Posts Tagged ‘collaboration’

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

So, I’ve been thinking about a week-long professional development program that I organized with my amazing colleagues @_brandonjacobs and @SharronJRussell for teachers at my school. We have now run the program for two summers, and it’s working really well.

The Summer Symposium, as we call it, was started as a way to have time to integrate topics that we may focus on in isolation during the school year. We were finding that those of us in the administration were clear on the connections between these ideas, but that wasn’t making it out into the larger community. And, we didn’t necessarily have enough time to spend learning and really understanding the individual ideas.

The Summer Symposium draws teachers from all three divisions (we are a PreK-12 school) and all subject matters and brings them together to work collectively and individually on their craft. We combined in-house expertise with outside experts to create a schedule that blended new learning with time to think expansively and collaborate deeply. And, we made sure to start each day with breakfast and conversation.

In planning the first Symposium, we were optimistic but also anxious. Would we have the right balance between new learning, application, and workshopping? Was this particular week in August, which was not our first choice, a good one? Would we be able to make good on our claim that the many topics we hoped to tackle were in fact connected and better addressed together? And, like first-time event organizers everywhere, we worried about whether our group would like what we spent so much time and energy planning.

We have been formally using Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe’s Understanding by Design framework for the past few years. So far we have focussed primarily on stage 1 (identifying desired results) and stage 2 (determining evidence and assessment). Being intentional about a shared pedagogical language means that we can talk about our craft and our units across disciplines and divisions and work together effectively. During the Summer Symposium, teachers developed a  new appreciation for the importance and value of serious, intentional, and iterative unit planning.

Over the course of the week, teachers got a chance to deepen their own understanding of some of the elements of the model. Both weeks I thought that we would just review stage 1 of the unit plan (skills, concepts, enduring understandings, essential questions) quickly and do a brief Essential Question sharing. WRONG. We spent a lot of time workshopping essential questions, narrowing them down to just a few, identifying which questions were questions we might ask students in class or on quizzes, but not necessarily essential questions, getting specific about what our true goals were, and how we might write EQs that lent themselves to interdisciplinary thinking. But, how could we move on to assessment before we nailed down our desired results? 

When I talk about assessment, I like to talk about a balanced assessment diet and the importance of developing a range of assessments; the photo album is another metaphor. I like mine better because it is clear that there will be different types of assessment in your balanced diet, whereas the photo album might be filled with all landscapes or all selfies, which is not the point. Anyway, once we had those rich essential questions, it was much easier to plan both traditional assessments and performance tasks. The group was energized to think about asking students not just to demonstrate their knowledge but also to transfer it to new situations. Even teachers who felt confident in their understanding before the Symposium came away with a  new appreciation for the importance and value of serious, intentional, and iterative unit planning.

Onto that curriculum planning framework, we layered sessions about Positive Education, diversity and inclusion, interdisciplinary teaching and learning, and some effective use of educational technology. (I mean I had a captive audience–I wasn’t going to let that opportunity go!) Every time we had some specific new learning, we then had time to integrate that into unit plans and consider the new totality of our ideas. It was the best kind of hard work–the kind where you go home tired from thinking and excited about what you will do next. Every night I reworked what I was sharing the next day so that it was as close as I could get to what the group needed or wanted next. I have not worked as hard as I did that first summer in a long time. It was so worth it.

I knew it was a success when one of the teachers who attended the first Summer Symposium said, “It all fits together; It’s like you planned it.” As we got ready for the second summer, we certainly changed some things around, but we made sure to keep time for a lot of collaborating and sharing. This time we also added a celebration at the end of the week where we invited the teachers who participated the year before as well as Division Heads and our Head of School. 

I’m already looking forward to next summer.

So, I’ve been thinking about collaborating. I wrote about the opportunity to have my digital fabrication students work with some 5th graders. Here’s the update.

The 5th graders sent us a handful of drawings. Some had multiple views and details. I gave the drawings out to any of my students who were interested (even when they learned there would be no money involved) and they got started. By the end of a class period, they had a decent design. I had them take screen shots of their Tinkercad models and put the pictures in a shared google folder.

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The next time we met, my students had comments back from the 5th graders on their designs, also in the shared folder. I have to say that my students were a little surprised to get back comments that asked for alterations. However, it was a great opportunity to discuss what it means to be hired, even “hired”, by and to work with someone with whom you are not in class. One student was annoyed that he was asked to put spikes on the top of the ziggurat he had designed as he did not notice them in the original drawing. I looked at the drawing again and there was definitely something zig-zag-y at the top, but it’s hard to tell. In the end my students did make changes.

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I liked that the 5th graders were calling the shots. And, since we were doing all the communicating via pictures and notes, my students did not intimidate or squash the voices of the 5th graders. Another benefit of this project was that it gave my students another opportunity to design something in Tinkercad and to improve their skills on something before we move on to our final, more open-ended project.

Since my class only meets twice a rotation of seven days, it hasn’t exactly been speedy work. Next semester I hope that I can find or run into another chance to do the making part of another project for another class. I’m already volunteering them.

So, I’ve been thinking about collaboration. Sometimes you work so hard to get some particular collaboration going, set the ground work, spend lots of time meeting, work out elaborate schedules, etc. Other times, the project just falls into your lap or appears fully formed, like Athena from Zeus’ forehead.

Yesterday, I received an email from a new colleague in the lower school, subject line: Ancient Sumer. Do you not get emails with that subject line?

Hi Wendy,

We are going to begin our unit on Ancient Sumer.  I was planning on breaking the class into 6 groups and each group will research a different topic.  They will then have to create 2-3 artifacts that pertain to their topic and we are going to create a class museum.  Would there be a way that each group could print one of their artifacts on the 3D printer?

Let me know your thoughts!

I jumped at the idea. First of all, I used to teach that content, so I have a strange fondness for it, given that Ancient Sumer is otherwise an unusual favorite topic. Anyway, I started replying right away with details about the software we use, how we might have a class account to navigate the issue students under 13, and how 3D printing can go awry.

When 3D Prints go wrong. (CCO image by me)

When 3D Prints go wrong. (CCO image by me)

Then, a different idea popped into my head, and I switched gears mid-email.

Or, here’s another idea. My digital fabrication classes are getting pretty good at designing. Your students could make drawings or models of the artifacts and meet with my students (could be virtually by Skype or whatever) and my students could do the designing in the software. I have a few students who are really pretty good at it. Would the 5th graders like being able to “order” a piece? It might highlight the need for clear description and communication skills.

Well a few more emails and we were set. I am so excited.

I told one of my sections today that some 5th graders were going to be hiring them to design artifacts. I forgot to use air quotes when I said hiring, and there was some initial discussion of money changing hands, but I set them straight on their pro bono situation.

There are several things I love about this idea. First, it is an interesting way to have meaningful cross-division interaction. As a Prek-12 school on two campuses, we always want to build connections between students in our lower school and those in our middle and upper schools. Second, it is a real project. There are real-live students with a real-life need for these 3D-printed objects. My students will be able to see the museum exhibit that they contribute work to. Finally, if some of my students are considering taking our Engineering course in later years, this is a project is a great preparation or trial.

I can’t wait to get started.

So, I have been thinking about my new year maker idea, because progress is happening!

As you may recall, the plan was to make an advice station with an old rotary phone and Makey Makey. The idea was that a student would pick up the phone and hear a brief audio clip containing a bit of advice. My plan was to record words of wisdom from a range of community members. As you may also recall, I was not in possession of the skills necessary to make this work, but I had convinced some other folks it was a good idea.

Well, there is clear progress. So far, @Mr_Fornaro talked to the students in our Python class and one of them accepted the challenge of writing the code to randomize the audio file that gets played. The code has been written and is working.

@Mr_Fornaro has been working on getting the Makey Makey connected to the phone so that picking up the phone completes the circuit. In addition, he has got an audio file actually playing through the handset. Things are in a bit of disarray at the moment, but in a good way.

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So, yesterday evening I sent out the following email with the subject line of  “do you have good advice for students?” (who could resist reading that?):

Hello colleagues,

A group of us are working on an installation that will allow students to pick up an old rotary phone and hear some words of wisdom. If you have some favorite piece of advice, we would like to include that in our installation. The advice will actually be spoken by you. Here is what you can do, swing by my office some time and we will record you, which should take about a minute and a half. 

We are hoping to have voices of many adults in the Shipley community. Please be in touch if you would be willing to be recorded. I can also come to you with my laptop to record.

Thank you,


p.s. You can also send me a .wav file (not an mp3). 

I sent this message at 5:27pm on Thursday and got my first reply at 5:32. We are a prek-12 school, and I have had replies from teachers in all divisions as well as non-teaching colleagues. My favorite response so far:


So I am now the collector of good advice (file that under duties to be defined later). I love this title. I’m looking forward to hearing what people share and to seeing the students interacting with the installation. It will still be a bit before our target space is available, but I’m getting excited. Time to plan the sign/invitation/surroundings.

So, I’ve been thinking about big installation type maker/art project. My New Year’s plan is to make some sort of installation myself, or with a little help from my friends.

Here are some of my inspirations:

I have been mildly obsessed with Jie Qi’s work for some time. Her interactive painting is beyond amazing.


In addition, I really enjoyed the responsive art in this TED talk by Aparna Rao.

I love her frames quickly standing at attention. And, the way she talks about her work, so serious and quiet, cerebral, is such an interesting counterpoint to the playful and lighthearted work itself.

My personal family went to see the Ann Hamilton: the event of a thread exhibit at the Park Avenue Armory three years ago, and we all still talk about it. Huge swings were hung in the Armory. The swings were also attached to a large curtain that hung though the center of the long side of the space. So, as visitors swung, the curtain undulated. There was also a sound component in addition to pigeons. Not only did we enjoy swinging, but watching the curtain wave was a different and equally engaging action. People reclined on the floor and just watched, mesmerized. (There is a video on the site linked above as well.)



Recently, my amazing colleague @Mr_Fornaro visited another school’s maker space and reported that they had rigged up a Makey Makey to two flights of stairs, not just a few steps or a few places on the railing. So, as you can tell, I start thinking on a very reasonable scale. This is what I do. It does not always produce good results.

Then I remembered a fortune that I had saved. It said:

If you want good advice, consult your mother.

Putting all of this together, I had a plan to create an interactive experience using a Makey Makey, some sort of bar or rail, a number of old rotary telephones, and recordings of real advice from real mothers. I had thought that there would be a big sign or something on the wall with the fortune/saying. When I met with tired new dad @Mr_Fornaro, he was excited to help and has some experience with Makey Makeys. He also knew of some students who might be interested in the project–more friends! As we discussed, we both simplified and built-in potential for expansion. Fantastic. One of my original ideas was to include the larger school community in advice collecting. Our thought on that: totally doable.

As I was describing this to my personal family at dinner tonight we thought of a few more ideas. (Hmm, is this a family trait to plan big? Perhaps.) Maybe it’s a booth or pay phone box that says “advice from mom” or something instead of “telephone” at the top. Then we thought, maybe it’s an advise station and different phones would have different themes: advice from mom, words of encouragement, etc. Oooooh, so many ideas.

I have to say I am so excited about the prospect of this actually getting created. Plus, my conversations about the plan totally reinforce my belief in the importance of brainstorming with others. Even though I am currently working on a post about the importance of silence and prolonged thinking, I have always been a big fan of brainstorming with other people who are also interested in generating a lot of ideas and talking around the topic. The person who wants to go with the first plan/idea/thought and finish the task is not the collaborator I am looking for. However,the person who loves a good rolling around of ideas is exactly the collaborator for me.

Back to the plan. The space we are targeting is not available at the moment, but we can get stated on our first prototypes.

Any other collaborators out there have some ideas to share?


So, I’ve been thinking about Twitter again recently. During the school year, I felt pulled in too many directions to be doing much tweeting. However with summer schedule in effect, I’m back. (My position is 12 month, so I’m at school, but the pace is much more livable, and I have time to noodle around and actually find new things.)

One of the things I’m working on is a new English elective called “Truth and Fiction.” I have the book list pretty much set, but am looking for some podcasts. I read about the Mortified series and started listening. I’m hooked. And, now that I’m back to tweeting and have my summer learning hashtag to support, I tweeted this.

Next thing I know, I’m having a conversation with @Mortified.

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How great is that?

So, I’ve been thinking about Annie Lennox. A FB friend of mine posted after the Grammy Awards “I wanna be Annie Lennox when I grow up.” I would totally agree. The comments all agreed as well. Here she is at the Grammy Awards.

However, since it is unlikely that I will in fact turn into Annie Lennox for any number of reasons, I started thinking. What is the essence of her awesomeness? What would that look like in my position at school? It is a fact that I have a terrible singing voice. So, we have to think very theoretically here.

So first, Annie. My friend commented on her great hair, performance skills, voice, and confidence.  Part of what I appreciate about her is that she is unmistakable. I never think who is that sining if I hear her voice. And at the same time, I never think, sounds like all her songs. She is consistently recognizable, yet not old or stale. It seems to me, again I am so not musical, that she has found that sweet spot of having “her thing” yet not being so stuck that it is all rehashing.

Also, I love that big, all-out voice. No shrillness, just power. If she’s phoning it in, she’g got me fooled. When I started to look at other images and recordings as I wrote this, I noticed she also aligns her outfits with her costars. So, at the recent Grammy awards she was in basic black, as was Hozier. She added some sparkles. When she sang with David Bowie at the Freddie Mercury Tribute in 2006, out came a more dramatic outfit. If it works for that collaboration why not wear a big tule skirt and a superhero mask out of eye make-up?  Attitude and confidence, she’s got them both. (Don’t even get me started on the tyranny of long hair. I’ve had long hair; it’s good. But, what I don’t appreciate is that it is so universal for girls, and virtually all women under a certain age.)  For me, rocking a great, short haircut also goes in the plus category. She’s of an age, now, that short hair is probably the norm, but she’s done the short thing since forever, as far as I know.

So, what would that look like in a suburban, independent school in a competitive market? I think the eye make-up superhero mask is out; I’m not good at eye make-up. I’ve got the unusual haircut/color all set. On to the more substantial characteristics.

What would that unmistakableness and power (of voice) look like and sound like? I know there are people who probably think I sound like a broken record sometimes, even though I try to mix it up. Yet, I hope that people do hear a consistent message from me that the educational goals, the learning goals, should drive instruction. I push effective use of technology because of what it can add to the learning or organizing or assessing, how it can help teachers and students. The fact that it can make things more interesting is an added bonus, not the main event. I do try to have a “big voice” by having examples, information, willingness to do the leg work, and research at the ready. At the same time, my goal is the duet. I am not going to, nor am I qualified to, take over teaching any and all classes.

When I break out the big voice, I need to be aware of the potential to overpower. I’m really not an overpowering person at all. I’m energetic, and if something interests me, I’m all in, but steamroller or bully probably do not come to mind when my name comes up. I am aiming to be Annie the collaborator, not necessarily Annie the solo artist.  Being a tech coach is really about being collaborator extraordinaire–a collaborator with a vision that can transform and reframe. A vision that references where we are and connects to the familiar while at the same time plots a bold new course. If I can do it well, it should seem like when we get there, we all thought that was the plan all along.

So, to review–recognizable, not repetitive; powerful voice, not overpowering; a bold look/vision that may be unusual, but that is within sight of something familiar. I will probably keep my tule skirt at home–unless a teacher version of David Bowie is my collaborator. In that case, there will also be hats.


creative commons licensed (BY-NC-ND) flickr photo by Matt Peoples:

creative commons licensed (BY-NC-ND) flickr photo by Matt Peoples:

So, I’ve been thinking about victories–small and large.

My school is in the process of transitioning to a 1:1 learning environment. Our middle school went 1:1 this past fall, upper school (high school) will be 1:1 next fall. One of the things I am responsible for is preparing our faculty and students for this transition. Really, faculty members are responsible for themselves, but I’m responsible for helping them help themselves. As you might imagine this is not all hearts and rainbows. However, I have a success story to share. It is not my success; it’s another teacher’s success. I am so excited for her.

She sent me this email:  . . . that was my first use of the computer that changed the experience for the classes!

So, here’s what happened. She tried something and her classroom was instantly transformed.

HA! No. That’s not how transformation happens, silly. Think again.

She has been testing out some new strategies and tools for a awhile. She has wanted to try things, and sometimes I have had to say, “No you don’t need another tool here. You need to think about your classroom goals first.” We have spent a lot of time talking about classroom teaching about writing, about whether google docs will make students better writers. (Spoiler alert-it won’t.) We talked about my class too, which has been really helpful for me.

It was mid-March when I got this email. This conversation has been going on since last school year. This year she really committed to making some changes from the beginning of the year. She has taken charge of her own professional learning–summer work, meeting with me, trying things. Most importantly, she has kept at it. Initially, we were talking substitution, maybe augmentation on the SAMR model *(See below for more info.) And, that was fine. Totally fine. Using technology is not always wow-y. Wow-y is possible, but it takes time to get there. A lot of time it’s not even possible to imagine wow-y at first.

If you look at the SAMR model, transformation is the wow-y level. Transformation consists of both the modification and redefinition levels. Modification is defined as tech allows for significant task redesign. Redefinition is defined as tech allows for the creation of new tasks, previously inconceivable.

So, if we go back to my colleague, she didn’t get to start above the line in the transformation zone. No one does. She had to start down there at substitution and augmentation. Looking back, she may even think she had to spend more time that she would have liked wading through those levels. I would say that part of what wading around does is provide time to get used to each step. There isn’t a set amount of time you have to spend at each level before moving on. It’s all personal. So, the more you engage in that thinking, the more you have those conversations and begin to be willing to look at your discipline differently, the sooner it is that you will get to transformation. You can’t get there by hopping on the train and waiting for the stop to be announced. Just like our students, we must work for it.

I think there are a lot of ways in which we aren’t that different from our students. Who doesn’t like a victory?


* The SAMR model is a framework developed by Dr. Ruben Puentedura that helps teachers evaluate technology use. There are four levels of technology integration. First is substation, then augmentation. These are both in the enhancement group. Next are modification and redefinition. These two constitute the transformation level. Check out Kathy Schrock’s website for more info and a good image.

So, I’ve been thinking about what makes for a productive visit for colleagues looking at 1:1 learning. I have visited four different schools this year with my colleagues. Each school has 1:1 laptop program yet there was wide variety not only in the schools but in the length of time they have been teaching and learning in this environment.

My conclusion: there is no perfect visit that fits everyone. Surprise. Just like Goldilocks, I was looking for the porridge that was “just right” for each person in my group. As the person bringing my colleagues, I was more anxious than I anticipated being. I wanted the school to look good, to show its best self, to reassure my colleagues if they needed reassuring, to inspire them if they needed inspiration, and to sing with them if they just needed a choir. Not too much, right?

Tourist Alert

Creative Commons licensed photo by Flickr user Scazon

One high school we visited was honestly a mess. They do great things at this school, and I would be thrilled to have my kids there, yet neat and tidy are not words I would use to describe it. Also, we didn’t end up seeing a lot of tech use, which was why we were there. Turned out the colleague with me didn’t need that. He valued the experience of talking to the students and other teachers. He was taking a broad view. Phew.

We also visited a school that specializes in students with learning differences. Our visit there gave my colleagues some reassurance that the laptops did not need to be out all the time, that meaningful work was happening, and that management was doable. It also gave them the idea that class size of 10 would be great. Keep dreaming, my friends!

A day long visit to a very similar school where we got to talk to lots of teachers, administrators, and tech folks gave my colleagues some perspective on the journey of change and transition. It was helpful to hear from people in a very similar school. Plus, we got to see the students in action and talk with some of them about their experience. We lucked out in terms of seeing some classes that particularly resonated with my group.

Finally, a small group went to a local high school. We were in and out quickly, which meant that it wasn’t a huge time commitment, always helpful for teachers. As we walked around, there were computers in use here and there and it just seemed to be an easy integration. Plus, we got to visit 4 different classes where technology was being used very differently. What made it so useful was that several of the uses we saw were very reasonable for my colleagues. These were uses that made sense in the classroom and which did not present an intimidating model. They were doable now! And, given the super short drive, we could go again.

In all of these examples, one of the things that was valuable was the conversation during our travel time which ranged from 8 minutes to 2 hours. Each time it gave me a chance to put into perspective some of what we had seen, explain a technical thing or two, and listen as others imagined how something they saw might translate at our school. On each visit I also go a chance to observe what grabbed each colleague’s attention so that I can personalize my support for that colleague.

So, I’m thinking about all of these visits as I think about planning more experiences like this for other colleagues. Here’s what I’ve come up with:

  • If it’s not a big production with presentations etc, short and sweet is good.
  • Something needs to seem doable NOW to each person in the group.
  • Acknowledgment of teacher time and choice is important for folks to hear loud and clear.
  • The travel time can be important talking time for the group.
  • There is no perfect visit.
  • I would love it if everyone got to visit somewhere.

What do you find valuable when you visit other schools?

Three Empty Boxes #1

cc licensed photo by z287marc

So, I’ve been thinking about what thinking outside the box about school, independent school in a very competitive market in particular, would look like.

I have no answers, and yet I really want in on this conversation. This is the kind of thinking that I LOVE to do. Plus, I love to brainstorm. I’m the person who makes a list of 5 new recipes to try when people are coming over. (Not everyone in my house thinks this is a good idea. And, it usually ends up being a new recipe.)

Don’t start getting worried about my school. We do so many great things. Maybe that’s what makes the conversation hard. Even so, I think that having that conversation would be interesting. Couldn’t such a conversation in an ongoing, semi-regular, informal, food-provided, sort-of way be inspiring and enthusiasm generating? Personally, I think it’s sometimes hard to get to the really super-duper ideas if you stick too close to the box. And, I fully understand that wandering away from the box creates the potential to come up with some real stinkers. But, just because one comes up with an idea doesn’t mean one has to use it.

If we’re just talking, isn’t that ok?

Is it just me?

Do other people think those are conversations worth having? Conversations that would be interesting to have?

Could having those far out conversations lead to us finding an entry point for something that isn’t so far out after all?