Learning together.

CC licensed photo shared by A. Forgrave via Flickr

Today a team of my school’s teachers attended a workshop at our local IU called Improving Reading Comprehension (K-3), and I decided to tag along. There were several knowledgeable researchers/educators that presented ideas from the field of early literacy, and, even now just halfway through the day, I feel our team benefited from attending.

In fact, I feel we benefited more than any other team in the room.

And here’s why.

I visit the conference center many times throughout the year. I always wonder, Will I be allowed to use my laptop today? Given the history of being told to put electronic devices “away,” only to be used during formal breaks and lunch, I tweeted my angst this morning:

This directive physically aggravates and nauseates me, and one time I did go head-to-head with a presenter who asked me to leave a session on Day 2 because I used my computer too much (therefore I clearly wasn’t invested in the learning) on Day 1. Seriously?!

However, I was glad that when I arrived, most of my team of teachers were already using their laptops, ready to go for the day. Would this have been the case a few years ago? Probably not. But we’ve been working hard on trying to develop a collaborative learning environment, one where I encourage teachers to go out and find resources for use, reflect on their learning, and to share resources via Diigo or Twitter or any means necessary… so seeing this made me all warm and fuzzy inside.

Having the technology/tools available is one thing. Using them is another.

I opened Evernote to begin to take notes but realized most of my teachers don’t use this tool. Instead, I started and shared a Google doc through our school Google Apps and invited each teacher. Very quickly, we populated the doc with an outline of the day, the main components we’d be learning about, and then I sent a jovial chat to another teacher to wake her up at this early hour. The chat box quickly became a backchannel where we started a) offering critical feedback on the presentation and b) sharing ideas with one another.

Then this gem: 

In the words of Chris Wejr: “BOOM!” So we inserted a table into the doc and the resources and links spilled in as the day went on.

And it just continued in this fashion. Kelly got the ball rolling. Steffany made connections with reciprocal teaching. Margaret wanted to learn how these comprehension strategies would fit into our Daily 5 work (and was frankly a little bummed she didn’t bring her laptop today. She was always peeking over Kelly’s shoulder to read the backchannel chat!) Jena and Julie raised conversational topics in the chat box and populated the table. (Although I think maybe Julie was off-task all morning getting acquainted with her new WordPress class blog. It’s addicting! Just kidding, Julie! 🙂

Possible to get this kind of collegial interaction without social media use? Perhaps. But it would require more time…. far more time. We would have had to research resources on our own time, compile them all together using some sort of antiquated method which may or may not have included paper. Shudder. Then we would have needed to find a meeting time that suited everyone’s schedules. Sitting around a table, probably disgruntled we could be using this time for something else, we would have tried to recall the session components and bring it all together in some sort of cohesive conversation.

No thanks.

This morning I shared this piece I found through Zite involving the use of social media to enhance professional learning communities. The author shares:

A professional learning community is based upon respect, responsibility and collaboration. It reflects the need for all members of the community to view themselves as learners. This creates flexibility, openness to change and adaptability, which are definitely requirements for successfully managing the fast paced, continually changing context education exists within.

This is what we want for our teachers in our schools. How does social media facilitate the learning process among a group of learners? Social media provides

1. Time to collaborate

2. Leadership support

3. Information 

4. Ready access to colleagues

Our team’s use of a simple collaborative tool today certainly provided us with all of the above. If you’re interested in our Google doc, I can share it when we’re finished with our day. Right now it’s contained within our Google Apps domain and can’t be shared w/outside users. (Don’t get me started on that one.) Our plan is to share the doc with our colleagues following the session and then have the teachers that attended serve as resources for further discussions and learning.

Every year, schools send out pockets of teachers to workshops, to be involved in graduate programs, to engage in book study groups, etc. to enhance professional practice. If we continue to allow teachers to keep their learning to themselves, and if we are charged with leading learning initiatives and do not plan for and facilitate the vital element of social learning, we’re doing a disservice to the organization as a whole, and therefore, a disservice to our students.

13 Replies to “Learning together.”

  1. Lyn,

    Awesome example of how easy it is to use this technology yet VERY meaningful. Thanks for sharing.

    As for people that ask to power down, I either choose to leave, ignore, or question it publicly. We have to be open to different learning styles and more are comfortable organizing their learning digitally.

    Thanks for your post.

    1. Sometimes I think educators new to social media/collaborative online tools think it is a lot more involved than it has to be. I would also say that in the past year I have encountered far fewer situations where participants have been told to “power down,” which is encouraging. Except… for… my school leadership institute sessions. Not good.
      Thanks for commenting!

  2. Absolutely! Your last paragraph is so powerful – professional practice and development must be shared if we want to enhance teacher and consequently, student learning. Lyn, I love the way your team approached the day and will be sharing this idea with my colleagues. Thank you. Would also love to have a look at your google doc if possible 🙂 Cheers

  3. Hey there!

    Uncanny, but I just had a most similar experience last week at a day long meeting for a district-wide behavioral management plan on which we are working to roll-out next school year. We developed an entire goal matrix in one day between a team of eleven of us in the same exact way as you all did. I need to write about it in the same way you did. Most other folks at my school don’t know much about the collaborative power of Gdocs so I just try and teach as we go – then it makes actual sense in a practical hands-on way. Thanks for the idea to document it! (I’m so not good at that yet.)

    On another note, I’ve figured out how to connect my Apps for Ed domain and my own Google account – it was tricky to find this little setting. I can show/tell you? I’ll try and email you or post it somewhere and ping you, but must get some sleep now. I had trouble, too, but our tech couldn’t even figure it out and it was just a setting. Then you can at least share it between your two Google accounts and share it out publicly from your personal Google account – if that makes sense?

    Looks like EdScape was great today!

    1. Hi, Suzie, this summer our admin teams collaborated to write our entire RtII plan/Title I plans for the year with Google docs. So useful. Is the setting you’re referring to the one where you can switch accounts? Let me know the setting you used! Thanks!

  4. Lyn
    Thanks so much for sharing the way you and your team used your tech knowledge to add to your learning experience. I was shocked to hear that you were being asked to ‘power down’, I am still pondering why this would occur. I am very new to the world of Ed technologies in terms of using them in the way you describe but as a veteran educator I can only be excited about it, an a little jealous of your knowledge and skills :).
    I am just getting into Google Doc so I have a lot to learn but just can’t wait to have the knowledge and the usage that you describe.
    I think it is such an exciting learning time and I encourage all educators to take the risks and jump in.
    Thanks again for sharing.

    1. Carmel, thank you for your comments! The most powerful part of that day was how my teachers truly owned the process. I did very little in the way of directing our tech use- they simply ran with it, because it felt like a comfortable way to collaborate. I appreciate their efforts thus far and know they’ll continue to do explore how tech can support their work together. I agree, this is an exciting time to be a member of a learning team! Thanks again for your comment 🙂

  5. I’m relatively new at using social media for professional learning. Am just realizing the powerful tools for learning that lie within. I must now convince my staff of the potential for sharing the learning. I’m blown away by the possibilities

    1. Elizabeth, I appreciate you taking the time to read and comment. Please let me know if I can assist in any way as you explore the possibilities!

  6. I had the opposite happen…. I’m used to giving presentations where everyone is online – and am not only happy for that, but expect them to do so. Recently I spoke at a conference where no-one was online – they were all sitting in rows & looking at me!!! I must say it freaked me out a bit.

    Love your post Lyn & have shared it on. (Thx to @gcouros for sharing on Twitter.)

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