I often see this question in Twitter chats, in keynotes, or when it’s asked of esteemed panelists: “How do we create real, systemic change in education?”.
While I’ve never thought there was one clear answer to this question; one particular action or formula that could solve all the problems in education, I do believe that people (as in you and I and every other education stakeholder) have all the power to make the changes that need to be made for our students. The power lies with us. We should never underestimate the power of a group of people who are well-informed about the possibilities available to our students.
Think about it this way. What if every person that attended a conference, went to an edcamp, participated in a Twitter chat, etc. committed to sharing 1 new idea with just 1 person? Then the 1 person they told commits to sharing with 1 person, and so on and so on. While your school or district likely sees the value in participating in professional learning opportunities, do they see (and hold teachers accountable to) the value of sharing out what has been learned? Not just creating reflection around how it will help me as a teacher, but looking deeper at how it will help me help others.
Just like we should be personalizing and differentiating learning for students, I wholeheartedly believe teachers should get the same in their professional learning. While I’m sure there’s more work to do in that specific area, I think a lot of systems are seeing the value and starting to provide a wider variety of options, particularly self-directed ones. However, we must make a more concerted plan of how our learning is not only going to affect our teaching and learning but how it could affect all teaching and learning. We need to lean more on our own people and empower them to spread their genius to all stakeholders.
This past Monday, I had the privilege of facilitating a day-long workshop around YouTube and the power of video in the classroom. I had found out beforehand that my audience was going to be half teachers, half students. I had certainly worked with students before but I think this was the first time they were truly “attending” something I was leading. I felt good about the workshop going in, but I did have in the back of my mind a bit of nervousness (I always do, students or not) about how it would go with students being there. I love teaching on this topic so I wanted to make sure what I was sharing was applicable to teachers and students both.
The high school students that joined their teachers were outstanding. Not only did they fully engage with me by asking great questions and participating, they felt comfortable enough to help me out with helping their teachers throughout the day. It made me wonder, “What if we did this more often?”. What if we allowed students to sit down and learn alongside teachers? What if we allowed students to actually lead professional development? Many of the edtech topics I frequently see presented could be equally as applicable to students and I’m sure students could come up with some great topics to teach us too. How about we create more opportunities for them?
Last week I had the pleasure to attend FETC in Orlando. I mean, who doesn’t love going to Florida in January right? However, Orlando is not the word in that first sentence that I want to focus on here. The imperative word in that first sentence is attend. I did not present once at the conference, which I discovered was a big surprise to many of my colleagues when I answered, “Zero.” or, “I’m not.” to their question, “How many times/What are you presenting?”.
It’s not that I didn’t want to present; I love getting to present to teachers and teacher leaders. FETC is an awesome place to present. This happened to be a trip that my district sent me on and I chose to be 100% an attendee. It was fantastic not having to worry about getting slides ready, making last minute tweaks and changes, and just the general stress that comes with presenting at a conference. It was a refreshing change of pace (no pun intended).
The more this came up in conversation as I visited with friends, the more I thought that I really don’t do this enough for myself. Then it made me think that more presenters (especially the well-known ones that present a lot) should make time for themselves to just be an attendee. So many of us speak about being lifelong learners and having a growth mindset, but do we really walk the talk as much as we should? I know an in-person conference isn’t the only way to learn. We have blogs, books, YouTube, etc. to help us “sharpen the saw” too. For me, though, there’s still high value in an in-person event and just attending. I feel like I will not only be a better tech coach (the sessions were awesome and I learned a lot) but a better presenter because of it. It’s a choice I would encourage presenters to make more often. It’s re-energizing!