A few weeks ago our team led a leadership meeting with a partner district and we were discussing our most significant learning experiences. I noticed how passionate these leaders were as they reflected and shared about their experiences. No matter how often we do this activity, or how diverse the crowd, the themes of significant learning experiences remain pretty consistent: authentic audience, productive struggle, mentors, models, coaching, feedback, and reflection.
I have been reflecting on many of these same themes as I recently had a significant learning experience of my own. I had the opportunity to participate in a TEDx event and do a talk along with some amazing educators (You can see the playlist of the TedX Talks here). From the time we finalized the speaker list to the event date, we had 4 weeks to prepare our talks and it was intense! My experience encompassed diverse opportunities for growth and highlighted the power of the learning as a process, not an event. Reflecting on my own significant learning makes me think about the how we learn in schools and how critical it is to create the conditions that support powerful learning for the learners in our classrooms today.
Authentic Audience– My excitement and anxiety about the event was fueled by the public accountability of my performance in front of people I really admire. Also, the fact that it was being recorded for anyone to see took it up a notch too:). Having this experience reinforced the importance of creating opportunities for students to share their work beyond the classroom. Connecting students with experts, peers and other learners allows for a different level of accountability and authentic feedback than one gets from simply handing something into a teacher for a grade.
Productive Struggle- I know a lot of people have done these talks or some version of them and it’s not a big deal but for me this was a big deal! I also had people tell me that is it would be their worst nightmare. It definitely was a step out of my comfort zone but within reach and I am thankful for the opportunity to push myself. This reminded me of one of my students in 7th grade who had just moved from the Philippines and his English was not very strong yet. I had assigned each student do a presentation and he wouldn’t do it. So instead, I asked if he would be able to share his presentation with me and a friend of and he agreed. This was the right amount of struggle for him whereas the for the others it was in front of the class and in other venues. The learning task has to be within the right zone and allow for a productive struggle. This also means that the right task or product will likely be different based on the learners in the class.
Coaching– We were set up with experienced and knowledgeable coaches that listened to our ideas and the flow of the talk as it emerged over the 4 weeks. They asked more questions rather than tell me what to do. They provided feedback on what was working and what was not so great. I do a lot of coaching but to put myself in the position and be vulnerable helped me empathize with our partners. It also was a great reminder that the power of coaching is not about being the expert but helping learners understand where they are the next steps to get where they are going.
Models– I watched a lot of TED talks. They helped me see how great speakers put their stories together, how to craft their slide deck, and how they connect with their audience. Each time I watched, I had a different focus depending on where I was as a learner. Models are so powerful in the learning process but so often in school we have this fear of copying or cheating. If an assignment has only one right answer or final product, maybe it needs to be revised.
Feedback- In addition to my weekly coaching sessions, I practiced for my colleagues at work and my husband at home and they provided specific critique that really helped shape the talk. I had to push myself to practice in front of my peers, knowing it was far from perfect. Feedback, by nature, will unearth some things that need to improve and is not always easy to hear. But if we don’t create conditions where feedback is part of the process, how can we expect real growth in our learning?
Reflection– I have watched many great Ted Talks and have seen some great speakers live so I of course set high expectations for myself and stressed myself out. Thankfully a good friend reminded me to chill out and that I just needed to be myself:). This was a major tipping point at just the right time where I reflected on my own strengths and how I could embrace the feedback I had received. Through these reflections and great mentors, I shifted my own mindset from- I’ll never be good enough to I know this and I should enjoy this!
The day of the event I woke up ready and sleep deprived. I met the other speakers and one of the coaches and they were as anxious and excited as I was. I instantly felt understood and thankful that I wasn’t the only one who had been in a TEDx fog for the past 4 weeks. I will never forget walking out on that stage and seeing my family, my team and so many of my colleagues from around the county and country. Thankfully, I had a great support team that pushed me, supported me and helped to make the whole experience amazing– and what I really mean by “amazing” is that is was hard, challenging, painful and very rewarding learning process.
To see the final “product” check out my TEDx talk, Teachers Create What They Experience.
How do you foster these conditions and experiences for the learners? How do you allow for authentic and powerful learning to ensure that learning is a process, not an event?