Leadership

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Claim your own growth

Photo: Grow by David Joyce on Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

I learn a lot in conversation with others. I learn so much blogging. There are some insightful people who take their time to read me and respond to what I say. This post was initiated in one such exchange with my friend Scott Johnson. Reminiscing on my learning a few months ago when attending the Edtech Team Brazil GAFE Summit, I poured out what resonated with me regarding the use of portfolios and how they fascinate me. Scott chimed in with the following words:

Clarissa, I’m interested in the portfolio idea as a form of claiming our efforts as authentically won plus as a tool of being a conscious learner. Sometimes we need to remind others that we are serious about our growth.

There’s so much packed in those two sentences.

Life is not easy, and professional development is most definitely an effortful endeavor. It requires commitment, a vision, and a purpose. We learn so much on the way but so many of us end up not keeping track of our development by engaging in some kind of self-reflection. To me that’s the true purpose of a portfolio. It’s a way to track your progress, to take stock of what you’ve learned. But it is only when we engage in reflection, when we actually examine the curves and the paths we chose to take along the way that we are able to attain a more concrete sense of achievement, of development. It is your reflecting on your own development that makes you aware of your own learning. And I guess that openly engaging in that reflection and declaring yourself to the world impacts your self-image and your self-worth more deeply than we might perceive if we go about our lives in auto pilot, just reacting to whatever experiences happen to us along the way. Being aware of your own achievements makes you care about achieving anything to begin with.

It is all about reminding yourself and the world that you are serious about your own growth. That you care. And that you purposefully work for it.

This blog is my portfolio. Here I have shared so many reflections on what has happened to me along my way of professional and in so many levels my personal development. This is my way of claiming my little bit of space in the world. As my friend Scott put it:

Clarissa, in art class we did portfolios to demonstrate that we had some claim to a place in the world. Not just dreamy and lost in ourselves but tangible actors with presence. This was very hard for some I think they had never been asked for THEIR thoughts and as students we were used to only being asked for what others thought.

Tangible actors with presence. Engaging in self-reflection and declaring our learning and our worth to the world is powerful. Forming our own opinions about ourselves is powerful. Asking ourselves the questions that enable us to dig deeper and find our hidden talents, our voices.

How do we come to feel worthy to put ourselves out there? To show what we can do? Some are confident and just blast ahead but that leaves a lot of students behind. And even confident people can hesitate when they feel less than competent. How to remove the barrier of not being “good-enough-yet” might be possible with a portfolio where a student can see their path and understand it as growth from effort?

I believe that we come to feel worthy to put ourselves out there by leaning on people who care, who believe that we all have something unique to contribute to the world. I believe that we all need to go through the “not-good-enough-yet” feeling and conquer it – not be paralyzed by it. Going through that process is an important part of your growth. We need a support system, a group of people who are willing to start the reflection process. We need other people to read us and talk to us about our reflections. That’s how we grow.

How can we start a culture of self-reflection on one’s own professional development? I guess we need to value our own answers to questions like What have you achieved so far? What are your goals? What is your vision? If we want to create a portfolio culture among our students, we first need to inspire and support teachers along the way. We need to create a sandbox for teachers to feel as learners and engage in building their own portfolios. Teachers need to experience first-hand the empowerment that comes from claiming their own growth.

Thank you, @scottx5 , for taking the time to talk to me here.

Looking forward to hearing from you, and from whoever feels they have something to say on all this! That’s how we grow.

Google Hangouts: Not Your Regular Test Validation Meeting

An important component of the assessment design cycle is validating the instruments, and to that effect we count on the group of teachers working with that particular level/course. This collective validation process used to take place in the form of a traditional meeting which took place in our school’s Main Branch, usually in a room big enough to accommodate a group of around thirty teachers (sometimes more).

I’d already been adopting some group work dynamics in order to optimize the use of time, hopefully enabling teachers to make the best of the experience of collectively analyzing the test. In a nutshell, I wanted a productive, pleasant atmosphere where not only the outspoken individuals had a go at critiquing and sharing their views. I wanted all of them to feel comfortable enough to voice their concerns and suggestions to tweak the assessment instrument at hand. Teachers worked in small groups of five to six people, appointing a spokesperson who would be in charge of communicating the group’s opinions/suggestions regarding the test.

That had been working quite well. So, it occurred to me: they worked so well within their small groups, usually sitting with fellow teachers from the same branch, who have been sharing their experiences on a regular basis. I couldn’t help but wonder if we could make the validation process even more practical. That was when I had the idea to try out Google Hangouts for Test Validation Meetings. This is how we did it.

Let’s Hangout

Teachers were asked to attend the Validation Hangout at their branches; therefore, they worked with small groups of fellow teachers with whom they connect/exchange every day. They appointed their Hangout representative/spokesperson and went about their business of analyzing the test.

Adjustments along the way

The three Hangouts we had this semester were two-hour-long events. In the first Hangout, I took the groups through the test exercise by exercise, asking them to look at one part of the test at a time. That ended up being as time consuming and noisy as a regular meeting.

After getting some feedback from them, which they gave via a Google Form Survey, we decided it would be best if I gave them about 40 minutes to work on their own first, and only then start gathering their feedback. That worked better. (That and using the mute button to lessen the noise, of course!)

However, the third time around was the best, indeed. We decided groups should be given even more time to look over the entire test before the feedback-giving stage. I gave them an entire hour, and it really paid off. The feedback stage ran more smoothly and rather fast.

Project Success

  • Convenience: teachers were free to attend the Hangout at a branch of their convenience, which most of the times meant the branch closest to their homes;
  • Capacity for collaborative self-management: teachers had to organize the analysis process themselves, preparing to report their impressions and suggestions to the Course Supervisor (yours truly) and the other branch groups in a clear and concise manner;
  • Agency and accountability: they worked hard to convey their opinions and provide pertinent suggestions, relying on the expertise of their own groups;
  • Voice: working with smaller groups of familiar faces made the more reserved people comfortable to speak their minds, something which tended not to happen with the large face-to-face traditional (very loud and somewhat messy) meetings;

And, last but not least,

  • Modeling innovation: teachers had the chance of trying out a new tool which they might find useful for other professional development opportunities.

This is an experience I would certainly like to replicate in the future, and which I would recommend other admins try out with their teaching staff.

What’s next?

Hangouts for Professional Development and innovating the adjacent possible.

#PD by Design

I have written about how I flipped my staff meeting here and would now like to devote another post to the initial stage of that session, which I called the poster & post-its stage. I had come across IDEO’s Design Thinking for Educators the previous year. I’d known very little about Design Thinking, yet just enough to get me curious. So when I found this resource which proposed a design thinking approach to address every-day situations faced by educators, I was eager to learn more about it and maybe find possible applications to my particular context.

The poster & post-its activity was meant to be the entry point to a larger reflection process in which I wanted teachers to engage collaboratively to generate possible solutions for a challenge – to find ways of successfully adaptating a newly adopted coursebook to our context. Therefore, I wanted teachers to approach that challenge by first discovering and interpreting the key elements of our teaching-learning reality by collectively braisntorming answers to the three questions below, whose answers I will now attempt to summarize and interpret in this post.

Who are our students?

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Our Advanced students are mostly teenagers. They are mostly overwhelmed by the amount of schoolwork they already have aside from the work we ask of them as part of our EFL program. It is the belief of many teachers that these teenagers are under a lot of pressure from their parents and society in general to prepare themselves to compete for a spot in the best federal universities of our country. They are, therefore, busy and tired kids. They are, nonetheless, seen as bright and fast learners, who belong to privileged social classes. They have easy access to technology, and most of them have a smart phone and a tablet. These teenagers tend to have a very good level of fluency in English but could still profit a lot from more work on grammatical accuracy and on broadening their lexical repertoire. Most teachers see students as capable and demanding individuals who are also dynamic and restless. They are individuals with diverse needs who are not easily pleased.

What are their needs?

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Most teachers believe our Advanced students need practice, lots of practice. Teachers believe students need to be challenged and inspired so that they can become engaged. They also need teachers’ guidance and attention. Many teachers mentioned that our teenagers need to feel respected and heard, and that their motivation hinges on those two aspects. Many teachers also mentioned that our teenagers need to have fun, to find learning a pleasant activity. This approach would lighten the pressure they bring from school, which overloads them with work in a heavy test-taking, score-oriented culture. Some teachers also mentioned that students still need some limits and positive role models. They need to be taught discipline. There was also mention that teachers need to have students do less ‘talking’ and more ‘making’, in the sense of fostering opportunities for students to use the language meaningfully, to do something with the language they have learned all these years. Most teachers also feel that our teenagers need to achieve better command of the language and a higher level of proficiency.

How might we meet their needs?

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A majority of teachers mentioned the need to connect with students to find out what really matters to them, bringing the classroom environment closer to their reality. Teachers feel they need to plan lessons that appeal to what our teenagers like. Teachers also believe that they need to engage in meaningful, authentic interactions with their teenage students. Teachers feel they need to challenge students by promoting interaction in the classroom with a myriad of activities on interesting topics. Many teachers mentioned the need to explore the affordances of technology to engage students, saying they need to find ways of getting students to use their smart phones to do meaningful work in the classroom. It is clear that teachers believe that they need to carefully plan lessons and that they need to share those plans and ideas amongst themselves.

I must say that as course supervisor I am quite proud to work with a group of teachers who have such beliefs and whom I know to be capable of understanding what t takes to connect with our teenage students in order to make the most of their learning experiences, together. It is my impression that our group of teachers shares quite a lucid, down-to-earth take on our students’ needs, and that’s what makes us a reference among other binational centers and language institutes around the country. One of the purposes of this post was to provide feedback to our teachers on the richness of content generated by them during this in-service session. It’s always important to know where we stand and what our shared beliefs are in order to strengthen our bonds as well as our committment to realizing our own and our students’ full potentials, and in so doing, consolidating our reputation. Let us now take these reflections and insights and do great things in the classroom, together.