The Big Flop

The more we share, the richer we become. – Jim Strachan

As a Technology & Teaching Coach, one important job is to differentiate the type of support I provide to teachers. The role has many differentiated relationships and that means taking group size into consideration. I try to begin by providing personalized support – one-on-one time with teachers, usually around other teachers in common spaces – and when I notice trends or situations in which teachers would benefit from working with one another, I try to connect them.

As part of my action plan, I am searching for effective models of PD for teachers and have been trying to avoid the ‘Workshop Session’ when possible. I accomplished this in part by avoiding the PD Day altogether, supervising a Duke of Edinburgh Dogsledding trip in Algonquin Park over the Family Day long weekend! I’m not sure which move was colder…

I have been eager to increase the opportunities for sharing between members of faculty and there were more than a few instances of teachers trying some pretty innovative things that were nagging at me as “need-to-share” examples of risk-taking, rethinking curriculum and other acts of courageous teaching. One teacher transformed his ability to give students feedback by invoking Doctopus to ease his transition to Google Docs. Another flipped the traditional ‘oral presentation’ assignment with Explain Everything in a Grade 7 French class, and had a great survival story of technical failures to tell.

So we reluctantly booked some time in our monthly staff meetings. If your school is like mine, it is an incredible challenge to get groups of people together in meaningful ways that maintain the special mixture of availability and attention. Our staff meetings are booked from 3:45pm – 5:00pm and generally end around 4:30, give or take a few errant items for the ‘Any Other Business’ section of the agenda.

Our day looked like a good one, with an overall short agenda. Our slide deck involved the minimum number of slides needed for adequate visual support, and we worked hard to prepare clear, brief remarks, but I couldn’t have planned a worse opening act. It turned out that Officer Tony of the Toronto Police Force would be making a 50-minute presentation to staff, walking us through an aggressive and detailed response plan to unthinkable events, conjuring in his audience the spirit and emotion of emergency, and leaving the room silent with caffeine-like jitters. It was 4:45 by the time the agenda came to “Sharing from the Technology Department”. I’m sure I must have cringed for a moment, wincing at the introduction and mustering a game face.

We forged ahead and I regret it still. To the credit of our dedicated Faculty, they tried hard to care. Teachers were digging into their stores of cognitive bandwidth, cheering on their colleagues with attentive listening faces and practicing restraint to not check their watches. We finished by 5:05, final notes were delivered. At 5:12, the meeting room was empty.

The sharing happened, but definitely not in the way that I had hoped. From conversations in the days to come, I gleaned that the effort was appreciated and despite foggy memory of the content, there was some peppering of interest to hear more. Chalk it up to an event of ‘exposure’.

What is the scaffold of learning? If exposure acts as a trigger for inquiring, a motivation to ask questions and make connections, I suppose that is a small step in the right direction. What mechanisms do other schools use to make time with intentionally-assembled colleagues? I heard someone recently say that if the motivation is there, teachers will find the time.

How does your school ‘do sharing’?

Today went well

Spending the day today at MaRS with Cohort21 was another really powerful reminder of the positive unexpected consequences of getting together a diverse group of likeminded individuals to overcome their common paradoxes and dissimilarities.

Today, I discovered Pocket, a ‘read it later’ service that integrates more directly to all the different ways that I discover teacher-relevant information. Articles from email, posts from twitter, videos through Feedly — it can all collect in and organize in Pocket. Thanks, @teach_tomorrow.

I had a great conversation with @cohort21tim from Lakefield about his new passion for ThingLink and how it supports instructional strategies that help him achieve that R – the redefinition of his Bio labs. Do the dissection first and then refer to it all year long. Must remember to tell Laura at our school about it.

Chatted briefly with Shelley about her multiple hats and how difficult it is to have a focussed vision of teacher development when everything from software licensing to a new server room ends up on your plate. The York School has the clearest vision for their faculty tech development, but I don’t think that’s something I would like to see us impose, yet.

I’m a softy for tight community, and I get excited when I hear Laura Johnson talk about the Maben School’s iPads. I believe so strongly in the ability of a Smartboard to unify an elementary-level classroom and that iPads can interface so nicely with it, to allow students to participate in creating the activities they do. Grab an iPad, snap an album of objects that have rectangles, then gather and redistribute the photos for a writing project. Mmmm. But I’m definitely excited to share what we have learned introducing iPads and workflows into our junior school’s iPads, just as others have shared their hard-learned expertise with us.

For my action plan … I still need to hear what others are doing that feels like successful teacher development. I continue to struggle with what to call it, whether it is PD or Sessions or Workshops or PLNs. Even though I know that ‘if you build it, it will come’ isn’t always true, I know that provided a really targeted experience is effective at changing hearts and minds. I want to hear more about those…

Exploring Learning Models for Teachers’ Technology Practices

In November, I declared that I am interested in learning about models of professional development. I undertook a step to inventory my terms and define exactly what I was looking at — PLC, PLN, ProD, PK, TLCP — but none besides ‘cohort’ resonated with the kind of learning that feels lasting.

We attend and run workshops, tech sessions, PD Days. We deliver speeches, write manuals and record video tutorials. We forward emails, make announcements at staff meetings, offer prizes as disconnected extrinsic motivation.

When I do think about the types of learning I prefer, I recognize that it is all of them — but only by my own choice. Sometimes I choose the quick demo. Sometimes, I enjoy the video lecture in longform (this one is THE BEST!). Sometimes, it’s the discussion board I need, or a really great infographic to help me organize the ideas.

I rarely like to go at the pace of others, unless our objective is shared. I am sensitive to the tone and approach of those who I consider ‘knowledge authorities’. I prefer to be around people and live in communities, whether in tandem or in parallel.

So how do these preferences turn into models for mass influence? Much has been written about types of leadership and about Professional Learning models. For example:

TPACK Model, showing the intersections of knowledge types

Here are some of my thoughts for this year’s Cohort21 Investigation: What relationships exist among teachers, with respect to education and change? What aims are being targeted when teachers improve their technological practices? How can we do it so that it is meaningful and sustainable, and what systems, organization or principles ought to become involved?

My action plan is to investigate models of improving Teachers’ Technology Practice as relate to all aspects of our professional lives. 

I’ll let you know what I learn.™

Brand New Day of Learning in C21 – Are Cohorts the way forward?

As a traveller, I once made a deal with myself. I would forever absolve myself of the guilt from not writing out  many of the thoughts and ideas that I wished I had taken time to reflect on in long form, and especially at the moment that I desired to write about something new. The need to chronicle my own cognitive back catalogue should never limit my ability to move on.

I would be remiss if I overlooked how different this year’s cohort feels to me. The difference, I assume, is mostly within me, since this year’s cohortees are as similarly diverse as last year’s cohortees. But things are clicking differently for me —  understanding the ability of Diigo to support not only sharing of resources with others but also my own gathering / sorting / grouping of my own web life, for example — and I can see much more of the intention behind Cohort21 itself.

My action plan last year looked at ways to find out how a school is integrating technology into its curricular program and school life, the “Technology Program” itself. This year, I would like to investigate models of integration in a school (e.g. 1:1, BYOD, labs and carts) as the intentional result of thought-out pedagogy, evidence-based research and strategic planning.

More broadly and even more importantly, I would like to learn about models of professional development. Are PD sessions and workshops most effective? As Justin asks, should we be learning about 21st century skills using 20th century instructional strategies? Are PLNs, PLCs TLCPs the way forward? How do you build structure into the organic? What is the relationship between innovation and improvement? Whole school minimum expectations vs. pockets of teachers engaging in professional inquiry?

It’s great to be part of such a curious, supportive group of teachers.



The Types of Questions We Ask

Much has been written about question types, especially in classroom lessons when they are most often related to higher-order thinking skills (HOTS). The Q-chart is one example of a tool used to illuminate some of the different assumptions carried by the choice and wording in a question.

I spent a lot of time generating and revising survey questions. It began with a brainstorm; every question about technology or tech-related teaching I could think of went into a list that I imagined I would eventually sort into categories. As late as the third draft of the question set, I was still sifting through questions like “Which web browser do you prefer?” and “How often do your students generate work products in class to be printed?”.

Leanne helped me refocus my questions by teaching me a few important lessons about research survey principles and how to decide what you want to measure.

High Value – Medium Complexity


This chart of Value and Complexity is a sample I looked at to do with mapping product features. The idea was that questions can be easy or complex to answer and can provide information of high or low value. I should be asking questions that provide high value information while moderating the complexity to suit the audience.

“What web browser do you use?” is easy to measure and might be interesting, but does not offer strategic value to our survey results. Overall, our aim is to establish a baseline for measuring our school’s Integration of Technology


Double-Barreled Questions

“How frequently do you use create screencasts and lesson PDFs for all students to access before class?” This is an example of a double-barreled question because it has too many parts combined into one single question. Perhaps you often create screencasts but only some students watch them. Perhaps you provide PDFs but not screencasts. I had a number of questions that needed separating. This created more questions, which links to another problem: the issue of survey psychology and fatigue.

Survey Fatigue impacts response rate and validity

Since our school discovered Google Forms, there has been a sharp increase in the number of surveys that staff and faculty are asked to complete. These range from a Grade 5 survey about Healthy Eating or a Grade 10 survey about Issues from the Native Studies course to a Professional Development Topics survey or a signup for Community Service Day supervision.

As our school is planning to implement VPP for its iPad apps, for example, a survey went out asking for feedback on the paid apps we currently own. Response rate was very low. So part of the ‘launch’ of this survey would need to include attention-getting information about the survey and its requirements, requested completion date, etc. Incentives like a gift card draw for early completion are difficult to offer for an anonymous survey because you can’t put names into a hat when you don’t know the names in the first place. I decided to share certain live-update statistics from part of the demographics section of the survey. Our faculty laptops are split 50/50 Mac and PC, so I could broadcast results that said there was a 42%/58% split across Mac/PC respondents and that might incite a competitive spirit to respond more readily to the survey. It did.

Final Anatomy of the Programme Survey:

  • Section 1: Tell us about yourself (5 questions) – Demographics
  • Section 2: Attitudes & Beliefs (3 questions) – Universal
  • Section 3: Practice / Use – By Faculty (5 questions) – school-wide
  • Section 4: Practice / Use – By You (10 questions) – per faculty member
  • Section 5: Skill Matrix (15 questions) – individual usage
  • Section 6: Resources & Tools (11 questions) – school tool feedback
  • Section 7: Opinions (5 questions) – general school feedback


Don’t Let Perfect Be The Enemy of Good

Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good. This advice has come up a few times in projects, lately. Whether on the hunt for the ideal LMS system or seeking the perfect wording for a survey question, achieving “done” will steadily become more important.

From Seth Godin’s blog this week:

All boats leak
 There’s always a defect, always a slow drip, somewhere. Every plan, every organization, every venture has a glitch.
The question isn’t, “is this perfect?” The question is, “will this get me there?”
Sometimes we make the mistake of ignoring the big leaks, the ones that threaten our journey.
More often, though, we’re so busy fixing tiny leaks that we get distracted from the real goal, which is to go somewhere.

What’s next for the program evaluation?

My immediate next steps are to finish the Brainstorm of questions. I need to flush out areas such as tools, types of uses, frequency, attitudes of comfort, areas of interest, and how these will specifically describe the Strategic Plan goals.

Then I need to choose the questions that will generate the right type of information. I should be ready to draft a survey by the end of January.

The results of the survey will have a variety of internal audiences, but I will blog here about the process of generating the survey, the experience of (and reaction to) administering the survey and my reflections on the success of the project.

I am still trying to decide how to build my network of support for this project … existing sources and the right people to contribute the necessary ideas. As usual, all are welcome.

Moving from Intuition to Data: Action plan for a “Technology Program” evaluation

We’ve laid the plan and know where we want to go as a school. So how can we tell if we are moving in the right direction? And where are we in our progress?

My Cohort21 Action Plan is about moving from intuition to data.

By performing a Program Evaulation for the use of Technology in our school, I will help to measure our progress in the achievement of the goals of the St. Clement’s School strategic plan (2012-2017).

Professional Learning

Part of the professional learning I will undertake is a combination of :

  • Research Methods
  • Program Evaluation
  • Strategic Planning, and
  • Coaching for Program Development.

Research Approach

First, I will need to learn about Research Methods. Dr. Leanne Foster will help guide my approach to this project, to make sure that it focussed to the aims of the SCS Strategic Plan (2012-2017), holds reliability, validity and meets the purpose for which it is designed.

Next, I will brainstorm questions and create surveys that will meet these domains of inquiry:

  • Enhanced Learning Environment (Tools, Tasks, Places)
  • Professional Culture (Levels of Use, Learning / Adoption / Collaboration, Digital-Age Work)
  • Implementation Standards (Variety, Consistency, Quality)

Then, I will use the survey data to create focus groups in which I can hold conversations about the domains of inquiry.

Finally, I will share my data and some analysis with school administration. I will also blog as reflection on the results and my approach to the project.

Evidence of Learning

My learning will be evidenced through the triangulation of:

  • the successful creation and administration of two surveys: one for staff & faculty and another to students
  • the summaries of curated focus groups
  • the personal reflections in my Cohort21 blog

 Invitation for Participation and Support

The more we share, the richer we become. – Jim Strachan

I invite your perspective. This project can be enriched through the collaboration of those who have experience with Program Evaluation, frameworks and resources which might aid in the creation of meaningful surveys, or critical insights into this project and its approach. Please comment in the space below or contact me directly.