Greetings from NAIS 07 and Denver

I never worked as hard as I did when I was a middle/upper school language teacher. To my colleagues in higher ed who bemoan how busy they are teaching two or three classes a semester, I offer to you the independent school model… 4 classes (sometimes 3-4 different preps) and then after school activities (yearbook, play, freshman girls soccer –my fave and aka the hair-brushing team–, community service trips…). Try teaching your materials in 40 minutes installments while juggling study halls, lunch duty, prep time, meetings and oh…your family life. It was relentless… but absolutely invigorating as well.

I always had the great luck of working within language departments that believed in collaboration, in sharing, in support and in peer learning (even if you did not necessarily like the person it did not mean you could not support him or her as a peer). When I taught at Nobles, for example, we could admit our failures without fear of undue scrutiny or sniping and ask for teaching help and advice in our department meetings I knew then what I know now: it was a remarkable environment and I was lucky to work there, and have always made sure that subsequent workplaces had that same ethos…but I also realize now how incredibly exhausting it was to work with adolescents.

BG and I were invited to come to the NAIS Annual Conference this weekend in Denver and lead a workshop social software. Our task was to explain how these tools might weave themselves into the theme of the NAIS conference (People, Purpose, and Planet) but also (and more importantly) into the academic mission of the myriad of schools NAIS represents.

The NAIS conference, it seems, is where the Administrators and the CIOs/CTOs congregate… not many teachers per se. And that is understandable, really. The meeting happens during the work week. If you think you have a lot to come home to after a business trip, try coming home after two days away from 4 classes and three play practices. It’s daunting.

Our three hour workshop was on Saturday at 9 a.m….after the conference had officially ended. The weather was gorgeous. There were 12 inches of fresh powder on the slopes. We had no idea anyone would show…but they did. And what a marvelous group it was!

The group was a wonderful mixture of heads of schools, deans of studies, heads of schools, program directors…administrative folk who either still had one foot in the classroom or worked closely with students and teachers on issues related to teaching and learning. Some were newbies to the tools, some knew the tools but needed to think about the possibilities for teaching, others had been using the tools but wanted help tuning those tools for a specific focus or curricular need. In short, the composition of the group mirrored the composition of every class we have taught. And so the potential for reciprocal apprenticeships, where learners teach each other as well as the teacher, who in turn is both student as well as teacher was once again possible and also fruitful.

BG and I both believe in making our teaching transparent as well as our presentations…so our notes and resources and links and everything we used or made available to the group are available here on a wiki we created for the group. Did we miss something? Please leave us a comment. And we hope our participants will go in and add their 2 and 20 cents too.

Prior to our workshop, I attended a presentation on NAIS’s new principles of good practice when using technology in independent schools. What caught my eye was this section (emphasis added)

Teaching and Learning

1. Educators research, evaluate, and employ technology to support curricular goals and to meet the range of learning styles, abilities, and life experiences of their students.
2. Educators appreciate and recognize that technology can create learning opportunities for students that would not otherwise be possible, fundamentally transforming the nature of the relationship between teacher and learner.
3. Educators embrace technologies that promote project-based, student-centered learning, the acquisition of problem-solving skills, and the development of media and information literacy
4. The school educates students, teachers, and parents about the safe, healthy, ethical, legal, and appropriate use of technology resources.

What breath of fresh air….while of course the authors encourage everyone to practice “safe computing” (the parallels to sex ed are astonishing), it is clear that the educational mission drives the use of tech in this document, and not the other way around. Plus the authors are already preparing others for possibility for disruption (and repair!) thanks not only to what these tools can do, but how creative uses of tech force us to think about what we do and why we do what we do in the classroom.

We will be hosting a skype cast get together (on LLU) of the workshop participants later in the month. I am eager to see how these ideas (be they evolutionary or revolutionary) were received back at the schools our participants represented. Those of you that were there… now that you are home and back at work, what are the next steps and how can we help. Leave a comment here…drop an email.

As always…we welcome your comments…

Homeward bound!

Barbara is a Lecturer in Hispanic Studies at a small liberal arts college in Maine. Rumor has it this was also her alma mater. She used to work for a small liberal arts college in the cornfields of Ohio for almost 20 years as a teacher and language center director. Prior to these adventures in higher ed she taught high school Spanish and loved it. She wishes she had more time in her life to play with her dogs, write, read, swim, do yoga things and making stuff out of clay. To see her online portfolio please click here!

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