Back to School

Whenever I speak about my experience in Cohort21 this year (and I do a lot), I tend to get a bit carried away. I start speaking louder and faster, and every other sentence is punctuated with,“ I have to show you…. “  Being French, I tend to speak with my hands anyway,   but these days it is best to exercise caution when walking by me if my tech trek is the topic of conversation.  Au Secours” (Help), is on list of high frequency words in my class, and I have IT and my tech savvy students on high alert as I wrestle with the challenges of trying to embed videos and create  weblinks to upload Smart Notebook lessons to  a webpage.

So what am I telling everyone and anyone who will listen to me about Cohort 21?  I tell them that I knew when I started this adventure that it would be a steep learning curve for me. Then I tell them without hesitation that Cohort21 is the quintessential PD experience. It exemplifies the growth mindset philosophy and requires teachers to experience firsthand those 21st century skills they hope to embody in their students. I tell them that much more than just contributing to their awareness of best practices and current research, Cohort21, will bring it all to their classroom.  And, if they think it will be all about mastering new software and technical jargon they will never use, they are in for a surprise.  The face to face full day sessions, the impromptu hangouts twitter conversations and encouraging blog feedback has proven that technology does indeed have a warm and fuzzy side. In Cohort21, no one is anonymous or forgotten, and any notion that you need to be an expert is quickly dispelled.  It is all about leveling up your own expertise no matter what your starting point is, and  help for just about any problem is only a tweet away.

I sincerely believe that in order to inspire students to take risks, to be persistent and to be resourceful, the students need to see their teachers doing the same thing. If teachers will risk putting themselves in that role, they will gain new skills to share, and have a better sense of what their students and colleagues need to succeed.  Perhaps it was this belief that pushed me to include my students in the process of realizing my action plan to create a French website for our Middle School. The project is not complete; but it is well underway.

The twist in my initial proposal to include the students in the plan, development and contributions has certainly made a task I set for myself more fun than work.  Of course there have been the inevitable challenges and frustrations. Giving up control to my students hasn’t always been easy.  I like results, so my lack of skill and dependency on the help of others, either slowed progress or halted it completely.It is also bit frustrating to realize that the project will never be done. It will always be evolving, just as students’ skills, interests and needs do.  In the meantime, though, I’ve decided to enjoy this “out of the book” opportunity to offer a French enrichment experience and the chance to connect with my students on a different level— where they are the teachers, and I am the learner.

Joining the Cohort has meant going back to school, complete with assignments, homework and learning challenges.  I just didn’t expect how often my students would be doing the teaching.  I am grateful to Cohort21 for helping me to grow my teaching practice and technology skills.  I have a long way to go still, and I am definitely not in the lead of this race, but surprisingly, I am okay with that. I’m on the team, and moving in the right direction, and for now, that’s enough. While this year’s experience is coming to a close, I am reassured that in a just few short months I'll be back to school facing a new crop of students eager to show their teacher how to level up.



.      "How techy” would you like to get?" asked my academic director, noting that one of my professional goals was to improve the use of technology in my practice.  "Would you like to attend Cohort21? It's an intensive, year long commitment that will require a lot of work,  but, the payoff will be worth it."

I have lots of ideas of what I’d like to do with technology in the classroom, but little time (and less patience) to learn the skills that I need to in order to make all those ideas a reality. So, I was doubtful of the wisdom of committing so much time to something that is definitely not a passion. Up until now, I’ve used technology on a need to know basis. Nevertheless, I promised to check out Cohort21 and get back to her in a few days.

I considered that I am notorious for taking on more than I should, that I really have too many time commitments already,  and that I should try harder to balance work, family and personal interests, and I decided to decline the offer.

Just prior to making my “Thanks, but no thanks” announcement, I listened to our Head Master’s address to our new prefects. He told a story of how Steve Yzerman took the risk of moving way out of his comfort zone to make the necessary changes to his leadership style to lead his team to win the Stanley Cup. No doubt he intended to inspire our Grade 12 students to risk  moving out of their comfort zone.

I don’t know if any grade 12’s were inspired, but his words must have resonated with me, because later that day when I went to tell our Academic Director that day that I would not be participating in Cohort21, I heard myself saying – yes, I will attend and thank you for the opportunity.

To say I felt out of my comfort zone at my first face to face session of Cohort21, is an understatement.  Having navigated the Toronto by Go Bus from Hamilton, and street car (the TTC was under construction.), I was greeted by unfamiliar faces (but thankfully friendly ones). The language of the day was often foreign, and the pace was frustratingly fast. Every question I ask was answered, but quickly replaced by new ones, and I am embarrassed to say, I can’t remember everything I learned that day. Six hours later, still feeling technologically inadequate, I can only say it was amazing day.

I am not certain I will live up to my own expectations on this tech trek I’ve signed up for, but I left our first face to face feeling giddy with excitement and my brain overflowing with new ideas and skills to share with students and colleagues. I am still out of my comfort zone, it’s early in the process, and I have an enormous amount of “homework, and even more questions, but the fact that I am looking forward to the next face to face is tells me that this venture is worth the risk.


1 Comment

Welcome to Cohort 21. This is the first post on your new blog. This journal is an integral part of your Cohort 21 experience. Here you will reflect, share and collaborate as you move through the C21 learning cycle towards your action plan.

Cohort 21 is a unique professional development opportunity open to CIS Ontario teachers and school leaders who are seeking to explore  what it means to a teacher in the 21st century.