Time for Talk: The unexpected benefit of trains & travel

Picture this: sixty-six international educators boarding the train for a weekend excursion in China. Cues forming (well, more like scrums) ready to board. Selfies snapping sporadically amongst the group - as well as a few with inquisitive onlookers. Upon arrival, unforgettable landscapes and cultural experiences await. As beautiful as the Shaolin Temple and Longmen Grottoes were, the real story of this blog lies in the train ride.

It is here that a conversation about robotics unfolded with my friend and colleague John Burke from Arizona. I had the pleasure of meeting John last year at SFLS and was delighted that we were both back again this summer. We had over two hours on the train, refreshments in our hands, and so much to talk about in light of our shared interest in STEM. With no time limits and no pressure, our conversation just ebbed and flowed. We talked about the previous school year - what new things did we try? What went well? What flopped? I shared our success at WCDSB's Skills Canada Competition with the addition of coding to the challenges. I discussed my experiences with 3D printing in the classroom and the trials, tribulations, and triumphs that ensued. John is a middle school applied technology/robotics teacher and shared how he is leveraging Vex robotics with his students and district. We talked about what's next - what are we looking to try? How might we support each other and continue to collaborate? We discussed the need for global competencies such as citizenship, collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking to permeate innovative teaching practices. These competencies need to be transparent to all stakeholders throughout the process of learning. Using these competencies to underpin all projects and activities anchors them to the real world and helps students to see relevance in what they are working towards. John and I discussed the possibility to connect next year in order to navigate ideas together with students. All of this because of a long train ride and mutual interests.

This was not one isolated experience. Conversations such as this one sprang up regularly. Music educators on bus rides sharing their pedagogy (and heavenly voices), primary teachers collaborating back at the hotel adjusting plans for the following day, middle school teachers sharing resources and discussing similarities and differences between programs. With two weeks together, a multitude of perspectives, and a shared love of our profession, conversations flourished. This is, (excuse the rhyme), nourishing professional development.

So, my question is this ...
How might we make space for these types of conversations in our schools and districts? 

Keep in mind that we didn't have families to run home to, meals to prep, or other 'real life' obligations to attend to. For two weeks we were educators and explorers. While I understand the barriers we have back home in the day to day operations of schools, I also feel we could do a better job cultivating opportunities for informal conversations among colleagues. If only we were shooed to a hotel room every week for 2 hours after school for moderation and planning, or perhaps corralled into a train station for setting directions. Within our own realities maybe this could include unstructured time at staff meetings or dedicated planning time periods with educators who share similar interests. This is still a big what if and how might for me so I'd love any thoughts/suggestions!

If you would like a little glimpse into the SFLS teaching / cultural experience check out this video: (please keep in mind it was created during extreme jet lag)

Or read my blog from last summer's experience at SFLS:
Reflections on Teaching and Travel in China

For more reading on self-directed professional development and the power of conversations see below:
Leadership is a Conversation - HBR
Teacher Agency: Self-Directed Professional Development
Teacher Collaboration and Professional Development

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