Starting with Stories

The How of professional development needs to consider the Who. Methods of delivery will fail if there isn’t a companion framework that addresses the important factors of consciousness, connectedness, and competence.

In my technology integration professional development experience, there have been two types of teachers: conscripts and volunteers. Conscripts have been “drafted” into the training, but would rather not be there. They are hesitant to invest too much of themselves into the task and might express their lack of self-efficacy with comments like, “I’m just not a techie” or challenge the value of the training with comments like, “When will I ever use this in the classroom.” In the very same sessions, there will be volunteers. Volunteers are willing to invest much more of themselves into the task, are more comfortable taking risks and solving problems and will think of unique ways to apply the technology with students.  What’s interesting is that a teacher can be a conscript one day and a volunteer another. What is necessary in order to make teachers into volunteers? The answer is story.

We know what stories are, but do we fully appreciate the role they play in determining how we see the world and our place in it?  David Drake puts it this way, “Stories illuminate our efforts to reclaim, retain, reframe our personal narrative. Who are we now and who do we want to be in the future.”

Can story explain why some teachers are conscripts and others volunteers? Beneath the surface elements of teacher stories lie important clues.

  • Intent – What does the teacher want? What goals are important to them and why?
  • Conflict – What are perceived dangers? What risks and obstacles are blocking the way?
  • Actions – What have teachers done in the past to overcome these obstacles and dangers?

How have you intentionally integrated teachers’ stories into digital learning professional development?  Tweet your answer to …

Starting with Story (your answer) #beyondtools

Motivation and Movement Through Conversation

The first days of my new job as technology integration specialist were quite surreal. For 25 years I had worked as a classroom teacher integrating whatever tools and techniques were at my disposal to make learning engaging and effective. What I knew or wanted to know was highly contextual and personal, always centered around my own personal interests or the needs of the students I was teaching. Now I found myself cast in the role of an expert on all things technology. I received calls for assistance with tools that I had never personally used or even heard of! I was training (a word I hope to use very little in the future) teachers to use technology in ways that made very little sense, to me or to them. What had I gotten myself into!

Things are changing. After attending and hosting an EdCamp event (EdCampMSP), I got a glimpse of what self-directed learning in a professional setting could look like. After taking two Powerful Learning Practices courses, Teaching Online: Becoming a Connected Educator and Connected Coaching, I realized how professional development could be designed around a teacher’s needs and strengths.

Perhaps the single most head-spinning encounter was with the book Evocative Coaching.  Authors Bob and Megan Tschannen-Moran set forth a powerful professional development manifesto that is a perfect fit for those of us tasked with technology integration, without once using the word iPad!

Instead, the Tschannen-Moran’s focus on the importance of the relationship that must develop between two people in order for growth to occur. And this relationship is predicated on a few principles:

  1. Teachers are capable adults and can be trusted to figure out things for themselves
  2. Learning takes place when people actively take responsibility for constructing meaning from their experience
  3. Coaches focus on improving their relationships with teachers, so that teachers get motivated and empowered to improve their own performance and quality of life
  4. Evocative coaches collaborate with teachers through exploring story, understanding feelings, appreciating strengths and enhancing strategies
To evoke is to “bring to existence” or “to call into action”. What I love about this word in relationship to coaching is the assumption that teachers already have what it takes to move forward, to grow. It may only be dormant at the moment. Waiting for a relationship with a caring coach to nurture what is already alive.



Why Beyond Tools?

Recently I followed Bo Sanders from Homebrewed Christianity as he blogged his way through a book for Lent. His thinking was rather than eliminate a vice from his life, he’d add a virtue. What a great idea. Lent has passed but Bo’s idea has stayed with me.

The purpose of this blog is to think about the important human elements that lead to learning and growth. Since I work as a K-12 technology integration coach (my real title is specialist, but I detest that word), many of my musings will center around the field of education. But I hope to eventually stretch beyond that domain as I gain confidence and experience as a blogger.

The title of this blog aludes to my tool phopia. As a teacher, I tend toward minimalism. What is the bare minimum of resources necessary to achieve the objective. Why would every student need a large packet of specific materials when they could effectively learn using a generic organizer applied to a variety of materials?  When more advanced technology became available (Google Apps for Education, Moodle, Mobile Apps), I remained a minimalist. Why would every student need a large number of web accounts or apps when they could effectively learn using one powerful digital tool applied to a variety of materials?

Of course my minimalist philosophy can be taken to the extreme and must be tempered by a broader perspective. And that brings me back the to the title of the blog, Beyond Tools. What really captures my imagination are the aspects of learning and development that allow us to move from where we are at to where we want to be, or better yet, where we never imagined we could go. It is that which I intend to think upon and blather about.  So, like Bo, I’m going to begin by blogging through the book Evocative Coaching, by Bob and Megan Tschannen-Moran. I can’t begin to describe the ways this book has expanded my understanding of coaching adult learners, and I look forward to beginning a conversation about it with you.

Of course, a blog is really pointless unless others follow it, engage with it, disagree with it, and share it with others. I encourage you to follow this blog and tweet it or share it with others.