I feel like we are at a time in education where now more than ever, we need to be encouraging each other to find belonging in a professional community. We have communities within our neighborhoods, our places of worship, book clubs, sports teams, the list can go on and on.
How much are we not only encouraging but providing time for teachers, administrators, and other staff members to participate in a professional community to learn with? It doesn’t have to be leaving the district, although it’s great if you can; it might just be letting 4th-grade teachers from around the district get together, or social studies teachers, or librarians. I love it when my staff wants to go talk with other Network Administrators, System Administrators, PowerSchool administrators, etc. I always enjoy the time I get to go bounce ideas around with other technology directors.
Communities give us fresh ideas, fresh perspective, and that great feeling we all long for, a sense of belonging. It refreshes the soul and it helps us all be better in the work we do for kids.
You’ve just been to that awesome conference. It was everything you hoped it would be; you learned more than you ever thought you would, you made new connections, your brain is overflowing with fresh ideas, you are a sponge and you soaked up everything you possibly could. You are ready to change the world!
A day or two later, you are still processing through everything and you realize, “I have absolutely no idea of where to begin.”.
It happens. Also, it’s normal.
A game plan is good. An actionable game plan is even better. I’ve started to be really intentional about what I hope to accomplish when I attend a conference – which is something I’ve purposely done more of over the last year or so; be an attendee more than a presenter. Don’t get me wrong, I love presenting at conferences; it energizes me a lot. There is tremendous value in just attending, even for the seasoned presenter. But I digress to another post for another time.
I thought I’d share some thoughts and ideas about what to do after the conference. Hopefully, they’ll help as you further digest and process your learning.
Strength in numbers – if you were lucky enough to get to be there with a team from your school or district, first off you are very fortunate! Schedule that post-conference debrief and compare notes. What were the common big ideas? What fired you up the most? Talk it out, swap big ideas and trade resources. More importantly, what are you going to try with your kids that pushes you (and them) to think differently about how you do things in your classroom? How is this a win for students? Even if you didn’t go with a team, it’s still important to do all these things.
Crucial conversations – To go along with #1, whether you attended as a team or were solo in this adventure, start thinking about the important conversations that need to happen; but more important think about who they need to happen with. District leadership, school board, principal, other teachers, and parents. All are key groups that you need to share your excitement with. If it’s caused you think about a new way of teaching and learning that excites you, they need to know about it! Your voice matters a lot and the right people need to hear it if you want meaningful, sustainable change to happen.
Try, try again, rethink, and repeat. – We all know how this one goes. You get really hyped up about something you learned about, you’ve planned and prepped to make it happen, the day comes, and splat – nothing goes how you planned. This has been happening for-ev-er in our world of teaching and it’s nothing new. Expect it, welcome it, give it a hug – just be ready to refine and repeat. You owe it to yourself and your kids to give it another go.
Open the windows to the world. – In other words, stay connected! Conference hashtags and other sharing spaces aren’t just for during the actual time the conference is happening. Keep it going afterward! Ask questions, look for feedback, continue sharing what you’ve tried. Share what’s worked really well, and what hasn’t (see #3). All are important pieces in a successful conference experience. Also, don’t hesitate for one bit to reach out to a presenter you learned from – they should be willing to help you even after the conference is over. I always say in a joking (yet serious way), “I’m not cutting any of you off after the conference. I’m an easy guy to get in touch with.”.
These aren’t the only ways to have a successful post-conference experience, but they are some that have helped me and more importantly, they’ve helped lead to bigger changes for the better. I’d love to hear what your post-conference processing and planning looks like!
There is always a heavy stream of information on Twitter or any other network you belong to on a myriad of topics and buzz words. Skim over a hashtag as of late and we see a million and one ways to do better with technology, implementing personalized learning, project-based learning, makerspaces, etc., etc. No doubt that this is the beauty of being connected in various spaces – to learn from anyone about anything anytime you want. These topics are good as well as important, but where my mind really focuses most lately is how we’re properly (or not) preparing our teachers for these things. We can talk the talk and claim we’re going to walk the talk, but at the end of the day are we truly willing to do what’s necessary to make the talk and the walk into a lasting change?
We have to be talking a long, hard look at what kinds of teacher learning opportunities we’re giving our teachers first in order to give them successfully to our students. Wanting to give students more personalized learning? Then that’s how teacher PD on the topic should be designed. Allow teachers to experience it as a student if you’re wanting them to create it for their students. I saw lots of tweets about this very topic earlier in the week, and all were in favor of it, but no one was talking about how they’re preparing teachers for it. If they were, it was outweighed by the “personalized learning for everyone” posts.
We also have to make sure we’re providing “regular maintenance” opportunities beyond the initial learning opportunity. It’s like a car – what happens if you don’t regularly get an oil change or have the tires checked? The car is going to not run as intended and eventually wear out. Now put that into perspective with professional learning. Are we giving teachers enough time to reconvene and share or at least reflect on what worked/didn’t work? This is key “maintenance” our teachers need. If there aren’t instructional coaches in place (technology or otherwise) that teachers can work with, we must incorporate more self-reflection into professional learning and have teachers share this with each other.
Our teachers deserve this and our kids definitely do. We have to make it a normal part of the “scheduled maintenance”.