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.

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.

Comments

  1. Leave a Reply

    John Hodges
    November 11, 2015

    Hi Tracy,
    Loved the edcamp and loved the video..the video proved something which you might not see as a person who has not attended and sometimes endured previous PD activities, but there were numerous clips of staff engagement from people who have, in the past, not participated as a matter of principle or boredom. That these clips are totally random shows the far reaching impact of this ped day. It brought a smile to my face to see smiling and talkative curmudgeons in the various groups. It goes to show that people rise to participate in activities that are meaningful to them and that they can contribute to. I loved that the camp included all members of the team, not just teachers!!

    Us teachers can be a hard and jaded lot….and not good students! Letting them determine their day, their groups, their conversations, etc., was wonderful, proactive, genius and…. well, why have we not done this before?

    It was good to keep the administrators out of the room, although finding a way to integrate them into the process without staff feeling at risk is perhaps the next step.

    Thanks to all of you for your gentle guidance and shepherding throughout the day!

  2. Leave a Reply

    Tracy Rosen (@tracyrosen)
    November 12, 2015

    Hi John and thanks so much for your comment! I loved reading your perspective as a participant. In particular, your question is very poignant:

    “…why have we not done this before?”

    Sometimes the simplest things are the ones with the most power.

    That being said, why not bring your last observation about how best to include administrators back to the community? There is nothing that you all can’t solve when you sit together and talk about it – your staff proved that at #NFSBMeCamp!

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