Monday, March 6, 2017

Professional Development Can Be Hands-On?

When you think of professional development, what do you picture? A faculty meeting that lasts an hour in which you mostly discuss logistics? A sit-and-get conference? During workshops, conferences, meetings, whatever you would like to call it, we spend time discussing pedagogy, cutting edge lessons, engagement and so on, but ironically many times these gatherings are just the opposite of what we are encouraging our educators to do. Educators discuss how to make classrooms engaging, hands-on, real-world, but we do not model that same setting during our meetings. 

On February 23 and 24, our school partnered with Lausanne Learning Institute located in Memphis, TN, to host the first annual Lausanne Learning Institute of the Southwest (LLISW) in which we promoted a conference unlike any other. At the conference, 

   53 schools were represented
   93 sessions were offered (including fishbowl sessions and general sessions)
   over 275 educators attended

Session topics varied from Makerspace, to authenticity in math classes, to connecting a Spanish and French class for verb study, coding, empathy lessons and much more. Sessions were offered for all grade levels from Early Childhood to Upper School classes and the focus of the conference was authentic, innovative practices that allow professional development to be truly authentic - and this conference was just that, authentic.

On Thursday, we offered 4 fishbowl sessions with 9-12 fishbowl options per session time. (I will be sharing the fishbowl details in a later blogpost.)

After months and months of planning, it was incredible to watch the conference unfold. With having never attended a fishbowl type conference, we didn't 100% know what to expect and were forced the plan the conference in our own terms. To say the conference was a huge success, in my humble opinion, is putting it lightly. This was the first conference I have ever attended where students were involved in professional development and that very factor is what changed the environment. The lessons were real. Educators were able to not only observe a lesson being taught instead of simply talking about it, but they were also given time to debrief, ask follow-up questions, pose ideas, and network with like-minded educators. Our campus was vibrant with life. Happy, engaged kids who were eager to learn from complete strangers. Energized educators who were chomping at the bit to learn new, innovative ideas to steal and take back to their own classrooms. 

After a long weekend filled with many naps in order to attempt to recover from the exhaustion that comes with hosting 275 educators along with 850 students, came reflection. Reflection about why this conference was unlike many others, why we received such positive feedback, and how we can improve for next year's conference. After thinking it over for a few days, there are 3 distinct reasons that I believe this conference was so successful.
1  The little things make a difference. According to the verbal feedback we heard from our visiting educators, they were overly impressed with our hospitality. They noticed the student ambassadors we had at each and every door greeting them with a smile and directing them to wherever they were headed. They noticed the parent volunteers at the check-in stations, the drinks and snacks that were offered at every division, the energetic music that was played around campus and during lunch, the a cappella choir that sang during our opening session, and our eager students. 
2  The fishbowl experience was unlike any other. Teachers appreciated the fact that they could observe real-life teaching and then debrief the successes of the fishbowl settings and share pedagogy amongst like-minded educators.
3  There was a session for everyone. Many times you attend conferences in which the session topics are heavily directed to math, history, tech, and so on. LLISW offered sessions for Early Childhood teachers to Upper School teachers, makerspace teachers to fine arts teachers, as well as administrators, and everything in between.

Join us next year on February 22-23, 2018 for a hands-on, authentic conference! We are looking for other passionate, dynamic teachers to attend, as well as present. Check out for more details. 

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