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.
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.
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
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.