The ebbs and flows of education can keep you on the edge of your seat. The days are full and all the minutes you live can pass you by if you let them. When you enter spaces of reflection, you can rewind time and recognize that the minutes are small moments in time. They are a courageous compilation of big and small wins, challenges, a plethora of learning experiences and interactions that are stirring within.
An educator’s collection of minutes are rooted in the well-intended spirit of supporting colleagues, community, and the most important stakeholders…students. While you walk through many unpredictable minutes in your days, it is clear that you are continually yearning for spaces to connect, collaborate, share your voice, actively listen to others, network, and sit in the driver’s seat of your learning so you can expand your impact and broaden your influence.
The sentiments shared above may have you wondering…
Where can you find both like minds and different minds?
Who are the people who will reaffirm your unique trajectory and where are the others who will push your perspectives to new places?
Who will lift you higher, celebrate your successes, embrace your failures, and love you harder when you step into the mess of learning?
The #EdCampLI Learning Ecosystem
Welcome to #EdCampLI, a participant-driven learning ecosystem blanketed in a sea of educators who will enthusiastically wake up on a Saturday to reflect on the educators they were, are, and are continuously striving to be. The contagious spirit of an #EdCampLI room lights up with the hopes, wishes, and dreams to learn and infinitely grow a solid professional learning network. It doesn’t matter where you are on the continuum of your educational journey. At an #EdCampLI event, the professional learning playing field is leveled. You are embraced. You are welcomed. You have a seat at the table. There is no hierarchy and there are no titles when talking about learning and teaching. I used to call it teaching and learning, but this is the new phrase I learned from Nicole Hunn and Joseph Wiener during the 3rd session of the 7th annual #EdCampLI event, held on October 15, 2022 at Bethpage High School. While I was participating in a conversation with the educators around me about this phrase, it made me think about the George Couros quote, “If you want to be a master teacher, you have to be a master learner.” And although I facilitated two sessions at #EdCampLI, I felt no different being a participant in another. You will find yourself in learning spaces that are collaborative, not evaluative. You will know that in this learning ecosystem, everyone is a teacher and a learner and everyone is valued as a leader of their learning.
The Session Board Lives
As educators swarm into an EdCamp, you will watch them hover around a living and growing session board. As they chat with colleagues old and new, they are simultaneously, personalizing their session schedules to meet their individual learning needs. While attending sessions, it is known that if one session doesn’t meet your needs, you can drift to another and then maybe another. That’s the #EdCampLI way! There are no egos. There is no judgment. There is only acceptance and kindness. Your time is valued. Your time is precious. YOU choose how you will learn.
Reconnecting and Connecting
At #EdCampLI you reconnect with old friends and meet new ones. You will leave with your own stories and moments of impact. The interactions you may have had at #EdCampLI may seem like a microcosm of your day. But, you will see, those interactions will be much bigger than that. It’s the collection of small moments with various people that become your stories to share. They will be waiting for you to courageously unwrap at the right place, at the right time, with the right people.
#EdCampLI Will Lift You Higher
So for the next #EdCampLI, be ready to share the goodness you bring to education. Be ready to be an active learner who takes it all in at your own pace. Be ready to be the educator who unexpectedly finds yourself launched into a session of your own because you were inspired by the energy and the gifts of others. You have found your place. Take your seat at the table because #EdCampLI will lift you higher!
A Special Note: Many months ago, I was encouraged by George Couros to create a digital portfolio in order to highlight and archive my learning. These conversations started before the COVID-19 global pandemic emerged as one of the most challenging and life-changing events in history. During the quarantine, I connected with Kristen Nan and Jacie Maslyk, co-authors of All In: Taking a Gamble on Education in a book study Voxer group. This is when Kristen invited me to co-blog on her website. This was a great opportunity to test drive blogging. The experience was incredible and gave me the confidence to take George’s advice and create my own platform. One of the first blogs I wrote during this time was Reimagining the Magic of the Workshop Model. The purpose of this blog was to keep the workshop model alive during emergency remote learning. I wanted to share my experiences with other educators and show them that what may seem impossible is in fact, possible.
With that being said, as I learn more about implementing the workshop model in physical and virtual learning spaces simultaneously, I want to share my process with other educators. So, I welcome you to the beginning of a series of blogs titled: Reimagining the Magic of the Workshop Model. I will break up my learning process and the workshop model framework into various components so that they are easier to digest. Please understand that my learning is constantly evolving and all of these ideas may be revised over the course of time!
There is a certain kind of magic that lives within an educational universe. If you orbit around an organization and open the doors, you will find sparks of light. These sparks of light shine brightly because they are ignited by communities of educators who pour their souls into maximizing and elevating learning experiences for kids. It’s that spark that ignites into flames when curiosity and wonder spread like wildfire. It’s that spark that rallies a community of learners together to support one another through the learning process. It’s that spark that embraces the idea of agency, voice, choice, and productive struggle. It’s that spark that empowers and guides learners towards independence. And just as the flames happily dance and spread around our magical learning hubs, the intensity of the flames can just as easily be disrupted, startled, dimmed, faded. What happened to the magic? I’ll tell you in one word: CHANGE. When change invites itself through our doors, it can be paralyzing. It can be suffocating. It can be stressful. It can be shocking. It can also be eye-opening.
Change is the Epicenter of the Journey
I have been in education for 15 years and I can assure you that change has been the epicenter of my journey. Most of the time, change has been a gradual occurrence that happens over a steady course of time. It’s so slow, that at times, it cannot be recognized until it’s looking you straight in the eyes. However, recently change has looked quite different in the world of education. Across the globe, educators have been pushed to rethink education. Educators have been challenged to question their core values. Educators have been pushed to revisit their philosophical beliefs. Educators have been remixing existing teaching and learning practices that have lived in the nucleus of their daily lives and in the book Innovate Inside the Box, George Couros brilliantly states, “I’ve long believed that change isn’t to be feared; it is an opportunity to do something amazing…Change will come our way. We can “go” through it or “grow” through it. We grow when we seek out solutions rather than letting those obstacles hinder us.” This quote resonates even more deeply since the Covid-19 global pandemic has jolted the more traditional educational landscape we have always lived and known. I’ll admit when shifting to emergency remote learning and now teaching in physical and virtual spaces simultaneously, I have paused multiple times and questioned the what and the how. I have questioned whether or not the philosophy of the workshop model can live on in virtual environments. I have questioned if I can make the workshop model come alive for learners the same way I did in physical learning environments. Katie Martin, author of Learner-Centered Innovation confirms how vital developing solutions are to the barriers of change with this astute notion, “If the world is changing, the evidence and research become irrelevant if you don’t consider a new context.” And if we want to reach learners effectively, we MUST consider the new educational contexts that have been thrust upon us. We cannot look back, we must keep moving forward! And then, I came across a tweet from Thomas C. Murray, author of Personal & Authentic that spoke to my core, solidified these ideas, and reminded me of my why. And when I revisited my WHY, I knew it is to continuously cultivate lifelong learners who feel empowered to reach their social, emotional, and academic potential. And then, I realized that through the workshop model, I can continue to rally together a community of learners and build community by prioritizing the social-emotional needs of students and keeping “who” we teach at the heart of the learning journey.
Choosing What is Right
I have encountered many people who have embraced different educational philosophies. I have listened to theories and have read multiple books and articles by countless leaders and experts in the field of education. I have indulged in and have digested several perspectives about various topics with the intention of catapulting learners to academic success through multiple kinds of curricula and teaching and learning practices. And every time I have read an article, a book, or listened to a podcast, I used to think, wow, this must be the magic prescription for success. In my earlier years of teaching, when I was handed a curriculum, I followed it to a T. I thought that the curriculum itself was the key driver of developing a learner’s social, emotional, and academic potential. I thought that the people who were responsible for making decisions about the curriculum knew best and I looked to them as the experts. Now I know better. Now I know that the learners are the curriculum. They tell you what they need. I learned that there is not one single curriculum that works best for all learners. I know that every curriculum must be viewed as flexible and should be modified to meet learners’ needs. Knowing this made me realize that I can adapt the Workshop Model in both physical and virtual spaces. Knowing this helped me understand that I can revise the implementation and the process at any time. Knowing this made me feel more comfortable with taking risks, sometimes meet those risks with failure, share and reflect on those experiences with colleagues, and recognize that it’s an opportunity for growth.
The Workshop Model Will Live On
Suddenly, a spark was ignited within me…I knew that by inviting this change, I was still going to continue to honor my belief system and keep the magic of the workshop model alive. I felt committed to implementing what I have known to be best practices in the new context we are living in. It is because I believe that this is the framework that empowers learners to become confident readers and writers. This is the framework that guides them towards independence. On October 17, 2020, the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project held their first virtual Saturday Reunion. When I logged in to watch and listen from the comfort of my own home, Lucy Calkins was delivering her opening remarks. She said “We need to be as connected as we can be…Teaching is about holding onto the faith that the work we do matters. This is hard to hold onto right now. Even if it feels that nothing is going well, we need to show up.” These are powerful words that made me ask myself again…How can I rally learners together and build community when we are teaching in both physical and virtual learning spaces simultaneously? What can I do to cultivate meaningful connections and develop relationships with face-to-face and virtual learners? What new and existing tools can I utilize to support the execution of the gradual release of responsibility? I know that while navigating this learning journey, I must continue to be patient, I must continue to give myself grace, I must continue to be open to feedback from my colleagues, my PLN, and my students who are living this with me, and I must show up. And as Calkins suggests, I will show up for my students, their families, my community, and my country. EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. The fact of the matter is that change has already invited itself through our doors. As George Couros says, “You can fight change, adapt to change, embrace change, create change, or lead change. No matter your choice, change is not going away.” And do you know what else I will not let go away? The Magic of the Workshop Model.
Stay tuned for the next blog in this series:Reimagining the Magic of the Workshop Model Series 2: Rallying Learners and Building Community
Call me stubborn, but I refuse to quit! T.R.U.E. G.R.I.T. is the foundation to success in learning and life! Exploring the dynamics of a successful classroom and how grit is a vital characteristic for student achievement