Candace Robertson

One educator, determined to create an engaging and dynamic experience for learners of all ages.

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Promoting a Culture of Play & Exploration in Adult Learning

Ok, here’s the truth:  I’ve been incubating and drafting this post for about a month now.  That’s because this is a big topic, like really big!  Thinking about culture change in any environment encompasses a lot of grounding information, growing information, energy, questioning, and above all it is challenging to communicate all of the intricacies that come into play.  Is there a succinct way to share this shift in culture without leaving something out?  Here is my attempt at it!

League of EdTechies Shield

How do we engage adult learners in our educational setting?  This is a question that I’ve been focused on for the past two years as I moved into a Technology Facilitator role.  As educators, we create dynamic educational experiences for our learners. For some reason, when we create educational experiences for our educators (professional development), we do things that we would never do in our own classrooms- WHY?! We would never use our full class period to stand in front of a PowerPoint for 2+ hours (or the dreaded full day “sit and gets”) and then send students home without any sort of formative assessment, hands-on learning activity, connection builders, etc.  So why is this acceptable for our adult learners and more importantly, how do we create a change?

Reason for Culture Change

I have always believed that learning should be FUN!  If you want to create lifelong learners, they need to experience the fun of learning at some point in their lives.  I’d argue that most of the educators who are slow to adopt technology in the classroom have probably never had fun with it in an educational setting.  Traditionally, we instruct educators how to “integrate technology” in a manner that is intimidating and is far from fun!  You’ve probably been in a PD situation where you were trying to follow someone training a large group on a new technology and a few mouse clicks were heard, cursors were flying, and somehow an hour passed when you heard the presenter say, “…and that’s it, any questions?”  That was stressful.  Did everyone notice how lost you were?  Why (or how) would you ever do that again?  What did that have to do with your classroom?  It was totally removed from the purpose.  It was about the technology, not about practice.  With taking the first step into 1:1 in our building this year, I knew that we had to have more people who were having fun with technology and we had to make it about their practice.  True, fun isn’t the only way to create a change in culture, but through play we can create a culture of learners who are explorers, risk-takers, creative, connection-makers, adaptable, flexible, innovative, and more!  If we were going to thrive and not just survive, we would need more educators with the qualities previously mentioned.  I needed to take action towards creating a culture change- I was going to bring play and fun to adult learning in our building.

Inspiration for Culture Change

Edcamp,  PLAYDATE, TeachMeets, and Twitter chats are all such fun PD experiences to be a part of.  The reason each is fun differs- some are inspirationally fun, others are hands-on fun, some inspire play, some are content and curiosity fun, but all inspire connections and applicability.  They are EMPOWERING.  Every PD should make us feel the way that we feel when we leave one of these awesome educational opportunities.  To remold adult learning in our building, we needed to capture this energy.

The First Step

The establishment of our “Instructional League of EdTechies” was to serve as our energy source for making this culture change possible.  No, no, no, this is not your standard technology committee- it is a “secret” society, adorned with code names, agent cards, badges, and most definitely some capes!

The League has two driving questions which serve as our goals:

  1. What support can we offer to teachers with integrating/infusing technology purposefully?
  2. How are we supporting CCSS, etc. with devices?


Notice that our driving questions are not just about technology, but are about it being purposefully done to support practice.  The driving questions touch on the idea of being connected learners as well.  There’s a reason that I even put the word “Instructional” into The League’s name, although it may seem repetitive to those familiar with educational technology.  I wanted to clearly define the purpose and place emphasis on practice.

League of EdTechies Agent Card

Setting the Tone for Play

We spent the early months establishing ourselves and building the culture of our group- we needed to let go of worries or feelings of inadequacy in tech skills, each member needed to see their “super powers” because everyone has them!  Plus, if this was truly going to be the catalyst for change in adult learning, I had to make that very clear from the start.  That’s why every member received an agent identification card at the first meeting (pictured on the left).  With our identification cards in hand, we were all now a part of The League and had taken on an identity, were charged with a mission, and were aware of each other’s experiences and strengths.

Playing Together, Spreading the Spirit 

To further connections and to create conversation about educational technology, we have some “Teacher Swag” (pictured below) that we pass around the building to affirm meaningful technology integration and to create an awareness.  This super hero paraphernalia is passed to all teachers and is from all teachers, not just from The League members.  When you receive it, you can hang it in your room, wear it, have students wear it when teaching about a technology, and the list goes on.  When you are ready to hand it off, you write the name of the next recipient on the object itself and the reason for which they are being awarded this “token”.  The capes, shield, etc. were a reminder to connect with those around you and once our teachers became more connected, they noticed a lot more meaningful integration taking place so we actually had to purchase more capes as the year progressed.

Teacher Swag               Teacher Swag Card

Growth in Play and Exploration 

With 75 teachers on staff, we started the year with about 10 members in The League and grew to 22 members by March!  One of the most exciting things about The League is that we have members from every grade level and subject area (from Special Education, to Algebra, to Spanish) and we range in our comfort with technology.  Within the hour that we spend together once per month, we start our meetings with a chosen “Slam”.  From our favorite Common Core resources, to Mac user tips & tricks, to Web 2.0 tools, we start our meetings by creating energy.  We then move on to exchange ideas, tools, and brainstorm ways to meet the needs of our students (and sometimes our own needs!).  It’s about more than technology, it’s about collaboration and creativity.  The League is now taking ownership over the content and sharing their curiosities by determining what we’ll explore at our next meeting.  For example, last month a member asked if we could devote a meeting to productivity and executive functioning, so we did!  Now that we’ve grown in our comfort with trying new technologies, we don’t go over the actual technical steps of the tools we discuss because we have now set the tone for clicking and playing.  Keep in mind that this growth is just from September to April of one school year so far.

Teachers as Leaders

We have a lot of fun playing and exploring together, but each member of The League is also being provided with the opportunity of leadership and they are taking that responsibility seriously.  The questions that their teammates are now bringing me are much less about technical items and are more grounded in ideas surrounding instruction.  They are either utilizing The League members to answer their technical questions or the exploration is catching on and they are becoming more confident in doing a little research and playing to figure things out.  In February, we were provided an opportunity to lead an after school PD that lasted an hour and a half during one of our staff meetings.  There were no goals specifically defined by our administration, other than helping our colleagues prepare for the full transition to 1:1 next year.  This was our opportunity to bring play and exploration to a larger group of adult learners, in a more formal setting.  Each member of The League received a badge before this event to help and identify them publicly as an educational technology leader in our building.  The badge, which a majority of them wear daily, is just a small representation of the exceptional resource these educators are for one another!

This is only the beginning of our journey, as we continue to join forces and take our classrooms and learning community to new levels.  In fact, now that I’ve cleared mental space with this post, I owe you a post about the fun we had leading our February PD!

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Promoting a Culture of Play & Exploration in Adult Learning by Candace Marcotte is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.