I’ve just returned from the 2013 National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) annual conference, where I presented a workshop with three colleagues, Renee Hawkins, Vinnie Vrotny, and Larry Kahn. In our Thursday afternoon session we shared our ideas about coaching the parents of 21st Century learners to help them understand more about the digital lives of their children.
As I reflect on our wonderfully collaborative NAIS presentation project — coming up with an idea and developing it over time — I now understand that the workshop planning process led me and my colleagues on a substantial journey featuring what I think of as extremely connected professional development.
This workshop’s journey began a year ago at EdCampSeattle, where I shared an idea about the importance of educating 21st Century parents. At my school I work hard at educating parents about their digital kids, so I wanted to learn lots more about what my colleagues do at other schools.
Actually I initially shared my idea with independent school colleague, Liz Davis, a dedicated EdCamp advocate, and she told me that I just had to attend EdCampSeattle. (Note: Liz is also one of the main people responsible for getting me to start blogging, but that’s another story.)
If you’ve attended EdCamp, you know that participants suggest lots of great ideas, but not every one becomes part of the program. At the beginning of every EdCamp people walk around the room suggesting and choosing the topics they are most interested in — called the “law of two feet” in “EdCampSpeak.” They go on to experience, a day-long collegial event that they have planned, essentially carrying out their own program — in itself extreme professional development. Expanding this idea, my workshop colleague, Larry Kahn, will shortly experiment with inviting parents to attend an EdCamp along with teachers.
At EdCamp Seattle, my idea about parents and digital learning intrigued other educators who wanted to share — thrilling for me. Fourteen people chatted during two sessions and some time at lunch, exchanging ideas about what parents of 21st Century learners need to know if they are to become more accomplished at parenting digital kids. That was the first time that I heard other colleagues articulate an idea that I had thought a lot about — that a digital divide exists between digital kids and their parents, not only in terms of the world where children are out having fun, but also in parents’ understanding of the tools that 21st Century learners use to expand their knowledge.
By the end of our discussions, I thought that we had identified a potential NAIS presentation topic, but I wasn’t absolutely certain.
The professional development journey continued because the EdCamp experience, as attendees know, lingers long after the one-day get-together. Afterward the connected learning continues. We finished the day with a five-page Google Doc, notes on parenting, technology, and 21st Century learning that we shared among ourselves. Over time a few other colleagues, who had not been at the face-to-face discussions, looked it over and added content — even a few people who had not attended EdCamp in Seattle. Several months later, however, interest narrowed to five, three of us from the original EdCamp discussions, educators who would work together on a presentation. Amazingly, by the time we arrived at this point — writing a formal proposal — a total of 21 people had participated in the brainstorming process.
After submitting our topic, we had a long wait, but in the interim I got to know my fellow presenters better. They were collegial, natural teachers, dedicated bloggers, incisive with their ideas, fearless about learning new things and, well, fun. They often had answers to my 21st Century learning questions. We were in regular contact on Twitter and Facebook, sharing ideas on all sorts of topics — from education to politics to music to good books. I rejoiced when NAIS notified us that we could present, but I believe I was even more excited because I could keep connecting to and learning from my fellow presenters.
And then our Google Hangouts began. The four of us met together, and we were fortunate that Vinnie was our personal Certified Google Educator. Thanks to his knowledge, our planning sessions were trouble-free, enabling us to concentrate on the important things — outlines, documents, ideas, and our actual presentation. When we set up a DigiParenting wiki — a place where we combined our resources — we used the Google screen share feature, moving back and forth between our presentation and the wiki. It was all so easy — as if we were meeting together once a week in a conference room — but we were miles and miles apart. We even conducted our final practice session in a Hangout.
So here’s the thing. When we stood up at NAIS last week to offer professional development for independent school colleagues and to share our ideas on Parenting 21st Century Learners, we were completing nearly a year-long cycle of extreme professional development and learning. More compellingly, thanks to EdCamp, our connected personal learning networks, and our own hard work, the four of us benefitted from the ideas of more than 20 other educators and passed some of those ideas along.