Saturday, February 16, 2008

How to start shifting your teachers: A successful model

When our teacher development and networking Ning, E-Learning for Life, reached 81 members in 2 days, when teachers are commenting and posting and sharing online and when at the end of 2 days of hard work and challenging sessions there is still a buzz of excitement in the air....I think we must have done something right. So, in my usual approach, I wish to share this experience with readers as maybe this is a successful model that you can adopt for your school in the future.

To start with I am sharing this amazing comment from a participant:

Ana - classroom teacher (when asked what she was going to do to take the first step into 21st century teaching):
"I am going to make better use of my information searching and storing system by using Delicious as my 'filing cabinet and more'... I have placed many photos on Flickr and invited my friends and family to view... I have started my Wiki page and am using it to set up a webquest on The Five Senses for the grade 2s. I am going to seek support from Mike in order to set up a blogging page for the students in my class...I've customized my iGoogle page to include all the relevant links. I've shared all that I've learned with my husband and daughters and whoever else cared to listen... and, most importantly - I've taken the plunge! I have moved from being an expert 'lurker' to...posting, and, that's big for me. Thanks for kicking me from inaction into ACTION!"

Also, this podcast of some teacher reactions during the sessions: (thanks to Ana, Sandy, Sean and Mike)

Our Ning is now filling up with comments, blog posts, new groups, new forum topics, multimedia and resources. Teachers are now aware of the possibilities and the early adopters, such as Ana, are out there doing it already.

So what did we do? How can you emulate this?

ONE - Grab an Opportunity!
Two student-free days have been on the calendar all year. Originally the administration planned for PYP training and workshops but the IBO, at 3 weeks notice, could not provide any trainers to come to Qatar so....... we were asked for ideas for substitutes. There is nothing worse in a school than being told the PD days are now private planning time....yes we all need time to do our own work however special calendared days should be planned! Thanks to our Head of IT in the Primary, Mike Boulanger, for acting quickly and recommending we use the 2 days for e-Learning PD! Thanks to Google Talk (chatting through GMail) and to Kim Cofino for being online just as we were discussing who we could bring in. Thanks to our administrators in the primary school, Sandy and Kirsten, for supporting a shift in focus for the PD days. Within one week we had approval for Kim to come, Kim had approval from her school, we had drafted a program (in Google Docs, shared between Kim and us) and were feeling excited about what was going to happen.

TWO - Plan for inclusion
We discussed the need to include large information sessions as well as workshop ideas during the two days. Teachers need to time to have personal contact and to feel that their questions are being answered. Our final schedule and full information about the 2-days of PD is on the PD Wiki.
Here is a brief summary:
For 2 days we followed this model for plenary and breakout sessions. Essentially Kim gave 2 main presentations and then each group of teachers rotated through breakout sessions with IT leaders so that they saw them twice over the 2 days.
  • Plenary sessions:
  • Breakout sessions: About 80 participants were split into 4 groups and we rotated them through 4 different breakout sessions, each 45 minutes long. It was grueling but worked!
    • Kim - Planned to go over global collaborative projects and embedding 21st century literacy, but was very flexible with what each teacher-group wanted. In some instances the sessions became question and answer with a focus on how to use the tools.
    • Mike - Focus on delicious and wikispaces
    • Julie - Focus on PLN's, Twitter, Ning and starting an RSS reader using iGoogle
    • Team planning - time to debrief and plan as a year-level group
  • Closing session for Day 1: 'The 21st Century School: Making the Shift Happen' This was an opportunity for Qatar Academy to learn from Kim and what was being developed at her school, International School Bangkok. She shared best practice and ideals and showed that change was possible given support from school administrators and willingness from teachers. This session also included a panel of QA leaders who each spoke about the direction the academy is taking and how it aligns with our curriculum objectives and how teachers are encouraged to move their professional practice into 21st century modes. It was also an opportunity for frank discussion about where QA is now and where it wants to go in the next 5 years.
  • Closing session for Day 2: A simple, whole group wrap up with everyone having an opportunity to speak out about learning experiences and to ask final questions.
THREE - Allow time for Discussion and Sharing
Instigating change in a school is scary for everyone. It was obvious from the first plenary session that many teachers were afraid and uncomfortable with this thing called a 'change in mindset'. It is so important to allow time for discussion and for sharing experiences. Over the 2 days the discussions centered around the main points raised in the presentations and workshops, but at times they did not. There were times when people wanted to talk about other worries, related to the theme. This need can be accommodated through careful planning and facilitation of sessions. However there is a fine line between sharing a concern and upsetting a session through negativity. We (Kim and organizers) navigated through some interesting attitudes and discussions, but I see this as all part of the growth a school must go through.

FOUR - Plan to Support Teachers after the PD
After it is all over and everyone goes to their much deserved what? How do we continue to foster growth and change? What happens at the start of next week when the grind of everyday teaching comes back in real terms?
At Qatar Academy this is what we are going to do. (Note however that this new setup in its entirety does not take affect until the next academic year).
  • Provide leadership for 21st century learning using information and communication tools
    • Time allocation and administrative level for a whole school leadership position has been acknowledged as required and supported
    • Time and status has been acknowledged for Primary School leadership
  • Provide technology integration support
    • There will be 3 Technology Integration Facilitators next year working mainly in the Primary School, but with some overlap into the senior area. Two of these 3 are in place now but continue this year as computer lab. teachers with set class rotations. Next year this will change as all facilitators will have flexible schedules and be able to work in the classroom as needed to support curriculum objectives and the teacher
  • Provide resources and staffing for 21st century libraries
    • The library as the hub of learning is under discussion as the emerging role of the librarian in 21st century education is evaluated
    • How this then merges with other positions and objectives in the school and how the 'librarians' come on board with 21st century literacy to work with IT specialists is being investigated and supported
Primary School IT Team and Kim Cofino

My final comments:
  • Having someone like Kim Cofino in the school with her passion for learning and passion for sharing has been a real shot in the arm for our teaching community here at Qatar Academy. I am convinced this is an important model that can be emulated elsewhere. There are 'experts' in many schools who, and I will be blunt about this, for less cost than a professional consultant (however, don't get me wrong here!), can come and be a new face in the crowd for your teachers, be a new voice that encourages and inspires, rather then the 'old' and often 'tired' voices of teachers already in the school.
  • I am pleasantly delighted at the enthusiasm of the teachers and hope we can sustain this into next year when our plans start to kick in for more support in the classroom
  • I am seriously thinking about how this approach to making shift happen can be a marketable commodity that other schools can take advantage of. I welcome you (reader of this blog) to add your ideas. How can schools tap into this working model? What would you consider doing differently? What have you already done to move teachers along the path?
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Lisa Thumann said...

Julie - Thanks for posting your plan to shift teachers into 21st Century Teaching and Learning. I couldn't agree with you more that there is a need for support and continuous professional development. Please continue to blog about the successes of your Ning as well as your overall program as you move forward.


Carolyn Foote said...


Thanks so much for sharing how you and Kim have structured the workshop days.

I like that it is more like a "conference" and less like unconnected staff development days.

It's very very helpful, and I really appreciate you sharing it!

It's exciting to see your staff so enthusiastic, and I appreciate you sharing the concerns teachers had as well.

Sheena said...

Hi Julie,

Wow! your blog is such an incredible source of information! I'm a student teacher in New Zealand, trying to learn as much as I can about using ICT effectively in the classroom. I came across your blog after reading The World is Flat and I'm just so happy I found it!

Oddly enough, I used to live in Qatar - don't usually hear of too many people who do.

Julie Lindsay said...

Lisa, thanks for dropping into my blog. yes, I will keep sharing about our experiences here in Qatar as I believe this is an important way to learn in the 21st century

Carolyn, thanks for your supportive comments. Yes, you are was more like a conference!

Hi Sheena, thanks for leaving a comment. Well, I think you will be hearing a lot more about Qatar in the future as it is certainly a go-ahead place for education here!

Laura said...

The program you describe for acquainting teachers with these internet technologies seems fantastic! I had always wondered why concepts like wikis, blogs, etc. were not used as teaching tools when I was in high school, even here in the U.S.! Now that I am in college, they are used more often, but still not often enough. These can be great tools and should be used when available by teachers and students alike to come together and share ideas. It makes sense that they had not been used in the past because teachers were not trained to use them. This program seems well designed and, as a prospective teacher, I hope I am able to attend a similar function once inside my own classroom so that such innovative technology is put to good use in the realm of education worldwide. Great work!

Laura Blaskey