Woman with books and ipad touchI was asked by our technology director to help facilitate an iPad workshop for teachers. They had just received their new devices and were looking for ways to use them well. From previous trainings, I knew that as much as people want to be told what to do with these new ways of learning, we can end up limiting the potential that can be achieved when we plan for specific outcomes.

I wanted to prepare for possibilities. I thought about what I would want for my own kids, if these teachers had them as students in their classrooms. So I spent the majority of my time putting together a page on a Google Site that would help the participants set high expectations for engagement in their classrooms.

We wouldn’t be talking about apps necessarily. Instead, I would ask them questions about what they wanted their students to know and be able to do — and let their interest and awareness of students’ needs guide their learning experience.

I finished up the webpage a few days ahead of the workshop. The night before the training, my wife asked me if I needed to get anything ready for tomorrow. “No,” I said. “My work is done.” I fully expected the teachers would take over the learning. (They did.)

Tech-free tech talk

That morning, I waltzed into the training site (another elementary school) and found the computer lab. The stations were arranged in rows. This was not exactly the best environment to explore ideas with colleagues, although it is typical of most labs. Considering this, I pulled a table to the front of the room and arranged chairs around it. The projector was turned on and I brought up my Google Site page.

As participants for the first session entered the room, they started to look for a computer station to sit at.

“Actually” I interjected, “please find a seat at the table in the middle. You won’t need technology for the first part of this training.”

With confused faces, they complied and sat. When everyone was ready, I asked the group, “Why should we change?” The teachers thought carefully (all two of them; I was later informed that my session title “Technology and Curriculum Integration” sounded boring). Finally, one of them responded: “I really want my parents to see how their kids are doing with their learning while the school year is in progress. I don’t want to wait until April to show them their child’s work at Portfolio Night.”

Just like a teacher conferring with a student about their reading, I carefully listened to what they said. A few apps to facilitate this process came to mind, but I held off on making any suggestions. Instead, I paraphrased what she said to me (“So you want to share your students’ learning in real time with their parents”) along with a question (“I wonder what kind of work you would want to share with them. What is the benefit?”).

At this point, the two teachers and I engaged in a very deep discussion about how technology can bridge the divide that sometimes occurs between schools and home. Each of our ideas were viewed as valuable. Nothing was off the table.

SAMR Model (source: Jenny Luca, http://jennyluca.wikispaces.com/TPACK+and+SAMR

SAMR Model (source: Jenny Luca)

After introducing the SAMR and TPACK frameworks to help us apply these ideas to more concrete concepts, I showed them a few examples of what digital portfolios might look like. The tools used to facilitate communication about student learning were shared as only suggestions.

Halfway through our session, both teachers agreed that KidBlog could be a powerful tool for showcasing student learning for a broader audience and in a meaningful way. Mind you, we hadn’t yet touched a computer or tablet.

The rest of our time was spent exploring KidBlog and related tools. The teachers knew exactly what they wanted their students to do. The technology was there to facilitate this engagement. My role was now relegated to sitting at their side, listening to their plans and questions. I responded to questions with more questions and found that the teachers often already had the answers. As our session wrapped up, there were smiles on their faces.

Sitting on the side

Educators often feel overwhelmed after a training or seminar, and the introduction of technology can magnify that feeling. It wasn’t the case in this instance. These two teachers left with a purpose; you could tell they were having a hard time waiting until school started to try these ideas out with their students. Their enthusiasm was contagious. This outcome occurred despite all of the current negativity surrounding our political/educational climate. There was hope for the future, both for their incoming students and for their professional lives.

Afterward, one of the teachers emailed me to express gratitude for our time together. One statement really stuck out to me: “Your help and willingness to meet us where we were at was so appreciated.” The concept of formatively assessing learning to shape my instruction was obviously modeled for these teachers that day.

I responded by first celebrating their accomplishments. But I didn’t let them rest on their laurels. I asked questions to help them reflect on their current reality. I wondered aloud about the possibilities. I pointed out ways in which they could get from where they were to where they wanted to be.

The teachers responded with insight and obvious eagerness to learn more. Who wouldn’t want a son or daughter in one of their classrooms?

Now I just need to work on that session title . . . .

About the author
Matt Renwick is a 16-year public educator who began as a 5th and 6th grade teacher in a country school outside of Wisconsin Rapids, WI. After seven years of teaching, he served as a junior high dean of students, assistant principal and athletic director before becoming an elementary school leader in Wisconsin Rapids. Matt blogs at Reading by Example, tweets @ReadByExample and also writes for EdTech magazine and other publications. His book Digital Student Porfolios: A Whole School Approach to Connected Learning and Continuous Improvement was published in July.