Guest post: Three-time Partners in Learning US Forum alum reflects on her evolution teaching students and teachers

As part of the continued occasional series of guest blog posts by Microsoft Partners in Learning US Forum alumni, this week we feature educator Kelli Etheredge, who has the esteemed honor of being three-time alum to the Forum and who also had her project accepted to the 2012 US Forum. I want to publicly thank her for time putting together her reflections on attending the Forum.

PiL_Kelli_223x122In the spring of 2009, I received an email inviting me to submit a lesson for a chance to attend Microsoft's Innovative Educator's Forum. I didn't really know what was involved, but it sounded intriguing, and I had a lesson I was proud of, so I submitted my application for "Poetry is Alive" - a project in which student groups research a poet, analyze their poems, and then turn one of their poems into a movie. When I told my teammate that our application was accepted, I really had no idea what was in store. I simply knew we were headed to Mountain View, California for two days with Microsoft. To be honest, I didn't even know it was a competition! Looking back, I see that first email as the impetus to many of the changes that have occurred for not only me but my school. Four years later, I can safely say Microsoft's Partners in Learning US Forum is one of the most meaningful professional development activities that I have ever participated in.

Since 2009, I have been privileged to attend the US Forum three times and the Global Forum once. Keynote speakersArneDuncanWithKelli have included John Medina, Jane McGonigal, Linda Darling Hammond, and Will Richardson. Keynotes, however, only scratch the surface (and meeting and sharing my project with Sec. of Ed. Arne Duncan was a bonus, pictured at right).

Throughout the event, teachers have collegial conversations about their teaching methods, their students, and their schools. Microsoft also demos many of its wonderful products that can be utilized in the classroom. Every year, I return to my school energized and motivated to try new methods of innovation. Over the years, my classroom has been transformed because of what I have learned at the Forums. Specifically, my teaching practice has changed in the following ways:

Students have choice.

Over the year, students choose (1) their projects, (2) their roles in groups, (3) their topics, and (4) their assessments. For example, currently, we are studying All Quiet on the Western Front. As part of the project, students are completing a Tic Tac Toe Project (a format I learned about from another educator at my first US Forum), in which they explore their understanding of a soldier's life and WW I in a variety of different formats that fit their talents and their interests, but also encourages them to stretch beyond their comfort level. 

Projects extend beyond the four walls of our classroom.

Students know that their work product will be published to a larger audience, and we frequently invite others into our classroom. I have goals to extend our learning beyond our classroom by connecting with students around the globe (I have to admit this component is still a work in progress, but I am determined to make it happen). I came quite close this year, but circumstances conflicted with the plan and so it didn't happen.

In short, I am a better educator because of Microsoft's Partners in Learning US Forum. The transformation, however, does not stop in my classroom. Because the Forum incorporates all disciplines and grade levels, I return to school with a plethora of ideas to share with my colleagues. In addition to sharing lessons with colleagues, I have brought back many professional development ideas for our school.  Changes in our professional development practices include:

  • Hosted TeachMeets where our PK-12 teachers share with each other their best practices in the classroom and the students' work product
  • Improved collaboration among teachers
  • Connections with classrooms and experts outside our school
  • Innovative lesson design across grades and disciplines

School transformation is a hot topic. Key questions around the topic include:  How do we improve teaching and learning?  How do we implement the 5C's in our curriculum?  How do we support teachers in changing their practice?  WHAT do we change and HOW do we change?

My answer: attend Microsoft's Partners in Learning US Forum. Why? To experience personal and school transformation. Who could ask for more?

Kelli Etheredge (@ketheredge)

World Literature Teacher & Teaching and Learning Resources Director, St. Paul’s Episcopal School

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