While the title of this post may be a bit inflated, this is how I am looking at my professional development this year. Each and every day I have something to learn. Last year, I spent a lot of time focusing my learning outside of our school by attending various workshops and conferences. Yet, this year I would like to focus my learning more internally. Sometimes we forget just how much the members of our teaching community have to offer when we are busy with assignments, report cards and the daily responsibilities of teaching.
After my first day in a new role as Education Technology Coach, I realize I definitely still have lots to learn. To be honest, one of the biggest draws towards this role when I was considering applying to this role was that it would be an opportunity to have professional development every single day. I am one of the few people at my school who will be able to see what is happening in each and every classroom, each planning meeting and work with the administrators in a larger capacity. As I think about it, each and every day will be full of unexpected areas to learn and grow.
We have an incredibly talented group of teachers at our school who I am blessed to work with. I am looking forward to seeing how different teachers approach things in different ways (using technology and even without). I know these teachers will push me to expand my own learning as they ask questions about technology tools and resources forcing me to do self-directed professional development in order to provide them with the high-quality support they deserve.
As a teacher who has taught the International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme (PYP) for the last few years, I am excited to be a part of all the planning teams within primary. I feel very fortunate that I will be able to contribute to all year groups and support teachers in using best practice with educational technology. This will help me gain a better scope of the entire Primary department and the needs of students throughout the year levels. I am interested to see how the skills develop with technology throughout the years and figure out how to best help students to explore their interests through inquiry and the units.
As I begin a new path outside of work in studying educational leadership, I will be able to have a new lens as a coach leading professional development and supporting teams while also being able to learn from my mentors who empower and foster their teams to grow together. Leadership roles are not easy tasks and I am thankful I have role models who set an example of what a true leader should be.
One of my favourite parts about education is that no day is ever the same. Whether it is something small or large, educators are always learning, growing and moving forward. When you walk away at the end of the day from school, think about your students' parents asking them 'what they learnt at school today'... What will be your answer today?
Going Beyond #beyondlaptops
When I got back got from #beyondlaptops conference on Monday at school, a close colleague of mine asked me if I learned a ton of new things at the conference. My answer even surprised me, "No I didn't learn a ton of new things. But it was one of the best conferences I've been a part of in a long time."
I think the key thing to note in that statement is 'been a part of'. Not often do you feel like you are a part of the conference. Even though I helped with some of the planning, I really felt like during the conference I was always actively involved as the participant.
Each day was full of conversations that really pushed my thinking and made me question my own practice. I realised I usually walked away each day with was more questions than answers but only because the conversations I was having made me want to find out more. As I flip through my notes now to reflect on my time there, there aren't many. More than anything it's full of"Contact ____ to chat about ____" or a few pictures drawn out of ideas. I spent so much time listening, reflecting and sharing there often wasn't time for taking notes on my computer or notebook or even 'tweet' as the day went on. I found my laptop had more than half its battery full by the end of one day (not a normal thing by any means). It's not often that you have the luxury of focusing only on discussing educational practice without other distractions or responsibilities. These types of discussions are so powerful but often fall to the side when you mix in report cards, parents, paperwork and planning during your prep time.
One of my favourite parts of this conference is getting so many unique perspectives from such a small group of participants (approximately 50). With each school limited to bring 4 participants, the group often consisted of administrators, education technology coaches, EdTech directors and teachers of various subjects, allowing to hear the viewpoints from every side on every given topic. Thus, it forced me to think about teaching and learning in new ways. This helped me to understand the bridge I will soon be walking from teacher to technology coach. By hearing the different perspectives, it provided me insight into the role I soon will be stepping into, but still understanding the role I am currently. Challenges and successes will always be seen differently depending
I believe the idea of travelling with a team from your school is a powerful concept at a conference. Often I have veered off on my own path this year to various conferences because I wanted to continue learning from others. This time was different - we went as a team, with a goal as a team and hopefully now can come back to our school and plan to implement positive changes...as a team. The growth of a school doesn't happen because of one person, rather a team of people who want to move the school forward. By having a team from your school, you can discuss challenges from multiple perspectives to move towards creating a solution. Through discussions, it was valuable to see my own school through 4 different lenses, 3 of which were foreign to me, but together helped gain a more whole picture of our school.
Technology seemed only secondary to the power of face to face communication and collaboration at #beyondlaptops. Technology is often the resource to communicate and collaborate but not the only way. What is more important is having conversations that have an impact, creating connections between and within schools and pushing your thinking beyond your comfort.
Over my two-week summer break, I had the pleasure of travelling to the New Delhi region in India. This was my second time in India and I had previously only been there for 2 days for the Google Teacher Academy in December. I knew I absolutely loved the food, the culture and adventure that India had to offer, but hadn't realised how much I would be accepted with open arms and such amazing hospitality by the educators I would encounter when I returned. Over my holiday, I was blessed to be welcomed into 7 schools for 7 days of workshops to do some outreach support in local public schools that focused on introducing the Google Apps for Educations tools to teachers and how they could integrate them into their classroom to support their current teaching and learning practices.
As I prepared myself to transition into a technology coach position at my current school next year, I began to realise how different my role would be. Every session was unique, even though a lot of days I was facilitating workshops with the same products. No day was the same and each had its own unique challenges. I very quickly learnt that working with adult learners is a very different experience than working with my nine-year-old students, but yet some core factors stayed the same. The more I facilitated workshops, the more I began to explore how adults want to be supported in their learning journey.
Throughout my time, I constantly was reflecting on my experience and came away from the experience with valuable lessons.
1. Embrace questions.
Sometimes teachers fear the unknown. You can have a lesson planned out one way and a student asks a question that makes the lesson shoot off in a completely different direction - I love that. You begin to learn after a day or two of workshops what questions teachers have, how to reduce the fear of uncertainty for those participating in a workshop but also embrace the fact that you never are quite sure what you will be doing when facilitating workshops. No question is a bad question. When you take the time to listen to someone and walk someone through how they can be successful, you are able to spark more curiosity to learn. Often more questions will come from solving one query - those are my favourite. To see teachers continuously become more excited about what they were doing as they learn each piece of the puzzle is truly a treat to experience. I loved when teachers engaged in asking questions and it made my job easier than trying to guess what they wanted to learn by knowing I was actually helping them meet the needs of their inquiries. I'm so thankful that the educators felt comfortable asking the questions so I could support them. I also loved that the learning hasn't stopped since I left their schools and that the conversations and questions are continuing even though we are now separated by distance.
2. The Internet is not always reliable.
I am very privileged to work in an international school in Singapore where I don't have to think twice about having a consistent internet in my classroom. I know that I can plan a lesson using the computer and I can execute it without the concern of having the internet drop out. But that isn't the case in all schools in India. The internet would drop out at times or even be very limited in some cases. For me, it definitely kept things interesting and forced me to be ready for anything. If the internet did drop, I was constantly forced to evaluate how I could keep the audience engaged and learning without becoming frustrated and give up. I also learnt how valuable it is to have a backup plan. For me, this was having a Google Slides presentation for the various apps that could help walk teachers through the tools at the moment but could also act as a resource beyond my time at their school. I am empathetic towards teachers who work through these challenges every day and yet continue to inspire their students and embrace a world of technology.
3. Repeat the instructions - often.
I've always thought students are better students than teachers. But the level of excitement and engagement for teachers and students can always be high if you go about it the right way. Teachers seem to like to listen and do at the same time, rather than watch, then do. Therefore, a one time demo isn't always sufficient. Just like students, instructions need to be repeated verbally, demonstrated and also have time for teachers to 'do' what they are being shown. When you walk around and support teachers, you have to be ready to repeat, repeat, repeat what you've said again and again while also not making them feel small that they didn't understand the instructions the first time or two or three. Learning is a process. We all learn at a different rate and in different ways. It's our job as facilitators to help find the best way to help our students discover how to be successful in their learning and support them with the resources and means necessary.
4. Patience is a must.
I wouldn't consider myself a patient person, especially outside of my classroom. I like efficiency in my personal life and have always said I use up all my patience each day with my students. However, I found this sense of calm working with teachers that I hadn't experienced before as I walked teachers through different features of an app step by step and having them do it, rather than me. It was almost a very zen experience. Not once did I feel overwhelmed, frustrated or rushed. We just took our time and explored as necessary and flowed onto the next application when we were ready. Some days we focused on one app for an hour and the next day it only took twenty minutes and worked through challenges as they presented themselves. As a facilitator, I learnt that in the face of any challenge you have to stay calm as your 'students' are looking to you for that sense of security and insurance.
5. Stay positive.
The moment you become negative, you will lose your audience - so don't. When you are positive in a room, the energy and excitement levels will go through the roof. Creating a safe environment to learn in allows teachers to the fullest and feel safe making mistakes and growing. Technology isn't meant to be something that is a pain for teachers, even though there is a learning curve. By having a smile on the face and showing teachers you are learning together helps break down their defensive walls against technology. No obstacle can't be overcome and it's important to help teachers develop their growth mindset mentality.
6. Be flexible.
I never really knew what type of school I are was walking into each day, the technology and comfort levels of the teachers or how often the teachers were even using the tools. I very quickly learned that building relationships and engaging in conversations before a workshop began was a sure way to begin to figure those things out. I loved hearing about where teachers were at in their technology integration and how much they wanted to do this, but sometimes just weren't sure how to go about it yet. I became very aware of how to read the audience to know when they were struggling with a concept or when teachers felt like they accomplished a task. I noticed the small things that made a big difference to how I would adjust to my teaching environment. I knew that I had to be open-minded when the direction of the workshop would change without planning and two seconds later I'd be showing a different application I hadn't planned to share that day. I really felt like I had be a chameleon adapting to it's surroundings to meet the needs of the teachers.
7. Have fun
Every one of those 7 workshops were unique. Nothing ever went the same or fully as 'planned'. The only consistency was making it fun for both the workshop participants and myself. I was on spring break after all. But learning should be fun. It shouldn't be stuffy and a lecture from the front of the room for hours and hours - that's not real learning. Students need to be getting their hands messy and trying things. As they make mistakes, they ask questions and problem solve. I learnt to not take things so seriously and when I was faced with my own uncertainty with a question we figured it out together. Technology can be daunting for some teachers but when you create a learning environment that can minimise that fear, teachers actually get motivated to develop their skills. We laughed, we smiled, we had fun, we experienced, we grew - that to me is learning.
By the end of the two weeks, I began to look at the role of a workshop facilitator and technology coach with a new perspective and even more excitement. The experience forced me to think about how educators learn best and reflect on how I learn best too. It also helped me think critically about what I need from others to feel supported and successful in my new role and how I could take that thinking and translate it to help better support other educators. The amount of personal growth in such a short time seemed tremendous to me and I am so thankful for the opportunity to work with over 200 educators from around the Delhi region. This experienced filled me with excitement and has motivated me to continue to push myself further as an educator with a new perspective of teaching and learning. I can't wait to see where my journey takes me next and look forward to learning from every opportunity that continues to unfold.