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?
Latest posts by Patti Grayson (see all)
- Rethinking Content in the Digital Age - September 4, 2012
- Escape to Summer Reading - June 12, 2012
- Our Skype Adventures: Creating Connected Learners in a Global Classroom - May 29, 2012
Thanks Patti for sharing your learning experience. A couple things jump out at me.
1. This statement- “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.”
I am proud your team was able to regroup after one day. The truth is though that we (all of education) need to come to a place we can value critical friends. Friends who give us both warm and cool feedback from a position of respect and truly wanting us to “get better” at what we do.
For too long have we cheered each other on and not helped hold our own accountable in respectful ways. If we had mutual accountability from people we knew and trusted then we wouldn’t need mandatory accountability.
I get it– everyone bashes teachers today so we at least expect a little encouragement from our own– but what value is that encouragement if it is superficial? We expect kids to accept our often brutal feedback (F) or zero for their efforts and to recover immediately and yet often, and this is not speaking of your team but educators in general (myself included), we will not even take gentle, constructive feedback of our collective efforts.
Like I said, I am proud you guys turned it around in a day. It shows such depth of character.
2) So from an action research perspective here are some things I would love for your team to think about before we meet in Dallas.
— What are the essential questions you are trying to answer?
For example- I could see these…
You guys know where you were going and if you could transparently share about that direction that would be awesome.
Once you determined what you are specifically looking for– how well did you do? Did the activity result in answering your questions or did it open a new possibility all together?
Thanks for being so candid in sharing your work. We are very proud of your team’s willingness to grow, stretch and learn.
One of my students just wrote in her journal that her father taught her that when someone rejects an idea or gives criticism, she has to disconnect herself from the idea. In other words, they are not rejecting or criticizing her (for the most part) but rather her idea.
She was writing in the context of group communication (the course I teach) and how she learned this semester that conflict (especially cognitive) can be good and constructive. It seems that this is what happened to make Patti’s group so much more successful. It is a good lesson to teach our students.
You’re absolutely right… My daughter is a graphic artist, and has learned the same thing about her art. Sometimes it’s hard to remove your EGO from the idea, but as soon as you do, you are free to see it objectively, and work toward progress!
Thanks, Sheryl! Our team is meeting this week, and we will be sure to address these items in preparation for our celebration in Dallas. It’s been a wonderful journey with results that exceeded our expectations!
I was reading your blog as part of an assignment I have for a class I am taking. I had never visited a blog before. I am one of those who are afraid of anything that has to do with technology. I am glad I visited your blog. I was just reading about the importance of collaboration to enhance student learning. The activity seems like a lot of fun. We have never done a school wide activity to help us feel comfortable about technology.I am truly impressed to see what other teachers are doing to improve their practice and hence improve student learning. I am now going to start visiting blogs to learn and to connect with other educators.
I enjoyed reading your blog. I also am not a blogger, but needed to read blogs as part of an assignment for my class. We have been reading/discussing collaboration. It is important for teachers to collaborate with one another to improve student learning. The idea of being able to share bookmarks online with others is helpful with planning and integrating technology into the classroom. My school has an online math program, where each grade level made assignments to share with each other. We have not had access to a resource to share various online resources. I look forward to sharing Diigo with my team and possibly the school.