Connect. Collaborate. Risk. Innovate.

Connect. Collaborate. Risk. Innovate.

Saturday, 28 March 2015

The People in the Room

          I have been privileged to be an educator for the past 16 years in a district that values innovation, risk taking, and ongoing professional growth and learning. The Engaging the Digital Learner series is just one example of an initiative that has been designed to celebrate, support, inspire and challenge educators, and it is one that has been especially impactful and meaningful for me. Having presented my own Ignite last year on Creating a Culture of Collaboration I have first hand knowledge of the exhilarating, and yes, somewhat nerve-wracking, experience that sharing one's passion in front of several hundred colleagues can be.
          This year, I have been fortunate to be able to work alongside Elisa Carlson, Director of Instruction for the Surrey School district, by assisting with the coordination of Ignite presentations. In her recent post, The Sharing Continues, Elisa captures the essence of the evening, noting that the learning extends beyond the room, and that "professional learning, in an era of technology, is now spilling out of its traditional boxes and spreading across organizations through the power of the internet and social media".
          In my role, I begin to connect with Ignite presenters via email and Twitter over the course of several weeks leading up to each subsequent session. In many instances, I've never met these individuals. As the largest school district in BC, Surrey is home to 101 elementary schools and 19 secondary schools. As well, some of our presenters travel from other districts and occasionally from other countries. But gradually, through numerous emails and across time zones and district boundaries, I come to "know" these individuals as they shape and refine their passions into a format that they are then able to share with their colleagues. What a privilege. 
          I finally have the opportunity to meet the Ignite presenters on the day of the session. I share their nervous excitement and anticipation as they move towards the appointed hour. While Elisa's video of the live streamed event provides the perspective of the audience, I have a unique perspective. Stationed at the front of the large banquet room, I am able to watch the audience, as the audience watches the presenters. As each subsequent presenter makes their way through their 20 slide, 5 minute presentation, I see their enthusiasm and passion mirrored in the faces of their audience. 
          Because as impactful and life changing as engaging in online platforms such as Twitter have been for me as I continue my own journey of professional growth and learning, these face to face sharing sessions hold their own power. I watch as individuals who have sometimes only "met" via social media, gather during each session, often playing the game of "match the tiny Twitter profile picture to the person". And I watch as that moment of recognition occurs and as individuals then greet each other like old friends. It's the same feeling that I get when I have the opportunity to meet, and shake the hand of a presenter for the first time. I get to match the passion and excitement conveyed by the numerous conversations via email, with the individual. 
          So while the Engaging the Digital Learner series celebrates and supports the principle of digitally connected educators and students, it also provides the essential opportunity for those irreplaceable face to face connections that form the foundation of a collaborative, trusting and innovative community. Yes, sometimes it's about reaching out, but other times it's just about spending some time with the people in the room. 
Surrey School District SD #36 Engaging the Digital Learner: Learning by Design series.


Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Context. Connections. Community.

          Context. Connections. Community. These are the elements of Parent/Teacher evenings that I value most. Yes, they're also about important conversations centred around student learning. And for my students, those conversations will be self directed. But as essential as those conversations are, for me it's the additional level of context, or insight into a students' life that is the most rewarding element of such a night.
          Facilitating Student Led conferences allows me the luxury of inviting more than just the "obligatory" parent into my classroom. Unlike some more traditionally structured parent/teacher interviews, Student Led conferences can be designed as a celebration of learning, where students are encouraged to share their successes, triumphs and challenges with parents, siblings, aunts, cousins or any other significant individual in their lives that they choose. I've written in previous posts about how essential it is to learn the stories of our students, and how this can often be a daunting task. I teach in a school of close to 1500 students...that a lot of stories to learn! But an essential piece of those stories is missing if we aren't inviting our communities into our schools. Each piece that I can add to that very complex puzzle provides context, context that informs how I can best support and empower my students in their learning and growth.
          One particular "story" comes to mind. A grade 11 boy. Typically quiet, even sullen in class. Try as I might, I couldn't get this kid to crack a smile. And believe me, I tried. As the time for Student Led Conferencs approached, I was pretty sceptical that this particlar student would attend. No surprise that for most teens, the prospect of having a conversation with families about "their learning" isn't exactly met with great enthusiasm. It takes some preparation and encouragement on my part, and the sincere promise that students will be determining the content and direction of these conversations...they choose the focus and the elements that they wish to share. I shake hands, offer coffee and cookies, and step back to allow the student to step up.
          But much to surprise, at the appointed hour not only did my grade 11 saunter through the door, but he was followed by both parents and the cutest, bubbliest, dressed in frills, little girl, who as I soon to discover was his sister. What immediately struck me how different my "sullen" student was with this little girl in tow. He proudly showed her where he sat, pointed out a poster on the wall that he'd comlpeted, and led he over to a computer to show her his blog. It was pretty clear that he doted on this little girl. The enormous grin on his face while she admired his work was evidence of that. Her presence transformed him. And it gave me an "in", a context, a connection.
          The next morning in class, this same grade 11 boy reverted back to his typically quiet, sullen self. Until I began to ask him questions about his little sister, at which point a small, shy grin replaced his usually stone-faced expression. That connection opened to door to a relationship that I was able to nurture and grow for the remainder of the semester. It established a level of trust. It gave me an "in", an opportunity to discover how best to support this student in his social, emotional and academic growth.
          So for me, as essential as it is for students to take ownership of their learning by leading their own conferences, the true rewards of such an evening come from the insight that I gain into my students' lives. Context. Connections. Community.
Adding pieces to the puzzle...