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Kelli Etheredge: Virtual Breakout Sessions with Office 365

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by Kelli Etheredge
Expert Educator Columnist, USA

How do you gather over 120 educators in one place to collaborate, learn, and have collegial conversations about their profession? 

This question is a continual focus for me.  Once a month, St. Paul’s faculty, PK-12, meet as a whole school team for professional development.  As the Director of Teaching and Learning Resources, and the person in charge of these professional development opportunities, I am continually exploring ways for our faculty to have meaningful gatherings.  It sounds easy, right? 

Just gather everyone up and meet.  Easy.  Maybe.  IF you have everyone on the same campus; IF you have facilities large enough (and small enough) for collaborative meetings; IF everyone has the same professional development needs.  The reality, however, is none of these “Ifs” are true.  (We have two campuses for our school; a theater is large enough for all of us, but not small enough for the real work of collaboration; and our professional development needs are as varied as the children in our classrooms.)  I am sure we are not alone.  Over the years I have tried various activities to meet our needs – meet in the theater and break in to small groups to discuss topics, have breakout sessions in different classrooms, etc.  Recently, I thought beyond the walls of our school and tried a new method for our meetings – my Office 365 blog.

In January, we had our first virtual breakout sessions on Office 365.  To do this, I found TED talks related to education and pedagogy and created blog posts for each talk.  I then created an email with a summary of each talk and a hyperlink to the individual blog posts.  I chose one talk that everyone watched, and then I asked faculty to “attend” two other sessions.  For each TED talk they watched, faculty added comments to the blog post.  As more teachers responded, the conversations grew. 

To participate in the virtual breakout sessions, educators chose to meet in a room with their grade level or department, or to work alone.  But, no one was really alone – everyone had the benefit of being part of the discussion in the comments.  We connected in a way I had always wanted – every grade level and every discipline was able to hear and learn from each other.  It was awesome!

Educators were talking about the event for the rest of the week.  The response was so positive that I have begun a weekly TED Tuesday, posting a new TED talk each Tuesday and those who are interested can watch and discuss.  Additionally, in February, I organized another virtual PD offering.  This time I used TED talks as well as videos from TeachingChannel.org.  Based on feedback, I am in the midst of preparing for the next PD sessions for March.  This time I plan to not only use TED and TeachingChannel.org, but also create some of my own offerings using Office Mix.

Because they are on my blog, faculty can “attend” a session any time they want.  Furthermore, the conversations about the practices seen in the videos are beginning to move from the cyber world to the faculty lounge or in the hallways.  Thanks to Office 365 blogs, professional development has moved from a once a month event to an anytime, anywhere practice.  Nothing could be better.

What about you?  What methods have you found work well when organizing professional development for large groups?

 

 

1 Comment

  1. Sandi Adams says

    Kelli, I really like this idea. I’m always looking for ways to expand our professional development while being respectful of our teachers crowded schedules. I really hope to have some conversations with you in Redmond! Great post.

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