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

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50+ Administrators talking about skllls needed in the new workplace
50+ Administrators talking about skllls needed in the new workplace

Back at work and reflecting on the tech cohort that I tried to run at the EARCOS Admin Conference. I talked about it here and what my hopes were for the group. It’s the first time I’ve tried to embedd a cohort in a traditional conference model and to be honest I had very limited success.

We met as a cohort during the first session. I was excited to meet the 33 admin who had signed up ahead of time to be apart of the project. During the first session we had 50+ people in the room. I was really excited as people just kept coming into the room asking if they could join.

But it was all down hill from there. Our first session went really well, people were excited and we got them thinking about the skills a worker needed today by having them in groups find answers to these real world scenarios.

On the second day we had about 15 people show up for the cohort reflection….a huge drop from the 50+ the day before. I can make all kinds of excuses of why people maybe did not show up, but at the end of the day they just didn’t.

On the third and final day we had 7 people show up for the cohort reflection session. Our discussions were great as we covered everything from 1:1 laptop programs to new and cool tools on the Internet.

There were some successes though. The blog I set up really did become a place to house thinking, presentations and links to resources coming out of sessions. The greatest take away for me and most administrators I talked to was the use of the chat rooms I set up for back channel conversations.

It was very interesting as we used a chat room during two of the keynotes. During the first keynote the chat room was very active, and very off topic. Someone would throw a one-liner into the chat and we’d all head down a rat hole. It was great fun….and if you ask me what the speakers overall message was I couldn’t tell you. I was not at all engaged in the presentation. The chat room was much more engaging….even if it was off task.

We talked after the first keynote and I had many come up to me and say how much fun that was and that they were coming to the keynote the next day just to get back into the chat room.

But…the next day we got into the chat, we were all ready, and nothing….there was hardly a conversation. Some links based on websites the speakers was talking about, some stories from those who had connections via a personal story based on the presentation, and questions related to students and global awareness.

It was a completely different chat room….the pace was much slower than the day before and it was on topic, engaging, and relevant to the presentation.

To me it was a fascinating look at how engagement and presentation of information leads to learning. It also leads to the discussion in the classroom why some teachers stuggle with students getting on Facebook and others don’t have any trouble at all. Here were administrators who came to the second keynote with all intentions to “screw off” in the chat room…and yet they found the information and presentation so engaging that it didn’t happen. I talked about this realization I had with the group of 7 that showed up at the last reflection session. I just wish I would have had the 50+.

I’m not done with cohorts, they are powerful ways to learn, but embedding them into an old model just didn’t work. It’s like adding technology at the end of a unit, it’s just one more thing we have to do instead of “this is the way we do things”.

That’s why for the Learning 2.010 conference in Shanghia (Sept. 16-18, 2010, registration to open in January), we’re creating a conference that at it’s core is built on cohort learning models. We’re in the final stages of planning and I’ll have more information in another month. But I promise you this, it will be a format like none you have ever seen before, based on learning, thinking, and the year 2020.

So I walk away from this conference learning a lot about conferences and how changing mindsets within the same walls of a conference that saw it’s 41st installment is difficult. We’re so use to doing things this way that anything else is just weird feeling and confusing. We know how this conference goes, we’ve been doing it for 41 years now….this is the way we’ve always done it, why change. It’s a mind set that when you embed something new in the middle of it, something outside conventional thinking just has a hard time taking hold. Ah…..human kind….we are a strange beast!

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!