This year was my 3rd straight year attending the Ohio Appalachian Collaborative regional convening of Elevating and Celebrating Effective Teachers and Teaching (ECET2). I have been honored to be invited to present breakout sessions at each of the events.
This year’s convening was once again held at the beautiful Salt Fork State Park Lodge, near Cambridge, Ohio.
ECET2 is special for several reasons. The premise for the event is, as the title suggests, celebratory. The ECET2 format prides itself on opportunities for teachers to learn from colleagues, and that is the “secret sauce” for ECET2.
What did I take away from the 2016 Ohio Appalachian Collaborative ECET2?
- “because i said i would” – Our opening keynote was from Amanda Messer, CTO of because i said i would, an “international social movement and nonprofit dedicated to the betterment of humanity through promises made and kept”. Amanda did two important things: 1) She reminded us that we are, first and foremost, humans who are designed for relationships and interdependencies; and 2) She modeled vulnerability (and the opportunities for growth it brings) when those relationships and interdependencies spit in our collective face. Teaching is, after all, about relationships – with our students, with our colleagues, and with our communities. At the heart of every meaningful relationship is a factor of trust, and personal responsibility for one’s own word is at the atomic level for building that. Many years ago, I read Steven Covey’s “Speed of Trust” as part of a work-based book study. I enjoyed the book, but I kept finding myself getting knocked off-balance by what felt like relegating trustworthiness to “means” status, rather than “end” status. In other words, if “being trustworthy” is your strategy for increasing market share, or profits, or stakeholder dividends, you’ve already lost sight of the real reason for being trustworthy, and you’ll abandon it when it doesn’t feel like (or when the data suggest it no longer to be) the most productive option. “because i said so” restores that simplicity and genuineness to the power of a kept promise. Watch Alex Sheen’s TEDx Talk.
- Colleague Circles – As I tweeted to one of the participants this year, Colleague Circles are “the most dangerous, and the most valuable” part of ECET2. At other types of conferences, learning from colleagues happens in the margins. Some participants have learned to seek those interactions out and harness them. But at ECET2, significant formal time is set aside for participants to gather in small groups to discuss pertinent questions and reflect on what they have learned so far. Building these relationships, and sustaining them through the use of communications technologies like a shared CMS, social media like Twitter, or even just good old-fashioned e-mail, keeps the fire burning to put into practice what has been learned.
- Problem-based Learning – For my second presentation of the event, I wanted to model an innovative strategy that teachers could take and use in their classrooms. Back in May, I was introduced to BreakoutEDU by my new boss, Katie Siemer. BreakoutEDU replicates the “Escape Room” experience without actually locking anyone in a room. Our workshop participants had thirty minutes to decipher the clues and unlock the box. They did so with about 5 minutes remaining! BreakoutEDU is a great example of “The Ill-Defined Problem,” in which participants are actually given as little information and direction as possible, and are then allowed to interact and collaborate on their own to come up with possible courses of action and try them to find out what works and what doesn’t. This type of learning often feels messy, disorderly, slow, and risky. Learning that really sticks is usually all of those things.
- Animals, Artifacts, and Archery! – A regional convening of ECET2 has the advantage of incorporating local interests for the participants. Two years ago, Ohio State Parks Naturalist John Hickenbottom was at the inaugural ECET2 at Burr Oak State Park, and he brought along a rat snake that I got to hold! On Monday morning at this year’s ECET2, John was at Salt Fork along with a large display of animal artifacts, some live animals, and some nature-based educational resources. It was great reconnecting with John and talking with him. He loves his work, and he’s very good at it – much like the teachers attending the conference with me. In the same space where John was talking about the animal artifacts, there was an indoor archery setup, called SAFE Archery. I haven’t shot a bow in ages, and I really wasn’t sure I’d know how. But, I was fairly convinced I wouldn’t do much damage from the seven-foot range we were shooting plastic balls hovering on a column of air. So, I stepped up. Bam! Four for four! If I ever have to hunt plastic balls with foam-headed arrows for food, I won’t starve!
- The world is really a pretty small place sometimes. One of the organizers for OAC ECET2 in 2014 is a rockstar teacher named Sara Beardsley. I have known Sara since we were kids, but neither of us figured that out until after I showed up at Burr Oak to register for that inaugural event. The next school year, Ms. Beardsley wanted to conduct a book study with her class using the book “A Path Appears”, but she didn’t have access to enough copies for her entire class. So, she did what any 21st Century teacher might do… she crowdsourced it! As one of the contributors, I received a collection of original (not photocopied) thank-you notes from the students, many of them hand-written. I have carried those thank-yous in my backpack with me ever since, and anytime I am having a pretty rough day, I pull them out and read through them. It doesn’t take long for me to remember more important things than whatever temporary ill has befallen. One of Ms. Beardsley’s colleagues, Mr. French, was one of the organizers this year, and I was more than happy to show him the collection of thank-you notes. He knew each of those students personally as well, and we had a great time looking through them over breakfast. The book and the project hopefully made a lasting difference in those students’ lives. Their kindness to me has made quite a difference in mine.
I have posted blog articles with my reflections on the 2014 and 2015 convenings previously. [2014 ECET2] [2015 ECET2] If you would like to bring an experience like this to teachers in your region, check out the National ECET2 site for more information.