Whenever you can attend a conference or training and feel exhausted ( not from drinking too much but ) from thinking too much then you have gotten your monies worth. An obvious conference for me is Educon where you spend the day discussing educational topics. The problem is that these conversations can go from 7 AM to 2 AM the next morning!
But this time I am talking about the New Tech Network’s New Schools Training (NST12 ) and its sister conference NewTech Annual Conference (NTAC12). This past week was NST12 which is where school districts, who are about to open New Tech schools, send their teachers and administrators for training on what it means to be a New Tech school.
I attended as a District Trainer who will be helping a school as it becomes a New Tech Network (NTN) affiliated school. We will be converting an existing middle school (Decker Middle School) by converting the 6th grade this year and by adding additional grades in the ensuing years. I was not able to bring the teachers or any of the district staff with me but we will be bringing them to NTAC12 next month.
When people hear about New Tech schools they immediately think of Project Based Learning (PBL) and therefore a significant part of the week is based around PBL. Teachers plan their first PBL project during this week and the staff (teachers included) plan their school as they experience PBL as facilitated by NTN trainers and staff. That is one of the most powerful parts of this week. Not only are teachers who are new to PBL learning the framework of PBL but they are living the framework of PBL.
But NTN schools have something else besides PBL that makes them different. The underlying (actually much more overt than that) theme was the importance of building school culture. The culture of NTN schools is based upon Trust, Respect, and Responsibility. These concepts, individually as well as together, must be examined, defined, and put into the mindset of everyone’s daily habits.
As we work as a staff we must trust each other to do the right thing. We must respect each other, the school culture, and ourselves. And, we must take on responsibilities that other teachers never have, as we flatten the leadership. When we work with students we must trust that the majority of students are going to do the right thing. We must respect them, the school culture (yes I said that again), and we must teach them to respect the school culture and themselves. Finally, as we trust and respect our students we must be willing to give them additional responsibilities. At the same time we must encourage the students to take on more responsibility for their learning.
All of this requires individuals and school teams to do something that we often say and hear while being at a NTN school – take a leap of faith. Some will joke that you must drink the cool-ade. Others will say trust the process. But what we all are referring to is the change in mindset that an educator must endure as they start on this adventure. And change is hard and can be painful for some. That is why the leadership trainers spent so much time examining change – the change we are going through and the change we must be willing to experience as we create a successful NTN school.
The most remarkable thing about this training is the daily reflections of the facilitators. Obviously they ask each of us to reflect each day on what we have learned and experienced. But then they get together and reflect on what they have seen and heard from their students. They, then, tweak the next day’s plan based upon the needs of the students. How often have you been to a training where the facilitators take the time to adjust their plan based upon your needs? Never, I would venture. And, this models what they want from us – to become reflective teachers who are not afraid to change where things are heading based upon the needs of the students.
And so from the 1st year teacher about to teach her first class to the seasoned veteran administrator who taught for 25 years before getting into administration, everyone at this training is a rookie. They are rookies in teaching with PBL in a school with flattened leadership and a culture of trust, respect, and responsibility. They are experiencing change and they are being told that this change will be worth it. Those who survive the week will be changed.
Some will go to their school, will feel the struggles, and will ultimately choose to go back to a traditional school. The pain of change, for them, will be too much to bear. But nearly all of those teachers who complete this week will work through the pain. They will do this because of their NTN coach, their fellow teachers, and their internal desire to make this change for the good of their students. Because, ultimately, meaningful change is what we need in education if we want our students to succeed and be change agents for the world around them.