Why are difficult conversations so difficult?

This month in Modern Learners Community our theme is difficult conversations. I don’t think anyone particularly enjoys conflict. As a new principal, I fell into the “tries to avoid conflict at all costs” style of leadership, which frankly wasn’t helpful in most situations. I learned over time and with experience that conflict could be productive. That, through relationship building, a focus on listening, and acquired mediation and people skills, difficult conversations could, indeed, have positive outcomes. And, not only that, most of the time, those difficult conversations were necessary. 

Why are difficult conversations so difficult?

They evoke feeling.

They make us question things we believe.

They strain relationships.

What makes me most uncomfortable about these difficult conversations, particularly those around topics like racism and power inherent in school systems, is that I hadn’t really been asked to confront these ideas for at least my first 15 years of serving as an educator.  Not in undergrad. Not in grad school. Not as a classroom teacher. Began to scratch the surface as a principal, but my awareness of needing to evoke difficult conversations has come as the direct result from continued connections with other educators; by reading, reflecting, and listening to those whose life experiences and needs differ from my own.

Difficult conversations are necessary. And they arise when we’re placed in a space where learning needs to occur. Don’t shy away from the conflict. Don’t turn off the conversations. Learn.


How I’m Learning Lately

Reflecting on Educon contributions from Val BrownThankful for her willingness to share the resources from Teaching Tolerance that have been instrumental in guiding our work with educators inside MLC and beyond. My biggest takeaway from her sessions that weekend were that the same provocations and strategies we should use with students to confront issues of racism and power need to be addressed with every adult leading the way. We can’t do this work if we don’t first work to acknowledge our own biases and then take action to change.

Reading Digital Minimalism and joining in Doug Belshaw’s bookclub hosted via We are Open co-op’s Slack.

Listening to the Modern Learners podcast – now available on Spotify!

Watching Won’t You Be My Neighbor? Childhood memories. Tears upon tears. Feelings and truly honestly believing Fred Rogers gets me as a human being. To him, the world’s greatest evil is “people trying to make you feel less than you are.”

“Love is at the root at everything, all learning, all relationships, love or the lack of it.”

Writing in Modern Learners Community. And writing some more.

Curating a list of must-reads for the community. What’s on your to-read list?

 

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

A commitment: Write to learn.

Educon 2011

Last night in our regular Shifting Conversations, Live! event inside Modern Learners Community (we basically join up in Zoom and have the most thought-provoking and enjoyable conversations ever!), we discussed Bruce’s latest post: It’s Time for your Professional Learning Checkup.

We talked through many of the questions that Bruce shared in his post, and we admitted quite vulnerably how we described ourselves as learners. This caused us to think more about how our students see themselves as learners and what conditions we create in our classrooms that either make them feel comfort in the learning space or that cause them to feel anxious, or could block potential learning opportunities.

Many of the participants shared the power of writing for reflection, and how important writing was to their own learning process.

And it made me think of this blog, and how infrequently I post here. And it made me sad.

I spend a lot of time writing. Every day, every week, I write.

It’s just that the writing is going elsewhere – it’s being shared in our community or to contribute to other projects and it’s not making its way into this space. The one I crafted so long ago to serve as documentation of my learnings and wonderings.

So here we are.

The takeaways from last night’s talk align nicely with my To Do list for the next two days: Attend Educon.

This will be my fourth Educon, and the first where I’m not presenting.

This year, for me, it’s about listening and learning. Questioning and looking inward. Wondering and reflecting.

And I can’t wait.

In 2011, I had the chance to sit on a panel of speakers with Will Richardson, Pam Moran, Alec Couros, Karl Fisch, and Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach, all about Diversifying Your Rolodex: Discussing the lack of diversity in the ed tech space. It seems like decades ago. So much learning and life experiences since then. I was honestly petrified to sit among those esteemed leaders in the education space. (And now, I get to work alongside Will Richardson. Life is good.)

In 2012, I facilitated my first session for elementary-focused audiences and reflected about the session in this space, along with so many other questions that Educon 2.4 caused me to consider.

And in 2015, Andrew Marcinek and I thought we should dive into this whole idea of the “PLN” and what it means and why it matters. And how you can continue to grow and nurture that network to help you grow and learn in diverse ways.

So after each of those experiences, I reflected, I wrote, I learned, I revised, I wrote some more. And I have those takeaways with me for always.

Look for more posts from me in the coming days as I selfishly use my Educon time to learn from voices I have not previously learned from. To hear people speak that I’ve never before heard. To push myself outside of my typical learning spaces and to find educators who will open my eyes to new perspectives and ideas.

Happy Educoning, all!

Connections and Community in a Modern Learning World

Hey, loyal readers! I blogged a few weeks ago, sharing this Shifting Conversations post on our Modern Learners blog. Cross-posting here as well. If you’re looking for just THE thing to support your professional learning, look no further than MLC. Visit today and join us!


In our last Shifting Conversation post, the 250th in the series, Bruce shared the evolution of Modern Learners over the last five years, a few of the tools we use to thrive (and survive) as a team, and the pivots we made along the way. Since Bruce and Will have spent the past week traveling to facilitate Modern Learners’ Labs in Perth, Auckland, and Christchurch, Missy and I are eager to share more about who we are and what we have in store for you.

It’s interesting, isn’t it, how we amplify lists of “Skills all Workers Will Need in 2040” and remark, “Did you know our students will be working in jobs that don’t even exist yet?” and with this certain amount of rhetoric comes the reality of living and working in a fluid, dynamic, primarily online learning environment. Occasionally we have to stop and consider what a different time and place this world of modern learning really is, and how it influences not only our work, learning, and connections with other educators, but also our lives and the lives of the children we love.

We often hear in Modern Learners Community and Change School that we do a great job of modeling the way we learn and work in a way that motivates others to embrace the change. We field questions about how we get things done, how we bring new products to the world, and how we support our community with what they need, when they need it. So here’s a bit of an inside look at the ways in which our Modern Learners team connects and works in hopes of supporting educators for years to come.

Geography and time zones know no bounds when trying to bring together our team of five. Eastern, Central, Pacific, Australian Eastern Standard Time – you name it, at least one of us is located somewhere the others are not. Often our ideal work time schedules are off by 12+ hours at a time. How do we accommodate this? We unlearned what it means to have “typical” schedules, spaces, and places. We work all shifts, before kids wake up, after they go to bed at night, before planes board, during breaks of workshops we facilitate,  after connecting to hotel wifi. We hold synchronous meetings in Zoom. We dialogue asynchronously in Slack and co-create and share with Google Drive and Dropbox and Airtable. No matter where we are or what we’re doing, we can connect.

Like most virtual teams, we feel compelled to get together in person once a year (although hopefully our adventures in Modern Learners’ Labs will unite us more often). This past July we spent three days together in Chicago. Physically and mindfully present, we were able to iron out our mission and vision. Certainly, we had a set of working beliefs and a working mission that we had been crafting for several months, but in July we made that our focus. To get to this mission, we asked ourselves many questions:

What do we believe?

What is the message?

What makes us different?

Who is the audience?

Where are we going?

Through a process, we finally settled on our mission:

Our mission is to change the school experience for children around the world by putting the focus back on learning.

We are now charged with living that mission by developing meaningful, unique learning experiences for school administrators, teachers, and those invested in education. We are pursuing various paths to do so, each important to the overall construct of who we are as an organization and what we value.

I’ll first speak to the component of Modern Learners that consumes (in a good way) my day in, my day out, my creative energies and my love of learning, and that’s Modern Learners Community. I’ve written before about the power of networks; I’ve advocated for learners to “connect” for nearly a decade. I’ve been the direct beneficiary of connections made with other inspiring educational leaders who have supported me and shaped me as a leader, especially in my early days as an elementary principal.

But it’s in recent years that I’ve noticed less of an impact from the open social spaces I used to frequent, and that more learning opportunities arise in close-knit communities of practice based on a foundation of trust, shared understandings, and a commitment to personal learning. The networking opportunities in open social are still very real and available, and an educator who invests time and energy into following certain hashtags or posting to social spaces can eventually find information and people to support her learning. But it’s getting trickier to navigate those open waters, and often the content we see in our feeds is not dictated by our preferences alone, but by algorithms and behind-the-scenes methods controlled by social and political influencers. Open social is messy. It’s frantic, it’s often fraught with hate, and it can distract us from the task at hand: learning.

Learning through connections. Connections to ideas, to people, to questions, to support, to diversity of thought, to resources. Connecting to learn.

Our goal of building a strong community of practice begins fundamentally with a belief in connectivism (George Siemens, 2004) and in acknowledging the vital importance of curation in a time of incredible abundance of resources and information. As Siemens says,

A curator is an expert learner. Instead of dispensing knowledge, he creates spaces in which knowledge can be created, explored, and connected. (Siemens, 2007)

Inside our community, we make it a priority to craft a space for learning that includes carefully curated content, allowing our members to explore freely through topics and subjects and dialogue with other learners in a way that allows them to think and reflect transparently. It’s a safe space, one that allows the learner to be vulnerable and to share and gain perspectives. But due to the nature of our platform, the learners have incredible power in shaping their own learning paths – they, too, can share content and have access to other community members synchronously and asynchronously – our face-to-face Zoom sessions have been some of the most profound learning experiences I’ve encountered thus far. There are master classes and book studies and events. Inquiry and agency are at the heart of our interactions within the community, and right now, at over 500 members, we are seeing the incredible benefits of network effects and interactions inside a community that frees the learner from distractions of open social. It’s a space to commit, to challenge, to be challenged; a place to engage and a place to learn. Together.

As we attempt to meet the personal learning needs of our members, we know some school leaders and teachers want to be involved in specific types of experiences – thus Change School cohorts are now run out of our main Modern Learners Community platform, and alumni have access not only to one another in a Group within MLC, but to the community at large. For life!

So, where do we next focus this movement to change the school experience for all kids? To help put the focus back on learning for school teams in local settings, we’ve established Modern Learners’ Labs, because while powerful learning can occur in digital spaces, it’s nice to spend the day in the same room with passionate educators who bring their questions, ideas, and leadership strategies to the collective learning experience.

Looking for a deep dive into particular topics of interest such as inquiry, student agency, assessment, and leading modern learning initiatives that matter? Then our Modern Learners’ Courses are for you. Coming this fall, our courses are not about one-way interactions around content; they’re about community. Because when you join us for a course, you have access to MLC and can collaborate, co-create, and dialogue together. Courses come and go, but community continues to evolve and grow as your learning needs do.

As the end of August nears, it’s back to school time for many learners here in the US. It’s easy to get overwhelmed with this experience. With trying to create the perfect learning environments for kids and keeping up with the latest school initiatives and changes. As our August MLC theme is all about the relationships of learning, we hope you’ll take the time to focus on relationships, first. Your collegial relationships with one another. Your relationships with learners in your care and their families. And your relationships with self. Make your own learning a priority. Commit to connect.

Our modern learning world thrives on connections. We want to help connect you to the most thought-provoking minds and inspiring practitioners who are doing great things for kids. Together, we’ll reimagine the school experience for all learners. So, we seek more voices. We need you! Hope you’ll join us this year in one capacity or another.


5 More to Explore

  • Back to the Blog by Dan Cohen, via Stephen Downes – “Meanwhile, thinking globally but acting locally is the little bit that we can personally do. Teaching young people how to set up sites and maintain their own identities is one good way to increase and reinforce the open web. And for those of us who are no longer young, writing more under our own banner may model a better way for those who are to come.”
  • Modern Learners Podcast #49 – Relationships, Leadership, and Learning with Superintendent Dr. Joe Sanfileppo– Our latest podcast is a great way to get energized for a new school year!
  • EDUCAUSE Releases the 2018 NMC Horizon Report – EDUCAUSE acquired the rights to the report after NMC dismantled earlier this year – and check out Audrey Watters’ A Horizon Report History
  • Flogging the Dead Horse of RSS by Dean Shareski – What is the most effective, efficient way to scour the feeds that pass through our channels every day? If not open social, might a return to a reliance on RSS be in order?
  • Will and I both started reading Troublemakers: Lessons in Freedom by Young Children at School, by Carla Shalaby, after catching the Twitter conversations around #CleartheAir facilitated by Val Brown. Eye-opening, awe-inspiring, causes you to reflect inward on the experiences between you and students you’ve worked with in the past and the ways in which you’ll change your perspectives and actions moving forward.
  • Change School 6 kicks off THIS WEEK! Don’t miss your chance to be part of this intense 8-week sprint that builds your connections and capacity for change, and lifetime membership in a passionate community of coaches and leaders who help you make it happen.

Connect to learn. Seek to understand.

I’ve advocated for educators to use social to connect, for learning, for quite some time. I do this even when my pleas have fallen on less-than-enthused ears, or when someone can’t quite comprehend the scope of how being a “connected educator” has changed who I am as a teacher, and as a leader, a thinker, a creator.

I know for sure that it has fundamentally changed me as a learner.

I’m currently teaching a graduate-level technology & communications course for aspiring principals, and networks & communities & PLNs & all the rest are part of our course explorations. My students are really stepping it up in terms of their blogging game. Would love for you to take a look and comment if you have the opportunity!  We recently reflected on Dean Shareski’s ideas around sharing and our Moral Imperative to do so as educators. See blogs by

Taylor, Steven, Laurie, Bernadette, and Ralph

 

So, yes, I feel good sharing about sharing. About making sure the educators I work and learn with can connect with others to develop supportive circles of friends and resource knowledge bases and be in touch with the latest and greatest in the world of education and educational technology and leadership.

But, you know, as much as social used to be a space where we went for inspiration, for support, and for meaningful conversations filled with constructive feedback, it’s kind of morphed into a space where I get a really icky feeling every time I’m there.

Last night I chatted with Jeff Bradbury and Sam Patterson on the Tech Educator podcast, and we talked about connected educators and learning with social and how the spaces have evolved so much since the beginning, both in good ways (many more educators participating, new tools to help us connect in different ways) and in bad ways (tendencies to stay in our bubbles, algorithms taking command of who we interact with and how, not amplifying marginalized voices, a constant stream of noise and promotion). The time spent recording our thoughts was not nearly enough to delve into all that is good and all that is broken in the world of social learning.

I don’t know if it’s the medium, or the message, or the heightened state of anxiety that exists among teachers and leaders and humans in general, but I may in fact start to steer teachers clear of open social spaces if they’re looking for genuine engagement and discourse.

I love a well-constructed, respectful conversation on Twitter. I enjoy people who post things that make me go, “Huh. I didn’t think about that perspective before.” Or, “Oh. That thing I just shared absolutely amplifies my privilege and maybe I need to think twice about what I say, how I say it, and whose voices I’m sharing.” In our quest to move Beyond the Buzzwords with our Modern Learners work, I do insert myself into chats such as #satchat pretty regularly and try to offer questions and comments that push the boundaries of what people are generally posting and thinking about some topics around “educational innovation.” But I always try to do that from a place of deep respect for the educators in this space and a genuine interest in moving the conversation forward.

There are people who enjoy sharing platitudes and pick-me-up statements via social, and I am not one of those people. There are people who love personally attacking other users, or amplifying their work just to smear it, and I hope I am not one of those people, either.

But I get why it happens.

They’ve had enough. They’ve seen enough. The levels of frustration they experience when they’re told what “good teachers” do or what “everyone” should try are beyond measure. They’re exhausted. They feel like they’re not being heard. They feel attacked.

And so what’s lacking in these spaces, and in leadership circles in general, is our inability or unwillingness to seek first to understand.

Seek to understand.

Before tweeting, before posting, before sharing…. read once. Read again. Do some background fact-checking and learn more about the person behind the account, or think about the message you wish to share and examine it from all possible angles. Where does the privilege lie? Where does the motivation come from? How might someone who isn’t in your position/race/class view this information? How can your subsequent interactions with users and content create a more robust learning space for people who are engaged? How can you amplify messages and voices that push us to be better? Better thinkers, better learners, better people?

There are alternatives to learning in open social, and more and more educators are gravitating to more clearly defined spaces that better support deep conversations around teaching and learning. They’re joining together as tribes of people who are committed to a movement. These types of communities are moderated, have clearly established norms, and they’re sometimes behind a paywall or require a subscription. But I think what people are beginning to realize is that there is incredible value in such a space, and the cost is minimal in the grand scheme of what is added to their learning, plus the fact that the platforms being used are algorithm and noise-pollution-free.

Our space is ChangeLeaders Community, and we’re growing, and it’s exciting. We need more voices, though –your voice. We need more diverse representations of leaders and learners and we hope you will consider joining us, for the betterment of the entire community.

I don’t tweet as often as I used to, and I certainly don’t blog with the regularity of my early blogging years, but these spaces are still such an important part of who I am as a learner and leader. Every day I find meaning in the interactions. I want us to commit to making these spaces the height of what we try to create

More to Explore/See/Do:

Photo by Harli Marten on Unsplash

How will you say Yes! this year? (And what are you listening to?)

Lee Campbell

On work days, I typically find myself commuting in the car for hours at a time. Driving is not my favoritest thing. Podcasts have proven to save my sanity on many occasion. It seems as though anyone can create a podcast nowadays, but it’s tough to maintain a listener’s attention if the content is weak and the delivery is mundane, so I find myself dipping my toes in the various podcast waters until I find something that’s both informative and entertaining. Back in 2007, as the K-5 “computer lab” teacher, I helped our second graders use Garageband to record and share podcasts, and it was really cool to see 7 and 8-yr olds developing the skills to articulate their ideas and share what they learned via this platform.

This week I tuned into from the inspiring team at Modern Learners, and of course I couldn’t wait to hear the wisdom shared by superintendent Pam Moran, someone whom I’ve admired since our beginning days of connected learning and enjoy learning from time and time again.

In the episode Developing a Culture of Yes with Pam Moran, Will Richardson and Pam discuss the integral role of school leaders in cultivating a school climate and culture where taking risks, suggesting changes and promoting unconventional ideas are not only tolerated, but supported through to completion. Pam shares her early experiences as a connected leader and learner, reliving the story of how a teacher came to her and told her about the world of Twitter (quite a difference educational space back then than it is today) and how teachers were learning in new and different ways, and shouldn’t she try it out for herself? Not only did Pam find the value in building those connections and relationships as a leader, but she realized that if her teachers were reaching out and looking to use their newly acquired skills and information to innovate, she’d have to step up as a leader and support the changes in practice that resulted. And how could traditional PD continue to be as effective knowing teachers were crafting their own learning networks and learning anytime, anywhere?

A new school year is upon us. And as Pam reminded school leaders, it’s easy to say no. When I was an elementary school teacher, one of my fifth grade students, an incredibly talented, creative, intelligent, inspiring student, came to me and asked if she could orchestrate a production of The Point to perform for the class. I knew nothing of Harry Nilsson’s work or the storyline of The Point. But this student passionately convinced me that she and her classmates could perform the script she wrote and even I could play a role and we could teach so many life lessons through this performance. She was right. When I examined our daily schedule, I thought, We honestly have no time for this. We don’t have time to rehearse, to obtain props and to set up the stage and oh my goodness what have we done? But I knew, that she knew, that this proposed project was vitally important to her and her learning. So we found the time. We did it. She “did” Genius Hour before Genius Hour was a thing. She led her class through rehearsals, she worked closely with peers, she acquired collaborative, organizational, and social-emotional skills through that process that she would never have learned from whatever I was planning to teach from the curriculum that month. We performed for the school, parents attended, and it continues to be one of my favorite memories of my time as a teacher.

How will you say yes this year? 

P.S. Here are a few other podcasts on my must-listen lineup. What are you listening to?

The Longest Shortest Time

Contrafabulists 

The Creative Classroom

ReLearning

Elise Gets Crafty

Google Teacher Tribe

The 10-Minute Teacher Show

IDEO Futures

 

P.S.S. I drafted this post to almost-completion before this NYT article about edupreneurs and edtech was published. I’m currently trying to wrap my head around it all. I’ll be sharing my thoughts in a future post.

What it’s like to learn alongside you.

High-fives to Google Drawings session participant, Joann at the Garden State Summit ’17!

I love being a consultant. I know that to some educators, consultant is a dirty word. It need not be. As a teacher and principal, I, too, was skeptical of someone from “the outside” coming to our schools and classrooms to show & tell their way into our hearts and minds. In fact, I think I truly connected with and appreciated the work of maybe only a handful of consultants in my time as classroom teacher, coach, and principal. But most days, in this line of work, I leave with a smile on my face, feeling energized and privileged to work with the teachers and school leaders in my midst.

So what do I try to do differently? For one, in my role as Google for Education Certified Trainer, I have the privilege of working with many schools who have established relationships with Google for Education Partner Rich Kiker. This is an advantage for me as a trainer because people trust people, they don’t trust products, or brands, or technologies. They trust that the teachers and leaders sharing ideas and strategies are people who care. Who, down to the core, know that the teachers with whom they work are responsible for children and their learning experiences. I also get to serve schools whose staff members have seen my presentations at conferences, heard of my work through other educational leaders, attended previous professional development sessions I’ve facilitated, or who employed me. (Going “home” to Elanco next week and can’t wait!) My audience usually has an awareness of who I am, what I do, and what I believe in.

Sidenote: I want to share my two cents about people, about educators, and the roles they assume and the career paths they choose. No, I am not currently “in the trenches.” I am a consultant, an adjunct in a higher ed program, and I am a full-time mother to a 4 1/2-yr old son and 18 month old daughter. That is the choice I made, and I couldn’t be more privileged and thrilled to serve in that role. So while we are quick to judge others in the edusphere for the roles they assume or don’t assume, while we celebrate #momsasprincipals and #dadsasprincipals and #peopleasprincipals and #principalsasprincipals and the amount of time they and other groups spend connecting/blogging, there are always reasons why others come and go in these connected educator spaces. I’m sorry, Twitter, and my trusty old blog, but my commitment isn’t to you, not anymore.

Back to business. How can we help? When I start planning to work with a school or team, I generally follow these steps. (Wait, you train in G Suite for Edu. Can’t you just re-use the exact same Google Chrome or Google Drive or Google Classroom slide sets over and over again? No. I can’t. Well, I could. But that would be lousy instruction, now, wouldn’t it?)

  1. Get to know the people! School demographics, leadership, teacher experiences, student populations, grade levels served, community information…. I try to get to know as much as I can about the schools I serve. Another advantage I have as a consultant? I get to share the stories and experiences of other teachers, other districts, other schools with all of the groups I serve. I help connect those who might be existing solely within the walls of their classrooms or schools and who lack diverse and unique perspectives.
  2. What do they already know? What do they want to know? Even if I’m booked for a specific workshop or presentation, I typically like to find out the comfort levels, skillsets, and interests of the people sitting in front of me. Sometimes that happens with a pre-workshop Google Form, sometimes it happens with a quick survey at the start of the day.
  3. Using the info collected, I plan out the agenda for the day. What makes sense, pedagogically, given the needs of the group? How can I infuse as many hands-on and discovery learning opportunities in even the most technical of training sessions? How can I get people talking to one another, sharing ideas, connecting beyond the confines of the walls of the building? What’s great about an agenda, though, is how quickly it can change, how quickly it needs to change, once I’ve developed a better awareness of who is actually in the room. We’ve been known to abandon agendas completely if it becomes clear that it’s not meeting the needs of the participants.
  4. Resources, resources, resources. I share a lot of resources. Sometimes I need to do a better job making them more streamlined in nature, but I publish my session resources and CC license them, encourage teachers to share with their colleagues, and keep the links live for as long as forever. Because I want teachers to have the opportunity to go back and review, revisit, reinvent the things they’re doing in the classroom even after our sessions have ended. There is also a lot of differentiation that goes into my resource and activity planning. I put a lot of faith in the teachers to take ownership of the day. I’m reviewing the basics, but you already know this? Move along in the resource guide or the differentiated design lab I’ve created. Challenge yourself. Look ahead, tinker, build, create… don’t worry about not maintaining eye contact with the presenter, you need to do the work.
  5. I reflect on the effectiveness of my efforts. During the day, I’ll read faces and interpret body language. I’ve been known to call out participants if it seems as though they aren’t being challenged. Tough to do? Yes! But important, because it is very overwhelming to attempt to meet the individual needs of 20, 40, 60, or even 100 participants in the room. At the end of the day, I’ll often share a survey for workshop participants so I know how I can improve my sessions in the future. I won’t lie, sometimes the feedback is tough to read! Overall, though, it has been very encouraging and filled with constructive ideas for how to improve my craft.
  6. I get busy making it better.

I make a lot of mistakes. I am constantly thinking about what I can improve. I think about my ten years as a classroom teacher and cannot believe some of the pedagogies I employed and the strategies I used. It’s all I knew, at the time. I think about my tenure as principal and how now, knowing what I know, I would never approach a disciplinary or teacher evaluation situation in the manner I did. It’s what I knew, at the time. As an instructional coach, I could have done more for certain teachers and sought to work more collaboratively with departments and team members.

We use what we know at the time. And as a consultant, it’s my job to learn alongside you and help us both awaken to the possibilities, so that we can know and do more, in this time.

Shameless plug: Want to work with us? Check out Hilt Consultants and/or comment here and/or tweet me @lynhilt and/or email me anytime lynhilt@gmail.com. Thanks for reading!

Thoughts on professional learning.

Philadelphia School District Headquarters via Flicker by It’s Our City cc-by-2.0

I’ve written about professional learning aka “PD” more often than not in this space. It’s something I truly enjoy facilitating and I’ve created and shared professional learning opportunities through my role as principal, instructional coach, and now as consultant. Some were great, and some not so great.

This post is going to be short and sweet (I say that, and then 10,000 words later, TLDR), but I just wanted to take the time to commend the current group of School District of Philadelphia teachers who are working towards earning their Google for Education Certified Educator Level 1 status. We have spent six hours a day for the past three days together, (one more to go!) in a room with no windows, exploring G Suite for Education. The teachers who are attending our “bootcamp” offered through Kiker Learning are spending their summer vacation days learning and learning some more. They’re not getting paid, but through their time and dedication, could possibly earn Level 1 certification at the end of the bootcamp with a successful exam performance.

I can tell that this week has been the first tried-and-true experience with G Suite for many of the teachers in my group. I know others are already proficient with the basics and could have probably passed the Level 1 exam on day 1 or 2.

Here’s the great thing about this group that I noticed almost immediately – they’re willing to do the work. 

I tell my workshop participants at the start that I have provided a variety of digital materials (tutorials, examples of the apps in action, etc.) and that if I am reviewing or demoing something they already know how to do, they should take it upon themselves to explore what matters most to them. 

I say that every time, to every group.  But this group has been more self-directed than most.

If we are practicing formulas and sorting and chart creation in Google Sheets, when I glance around the room, I can tell which teachers are already proficient spreadsheet users, because they’re doing something else. They’re not on Facebook. They’re not online shopping. They’re browsing through the digital resources provided, looking for a challenge, previewing content and apps they haven’t yet explored in depth.

They’re owning their learning. They’re tinkering. They’re creating.

There’s no consequence for these teachers if they don’t pass the exam. They can take it again 14 days later, and hopefully, with additional preparation, earn a passing score. But if they don’t, it won’t impact their job status. It might hurt their ego, but in the end, no Google Educator label is going to make a difference in the day-to-day work they do with their kids.

Even if every single one of the teachers in my group doesn’t pass the exam (that will never happen!), I wanted to share how much of an impact this group made on me.

For their willingness to ask questions. To ask me to slow down. To ask me to repeat concepts. To ask me to demonstrate.

To sit side-by-side with peers, to teach! To lead! For the very best kind of busy conversations that as a teacher, I hate to interrupt because “we have to cover the content!” Knife to the heart.

To laugh. We laugh and we find joy in our work. Teachers are developing relationships with one another, with peers who they’ve never met before this week. They’re thinking through the work they’re doing, and how it applies to their roles in the classroom, and theyre getting excited about the possibilities.

Sometimes, we encounter an app or service whose features have been limited by district constraints. This isn’t unusual in a school setting. This group simply rolls with it. They think about how they can embrace constraints and still do the work. They rarely complain, or badmouth kids, or colleagues, or administration.

They do the work.

I am compelled to blog about this group because I have worked with many many teacher and admin groups throughout my tenure as “connected educator” and consultant, but for some reason, this group is magical. It makes me smile. These teachers make the commute into the city a mere annoyance, and the consecutive days away from my kiddos more bearable,  and I look forward to my continued work with them.

If you are in my bootcamp class, and you are reading this post, I am very proud of you! You inspired me to be a better teacher. I hope that through our work together, you can achieve much success in whatever area of Google for Education you choose to focus. An exam score doesn’t define you. Your actions, your relationships with students, and your attitudes shape you into the exceptional educators you are.

It has been an honor and a pleasure working with you.

I see teachers who…

In my consulting role I have the opportunity to work with teams of teachers, administrators, and on occasion push into classrooms to work with students. Recently I’ve been working with K-2 teachers and students who are learning to craft digital stories on the iPad, using apps such as Book Creator, Scribble Press, GarageBand and iMovie. This initiative came about as the result of an eventual shift in curriculum away from an adopted (textbook/series-based) literacy program to one that is more project-based and technology-infused. A grant was written to obtain the iPads and to fulfill the grant, teachers are working with students to publish a variety of digital storytelling projects that demonstrate their creativity and ideas learned.

Each class has achieved a different level of proficiency using the apps and story publication. This is due to the varying age level and developmental level of students, for sure, but it’s also due to the mindset and willingness of the teacher to embrace this initiative and the resources she has been given.

So what did I see, and what have I seen through both my district coaching and principal roles,  in classrooms where technology use has been embraced?

I see teachers as learners. I see teachers who:

  • Make the time. They examine what they’re currently doing: the books they’re reading, the activities and projects students are completing, and they think: how can technology enhance and transform these projects? How can we change what we’re doing instead of add on one more thing? 
  • Have routines and procedures in place, especially for collaborative projects and times when teamwork is expected. Student roles are established and clearly defined. Management is evident, which in turn leads to students being able to lead, learn, resolve conflicts, and create in an environment with fewer distractions.
  • Plan. Anyone who has ever tried to incorporate technology meaningfully into the classroom and who has tried to “wing it” knows it can be less than successful. Know the purpose. Use with intent. (And perhaps your students will unveil a purpose you perhaps never before considered…)
  • Model. These teachers get hands on. They create! They’re not afraid to tinker, not only during their own professional learning sessions, but in front of a student audience, allowing them to observe what it’s like to try something new.
  • Have high expectations for project performance. In my digital storytelling workshops I emphasize the importance of students making meaning, not just making media. Bernajean Porter is a key resource for anyone looking to ensure meaningful content and idea development through digital project work!
  • Learn alongside students. It’s so encouraging as a coach to see a teacher who sits down with a student or a group of students and taps, swipes, creates, questions, and troubleshoots alongside his little learners.
  • Showcase student work. One teacher in particular was so enthused with her students’ creations and couldn’t wait to have them share their projects with me. These teachers find a way to make sure their student voices are heard. Publishing to an authentic audience is a great way to do so. In addition, they utilized the sharing features from each app to publish to Google Drive and share with parents and families via links. Another group’s publications will be shared with local pediatricians’ offices as waiting room reading material!
  • Embrace the noise. Learning is messy. Collaboration can be loud. Conflict resolution is a pretty intense process that rarely involves whispering. Movement to different learning spaces throughout the day is not the quietest of activities. Find ways to help your students thrive in the busiest of environments.
  • Ask for help and actively seek out resources to learn more. Not every teacher I’ve worked with in a coaching capacity is comfortable asking for help. They’re very fixed in their methods and they have a very narrow focus: teach the written curriculum, the way it has traditionally been taught. When a teacher (or principal or coach) asks for help and embarks on a journey to learn more, see more, do more, think differently… kids win.

What am I missing? What do you see when working with innovative teachers and learners?

 

The Spaces Where I Learn and Work

This week’s #EdublogsClub prompt asks us to share insights about our learning spaces and processes, including tours of our classrooms, offices, and work spaces.

I smiled when I read it, because I planned to share a bit of news this week via my blog, and that news fortuitously intertwines with this week’s prompt.

I remember my first years of teaching…. “decorating” my classroom was one of my favorite school year preparation activities. I loved sharing inspirational posters, bright colors, inventive bulletin boards, and creating spaces where my students could post and share their own work. Desks were in groups or in pairs or we used tables, and my earliest years of teaching sixth and fifth grades are among my favorites in my career! My classrooms were beyond colorful, beyond cluttered, and if I had the chance to do it over today, I’m sure I’d make some changes.

My 2001 Classroom!

I inherited the principal’s office from my predecessor and it served as a functional workspace. In my second year I decided to move my office to a more central location in the intermediate hallway and this larger space afforded me the chance to personalize it and make it an enjoyable space for kids. The putting green, basketball net, bookshelves filled with kid lit, and beanbag chairs were put to good use! I loved being out of the “main office” area and in the heart of the school.

As an instructional technology coach, I used a desk/counter space/table in the hallway in each of the elementary buildings I served, and my classrooms were the teachers’ classrooms!

Well, the time has come where I no longer have an office in a school, or a classroom space that is my own. For the past year I’ve been on leave from my school district after the birth of our daughter, and last week I submitted my resignation.

While on leave I’ve had the great privilege of developing my skills as a consultant, most notably with Kiker Learning offering Google for Education trainings on a variety of instructional topics to a broad range of participant audiences. Professional development is truly my passion. I absolutely loved that aspect of the principalship: designing… facilitating… watching teachers learn and grow…. and before I moved into administration I enjoyed learning alongside my teaching colleagues.

As anyone who has raised two young children knows, these moments are fleeting. I can’t thank my husband enough for supporting my work in this way and affording me the opportunity to stay home with our babies. Serving as a consultant allows me the flexibility to do so while also continuing to learn and serve schools. It is truly an honor to work with so many dedicated teachers, administrators, students, and staff members across the Northeast. I’m thrilled about what’s next and can’t wait to see where future opportunities take me!

My home has now become a place that needs to support my creativity and productivity, whether it’s at my office desk, in the family room, or at the kitchen bar island. I can say that working from home is one of the most difficult challenges I’ve faced in my career! It’s even more incredible trying to find a home-work balance when your work is often done in your home!

I can’t wait to see the variety of different spaces where I’ll work and learn this year. Every school, classroom, teacher, principal, and student I have the chance to interact with strengthens Maybe it will be in your classroom, school, or district?! 🙂

To learn more about opportunities to learn with me, visit the Hilt Consultants, LLC website or the Work with Me page of my blog.

Thanks for reading!