GTA NYC Reflection – Part 4: Reflection Activities

This is the fourth (of four) posts reflecting on my experience leading the Google Teacher Academy in NYC on November 18th. They may not be explicit in this post, but I still feel the presence of these three themes from my reflections: Innovation, Inspiration, and Passion.

This particular GTA also saw the return of our original reflection activity (though this version may have at least been conceived as a slightly more formal activity). The activity, called “Aha! Moments” is a simple variation on the old “Think, Pair, Share” method. Participants were given a minute to think to themselves about what their Aha! moment was during the day. Then they had a few minutes to share with a partner next to them. This was the most successful part of the reflection activity – the conversations were loud, animated, and perhaps even passionate. Following that I had planned that each pair would share “the best” of their moments with their whole team – and that the team would then share “the best” of the table with the whole room.

Unfortunately, I felt pressed for time and was afraid we might be spending too much time on a low energy reflection activity… and I was somewhat uneasy about the competition element and asking them to rate each other’s moments (even though I know that in sharing such stories one or two always stand out and competition isn’t an issue). In the end I them share with partners and with their table. Then I called them all back together (away from their team tables to the central tables where they were all mixed together) and simply asked for volunteers to share their aha moments. The first few were fantastic… but then after about the fourth or fifth there were no more volunteers. At the end of the night we did get feedback that suggested each table should’ve been heard. In the future, I will trust the process and respect the reflection process by following through on allocating the necessary time. I am always impressing upon other lead learners the importance of the “wrapping” on a PD session (the welcome and reflection activities), and sometimes I need to hear that myself.

In terms of what makes a good reflection activity in general, I think the purpose is similar to that of a good welcome activity – and a good reflection activity is at least as important as a good welcome activity, though it may be more important to focus on the things learned that day than on other outside passions. However, I usually shoot for the best of both worlds by trying to connect the reflection activity to the opening welcome activity (and to what they’ve learned and what their next steps are, of course).

Obviously, I haven’t given this as much thought as I’ve given to welcome activities, and I think it shows in my workshops… the welcomes are much stronger than the reflections. So I’d love to hear any thoughts you all have on what makes a good reflection activity for teachers in a professional development session… and I hope you’ll share.

I actually outlined material for at least one more post, but my battery gave out on the plane… and now I’m up plenty late putting this series of posts together. However, I did create a sort of bullet list of “what I learned” that I think it might be appropriate to include in this “reflection” post. Here they are – in the order I thought of them.

  • It’s six of one and a half dozen of the other when it comes to balancing fast versus slow or technical versus pedagogical… but you still have to consider these elements and strike a good balance.
  • Innovation, inspiration, and passion are necessary for good professional development – at every stage of the day (and every stage of the planning and preparation too).
  • I absolutely needed to care at every step of the way – and I need to believe my efforts will make a difference to the participants and their students. (I had to consciously get myself back to this place when I left home for four days.)
  • The power of the Google Teacher Academy (and perhaps all professional development in education) is in the diffusion of innovation that occurs after the event, and that should be the focus.
  • The power of the Google Teacher Academy (and perhaps all groups of professional development participants) is in the network of people the event creates.
  • I personally did a better job of meeting new people – and enjoyed it. It’s valuable to do make an effort to not chat and eat with the people you already know… but it’s hard when you rarely see them face to face as it is. ;)
  • I personally still learned more from talking to people informally than I did from the formal event.
  • When it comes to choosing new speakers (that I hadn’t previously worked with), this has an similar effect to adding new segments to the day (such as the office hours)… it’s a risk that can really pan out – or that can be a real liability.
  • There’s a conflict, I think, between the need to be very prescriptive about what you want from presenters – and trusting them to shine in their own way. Perhaps there’s some sort of balance to be had here as well… a way to inspire rather than proscribe.
  • I wish I could’ve taken Eva and Clark with me… even though I was working for nearly the entire time I was there. I’m not sure what the answer to this is. ;)
  • I definitely should’ve talked to more people about “Search, Learn, Share.” :)

Of course, if any of you have reactions to these, I hope you’ll share those in the comments, too.