Cohorting with LCS Ninjas

Creative new PD opportunities for teachers

“The original idea of the web was that it should be a collaborative space where you can communicate through sharing information. The idea was that by writing something together, and as people worked on it, they could iron out misunderstanding.” ~ Tim Berners-Lee

To think that in 2003, when Lee (inventor of the world wide web) made this comment, we were only at the cusp of experiencing some of the most fundamental changes in how we use web resources (changes most of our students now at LCS take for granted as a way of life).  Today, teachers and students are working together in creative new ways with a whole new generation of web tools that allow participants to distribute, share, co-create and rework new ideas.

Every new idea has its pioneers, early adopters curious to explore the possibilities.  A perfect example of this are the individuals responsible for Cohort21: Rethinking Learning for the 21st Century, co-founded in 2012 by Justin Medved (Director of Instructional Innovation at the York School) and Garth Nicholls (Director, Teaching and Learning at Bayview Glen), and supported by the Conference of Independent Schools. Cohort21 is a yearlong professional development experience designed for educators across Ontario committed to exploring new paths for sharing and teaching with educational technology and web tools, while redefining the way they pursue professional development opportunities at the same time.

“The synergy created by sharing among like minded educators has been the single most inspiring and useful professional development I have done.  The connections (both to people and technology) made through Cohort21 are lasting and continue to move my learning ahead years later.” Su Armstrong, Curriculum Leader: Sciences (Cohort21 participant 2012/13)

French teacher and LCS Technology Integrator, Derek Doucet, first participated in Cohort21 in 2012/13 and is now one of the Cohort’s facilitators, coordinating online and in-person events for teachers within the Ontario Conference of Independence Schools group.  His enthusiasm around promoting the benefits of collaborating in this way is spreading as more LCS teachers come onboard.  He explains,

 “Bringing the Cohort 21 Toolkit of Twitter, Google+ and Diigo to help empower teachers to explore self-directed professional development, combined with our #LCSlearns Ninja Program on Twitter, has provided a collaborative and personalized PD experience that wasn’t available to staff before.”

This year, 14 LCS faculty are involved in the #LCSlearns Ninja Program  (a concept fashioned after Garth Nicholls’ Ninja program for Bayview Glen and the Google Ninjas program designed to assist in mastering Google apps for educators).

Sixteen LCS faculty are involved with the Professional Learning Community (a group of teachers at LCS that meet to support each other in their professional learning and use of integrated IT tools).

About his own teaching, Derek says that his greatest learning as a Cohort participant thus far has been around “approaches relating to creating plans that are student centered and open for student voice and choice as well as methods for using edtech to improve the learning of students in class, encouraging them to reflect more deeply about how they learn.”

Science teacher Tim Rollwagen, who works closely with Derek as a Cohort21 Coach says, he “is very excited to see the LCS community coming online through Twitter and the #LCSlearns Ninja Program” adding, “the conversations that I have with the Cohort crew and the teachers here have been so valuable.”

“It has made me think about my teaching in a whole new way.  How I tackle implementing Edtech into the classroom while exploring new techniques and pedagogy to increase student engagement and learning.”

Tim is also excited about the benefits to his students as he begins implementing a project-based learning journey with his Grade 12 biology class which encourages them to personalize their projects, set goals and reflect daily using some new edtech tools.

Chemistry teacher Melissa Rathier agrees about the power of collaborating through the Cohort and is surprised by some of her discoveries.

“I have been most surprised by the power of Twitter as a resource to me. In a short time I have discovered rich resources and great ideas for my own classroom. I have also been inspired to try new tools. I was in a place where I didn’t know where to begin with some areas of technology. Cohort21 has broken down barriers for me that I had in my own learning and has given me the confidence to explore, try and even fail.”

Blogging about her teaching experiences (see Breaking through the Glass Ceiling  and Flipped Classroom 2.0) is one of the methods the Cohort encourages to share the benefits of professional learning in practise.

English teacher Brent Hurley is also deeply immersed in the possibilities that online and other educational technologies can provide.  He also works closely with Derek and Tim as a Cohort Coach and Technology Integrator at LCS.  For him, the benefits of these new ways of learning and sharing should always be weighed against the greater context of our role as teachers.  As he says,

 “Our pedagogy (the fundamental core of who we are as LCS educators) must be rooted in the relationships we build between teachers and students. Our approach to pedagogy must be to leverage technology in order to foster more resilient critical thinkers who are best prepared to engage with a global community.”