Sunday, July 26, 2015

Let Learning Lead

One year ago today, I took a leap of faith (and transparency...and vulnerability) and launched my personal-professional blog, Learning Leadership. [Here's where it all began; my first post: 5 People .]

I'm grateful to individual mentors, a blogging network, and a community of global learners for your support and feedback. Your generosity has shaped perspective and continues to shape my growth as a "Learning Leader".

Two weeks ago, Hampton Bays Middle School was one of 13 locations to host Edcamp Leadership. This opportunity came to our school and was a success due to the unwavering support of our District Leaders, the tenacity of dedicated educators, the principles of the Edcamp model, and the generosity of our sponsors. From planning, to implementation, to reflection, to action, this experience was a testament to the what results when organizations let learning lead.
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On the morning of July 13, over 215 educators were registered to attend Edcamp Leadership NY: The Hamptons. And on a beautiful summer day, over 160 educators from all walks of life stepped away from their day-to-day work and life tasks and joined together to explore and share the Edcamp Experience. Participants traveled as far as Atlanta, Georgia, and others successfully navigated island-wide pockets of New York traffic. Individuals and teams of educators traveled from the farthest points of New York City, Upstate New York, Western and Eastern Long Island. Curious and passionate local East End educators ventured to our familiar state-of-the-art middle school.  Forward-thinking Edcamp "rookies" joined together with progressive Edcamp “lifers”. Regardless of region, school size, demographic or socioeconomic status, or individuals’ titles or organizational “rank”, a group of committed learners came out, determined to be part of a global event with local appeal, Edcamp Leadership NY: The Hamptons.

Why did this work?
Even if you've experienced an Edcamp before, seeing this day evolve is an indescribable phenomenon. As someone still relatively new to the model (Edcamp Leadership was my third “official” edcamp) there do seem to be some themes central to its success.

The following are my takeways:

  1. It’s all about the people, people.

During the initial discussions and ongoing event planning leading up to July 13, the network of support was overwhelmingly positive. On the National level, Joe Mazza (@Joe_Mazza) and Hadley Ferguson (@hadleyjf) were instrumental, leading by example, demonstrating how Google, Voxer, and Twitter are essential tools for executing plans, effectively and efficiency. This set the tone, as other organizers built a community of support, trust, and help, sharing resources, ideas, and passion for making Edcamp Leadership a success at each and every location. Locally, our @EdcampLI Planning Team was on-point, securing details to bridge the success between the inaugural Edcamp Long Island last year, leading up to this year’s event on Saturday, October 3, 2015. A school-based planning team that included Scott Garofola (@MrGarofola), Matt Balistreri (@MattBalistreri), Samantha Renalds (@missrenalds), Rachel Kelsh (@MrsKelsh),  Debbie Olsen (@olsencrew), and Amy Brennan (@brennanamy) built momentum and ensured our communications were clear and our site was prepared to host a successful day of professional summer learning.

2. It begins with “Why?” and lets learners decide, “How?”.

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July 13 was a success because learners drove the learning. The session board was filled with high-tech, low-tech, and no-tech learning options, offering something for everyone. And if the session didn’t meet the learner’s needs, participants were reminded to use “the law of two feet”. 

Everyone's Edcamp Experience is different, and meaninful in his/her own way. For me, there were five memorable learning takeaways that day:

~ Members of the #NYEDchat moderating team including Carol Varsalona (@cvarsalona), Starr Sackstein (@mssackstein), Blanca Duarte (@blancaedu), Lisa Meade (@LisaMeade23), and Dan McCabe (@danieldmccabe) kicked off breakfast with a series of compelling prompts and interviews about Teacher Leadership.
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~ Don Gately (@donald_gately) and Danielle Gately (@dmgately) co-facilitated a session on creating work-life balance (an ideal topic for summer learning!)
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~ Via Google Hangout, first-year Principal Tim Dawkins (@Tim_Dawks) led a discussion on how we use digital tools such as Voxer for 21st Century professional mentoring. Out-of-state and off-site participation from LaQuita Outlaw (@DrLOutlaw), Jay Posick (@posickj), and Lisa Meade served to remind that how we lead and how we learn are lifestyle-based and can happen anytime and anywhere we choose.

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~ Ed Kemnitzer (@kemnitzer3), Joseph Wiener (@JMWiener), and Dan McCabe co-facilitated a spirited session of “Rocks or Sucks” in collaboration with session facilitators from Edcamp Boston via Google Hangout.
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~ Passionate learning role models such as Bonnie McClelland (@BMcClelland24), JoEllen McCarthy (@JoEllenMcCarthy), and Audra Beberman (@AudraB_EdTech) reminded us that our work as educators is passion-based and our role in the learning process is to create conditions for our students’ success within and beyond the classroom walls.

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3. Learning is a process, not an event.
July 13 was an inspiring day. The surge of momentum reminds us that learning is not something that should have a start and end time. By our very nature, learning is social and we are driven by intrinsic factors. But while a day such as this may ignite passion, the self-direction that drives the day’s learning is something we all need to invest some time reflecting upon, and determining next steps to act. While this will look differently in each District, school, and classroom, embracing elements of the Edcamp model in our learning organizations will shift our perceptions of what learning is and what it can (and maybe should) become.

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As one of the many members of the National and local organizing teams, it was truly a privilege to see the details that go into an event such as this, and what results when collaboration, central to the process, is both a driving force and an outcome of the process. It's ironic to think that this opportunity was presented at a restaurant dinner table while I attended a National conference, NASSP Ignite. The possibility was tossed out in a manner where some of the best, most authentic learning and change happens: in individual, relaxed, small-group conversations.

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Fast forward five months from those initial informal discussions in San Diego on how Edcamp Leadership was going to be both a global event, and New York was destined to be one of the locations, and you have Edcamp Leadership NY: The Hamptons. It was a day to remember; a shared and celebrated day of professional learning and leadership.

So the question is, if you have attended an Edcamp, what have you (or will you) bring back to your District, school, or classroom tomorrow?  

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Finding Our Element - Part 2: Lessons from One Another

Part 2: Lessons from One Another

This is a continuation of a read Part 1, please click here:
“We are all born with extraordinary powers of imagination, intelligence, feeling, intuition, spirituality, and of physical and sensory awareness.”
- Sir Ken Robinson

Growing up, I was what most teachers probably considered the textbook definition of a good student – I worked hard and I followed the rules. For most of my adult life, I’ve been a dedicated teacher. But not until this summer can I honestly say that I truly became a learner.

Late last spring, I attended a conference that brought New York educators together to talk literacy and learning. I was there to expand my perspective in meeting the challenges of successful Common Core implementation. I was also there because I was eager to officially meet two members of coveted “PLN”, Carol Varsalona and Emily Peterson. To that point, the interactions I had with each were limited to Twitter chats. But I knew that I held Carol and Emily both in such high professional regard, based on our exchanges capped at 140 characters. The work each does for students is what created my excitement to meet face-to-face.
Entering the conference room, I sensed an unexpected rush of adrenaline coming over me. I could immediately feel the impact of my personal connections, intensified by social media. Carol welcomed guests, and extended an invitation for others to join the learning she is part of moderating on #NYedchat. Simultaneously, I could see on my device that there was a lively backchannel occurring during this meeting on a related hash tag. I could sense the room…and the world becoming instantly smaller. And there was a current running through the room that could be attributed to one thing: passion.
If you've yet to experience something like this, it's not easy to put into words. For almost a year, we'd interacted with one another, sharing an excitement for connecting with other learners who work tirelessly for our kids and for our learning communities. To connect, in person, delivered me to the true purpose of social media and the role it can play in education: it’s about sharingsharing values, sharing resources, but best of all, sharing passion that collectively celebrates progress in our school communities. This initial experience inspired me to reconsider learning – my own professional learning.

We are Architects…of our Learning.

In the Educational Leadership article, “Architects of Summer”, Carol Ann Tomlinson warmly declares summer as a season of renewal and recharge for educators, as time away from school, learning something new, exploring something that enhances professional practice, and recalibration of one’s ethical compass are centerpieces. Interpreting these principles as a “connected educator,” has brought me to discover a true community of learners. This article was shared that day, by Carol, but its themes have remained with me ever since.
This summer, as an Architect of 
Connected Learning, I’ve:
1.     Revisited a leadership classic, Good to Great, by Jim Collins, and devoured a classic in-the-making, Digital Leadership, by visionary, Eric Sheninger, recognizing the place each firmly holds in leadership team development and administrative licensing programs, due to each author’s strong core values and proven recipes for success.

2.     Partnered with a group of Middle Level Educators to better understand teens’ use of social media, while considering how to best share our learning with parents of middle schoolers.

3.     Co-organized and co-moderated a Twitter chat that provided a new appreciation for all that goes into my favorite regular chats, and the care and dedication on the part of the moderating teams. The preparation, transparency, and vulnerability in timely professional dialogue made this nothing short of an exhilarating experience.

4.     Interacted with innovative thinkers to expand my perspective on traditional school institutions like homework, meetings, and the power of the written word. What I learned was less about rejecting “the way we’ve always done it” and more about taking measures to consider steps needed to improve teaching, learning, and communication among members of our learning organizations.  

5.    Discovered the power of personalized professional support and enrichment. Having a daily commute that equals at least seven hours weekly, cellphone conversations and tools like Voxer have allowed me to connect with innovators, worldwide, whose professional work I greatly admire.

6.     Joined a blogging community willing to share resources, perspectives, and part of themselves that inspired me to take my most significant professional risk to date: sharing my voice. The outpouring of support, encouragement, and feedback has been heartwarming, and serves as a reminder as to why we must make time to provide those among our learning organizations with feedback.  

7.    Collaborated with a team of Long Island educators, eager to experience learning together, through an autonomous, choice-centered means: Edcamp. There’s much to be shared and celebrated in our schools, and we are just scratching the surface. Being a connected educator has afforded me the privilege to take part in conversations that are pushing the limits of conventional thinking and our definitions of passion-driven professional growth.

The best is yet to come…

In our role as learning leaders, we have the complex dual challenge to maintain an awareness of “the big picture” while remaining acutely in-tune with the details that will lead our learning organizations to expanding potential that benefits our students. But how do we do this? It starts by giving ourselves the permission to rediscover, reshape, and redefine those elements for which we are most passionate, remembering, we are learners, first. Passion-driven leadership fuels us to nourish our own learning appetites, allows us to help others to find and fuel their passions, and supports the success and culture of our organizations and the people who comprise it.

In The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything, Sir Ken Robinson correlates determining and pursuing work with our individual talents and passions. Time with my son provides a window for how this looks for our children, every day. And time and relationships I have developed as a connected educator has assured me that finding my own element is the key to my own sense of well-being and success, which, in turn, can fuel learning for our students and communities.  Undoubtedly, embracing personal learning experiences is what will continue to shift our perspectives on our life’s work and purpose, as Learning Leaders.

The most important thing I discovered about learning this summer?

It begins...with us.