Sunday, 9 November 2014

None of us is as good as all of us

I arrived home from #BIT14 at 2:30 Saturday morning and found this on my kitchen table:

It made me think a lot about my experience at #BIT14.  I have a lot to think and say about my learning at the conference, but I think I'm going to save most of the "how to" and "why" that I picked up for another post and this one will focus more on one of the overriding messages, which is summed up in this banner that my daughter and each of the members of her Atom hockey team received at practice on Friday night.

The opportunity for collaboration is, perhaps, my favourite of the many possibilities placed before us by technology.  During the conference, as I heard about different tools, I heard that many of them are good for collaborating.  I was shown how to use many tools to collaborate.  I can imagine ways to use many of the tools to collaborate with all of the learners in my school and with the parents of our students.  I'm getting ahead of myself though.  First I want to tell you about some amazing people with whom I am already collaborating, because they are an integral part of both my journey to #BIT14 and my personal learning journey.

I'm really lucky to work with a bunch of great people.  I'm even luckier to be working on a TLLP with three of my friends from work.

Here we are in front of Niagara Falls after the conference ended.  From left to right are @JMarciski (that's me), @ColleenKR, @KimberNipRock and @ErinLangevin

The focus of our project is increasing student and parent engagement through the use of technology.  You see, our high school is fed by 6 elementary schools and serves three townships, two reserves and one unorganized township, plus all of the rural space in between.  Distance has always been a barrier to bringing parents into our building.  Past experiences with education in our school or elsewhere is also a significant barrier for many of our parents.  We hope that by using technologies in our classrooms (and in my case in my practice as the school guidance counsellor) to empower our students as well as to make the learning and activities of our whole school more visible and by going out to the parents in some of our school's communities and showing them how to use the technologies to see what their children are learning and doing we will break down some barriers and, at the very least, make our students and their families more comfortable and happy. As an aside, I think it's kind of funny to refer to this as "the least" because it is perhaps "the most," but I suppose this is better addressed in a future post.

I'm kind of off track here, though.  I mean to be writing about the notion that none of us is as good as all of us.  Even before we set out to do the TLLP, the four of us have been interested in changing our practice.  We were fortunate for two years to have a principal who pushed our thinking and helped us on our way to change.  In June 2013 she organized a Hands on Media fair for the administrators in our board and took us along to share our new-found expertise with all of the principals.  We worked together and supported each other to prepare our presentations and that is when we realized what a great team we make. Incidentally we are a department despite the fact that I am the guidance counsellor (and previously a teacher of English), Erin teaches Co-op, Career Studies, Food and Nutrition and other humanities courses, Kim teaches Business and Fashion, and Colleen teaches Art.  Prior to our work together for Hands on Media we struggled to find a way to collaborate but since then, despite the HUGE differences in our assigned teaching roles, we have realized that it's actually very easy to collaborate.  And as a bonus we've become even better friends than we used to be.

Here we are in June 2013 in front of Aguasabon Falls in Terrace Bay, Ontario before the Hands on Media event.  From left to right, Jenni, Erin, Kim and Colleen.  These falls are much smaller than Niagara so we're blocking them.

While we were in Niagara Falls, we were overwhelmed with all of the learning about exciting possibilites and we were exhausted and our exhaustion led to a lot of laughing and some ridiculous actions. On Thursday evening as we were chatting and waiting to head out for the second annual photo walk, we decided we wanted some tea. If any of you ever comes to visit us in our staff room you will see that we have a bit of a tea addiction and that is central to our friendship and our collaboration. Anyway, we decided that the English Breakfast tea available in our room wasn't what we wanted.  Instead we wanted the loose leaf Turkish Apple that Kim brought.  Unfortunately, although we all knew we were bringing loose leaf tea, none of us brought tea filters.   I suggested heading down to Starbucks and getting tea there but Kim and Erin felt strongly that if Kim had brought tea all the way to Niagara Falls and Erin had brought her kettle, we should use them.  Colleen agreed and frankly, Turkish Apple is WAY better than anything you can buy at Starbucks, so I was eager to find a way to do this too. It was time to collaborate to improvise and innovate! Disclaimer:  Although only Erin appears in these photos, we really did work together to figure out how to make our loose leaf tea in our hotel room, without tea filters.  Once the prototype was created by Kim and Erin and seemed to be working, Erin set out to make a few more and that is when I decided to capture the process.

Erin and Kim figured we could somehow use the English Breakfast tea bags from our room so they took the tea bags and opened them up.

Next we spent some time trying to figure out what we could do with the tea that was already in the tea bags so we wouldn't waste it (us thinking could have been a funny photo, too bad we didn't think of that) but eventually we just disposed of the tea:

We thought we would now be able to dump in the new tea but it turned out we needed to tie off one end of the tea bag with its string.

After that we used the paper glass cover/coaster to funnel the Turkish Apple tea into the modified tea bag.

Once the tea bag was full the other end had to be tied off.  What would we use?  Whew! Kim brought dental floss.

We boiled some water and poured it in.  It seemed as though we were now 4 minutes from having Turkish Apple tea.

Unfortunately, when we started to take the tea bags out of the prepared tea, some of them didn't hold up.  Now we had a new challenge.  How to strain the cups of tea that needed it.  I'll be honest, I offered my socks.  And I only had one clean pair left...

But then, at the same time, all four of us thought of the same paper cover/coaster that we had used earlier in the process.  Perhaps we could strain it through that.  But it was too thick; it was made of cardboard really.  So Kim poked a hole in it.  You can see the hole in the photo below, if you look carefully.

And Erin strained the tea into another vessel.

And poured it back into the paper cups for hot beverages.  And we had some delicious Turkish Apple tea to drink before we headed out to explore and take photos.

I decided to document the tea-making process in part because we had a lot of laughs while doing it, but more so because it demonstrates our collaboration and proves that "none of us is as good as all of us."  For this particular project, we all had the desire to get a job done.  Kim and Erin had the persistence to make it happen.  They also had most of the ideas and the resources.  I added some humour and I documented our process.  Documenting is usually Colleen's job and while she was present, she had a more pressing issue at hand (consolidating her learning from a session earlier in the day, Digital Photography 101 by Peter Beens so she could put it to use in her role as a leader in the impending photo walk.)  And isn't this what happens in groups?  At different times we collaborate in different ways and take on different roles, to solve different problems and definitely none of us is as good as all of us.

So as we continue on our personal learning journeys and our TLLP, we are also planning for our next project, which involves all of us, the rest of our staff, Google and perhaps the rest of the board.  And we are excited to find new ways to collaborate, innovate, and probably improvise.  Just like we did while we made the tea.

(And now to find a way to get us all to #BIT15...)

Here we are on the photo walk.