Reflecting on PD: Collaboration?


Yesterday I delivered a PD presentation/workshop twice. In the morning an abbreviated version to one junior high staff and in the afternoon the full version to the staff of another junior high school.  I’m using the term presentation/workshop because, unfortunately, I had to rely on PowerPoint for the framework, but there was ample hands-on time for the teachers, so it was workshop-esque at least!

The session took me many hours to prepare and tweak and edit and… well, you know what I’m talking about if you’ve ever prepared this sort of thing.  I should point out that my job is to assist teachers in using technology in their day to day practice.  As things in the world of education technology (EdTech) have been changing, my colleague and I have been trying to model better practice during PD sessions.  We used to “stand and deliver” but recently we’ve tried to change that in the hopes that teachers will start to see that the “teacher” doesn’t need to be the fountain of all that is valuable.  If you follow EdTech, and other discussions you’ve heard about that shift.

Since the morning session was abbreviated I wasn’t too enthusiastic about the overall outcome, but several teachers thanked me and in doing so mentioned specific points that they found useful.  I was happy with that.

I was more hopeful for the afternoon session.

The sessions in both schools, were scheduled as part of a full day school-based PD day for teachers.  So, in the morning I was the opening session and in the afternoon, I was the final session… on a Friday… at the end of a full day of a variety of topics, not all of which were necessarily as riveting as I hoped mine would be!

The afternoon session was successful. There were a couple of technology glitches, but that’s to be expected and we went with it without too much frustration.  When it was over I chatted with some of the teachers who thanked me and again, pointed out specifics that they found useful.  I think that’s a good sign.  I also chatted with the principal who is very keen to move his staff and school forward with using technology in a well thought out and effective way.

Last night as I was reviewing my Twitter timeline I found two Tweets from Chad Lehman (@imcguy).  Chad commented on, and provided links to, two posts by Dean Shareski (@shareski). So, I followed and read…

In the first post, It Takes All Kinds: Collaboration, Dean ponders the term collaboration and how educators have been using it and  tossing it around quite liberally for some time.  I won’t summarize Dean’s post here, but I do encourage you to read it.

Part of my presentation yesterday suggested that if we’re making the best use of technology, then we aren’t using it for everything.  I sometimes see teachers (and others) trying to jam technology into every crack and crevice, even when it makes their work more difficult or results in no value added to the students’ experience.  Dean’s post suggests some similar thoughts about classroom organization, management, and collaboration.  None of these things are static.  Different people need different ways to learn, to interact, to reflect and to be reflective.  None of these things should be “all or none.”

Dean includes a quote from Royan Lee (@royanlee) who points out that we often use the “real world” as the reason for forcing group work on students because they will have to work in groups in their careers.  Royan goes on to wonder “Just who are these masses of people creating great works with people they have little to no working chemistry with?

So, what then, is collaboration in school?  What do we mean when we use the term?  Why do we want (sometimes require) students to “collaborate”?  Is collaborate a new way of saying group-work?

In her reply to Dean’s post, Lisa Lagan points out that she loves collaborating with others to “build and grow [her] PLN” she goes on to say that she really doesn’t like working on “group projects” and would rather fail or succeed on her own.

I agree with Lisa.  I very much enjoy learning from, sharing and talking with colleagues and others – even students.  I think this is collaboration at its best.  But I also really dislike group-work type of assignments for many reasons.  I agree with Royan Lee and don’t think they are authentic. I’ve worked in a number of situations (both within the field of education, and otherwise) and have seldom been in a “group work” situation like that we cause students to engage in.  I think there is always going to be a winner and a loser in group-work and I think that most students dislike being told they have to work in groups or with a partner.  Why should we start off a project, assignment or activity with a requirement that most students (in my opinion) will find distasteful??

Again, I won’t take up too much space here relating what you can (and I suggest you should) read in totality.  However, the reason I drew a connection between Dean’s post and my presentation, is because I used the word collaborate many times yesterday.  I showed the groups several tools that allow for collaboration (text collaboration tools like Pirate Pad and Titan Pad and white board collaboration tools like Twiddla).  I don’t regret showing these teachers tools like this, they are great tools, but I do regret not taking the time to discuss collaboration and its place and purpose in our classrooms.

Maybe some of those teachers will read this post, and Dean’s. Hopefully I’ll have the opportunity to have a  conversation with them on the topic in the not too distant future!

Thanks Chad for being the messenger who brought Dean’s post to my attention!  Thanks Dean, for providing a timely post that caused me to reflect on my own practice – always important!