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.

Dear Teacher who wasn’t on Twitter…

Partially inspired by Scott McLeod’s post  If You Were on Twitter.

Dear Teacher,

I know you don’t see the point of Twitter. I know you think people should have a balanced life and not be online too much. I know you think a great deal of time is required to find resources and create connections.

Last Sunday was a lovely, sunny day. Among other things, I went for a walk in the city, spent time with family, went out for breakfast with friends, cooked a pot of lentil soup, finished Seth Godin’s Poke the Box and read several chapters of A Man of Parts by David Lodge.

I also spent 30 minutes on Twitter participating in #elemchat, where primary school teachers around the world exchange ideas and share their challenges. Here’s some of what I got out of that half hour:

  • A variety of new web 2.0 story book creators to explore and share with my colleagues.
  • Inspiration and ideas from @dogtrax, like his environment project.
  • The idea of using Edmodo for reading discussions.
  • A promising collaboration with Tania Ash  in Morocco to start a world reading group for primary school students!
  • The start of a connection with @plnaugle who shares my interest in inquiry learning.
  • Discovery of another PYP educator @ctrlaltdeliver to add to my contact list.
  • Potential collaborators for our unit about cultural beliefs.
  • A comforting sense that educators worldwide encounter the same challenges that we do at our school.
  • New contacts in several countries for future global collaborations.
  • A reminder that there is no professional learning quite like half an hour on Twitter!
You should give it a try. I’ll help you get started if you like.
PS. There was a great #edchat session today on the role of blogging in 21st century learning, it’s value and the challenges, both for students and teachers. But that’s another story…