The wrong question

Going in to Friday’s F2F, my HMW question was this: How might we engage always-busy faculty in meaningful and just-in-time PD?

To be honest, this question was not so much developed as it was pulled haphazardly out of my panicked brain fog in a desperate attempt to get myself together in time for the third F2F. I ended up having to leave the second F2F before it even began in November, and so missed the whole design thinking process that everyone else engaged in to arrive at their raison d’être for Cohort 21 Season 7.  

I felt lost. So, in trying to come up with a HMW question, I figured I would focus on my new position as tech integrator. I knew I already had some PD sessions planned with faculty coming up, so perhaps I thought if I used this as my question, I would surely be able to declare this season a success without too much additional hard work. I don’t know. But arriving at the WE Global Learning Centre on Friday, I was not confident in my HMW question’s ability to survive some hardline challenging. And was I ever right.

For the “Five Whys” protocol, I sat down with the incredible @lbettencourt, and in the kindest and gentlest possible way, she proceeded to ask me “why” in such a way that it was immediately clear that I had not yet arrived at the right question. It very quickly became obvious to me that feelings of guilt and of not being enough were obscuring me from finding a HMW question that would actually serve to help me and improve my practice. We moved from a focus on faculty PD to conversations about busyness, balance and wellness. As it turned out, and as Lisa (my therapist for the day) helped me realize, my original question stemmed from a fear of not being good enough – in new position in particular, but also as a Cohort 21 coach, as a wife, and as a mother. I made my focus on faculty PD because I was worried that my colleagues and administrators at school might think I’m not doing my job if, by the end of the year, I don’t have hard data demonstrating the impact I’ve had.

My biggest takeaway from the day, besides the big burst of fresh energy that I got just from being in the same room with my tribe, was something that @gnichols said right near the end of the day

“Being in front of the right question is far more valuable than answering the wrong question.”

I may not be in front of the right question just yet, but I’m pretty sure I’ve found the wrong one. To be continued…

Thanks to everyone who asked questions, provided encouragement, and was engaged in the struggle of learning alongside me on Friday.  

Action Plan reflection

Well, suffice it to say that I didn’t get that promised blog post written in time. It will come next week, though. In the meantime, here is my Action Plan reflection slide deck. You can also view it here.

Thank you, everyone, for all of the support, encouragement, and inspiration you have provided this year!

Seth Godin on the Cohort

Thanks to @jmedved and @gnichols, every morning I start my day with a small dose of Seth Godin’s wisdom. Here’s what I came across today (and I’m sure most of you have seen it as well):

For accessibility reasons, I’ll repost the original text here:

It’s tempting to seek to change just one person at a time. After all, if you fail, no one will notice.

It’s also tempting to try to change everyone. But of course, there really is no everyone, not any more. Too much noise, too many different situations and narratives. When you try to change everyone, you’re mostly giving up.

The third alternative is where real impact happens: Finding a cohort of people who want to change together.

Organizing them and then teaching and leading them.

It’s not only peer pressure. But that helps.

When a group is in sync, the change is reinforcing. When people can see how parts of your message resonate with their peers, they’re more likely to reconsider them in a positive light. And mostly, as in all modern marketing, “people like us do things like this” is the primary driver.

He continues:

If you want to make change, begin by making culture. Begin by organizing a tightly knit group. Begin by getting people in sync.

Culture beats strategy. So much that culture is strategy.

Sounds like Seth Godin could be an honourary member of Cohort 21!

So much of what he talks about here is exactly what this is all about. Finding our tribe, connecting with others who want the same things as we do – who aren’t satisfied with how things are and how they’ve always been, but who want to make real change.

Maybe we could invite Seth to speak at our final F2F in April?? 🙂

Learning Management and the Student UX: My 2016-17 Action Plan

Last year, my action plan centred upon restructuring my Communications Technology class in order to allow students to spend more time focusing on their own areas of interest. While this is still a work in progress—so far, I’ve revamped my first two units to try to cover a broader base of basic skills—my hope is that in January we will be able to begin independent exploration of our areas of interest. This is a big project for me and is likely to take up most of my attention this year, as I figure out along with the students how to best track and monitor their progress, support them by providing resources and small group instruction, and manage the logistics of 19 students each doing their own thing.

In the meantime, however, I’ve begun to think about how I could begin work on a second action plan—one on a slightly smaller scope, to give me a new area to focus on as well. Although I was saddened to miss the second F2F session at the York School and the design thinking process that everyone else had the chance to engage in, I have been giving a lot of thought to another problem that I could tackle in my practice. I keep coming back to the idea of the user experience (UX) in my course management software. At The Country Day School, a few years ago we moved from (the very expensive!) Blackboard LMS to (the very free!) Google Sites as a learning management platform.

The shift created quite the bumpy ride for both teachers and students. Some of the challenges included the following:

  • Teachers had to learn a completely new system for communicating digitally with students, and the platform was neither very user friendly nor intuitive to learn;
  • Although we created a basic template for teachers to use to ensure some consistency across teachers’ sites, the varied levels of comfort with the software meant that some sites were far more easy to navigate and use;
  • Students had to learn how to navigate this new platform, and the customizability of Sites meant that, despite using the same template as a starting point, every teacher set up their site differently.
  • Shortly after we introduced the new system, Google Classroom came out. Many teachers began using this platform in addition to/instead of Sites, which led to confusion for students about where to go and how to work with both platforms.

There are so many great tools available for managing resources and communicating digitally with students. With so many options out there, how do we know which to use and how to use them effectively?

To add another layer of challenge, we originally set up all of the school sites according to a single naming convention, so that it would be simpler for admin to gain access to and navigate to any site. Now, as the new Google Sites has come out, the user-friendliness of its new interface means that teachers will likely want to switch to that. However, the new Sites live within Drive, and making the switch to that will complicate things further. Not only will teachers need to learn yet another piece of software (albeit one that is much more user-friendly!) to make and manage their classroom resources, how will we ensure consistency among teachers and ease of use for students? Still other teachers are asking students to use a variety of digital portfolio products. Herein lies my HMW question:

My 2016-2017 Action Plan question: How might we manage and improve the student user experience with teacher resources and learning management software?

I know it doesn’t have much of a ring to it, but in the world of digital design, the user experience is king: Can your customers quickly and effortlessly find the information they are looking for? Does the design work intuitively?

Here’s a link to a great article by Design Shack outlining the importance of UX: Why does user experience matter?

The essential components of the user experience, according to Design Shack.

“UX is the experience, emotion, intuition and connection a user feels when using a site or product.”

Do our students feel frustrated when navigating their class sites? Do they intuitively know how to interact with it or does it require concerted effort? And will they actually use them if they are difficult or frustrating to work with?

Thus, my action plan for 2016-2017 will centre around a) ensuring that my own class resource Site is intuitive and easy to work with, especially given the chaotic nature of the second half of my course and the need to have resources that are easy to find, and b) trying to develop a strategy for all teachers to improve the UX of their sites.

I’d love to hear what your schools are doing in terms of learning management software and the requirements and/or best practices for teachers in terms of the setup of their digital spaces. Please share!

You are who you say you are

I am sitting in silence for the first time in two days. My brain has been begging for it after two busy, high-energy days of presenting and learning at the Summit previously known as GAFE (now GSuite) in Vernon, BC with the EdTechTeam. Two full days jammed packed with tips and tricks, inspiring keynotes, and incredible conversations, and I feel as though I’ve reached the saturation point for the time being. It is calming to finally have a chance to catch up with my thoughts.

You know that feeling when you’re really terrified and anxious about something that’s coming up, and then you’re in it and you feel like you’re actually right where you are supposed to be, doing what you are supposed to do? That’s how I felt about this weekend.

In the weeks leading up to the Summit, I spent every waking hour developing beautiful, detailed Slides presentations to use in my sessions. I fretted over what order to present certain ideas in. I panicked about whether I would remember even how to speak French when standing in front of a room of people, and whether they would all just get up and walk out when they heard me speak. And I felt as though I had absolutely no business coming out to this Summit to present along with such incredible educators and ed tech gurus as @lmcbeth, Brad Ovenell-Carter, Michelle Armstrong, Michelle Cordy, Emily Fitzpatrick, Tracy Poelzer, and David Harmon.

And then, over the course of my three days out here in the beautiful Okanagan valley, surrounded by this group of talented people, my fears began to subside. The little voice in my head that kept saying, “Who the hell do you think you are?” and “What are you even doing here?” started to get drowned out, bit by bit, by the other, slightly-less-imaginary voices around me.

They were saying things like this:

“The people who are there [in your sessions] are the ones who need to be there, the things that they learn are what they are meant to learn, and the conversations that take place are the ones that need to take place.” – Brad Ovenell-Carter

“It’s imposter syndrome – and we ALL have it sometimes.” – Tracy Poelzer

And I realized that they were right. I have things to share with people and I love doing it. So I can’t let my fear and sense of inadequacy stop me. So what if I stumble over a few words or forget a vocabulary term in French? Attendees will know what I mean and will appreciate the fact that I’m trying. Who cares if only two people show up to my sessions? Those two people will get so much personal support they will leave feeling like they can handle anything.

And you know what? Everything I’d worried about was for nothing. There is such a hunger out here for this type of training. Every single teacher I met in my sessions, while walking the halls, and over breakfasts and lunches wanted nothing more than to learn something new that they would be able to make use of in their classroom. Because they’re just trying to get better at teaching, and they want to learn how to use technology to do that. I was inspired by their energy and enthusiasm, and they took away a ton of new ideas and a newfound fire for the realm of the possible. What more could I ask for?

This morning, during the keynote, I heard yet another voice that helped to drown out the ones in my head: Michelle Cordy’s.

“You are who you say you are.”

I am here because someone saw something in me and thought I could bring something to the table. I may not have the experience or even half of the knowledge and wisdom as the rest of the team does, but I do have something to offer. This is where I want to be, and this is what I want to do. I don’t know exactly what “this” is, but it is really freaking amazing to be a part of. And I’m just going to keep doing it until, maybe one day, I will actually get that package in the mail that says: “Jennifer Weening, [whatever “this” is]” And I’ll remember that everyone is an imposter, but that’s okay, and that I am who I say I am.

Keeping the cart behind the horse

Whew! Another F2F almost done and I’m once again feeling inspired and overloaded with ideas. Thanks so much to all of the coaches and facilitators – @jmedved @lmcbeth @ddoucet @gnichols @shelleythomas – who planned this day for us and put so much time, energy, and thought into creating a space for collaboration, reflection, and inspiration.

The storyboarding process that we went through in the morning was my favourite part of the day. What steps would be necessary to put my action plan into place? What would they all involve?

I started with the idea of curating playlists of good content for each area of my course (e.g. using Illustrator for creating vector artwork, using InDesign for layout, etc.). Step 2 was to come up with a way of tracking and assessing students, using DocAppender, of course. As I continued to come up with storyboard steps, I realized at Step 4 that my order of operations was completely off. I need to do significant research into project based learning and design thinking in order to restructure my course so completely.

What started as my first step in the process became my last step by the time I completed my storyboard.

What started as my first step in the process became my last step by the time I completed my storyboard.

While at times it is wonderful to learn something new and jump in with both feet, I think that in order for this action plan to be successful, I absolutely have to put in the time to:

  1. learn more about design thinking about project-based learning
  2. come up with a list of core competencies that all members of my class will have to learn before embarking on the personalized structure of the course
  3. develop a structure, expectations, and timeline to frame the year
  4. develop a plan for assessment, including forms, rubrics, and schedule for conferencing with students
  5. curate playlists and develop resources for different skills areas

What I had originally written down as step one became my last step before implementation. If that doesn’t speak to the power of Cohort 21, I don’t know what does!

Thanks to @ptotera, @lmustard @chazzard @blng @maragona @mjohn for being there to bounce ideas off of and for challenging me today!

PS – Check out what trended in Toronto today!



Reflections on the 2nd F2F

It has now been almost three weeks since my first Face 2 Face session with Cohort 21, and I can honestly say that I am still in awe of the entire experience.

Like most people, when I drive, I listen to the radio. When I left The York School on Saturday afternoon and got in my car, I immediately had to turn off the music. It felt like my brain was in overdrive mode – it was swirling with thousands of thoughts and impressions of the day, and it desperately needed a break. I drove the whole hour-long drive back home in silence, and yet it didn’t feel like silence, as I simply could not shut my brain off.

As Garth and Justin went over some details about being a member of the Cohort, they mentioned the idea of taking what you can from the experience, a bit like drinking from a fire hose. I thought of this video of Dante, so overjoyed to find a lawn sprinkler, and lapping up every bit of delicious, cold water that he can:


Like Dante drinking the water, I want to take as much from this experience as possible. I have an incredible opportunity to learn from some of the most dedicated and talented educators I’ve ever met, I am learning tools and ways of thinking that will make be a better teacher, and I am given a chance to really reflect on my practice, which is so often neglected in the day to day busyness of life at an independent school. As a case in point: it has taken me three weeks to write this blog post. Here’s to not taking three weeks for the next one!