Monday, October 24, 2011

Learning is a "we" business.

On our Provincial Specialists Day, we usually host a small local event for teachers who can’t get away to the big provincial conferences.  This year, we had a great idea!  With help from our CUEBC colleagues (thanks @msilverton!), we live-streamed their keynote presentation from David Warlick on embracing emerging technologies.

Everything was set up, people had settled into the gym, the video was live with a notice that the start time was delayed, so we had just enough time to acknowledge organizers and introduce the keynote from our end.  The timing was perfect.  As soon as David Warlick stepped onto the stage, we turned up the volume and – horrors – the sound was a garbled mess!  Happily, Bill Boyd (a truly 21st century teacher-librarian) was there and disappeared into the sound room.  Minutes later, all was well again.

At the end of the day, as we gathered up bits and pieces of conference paraphernalia (chart paper, scissors, tape, coffee urns), stacked chairs and turned out lights, Bill joined us to see if we needed a hand.  Bill, I said, it’s so lucky we were able to fix the sound this morning!  And by we, I corrected myself, I mean you.   No, it is we, he replied.  We cannot put on events like this unless it is we.  This is a “we business.”  We have to each contribute what we can.  (This was generous, of course, since all I contributed to the morning’s near disaster was hand-wringing.)

But I’ve been thinking about “we” a lot.  It isn’t just for events, but for the daily business of classrooms that “we” is necessary.   The abundance of information, the diversity of learners, the changed goals of education (from sorting to inclusion) has made the stand-and-deliver “I”model obsolete.  But it’s hard to shift. In classrooms, we are trying by including students (peer learning) and experimenting in co-teaching models.  In professional development, we are trying to move away from our traditional workshops (the expert at the front who tells us how to do stuff) toward collaborative conversations and “do-shops”.

It’s easier said than done.  I organized two sessions for PSA day.  I opened up a computer lab and I also put out iPads and iPods in another room.  My plan was to set up some resource pages on the Working Together wiki and then float between the rooms to support, problem-solve, answer questions, connect people to resources.   But the night before I had a nightmare:  I left the computer lab to check on the Apple room and everyone there was staring blanking at the iPads and then accusingly at me, saying – what do we do?  We don’t know what to do.  After getting them started, I scurried back to the computer lab to find everyone was watching movies.  You weren’t here, they said.  We didn’t know what to do.

Of course this is always what teachers fear.  If I am not in front, in control, going through the steps, organizing and orchestrating the learning, nothing will happen.  But when we let go, we discover that the opposite is true.  When I get out of the way, allow people to pursue what’s important to them, provide time and resources – learning happens in a way that has NEVER occurred when I walk people through the steps.  I cannot count how many workshops I have put on about blogs and wikis: reviewing steps, providing handouts, working VERY hard.   And almost no one actually set up a blog or a wiki.

Here’s what really happened on PSA day when I got out of the way.  The Apple room was stuffed with people just playing and talking and thinking about possibilities for education.  When I came in a few people looked up – there were one or two questions and they ignored me.  They were too busy learning.

Meanwhile, back in the computer lab (down a long hallway and up two flights of stairs), people learned massively – without me.  Here is a short list of what some of the participants did:  Heather set up a wiki with the help of Sue and then Heather shared great links with Sue who added them to her wiki and together they learned about some new features. Glen and Peter set up their own blog with the help of Maryah who updated her wiki, set up a delicious account and began collecting digital story telling links.  Rebecca, too, set up a delicious account, scrolled through mine, found a great link to a site that she is going to use in her class and shared ideas with Loa who focussed on storytelling ideas, set up delicious and “got a baby step” into blogging.  Meanwhile, at the back of the room, the English department at Barsby created a school-wide blog for independent reading.

And me:  I answered a few questions, solved a couple of problems, engaged in some exciting conversations about technology in education - and got a lot of exercise!  But finally (!), after years of facilitating unsatisfactory technology workshops, I had a successful day – by not teaching.   Which, I guess, makes sense:  learning is a “we” business.  It goes better when “I” gets out of the way.

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