Why Relationships Matter: An ‘Unplugd’ Model

Alec and Zoe's GroupThere are many takeaways from Unplugd11 and finding just one theme to write about is difficult. Do I write about the authentic collaboration and peer review of essays? Do I write about the deep conversations that took place in our small and large groups? Do I write about how 37 educators joined together, leaving behind organizational authority and leadership and worked in a truly distributed leadership model? Do I write about the impact that meeting face-to-face had on individuals who have only ever met in online spaces? Do I write about the risk people took when sharing their stories? Do I write about the blog reflections and twitter feeds, radio podcasts and photographs and skype calls that have resulted in the days after the event?

Jen and Zoe at Unplugd, already friends, teaching partners and colleagues - g meet face-to-face

Jen and Zoe "Alberta vs Ontario" Math and Spelling every Friday

What I really wanted to write about was what it has meant to me to be part of the Unplugd initiative over the last year. The support and friendship that resulted changed me in many ways. It humbled me. It gave me confidence. It was that that fueled me when I sometimes felt like I was loosing my focus. I smile when thinking about the impromptu skype calls, road trips, or the late night meetings due to time zone conflicts. Sometimes we laughed so hard that it hurt.

TalkingI smile when I think about the many conversations that we had that where not part of the agenda, but intended to offer care and support for one another during those tough days in our own organizations. And other times, we shared the joys we had in our lives. The soccer games, birthday parties, our trips, our accomplishments.

United on the train!

Heading toward Toronto to begin the Unplugd11 event. Here you see our excitement as we are watching the twitter #unplugd11 stream

This is why Relationships Matter.

Before Unplugd, during Unplugd, and now after Unplugd- in every discussion, story and anecdotal, it was about relationships. It was first about knowing each other, knowing our students, our colleagues and our staff. It was about being aware that everyone is starting in a different space and place and different level, whether it be emotionally, socially or intellectually.

This summit was intentionally designed around the idea that if Professional Development is built around relationships first, the people (students, teachers, leader) are more likely to take risk. And with risk, people begin to think more critically, talk more candidly, and share more openly. With risk, people are free to give and receive feedback and to reflect deeply. People are free to embrace change. The relationships that were built gave us capacity.

What I learned, was that this element of relationship building, of safety in groups, of trust was missing for many of us. Our walls were built so thick that when they were broken down, we could be our authentic selves, without judgment.

We set out to accomplish a co-authored book, but what was accomplished was a great deal bigger than that.

Getting down to work
I wonder, how this will change our practice, our leadership, our direction? I wonder if we will be more aware of relationship building when going back into our organizations. I wonder if our actions at UNPLUGD will be heard.

I hope so.

Who is your Doug Peterson?

IMG_3488A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to spend some time with Doug Peterson (AKA @dougpete, AKA yoda <my master>) in Windsor, Ontario. It may have appeared that the purpose of the visit was to ‘Faceoff at Maxwell School”. But the real purpose was to connect face to face with a colleague and friend that has truly impacted my professional growth by inspiring and teaching me to think outside the box and challenge me in so many ways –to be authentic, creative and innovating in my teaching and learning.

My visit with Doug has truly made me reflect about a dichotomy of learning that I have been thinking about and I ask, why has this learning community – this PLN –  had such a strong impact on my relationships within my workplace (the brick and mortar workplace)? Have I become more distant and less social and even less collaborative? Does it matter? Is it just that our learning spaces are changing and that I am adapting?

In fact, this is a dichotomy that I struggle with in a profession where collaboration and team work are key ingredients to success. On one hand, my organization tells me who to collaborate with, when to collaborate, how to collaborate and what to collaborate about – but most important – to be there in person. Choice is rarely an option. I admit – this has resulted in disengagement. I wish it hasn’t. But, on the other hand what I have discovered through learning networks is so incredibly empowering. I have become fully engaged and inspired by learners (YOU) and educators (yes, you again) across the world that challenge me and engage me, EVERYDAY to be creative and critical at the same time.
Doug Peterson is a perfect example of a colleague that has helped me improve my practice and yet lives over 400km’s away.  In spending these days, (in person) with Doug -as we toured schools and drove across the countryside,  Doug explained to me the importance of authenticity, 

“We need to use the tools and strategies ourselves first and tell our stories, that’s what makes us connect to our students”.

Perhaps it is this very statement that has caused such a struggle for me–  and so I asked Doug, “How do I be fully engaged within buildings that I work in, while also embracing these new digital coaching platforms?” Doug has been a leader, a coach and a mentor and to him, distance or time zones or buildings is not essential when developing supportive learning communities or learning spaces. It is simply about the people and their choices.  I am not sure if it really matters whether or not Doug works in my immediate building, or collaborates and coaches from a distance. I am not sure it really matters if  my learning and professional development and growth happens in networked environments vs brick and mortar – as long as the learning a growth happens, builds capacity for others, and is sustainable.  I wonder how long it will take our organizations to embrace the idea of choice and customization when developing our PLC’s. Who is your Doug Peterson?

Open Orchestra

IMG_4363Having the opportunity to talk with Steve Ballamy from Humber College gave me incredible insight about how powerful music, technology and collaboration can be when merged with sound research, pedagogy and supportive partners.

The lead research and partner for this project is McGill University. Their Open Orchestra blog explains the project as being, “the musical equivalent of an aircraft simulator, providing the musician the experience of playing with an orchestra”. The project is funded by CANARIE, Canada’s Advanced Research and Innovation Network and partners LIVE at the Humber College Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning.

Steve explains the project as being means for shipping HD video and multiple images and high def audio across the network that is received at one of these work stations so that the musician feels or senses the music the way he/she would as if they were in the orchestra in real life.

“The margins of error in music is so tiny, but even a few milliseconds of delay, the music falls apart…having the artists involved in this is what drives the quality up”

What is the Ultimate Learning Space?

Learning Spaces
A couple of years ago, I landed an incredible job at a brand new school. The school was equipped with a Smartboard in every room, a Front Row amplification system in every learning space, wireless Internet throughout the school and mini computer pods attached to groups of rooms. I could hardly wait to start teaching that year. At first glance, it seemed like a perfect teaching and learning space for the 21st Century.
Today, I would argue the opposite.
It first started with a conversation I had with my students, who, in a podcast, describe their “ideal” secondary school. They didn’t mention technology as being essential (although for them, that is a given). They mentioned collaborative spaces, comfortable learning areas, choice and freedom. From that point, I not only began to look at my own learning spaces differently but I also began to explore this topic on a variety of levels.
In January 2011, Rodd Lucier and I presented, “Learning Spaces of Tomorrow” where educators and leaders from across North America joined together in groups to literally design learning spaces using Livescribe Pens (in person) and Scribblar (online). The major themes presented by all groups was that learning spaces should be collaborative in nature, flexible in design, differentiated, comfortable and engaging (almost verbatim what my 12 year old students described). Again, technology infrastructure was a given.
In my post, “Ultimate Learning Spaces” I describe the look and feel of the new Hamilton Public Library, which, interestingly, was designed using the major themes mentioned above – flexible, comfortable, collaborative and differentiated. Continue reading