Changing Ourselves

In Will Richardson's recent post about Changing Ourselves and our Culture, he asks:

How do we help schools and districts to begin to reshape their culture around learning in more collaborative, connected environments? How do we get to the
point where we’re not just seeing individual teachers and classrooms make the shift, but where we are seeing schools as a whole beginning to shift as well?

Here is the comment I left on his post: For me - I began making the social connections globally and then found a core group of teacher/friends that were willing to give the things I was learning a try. We ended last year as a school 1.0 and this year have grown to having a core group of teachers that blog and I recently got my entire leadership team to agree to blog a conference we attended with what we learned going back to our faculty immediately. When we want to do something new in the classroom, what do we do? We model, support while they practice and then support them independently. When bringing 21st Century Skills to schools…I think it will take more than a workshop or two. You need to have a “teacher” who will model, a group of people willing to practice and try and hopefully they will take off. I’m fortunate that has been the work environment I am in - I would like to think it would work for others.

I absolutely know that I am fortunate to work in such a collegial environment of risk takers - not typical for most- so I was not surprised by Will's response to my comment:

Thanks for relating this. I would be really interested in how you got your
leadership team to have some buy in and what the results have been in terms of
their participation. Do you think your environment is typical? Thanks for the

This got me thinking...I was so pleased and proud of the end product and feedback we got on our conference blog that I hadn't really stopped to ask the bloggers how they felt about the process. Our leadership team, who participated in the blog, consists of some teachers that blog and some that had never blogged. They all willingly jumped in - and even twittered while we were there - but I asked them to reflect on the experience and tell me what they thought:

* I thought the experience was great in many aspects. The only thing I would say is that we would need to talk next time about what the expectation on a post about a session is. Do we want to keep it to the basics? Do we want a simple overview? Do we want to add how we think this connects to our work? Do we want the post to be something that others at our school can
read and learn from at that moment? Are we going to address any information from a post at a later time? What value did the other members of our school get from the actual information that we wrote about sessions?

* For years when I have gone to a conference on the school's dime, I have felt that I had a responsibility to come home, type up my notes and share them. Sometimes, I even taught a specific "something" that I learned, but I never felt like the school got its money's worth. It made a difference for my practice, but had little influence on anyone else's. I wondered if anyone else ever even looked at my notes...
Blogging is different. For one thing, I feel a need to be more concise - to get my point across before I lose the reader! I feel encouraged to include pictures, videos, PowerPoints and other artifacts of the presentation to make it more interesting. You also can't leave in the middle of a session because you feel compelled to blog the complete session to be fair. No more session hopping! Probably the most fun was blogging about the "other than the sessions" parts of a conference. It also is much more fun to blog with a group - you feel inspired and creative when you have friends to bounce ideas.
All in all, blogging this first conference was fun, fun, fun. It was also fun to come home and hear that a teacher felt like they had learned a lot from something you'd posted or have a teacher ask you more about something you'd written. No question that I would do this again.

* I have to admit, when Melanie first suggested that we blog the conference, I thought that it was a great idea in theory, but didn't think that we were going to have enough time to get it done. (After all, we were going to be in Hollywood!) I keep my own classroom blog, so I am familiar with the process of creating a post. My writing skills are not wonderful, so it takes me a little longer to create something that I am willing to publish.
I attended my first session and blogged it while it was happening, taking much better notes than I would have if I was not blogging. I discovered that by blogging the conference, it made me more reflective of what I was learning. I spent more time analyzing what I was hearing and thinking about ways to apply it to other subject areas, not just my own. I thought about the people that I coach at my school that would benefit from my session and tried to include little details that I know they would like. I found the sessions flew by as I was already applying the new content to my classroom and taking pictures of the sessions so everyone else could see what I saw.
It surprised me how easy it was to post and how excited I was becoming to create a new post and share the information with everyone back home. I found that I thoroughly enjoyed posting and couldn't wait to read what others were posting. I think it is the most efficient way to take information from conferences and make the most out of it. I would definitely love to do it again. I think it was well worth it! (As long as the hotel has access to wireless Internet, that is.)

* As you know, I was kind of skeptical of the whole thing before we started. I think it was due to my lack of experience more than anything. As I posted a few items, I realized the gains (others being able to learn from what we posted) was worth much more than the anxiety I had about others reading what I wrote. I think it turned out great. I definitely believe we should continue. I think using technology for professional development is a must. By now, I would hope most teachers are using technology as an instructional tool however, I think there is so much more we can do. May be students can start communicating with others throughout the world via blogs. I can't believe I just said that.
Anyway, thanks for introducing me to blogging.

* San Diego, San Francisco, Hollywood, Atlanta, Orlando, Jacksonville, Washington D.C-- just a few of the places I’ve attended conferences. From the National Council Teachers Mathematics, Florida Teacher Council of Mathematics, International Reading Association, to the America’s Choice Conference. How was this conference different? This time the learning was brought back to our learning community live. Teachers could track what we were doing professionally and personally. This time, they felt like they were along for the journey, empowered to be part of the process. I’m hoping that this experience reduced their feeling of isolation. Our learning leaders back at the Creek stayed better informed with more detailed information in real time because we collectively blogged our sessions. They got information from 10 sources rather than just the one source (their coach) that they would have in previous years.
I believe this experience was possible and powerful because our Leadership Team is a professional learning community. We have a shared vision and work collectively to make sure our new learning impacts our classroom practice for improved academic gains for students. In addition, our work is transparent. We share everything from our relationships, to our calculated risk-taking, to our unprecedented results. This blog provided the avenue to share more than ever. I knew the experience would be a positive one for our Chets Creek teachers, but underestimated the impact to educators nationally and internationally. I also underestimated how it would shape our future work. In fact, from this point on, all Chets teachers will be expected to live blog all conferences they attend. New ideas will be shared instantaneously throughout all grade levels and our work will grow deeper. From now on I won’t just learn when I attend conferences, I’ll learn from others.
In addition, I am captivated by the technology of blogging conferences live. We can upload video clips, photographs, slide shows, and handouts. Teachers can immediately follow live links to broaden their learning. Furthermore, from the bloggers perspective it gives one an immediate chance to reflect on their experiences, and live the life of a writer. I am excited that this is only the beginning...

So, at my school, we are changing ourselves and learning right along with the kids. It may not be typical for what is going on at other schools, but with the relationships built along the way - we're all for one and one for all. It's too important - we can't afford not to - what are you doing to change the culture in your school?


How does a humble reader read everyone's blog and keep up? I am trying but...


We're so glad we stumbled upon your blog, and this post in particular. Changing the school culture is huge on our radar right now, and we just love this idea about blogging a conference--so smart.