Network Weaver….no it does not involve yarn and needles, nor is it something you’d read about in a dystopian novel. It is, however, the focus of my professional growth plan (PGP) for this year. Every year at OJCS, each teacher chooses an area of growth to work towards. You can read about mine from years past here.
My definition of a network weaver is someone who helps others build their Professional Learning Network (PLN). The job of a network weaver is to constantly be building their own PLN, and making connections between like-minded individuals who can help each other. These connections come in many different shapes and sizes. At our school, we talk about teachers climbing the blogging ladder, but today I’m going to focus on the PLN ladder.
The idea of a PLN is not new. In one article I read on Edutopia, written back in 2013 by Tom Whitby, he talks about how he learned of the concept 6 or 7 years prior. Whitby defines a PLN as, “a tool that uses social media and technology to collect, communicate, collaborate and create with connected colleagues anywhere at any time.” When I think about the PLN ladder I see it like this:
My goal for this year is to become a stronger network weaver for the faculty at OJCS. In order to achieve this goal, I first have to continue building my own PLN and figure out what I want to share, with who, and how.
Building my PLN
Twitter is my main platform for connecting with other educators. One change I have made this year is that I am trying to actually connect with the people I follow. If I see a post I like, rather than simply retweeting or liking it, I try to think about how I can amplify and add value. Occasionally I will comment on the post to thank the author for sharing, and make connections to my own experiences or how I intend to use it.
If I find a post I think will be useful for others, I’ll mention them in the comment to help them become part of the conversation, and perhaps introduce them to an educator with whom they can collaborate.
I recently started following an educator in Australia, Lesleigh Altmann, and she sent me a private message thanking me for the follow. I thought this was such a simple, yet powerful strategy to making connections. In that moment, I didn’t feel like just another nameless follower, but someone she was recognizing and open to collaborating with.
I also want to build my PLN beyond Twitter and speak with people in other schools and organizations who play a networking role. Gerry De Fazio, who I met through our school’s work with NoTosh, and who now works as Director of Learning, Strategy & Innovation at Montcrest School in Toronto, continues to be a valued colleague and mentor. She and I meet bi-weekly to share ideas, experiences, resources and thoughts. While I look forward to each of these sessions immensely, speaking with other educators, or even other professionals outside of the education world, continues to be an area I’d like to develop in the coming months.
What to Share, With Who and How?
Due to COVID-19, a main focus of my position as Teaching and Learning Coordinator at OJCS has been around Hyflex Learning. Our teachers have had the challenging job of teaching students in class and online concurrently. In support of the added workload and planning this type of teaching requires, our administrators have kindly given over all staff meetings and professional development days to individual and team meetings. While this is amazing from a “prep” perspective, it poses a challenge for coaching and sharing useful strategies that would otherwise be addressed during these staff gatherings. In response, I’ve begun creating interactive resources that teachers can use at their leisure. Here is the first one I created to help teachers plan for a Hyflex Learning environment. Many of the tips and strategies I suggested were designed to build routines that could continue to be used whether we were teaching in person on not (** I say as we begin our second week of remote teaching**)
In addition to this, each week as part of our Faculty Bulletin, I share “Melissa’s Weekly Roundup” – a list of useful tools, blog posts, articles, videos, resources, books, podcasts or educators I have come across that I think will be useful to our teachers.
One challenge for me has been that I rarely receive feedback from my peers as to whether these resources are helpful or not. I know a few teachers have implemented choice boards into their practice, and others are using stations to find time to meet one-on-one or in small groups with their students, but I am not certain how widely adopted it is. I recognize that bandwidth is limited this year. It’s my hope that one post, one week, one time, will prove useful to one teacher, and that teacher will become my network weaver, sharing the value with their colleagues. I also intend on following up with teachers to see how the work they did before the lockdown impacted their transition into remote learning, post winter break.
Up to this point, I’ve talked a lot about all the valuable resources I’ve found by looking outside my own school. But the truth is, our fellow teachers in our own building hold just as much experience, knowledge and resources! As our North Stars says, “Each person is responsible for the other,” “We learn better together,” and “We are always on inspiring (Jewish) journeys.” Often, those journeys intersect. Every teacher at OJCS is working on a PGP of their own, yet we are not always aware of what those PGPs are. To help build connections amongst our own faculty, I have created a Trello board outlining all the PGPs this year, and grouping similar projects together.
I have slowly started inviting faculty members to join this board so that they can see for themselves who is working on what, and start reaching out to their colleagues for support, feedback and guidance. Not everyone has joined yet, and some who I have invited have been hesitant to share. Like everything, it is a process and they are slowly moving up their own rung of the PLN ladder.
Baby steps are better than no steps!
During pre-planning week this year I led a session with the faculty at my school titled, A Foot in Both Worlds. The goal of the session was to help teachers begin to understand the new reality we would be facing at our school.
From what I have been reading online, there is a mix of what school boards and schools are doing depending on where you live and which board you are a part of. Some schools are only offering online programs, some schools are only offering in person programs, some schools have adopted a hybrid model (some days in school, some days online) and some, like my school, are offering a blended version, or HyFlex option, where teachers are expected to teach students both in school and online, at the same time.
This isn’t an easy task. And the first week of school proved just how challenging it would be.
First, let me share some of the new policies put in place to help make our school as safe as possible:
- All students K-8 must wear masks at all times inside the school building (we’ve implemented this for the first two weeks as students come back from summer holiday. After that period (as of right now), it will be mandatory for grades 4-8 and optional for k -3) All teachers must wear masks at all times.
- Students’ entry and exit from the building is staggered to eliminate cohorts mixing with others they never see throughout the day and limit contact. They must maintain physical distance while they line up and sanitize their hands when entering the building.
- Students will be eating with their classmates in their classroom.
- Recesses are staggered, with only 2 or 3 cohorts outside at the same time.
- Students in grades 4-8 will have outdoor education (rain/snow or shine) and students in K-3 have an extended recess time added into their schedule to make up for the lack of P.E.
- Art is taught asynchronously by the art teacher, with students working in their classrooms supervised by their teacher
- There is no Music class this year.
As you can see from this list, many precautions have been put in place to help our students and faculty stay as safe as possible. However, it does add extra supervisory duties to the schedule that were not previously there. Our administrators worked exceptionally hard to work out this impossible jigsaw puzzle and have taken on over 20 duties themselves, but it was impossible not to increase the number of duties each teacher needed to take on.
In order to facilitate HyFlex learning, teachers share their calendars at the start of each week on our class blogs. These schedules are very similar to what we had been using in the spring when our building was closed and we were learning from home.
What did I learn in week 1?
- For the most part, my student who is learning from home full time was engaged in the class and participating well. He is an extremely self-motivated learner though. I had two students home sick halfway through the week. One was well enough to continue learning online, but had more difficulty following along and staying on task.
- I like that parents and students can see quickly at the top of the schedule which documents they need to print for the week. However the schedule itself felt busy and hard to follow. In week 2 we will be trying to keep the schedule less cluttered and each teacher will link to a more detailed plan. Here’s the one I have created, inspired by my colleague Faye Mellenthin.
- We are trying to include as many asynchronous/student-paced lessons into our synchronous teaching periods. The hope is that this will reduce the amount of planning we need to do as teachers for both students at home and in school. It will also free up more time to meet individually with students, something we weren’t able to do as much of in the first week, especially for students learning from home.
- Something else I’d like to do but did not manage to implement in the first week is class jobs. Last year I read Who Owns the Learning by Alan November, and blogged about it here. Inspired by his Digital Learning Farm a session with Sharon Reichstein, some of the jobs I’d like to implement that will help build community are:
- Recess buddy (plays online with those who are at home)
- Morning Activity leader
- Chat monitor
In the past, students would move from one classroom to another for their various classes with different teachers. This year, students stay put in their classrooms and the teachers are the ones who move in and out. Another idea I had that I would like to try once I run it by my colleagues, is to have a set iPad in each classroom. There would be one Google Meet link that students would stay in for the whole day, and teachers would have the student there on the iPad when they came into the room, rather than having different links for different teachers. From the feedback from our teachers, especially those who move around a lot (our French teachers can teach up to 5 different classes) it’s not easy to pack up one room, run to the next, set up your supplies, and login to the Meet. It’s not impossible obviously, but my goal is to come up with ideas, protocols, and templates to make life as easy as possible for teachers. When you consider all the “newness” our teachers have had to take on this year, including extra duties, the more we can do to support them, the better.
Here’s to week number 2!
It’s that time of year again. Time to reflect on my year, the professional growth goals (PGP) I set for myself, and set new ones for the future. Reading last year’s reflection, I’m happy to see that I have accomplished many of my goals. As a self proclaimed life-long learner, it makes sense that some of those goals continue to be ones I have for myself this year too.
The ones I achieved?
Blogging with my students; blogging myself; create engaging opportunities for students to continue on their own documenting journeys.
The ones I still have?
Create authentic learning experiences in math (and I’ll add in all subject matter) that naturally reach students where they are and allow for growth at many levels.
It has been a year full of rollercoasters. With the two hats I wear, I feel it would be appropriate to reflect on each one separately. I’ll begin with grade 5 teacher.
Last year was a challenging one for me, but definitely one of growth. Although my PGP last year focused on Personalized Learning, I still don’t feel it is something I have completely mastered. I try my best to honour student interests, provide choice, differentiate, and introduce students to tools and techniques that work for them as individuals. Grade 5 is an interesting year in terms of maturity and development. Last year, I introduced an activity, “Be the Quote” based off of Miss 5th’s Keep The Quote. Every week, I posted a new quote and as a group, we would orally share what it meant and what it reminded us of. With the group of students I had last year, I wanted a space where we could discuss feelings and behaviours openly. I adapted that activity this year to become a writing task each week, recognizing that some students had things to share they may not feel comfortable discussing out loud. What I love about this activity is that it exposes students to varying feelings that may be different than their own and allows them to begin thinking of examples beyond the classroom walls. It helps begin to anchor how their actions impact others, and the control they have over the outcomes in their life.
The class novel we begin the school year with, Wonder by R.J. Palacio, contributes to this lesson as well. Students are encouraged to make connections with their own challenges in school, and ways they have felt different or insecure, to become more compassionate and inclusive classmates. There are many real-world initiatives and ways to contribute more to society that can be linked to this unit, and something I would like to focus on more next year.
With every task I give, students are always aware of the assessment expectations, through outlines and rubrics. One new addition this year, based on a podcast from EB Academics, is that even before we begin reading a book or a task with multiple steps, I let students know what the very final project will be. That way, they can begin planning and collecting evidence and examples to make the final writing process easier. One student, who struggles specifically with written output, has shown tremendous improvement with getting his ideas out on paper after I made this very simple switch.
I am proud of the commitment I make to bettering myself, and learning from others to offer my students the best education I can. It is through my own research for my class that I am also able to help my colleagues, and share those discoveries with them as well. Which brings me to my second hat – Teaching and Learning Coordinator.
As I’ve written about before, last summer I completed my Principal’s Qualification course (although I have yet to submit my final project…but more about that soon). Early in my career, a seed was planted in my head by a former principal that I would do well in leadership. Ever since then, different administrators have echoed that sentiment, and I have continued to do things to try to further my path down that road. I have held more formal positions of leadership, but have also at times acted as an informal mentor to my colleagues. At this moment, when I think about my most ideal position, it would be exactly what I am doing right now…teaching and working with teachers to better their own practices.
However, I don’t feel that the coordinator portion of my current position is as developed as I’d like it to be. I sometimes find it a challenging place to sit, where teachers aren’t “required” to meet with me, yet my job depends on it. I would never want anyone to feel forced to work with me. The opposite actually. I would hope that after spending time collaborating and brainstorming, teachers would see the value of the partnership and seek it out more often. And some have. But others, even when offered, do not always accept. There is no way that I would be the educator I am today without the support, guidance, collaboration and thought-partnering with my mentors and coaches.
One part of my PGP this year was to live through the prototype protocol, in order to then support other teachers going through the process themselves. It’s amazing how my mindset has shifted, appreciating the feedback portion of the protocol more than I ever thought I would. I am so much more motivated to build and complete my blogging course for teachers, knowing that I am creating something they had a say in, something they believe will be beneficial to them, and something they will therefore, hopefully, use often.
I mentioned earlier that I have not completed my Principal’s Course final project. Why? I had chosen to focus on documenting learning, specifically the value of blogging for teachers, administrators and students. I wanted to choose something that I was living and breathing in school, and something that would not end once my final project had been submitted. But that’s part of the problem! My documenting hasn’t stopped! I keep learning more, creating more, prototyping more, and adding more that I want to share as part of my final submission. I guess this is a good problem to have 🙂 Leading workshops for teachers and parents has been an added experience that will undoubtedly help me if/when my role continues to evolve further into leadership. Last night was the most recent of these sessions, where I helped our grade 3 parent cohort understand the school’s philosophy and expectation for our BYOD program.
Over the last number of weeks I have been working closely with Gerry de Fazio, who has acted as a consultant for our school through NoTosh since February 2018. She has been a thought partner for me, a coach, and sometimes(often) that little nudge I needed to continue moving forward with my PGP. As her time with us comes to a close, I will transition into taking over that “nudging” role for our teachers. Through our time together, I have learned even more about playing a coaching/mentoring role. It’s about asking the right questions at the right time, NOT being the expert. It’s about listening. It’s about supporting. It’s about finding barriers and attempting to lift them…kind of like what it’s like being a teacher 🙂
I am somewhat nervous about taking on this new responsibility. But when I think back to what I said just a few paragraphs ago, that I want to work with more and more teachers, perhaps this additional clarification about what my role and responsibilities entail, my collaboration and coaching with teachers will organically increase.
In a future with so many unknowns due to COVID-19, I am hopeful that amongst the tragedies will also be positive steps forward, particularly in education. With the personalization, flexibility, and the need to narrow in on specific skills during remote learning, I am eager to see how we will “go forward” to school and build these practices into our everyday instruction.
My current role at The OJCS is part time grade 5 teacher, part time Teaching and Learning Coordinator. In the latter part of my job, I work with teachers and help them plan, create, revamp or simply brainstorm things they can do with their class. Often, this coaching revolves around different technology tools and Now Literacies.
I consider myself a pretty patient person, and like to believe that I am a good educator when it comes to children. But when discussing my goals for this year, I wanted to focus my attention to the coaching side of my job. How can I best use my time with teachers? Should I allow teachers to make meetings with me as needed and support them that way? Should I be having standing, check-ins with certain teachers with set goals in mind? Should these meetings continue for the entire year, or is there some form of “graduation”? With the support of my head of school, Dr. Jon Mitzmacher, I’ve decided to build a module with set skills, time, and lessons around Classroom Blogs. Jon asked the question, “What needs to change in our teaching when working with adults instead of children?”
During my Principal’s Qualification Program this past summer, I read When Mentoring Meets Coaching, by Kate Sharpe and Jeanie Nishimura. My partner and I ran a book talk, and I would say our main takeaway was that when working with adults, there needs to be a mix of supporting, listening and sharing of your own experiences and expertise while still allowing for these professionals to make discoveries on their own and grow their own craft based on who THEY are, not who YOU are.
This makes a lot of sense to me as I reflect to my own mentors who continue to guide me. They ask me questions, they challenge my thinking, and they push me to come up with my own ideas and opinions around education before ever sharing their own ideas with me.
But what about when we are creating learning modules specifically for teachers? How should they be organized? What skills should specifically taught? And how can we weave those moments of self-discovery and choice into the lesson so teachers are not simply doing something because they have to, but because they want to?
I contacted Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano to see if she had any advice or books she recommended. As someone who coaches for a living and has offered many different online adult learning opportunities through Ampeduca, she was the perfect person to start with.
I will start with one of these books and share my thoughts once I’m done.
Stay tuned 🙂