Being Comfortable with Being Uncomfortable

Everyone is in “get ready for another year” mode, or maybe you’ve already started the new school year. A new school year brings many new things: new students, new teachers, new beginnings, and quite often it brings many new challenges.

In my district, it’s our 1:1 initiative, which we call Connect2Learn, that will be our new challenge for the start of the 2015-16 school year. Actually, it’s a culmination of many challenges being triumphed over many years that got us to this point. Let me also clarify that my use of the word ‘challenge’ here does not imply something negative or insurmountable. Challenges are how we grow; and when we grow, our students are the ones who win. These are the best kind of challenges.

For some, challenges are seen as negative because they create professional discomfort. It’s something new, something different, and not the way we’ve “done school” in the past. When was the last time you were challenged professionally? We present our students with learning challenges all the time; yet as educators, we seem to be ok with not being challenged in our own learning. What has happened to the growth mindset? Bring back the “culture of the sponge” I say! Soak up all you can to help you be better for our students!

How do we get there you ask? I offer five ways that can help us become more comfortable with being uncomfortable:

1. Get connected. We need to be connected educators that are plugged in to the online opportunities we have to connect with and learn from others. There are loads of ways to do this: Twitter, Facebook groups, Google+ communities, blogs, and more. Pick one (or more if you’re feeling adventurous) and jump in. Your chances are really good that there’s someone else that can offer some “been there done that” advice.

2. Create and take opportunities. Leaders, are you keeping your teachers aware of online and face to face opportunities for growth? Teachers, are you taking these opportunities that are sent to you? Go to an edcamp, go to a conference, go to your local Google Educator Group meetup, or use social media to put together your own! If you think the online conversations and learning are good, you should try it face to face.

3. Maintain support. This one falls on districts. I of course will always first look through the technology lens because that’s my world, but it still rings true anywhere in education. If teachers go online to learn or through a face to face option we must be ready to support their efforts continually. That might mean new positions, additional positions, or simply making time for teachers to talk about and practice what they’ve learned. There has to be some kind of ongoing support system in place.

4. Empower each other.  If you’re doing any of the previous three, then this one should be happening naturally. Our leaders need to be empowering their folks to not just be better, but also empowering them by giving them opportunities to share what they’ve learned with their fellow teachers. This doesn’t have to be a formal presentation, it just needs to be a time for conversation. Let’s not have it be just hearing through the grapevine about what so-and-so is doing down the hall. If you see something outstanding happening in a classroom ask that teacher to share it!

5. Share. Sharing something awesome you’ve done with your peers (online of offline) can be a scary thing. You’re being completely transparent to your colleagues about what worked, what didn’t work, and what you plan to do next. Don’t let the idea of sharing with your colleagues get you freaked out. We’ve all been there, and remember that we need your genius! There’s so many ways you can share; just pick the one that works best for you.

We need to become more comfortable with being uncomfortable from time to time. It’s not about being the best, but every day we should strive to be better than we were yesterday.

 

 

“Sandbox Time” – The Style of PD Teachers Deserve

This morning I worked with some teachers at an area school around the topic of Google Sites with a little YouTube and other Google Apps for Education topics sprinkled in. It was straightforward for me, something I’ve done a lot and rather enjoy doing – teaching teachers and administrators about Google Apps for Education. Speaking to the power of connectedness and rethinking what teaching and learning should look like in 2015. After a comment I received from a teacher when the workshop was over, I finally decided to blog about my style of facilitating professional development. I feel kind of silly blogging about it because it seems rather obvious to incorporate “sandbox time” into adult learning, however, I’m discovering it’s not so obvious to other PD facilitators.

What is “sandbox time”? Simply put, it’s giving the group time to play. Time to explore, talk, and get comfortable. Time to discover and create new ideas.

sand castle

https://www.flickr.com/people/sis/

Teachers love to learn about new tech tools. All of us in the edtech world do. We want to (or should want to) stay on top of the latest and greatest; to explore new ideas for teaching and learning with technology. If we really want teachers to move forward, however, we should be sticking to the old adage of “less is more”. As long as you’re moving yourself forward professionally, who cares if it’s only 1 or 2 things that you get really good at? I’d rather be really comfortable with just one or two things, yet we still see sessions at conferences and workshops titled, “60 ____ in 60 minutes” and so on. This is something I remind teachers often – don’t get hung up on how fast or how much you’re moving forward, the point is to move forward!

Back to “sandbox time”. I format my workshops with this component being the most important part in my opinion. I share a little bit, give sandbox time, share a little more to build upon what we did earlier, then more “sandbox time”. Kind of like shampoo directions except it’s for facilitating professional development. One more than one occasion I have had a teacher come and say to me afterwards (as I did today) how much they appreciated me formatting the learning experience this way. The thought I usually have to myself around this is something like, “Why would I make you listen to me talk for 3 hours nonstop and cram as much down your throats as possible?!”. This isn’t an acceptable format for learning; for teachers or students.

If you’re providing professional learning opportunities to teachers and you want the learning to be meaningful and increase teacher comfort, especially around technology integration, try incorporating “sandbox time” into your next conference session or workshop! Teachers will feel more comfortable applying their learning and they’ll appreciate the departure from the routine ‘sit and get’ method!