I have written a fair bit about how my teaching has changed. The post I wrote earlier this year generally described three basic stages. At the start of my career I saw myself as a content provider and storyteller. When I became more comfortable with the craft I gave more ownership to students over their learning, which created a range of simulations and role-playing opportunities. More recently, I have searched for more ways on how to do give students ownership and, now, opportunities for real world experiences as well.
Just as my teaching has evolved and changed, so has my learning. Early in my career I was hungry for any and all professional opportunities. This was pre-social media and during the early days of the Internet. I wasn’t that selective, but I did know I wanted to know more and improve. I would read any article or book I was given. I would take gently read copies of Educational Leadership from my principal and vice-principal, and attend any opportunity offered for professional learning — from classroom management strategies and instructional design, to creating a democratic classroom.
As I moved into school administration I loved the big names and the big conferences. It truly was exciting to see and hear the big thinkers on education around the world. And, truth be known, there was something thrilling and honouring in attending these big conferences; the kind where thousands are in the room together — and I was one of them! I sat at tables with some of the key leaders in my district, the province, and the world. We all heard the same message from Michael Fullan to Sir Ken Robinson and had perspectives on where key leaders in our educational world thought we should go. I was sharing the room with edu-celebrities (I liked this word that Chris Wejr used recently, and committed to using it in a blog post).
Having recently attended two well-run, high-profile conferences, I realize these events with the speaker at the front of the room with all of us listening to the same message, no longer really works for me. They are still great events, but I don’t feel they are actually pushing my learning. What I need now is a chance to spend time making sense of what I am hearing — I crave the opportunity to engage with the smart people who are with me in the room. I like Rebecca Rosen’s notion that “The smartest person in the room is no longer a person but the room itself.” I have seen what is possible in the social media era. If I want to watch a speaker deliver a keynote I can watch it on YouTube. If I am going to see that keynote in person, I need to have some focussed engagement with others on what is being said. If I am going to travel to conferences, then I need it to add value — not only to come away with new ideas, but new tools that I have had the chance to try, and the experience I couldn’t have had if I were not there.
I don’t mean to criticize the traditional conference because it DOES have value and there IS something powerful about being in a room of people hearing a similar message. Personally, however, I have moved past the learning options that were available to me a decade ago. So, having also recently attended an EdCamp, I can say there is something between that and a traditional conference that would be best for how I want to learn. And, I am okay with giving up a Saturday (with the promise of a bagged lunch) to sit in a high school to talk teaching and learning.
A couple of TEDx events I attended were also closer to hitting my learning mark, with shorter times for the keynotes and longer times for participant interaction. I am also finding events that bring people together from outside education, other government sectors, non-for-profits, or the corporate world, to be valuable in adding a range of views and perspectives to conversations.
And what else do I find is making a difference? Focussed visits to districts, schools and classes are very powerful, with specific objectives and learning in action and not only in a presentation. I also find the traditional ‘study group’ to continue to have a huge impact on my learning. My first principal, Gail Sumanik, would bring donuts and coffee an hour before school started on Wednesday morning when interested staff would discuss an article, a strategy or part of a book. I have carried this simple structure forward to other roles and find these conversations to be extremely valuable. Another structure that I find valuable is some sort of networked learning – the kind that Judy Halbert and Linda Kaser have led so well in BC for well over a decade.
And yes, I find the ongoing engagement on my blog, the dozens of others I regularly read and other ways I connect in social media, to be very powerful on my learning. I love the opportunities, both face-to-face and virtual, that are about sharing and learning together.
Last, but by no means least, I guess what I want for my learning is what I want for my kids, some form of personalized learning. And, I am realizing my learning has changed, and that I have become a different learner than I was even five years ago.