As many of you know, I was at Learning Forward‘s Annual Conference this week. This was the first time that I’ve been to a big conference that wasn’t specifically focused on Education Technology and it was pretty great. It was interesting to connect with so many educators over learning, and while technology definitely made an appearance in many of the sessions I attended, it wasn’t the focus…which was quite refreshing. It’s no secret, I’m a fan of technology, BUT (and this is a big one), I really approach Education Technology as another tool for learning- It’s like a pack of markers, a pen, or a Promethean board. It’s not the goal, it’s the vehicle to getting to the goal- our goal of learning and student success.
I clearly approach the learning that I do with a lens of ‘How might this benefit my teachers and the adults I work with?‘ So while I’m very focused on student learning & student success (I mean, it’s why we’re all here), I know that my influence ends with the teachers, so what I’m working on needs to make sense and be impactful for them.
Our blogging team member, Lacy had the idea that creating action items from what I learned at the conference will be the best way to make some real changes based on what I experienced. I think this is a great way to grow my professional practice as a result of my week, so I will definitely engage in that process (see below). I’m also going to take it a step further and share some dates for when I will do this as well the steps I’m going to take to make it happen. I want my PLN to hold me accountable…so if you want to know about my progress with these, ask me! Call me out (#iLoveFeedback).
There was a lot to learn at Learning Forward, but in order to make substantive changes, I’m going to pare it down to three things that really stuck with me (REALLY! They’re written in my magic notebook).
First: Creativity in Adult Learning
So this was a surprise session and ended up being my favorite. The educator reps from Crayola (yes, THAT Crayola) offered learning sessions every half hour of the conference at their vendor booth. While the vendor area was absolutely freezing, the learning made it SO worth it (as did the giant yellow crayon). The whole idea behind the session we did with them (it was focused on Adult Learning & Professional Development) was that we need to treat adults like adults, while still using best practices for teaching that we might use with our students. There are
I really liked this because it wasn’t focused on art per se. I felt like the focus was more on giving teachers a creative outlet to express themselves as they learn. I really connected with using art/craft supplies as a means to create the ‘first step’ work. So teachers come, they learn, and then I want them to come up with a first step action to put their learning into practice. I think this is an approachable way of doing it- and the reflective/sharing practice goes a long way to help people really clarify their thinking. I’m going to get more exciting ‘art’ supplies to have available for people during learning sessions I lead and build in time for various types of processing and reflection.
Second: Personalizing Experiences for Teachers and Students
Much of what I heard from presenters and keynote speakers was around personalizing experiences for our students. If you think about most things in our lives today- from the exciting Coke machine to the apps we use, to my lunch- it’s all customizable. I want my things the way that I want them…so why isn’t our education system more like that? Why can’t students choose more with the pace, place, & topics they learn? I think this is a question rattling around in the heads of many educators, which is a move in a potentially positive direction. Why would we stop with students on this? If we want teachers to include these opportunities for their students, then we (as designers) need to do a MUCH better job of modeling those practices for teachers.
As we plan Professional Development opportunities, we have to be the ones to build in options for people. Use the best practices that we want to see them implement. Try using data to inform the learning, work in choice for people, and make reflection a focus of the work we ask participants to do. Unless you want compliance work (which I don’t), changing your focus toward one of reflection can help get participants to think seriously about how they’re learning and what they’re learning. It also can go a long way to building up positive relationships if you’re valuing the reflections and words they share. When you build in a space and time for educators to share those reflections and ‘a-ha moments’ with other groups of educators, the sharing of resources, practices, and ideas is much more authentic and meaningful. You also get the (possibly) unintended consequence of supporting teachers and other educators as they build up their PLN (Professional Learning Network).
Third: Coaching Progression
This last one is very much tied into number two above, but the bulk of the work on the one is intended for me, as the coach. Rather than making the assumption that all of my teachers need or want the same learning and support, I can do a better job of individualizing that process and product for my teachers. In one of the sessions, the presenters shared their progressions that they use when coaching teachers, and there were a couple of components I really liked:
- Quantities of time were spelled out- the expected number of support hours for each teacher was listed on the progression, which was a great idea. That way, you’re goal-oriented on how much time you (as the coach) might spend with each teacher.
- The time was based on their levels/needs. In their specific case, they looked at how familiar each teacher was with the curriculum and how much experience they had. The less experience/familiarity led to higher numbers of support hours, and vice versa. We want to be supporting our least experienced teachers the most!
- Individual goals and milestones were laid out on the progression. That way, the coach knows what the teacher is working toward and can make sure that the coaching supports that/those goal(s).
Initially, I liked the idea on the surface, but I wasn’t completely sold. As I reflected on what was holding me back, I realized that this seemed like a more ‘behind the scenes’ operation, and that teacher buy-in might be limited. In my role, teachers aren’t compelled to meet with me- I have to make them want to work with me. I’m thinking that if I can get an idea of what the teachers want to accomplish by the end of the year, and then come up with a coaching progression together, including how many hours of support we anticipate them needing, their buy-in might be a lot higher. Additionally, during this initial meeting, making meetings throughout most of the year and booking them on the calendar would be crucial. That way, the time is already scheduled and it’s waiting on us.
So in an effort to do what I say I’m going to do, here’s the plan:
- In my next PD (January- Digital Breakouts), I will have more exciting art supplies and put butcher paper on the tables. I will ask participants to:
- Sketch out what change they want to see in their classroom (& share it with their small group).
- Sketch out what their first step is for making a change (at the end of the session) and ask them to take it, and post it in their classroom.
- I am going to plan more sessions with personalization in mind and I will use both data to inform instruction and work in rigorous choices for participants (Timeframe: January – March)
- By the end of December, I will develop a coaching progression with at least 20% of my teachers. I will create coaching progressions with all of my teachers by the end of January 2018.
If you want to hear more about my experiences at Learning Forward, check out our podcast (we recorded four episodes while we were there).