On Thursday evening, October 6th, I had the chance to view a livestream of ULearn14, an annual conference for educators of all levels interested in global education innovation. This year, ULearn convened in New Zealand and was hosted by CORE education. The theme of the conference is collaboration and capacity building, a theme used in tandem with Connected Educators Month which the U.S. Department of Education started in 2012 and now reaches over 14 million educators around the world via twitter.
As an college writing teacher, I am a due-paying member of the National Council of Teachers of English and am involved this month in working with NCTE on CEM month, specifically in attending (live or remotely; via webcam or twitter) events connected to CEM and to blog about them, tweet about, collect the conversations.
Thus I found myself logging onto my desktop—laptop on the desk, as well—and watching a livestream of a breakout session on collaboration held in New Zealand. During the course of the evening, I learned a lot about the frustrations of livestreaming an event thousands and thousands of miles away, idioms of English (tertiary schooling, anyone? Level 4/5 teachers?), and the beauty of the Maori language. I also learned about collaboration.
Rebbecca Sweeney led the session titled “Improve Your Collaborative Practice: Sharing is Not Enough.” Sweeney blogs here and tweets here; she is also CORE education facilitator who works with schools, and sometimes business, to build and sustain clusters via collaborative best practices. While her focus is on big-picture collaboration (i.e., a set of school generating and implementing core goals), she also thinks about small-picture collaboration (i.e., 4 students sitting down and working on a task together.
First, she led participants through establishing criteria for thinking about collaborative practice and then encouraged participants to self-assess the way they currently work with others in their networks, schools, and clusters. Additionally, while collaboration is often pitched as face-to-face interaction, Sweeney offered ways to encourage collaboration in all kinds of space, not just face-to-face.
During her presentation, Sweeney referred participants to slides and handouts. One handout provided practices schools should and should not use to facilitate change and improvement in regards to collaborative practices. Examples are schools should focus on learning rather than teaching and underlying concepts and thinking in inquiry-based practices are understood by all. Conversely schools should not set goals without involving teachers, students, and communities and set goals without a ensuring a detailed analysis of needs using evidence.
Sweeney also introduced participants to an activity she runs when talking with networks about clustering. She has people draw their networks ecology: all the things they have to juggle and keep up with. And by imaging this ecology, they arrive at a complex picture of what is going on in their networks. I was struck by the drawing task, as it is something I invite my students to do from time to time in regards to writing process: draw your writing process, I tell them. To their slightly confused looks, I add some clarifications and examples and, generally, at the end, I find myself impressed by how they capture their writing process and how they leave thinking differently about how they go about writing. (This wasn’t my idea; I borrowed it from Paul Prior and Jody Shipka). There is some power in images—a different power than is found in alphabetic text.
As I was logging off, a statement Sweeney forwarded near the end stuck with me. She stressed when thinking about whose job it is to ensure cluster goals, all too often the focus is on the teachers. (And here she is thinking about clusters of schools). Instead, Sweeney asserts, students, administrators, and communities should be answerable to each other for reaching cluster goals. I like the emphasis on community and left wondering how to reach the community and ensure the community—especially the people who might not have children in the school, might not have a direct stake in the school or cluster—has a voice and actually wants a voice.
I don’t have an answer and am hoping for another session, somewhere around the world and at some time, to provide it.