Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Pro Tip: What to Do When Organic Learning Makes People Uncomfortable #Edcamp

Edcamp Abu Dhabi by kjarrett, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License   by  kjarrett 

Edcamp leaders across the country often grapple with the tension between participant-driven behavior and a clearly organized day. Especially if it's your first time organizing an Edcamp, you likely recognize this delicate dance.

We want things to go smoothly. We want people to have a great day of learning.

We CERTAINLY DON'T want people to point fingers or ridicule us for a day of learning that completely falls apart.

RIGHT?!?!?!? RIGHT? (Yea, the voices in our head can be really tough sometimes.)

BUT, if we truly embrace organic learning, then we must recognize that it's messy. And bumpy.

By allowing everyone to collaborate and work together, we also have to allow for a bit of wiggle room. Things can run smoothly, but it's never clockwork when everyone truly has a voice. This does not mean that the day was a failure or the organizers were incompetent. It means that everyone truly allowed the needs of the room to guide the learning.

If you're facing this right now, here are 3 tips to help you have a great day:

1) Manage everyone's expectations.
It's not uncommon for Edcamps to have many newbies in attendance. At the start of the day, clearly explain that it's normal for some downtime and that a series of conversations which "sputter out" is completely normal.

2) Don't overplan.
Sometimes Edcamp organizers plan every last detail, only to later realize that this level of overplanning actually disempowers the participants. You are only there to create the conditions for learning. Participants create the learning themselves.

3) Remind people - "The only person to blame for a bad day at Edcamp... is YOURSELF."
At an Edcamp, each participant is in full control of their learning. If something isn't working, they should move and find something that IS working. By constantly reminding people that they too are responsible for making the day awesome, you'll get a lot farther.

Edcamps aren't perfect. And I think I'd like to keep it that way.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The Power of Human Capital - Our Most Valuable Resource

Batumi by vampa_, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License   by  vampa_ 

Human capital is the most valuable resource in our schools.

Need proof?

We spend about 80% of our school budgets on salaries and benefits for our human capital. All things considered, that's a lot of money.

And although we invest more money in our people than any other resource, there are many ways we can retain and develop that asset. Often, the things that have the greatest impact on our human capital don't cost money.

To use the famous words of Daniel Pink, we're mostly motivated by mastery, autonomy, and purpose. Put more simply, mission matters.

If we can help people further their personal missions at work, then they're more likely to be satisfied. Need particulars? Consider these strategies:

  • Have people share their areas of expertise with each other. Google calls this "Googler to Googler." I call it Edcamp.
  • Share testimonials from students. A lot. This helps people see their impact.
  • Create policies that assume positive intent. This is a biggie, and it often runs counter to our intuitions about compliance.
What steps can you, as a leader, take to make educators more satisfied in your system? I'd love to hear your ideas and thoughts below!

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Friendships & Peer Acceptance - 2 Different Sides of the Coin

At my research organization, we have a growing new tradition: Master Classes.

These classes allow people to share their expertise openly with everyone else. The process is relatively informal, conversational, and activity-based.

(Yea, it's basically an internal Edcamp Express for my organization each week.)

This past week, Kate Parkinson shared her expertise on friendships and friendship quality. She studied this extensively for her master's thesis.

Her results echoed many of the existing trends in the research, but one finding really stuck with me.

Kate found that:
"Educational interventions can help people gain peer acceptance (being well-liked), but they are much less effective at helping people actually acquire friends."

So, teaching kids to "share" and "take turns" can help them be better liked by the group. But making friends is a largely individualistic process that is more resistant to our intentional lessons. This finding gave me pause and made me realize that, as educators, we have a responsibility to not only teach kids how to "get along" but we also need to model true friendship.

And, although this can't be taught with simple lessons, I believe it can be learned over time. Perhaps we can provide models ourselves, provide models through literature, and help kids see model friends among their peers.

Just thinking out loud here......

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

The Return of the Novice

Being a novice means that every step is laborious.

You take every step intentionally. Each piece feels isolated and new.

Alternatively, being an expert means that every step is fluid.

You see patterns effortlessly. You recall old information and fit new knowledge into it with ease.

This summer, I'm learning something very unfamiliar and new -- cooking. Each time I try a new recipe or ingredient, I slow to a crawl. I'm just starting to see how different families of food are connected. Being a novice again has made me realize just how intimidating it can be when you're at the beginning of a learning journey.

After a particularly bad food experiment (I've given up on calling them recipes...), I felt overwhelmed and exhausted. And so, I turned to something that easy and effortless for me: educational research.

I flipped through How People Learn until I found the section on experts and novices:

As I read the tenets, I found myself in them.

I can't see patterns between different foods - who knew that turnips and yams were both root vegetables and therefore starchy? (Some of you probably knew that!)

I can't retrieve steps in recipes or processes without staring directly at the directions. And sometimes, when processes were fast, I make mistakes.

I certainly don't have a lot of content knowledge. Reading cookbooks requires quite a bit of translation via Google.

In short, being a novice is hard. It doesn't feel great. It requires a lot of time and effort to accomplish things that many people saw as "basic" or "beginning."

Let's remember that all of our kids come to us in September as novices. Everything has to be intentional. Every step requires effort.

As experts about many things in our classroom, it can be easy to forget this. Let's remember!

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Three Great Summer Reads

I know that many of us are about to embark on a brief respite before school resumes again. For me, this is a time to explore new ideas and lots of great books!

If you're looking for great summer reads, here are my top 3 recommendations to get you ready for next year. (Leave your suggestions for me in the comments or tweet me!)

1) Are You Fully Charged? by Rath

This book helps you determine if you're actually maximizing your health and productivity. It covers topics such as the need for quick wins, mission-driven work, and social experiences in our work. While many of the topics are related to other books I've read, it was a nice soup to nuts summary.

2) Think Like A Freak by Levitt and Dubner

This book, from the authors of Freakonomics, helps us identify and hone thinking strategies to unleash our inner creativity. From topics such as "the value of quitting" to "persuading people who don't want to be persuaded." Not only are there engaging stories, but there are also practical tips that can certainly inform your instruction next year.

3) Rework by Fried and Hansson

This book from 37 Signals helps you reframe which work makes you most impactful. I like this book because it features brief stories or manifestos that you can easily reuse or post for quick reference. It questions traditional thinking about how we spend our working lives and also reminds us that our own expectations can one of the strongest forces holding us back. Enjoy!

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Why Connections Matter: #Edcamp Idaho

Last week, I had the opportunity to attend Edcamp Idaho. The organizing team was incredible, the room was filled with experienced and novice participants alike, and the sessions were really diverse.

As I went through the day, learning and sharing, I realized one thing:
As educators, we are more alike than we are different.

Although the people in Idaho deal with much different circumstances than I faced in my teaching career, it was clear to me that many common threads remained. We were all driving similar rocks up similar hills.

However, the Edcamp protocol and all the discussions helped us to realize that we had each other. We weren't alone in this journey for kids. We had each other.

And for me, that's the value of being connected. Being connected to educators in Idaho not only makes me stronger, but it also helps me understand the ways that we can use our shared experiences to tackle the same issues. That's powerful.

Thank you Edcamp Idaho!

And... as you can see below... Dave Guymon is STILL taller than me. Sigh.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Putting People First- Human Centered Service Design

I love my work. (I'm pretty sure most of you already knew that!)

There is one facet of my work rises to the top as my favorite: Human Centered Service Design


Human centered service design is a term I use when creating valuable learning experiences that truly put a person's needs at the center. Most service problems actually result from poorly constructed experiences, and thoughtful changes can often improve or significantly amend a situation. Many months ago, I was inspired by David Bill to think about this work. His expertise lies in spatial design, and I applied his methodology to services.

Here's a visual I use to show all the touch points that one should consider when thinking about a service for humans:

When people are at the center, you should consider the ways that place, partners, process, and props all interact with them. It's likely that you can think of even more touch points. That's great. This is just an organizer to start the conversation.

So, let's try an example. Let's say that we're designing a professional learning service.

Instead of jumping right into the content and pedagogies of the workshop, what if you stopped to ask the following questions about the service?

Props - What tangible items or images could make this experience better?
Place - What is the best place for this learning? F2F? Virtual? A hybrid?
Process - What process should people go through from registration to completion? Why?
Partners - What partners can make our work better?

As you can see, you'd likely end up with a pretty detailed plan that ensures the entire experience is linked back to the humans that will engage with it. That's critical.

Putting people at the center of the experience takes more time, but it is an investment worth making. I hope this helps!



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