Organizing Conversations to Build Capacity in Education

Cross-posted from Building Outside the Blocks by Noa Daniel, March 31, 2020

In times of uncertainty, it can help to focus on what you can do. I had « organized » my homefront (which changes minute to minute with three girls in Grades 4-10 in the  house), and was waiting to hear from our province, board and school about next steps. While wondering about what was to come and how to embark into the unknown, there were some things that I realized I could be doing to mitigate this new reality for myself and for others. All over the Twittersphere, teachers were freaking out. In parts of the US and Canada, they had already implemented e-learning, though I question the term and prefer to call it e-teaching. Whatever was to come, I knew that it was something we should be exploring.

When we first started OnEdMentors Connect, which evolved to become OEMConnect, and now falls under the umbrella of The Mentoree, we did so because we saw the power of mentorship in supporting teachers. Mentorship has been a key source of my professional learning, and building a space for self-directed, non hierarchical mentorship is a mission I am proud to be on. It began with an idea that Leigh Cassell and I worked from, and in the last year, it has become something more than we had first imagined. You can read about the origin story here. We saw that OEMConnect was something more than we had even first thought it could be. It’s a way to get teachers into a safe space to learn, but we saw that these reciprocal mentorship relationships were also building efficacy and positively contributing to teacher well-being. With blurred lines between the role of mentor and mentee, we created The Mentoree. The Mentoree is a collaborative community that promotes professional learning and efficacy through mentorship. We all have something to teach, and we all have something to learn. 

Focusing on what we could do, we gathered our the Leadership Team. Last Spring, Leigh Cassell and I invited the OEMConnect Mentors to join the Leadership Team, and we were thrilled to begin planning next steps with Bernadette Smith, Christine Chin, and Dr. Teri Rubinoff. The team met last week to talk about how we could support teachers during this pivotal but transitional time. Instead of offering workshops, which we were seeing pop up as wonderful ways to tool people, we felt that this situation also called for something with more voice. We started calling the idea Connecting to Build Capacity because we wanted to help people combat the isolation people were experiencing that went beyond social distancing. What we decided to call it represents what we are building: a safe virtual space to learn, feel heard and supported. We organized Conversations to Build Capacity.

It took a few days to gather people and configure the day of conversations. We went to some of the OEMConnect Mentors because we wanted to start small, and there were a few immediate things we were seeing that people needed. First, we saw a need for Digital Tools, and Michael Drezek offered to introduce a bevy of tools in his session.  Janelle McLaughlin shared some challenges that she was seeing and suggested helping teachers get support transitioning from face to face to online environments. She also suggested supporting administrators and teacher leaders so they can support their staff.  We were worried about students with special needs as we saw many questions coming across our feeds about how to address their needs. We turned to Ramona Meharg, who is a long-time special education teacher and fluid with digital platforms. Everyone we asked has been so generous about offering their time and skill sets. Then, we added our sessions. Christine Chin will be supporting ways to teach French, Leigh will be leading a conversation on Digital Experiential Learning and I, unsurprisingly, am leading a conversation called Learning Outside the Blocks. Here is what April 3rd will look like:

We believe that these are the conversations people need, and the response has already been good. We launched last evening, and each session already has participants. You can find more information on each conversation and Mentor as well as register here. After the day of conversations, we will reflect and see how else we can serve teachers. We have many amazing OEMConnect Mentors who have a lot to share. We are building The Mentoree as a virtual one-stop-shop for all things educational mentorship, so if there is something you think would help you or you want to become a Mentor or Mentee, check out what we do, reach out, and consider joining the community!

This post is also available in: English (Anglais)

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