PD

Our #CanConnectEd Treasure Chest

This blog post is co-written by best friends, Nycol Didcote and Annick Rauch after attending Connect 2017 in Niagara Falls.

At the beginning of the school year, we were searching for a conference to attend which would be worthwhile… so, we decided to ask for advice from someone who knows his way around conferences: George Couros. We had certain restrictions, and with those in mind, he suggested Connect 2017. After we both got approved to attend the conference, we started planning! Last Tuesday morning, we boarded our plane and off we went! Although the falls and attractions were truly breathtaking, and spending 6 days together was so recharging, what we appreciated more than most people will ever understand was being together, exploring and expanding our passions with so many other amazing educators. Here are the treasures that we found at Connect 2017:

  • Meeting educators who we’ve been following on Twitter and hearing them speak was powerful. We were actually quite giddy to connect face to face with Jennifer Casa-Todd, Tiffany Poirier, and Brian Aspinall. Although meeting these inspiring educators was nothing short of amazing, what was even more remarkable was how extremely, kind, welcoming, and down to earth they all were. What a touching experience.
    • Jennifer’s message regarding why, how, and when we should address digital citizenship in context really resonated with us. It is so important for students to become digital leaders from a young age so that their digital footprint is a positive one.

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    • Tiffany’s inspiring keynote focused on the importance of big questions as well as all types of questions asked within the classroom. We cannot find the answers to our questions without first knowing them. Allow questions to lead you and your students’ growth!
    • Brian’s passion exuded while he spoke of the importance of computational thinking. His numerous examples showcased how simple and effective integrating coding in all subject areas can be. Computer programming is a new way of communicating with an audience and is a new language that is essential and relevant in today’s world.
  • Attending Ignite Niagara allowed us to listen in on what other innovative educators are doing in their classrooms in a super casual and laid back setting. It was so energizing to be in the same room as so many passionate educators which proved to ignite many deep and worthwhile conversations. What a fantastic night: educators leading, learning, and laughing! In the words of Jonathan So, “Be with people who make you better”. It’s safe to say that we were definitely in good company!Ignite

Although we were attending a technology conference, we noticed that our greatest takeaways were all based on passion, people and relationships. After all, as Brian said, “Education is a Human System” and we believe that human connection is at the forefront of learning. Witnessing the passion that drives these speakers forward is contagious and directly impacts educators, which in turn impacts their students, and their colleagues.

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We’ll never know to which degree we’ve influenced and inspired our students. Our hope is that they will become leaders for positive change because we’ve connected with their hearts and allowed their minds to work on problems that are important to them. As Shiza Shahid said, “The power of education is the world’s greatest equalizer”. We must first understand inequalities and see room for improvement, as well as the potential in others by connecting with each other, in order to achieve this ideal.

Live A Little

Having the opportunity to spend close to a week in Niagara Falls with my best friend @AnnickRauch has been invigorating for me on many levels. First, we are attending a four day conference together (#CanConnectEd) on technology. Our numerous workshops, keynotes and networking with colleagues has been a great way for us to add a notch to our teacher tool belts. Also, it’s always uplifting to learn from others and incorporate new ideas and tools to our teaching, as learning is one of our passions. Annick’s quote from George Couros in her recent blog post titled You Are Not Alone was on point and hit the mark for me,”Isolation is now a choice educators make.” This conference and its name alone says it all. We should be connecting with people around the globe and sharing our learning with others, in any and all forms. This is true both inside and outside of our buildings. Having said that, our districts couldn’t agree more. There is a reason there are funds allotted to PD. I, for one, fully take advantage of opportunities to learn and grow. What an exhilarating experience to be able to do so in Niagara alongside my best friend.

It’s also exciting to bring new ideas and possibilities to our current schools and furthermore, bring them to the school we’ll both be teaching in this coming September. Having someone to bounce ideas off of is always ideal.

I am also incredibly grateful to my division who has allowed me to grow and bring back tangible and practical ideas and resources to our school. This conference has also allowed me take time for me and spend quality time reconnecting and reflecting with friends. It’s also amazing to step out without children and live a little, which in turn will make me a better mom and a better teacher. It’s a win-win in my books! As a mom, most times my kids end up having my first and last bites of dessert. Here, I can sit back, breathe, eat a warm meal, not clean any dishes and eat my cake too, down to the very last crumb (rather than sweeping up the million crumbs on the floor after a family meal!). It’s so awesome to spend a few days exploring a new city, learning and laughing. We should all embrace opportunities and allow this for ourselves, without guilt or worry of what others may think.

Thank you to all the teachers and speakers who have shared their thinking and purpose with us. I can only imagine how difficult it is to be away from your own families time and time again. I always find it ironic how my me-time takes away from your own. I hope you get to enjoy all of what Niagara has to offer, both in attractions and in beauty.

As Annick mentioned in her latest post, you’re not alone or at least you don’t have to be (if you don’t want to be). We are all connected or at least can be in some way, shape or form. One thing I do know for sure is we can all learn a lot from living a little. 🙂

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A Learning Continuum: What Teachers Need for Themselves

As teachers, we spend hours thinking about learning outcomes and competencies as well as developing continua to ensure scaffolding and success for all students in our schools, whether it is in reading, writing, communication, social emotional learning or in other areas of our curricula. This reminded me of how we, as teachers, need a learning continuum ourselves to ensure we keep moving from our point A to our next point B. Sure, we have Professional Development (PD) days and we draw up a Personal Learning Plan or a Growth Plan each year, but how can these be made better? To my knowledge, every teacher has them, so what isn’t working? Why is there continued resistance towards change in the field of Education? Why are we not setting the bar higher?

I recently had the very rare opportunity to take part in a PD day with none other than George Couros (@gcouros), author of The Innovator’s Mindset. As a member of the newly hired staff of École Sage Creek School (#SageCreekLRSD), we spent the greater part of the day discussing as a team the importance and significance of being innovators and wanting the same for our students, as we prepare for the adventure we have ahead – the opening of our new school this September. This is such an exciting and rare experience because all staff members were hired at the same time and therefore, we have the chance to create something amazing, push boundaries, challenge conventional thinking and develop a school culture from the ground up. Everyone on the team is a key player and we, as a staff, understand this. What really empowered me during this PD event was the way all staff members embraced Couros’ message and understood why change in education is necessary. Many who weren’t (yet) connected to Twitter signed up and by the end had posted video reflections and were sending their first Tweets. It was so nice to see my colleagues take risks and step out of their comfort zones because we know that great things never come easy. As a staff, we have a short window of time before our students walk in their classrooms and we need to collaborate more than ever to ensure we aren’t doing “old school in a new building”. Couros set the tone for the path that lies ahead.

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Walking away from this PD day, I realized this one was like no other and was not to be taken for granted! One of the many take-aways I have from Couros is that if you aren’t swimming, you’re sinking. Education is changing and if we aren’t keeping ourselves up to date, we are falling behind. I’ve always been a believer in life-long learning and believe that teachers should hold themselves to the same standards to which they hold their students. We need to learn and continue to learn – all ways and always. This made me think of how PD is done elsewhere and the place that holds Professional Learning Plans or Growth Plans in our schools. In my experience, many teachers roll their eyes when they are reminded to hand in theirs by mid-October. Many choose not to attend other PD opportunities, but complain about what is offered within the division. And those follow up meetings mid-year and end of year sometimes don’t happen. What message is this giving teachers? That their own professional growth isn’t important? That there is no time to discuss how the school and division can support you in your goals?  Have you ever known what goals teachers in your building have set for themselves without asking them? Are you guilty of implementing a strategy or reading an article just before your mid-year meeting to look as though you’ve really been reflecting and working towards the goal you’ve set? Why aren’t we sharing our learning with one another?

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As I reflect on PD events in other schools and divisions, they are (usually) nothing more than pockets of information, given to certain members in the building, who rarely have the opportunity to share their knowledge and learning with staff. If so, it is during a very little allocated time slot within a staff meeting and only if time permits. Rarely do teachers have the time to reflect, plan, try and implement the strategies, tools or practices they’ve learned during their PD. This is true for all of my own PD, except two of which were incredibly meaningful and made an impact on me as an educator. Both were focused on pedagogy and not on curriculum content.  Furthermore, many PD days have zero follow-ups and at the best of times, follow-ups are conducted by consultants who participated in the very same one-day workshop.

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As a teacher, I’m positive I am not the only one who has been frustrated with how quickly initiatives change. When they do, so does PD. It often seems we are switching priorities so often that we feel we never fully reach our set goals. We rarely have the chance to deepen learning because we skim the surface of many initiatives because of the constant changes. Jennifer Katz, author of Teaching to Diversity– the Three-Block Model of Universal Design for Learning, explains, “Racing through one initiative after another with one-off professional development days and no consistent follow-up is destructive to teachers’ feelings of self-confidence.” Not only do many teachers leave the profession because of burn-out, others may feel they don’t measure up when in reality, they are amazing – they just haven’t had the opportunity to shine.

On the bright side, it is clear through the #IMMOOC Twitter chats and the other teachers I follow on social media that PD in education is slowly changing for the better. In one school I know, a PD committee (made up a handful of skilled teachers) is facilitating their learning by setting up Genius Hour-type sessions and had their staff signQ3 up according to what interested them most. Staff learning from one another within their own building – what a concept! It costs next to nothing (only time), is based on staff’s strengths (and not on what they are lacking) and the greatest advantage is that you have a set of experts on campus that can guide you and support you at any time. I see more schools holding Book Clubs and having meaningful conversations that turn into action and I’ve come to know more teachers who are on Twitter, which tells me they are making use of all the PD available at the end of their fingertips, when and where they please! I see movement in the right direction.

What if…

  • What if teachers took more time to live out their Growth Plan instead of limiting themselves to one school year? Why change goals when you can deepen learning?
  • What if Growth Plans were co-constructed with a group of teachers in the building to promote collaboration and increase accountability?
  • What if all staff members shared their learning with one another and had time set aside to do so?
  • What if all teachers viewed all students in the school as their own?
  • What if early years teachers knew what middle years teachers were working on?
  • What if we took time in our day to reflect on our personal learning so best practices become the new standard?
  • What if we used a Google Doc to respond to an email to administrators, so we could see all answers, questions asked, and reflections made that far? Would more teachers give their feedback knowing their answers are recorded? Would this save admins countless hours of reiterating, repeating and summarizing (both inside their office and online)?
  • What if we focussed less on “being knowledgeable in all but masters of none”?
  • What if teachers had a say in their division’s priorities?
  • How would self-confidence rise if all teachers felt supported and heard?
  • What if all staff, including administrators, knew each other’s goals? How would we help one another reach them?

In regards to PD, it’s so important that we take the time to reflect and implement what we’ve learned and what gc selfie pic.JPGwe are learning. I understand there is no one size fits all, but
there is always room for growth.

We are so very fortunate to work in a 21st century school.
Let’s make sure 21st century learning takes place!