Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself. ~ John Dewey

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In a weeks time I’ll be in Manila, Philippines to attend the EARCSO Administrators Conference. This will be the third year I’ve presented at the conference…guess it a good thing they invite me back every year. 🙂


This year though I’m trying something different. With the permission of the head of EARCOS. I asked if I could set up a cohort of administrators who might want to go deep in learning about leadership in a digital world. Of course I didn’t even know at the time if any administrators in the region would want to do such a thing. Imagine being stuck learning with me for three full days….who would put themselves through that?

In the end I was given permission to send out an e-mail to the administrators in the EARCOS region (about 100 international schools total). If I could get 20 administrators to say they would like to try a cohort model of learning that was embedded within the conference schedule I could trail this concept and see how it goes.

Within a week we had 25 people and ended up with a total of 33 administrators from Heads of Schools to Principals, IT Directors, and VPs. Needless to say I am very impressed!

So the concept is this: During the first session we’ll meet as a cohort for 90 minutes and do some investigating and hands-on computer work to frame our thinking for the conference. Then the cohort will be able to choose between two technology learning focused sessions to attend. After attending three sessions we will meet again to debrief our learning, reflect, and discuss what we’re thinking and how what we learn can be used in our schools when we leave the conference. We’ll follow this same format all three days.

I’ve been working with Andy Torris on this, my good friend and Deputy Superintendent of Shanghai America School. This year Andy and the IT team have rolled out some 1500+ laptops as they start their 1:1 program in grades 6-12. Andy also has more experience running PD sessions with administrators, making us a good team to lead this first cohort.

Andy and I were talking about how to engage the administrators in the conference, and have decided that what we want to do is give them options on how they can be active participants during sessions and the conference.


With that idea in mind I set up a blog for the cohort. Each member will have an account and if they so choose will be able to blog their thoughts through out the conference. It might be notes, ideas, or rambles…we really don’t care as long as it’s about their learning within the conference.

We also want to give administrators ideas and allow them to explore how some communication tools might be used in schools. So, we’re setting up chat rooms for each session, and if they so choose they can engage in a bake channel conversation during sessions.

Andy also pointed out that some administrators who might fill overwhelmed with blogs and chat rooms might prefer a simple form that they can fill out with leading questions so that they can share their thoughts with very few clicks. So, we’re creating a Google Form that, if they so choose, they can fill out during or after a session. We’ll make the Google Spread Sheet public so that their thinking, like the other methods will be public as well.

Three different ways to engage in learning during the conference. All you have to do is decide how you want/what works for you during the conference or a session.

That’s our message…that engaging in learning and what technology allows is differentiated approaches to meeting the same outcome. We don’t care how you engage in the learning process, just as long as you do.

We’ll see how this goes…it could be a total flop…but taking a risk and trying something new is way more fun than the same old conference year after year.

Of course there is a long range plan to my madness as well…..if this is successful we’ll look to replicate a similar cohort system in the teachers conference in March which all leads to a revolutionary conference format we’re working on for Learning 2.010 next September. Buckle up…as we’re about to get innovative!

I’ve been thinking about reflection lately and how we use it in our classrooms. I can remember being in elementary school and being asked to reflect in a journal. Reflection is a great process…a proven process of learning. We’ve been asking students to reflect for years in education so one simple question:

Do you give yourself permission to reflect during the work day?

and another question:

Do your administrators give you permission to reflect during the work day?

I say during the work day because I truly feel if we are to become better educators we need reflection time built into what we do. To often we end up like Jenny:

When you spend a considerable amount of time learning about how we transform learning with the use of new tools you find yourself online a lot. Most of this effort happens outside of my working day which impacts on sleep, family time and time spent with friends.

And that’s not good!

Why is it the educators place a high value on the reflective process yet do not give themselves permission to do it during their own working hours? Every educator has prep time. We use that time in a multitude of ways, yet how many of us set time aside just once a week to take 30 minutes or so and reflect.

You don’t have to blog, or even write. Reflecting could be reading an educational journal, it might be sitting and staring out the window, or it might be writing down your thoughts.

Andy Torris, an administrator, finds time in the back of the car when he’s going from one campus to another in his “Dispatch from the Road” posts. Andy uses his working day time, to reflect and write about his thinking.

New comer to the blogosphere David Hamilton has an excellent post on reflection and the act of reflecting.

But lest we forget, reflection is hard work. Whether we are sorting out our emotions and discerning personal values and attitudes, or discovering the shaky underpinnings of contemporary truths, reflection takes work, and, I would suggest, it takes practice. As I prepared to write this blog, I was amazed at how difficult it is to keep focused on a single abstract topic for stretches of time over several days.

Yes, reflecting is hard work! It takes practice, but more than that it takes time. Do you give yourself permission to reflect?

At the Learning 2.008 conference we had seven unconference sessions where participants could choose to go find a corner and reflect. Yet I have had conversations with people who went to the conference who said:

“I just wish I would have had time to site and play with everything I was learning.”

You did! You just didn’t give yourself permission to sit and let it soak in. Instead it was more important to you to go to this session, or that unconference session. Don’t blame the conference, we gave you the time…you just chose to use it in a different way.

Isn’t that what we do with prep time during our working day? We make a choice on how we are going to spend that time. We make the choice to answer e-mails, grade those papers, or update our facebook status.

During the Shanghai EduBlogger Con I was talking with some newbie bloggers who asked the question:

“Where do you find the time to blog?”

My anwers:

I schedule it into my work day. When I was hired and again the first week of school I told my administartion that I will be blogging during working hours. That blogging for me is about learning and reflecting. Blogging is not just writing, it is the act of reading, thinking, reflecting and writing. As a technology person in a school helping teachers, I need that time to reflect and learn about what’s happening, and I make a point to schedule that into my work day.

Question:

“So you close your door, make yourself unavaliable and blog?”

Answer:

2008-09-28_1442 by jutecht.Yes! I, unlike a classroom teacher, do not have set aside prep time. So I create my own around my lunch hour. I give myself 30 minutes of reflection time every day and back that with a 45 minute lunch. I shut off my e-mail client, I shut my door (or would if I had one) and I reflect. Now if a teacher comes to my door and needs my help of course I help them, but that rarely happens during the lunch hour.

I don’t write a blog post every day. Some days I read my RSS reader, other days I listen to a podcast or watch a YouTube video. Somedays I follow links and learn, and other days….I blog.

I give myself permission to reflect. I as a learner need that time, I understand how important it is to reflect and my administrators understand that it is legitimate use of my prep time.

Make reflection part of your work day. If it is something you try and do outside of school it won’t happen. There is rarely a time when I’m not thinking about education and technology…but it’s my passion and I love it! Some teachers have other interests, and that’s great! But give yourself time to reflect on your practice. Make it a habit to reflect and make it part of your work day.

Give yourself permission to reflect….it’s OK

If you need permission from someone then you have it from me. Tell your administrator that Jeff Utecht says you need to take time to reflect. If they have an issue with it…they can contact me! 🙂