Wednesday, May 1, 2013

#beyondlaptops 2013 Take-Aways

     It has been a busy couple of weeks since the Beyond Laptops conference finished at YIS, but I have been thinking seriously about what went down and how it will impact KIS and me. But before I allow myself to wander aimlessly in writing, I'd like to thank all the attendees for sharing their thoughts and experiences for the collective good. "We all improve together," should be the motto of international schools. Of course, I'd like to say thanks to Kim Cofino (@mscofino). Without her passion for learning and amazing organizational skills, there simply couldn't be a Beyond Laptops conference. And finally, I'd like to thank the leadership of Yokohama International School. The vision to understand that hosting a conference (and picking up the tab on it) helps your community improve is a rare sight in these days. Thank you.
     After looking over last year's take-aways, I noticed that I still felt there was a need to break the bell schedule to allow more freedom for students to pursue their passions. On an upside, KIS has made some movement in the secondary school with regard to breaking the bell schedule. Next year we will be piloting a "free block" with seniors; although many of the juniors have said they would use the time to study and work on other courses, there are a few who mentioned pursuing other interests that the normal schedule doesn't currently allow. My plan is to approach a small group of seniors and offer the opportunity to explore something they are passionate about with support from a teacher (me). Hopefully with a few successes, the idea will spread and we can move toward more freedom for the students as a whole. The middle school is developing an experiential learning program to have some time without walls for the students. Progress! Along the same topic, the discussions with students also reminded me that we need to listen to them. They have valuable information about their learning, their goals, and their motivations that are beyond value to us as their teachers.
     After our discussions at this year's Beyond Laptops, I felt all four of the KIS members left with a reaffirmation of the importance of visionary leadership in education. If a school has a strong vision of what good learning is then changes in devices and strategic plans are less worrisome, because the vision will remain the same. As we discussed last year's conference, we shouldn't focus on the device or technology, but the learning. If we are focused on good learning, we will be heading in the right direction no matter what happens. Focus on learning and transferable skills and you will not go wrong, nor be held hostage by a certain device.
     Other big ideas that occurred to me were about cafeteria food and an accreditation portfolio for schools. Allow me to elaborate on the cafeteria topic first. Zest Catering makes the very best cafeteria food I have ever tasted. Period. End of story. Game over. But seriously, feeding students healthy, delicious food is a very important issue. We should be offering students healthy choices for lunch, it is a life style we are developing. My family has a history of adult onset diabetes because of poor dietary choices. If I had been raised and encouraged to eat healthier, possibly I wouldn't be staring a future date with diabetes in the face right now. I'm sure my brother, father, and mother could have put off their health problems until later in life. We, as educators, need to do a better job of teaching healthy lifestyle choices with regard to food to our students. OK, I'm off the soapbox.
     The last big take-away is about how most schools choose to handle accreditation visits and how they could do a much, much better job. We have students create portfolios to demonstrate their learning and growth over time, so why don't schools do it? That's right, build a portfolio for accreditation. Instead of looking at the calendar and suddenly realizing that the accreditation team is visiting in two weeks and then running around like a chicken with your head cut off, continually build upon what your school has done and is doing. It would be a much richer process and accreditation would actually do what it is intended to be -- a process of growth, change and improvement. #justsaying