Patti Grayson is a 3rd grade teacher at Hampton Roads Academy in Virginia. This post adapted from her blog Patti’s Ponderings describes the collaborative spirit that is helping her faculty become truly connected educators — and how she and members of her school-based digital learning team worked to bring that about.
In many of my blog posts I’ve mentioned my experiences with PLP (Powerful Learning Practice), and the journey our Digital Learning Team has traveled this year as part of this transformative professional development program.
Most recently, our team has created and begun implementing our action research project, the culminating project for the year. It took an enormous amount of brainstorming, patience, and determination to create a project that would work for our entire Pre-K to 12 faculty. And there was an extra challenge: the project had to be completed in the last 2 months of the school year, when we guessed faculty might be most resistant to having yet more work heaped upon them.
Our first idea was entirely too broad. When we presented it during an Elluminate session with our cohort, we got shot down – hard. We were angry, frustrated, and went back to our corner sulking and fuming…for a day. Then we took a deep breath, pulled together, and got down to business. What emerged from that point was an incredibly successful effort I would love to share.
Choosing the topic that mattered most to us
Our team decided to choose one area where the faculty most needed to grow – collaboration. We have three separate divisions that hardly see each other. We wanted to find a way we could bond as a faculty with the assistance of some new technologies that we hoped would excite our staff. We would share ideas and resources, and demonstrate the power of collaboration.
We felt strongly about these things:
• The faculty is overworked, and seldom receives positive reinforcement for their efforts. Salaries have been at a standstill for years. So we felt it was important to give something back to the faculty – to provide positive feedback and incentives.
• We needed to make sure the faculty felt supported by our team and knew they weren’t alone.
• We wanted to show the faculty how their learning was going to be useful and relevant for them.
• Although the tasks were required of them, we chose to make it fun.
We decided on two tasks each faculty member would complete.
1. Each faculty member would contribute to our school Ning and post a discussion or article. Here they could have a voice and contribute to conversations about school policy and practice.
2. Each faculty member would create a Diigo account, bookmark a site, and follow a member of the Digital Learning Team as they used this social bookmarking tool. Here they could understand the benefits of online bookmarking and find and share new resources with colleagues.
We introduced the project in 15 minutes at an all-school faculty meeting this month. We started off with a funny Xtranormal movie “Taking the First Step” (a creative way to introduce the project AND show off a cool tool). Then we explained the project and encouraged folks to ask us or one another for help. (Did you watch the movie? Go back right now and watch the movie.)
Our gaming strategy
THE GAME: To make it fun and supportive, we divided the staff among the 7 of us, so that everyone would have a team member for support. We created a game called Ningo Bingo. Everyone received a bingo card with 9 activities. Teachers weren’t required to play the game. You could just do the 2 required assignments and be finished. But… if you did just one more, you could earn a Bingo! Those who earned a Bingo could take their card to their Digital Learning Team support member and receive a small prize. We gave out bags of candy with positive affirmations – i.e., a bag of Tootsie Rolls with a note that said, “You’re on a ROLL – Keep learning!”
Those who really wanted to have some fun had the option of completing all 9 tasks on the card for a “blackout.” These tasks took the development of a personal learning network a step further and included things like commenting on a blog, creating an RSS reader, etc. Those who earned a blackout could choose a $10 gift card to a local business AND have their name put in the drawing for an IPAD 2!!! Names of those who have earned a blackout were posted on our Ning for all to see.
The faculty response has been nothing short of incredible. Folks who swore they would NEVER use technology are all over our Ning. They’re posting articles, asking questions, and exploring well beyond what we’ve asked of them. Administrative support staff (who we did not require to participate) are emailing us, asking if they can “play”… Wow.
So why did this work?
As I reflected on the experience, I thought about these things: What motivated our faculty learners? What were the optimum conditions for learning? How did we create a project that worked for all levels of ability? Why did so many learners go “above and beyond” the requirements? How many of them will continue learning on their own?
George Couros posted a blog entitled “Don’t Fear the Teacher: Creating the Optimal Learning Environment.” Although he’s describing conditions for students, George notes that this is the environment we should try to create “for all those we work with.” Here’s my summary of his main points about what all of us need as learners:
• We need to feel safe.
• We need support.
• We need to have some fun.
• We need our ideas to be valued.
• We need to learn in ways we like most.
• We need our guides to honor what we know.
• We need opportunities to excel.
• We need times and places to reflect.
As I read through his post, I realized how many of the conditions he describes we met with our project. Now the question that lingers in my mind is this: Am I meeting these conditions in my classroom as well?