Sunday, October 28, 2012

Leading Learning from Within

A few days have now passed since the Association of Delta School Administrators (ADSA) Annual Conference so it's time for some reflecting. As an organizing committee we have long since heard from our colleagues that they value the networking component to our conference, desire for more opportunities to talk about what is going on in their respective schools, share ideas and learn with each other. From these comments evolved our question of inquiry, "Will a focussed effort on collaborative inquiry around administrators' interests and unique capabilities accelerate leadership performance and commitment to professional development?"

In an effort to follow our inquiry, this year we opted for a new conference model, one without a keynote, without a 'guru', without any 'sit and get' presentations. This year, there would be no chance that an external expert would come in and push his or her ideas on us without being aware of our context. Instead, we asked our colleagues to volunteer to facilitate conversations on topics they are passionate about. We knew we were taking a bit of a risk. What if our colleagues didn't volunteer to lead sessions? What if it turned out that we were less connected with each other because we weren't all sitting in the same room listening to the same presenter?

Well, taking the risk paid off! The theme of the conference could very well have been 'Leading Learning from Within'! We offered a total of nine sessions, with three sessions running concurrently at any one time. In fact, because almost 1/3 of our ADSA colleagues volunteered to lead conversations, we actually chose to host only the most popular sessions. Session topics included Demystifying Human Resources, Student and Educator BloggingEmpowering Students Through LeadershipEasy to Use Technologies that can Change EducationSupporting Teacher InquiryRelationship-Based MentoringCreating a Culture for Inquiry-Based LearningTechnology to Help Us With our Jobs and Assessment for Learning

Conversations were rich and engaging because they were led from within. Colleagues shared their experiences, knowledge, successes and failures. It was a great chance to ask questions, benefit from each others' learning and share strategies for overcoming challenges.  As you can tell by the google docs from some of the sessions, colleagues were very much engaged in sharing and building a collection of ideas and resources.  New connections  were established and previous connections between colleagues were strengthened, largely because people had the opportunity to discuss topics they are interested in and passionate about. The tone to the conference was comfortable, friendly and supportive. People felt safe in putting their ideas, challenges and mistakes forward because they knew that others were there to help! View a short clip of conference reflections from colleagues.

Our experience is another encouraging step toward creating a collaborative culture amongst ourselves, where we go beyond sharing to truly collaborating on projects with each other. As excited as I am about the steps we took at the conference, I'm also enthused about Delta School Disrict's commitment to collaboration and learning through inquiry. With teacher collaboration time built into the schedules of many schools, Coordinators of Inquiry heading up teacher-directed inquiries and the sharing of stories and ideas taking place through the 180 Days of Learning Blog and the new Delta Learns Portal, I feel we are in an exciting time as we build a culture of collaboration throughout the district.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Connecting (not Protecting) Ideas

The other day, I bumped into a teacher in the hallway and we engaged in a chance conversation. She had just returned from meeting with colleagues from across the school district and it was clear she was bouncing off the wall with enthusiasm as she described some of the possibilities that she now saw for her own classes. More than anything, what stood out to me was the passion and excitement in her voice. She expressed how great it was to exchange ideas with her colleagues, and how excited she was to once again be a learner, exploring new ways of doing things with the support of others.

Her experience is a perfect example of how inspiring it can be share our thoughts with others and how we feed off of other people's energy. It's within networks of trusting relationships where we can share our hunches, ask questions, admit mistakes, seek reassurance and describe our experiences. It's in these environments where we can connect our own hunches to what we learn from others and begin conjuring up innovative ideas. Over time, as we engage in conversations, receive support and reassurance from others, and continue to mull over ideas, we gradually reach the point when we have the confidence to transform our innovative ideas into innovative practice.

So why would anyone want to restrict themselves to learning in isolation?

Who wouldn't want to connect his/her ideas with those of others?

Why would anyone intentionally protect their ideas from others as though they were holding on to some secret intellectual property?

Who wouldn't wish to participate in a professional learning community (PLC)?

Why is it then, that so many educators are learning in isolation?

  • Yes, time can be a factor. Teaching all day with little to no common time to meet definitely presents an obstacle. Although it is a start, even the embedded collaborative planning time that many schools have incorporated into their schedules is insufficient to spur on lasting innovation. Sharing and collective reflection amongst colleagues, whether formal or informal must be a part of the daily learning culture in order for innovative thinking to prosper.

  • Yes, proximity can also be a factor. It's challenging for teachers from different schools and different districts to meet face-to-face. The few times a year that this type of gathering takes place is again insufficient to generate any momentum in teacher learning. And even within many larger schools, teachers tend to converse and share informally with colleagues who teach in the same part of the building. While there's nothing wrong with this, groupthink can quickly occur. This is why it's important to introduce external ideas and perspectives that challenge the thinking of the group.

How do we overcome these obstacles?

Enter social media.

2 years ago I started creating my own Personal Learning Network (PLN). Shortly thereafter, I began blogging as well. At the time, I never would have predicted how significantly the process of blogging and my PLN would have on my learning. I've assembled a collection of some of the most foreword-thinking educators from around the world, individuals with whom I would never have been able to interact or learn with if I hadn't built my PLN. I've shared my learning and reflections with my PLN through my blog. And in return, I've received feedback, connected with learning opportunities, accessed professional development resources and built camaraderie with other educators. In many cases, conversations I've started with my PLN have continued via Skype, telephone and face-to-face. In the same way that the teacher I referenced earlier was excited by the conversations she had with her colleagues, I find myself inspired daily by the conversations I have with my PLN. Sure, a digital connection has its limitations. It doesn't replace my face-to-face conversations but it offers me an ongoing stream of perspectives, hunches, ideas and questions that I can connect my own thoughts to. Conversations through social media may seem somewhat chaotic because of the multiple conversations that are simultaneously going on in public. But, as Stephen Johnson, author of Where Good Ideas Come From indicates, it's in these environments where hunches can collide, and where ideas can mingle and swap.

So, for those of you who still require some convincing, I encourage you to check out the short clip Twitter for Educators, create your own PLN and take advantage of the anytime and anywhere opportunity to connect and collide your hunches and ideas with those of others!