One of the easiest things to do to improve as an educator is to watch others and take what you can to use in your own classrooms.
Recently, we hosted a professional development conference for BC high school teachers called, “It’s Your Experiment!” The workshop was part of our two day conference and aimed to develop new curricula based lesson plans for use in the classroom. This was a chance for teachers to work with each other to generate teaching materials, link these teaching items to the BC high school IRPs and generally be creative. We collaborated with Connie Cirkony, previously from the Engaging Science program at Science World – now with the BC ministry of education to facilitate the workshop. Connie has lots of experience at facilitating workshops for teachers, and as an educator myself, I was interested in the process as much as I was interested in the outcomes. Here’s a couple tricks of the “workshop facilitation” trade that Connie used that were good teaching tools.
The activity that we used to wrap up the workshop was to generate an action plan. With this task, we gave teachers 1) a chance to think about it, 2) a chance
to write it down, and 3) a chance to share their action plan with other teachers in the group. With each step in this activity the likelihood of actually completing the items on your list goes up. Think about it, write it down, and tell someone… a real recipe for success! Here’s an example of another implementation of this activity (from another conference that I participated in recently), a card provided to participants so that they can collect their ideas from the day. Another great idea that we can use for our future teacher workshops/conferences.
The activities that we started off the day with included A) a reflection + B) a brainstorming session. Both activities are real staples of an effective workshop. With the brainstorming activity, we asked teachers to brainstorm ideas for lesson plans. Which subjects did they have troubles teaching? Which subjects would they like help with? Which items did they really need a good lesson plan for? We asked each teacher to write 5 ideas down, each item on a different colored recipe card. Next, we turned this brainstorming activity into an organizing exercise by asking teachers to group the items together. The final stage of the activity was to link these ideas to the BC curricula – as supplied by the list of PLO (prescribed learning outcomes) that the ministry of education published. In the end, this exercise provided a good metacognition activity that captured ideas plus offered a chance for reflection.
Another reflection activity that Connie introduced, and I plan on using often with teachers, was what I’ll call the “Take your Hat off” activity. In this activity, Connie invited the teachers “to take their workshop participants hats off and put on their teacher hats.” With this invitation, she was asking the teachers to reflect on the logistics and design of the workshop as educators. Use the model of the workshop as a model for what works in the classroom. Observe what works, and put it to work. I’ve since used this “take your hat off” activity with a group of teachers with success. I invited the group of teachers to “take your teacher hats off, put on your students hats.” An invitation to reflect on what running this activity would be like in their classrooms, and how it would be received by their students. It worked great too, because as soon as I asked the teachers to “put on your student hat” he started to goof off like a 14year old. We had a lot of fun with that! In addition to a setting a good tone, it worked as a perfect icebreaker activity.