That Conference Planning Life

Oh hello my poor poor neglected blog! So sad and dusty! I’ve kept you, thinking that maybe one day I might come back to you. I’m making no promises, but maybe that might just happen…

For right now, I have a very real need that I think this dusty blog can meet. I know most folks who know me, know that I help plan (and shamelessly promote) SUM Conference every year. Over the years, it has been a personal priority that our keynotes and session facilitators are a diverse group of educators. This has been made much easier by the amazing #MTBoS community, and the relationships I have developed there.

My day job also has me planning the annual Saskatchewan IT Summit, an EdTech conference that brings together both educators and tech support personnel from across the province. While my commitment to diversity remains, my connections and knowledge of this particular sphere of educators is just so much less. It’s not that I’m not interested in EdTech, it’s just that I’m way more interested in mathematics and so that’s where I’ve built a community and have connections I can use to craft a conference line up.

This year, as we do every year, my advisory committee submitted suggestions for who I might research to have keynote next year’s conference. Since they all just email me some names, they have no idea that they constructed a list of exclusively white men. Yikes. While our end selection may be a white male because we truly feel they have the message and knowledge that our participants need most this upcoming year, I am wildly uncomfortable about a starting point of a list of 10 white dudes. So, I then sent out a tweet asking where I might start to do some research on the amazing women of EdTech. Unsurprisingly I was bombarded with recommendations, so many that it would be absolutely impossible for me to research them all.

So, why not create a space that can meet my need of finding talent and simultaneously support others who might have similar needs to mine? This is obviously not perfect, as this work is absolutely intersectional and I am limiting this project to women for right now. Maybe I will think of a way to thoughtfully expand the different lenses through which we should be considering diversity and inclusion when planning events, but on limited time I currently don’t know how to do this well. It’s summer, so I might be open to suggestions for next year? I’m hesitant to make any promises as this whole thing could go sideways quickly and I acknowledge that I might wind up pulling the whole thing down.

However, fear of things going badly shouldn’t stop you from doing them. So! Amazing Women of EdTech, I want to compile an ever growing spreadsheet of you to help support other people in roles like me. I hope this is as low entry as possible – enter yourself, enter your amazing colleague, enter that amazing keynote you actually saw (or tell them to enter themselves). Enter as much or as little information as you would like – people like me are used to doing research about this anyway, so leaving a field or two blank if you hit our interests or hoped for areas of expertise is really no big deal. I am, however, specifically looking to create this space for people who have facilitation experience and either are already or are looking to begin keynoting.

I plan to make the data public and searchable (though I may need some help doing that well), updating it at minimum annually but ideally a couple more times. Who knows what this might evolve into over time, but for now, as a resource it will support me immensely and so I hope it will support others.

So here it is! Submit away! Also a giant thank you to @EdTechAri and @McCheesen who helped edit and proof this!

Women of EdTech Google Form

Out of the mouths of our students

My dear friend has an amazing daughter, who says amazing things and who generally doesn’t accept the premise that she’s “only 15” and has to play along with the adults of the world. I’m just going to leave this quote from her here:

So I have to research how probability is used in the real world. As opposed to this fake world I’ve been living in. What is this real world you speak of?

(If you want to chat about your reflections on this, hit me up in the comment or over on the twitters.)

A personal philosophy for professional development

So during a medium length car ride with my boss today (Hi Terry!) we got to chatting about how we could support learners in making transformational mindset shifts. Thinking of some specific examples, we tried to unpack what the heart of the dissonance was and then think of what experiences would be valuable in specific instances to move thinking forward.

This got me thinking about what was my “defining moment” where my beliefs about professional development came together, and if I even had one. If you’ve met me, you know I don’t dabble in such “fuzzy” thinking too often…

That said, there is a picture in my mind that is crystal clear where it all snapped together. In my sixth year of teaching I was given the opportunity to be a Learning Leader in my school. It was near the beginning of a new division initiative, before massive budget cuts hit the education sector and when we were provided with some pretty amazing professional development opportunities. It was also right in the thick of curriculum renewal, and the introduction of “outcomes” and “indicators” as new language.

Our team of three were sitting in the closet work room we shared with several other people and many dusty books, attempting to plan a professional development experience for our staff. I don’t know how many days into this particular planning piece we were, but there were diagrams, notes and scribbles all over the table and paper taped to all the walls. There was lots of arm waving and getting up and pointing, and shuffling of ideas and thoughts as we tried to process all our learning and understanding and put it into a context our teachers could consume in whatever tiny amount of time we had been given to “teach” them about assessment, outcomes and indicators.

Sometime near the end of the hour, and I can’t even remember who made the observation at this point, but one of us did. This. This is what our teachers need. They need the time and space to do what we get to do as a luxury of this position. They need to muck about in what they know, and the research and their curriculum. Teachers need time to think about what’s the same and what’s different and how those affect their classroom. They need time to problem solve. They need to dabble in the theoretical and to then figure out what that means in a practical way for tomorrow.

Teachers rarely need me to teach them anything. What I can do is listen to their needs (or try to anticipate them) and act as a filter for all the noise that’s out there and provide research, ideas, and problems that stand out as ideas worth spending time on given their needs. I can support their thinking by modelling learning processes that might be valuable for both them in their learning and their students as well. I can maybe bring some efficiency to their learning. I can ask questions, poke at not quite formed ideas. I can join them in learning.

Mostly this is what I do. I try to design really productive experiences for teachers to wade around in the muck. Then I hop right in and join them.


Always learning

Today I facilitated a workshop I’ve done many times. Many versions even (also, a version will be coming to a TMC near you). The last time I gave this particular version, the feedback from participants was that I’d allowed too much time for sharing & working and that they would have liked more information on the structural pieces from me.

So I made a couple small modifications to my plan. On top of this, today’s group was pretty quiet and low energy so with my other changes this upped my own personal talk time. They also had A LOT of questions which were specifically for me (which is not bad, but I typically flip questions back to group conversation).

Of course their written feedback was that they would have appreciated more time to share and collaborate. #facepalm

The reading of a crowd and getting at what their needs are is tough business. Figuring out when to say “let’s talk about that later” and when to answer questions in the moment is tough business. It’s all tough business. Hopefully I’m getting better at it. Next time will be better, if only by a bit.

The Community

So, I took some days off. I’m just doing me. And getting caught up on Game of Thrones and Scandal, which are some of my favourite evening plans. (And then I had a family day AND travelled to Regina for a second facilitator intake day, and boy I’m bad at this blogging business.)

Wednesday, was our first community intake day! It’s crazy to think that at this time last year I was participating in the community intake day as a participant, but from the seat of just having been hired. It was extra exciting to have one of our new hires in the exact same position this year.

One of the (many) fun parts of my job is working with the facilitator community. In what I think is a very brilliant move, our teachers’ federation had the idea to support, mentor and grow the idea of high quality professional development for teachers by teachers. So for the last (3?) years, my unit has been growing the facilitator community.

Teachers apply to the community, and then if accepted, we provide them with a wack of PD on facilitation itself, as well as mentor them through the planning and facilitating of workshops. Our intake day is a day for us to see these folks as learners as well as for them to learn all about us (just in case they want to run away). Since the facilitator community is already established, and our unit has a (flexible) strategic plan we’re kind of looking for specific areas of expertise in our new facilitators. We are not really in a position to blanket accept everyone, because there are only 3 of us and we can only handle so much work. Except for sometime before lunch, my boss walks by and whispers “What do you think? I think I want to keep them all!” and then we do this hilarious math thing where we magically make the number work perfectly for keeping everyone (though there are some circumstances out of our control) because it would be a freaking tragedy to not work with all these amazing people.

I’m going to spend the next few posts – maybe they will be consecutive days, maybe not, I’m doing me after all – blogging about the community because I think it’s so amazing and I think maybe some folks should consider how they could implement baby models or alternate models to improve professional development. Getting to walk into rooms where teachers are doing amazing things for the profession as my job is so rad. Getting to say “Hey, I might be able to help you do that” and then being able to provide legitimate supports is extra rad.

On Citizenship

In a snippet of an interview shared by the ejournalism students today, Dean said something that’s really stuck with me. We tend to discuss and frame digital citizenship as this thing we need to teach students (and humans) so they don’t get in trouble. This fall I saw entire workshops being offered to new teachers that were essentially fear campaigns that could be summarized as “lock down your Facebook” or “sanitize your online presence for your own safety.” What a narrow view this is, and a bit of a perversion of the idea of citizenship.  Being a good “regular” citizen certainly isn’t just not getting arrested staying out of trouble.

Instead of letting fear dictate what we put online due to what might happen to us should the wrong person see or read it, let’s change the conversation. Why don’t we frame good citizenship as “How is what you’re putting online contributing?” It sure fits with the idea of gift culture and a spirit of generosity and learning far better.

My brain is made of mush

It was a loooong day. Conference and rushing and kids soccer and more conference. I tried to write something thoughtful but it was totally unintelligible. The gist was today I got to spend the day with a new to me group of educators who are passionate about leveraging tech for all the right reasons. It was exciting to get to learn with them and tomorrow I get to do it all over again. So great.