Using Artifacts to Reflect

Now that some time has passed since the 2-day “bootcamp” with the CESJDS cohort, it’s time for me to reflect on those two days through the lens of my role as coach. (Note: This post is not ABOUT using artifacts to reflect; it is an example of me using artifacts to reflect on my own teaching).
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Who am I in this cohort? What value do I offer?
I am a storyteller, facilitator, questioner, a sharer of experience, a connector, an instructional designer, a data collector, a listener.
I am also an outsider. I am able to offer a perspective not rooted within the school culture. This, I have come to understand, is extremely valuable.

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Of course, I am also an experienced blogger. I maintain my own professional blog  and have introduced blogging to many teachers and students. I have learned things the hard way. I know something about this journey because I have walked the path myself. I believe in teachers blogging-sharing their own reflective practice as a way to become better teachers, more connected learners and literate in digital spaces- not as an abstract belief but as an absolute truth.

I know that blogging sparks possibilities, and I have my own stories of transformation. But I also ask my students to trust, to walk this path without knowing exactly what the destination will be. I can guarantee an adventure in learning, but I can not say, qualitatively, what stories will unfold, what connections will take place, what magic will evolve.

As I think about sharing my perspective and experience, there are many directions in which I could choose to go. Two days may not sound like much, but those two days were long and full.  I’m going to focus my reflection by using a few of the artifacts I collected during our time together. There is so much to “unpack!”

Make It Work: The Value of Open-Ended Challenge
Our first challenge of the morning had me channelling Tim Gunn of Project Runway fame. Gunn’s catchphrase, as he walks around inspecting the progress participants are making (or not making) on their fashion projects is, “Make it work.”

The “Selfie Challenge” seemed simple. Here are the instructions:day_one_of_transforming_-_charles_e__smith_jewish_day_school

I purposely did not give directions for HOW to approach the task, and each of us succeeded with a different approach and/or tool. Look at our passion-inscribed selfies. Does it matter how we satisfied the task? Is the tool important to the outcome?
selfiebThe lesson for me is that tools are a means to an end. It is possible that the more tools you know how to use, the more choices you have. But that’s not always the case. An open mind, willingness to learn and perseverance are the most important tools in any toolkit.

I love the creative problem-solving that kicks into gear on Project Runway, when designers are given a challenge that must be presented to the judges within a limited time frame. Tim Gunn walks around, asking questions, giving suggestions and leaving people with, “Make it work.” And they do! No matter how weird or difficult the challenge, they always pull it together. Sometimes it’s successful; other times not so much. But they learn and grow through the process. They discover their capabilities and are often in awe of their own creations.

Our selfie challenge was small-scale, but everyone had to figure out something. New tools were discovered. We learned a bit about each other’s passions as teachers. We had fun and felt the success of making it work. I contrast this with the “compliance classroom” where product trumps process, and a particular outcome is preordained. In our modern world, “the illiterate are those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.” (this quote is most commonly ascribed to Alvin Toffler, but it seems that Toffler was quoting from an interview with Herbert Gerjuoy.) This is the “make it work” mindset.

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I, like many people, incorrectly attributed the quote to Alvin Toffler, author of Future Shock, when I made this slide in 2011. This new info about the quote itself is another example of learning, unlearning, relearning. Original photo

Success Criteria: Measuring Growth
After sharing my learning intentions for our work together, I asked the cohort to brainstorm criteria for what success would look and feel like to them.
cesjdsIt is so important for me, and for us, to check in regularly and review this. Have we achieved these goals? Have our goals changed as we learn more and gain experience?

I also shared my success criteria: big-picture and open-ended ideas that refer to shifts in understanding and perspective.

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How can we assess if these internal changes have taken place? Not everything is easily measurable. Does that mean we should not value qualitative shifts in perspective? This question, itself, is part of the underlying discomfort that is pushing the current educational paradigm. The traditional mentality places strong emphasis on quantitative measurement of growth. However, this often leads to superficial, closed-ended assessments which, in my mind, do not prove that there has been deep and meaningful learning.

Hopes and Fearsslide50

We ended our first day together by sharing hopes and fears for doing this work.
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I have many of the same hopes for this work as the participants, and I certainly understand their fears. I notice that many of the hopes AND the fears involve reaching an audience. We do this admittedly time-consuming work of sharing and reflecting our learning because we do hope someone cares, that we reach or help others. This is a dilemma, one I’ve thought about and written about in the past. However, I think it bears remembering that this impact is also tricky to measure. Here is an artifact that demonstrates that:

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During our “blog hunt,” Hadas told me about an amazing Jewish Studies teacher’s blog that she reads. It was my longtime colleague, Liat Walker’s blog. I was excited to share with Liat. Her response is so telling. I think that, at times, most bloggers feel this way. We write and post, pouring our hearts into this sharing, and we sometimes wonder if anyone reads or cares. It’s easy to say, “Just write for yourself” and yes, there is tons of value in that. But I think it is human nature to want to connect (I’ve also written about this), that really is the point of sharing online.

Just because we don’t get interaction or comments does not mean there is not another teacher or “unanticipated audience” reading our blog and learning from our reflections. However, taking the time to leave a comment, especially for new bloggers, is extremely important. Please consider, as you read these posts, taking a moment to let us know that you read, you understood, you didn’t understand, you have more questions, you have similar experience, you have different experience….that you’re out there!

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