What makes you lean in? Why do you lead? These were just a few of the questions asked in a session at #EdCampIowa yesterday. I attended at the Southeast location in Cedar Rapids at the Geonetric Building which houses IowaBIG and NewBoCo.
You know that feeling when you with you could be in two places, maybe even three places, at once? That's how I felt most of the day while at EdCampIowa. Every session was full of passionate educators sharing about topics themed around transforming education for our students, creating student leaders, integrating technology, social/emotional needs of students, and adult learning.
StuVoice was loud and clear throughout the entire day. I appreciated the input from students on what they feel is happening in education and what they feel like needs to happen in education. The way these students approached adults, shared their concerns, and offered potential solutions was inspiring. Many of these students are learning in "non-traditional" systems. They were students at either IowaBIG or the Kenwood Leadership Academy, both in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. I left thinking, "What are we doing to teach students "soft skills" and allowing them time to practice for a variety of audiences?" I also wonder what we are doing to get authentic feedback from our students. One thing that I noticed while listening to students give feedback, not one educator in the room got defensive. Every educator in the room listened intently in order to understand what the students were saying.
There is so much more that I need to learn. As a coach, I couldn't possibly have all of the answers to the questions that come at me throughout the day. One phrase I'm beginning to master is, "I don't know, but we can find the answer together." EdCampIowa opened my eyes to resources that I didn't know existed. It also provided me with an opportunity to grow my PLN and have a supportive group to ask questions to.
Most sessions began with educators sharing their role and the district they work for. It made me incredibly proud to say that I am from Benton CSD and then hear it repeated by other passionate educators in the room. Our presence was strong and I'm proud to be a Bobcat.
Visible Learning is an idea brought to us by John Hattie. Beyond reading different books by Hattie, I have had the opportunity to learn about Visible Learning from Steve Ventura. Grant Wood AEA has hosted opportunities for area educators to learn from Steve the past two years. At one of his sessions this year, he shared a visual created by another district that he had worked with that describes characteristics of visible learners. We put own out Benton CSD spin on the visual and now have it posted in classrooms throughout the building.
We were able to talk about Visible Learning and student-centered classrooms during professional learning recently. During the session, teachers reflected their current reality of knowledge and implementation and on what is getting in their way of implementing some of the ideas behind Visible Learning in their classroom. Every conversation teachers had about what gets in the way went back to knowledge. We need to learn more about attributes of student-centered classrooms and characteristics of visible learners. If we want our students to learn in student-centered environments and embody the characteristics of visible learners, we have to build the ideas behind them into everything that we do and make it part of our culture. This will be a focus for us moving forward. We have started by using the Innovation Configuration Map, brought to us by the Iowa Department of Education. We are excited to use this tool to guide our conversations in the future.
The day of learning walks was one of my favorite days as a classroom teacher. I didn't know I could love it anymore than I already did, and then I became an Instructional Coach. I get giddy with thought of all of the deep reflection that comes out of learning walk conversations.
We changed a few things about the learning walk process this time around. We considered the feedback that we received after our learning walks from earlier this year. Teachers wanted more flexibility in where they went and what they saw. All doors were open at all points throughout the day for this round of learning walks. At first, there was some hesitation in the air around the idea that no one knew when their colleagues were going to enter their classroom. This was very different than past learning walks where teachers got to choose when their classroom would be open. My standard response was, "Just do what you'd normally do. No one is coming in with a critical lens. Do what you know is best for your kids."
Teachers added their schedule and/or lesson plans for the day on the schedule board. When it was your team's turn to have room coverage, you came and looked at all of the schedules and decided where you wanted to go. Most teams went to three or more classrooms throughout the day. While working through this process with teams, I heard a lot of comments like, "I've never been to.... Let's go there!" This was also a good opportunity to grab a piece of chocolate! (Another learning walk necessity!)
Teams observed for a few minutes in each classroom they walked in. After the observation, most teams met in the hallway for a brief reflection of what they saw and heard. This is by far the most rewarding part of this process. I heard many teachers make comments like the following:
Teachers will provide each other with feedback from their observations. This was always one of my favorite components of learning walks as a teacher. I wanted to know what other people saw and heard and what questions they had that would challenge my thinking.
My biggest take-away from the day was that our students want to talk about what they are learning. I asked a number of students about what they were working on when I entered classrooms throughout the day. All of them were excited to share what they were learning and why they were engaged in a specific task. This sparked some deeper reflection. What are we doing to create a culture where they have opportunities to do this outside of the 3 or 4 times a year we have learning walks? What kind of audience are we exposing them to? How can we start embedding this into our classroom and building culture?
We are so fortunate to be surrounded by so many talented, passionate educators. There is so much we can learn from each other.