A Culture of Collaboration – MACUL 2015

It’s been about a week and a half since the MACUL Conference in Detroit, and I finally feel like I have recovered enough and organized my thoughts around my experiences. This was my fifth MACUL conference, and I would say it was my best conference as well. First, I was able to participate in a Pre-Conference workshop on Wednesday with some great folks that I interact with on Twitter – the #miched group. This was the first time I was at the conference a day before all the craziness settled in and it was great! We spent time creating using a fun tool called Tackk, we discussed a variety of challenges and issues in some roundtables, and ended with “Circles of Support” where our group tackled the challenges of successfully implementing a 1:1 initiative. While we didn’t solve ALL the world’s problems, it was incredibly refreshing to spend time with brilliant educators who support, challenge, and push my own thinking. Miched is the brainchild of a few really talented educators and began as a grassroots effort to connect technology folks across the state. There are a variety of roles represented in the #miched group – teachers, admins, tech specialists, and ISD people. I always get energized and inspired by networking with this group. There is a weekly Twitter chat on Wednesday nights at 8pm – check us out!

Beyond the Pre-Conference workshop, it is always fun to see faces of people you don’t get to see often enough. I was able to reconnect with some former colleagues and make a lot of new friends whom I have only known virtually. This was the first conference where I really felt like I had things to share and contribute; I wasn’t just a passive participant. In years past, I was a pretty new teacher and felt like I didn’t have a lot to bring to the table. In the past, I was focused on learning the newest “things” to help make my teaching better and more exciting. This time around, I really listened and participated. There were hardly any sessions like “50 Best Apps for Students”; most of the sessions were focused on specific projects or themes. This is a shift in the edtech culture. As technology continually expands, there will always be more and more tools to do the same thing. For teachers and tech integration specialists, our goal is to parse these and to help guide students to deeper learning, not to show them new things over and over again. Getting really good at one or two “things” is much more enriching than learning 10 or 12 things. For example, if we have Google Classroom, do students really need to also learn Edmodo and Schoology?

This year I attended the MACUL Conference with a new role in education. As a Technology Integration Specialist, my goal is to provide ideas and resources, support, and guidance to the teachers I work with. With that lens, I found myself engaging in many discussions with other folks who have similar roles. We discussed the unique challenges that stem from our roles, but quickly moved beyond the venting to real problem solving. That was so refreshing; it’s easy to talk about what’s wrong but more difficult to try to fix them. I left many roundtables and informal discussions with practical tips to help solve some of my challenges.

The theme for MACUL this year was A Culture of Collaboration, and I spent a lot of time pondering what that meant for me. We talk all the time about “21st Century Skills” and collaboration is a huge piece of that focus. I hear the teachers I work with use this educational buzzword all the time – and I do also. But in order to create a culture, we have to contribute to this culture. Each person helps to create a culture – positive or negative – in a workplace. Without everyone’s individual contributions, our culture is not a strong or viable. So I set a goal of being more connected and purposeful in my own actions – at MACUL and in my professional life. I want to be a valuable contributor, not just a consumer of information. To collaborate, you have to share, you have to be willing to open up.

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