Thursday, August 8, 2013

What Attending the Apple Institute Has Taught Me About Engaging Educators

What Attending the Apple Institute Has Taught Me About Engaged Educators

It has been a few weeks since I returned from the North American ADE 2013 Institute in Austin, Texas, and it is about time for me to reflect on the entire, breath-taking experience.

Many of the ADEs have already posted their own thoughts.  One good example comes from Kyle Pearce who is a new ADE from Ontario, Canada.  He has shared both his application video and his reflections on attending his first institute.   The highlight for him (and others) was the opportunity to connect with other like-minded educators with a shared vision for teaching.  This theme runs through many other postings. Courtney Pepe, an ADE from New Jersey shared her Top 10 List and Kristi Meeuws, another new ADE from South Carolina, reflects on the shared experience.  Daniel Whitt and Beth Sanders from Youth Culture Converts captured the energy of many ADEs attending the conference. 

The Institute is a non-stop affair.   As Troy Bagwell writes - We Were on Fire.   In just four days, I attended many world-class sessions and had not only the best professional learning in my career but possible the best educational experience of my life.  The presenters ranged from those who are world-renowned (Bill Frakes, Rebecca Stockey and Nancy Duarte) to those enthusiastic experts such as Bea Cantor (download and read her book on macro photography).  There is no describing the energy and enthusiasm filling the room and every single educator there actively seeks out opportunities to learn, write, engage, network, debate, comfort and support a team of 400.  And they commit to creating content throughout their summer holidays.  It is amazing because it so rarely happens in other settings.  And that is what I have been pondering these last few weeks - what makes this group and this institute so unique?

First - The educators at these events are told they are valued - that what they are doing matters and is special and meaningful for students.  This is reinforced throughout the week - ADEs showcase their work and share their best moments. Given the current climate in British Columbia and other North American districts, teacher appreciation has become anything but the norm.  It is amazing how being accepted and acknowledged energized everyone in the room.

Second - The content offered is meaningful and world-class.  It is not dumbed-down and it goes beyond the basics.  If you need to catch up to what is happening after a session, there are people ready to help.  In Austin, impromptu sessions were held well into the evenings - run by "ordinary teachers" with something to share.  Do you want to know how an app works or have a question about lighting while taking photographs - there is someone standing beside you to help.

Third - There is a common goal.  It is unwritten but omnipresent - ADEs are aiming for an enriched, meaningful, interactive, high-level thinking educational experience for their students.  There is ongoing questioning of our own practice and it is OK to get help if you need it.  ADEs are goal-oriented and driven to create best practice.  This group consensus doesn't happen as often as it should in schools, and that is really too bad as that closed door mentality robs all teachers of opportunities for mentorship and team collaboration.

Fourth - Failure is celebrated.  Why?  Because someone took a risk, shared their ideas and everyone thought that was great. 

Fifth - ADEs make a commitment to create content - they read, they research, they document, they assess and they write it up and share it with others.  They are not passive and they do more than curate ideas. 

Sixth - ADEs blog.  They tweet.  They photograph.  They are artists and musicians.  They are life long learners and they are enthusiastic about what they do.  Their actions are public and I think that is a good thing when you consider that often the only people watching a teacher work are children.  ADEs know what they are doing is valuable and they want the world to know that they are actively working on finding the best path for students ALL THE TIME.