Sustaining Learning

For many Ontario teachers, the tipping point for using technology in any substantial and meaningful form was the advent of the electronic report card.  Gone were the days of using check marks to select comments or going ahead and writing the report itself.  Previous to that, there were some electronic elements that involved a school secretary and tonnes of paper used for data collection, then check cycles, and the final report itself.  Geez, the paper.

I was involved in the rollout of electronic versions of the early years, elementary and secondary report cards.  For some technology using people, it was a logical next step – for others, it was a moment to learn how to use something brand new and hopefully acquire some proficiencies in technology use along the way.  In our household, it also meant the end of me answering the telephone late at night and into the early morning hours and family members became custom to taking a name and number and leaving the message that “Doug would get back to you during normal working hours”.

It also meant doing so many workshops to new teachers and experienced teachers.  In fact, when it came time to putting together the professional learning calendar in August for the upcoming new year, I would look for reporting due dates and schedule yet more 4-6pm sessions.  A colleague of mine questioned me once about the repeated offering of these sessions which were always fully subscribed, sometimes with extras just there to watch and review.  The answer was pretty simple; doing this task three times a year was not a highlight of anyone’s time in front of a keyboard and so the learning didn’t really stick.  There was also the comfort of going through the process (I called it Report Cards from A-Z) yet again so that it would translate into success.

Generally, it did although the periodic crash made me appear to be a genius with my “Save early; save often” messages.

The process also reinforced to me the significance of timing.  There are so many things on a teacher’s plate that, as a successful facilitator, you needed to constantly remember whenever introducing something new or reinforcing something old.

  • the initial learning must take place at a time and location close to the time when people would get an opportunity to apply the new abilities and be successful;
  • the learning activities themselves are best delivered in a realistic scenario.  Introducing Frames 4, for example, to junior teachers works best when you’re not doing an activity designed for a secondary school computer studies class.  Bottom line – know your audience.

These are real challenges that need to be addressed when you’re making your plans.  While I’m the type of person that delights in being able to make a piece of technology or software sit up and perform tricks, others aren’t.  They are in attendance because they are the professional that they are, looking for engaging and motivating curriculum relevant activities.  But, unless it applies to their situation and they get a chance to apply the skills relatively quickly, the learning can just become a fond memory.  If you make those initial inroads and achieve success, it becomes easier to sell a second and third piece of software to add to the suite of things designed to engage students.

There are a couple of other things that I’ve always included that have worked nicely for me.

  • tell a story – working your way through a real scenario is much more effective than “click here and this happens” – my dog often took the starring role in story telling, desktop publishing, and presentation sessions;
  • make everything a meaningful project – we know that it’s successful in the classroom – it is just as successful as part of professional learning.

Of importance, as well, you need to devise ways to continue the learning after the initial sessions.  This could be subsequent intermediate and advanced session.  I found references in my monthly newsletters effective and creating web resources with supporting links can be invaluable.  As a facilitator, you also need to be a writer and communicator to be successful.

And, don’t forget the creature comforts!  Coffee and Tim Horton muffins go a long way if you’re briding the gap between the end of the work day and supper.

Even when you’re learning how to do report cards.

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