What I Did this Summer

I had fun this summer–a few good hikes, some good runs. It also, without a doubt, was the most intense summer of professional development I’ve ever had, and as this blog is about education, that is what I’ll talk about here. I was challenged, I felt uncomfortable, I was out of my element–more so than I have been in a long time. Clearly, learning was happening. Here’s what I did:

New Media Bootcamp
The summer started with a bang, literally, with fireworks at the Whitehouse and New Media Bootcamp in Washington DC along with three great Washington state teachers. The amazing trainers at the New Organizing Institute put a group of about 45 of us from every corner of the nation through eight days of learning about politics, technology, and engagement organizing.

This wasn’t the type of training where we just sat and listened to speakers–we were there to work collaboratively, and work as a team we did, at all hours of the day and night. My six-member team included a graphic designer, a campaign manager, a geocoding whiz kid, a slow food activist, a SEIU organizer, and of course, me, school marm from Washington state. My teammates were talented, tumultuous and wonderful: we went from the lowest of lows in terms of a team dynamic to actually sending sentimental group texts to each other long after the training.

What did we do? We studied theory of change based on the work of Marshall Ganz. We then applied this theory of change to develop an integrated new media campaign: there was a governor’s race in the mythical state of Columbia, and Alice Paul, author of the Equal Rights Amendment, was running. We were her campaign team: you can see us over to the left riding in her campaign bus tour across the state. You may notice Alice looks a bit ghostly; then again, she has been dead for 34 years, but was still able to garner an amazing number of Twitter followers in just a short period of time.

Stiff competition from other gubernatorial candidates including Cesar Chavez and Harvey Milk were no match for the progressive platform my team developed and presented through Twitter, a website, Facebook, and of course, email. It was old-fashioned writers’ workshop meets the latest technology as we learned to do chi square analysis on click-through and conversion rates. The peer feedback, by the way, could be fairly hard core: it was not appreciative inquiry, and it was not “two stars and a wish.” This was no teachers’ conference.

We heard “Bootcamp will change your life” from alumni. I was skeptical, but in retrospect, I think it may actually be true. Theory of change and the other concepts and skills we learned were powerful. I can’t think of another training I’ve been to where I so highly valued so many of the contacts I made; wanted to read and reread the training materials LONG after I had finished with the training; and, though I wasn’t feeling this when it was time to leave, I wished it could have lasted longer so I could have had the chance to learn more. The training, the participants, and the work we did was amazing–looking at current political races, I think we would be competitive! Are these skills transferable to issue efforts? Oh yes.

I look back at the experience with both delight at our teamwork, and awe at what we accomplished. Working together, I think we really could turn the world upside down!

Simian retroviruses. Yes, that’s right…Monkey Herpes.
Next is was off to Seattle for the Science Education Partnership with the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Institute. I spent time developing a curriculum project along with some fellow teachers, and then five days with a senior research scientist working on projects in his lab. What did he study? Well, monkey herpes, of course. Herpes in macaques, for the most part. It turns out that 9 different types of herpes have been discovered in every single non-human primate, no exception. Only 8 different types of herpes have been discovered in humans. The goal? You guessed it–find that ninth type of herpes in humans.

My mentor scientist asked me at the beginning of the week, “What do you want to learn?” I listed a few techniques, and that is what we did–it was like having a personal lab tutor in biotechnology along with access to all the equipment. Truly a unique opportunity. He also challenged me, telling me at a few key points, “Your students NEED to learn this.” Alright, there will be bioinformatics this school year!

Educator input into education policy
Near the end of the summer I was part of a work group to develop a process to get educator input into education policy, on issues like the implementation of Common Core standards and teacher evaluation. We were trying to put together a sort of guide that would work for getting input on whatever the issue at hand might be, and then transmit that information to policy makers and policy implementers.

There were ten of us working on this, nine teachers and a principal. We had HIGHLY disparate views on some major issues in education. These were not just people who talked about their views, these were people who had acted on them, so opinions were strongly held.

The challenge? We were placed in situations early in our time together which highlighted our differences, and after that we needed to work together productively. It was our work together that made me realize, in general, how great teachers and educators are at working in groups. Despite our differences, a core value we all held was the prime importance of educator voice in forming education policy, and this helped guide our work.

What did I learn from all this?
Well, I learned that How People Learn is how people actually learn. Not that I doubted it before, but the three key findings from this document: engaging preconceptions, organizing knowledge into a conceptual framework, and reflection, were clearly incorporated into each of the events I attended. This made a difference: the pre- and post activities associated with these events have been, or sound as if they will be, as valuable as the events themselves!

Here’s to a great school year!