A search for a Thinking School
Peter Short, a senior teacher from
Since lockdown in March, the creative minds in TM have been exploring how our training offer could be adapted to an online environment to meet increased demand. I was the lucky candidate who was invited to trial an online programme with a group of new TM Consultants – no arm twisting involved!
This time last year, I thought the word ‘zoom’ was simply a verb I occasionally used in such contexts as when I was ‘zooming’ along the country roads of Northern Ireland in my wee Fiat 500 or (for those of you who share my love of 70s soul music) a Commodores song! Within the past six months, however, I have a different understanding of ‘Zoom’ referring to a new ‘workplace’ where I am increasingly spending my time.
Although I had facilitated online programmes before, my learning curve has been steep, with the pace of change and with using a different platform. So, with tongue firmly in cheek, I offer some personal reflections on how my thinking has been exercised across all levels identified in Bloom/Anderson’s Taxonomyas I have faced the challenges of Zooming.
Some fundamental features of Zoom have really stretched my memory capacity (and I’m clearly not the only one!). The biggest challenge has been managing that simple little microphone icon on the menu bar. Too many times the sound of my dog barking, or of the husband mowing the lawn outside the window, has interrupted the input of others when I have forgotten to mute the mic. On the other hand, I have also often begun to make a point, only to notice the gesticulations of others and/or someone interjecting to alert me to the reality that I hadn’t switched my mic back on after being muted.
It was only through some of my best laid plans coming undone in early Zoom sessions, that I fully discovered the wonders of the Zoom ‘settings’. Week after week I viewed Zoom video tutorials to investigate the various features available and experimented with many of them, eventually growing in confidence as we shared screens, viewed videos, annotated whiteboards, shared documents and chat and enjoyed working in breakout rooms (as well as exploring that option to ‘touch up your appearance’ 😉).
All experienced trainers will recognise the importance of building relationships and the value of those informal chats as group members enter a room or during coffee and lunch breaks – but how to do this online when timing is so tightly planned and the mode of communication quite different? Whilst there may have been some moments of awkward silence, and/or my attempts at introducing humour may have fallen flat, nevertheless, it is important for the group facilitator to be seeking ways to create a conducive learning environment. Strategies such as hosting informal welcome sessions, encouraging group participants to make contact between sessions and use of break out rooms have all been helpful – and if the humour doesn’t work, sure we can always find common ground when talking about the weather (often four different types in one day in NI)!
During some Zoom sessions, there have been unexpected moments which have caused anxiety, such as when the screen freezes, or an unhelpful ‘lag’ occurs inhibiting communication, or when that scary message ‘your internet connection is unstable’ appears. Over time, careful analysis of such occurrences has led to the discovery that, when on Zoom, it is important to be mindful of available bandwidth and to ensure that one’s co-habitants are not simultaneously hosting their own Zoom meeting (working-from-home husband), stream videos on YouTube (teenage daughter) , or play online games (student son)! At least Finbar the golden retriever isn’t online!
The TM face-to-face training approach is intentionally interactive and dynamic, but how to simulate this in an online environment? The option of inviting participants to raise hands when wanting to speak doesn’t sit easily with our normal, more informal, facilitative style. As host, I have been cross-eyed at times trying to have the visual overview of all participants on-screen and the time lag of the technology may inhibit our capacity to read and respond appropriately to the emotions of others. So, I’ve learned to utilise the chat function and polling features along with multiple choice quizzes and use of break out rooms to maximise the contribution of all group members.
There have obviously been lots of challenges to face and problems to solve. Practical and technical solutions have been explored in adapting the content and methodology of our programmes, such as how can we use card sort activities, or how we manage a jigsaw grouping strategy online. Just as my confidence was growing with managing a small group of seven consultants, solutions had to be found to new challenges - how to facilitate a staff development day online with a large secondary school staff or how do we provide training across different time zones? To further complicate matters, a scheduled Zoom meeting coincided with a short holiday during the summer, but I discovered that it was possible to join from a tent on the edge of a beach on the west coast of Ireland – nothing ventured, nothing gained! (Tip: be aware that even light wind is loud from inside a tent😊).
In finding positive solutions to such problems, I have also had to draw on many of the Habits of Mind – creating, imagining and innovating, thinking flexibly, applying past knowledge to new situations, remaining open to continuous learning, taking risks and most importantly – finding humour!
Whilst my personal learning journey with Zoom, so far, may have been fraught with moments of uncertainty, I have been stretched within my learning zone and have certainly gained new knowledge and skills. I have also greatly appreciated the patience, understanding and encouragement - as well as the good humour - of the groups and individuals with whom I have been ‘Zooming’.
Thinking Matters Consultant
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