website:
Digital Action Plan. New courses. New partners. New projects. New people.
It has been a busy year and if there is one word to describe the past 180 days, it has to be collaboration.
Collaboration in education usually invokes images of smiles and people getting along while working on projects. When we say collaboration, maybe this is the picture we have in our head. And when we don’t want to collaborate with people, maybe it is because we think that it will be really difficult to attain that image with the particular people involved – if not impossible.
I think collaboration needs to be so much more than getting together (smiling and getting along) to achieve a pre-set something – whether it be a learning resource, an evaluation situation, a video, a set of ideas, a workshop, or an article.
Years ago, I read an article that I keep coming back to, Conflict amid Community: The micropolitics of teacher collaboration by Betty Achinstein. Her research demonstrated that, too often, what was missing from collaboration and community was conflict. (Not the yelling at each other and fighting kind of conflict, the opposing viewpoints kind of conflict.)
Now, we might think that to be a good thing. But, really, it is not. Conflicting opinions exist in community. When we ignore that, when we think there is only one way to do things, then we get into dangerous territory of privilege and oppression. When we focus on only one way of doing things, then we lose out on a diversity of ways of doing and being that, when put together, become something new, something great.
And that is what Betty Achinstein found. That when teachers collaborated on various projects, they very often met with conflict. The knee-jerk reaction to conflict is to make it go away – to smooth things over, to concede to something that we may not agree with, or to choose to exclude diverse viewpoints from the conversation. But, when conflict was allowed to happen, when teachers listened to each others different points of view and worked together anyways, they were able to achieve great things. Together. And the community got stronger. And individually, people felt better because they were heard and together they were contributing to the betterment of their community.
This year, I worked on many projects with many different people. Our Adult Education RECIT team in the English community doubled in size, beyond that, the RECIT network more than tripled in size. There was a demand for more resources to support the English network and so I have been starting to work with more people across it – from the youth sector into the adult sectors – and we each have our ways of doing and being that become part of our collaboration process.
And so of course – conflict occurs. When it is talked about and worked through and accepted as a part of the process, I believe that what we are working towards is better. Universal Design in education is steeped in empathy – the designing of learning environments and products with the greatest possible potential users in mind. How can we do that without listening to, considering, and integrating opposing viewpoints?
Each year around this time, as I start to think about the year to come, I ask myself – how are we getting better? When my ideas were challenged this year during collaboration, the end results were always better because they included multiple points of view. It wasn’t always easy for me and sometimes it took longer than I wanted, but it was always better. So my wish for next year, is that we continue to challenge each other so that we can continue to get better. Together.