A Tech Mentors Retreat

Photo by Dave Caleb

Throughout my first year at United World College of South East Asia, I have been involved in leading our schools 21st century learning initiative iLearn. The goal of iLearn is to facilitate growth in teacher pedagogy, towards student learning that reflects best practice around creativity and innovation, collaborative learning, flexible progression, and critical thinking.

Staff Professional Development is therefore a huge part of this learning initiative and we are always looking to distribute leadership to different parts of the school. Our Tech Mentors Retreat was a gathering of 25 keen and respected teachers for three days. This group will be the college’s trusted advisors and evangelists in subject areas, and offer curriculum knowledge to teachers using technology in lessons.

A group of lead teachers who are recognised for their knowledge and skills in using technology to enhance teaching and learning in their area. They have further demonstrated their willingness to share this expertise with their peers. They act as peer support within particular areas to extend and enhance the work of the digital literacy team to develop the transformational use of technology for teaching and learning within UWCSEA.

Change is hard

Our school is large and we need to develop expertise and leadership to facilitate change. At UWCSEA in Singapore, we have two campuses, with a combined student population of around 4500. We have upwards of 400 teachers across the different parts of the Junior, Middle and High Schools. The majority of professional development is delivered by a group of seven Digital Literacy Coaches across the college, alongside other curriculum initiatives. In any institution, successful change cannot be a top down, approach. Within our college we are hoping that it is something driven by departments, teachers and trusted experts in subject areas.

Many of the anecdotes about facilitating change and growth highlight the notion of bright-lights. This is highlighted in an excellent book entitled Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard by Dan and Chip Heath. In our school these bright lights are the early adopters of learning with technology, highlighting where the change is already occurring. They are also the examples to what works within our school culture. These bright lights are our group of Tech Mentors and showcase where change is occuring.

Coaching and Mentoring is important

The retreat was focused around developing our mentors capacity to share and coach other staff members. We were very fortunate to have external Cognitive Coaching experts Bill Powell and Ochan Kusuma Powell facilitating these sessions. In reflection, having outsiders lead these sessions added a huge degree of kudos to the retreat. Their approach was grounded in modelling good pedagogy, was fluid, and looked deeply at research and what works with teachers. In reflection, the outline below was Social Skills 101 as highlighted by Keri-Lee Beasley in her reflection. By this, I mean that the technology took a back seat to looking at ways to develop social capital and skills to understand the mentee’s needs. If the opportunity arose we would bring the Powell duo back to Singapore in an instant.

Photo by Dave Caleb

The agenda for the morning Coaching and Mentoring session is described below.

  1. Surfacing assumptions about adult learning — preconceived notions vs. what the research suggests
  2. Four support functions: Coaching, Consulting, Collaborating, and Evaluating
  3. Trust and Rapport: Building Social Capital.
  4. Self-Directed Learning: how does a Mentor support
  5. Coaching as Mentoring
  6. The Planning Conversation – how to support a Mentee in planning
  7. Practice with specific coaching strategies – role plays and scenarios
  8. Situational Leadership for Adult Learning: Directive and Supportive Behaviors
  9. Feedback: The Breakfast of Champions and Losers — how different types of feedback affect the recipient.
  10. Kegan’s Stages of Adult Development and how they impact learning.
  11. The Reflecting Conversation: how to support a Mentee in reflecting and evaluating

Building a Community

Our Tech Mentors group will continue to be a cross-campus group that supports good teaching with technology across our school. At the moment we aim to keep the group of 25 relatively exclusive, and continue to bring them together for workshops. They are such a passionate and innovative bunch so bringing them back together is so positive.

Throughout the next academic year the Digital Literacy Coaches will continue to push initiatives around Visual Literacy, Assessment for Learning, Information Literacy and Digital Citizenship.  Our Tech Mentors group will be slightly ahead of the curve and be the first group to be trained on initiatives. They will also be where new ideas develop and are trailed. Occasional workshops with the group will be scheduled throughout the new school year.

The struggle with such initiatives is to maintain the initial impetus that was developed at the retreat. Through the feedback, the social dinner was one of the highlights for the group so this type of activity will be a good way to develop our community. We have set up more formal mechanisms to share such as a Google Group, twitter hashtags but purely by having met each other we hope that our mentors will be prepared to email each other and recommend fellow mentors as sources of advice for other teachers.

Photo by Dave Caleb

The Nuts and Bolts of our Retreat

The agenda and resources for the workshop were shared via a Google Site. This will be a ongoing portal for information. The retreat was held off campus, which was a perfect way to create an atmosphere and to help staff disconnect from their school work, reports etc. We wanted to build the group and therefore included opportunities for team building throughout. We included an optional Photo Walk with Dave Caleb (Grade Four teacher and photographer extraordinaire), an afternoon session for sharing best practice from participants and a social dinner one evening.

The morning sessions were dedicated to Coaching and Mentoring, whilst the afternoons were focused on technology themes. Each of these sessions was lead by our group of Digital Literacy Coaches. The sessions looked at the following.

  1. Mobile Learning – each mentor received an iPad so this session supported this.
  2. Sharing as a Tech Mentor – focused on the formal and informal ways to share ideas
  3. Information Literacy – a cross subject theme
  4. Visual Literacy – skills development on another key theme

We were very grateful for the support from our school’s leadership. Any venture such as this, requires organising relief for 25 teachers and also the financial support to make these kind of things happen. To this end, we are all glad to work at a school that supports projects such as this with no hesitation.

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