For the past two days, I’ve been a “guide” and presenter at the TIES Google Institute. The folks at TIES did a great job of structuring the institute. It started with a keynote by an inspiring local teacher – Tom Rademacher, MN Teacher of the Year in 2014. As much as lots of conferences try to get big names or national experts, Tom was an excellent choice. As a teacher, he’s one of us. He works with kids daily, and it was evident in his demenor and his presentation that he’s a master of his craft.
After the keynote, participants broke out into pre-determined cadres based on grade-levels and content areas. As a guide, I was there to support a group of eight teachers (all elementary special education) from two districts/programs. Before the actual sessions, we had time to meet and discuss goals for the institute and consider individual needs. Four of my teachers were pretty new to GAFE and had just been given Chromebooks by their district. The other four had some experience but were also pretty new on some of the foundational skills.
After each session on day one, we were able to come back as a group and resolve needs/questions resulting from the sessions. For example, most of my group went to a session on Google Forms as their first option, but when they returned we realized the session was a few steps ahead of where they were, so as a group I walked them through the basics of form creation, creating a form for tracking students on their case loads. Later that day, most went to my session – Google Sheets: Basics and Beyond. When we came back, we related Forms to Sheets, and they were more confident in both. By the end of the day, I was receiving feedback that this format – participating in conference sessions followed by time with a guide afterward – was just what was needed.
Our second day followed a similar format, except with two sessions instead of a keynote. As presenters, we were asked to try have at least 30 min of 75 min sessions for worktime, either within the session or at the end. For my second presentation – Extensions and Apps for Integration – I did an overview of extensions and apps conceptually, then I shared a handful of favorites. Participants spent the remainder of the time (over 30 min) exploring a list I’d curated of recommendations. As a presenter, I was no longer in front of the group; I was a guide/facilitator. It felt more like the way I actually teach.
Over the course of my two days, I had a few revelations…
First, conferences should be structured more like we actually teach (or try to teach). Less time should be spent at the front of the room presenting, and more time should be spent with participants exploring with the “presenter” guiding as needed so the experience can be individualized more.
Second, conference sessions are great, but most teachers need time right after a session to digest and apply what they’ve learned. Reflection and application should be built into the process. This sometimes happens informally when conferences have big breaks between sessions, but if teachers participate solo, they miss the feedback from peers. Breaking folks up into learning teams or cadres and building in guidance/application time is much better.
Third, this same format should be brought back to in-school trainings. At my school, most of our trainings happen in the course of a 60 or 45 min faculty meeting. This means, we would either need more time (not likely), or we should do shorter presos followed by structured application time. When we’ve built this into trainings in the past, it’s been far more helpful.
Of course, TIES always feeds us well. Having a range of healthy and not-so-healthy snacks available throughout the day, along with a selection of beverages and a ton of water, helped us take care of ourselves and socialize a bit with those not in our groups. I love that my school already does this piece in an age-appropriate way (advisory/snack/break/recess after morning block and lunch after mid-day block).
Oh, and did I mention that participants received a drawing ticket after they completed their conference evaluation? Nice way to make sure you get feedback. I’m looking forward to hear how participants in other groups felt about the institute.