In my consulting work with Winnipeg School Division (#WinnipegSD), we have developed a program in which we develop “Innovative Teaching and Learning Leads” (ITLLs). The purpose of this program is to focus not only what innovative teaching and learning looks like, but also to develop teachers as leaders to support the process within their schools.
When we asked schools to designate a person for this opportunity, there was only two things that we shared as criteria:
- They have influence with staff.
- They are open to new learning.
Unfortunately when many organizations hear the word “innovation”, they see it as synonymous with technology. Now technology can be crucial to innovation, but it is not innovation in itself. Innovation is about creating new and better opportunities. Simple.
In our last session, we started by asking the following three questions:
- What is one thing that has challenged you in this program?
- What has been reaffirmed?
- What are you doing moving forward?
Using these questions as a basis of conversation, sparked some great learning with small groups and the larger group as a whole. Because of this, the original plan for the day was shifted to meet the needs of the group. I threw out plans and we redirected to dig deeper into portfolios, what they could look like, and how they can make an impact on learning. Here are some things that we did to change the shape of the day.
- We started off with an extended lunch break to blog. Instead of giving an hour for lunch, we gave two hours, with the expectation that a blog post for their portfolio was done at the end of the time. We also told the group that they could leave the premises and go to a space that would be most conducive to them writing a blog post. Accountability was built into this process because they had to be effective with time management as we were all going to look at each other’s blogs when we reconvened.
- When they came back, they added their blog to a google document, that put their name, twitter handle, title with a link to their blog, and the topic, along with any other comments that they had. Now everyone in the group could see what the other wrote.
- After they added their blog to the google document, I added a column at the end that said “commented on”. They were now tasked with commenting to three other participant blogs, but after they were done, they added their name to show where they commented. The rule was to NOT comment on a blog if you already saw three other comments. This way, we did our best to ensure that everyone had a comment. We also clarified that comments like “great job!”, were not enough. The comment should encourage discussion and have the author write more.
- We then took time to discuss the process with each other in our groups. Both the good and the bad. And although it was mostly good, there were some negatives as well. This is also important to understand through the process as you can further understand this process with students.
- To end the day, I gave the group a few minutes to pick a blog post that resonated with them, and to talk for 15-20 seconds about them in the group. The first name would be called out randomly, they would acknowledge another person’s blog, and then that person, would acknowledge another person in the room. This meant that people were not expected to only read each other’s blogs, but try to understand them.
This process (developed on the fly because of the group), was a beautiful thing. It was also a reminder that some of the best learning can happen in a session if you are flexible and open to the organic process of learning.
Two things that are really important to understand through this process that was connected to the ITLL program. First of all, they understand the power of portfolios by using and learning in their own process. I have long contended that education is not using digital portfolios to anywhere near their potential because you have a lot of people trying to teach something they have never learned! Talking to some of the teachers, they were deathly afraid of putting their thinking out into the world, and then they were so excited to get a comment on their blogs. It was fascinating to see their change in the process just by giving them embedded time in the day.
This leads into the second point. I wanted to make the explicit connection to how the day probably looked a lot different from your usual “staff day”, as we wanted to not only engage, but empower learners, and by giving them control of how they used their own time, that was embedded into the day, how did this help them in designing learning time with their own staff? I have long believed that one of the best ways to change learning in the classrooms, is to change learning in our professional learning days. This is something that I have written about extensively in “The Innovator’s Mindset“, but my friend Katie Martin also articulates so beautifully.
When teachers have ownership over their learning, and experience what powerful learning can look like, it changes things in their classrooms. The amazing thing is that changing this learning changes me as a facilitator as well, because I see the power of embedding this time, which to some can seem “non-structured”, but is very deliberately planned and thought out. Telling will never be as effective as experiencing. If we believe this, we have to change what professional learning can look like in our staff days, not just the conferences we attend.