t's rather unlike me to return from a trip and toss my suitcase in a corner; that baby's unloaded and returned to the attic within twenty minutes of my homecoming--which is why I apologize in advance for the delay in sharing this post. (It should have been written weeks ago!)
I'm an enthusiastic fan of edcamps and the genuine alternative to traditional PD they offer. And being an edcamp cheerleader means I unabashedly offer my thoughts and takeaways from edcamp in an effort to get more of my colleagues to drink the Kool Aid.
This year's EdCampCLE was held on March 21, 2015, and it was like a homecoming reunion, catching up with the awesome "campers" I met last year. Seriously...I wish we could take the energy, enthusiasm, and great ideas from our sessions and start our own school. But since we can't, I'm unpacking my bags and sharing my shiny travel souvenirs:
1. Homework for a grade is NOT a valuable learning experience.
I attended this session entitled "Evolution of homework: What do you assign, when, and how much? Are you flipping your content? Should you?" because I'm working with a very frustrated teacher who continually assigns homework that his students very rarely complete. Why continue the battle?, I ask. What's the point? Personally, I'm in the anti-homework camp; I see it as purposeless busywork. Too many teachers assign it because they feel they have to; too many students rush through it with the same apathy. As a parent, I know that I've spent more time than is ethically scrupulous helping my sons with theirs.
One teacher argued in favor of making homework subject-specific, like math. I can get on board with that, what with the application-necessary nature of it. This is definitely an argument for flipping the content and for creating stations in the classroom. (Teachers: you don't HAVE to assign homework. Shift your focus: make the classroom learning experience more valuable.)
Another teacher, firmly entrenched in the pro-homework camp, found a compromise with which his students can work: homework is optional, but students can't "level up" if they haven't mastered the standard associated with that homework. I like this gaming aspect of homework, and definitely think it has some merit on two fronts: mastering standards (not homework) and creating autonomy and accountability within learners.
Finally, there's the option to simply not grade homework at all, but instead, to give priority to the summative and formative assessments. This was offered up by a teacher whose administration demands homework but who personally doesn't believe in it himself.
The hour-long conversation was stimulating and thought-provoking. But homework, at least as it's still being assigned, is completely worthless.
2. If you want to transform the way your students learn, then transform your learning space.
In October, I got the chance to visit a school that's completely dismantled and rebuilt learning spaces, and the two mantras from that visit I continually quote to teachers is the following: Get the crap off your walls and remove your teacher desk (aka "Fort Desk.") Teachers are infamous hoarders and we also have the antiquated notion that we need to cover every inch of our classroom walls with posters, banners, and student work. If I had my own classroom today, it would resemble an office space similar to Google or Microsoft: stripped down, inviting, and designed for collaboration. Oh, and with deliberate learning zones (or stations or pods...whatever you want to call them)!
The teachers in the "Creating 21st Learning Spaces" session want to do the same. In fact, plenty of them already have! And the primary idea is to keep the space clean and simple to minimize the distractions. We also floated the idea of (gasp!) ditching desks. One teacher bought high rounds (like those found in pubs) for his classroom students who need a break from sitting. Another keeps a few exercise balls in the classroom; still another shared her story of finding "that room" in the building where all the castoffs go and finding tables to replace the desks in her room. Finally, one very brave teacher decided to put her money where her mouth is: the following Monday she said goodbye to her teacher desk for good!
3. If we ask teachers to change the way they teach, then let's change the way we teach them.
The majority of my job entails reaching out to teachers, and my biggest concern is that many teachers limit themselves to the confines of the four walls of our classrooms. Literally. There's very little time provided to teachers to go exploring...both literally and figuratively. Two edcampCLE sessions helped me think of new ways to encourage both empowerment and collaboration: "Administration in the Digital Age. How do we empower teachers to be the best version of themselves without overwhelming them?" and "Break down those walls! How do we collaborate with other teachers in our own buildings?"
If our goal is to make learning fun again, then let's make teaching fun again--without overwhelming our teachers by throwing a bunch of new tech tools at them and hoping something will stick. Let's face it: traditional PD doesn't work anymore. And quite frankly, I'm pretty sure most of the teachers I work with hear "I want to fix you," when I say, "You do this really well, and here's something that will make it easier and more fun for you."
Some ideas tossed around that I'm definitely going to audition:
There. The bags are unpacked. And I'm determined to not put those precious souvenirs on the shelf to gather dust. Thanks, again, EdCampCLE. See you next year!
I was having coffee the other day with a high school math teacher and a "civilian" friend. Joe and I were lamenting our most recent professional development experiences.
You've been there, too: spending hours sitting and watching a PowerPoint presentation but never really getting to do anything. Nothing really learned, and certainly nothing gained. Our friend, being in business, couldn't believe that, especially in education, professional development could go so terribly awry.
And then I showed him this recent viral video about a professional development session for Chicago teachers being, in a word, infantilized by an educational consultant. He was dumbfounded. Joe and I weren't. While we'd never endured something as humiliating as our Chicago counterparts had, we had, mostly, experienced less-than-professional development.
Professional development needs to be better. It needs to be more about development. And it certainly needs to be more professional. Blogger A.J. Juliani, a K-12 Technology Staff Developer, believes that PD "has to start with a quick win," and a quick win is something that will help teachers accomplish the following:
As Juliani states, these three items provide a win for teachers and students. As for the quick part, teachers should be able to accomplish the above during one professional development session.
He's right. Something productive should come from a workshop.
I'm looking forward to an edcamp I'll be attending in May. As I've discussed in a previous post, edcamps are UNconferences where teachers create the content and collaboration among teachers drives the process. They're gaining in popularity--mostly because they work.
And because they provide a "quick win" at the end of the day.
And because they put the professionals in charge of their own development.
Edcamps are just one way to remodel professional development. What is something you've experienced that's worked for you?
image courtesy of Can't Scare A Teacher
I love teaching teachers. And I'd like to think I'm fairly good at it. As a teacher, however, I've never really enjoyed traditional professional development workshops. You know what I'm talking about: an expert in the field lectures at you for an hour, provides you with some websites and handouts, and then sends you on your merry way, uninspired and convinced you've wasted five hours of your life you'll never get back.
Personally, I don't like to make my workshops about me. (Which will certainly come as a surprise to anyone who knows me!) Yes, I like to provide useful websites and some kick-start ideas for incorporating them into your teaching. But, no, I don't particularly care to lecture at teachers. Time is a rare commodity for teachers, so instead of wasting their time, I much prefer making the best use of it. When I present, I keep it short and sweet and hand over the remainder of my allotted time to the teachers. The idea here is that they get to use the time to research what I've presented, to collaborate on some new ideas, to share insights, and to revise their own lessons using what has been offered in the presentation. Isn't that the true essence of a "work"-shop?
I was pleasantly surprised, then, to come across a blog post by Christopher Wooleyhand in which he introduces the concept of extending EdCamps to school-based PD. An EdCamp is an "un-conference" in that it flips the idea of traditional PD on its head and makes it more about the teachers and less about the presenter. EdCamps are participant-driven in terms of content and interest and are becoming increasingly popular, although I have yet to have the pleasure of attending one. EdCamps are teacher-centric events, with the teachers driving the content and collaborating; they're a celebration of teachers and what we know and what we bring to the table.
So with all this recent talk about flipping our classrooms, it only seems fair that we flip our approach to professional development, too. If you're interested in attending an EdCamp in your area, check out this list of upcoming events around the country. If you've attended an EdCamp, please share your experience in the comments section below, or email me. I'm looking for an EdCamp in the Cleveland area, because I still have a lot to learn!
Of course, I'm sure I could just take matters into my own hands. I'd like to see some happy campers for a change.
Educational consultant + #pedtech coach in Cleveland, Ohio sharing innovative technology ideas for educators.