A Reflection on Leading Professional Development…
A brilliant colleague and I were fortunate enough to be invited to present at our district’s summer technology+curriculum professional development offering. We were given the opportunity to select our own topic based on what we have found to be most useful and effective for classroom instruction. After creating and implementing a global collaborative project as part of our coursework in SPU’s Digital Education Leadership program, we were inspired to share this model with as many educators as possible. The ISTE Standards for students, teachers, and coaches all call for some form of the use of digital communication and collaboration tools to communicate locally and globally with students, parents, peers, and the larger community. Projects and activities of a collaborative nature are inherently more engaging for students, but more importantly they provide our students with a broader global perspective. There are multiple digital tools for video conferencing and making global connections, but since we are a district that uses GAfE, we chose to focus on and encourage the use of Google Hangout.
We titled our session Flatten Your Classroom Walls with Google Hangout. It was very important to us to get our sessions’ participants to believe that a global collaborative project is beneficial and worthwhile, but also to give them the confidence to create and implement a project of their own. Based on our knowledge of ISTE Coaching Standards as well as our own experiences attending staff trainings, we found that the most effective way to get our message across was to 1) model a Google Hangout in action, 2) discuss and share a variety of project ideas and purposes, 3) and give our learners plenty of time to practice. The practice piece is essential!
1. MODEL THE STRATEGY: We planned to connect via Google Hangout with colleagues that we have collaborated with in the past. We demonstrated how to create a Hangout, made a connection with professionals across the country, and then during our video conference, our collaborators were able to share with our participants how much they value global connections. Our participants appreciated seeing it action and learning from educators that they would otherwise never have encountered!
2. SHARE A VARIETY OF EXAMPLES: My co-instructor and I took turns sharing all of the projects we have done in our own classrooms, as well as those of people we have worked with. We candidly discussed our takeaways from each experience. Allowing yourself to admit failures in addition to celebrating successes is a powerful thing. It creates trust and fosters inspiration among your learners. Additionally, I have always found myself wanting more practical examples from the trainings that I attend. Offering a bunch of theory and “big ideas” only creates more intellectual work for teachers. Teachers want to know specifics–what other teachers have done or how a strategy could look at a given grade level.
3. PRACTICE: We all learn by doing! Many of my fellow educators can agree that the most frustrating thing about professional development is when you’re told about a new strategy or tool and then expected to take it back and implement in your classroom after a 45-minute sit-and-get. Our students can’t learn that way and neither should we! At our training session, we carved out enough time for all of our attendees to start their own Google Hangout by leaving the room and calling into the classroom from the hallway. Of course, one of the most important features of a successful video conference is to have a clear purpose. We assigned each pair an element to consider when creating a successful Hangout (sound, camera, student expectations, time zones, practice, and classroom layout) We provided some resources to explore for ideas or gave them the option to do their own internet search to come up with 2-3 bullet points under their category. During their “hallway Hangout” they shared their findings while we added it to our session’s Google Slide, which was and is still available to them in our session’s Google Classroom.
Giving your learners time explore can be daunting for some, because you don’t know what kinds of technical issues or questions might arise. These unforeseen circumstances, however, are the best opportunity to troubleshoot challenges together and be vulnerable in front of your peers, which in turn begins to foster the autonomy you want to establish in your teachers so that they may overcome their feelings of helplessness or unwillingness to try new things with technology in the classroom. Let’s do more than just put a new tool in their hands–we need to help create a mindset of lifelong learners so that we can be effective and inspiring models for our students. They deserve it.
We had such great success with Flatten Your Classroom Walls that we want to continue spreading the word. We have applied to share our presentation at other upcoming professional development workshops. At the end of each of our 3 sessions, we asked participants to complete a Google Form as an exit ticket. This was a place for them to share their ideas for a global collaborative project they’d like to implement and to give us feedback on our training session. My co-instructor and I can use this information to make adjustments to our instruction and continue to encourage making global connections in the classroom. The world is our oyster!