Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Open Source Professional Learning: We're all in this together

Sitting over a mug of coffee the morning after I returned home from Orlando, my wife asked me, "So, what did you learn?"  

I reflected on my whirlwind forty hours at the Annual Conference of the National Association of Independent Schools and thought about all that I had learned; new approaches to student assessments, ways to manage the onslaught of technology in our lives, ways to use technology to enhance student learning, about nurturing student creativity and global citizenship and . . . what had I really learned?  It occurred to me.  The energy, enthusiasm and focus on connectedness at the conference had really taught me about the true power of collective professional learning.

Fifty years ago, Bob Marley and the Wailers sang "Who feels it knows it."  Before going to the conference I certainly understood that professional learning is driving education forward as possibly the world's most dynamic and exciting profession.  Indeed, that is part of what drew me to Orlando.  But amidst the chattering, twittering, smiling mass of educators and school administrators, I felt it.

It was clear that the conference organizers get this simple and important concept as well; that connection and the exchange of ideas between people is the wellspring of creativity, innovation and progress. (and, speaking as a history teacher, I'll note that it always has been.)  They encouraged and facilitated exchange through an active conference Twitter feed (#NAISAC14), a community blog, social events, mix & mingles and countless other ways of getting all of us sharing.  Meanwhile, the technology allowed people to come together in person through Tweetups or announcing sponsored gatherings.

I was having a blast.

What I felt was the great charge we humans get when we're surrounded by creative, productive energy, and it sends our learning curve rocketing for the moon.  My brain buzzed.  As the Information Age compels us to reimagine education from the ground up, we need this "open source" approach to school transformation.  No single educator, single school or even single country is going to successfully recreate education on their own.  We need collective learning.  We need to Fail Forward, as one inspired conference presenter said, by fearlessly trying new things, reflecting, iterating and, above all, sharing our efforts.  Blog it.  Tweet it.  Present it, in the full light of all its strengths and weaknesses.  Ask others what they've been trying on in their schools and classrooms.

We educators can no longer be silos.  The future of education is collective, democratic, life-long and omnipresent.  Bravo NAIS for your vision and leadership, for bringing us together, and for helping us see that we Independent Schools are actually dependent . . . on each other, and on all educators around the globe.  It's about learning; collective professional learning.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Global Citizenship, Service Learning & PBL at the NAIS Annual Conference!

Hey folks, it's been a while since I've posted.  A third child will do that to you.  I've also been getting way into video editing and have stayed up many a late night working on a video about a recent expeditionary learning trip I took to Belize with 12 of my amazing students.  Check it out!

But really, what I'm most excited about right now is an opportunity I have this Friday (8:00am - "Challenge 20/20: Engaging Students as Global Citizens") to give a 1-hour workshop on my experience with Challenge 20/20 in my classrooms.  This will be at the annual conference of the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS), this year in Orlando.  A big deal, and I've got a whole pile of reasons to be psyched:

  1. What an opportunity to network professionally!  I'm so ready to learn everything I possibly can from everybody I meet.  This has got to be the most exciting time in history to be in the world of education, and this conference is drawing the growing masses of teachers who are jazzed up to think big about teaching and learning.
  2. I get to present with a wonderful teacher from North Broward Prep in FL named Priscila Torres.  She's had her own set of experiences with Challenge 20/20 - experiences that neatly compliment my own.
  3. I also get to present with two of my students who have participated in Challenge 20/20 with me.  This program is all about students understanding the big global challenges of today and feeling empowered to find solutions.  Clearly, students should play a significant role in this workshop!
But what of Challenge 20/20 and this NAIS Conference workshop?  Challenge 20/20 is a program run by NAIS that matches a US classroom with an overseas classroom and assigns them one of twenty global problems to address.  Last year my 10th grade class was partnered with International School Suva in Fiji to address global infectious diseases (watch our video).  This year my seniors were partnered with Mzuzu Academy, Malawi to address biodiversity and ecosystems losses (See our Solutionaries Podcast Project).  It's global citizenship, service learning and project-based learning all wrapped up together!  The testimonials from the students say it all.

Why is this program and workshop important?  Well, speaking from the experience of a teacher, there's a maelstrom of exciting, dynamic ideas in the world of education today . . . but little to support teachers in the experimentation and adoption of new pedagogy.  For example, a teacher may want her classroom to collaborate internationally, but how exactly does that teacher find a partner school?  The role of Challenge 20/20 is to support teachers in connecting and finding resources.  Even with Challenge 20/20 it's not all smooth sailing, and that is part of the workshop as well.

If you're in Orlando at the conference this week then please join us Friday morning at 8.  I would love to meet you, to hear what you have been trying in your own classroom, and see how we might collaborate!