Apr 302012

I returned from Yokohama more than a week ago.

(It’s been busy. Well, you know.)

Since I returned, a lot has been said. Really, a LOT. But I haven’t said anything here yet, though I’ve spoken on other peoples’ blogs and in the Twitterverse. So, here goes.

I’ve been a “recipient” of professional development ever since I’ve been a teacher. I’ve been a “professional development provider” of some kind for a much shorter length of time, but enough to feel like I’ve seen and done it all.

#beyondlaptops was the best yet.

  • it pushed me
  • it pulled me
  • it made me uncomfortable
  • it made me think
  • it made me DO STUFF
  • it made me wanna DO MORE STUFF
  • it was collaborative
  • it was not sit-and-absorb
  • it was differentiated
  • it was not structured-workshoppy[1], nor airy-fairy
  • it was conversational

I could go on, but those are the off-the-top-of-my-head reasons.


Okay, I’ll go on.

Here’s the thing: we spend all this time going to PD sessions where we sit and are challenged by Ms. BlogsALot and Mr. BigNameTechDude to DO STUFF. And we do it. And we sit and muse, and go, “Ahh yeah, that was good. Man, I’m going to use that next week.”

And maybe we do.

But even in the unconference types of conferences, I’ve found there’s a lot of unstructured sitting around talking about coffee and sharing practice — which can be good.


(you knew that was coming, huh?)

But, what are we doing after we share our practice? Where and how does it evolve? How do these PD experiences — even the unconference types — push us to contribute to the continual development of the practice within our profession? How do novices and experts alike collaborate to push our practice and our profession further?


In the case of those working in the field of ICT/tech integration/facilitation/coordination [2], there are few opportunities for us to move beyond our practice. I personally feel that this is because our practice is still relatively new, and we often disagree about what it encompasses.

“Change leads to disappointment if it is not sustained. Transformation is sustained change, and it is achieved through practice.” -B.K.S. Iyengar

“Whatever it takes to make mutual engagement possible is an essential component of any practice.” -Etienne Wenger

Here’s another thing: even most unconference types of PD don’t facilitate this kind of stuff.

#beyondlaptops was organized. Without some framework, the conversations simply become back-patting and sharing, and “Oh, I wanna do what you’re doing with that task in year 10!” This is nobody’s fault, per se. But with better design, I think we can have better PD experiences similar to those at #beyondlaptops.

#beyondlaptops involved (primarily) decision-makers and change agents within schools. This was key. This was not (primarily) a PD experience for teachers. That’s not to say the teacher voice wasn’t there — loud and clear! — but rather that our conversations were about how to move schools forward. And let’s face it: sadly, in many (most?) of our schools, teachers aren’t the ones moving the institution forward: the leaders are. If you have good leaders, you luck out. If you don’t, you can find your way pushing and pushing and pushingandpushingandpushingugh to make all that wonderful transformational change you dream of…. only to see it end at your classroom doors.

To have decision-makers and change agents in the same space is important. This is one of #beyondlaptops’s primary success points. I found it extremely valuable to hear stories and experiences from other practitioners in my role, and to hear also from other leaders’ perspectives in a very non-threatening, honest way what drives them crazy about what people do in my role. Not only was it valuable just to sit and listen, but to probe their thinking, and to find out why something worked or didn’t work a particular way, and to then reflect on whether it would (or wouldn’t) work the same way at my school, and why or why not.

#beyondlaptops was contextual. It allowed for the differences that exist between schools. Participants represented 21 different schools in 10 different countries. Sure, many have similarities — American curriculum vs. IB frameworks, and more. But none of us have the same student demographics, and therefore none of us can or should be doing exactly the same thing. Conversations at #beyondlaptops allowed for that. I found that I took few notes about the things I learned during the two days. Rather, my “notes” were mostly questions: How can we maximize PD during the school day at AIS? Can I convince our MYP coordinator to help me map the ISTE NETS standards? How can I help parents see value in using mobile devices? How much influence will our Tech Director have on our 1:1 program in the Junior School, and how will this affect my role in the Secondary School? Where will we keep our e-portfolios, and who will use them? 

#beyondlaptops was small. Fewer than 60 attendees. I would argue — and I think Kim and other participants agree — that it should be even smaller. The conversational setup of the two days meant that it really was about dialogue. I wanted to be able to engage in conversations with everyone there, but sadly I probably only was able to engage with half the participants. Still, this allowed for some powerful discussions.

#beyondlaptops allowed discussions to be framed, but also allowed for us to push them in another direction if we wanted. The conversation frames sometimes pushed us out of our comfort zone (Thanks, Scott!) and other times made us work hard to understand.. Hey, why do we need to talk about this topic, anyway? [3] There were also break-out sessions for interested parties to Get On With Things — namely, those separate agendas of our own we all brought. Kim was good at giving us space to do this, and I suspect after the first day we maybe could have even had more.

Back to what I was saying (and what Iyengar and Wenger were saying) earlier about practice…

Practice makes our profession. Practice makes the change. Practice pushes us forward.

Practice is the action. 

Sitting and talking and planning and sharing is great, but what comes next?

#beyondlaptops was the closest I’ve come to discovering a Community of Practice in the making for our fieldand you know I don’t say that lightly.[4] I want our profession to grow. Unlike some, I don’t think that the role of “ICT facilitator/coordinator/whateveryoucallyourself” is going to disappear any time soon. I also don’t think that it’s the goal of our job to make our job obsolete, but that’s another story. [5] I want us to be supported and I want us to support others. And I want us to do it well — in the ways that are best practiced in the specific contexts of our learning environments.

Those of us at schools in Singapore are already talking about a #beyondlaptops “support network” to share what we are doing and challenge each other to carry out the great ideas and goals and actions that came out of discussions in Yokohama. I am excited about this initiative and I think it has potential to be powerful and transformative. I also love that it would be ongoing and highly contextual, rather than yearly and external. I suppose I’m excited about the idea of a Community of Practice within a Community of Practice. :)

I can’t wait to see where this all goes. I am confident that #beyondlaptops is “bigger” than just a group of us like-minded peeps sitting around and chatting.[6] It will drive the action. It is bigger than us.

Already at AIS we’ve begun to implement two fairly big “things” that came out of discussions at #beyondlaptops:

  1. Our Laptop Bootcamp[7] for new starting students will become student-led (rather than Tech Director-and-ICT-Coach-led) and will be offered weekly, rather than bi-weekly. We have new students nearly every week at AIS, so frequency was becoming a concern. Further, we wanted to capitalize on the well-established Home Group buddy system already in place at AIS thanks to our Student Welfare Admin team, which previously we really were ignoring, TBH.
  2. Our Behaviour Management protocol is being re-designed to include clearer processes and procedures for students with regard to actions and consequences for behaviour related to digital citizenship. This will be in place within the next few weeks, but prior to its implementation it will be subject to feedback from our student leadership team at AIS.

There are a few more irons in the fire, but this is all I can definitively share at this point. Neither of these were on the action agenda prior to #beyondlaptops. I hope to share much more as we move… #beyondlaptops.[8]

“Communities of practice are groups of people who share a passion for something that they know how to do and to interact regularly to learn how to do it better.” — Etienne Wenger

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  1. [1] don’t get me wrong – workshoppyness has its place
  2. [2] (could we have any more descriptors?)
  3. [3] budgets, data, and parent input, anyone?
  4. [4] If you’re new here, you might not know that this is what my monster Thesis was about. Yeah, I’m a Communities of Practice junkie and it really revs me up to think that we might be onto this here.
  5. [5] For those who know me well, you’ll note that I’ve come full circle on this now, after having looked at bundles of research and history of education and technology/media.
  6. [6] which, really, admit it, is what Twitter is.
  7. [7] I hate this term, but that’s also another story. Picking my battles!
  8. [8] cue cheesy music and credits
Nov 222010

Ballerina“Practice is . . . a process by which we can experience the world and our engagement with it as meaningful.” -Wenger, 1998.

For those who haven’t been following along, my thesis work has been looking at Communities of Practice theory and applying it to make design recommendations to an online professional development community for MYP teachers. When I first came across the above quote, my mind immediately went to yoga. I’ve written before about the connections between yoga and education, and I’m certain I’ll write about them again in the future.

“Before you’ve practiced, the theory is useless. After you’ve practiced, the theory is obvious.” –David Williams, original attribution unknown

The disconnect between theory and practice is a hot topic in education — always has been, always will be. I’m hard-pressed to think of another profession where it is not mandated for theory and research to be incorporated into the actual practice (Medicine? no. Law? definitely not. Finance? unlikely.) In education, I think one of the reasons for this disconnect is because it’s so easy for us to go into a classroom, close the door, and completely forget about our teaching practice. I realize this sounds strange, but it happens all the time. I’d be lying to you if I told you that every single minute that I’ve been a teacher, I have been thinking consciously about what I’m doing that makes up my teaching practice. And I bet that for many of us, an entire day (or days) could go by when we don’t actively reflect and think about what it means to be a teacher. What are those things that make up our practice and make it effective? What is it that we do every day? Are the pedagogies we laud embedded into every routine, policy, lesson, and mere utterance in our classrooms? Of course, it’s probably unrealistic to expect such a thing, but my point is this: how often are we thinking about what our teaching practice is?

Definition of PRACTICE

1 a : actual performance or application <ready to carry out in practice what they advocated in principle> b : a repeated or customary action <had this irritating practice> c : the usual way of doing something <local practices> d : the form, manner, and order of conducting legal suits and prosecutions
2 a : systematic exercise for proficiency <practice makes perfect> b : the condition of being proficient through systematic exercise <get in practice>
3 a : the continuous exercise of a profession b : a professional business; especially : one constituting an incorporeal property
My last post advocated for professional development to be contextual; I argued for it to be part of and exist within our teaching practice. Today, I’d like to go beyond the scope of a professional development mind-set. I’d like to ask educators everywhere to make their daily teaching practice mindful. What do I mean by this? I offer here a set of questions — guiding questions, if you will — that I daresay might help educators focus on the aspects of their practice that are most crucial to its success and effectiveness, and may give further insight as to how to connect practice to that elusive but important theory we often seem to forget.
  • What defines your teaching practice? If you had to sum it up in a sentence, how would you describe it? What is its essence?
  • Where do these essential concepts of your practice come from? Did you create them? Were they adopted from another teacher — perhaps someone who taught you? Are they a tradition of our profession? Are they part of your personality? Or were they handed to you by someone in your school, as a requirement?
  • How does your daily teaching practice embody pedagogy? Which pedagogies are represented? Did you choose these pedagogies, or did someone else? Or did they simply evolve?
  • What drives you to continue your practice? What inspires you in your practice? Why?
  • Who do you turn to for guidance, mentoring, and encouragement in your practice? Who provides you with mental and moral support? What is it about this person/these people that draws you to seek them out for assistance or leadership?
  • What aspects of your teaching practice do you feel perhaps don’t belong there? Are there aspects that perhaps need to be refurbished, repurposed, or simply tossed? Why? Do they have value?
  • Which learning theories are you aware of? How is it that you became aware of them? When did they first cross your path? Are there new learning theories that you don’t yet feel you know well, but would like to? Or ones you’re aware of that you’d like to learn more about?
  • Do you see any connections between your practice — as defined, described, and stated by yourself — and learning theories? Any gaps you’d like to fill? Any surprising connections that deserve more focus, dwelling on, sharing, or elaboration?

I suspect that if educators went deep into this kind of self-reflection, and shared it with others, that they might develop a new appreciation for the complexity and richness that is their teaching practice. Indeed, it should be examined, talked about, and celebrated. Your teaching practice exists because you care about your students and want them to learn. By investing in your practice, you invest in your students, your institutions, and yourself. Letting your practice lead your professional learning is a reciprocal and generative act. Your practice is beautiful.

“So, are you a guru?” I asked Mr. Iyengar. I had been going to Iyengar Yoga classes for three years, and B.K.S. Iyengar was visiting Australia for the first time. I was making a one-hour radio program on yoga and interviewed the great master. He replied, “Your guru is your practice.” The greatest thing a guru could ever say. You learn to do it by doing it. -Baranay, 2007


Baranay, I. (2007). “Your guru is your practice.” In Busia, K. (Ed.), Iyengar: The yoga master (pp. 15-24). Boston, MA: Shambhala Press.

Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of practice: Learning, meaning, and identity. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Ballerina by Mait Jüriado

seventh sense by woodleywonderworks

Practice Yoga! Be Healthy! by VinothChandar

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