Short Term Communication

If there is one thing that has become blatantly obvious with our current situation, it is the importance of good communication. Good communication meaning frequent and clear communication.

Sometimes it’s more important to just say something than to try and wait until you have everything figured out. People just want to know that they’re being thought about and that their needs are being considered in the discussion of big decisions.

When there isn’t communication, that’s when people panic, get fearful, and then rumors start. And that’s how things only get worse.

At the same time though, if you are going to communicate, make sure the message is clear. If a decision is made, be clear that the decision will stand or be clear that there is even a chance the decision may have to change, and note what could happen that might create the need for the decision to change. The worst thing is to be told a decision and then a week later get new communication that entirely conflicts with the original message and the message doesn’t even acknowledge the discrepancy. This just makes people mad and causes immediate backlash.

While I am aware of the importance of frequent and clear communication, I’ve realized these past few weeks that not everyone is. I understand that everyone is stressed and working hard to make quick decisions right now, but sometimes it seems as if people just don’t understand how important communication is in order to keep communities together. And I’ve noticed this both with people I depend on for communication and people I work with to communicate to others.

This made me wonder, in school, we spend a lot of time on long term communication methods – mostly with writing papers though also with presentations. We work a lot on adequate preparation, research, and formatting in order to create compelling arguments. How often though do we spend time on short term communication best practices, like communication via email, text, or even social media messages?

In a world where technology is becoming increasingly used in team dynamics, it seems to me like having practice and proficiency in these short term communication tools may be just as important as knowing how to write a well-researched essay. We use these communication tools every day and using them properly is an essential part of successful teams, successful community support, and successful organizations.

When I went to college, one of the most frequent compliments I got from professors was, “Wow, you really know how to write a professional email. Thank you.” And what I realized is, the reason professors were so impressed with this skill is because many students don’t have it. The thing is, they still don’t learn it in college… Sure professors may comment in their syllabus about wanting well-written emails and there is probably an “academic success” workshop or two on the subject, but with something as important as communication, isn’t that worth being taught in the classroom to ensure everyone learns the skill? Furthermore, I personally think this skill should be intentionally taught in high school to maximize time for growth and development with this competency.

If we want to receive frequent and clear communication, then we need to remember to teach it.

Glad It’s With Me

“What’s the most random thing in your house that you’re really grateful for having right now? Why?” 

For me I’m super grateful for this dinky little whiteboard I got from a store called “Wonderland” I found while walking back from classes one day. It’s purple, the magnets already broke, and it has the illustrated ABC’s on the back of it and I love it!

I’ve always been a kinesthetic and visual learner. I’m the kid who likes to stand and move around while working and all of my notes include mind maps and lots of arrows. Once, freshman year of high school, I even brought my own giant whiteboard from home into school so I could use it to outline my essay during our world history midterm exam. I find that whiteboards make it easier for me to brainstorm all of my thoughts on a topic and then use lines, arrows, and circles to visually/physically be able to make all sorts of connections. It’s helped my writing tremendously, so now I use whiteboards as a way to start my brainstorm process for pretty much every assignment I do that requires critical and creative thinking.

I love whiteboards so much that at home I now have a whiteboard wall, a whiteboard desk, a giant whiteboard hanging on a wall and a smaller whiteboard on top of my desk. I use them for everything from drawing out gymnastics routines to outlining essays to just a place to do scratch work.

I lasted about a week in New Zealand before deciding I had to buy a whiteboard to use while here. (Though I did have 2 of my “homemade whiteboard” – a sheet of printer paper in a clear sleeve – they just weren’t cutting it alone. ) And now being stuck inside, I’m especially grateful for this dinky little whiteboard as I’ve already gotten so much use out of it while having this time to brainstorm new ideas and get ahead on assignments.

What random thing are you grateful for having around right now?

Recording History

Well, it’s official, New Zealand has joined the rest of the world in this pandemic and goes into “lockdown” mode in 48 hours. Schools have now been closed/moved online and other organizations are following suit with everyone preparing for the next 4 weeks staying at home.

History is being made right now, and I figured I should write/reflect about it, so here’s my update from New Zealand:

I’m 17 hours ahead from my home in the US, and yet in some ways, I feel a week behind. The past week and a half I have been dealing with the fact that the situation in the US has gotten increasingly worse and all study abroad programs were canceled with students being asked to return home. I had to decide by last Wednesday if I was going to stay here and sign away GT’s liability to me being here or go back home to the states where the health situation has been significantly worse. I decided to stay because I believe one of the worst things to do right now is travel, and I feel confident in NZ taking advantage of the extra time we’ve had here to prepare for the worst of it. So I’m here for the long-hall for now and just taking everything day by day flying solo.

^This was last week.

Today, in the middle of my International Management class, the Prime Minister announced that NZ has had 36 new confirmed cases of the virus (bringing us to a total of 102 and spreading through the community now); therefore, the decision was made to up the country to a level 3 warning which will change to a level 4 warning in 48 hours.

Since then the city has kind of been in mass prep mode.

I can’t help but find things slightly amusing, because in my mind I knew this announcement was coming any day now. The past two weeks I’ve been getting updates from friends and family and twitter back home about things slowly shutting down and school-going online and toilet paper leaving the shelves. I’ve been hearing so much, and with study abroad programs being canceled also having to think about things so much, it’s almost felt like I was living in that reality too. Even though here in NZ, I was still just going to classes per-usual and dealing with the debate about going home or not while trying to submit assignments in on time.

I specifically treated last Friday like it would be my last day on campus, being sure to buy my last scone from the cafe, getting a sweatshirt souvenir from my host university, and getting lunch at my favorite spot. Then I spent the weekend starting to stalk up on groceries and cleaning supplies.

However, with the way people were acting today, it was clear that not everyone was on the same mental page as me. It was almost as if people didn’t see this situation as inevitable.

Traffic was crazy. Grocery stores were packed with check out lines going to the back of the store. Everyone looked in a rush on the sidewalks. And this was all happening only about an hour or so after the announcement while I walked home from my class. I can only imagine what things got like later in the day.

I got home and shortly after my roommate came in with her parents and suitcases already packing up to go home along with the dozens of others in the hallways. Meanwhile, I’ve been sitting at my desk updating friends and family thinking to myself, “deja-vu.” It’s like we’re just a week or so behind everything that I’ve been hearing about in the States.

So now I’m safe and healthy alone in my apartment with lots of food supplies ready to take things day by day and readying my friends for lots of video chats. With all of this newfound time I hope to be better at blogging more frequently and I would challenge others to also create a blog to share your stories during this time of uncertainty. 30 years from now students are going to be doing school projects about “The Great Pandemic of 2020.” Wouldn’t it be cool if these future learners had all sorts of primary resources from families around the world sharing about what their daily life was like during social-isolation? Not to mention, blogging can be a great way to consume time and reflecting is a great tool for mental health management.

Whether it’s every day, once a week, three times a week, every other day, or even once every two weeks recording our history is important and everyone’s stories matter. I challenge learners of all ages to reflect, write, and share your stories.  

School and Wellbeing

I’ve been in New Zealand for three weeks now and just finished up my second week of classes. I had originally planned on writing today about the observations I’ve made about NZ education during these first two weeks – now that I’ve gone to all of my classes at least twice; however, plans change when there’s a pandemic. 

I woke up this morning to lots of emails that all essentially said: The coronavirus is getting worse so we’re shutting down campus, moving classes online, and canceling study abroad programs, therefore, everyone needs to return home to the US as quickly as possible.

Honestly one of the worst ways to wake up.

I cried. I got mad. I went to class – because why get behind?

Now I’m trying to be patient, calm, and distract myself from checking for new emails every 30 seconds.

Crazy enough it wasn’t until talking to a barista at lunch that I realized that it wasn’t the virus itself that made me sad or mad or even scared.

I was sad because I’ve been waiting for years to study in New Zealand and now I finally get here and things are going well and I’m being told to come home. Then I got mad because I realized the situation here is actually far safer than traveling through multiple airports and returning to Atlanta where there have been far more reported cases of the virus then the 4 contained cases in a different part of New Zealand from where I’m studying. (I’ve already written several emails to different people hoping to be allowed to stay since New Zealand is not the average country at the moment.) Then I got concerned with how it’s going to affect my education.

I started wondering if I have to go back to the states will I be able to keep taking my NZ classes online; how will I be able to attend tutorials which count towards my overall average? I wondered, will this push my graduation back another semester? I wondered how my financial aid will be impacted – will I lose a full semester of funding from being here for these few weeks? Will my airfare home get covered? Will I be able to re-enroll in the fall even though I was supposed to be in NZ until November? Will school even be back in August or will classes still be online or will they just officially cancel classes? If my university decides they don’t think it’s better for me to stay here, can I stay anyway, or will my visa get terminated, or will classes then not transfer?

I say all of these questions in the past tense, but I suppose I’m still wondering them I’m just trying not to focus on them as much at the moment.

Right now I’m just thinking about how crazy it is to have such a strong feeling of knowing history is being made. These next coming days in front of us will be in history textbooks.

And furthermore, I’m thinking how it’s equally crazy that in this time of world crisis, my thoughts immediately think about how my schooling will be impacted over thinking about my actual health… Have I really become that drilled into the system? And it’s not just me. I’ve made friends with other exchange students here from all over the US and they’re starting to receive similar emails requesting study abroad students to come home. They too are wondering the same questions centered around how this will impact us getting our degrees.

I didn’t cry this morning because I was scared that the virus has reached a point that requires schools shutting down and students going home. I cried because of all the questions above making me immediately think about how stressful this situation is going to make my education. And I wasn’t alone… WHY???

Why do students think first about education over health?

Is this because our generation is still young and naive and therefore, doesn’t have the same sense of worry? Is it because the situation isn’t as bad here so we aren’t thinking about the implications as intensely? Is it because every professor keeps reminding us that this is not actually the most deadly disease currently being transmitted? Or could it be because our education system focuses on schooling above wellbeing so that’s what we’ve learned to focus on too?

Honestly, it’s probably a bit of all of the above, but it’s the last question that worries me the most. When I think about my k-12 schooling, I know that individual teachers might say “put your health first and we’ll be here for you,” but I’m not sure how much I really saw this mentality in action systematically.  Whether it be mental or physical illnesses, you never really got a break from school. I remember a kid who had a serious concussion during the year that was denied from exempting exams, despite still attaining the necessary A average in the class, but it was because their illness caused them to miss too many days of school. I remember kids leaving early, or for days, due to therapy, but they had to pick up packets of strenuous homework before they left. I remember being sick myself and wanting to skype into classes so I wouldn’t have to deal with the make-up work and the amount of catch up you have to play from just missing a few days for being sick.  – Granted, I acknowledge my own bias because I’m aware of how personally I can be overly anxious about this kind of thing, but I know I’m not the only one that stresses time off from being sick.

And now we have this virus that is causing schools to move to online and I just wonder, especially now – how do we remain aware of wellbeing in our education system?

Should we even be having classes still? I can really argue both ways.

Part of me immediately thinks, “Of course! It’s the middle of the semester and we’ve already done half the work it seems silly to stop doing school work now if we’re not actually sick. It would make me more annoyed to have to not count any of this semesters’ work and start over and get pushed back a semester, plus school can be a good distraction sometimes.”

However, on the other hand, I think about all the students who typically rely on school for food, housing, work-study, etc. The students having to all of a sudden rapidly relocate. The international students worrying about family members overseas. I think about the teachers now working from home and having to balance between watching their own kids since schools are closed while also trying to change their lesson plans to be compatible with online learning. Not to mention I can only imagine all of the challenges involved with being in an area that’s actually infected. And when I think about all of these challenges I seriously wonder if students and teachers are mentally healthy enough to be also worrying about tests and projects and watching online lectures right now.

There’s no “right” answer, everything has pros and cons. And I know everyone is trying the best they can to make appropriate decisions in this time of great uncertainty, but I  can’t stop wondering about this balance between school and wellbeing and how this current volatile situation could be a chance to reconsider our actions towards wellbeing during the typical school year.

Science tells us there are good stressors and bad stressors – stressors that motivate us to work harder and grow as scholars and those that hinder us and decrease our mental and physical capacity. How might we make sure school isn’t a bad stressor? It doesn’t need to be, but oftentimes I find that it is.

Personally, I’m trying really hard right now to not be overwhelmed with the thought of being forced to leave my exchange program early and all that entails. I don’t think I like the fact that I’m more concerned with my education than my health at the moment but at least it’s led me to interesting observations that are also serving as good distractions. And I wonder, how are we going to learn from this pandemic about the balance between school and wellbeing, and how are we going to utilize what we learn once it’s under control? 

 

 

 

With that, happy Friday the 13th… and almost Pi Day! Hope this weekend isn’t my last here in New Zealand.

Kia Ora

In the midst of my journey into the field of transformative education, there has been one country that just kept coming up as somewhere with some pretty cool stuff going on in education. Since high school, I’ve been hearing via Twitter, conference guest speakers, and other education blogs that New Zealand education is worth learning more about. And now I’m finally here to check it out for myself!

It’s been a week since I took off on my first of many planes to make it here to Wellington, New Zealand. I’d like to say the week has been glamours, but that would be a lie. Like all good adventures, there have already been some ups and downs. I almost missed every flight due to airport shenanigans. Renovations didn’t finish over the break on the house I’m supposed to be in so I’ve not been able to settle in yet as I wait to move out of my temporary flat. Oh! And the temporary residential hall I’m in had a fire in the common room on the second night, so we had to evacuate for several hours and only today have been allowed back in the room to collect our plates and forks we brought for the BBQ that was supposed to happen. (Everyone and everything is fine now.) I’m also not fully enrolled yet due to paperwork taking a long time to process, so I can’t log into the online portal to even just find out where my classes will be located next week which is very stressful. However, I’ve also met some awesome people, the school and campus seem amazing so far, and I’ve already done lots of exploring like hiking a mountain, interacting with museum exhibits, and training/looking for a job at a local gymnastics gym.

So overall I’d say I’m doing fine and rolling with the punches. I’m more than a little anxious about not being fully settled – from housing to enrollment – but I also know and have been reminding myself that I’ve done everything I’m supposed to and just need to be patient and wait at this point. (As hard and frustrating as that is…)

As the school year starts off I’m excited to see how NZ university compares to the US; so far one big difference just from orientation is the “party culture.” In the States, the idea of university kids partying tries to get ignored/ students are told “don’t do that”, but here it’s very much acknowledged in more of a “have fun, but be safe” kind of philosophy. Ie. orientation speakers (of all ages) will tell you Wellington has great bars and even mention a few favorites, but also remind you to go with friends you trust and take care of each other. During our first resident hall meeting, we were even told that the hall was hosting their own party where students are allowed to bring up to three drinks – that never happens in the States… Even as someone who is very much not a partier, it’s been interesting to see these little differences already just in orientation.

There has also been a huge emphasis on community which I love – not to say universities in the States don’t value community, but I think it’s been even more emphasized here then I remember from my days touring schools and attending orientation as a freshman. This entire week, “OWeek”, is packed full of social activities both for residential halls and the general student body with everything from hall chanting competitions, to city tours, to late-night concerts, to organized hikes, to Wellington themed movie nights. Plus the entire week, anytime someone has formally spoken, they have talked about getting to know the community in and outside of the university and encourage us to volunteer as a great way to be involved and give back.

I’m excited for studies to start, and I’m also excited to continue to explore this amazing, beautiful country. Some of my “bucket list” items so far include doing a night tour at Zealandia, seeing the glow worm cave, touring Hobbit Town, and doing site visits at a few innovative k-12 schools (I know – I’m a nerd for having this on my “bucket list” and I’m proud of it).

So one week out of thirty-six down and who knows what ups and downs will come next, but I’m looking forward to the adventures yet to come on this incredible journey! Kia ora New Zealand!

iNACOL Recap/Takeaways

Last week involved dozens of hours of learning and networking with thought leaders around the country working towards transforming the education system. While I reflected each night of the conference, I also decided this week to put together a presentation of some of the biggest trends and takeaways I noticed from the conference. The intent of this presentation is so that I can share highlights from the conference with the rest of the Trailblazers Production Team since I was the only member able to attend; however, I thought I would also share it publically if anyone else was curious about the happenings at iNACOl (at least from the sessions I attended).

iNACOL Day 4: Micro-Credentials

I earned my first micro-credential today for “Introducing Your Best Self”; well, it hasn’t been officially approved by the online reviewers, but I at least went through the process of earning it and got the physical badge.

Today was the last day of iNACOL19, which also means it’s the last time it will ever be called the iNACOL Symposium since the organization is now known as the Aurora Institute – just a fun side note. On this last day, I attended the workshop on micro-credentials with Bloom Board and I wanted to share a little about what micro-credentials actually are since it’s become a buzzword in education, yet many people still don’t know what it really means.

In my own words, micro-credentials are a way to show competency in specific areas of teacher work; they are credentials earned by providing qualitative and quantitative evidence to an online platform that external experts review before certifying that a teacher has demonstrated competency in that area.

I’ve been hearing about micro-credentials for a good bit now and my biggest confusion has always been the difference between micro-credentials and badging. My understanding since attending this session is that badging is typically done in house, so the person reviewing the evidence for receiving the badge often knows the person who is applying for the badge. However, with micro-credentials, there is a whole team of external reviewers that are tasked with certifying evidence for competencies. Furthermore, my understanding is that micro-credentials at this point are specifically for the education industry and more specifically for teachers and administrators. Badging, on the other hand, has a much larger audience, but often less robust system in terms of any sort of grouping of badges.

The micro-credential world is now growing so that specific micro-credentials are grouped together to demonstrate work towards mastering larger goals. For example, on Bloom Board there is a category for “Human Management” which is made up of about 6 micro-credentials. Some school districts are using these larger categories as ways to rethink graduate education; for these districts, salary raises and job promotions are based off mastery of a certain number of micro-credentials.

I must say I was really impressed with the whole notion of micro-credentials. It makes perfect sense to me that if we are trying to personalize learning for young learners and make assessment competency-based, then we should be creating a similar system for adult learners. After all, we are all learners that need feedback in order to continue to grow. Micro-credentials help create a system for adult learners to show competency and therefore, have the ability to grow in their fields without necessarily having to go back to graduate school and pay hundreds of dollars to prove they have gained new skills since they started teaching.

The process to gaining a micro-credential was also very practical. There are four phases in the example we worked through: analyze, design, implement, evaluate. During the analyzing phase we considered how we currently introduce ourselves to new people and critically discussed how we might improve our introduction. Then during design, we drafted scripts for what a new introduction might sound like based on the resources we read which discussed the need to move away from just saying “Hi I’m X and I work at Y,” and instead create a more memorable and insightful introduction. We got feedback from our partners about this script before moving on to the implementation phase where we recorded ourselves saying the introduction. Finally, we watched our own videos and reflected on the way it sounded and looked (thinking about non-verbal communication as well). If we were actually submitting this evidence we would have taken each written reflection and our video and saved it on the online site before submitting it for review, but we did this process all on paper to make it easier to facilitate in a group setting. Apparently, when working towards some micro-credentials there may be a 5th stage between design and implement which is develope, just because some micro-credentials need to have more supporting evidence.

I think there is a lot of potential in micro-credentials especially when thinking about the evolution of science in the learning and teaching industry. Someone in our session today discussed how his master’s degree still holds up as certifying he has knowledge in education technology, but when he earned this degree the technology he was learning about was about how to wire a projector. Technology has changed significantly and yet his master’s degree still suggests he has mastery in this field. What if credentials expired and had to be renewed? This would promote the idea that we are life long learners and must always be updating our understanding of certain topics as we learn more about them as a society. Micro-credentials could be a solution to this issue because they are intentionally designed to be conducive to the lives of working teachers; therefore, no one would have to stop teaching in order to go back to school and renew their credentials as new science develops. It’s a truly fascinating idea to me, though I do know I’m a person who naturally just loves to learn new things.

I’m excited to see where the future of micro-credentials leads us in education.

iNACOL Day 3: Relationships are Key

Relationships are key to learning and equity. This has been one of the most frequently discussed themes of the past few days.

I feel like most people know and understand this on an implicit level. Personally, when I think of my high school experience and when people would ask me what my favorite part about my school was, I’d almost always first say something about the relationships I had with my teachers. I asked some of my peers today, who are also alums from my high school, “What are the top 3 things you liked most about high school?” and they also all said something about relationships as number 1. (And this is three years after graduating high school – the relationships are still what sticks with us.) Granted this was a small sample size, but I was just curious, so I texted a few people I knew I could get quick responses from. This little mini survey confirmed my hypothesis that as learners we definitely value relationships, but what has really intrigued me the last few days is learning about how relationships aren’t just valuable because we like them, there is actually ample scientific research that states strong positive relationships are critical to the learning process and to creating equity in education.

Equity is about every learner getting the resources to meet their specific needs. It’s important to distinguish that “equity” is different from “equality.” Equality is where every learner is given the same resources despite their individual needs. Our closing keynote speaker, Dr. Pedro Noguera, discussed how bullying, sleep deprivation, depression, and suicide are all examples of equity issues. These issues also bring us back to the topic of mental health and the need to educate the whole child which I discussed briefly night 1 of the conference as it has been another major trend of the week. Furthermore, these are issues that often are ignored in schools especially if students are making good grades in spite of these additional challenges in their lives. And the crazy thing is that we have the tools to combat these issues – people that care.

The  prefrontal cortex, amygdala, and hippocampus are some of the primary parts of the brain involved with learning and development. What I learned this week from Dr. Pamela Cantor with Turnaround for Children is that these parts of our brain are affected by two main hormones: cortisol and oxytocin. The former is the hormone associated with stress and the former is released due to trust and love. It turns out that oxytocin, the trust and love hormone, is actually the stronger of the two hormones and can even help protect against future stress. Therefore, these relationships we all value so much because we feel good having them – true relationships that are built on trust and consistent interaction/support –  also help our brains stay healthy and create positive neural connections that enhance learning. Strong relationships are one of the most helpful positive enrichments for the brain so they are absolutely necessary to have in school.

This is the “why” behind the need to educate the whole child. So if you were skeptic about the movement to educate the whole child, which makes sense from purely an engaged citizen leader mindset in my opinion, then listen to the science which also says relationships are key to learning and equity.

 

iNACOL Day 2: Self-Reflection

Today was amazing! From the start of the day hearing from keynote speaker Derek Wenmoth from New Zealand who somehow made me even more excited to study abroad next year in that amazing country all the way to end of the night where I participated in some fantastic networking events, I was just in awe of this wonderful community.

This was a jam-packed day of learning and networking from 7am – 9pm, but I’m not going to go in detail about everything I did and learned. Instead, I’m going to try and consolidate my thoughts down to one key take away. Today that key take away was actually a self-reflection of starting to better visualize the path I’m headed on.

I’ve been passionate about transformative education since high school, but as I get older and closer to graduate I’m starting to get asked a lot more questions about “what’s next? what do you really want to do? where do you want to go with this?” Well, my method to planning for the future tends to go like this: I say yes to lots of things and get involved in lots of projects. Then I like to stand back and look for patterns/trends in the choices I’ve made to help determine what I’ve enjoyed, where I’ve made a difference, and how I would like to proceed in my learning journey.

Today I stood back and considered the choices I’ve been making in terms of sessions I choose to attend at conferences (this one and others included). The trend I’ve noticed is that I have a deep interest in professional development (including the onboarding process in particular) and research in the science of learning and teaching. Amongst all sorts of choices, I keep finding myself drawn to these two areas, so as of right now I believe that’s the direction I’d like to continue with in the future.

I see myself in both a research and practitioner role, so with that in mind, I’d like to continue my studies by doing graduate school work related to the science of learning and teaching but I’d also like to be active in the field growing professional development programs.

Some people question my desire to go into graduate school, often because they think I want to go just because of old cultural norms around needing higher credentials, but that is not the case for me. I want to go to grad school because I like to learn and I am fascinated by certain classes taught and research being conducted at this level of schooling. I am also very accepting of the idea that we learn by doing though, and that is why I also think it would be beneficial to work some after undergrad (perhaps 2 years or so) before going back for a masters degree, this way I could have a more informed view about what is actually needed in the field in terms of research.

I’m not set in stone with this plan, and I tend to be a person that just says yes when opportunities come my way and that is often how my path is most influenced, but getting the chance to think more deeply about this path of mine through self-reflection inspired by my morning sessions and networking practice at tonight’s community events was very helpful today.

Some times takeaways aren’t a particular conversation or quote or new idea, sometimes takeaways are about how the conversations, quotes, and ideas worked together to influence your own self-discovery. That was today for me and I’m grateful for that opportunity to grow as an individual.

iNACOL Day 1: Questions to Ponder

Being able to attend events like iNACOL Symposium (as of today now known as Aurora Institute) really means a lot to me because it’s an opportunity to dive deep into the world of k-12 education – a world which I’ve been somewhat disconnected from since entering undergrad. It’s been amusing to me to see all of the surprised faces when people learn I’m a young learner that chose to attend this conference; my number one asked question of the day is, “So why are you here? Is it for a class or something…?” Yet to me what is surprising is the lack of young learners in attendance, especially since this particular conference has no registration fee for k-12 students. I have always said that my personal motivation in this field is driven by the belief that young learners should be at the forefront of education transformation. Students are the primary users of school, and every good design project will say you have to start with the users to talk with them, empathize with them, and build with them in order to actually create something that meets user needs and therefore will last.

Anyway, despite the lack of young learners, we had some great conversations today! I felt like my day was divided by three main conversations so I’ll focus my reflection on those three areas: professional development, research on online learning, and whole child development.

 

Professional Development:

In the realm of professional development, we mainly just discussed a lot of interesting questions several of us are having in regards to what effective PD looks like in innovative k-12 environments. Personally, I’m interested in the question, “How might we re-design teach training from the very beginning (i.e. undergrad teacher education)?” because if re-design teacher education then it should make the onboarding process for new teachers entering innovative learning environments much smoother. We didn’t really discuss this question in-depth today, but I enjoyed having the opportunity to work on framing this question since I have recently realized that it is a reoccurring theme in my pondering. We did however talk a lot about, “HMW measure/insure the impact of professional development on teacher growth?” I found this question particularly interesting because a lot of discussions in education have been focused around competency-based learning and how to measure/assess this style of learning. And theoretically, I see no reason why these same methodologies couldn’t be used to measure/assess teacher learning and growth. Why don’t we always practice what we preach? If we truly believe that teachers are learners too, doesn’t it make sense to provide them with frequent and specific feedback on their work? Some teachers might not yet be comfortable with the idea of receiving constant feedback on their work, but we can’t improve as individuals, schools, or larger communities without feedback. As one of our table group members said “It’s a wonderful place, your comfort zone, but nothing grows there.”

 

 

Research on Online Learning:

Moving on into the day, we discussed a lot about education research specifically within the context of online and blended learning. Today I learned that I don’t know very much about online or blended learning. I’ve taken a few online courses in the past, and I had mixed opinions about them, but that’s about my extent of knowledge in this area of education. I never realized how many different kinds of online learning systems that exist until today but apparently there are over eight based on what came up in our discussions. I don’t have a particular interest in this topic, but today was really the pre-conference day for iNACOL and since I was going to be here anyway, I decided to participate in a session and the only free session was about online and blended learning, thus that’s what I participated in. To be honest, I felt like there was a lot of information that went over my head. The session was designed based on past feedback from online teachers who requested more sessions specific to online/virtual/blended education; thus there were a lot of experts in the room talking about a lot of specific elements of research and practice.

While I didn’t have a lot of take aways today specific to online learning, I did appreciate the general focus on new education practices needing to be grounded in research. A big thing being pushed was that every change should be backed by research, and I think that’s an important idea because it proves people aren’t creating change just for the sake of it. There is a lot of thought and evidence behind decisions which helps make a very convincing case for change that goes beyond just, “Well the old system clearly doesn’t work.”

Something I also heard a lot of today was the idea of “researcher or practitioner.” This came up because our presenters were wanting to bridge this gap, noting that researchers really want to hear from practitioners what kind of research is actually needed in the field that way when research is conducted it can be of real use in the field. However, I wasn’t a big fan of the idea that we have to either be a researcher or a practitioner. Maybe it’s just the reality that we all tend to be one or the other, but I’d imagine it would be more interesting if we all did a little of both. I don’t see why k-12 practitioners can’t also be researchers. Sure timing might be challenging, but if a school could have adult learners both researching and practicing innovative teaching methods I can only imagine the sort of interesting insights that would come about.

 

 

Whole Child Development:

Finally, the end of my night included a great opening keynote given by Dr. Brooke Stafford-Brizar with the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. The keynote was all about education needing to be whole child-focused which means focusing on 6 key aspects: physical health, mental health, social-emotional development, identity development, academic development, and cognitive development. One of my favorite things she said was, “When we’re most vulnerable is when learning takes place.” I was fortunate to have an overall pretty great high school experience with very supportive peers and mentors, but I also am very aware that this is not the case for many k-12 students. Dr. Stafford-Brizar showed word clouds about studies showing when students and teachers alike were asked to pick a word that comes to mind when they think of school they thought of things like stressed, frustrated, and overwhelmed. We know all too well that mental health is an extreme problem in education today, but we have to intentionally design time, space, and culture focused on supporting mental health in order for these issues to change. Dr. Stafford-Brizar made an analogy I loved and will probably now unintentionally butcher: “We don’t expect calculus to be learned in a morning meeting or an advisory session; we intentionally design class lessons to teach these skills. So why do we expect mental health to be learned without intentionally designing for it to be taught to students?” My big wonder though is how do we actually do this in practice? Dr. Stafford-Brizar suggests starting with the adults and making sure their mental health is addressed so that it permeates into the student body. But culture change is anything but easy. So how might we create a culture that’s comfortable with being uncomfortable and vulnerable? Starting with the adults seems like a great idea, but what does that really mean and look like in the start? There is no switch that will all of a sudden make everyone totally open to talking about personal struggles at school. I’ve seen examples of schools that do a really great job with mental health, but I still don’t feel like I have a good concept on how they got started. Or in some cases, I know that the school was founded with mental health as a key principle to the mission so there wasn’t the same cultural shift that has to happen in a preexisting environment trying to become more aware of mental health needs.

So overall I would describe day 1 as a day of thought provoking questions. I didn’t have any mind blowing, game changing takeaways, but sometimes it’s okay to just take away lots of questions because every question is an opportunity to learn.

 

 

Pictures from today: