Conference vs (un)conference

I’m back home from a wonderful weekend away in Dunedin and Invercargill. While I stayed with friends in Dunedin, a car-load of us drove down to Invercargill for an educamp. I love educamps – they’re so different from the usual conferences I attend. Don’t get me wrong – I love conferences too – but educamps provide the opportunity to sit down and have conversations with others in a way that’s very difficult at a conference. At conferences we tend to maintain a frenetic pace rushing from one session to another; grabbing moments to catch up with old friends and meet new ones, and occasionally getting to sit down over a meal for a quick conversation. I love reconnecting with friends but come away feeling like we’ve only managed a bit of a conversation and needing more.

Enter educamp. I’ve been to three now – Wellington, Dunedin, and Invercargill. They’ve all been different because what happens is dictated by who attends and what’s important on the day. The one key factor for all of the educamps I’ve attended has been the conversations. At Ulearn, one of the presenters at the Pecha Kucha session talked about that while our online connections are important, it is also important to turn our computers off and meet each other face to face for conversations. How true this is.

Being able to sit down with a small group of like minded people and talk about what’s happening in our classrooms or our schools, or what we’re passionate about, or the current learning that’s been happening for us, is extremely valuable. ┬áIf I just sit around talking with my colleagues from school I’m never going to learn about how things work in a small school, or a rural school, or even a school in a different area of the country.

Educamp provides wonderful opportunities to talk about the things that are important to us. We can ask questions, debate, agree or disagree.

Most of all we can learn.


Stronger together

I’ve been reflecting a lot on my teaching practice over the last few months.

Teaching traditionally has adults working in isolation with age-leveled groups of children. While there is usually an overview set by senior teachers/management/school, what happens in the classroom is a result of how the teacher interprets the overview and presents to students.

I hate teaching like that – it’s not my natural style and I fervently believe it is not in the best interests of the students.

Over the last few months I’ve been having conversations with various colleagues – some at my school and some long distance.

Driving to my friend Jo’s house after school one day we pondered and discussed why we had to work in our year levels – why couldn’t her 5 year olds work with my 9/10 year olds? We wondered what an open plan type classroom might look like.

Meeting my twitter friend @annekenn for the first time in July and starting a conversation that four months later is still continuing, we wondered what a distance collaborative classroom would look like and how we might manage it.

Conversations with my team leader Julie in the middle of our learning street between our two classrooms were about how we can best serve our learners and happened while watching with some bemusement and awe at our learners (a year 4 and year 5 class) intermixed and worked alongside each other (and sometimes even to the point of going for help to the other teacher).

Anne and I started putting together a plan of how we could run our classrooms collaboratively – involving each other’s learners, not just in one-off projects, but in daily/weekly ‘ordinary’ things. We talked about using a collaborative wikispace and guiding our learners into taking ownership of their learning with ePortfolios. We talked (and wrote) about how we could use the wonderful collaborative spaces available to use through Google Apps and wikispaces. Big dreams.

Back home, similar conversations were taking place with Jo, Julie and I. We looked at the slideshow about Hingaia Peninsula’s Learning Studios and asked ourselves how can we do something like that with existing classrooms. We tossed ideas around, talked with our principal and DP and came up with a plan.

Anne has just been here for two days to work with me and my class and to meet up and have conversations with Jo and Julie – because we’re going to merge our two plans. Great to sit and talk with 3 others with a shared vision! And we’re really looking forward to a visit from Jane who is the principal of Hingaia Peninsula School later this month when we can sit down and talk with her about their philosophy around their learning studios.

Because behind the ‘good ideas’ we need to have some firm understanding about why we are doing this. Why collaborate? Why not just teach in the ‘tried and true’ method? We believe that we are stronger together. When we share our strengths and our visions; when we plan and collaborate together; when our strengths complement each other; when we are accountable to others – we are stronger. And being able to give our learners that variety of learning leadership (rather than teaching) has to be more powerful for our learners.

It will be interesting this time next year to look back and see what lessons we’ve learned. I believe that that four of us – Jo, Julie, Anne and I – will be better teachers for the experience. We will have learned alongside our learners – different lessons but similar journey. We have already determined that we will document our journey and any resources we co-create (under a CCbySA license of course).

(I deliberately haven’t talked about how we might set up our learning spaces for next year … that’s for a later blog post!)