Effective professional learning (again)…

A couple of posts this week questioning the effectiveness of conferences for teacher professional development got me thinking (again). A growing number of educators around the world feel they learn most (and best) by actively organising and engaging in their own forms of professional learning via Twitter, blogs and Teachmeets, just for instance. Read what Cameron Patterson, Mark O’Sullivan and Malyn Mawby have written in the past few days and see what you think.

Seems like a good time to post my thoughts about #elemchat...

I knew there was something different about #elemchat, a weekly Twitter conversation for primary school educators, that kept drawing me back, but couldn’t put my finger on what it was. Was it the fact that there are fewer participants than the excellent but frenetic #edchat, allowing for more individual engagement? Or was it because it’s held on a weekend and I have relaxed time to participate thoughtfully?

I was recently invited and encouraged by Tania and Greta to join the team of #elemchat moderators. It’s only now that I have seen what goes on behind the scenes that I understand the success of #elemchat.  Note: I am getting to know and like (and highly respect!) the moderators with whom I have engaged so far, but this is not about the interesting individuals or the personal connections … that’s another story for another post!

Behind the scenes at #elemchat…

Here’s how it works:

  • A Google doc is shared with the team a few days before the chat, with the topic of the week.
  • The team is invited to add thought-provoking questions to drive the conversation.
  • If more than one team member is on-line, there is ‘live’ discussion about the questions, how best to word them and which to include.
  • Team members find and add relevant  resources and links to the document.
  • During the hour of #elemchat, one of the moderators posts the questions and another the links.
  • There is a back-channel on the Google doc during #elemchat, where moderators discuss which question to post so as to move the conversation forward.
  • During the session, moderators encourage, support, validate and respectfully question the contributions of the participants.
  • After the session, some of the moderators are back at the Google doc deciding which topics from the list of contributor suggestions to add to next week’s poll.
  • The poll is set up and posted during the week for voting.
  • The entire conversation is saved and archived on the #elemchat wiki. (See all archives here)
Here’s what I discovered:
  • True collaboration, where all opinions are listened to and both work and learning are shared.
  • A wide range of perspectives from educators around the world. The moderator team alone is in Morocco, Argentina, USA, Australia…
  • A strong commitment to personal learning and growth as educators.
  • An even stronger commitment to creating the best possible learning experiences for students.
  • Openness to new ideas, different ways of thinking and other ways of doing.
  • Absolutely no sense of ego or self promotion.
And here’s what the team members say:
  • Thanks for being such dedicated, passionate educators who are willing to give so generously! (Tania to the team)
  • If I had to sum the team up in a sentence it would be that we live the 4C’s we collaborate, communicate, cooperate, and create because it’s all about the kids. (JoAnn)
  • We’re all still learning, that’s one of the things I love most about this team! (Greta)
#elemchat takes place every weekend  on Saturdays, 6pm US Eastern; 10pm GMT; Sundays, 9am Melbourne daylight saving time. Vote here for the next discussion topic.

10 thoughts on “Effective professional learning (again)…

  1. Honoured to be mentioned in your blog and on the same line as @cpaterso and @mountainmoss to boot!

    Thank you, too, for the inside look at what goes behind a chat and I think every chat has a different process. and that’s good. I like participating in #mathchat because it’s not as frenetic as #edchat so it’s a little easier to follow and join in threads. I think #elemchat is good too though I’m just a lurker there. It’s always good for secondary school teachers to see what the primary school teachers are up to. 🙂

    I agree that for such things, good planning and moderation help, and if you’re lucky enough to have a team, then collaboration is a big plus indeed.


  2. Thanks for giving us a behind-the-scenes look at #elemchat. I’m unable to participate every week, but when I do, I always leave with new ideas and a broader perspective. I appreciate the time and effort of all who make #elemchat, #4thchat, #edchat and other chats happen–you are developing teachers and education in an efficient, research-based, child-centered way.


  3. this is such a great post. it highlights to me (again) that there is such a skill in moderating well. the apparent “light touch” you saw as a participant is underpinned with some sound planning (and the 4 Cs!) in the background… less “light touch” than it appears, and more “well considered touch” perhaps.


  4. We’re teachers 🙂 Moderating isn’t all that different from planning for and facilitating student learning. Great questions that drive the learning forward, making thinking visible, awareness that every learner has different interests and abilities, reflection…


  5. While I would agree that teacher attendance at conferences often fails to result in significant change or improvement in teaching or learning in school, I would say the problem lies in a lack of strategic planning from the teacher or school rather than the conference. Teachers need to plan for what they hope to develop before selecting a conference that might help achieve their goals. In addition to attending a conferece they can use Twitter and other resources to further enhance their understanding and to guide their learning.
    So basically i think it comes down to expectations. If you expect a conference to result in significant change without any planning then you are likely to be disappointed and end up blaming the conference. If you only expect to get some ideas at the conference that you can develop later, then you are more likely to be happy with the conference. If you go to a conference with a clear plan of what you are hoping to learn about and develop back at school, then the confefence is more likely to be a worthwhile experience.


    1. My post wasn’t actually about conferences.
      Every conference is different and what you put in often affects what you get out of it. Some conferences are excellent and some have parts which are more worthwhile than others. I don’t think that all conferences are a waste of time (although some are), but it’s great to have opportunities to learn that are both free and don’t take up days.The opportunity for ongoing engagement with educators around the world at any hour of any day is, I feel, more effective professional learning than any I have ever experienced at conferences or other formal PD in my 30+ years of experiences in education.


  6. Hello. My name is Ashley Cohen. I am in Dr. Strange’s EDM310 class at the University of South Alabama, and I was assigned to read your blog post. I enjoyed reading this post. While I was reading this, it was all new to me. I loved reading about what happens behind the scenes! It really informed me about what goes on behind the real picture. I never knew this session went on on Twitter! Thanks for the useful information.. No doubt, I will tune in when I am able. Great post! Thanks alot!


  7. Thank you for describing the #elemchat process so eloquently! We are so fortunate in that the #elemchat team, and the wider #elemchat community is truly “in it for the right reasons”. The resources and ideas that are shared so generously, and the calibre of the conversations that take place every week, never fail to amaze me. I am truly grateful to be given the opportunity to learn alongside such outstanding educators every week. Thank you so much for being a part of it!


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