Opening Space: An Introduction to #CSLcamp36

When I first started in this position in late October I must say that I was completely overwhelmed. Most of you who I’ve already met through the first few months can attest to this as I’m a fairly open book, especially with my emotions: frantically running around to schools giving workshops and speaking at staff meetings, department head meetings, pre-service teacher sessions, parent nights, and conferences – delivering the same message.

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What happened as I roamed from school to school, district to district I realized that if I put myself, conceptually, in a position where I was the source of information for Secondary Communicating Student Learning, the job became more about me, the perceived authority that came from being a helping teacher, and the impression that Communicating Student Learning was something that would be mandated down to a teacher’s every move by a district. The last thing I wanted my work to be was a platform to preach and teach, plan and sell, stand and deliver, and ask then tell.

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CSLcamp, using the vision of Open Space, was born when I found that the most powerful realizations and progress happened during times of connection, choice, and space outside of a usual workshop. The side conversations, personal sharing, and ultimately – relatability – strengthens a common purpose. When we are able to connect with others with similar questions, we share our stories and progress, and continue to ask more questions, deepening not only our learning and passion into our work, but to deepen the connections that make our work have purpose. With deepened connections and personal freedoms, learning, community, and collective spirits move our focus to what really matters most: the experiences we create for students, and the empowerment of students to realize their capabilities as learners.

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So I have good news and bad news. The good news is that Open Space gets us moving, thinking, and sharing. The bad news: that may mean that things are going to be different from before. Wanted things appear, unwanted things disappear – but sometimes vice versa. And this is a true life lesson – that sometimes what we may have to let go of what we want – we can start to think about professional learning opportunities such as this as being lessons for real life just as we consider crafting real-life lessons for students.  In short: Open Space brings life back to organization and organizations back to life.

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One of the questions that we may all have: What will happen today? We never know what will happen when we “open the space.” But we all are responsible to make sure that the most important issues for all of us will be raised, the most important ideas, discussions, data, recommendations, and questions will be documented, and we will all consider the impact others have had on our practices looking to the next session and the next school year.

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When you all walked in here today, you were asked to pick up a name tag and four stickers to show your interest in various topics around communicating student learning. Each of the topics on the boards was recommended by participants at this session during registration. Today’s schedule will be designed based on interest – consequently, the agenda as it stands at the moment has no topics.

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You get to pick the topics. In a few minutes we’ll take a short break, I’ll take a look at the board, and I’ll post the session topics for the first session. You may have noticed that there are four distinct zones of the room, all labelled with my favourite magical beasts – dragons, griffins, phoenixes, and unicorns. This is where our chosen sessions will take place. However, you will also notice that there are tables that are not part of those clusters. These tables are meant to be used for any purpose: for example, if you feel the need to break from your existing group to explore a specific focus with someone, you may choose to use these tables; or if you meet a small group in one session and want to continue working into the next session because the first session didn’t give you enough time, also feel free to you these tables. Listen to your feet: just because you start off in one session to begin the hour doesn’t mean you have to be there the entire time. All that I ask is that you continue to connect with others, share your experiences, and continue to question together.

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The goal at the end of today is not to solve all of our issues surrounding Communicating Student Learning: that’s why we have at least two sessions one month apart – but frankly, some issues won’t come up until later, until attempts are made, until we go back into our schools, share with our colleagues, and inform our practices.

We have a platform to document all of our conversations, thoughts, and plans moving forward from today. Each of the four zones has a sign with a list of URLs that link to Google Docs for each session that takes place at that zone. Take some time to log into those Google Docs to see the guides for recording issues, ideas and samples, recommendations, and further questions. After our session today, I will compile and send all of the proceedings to you in the coming week. These proceedings will serve as a jumping point for our May 24th session.

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Finally, the purpose for using Open Space today is based on the fact that Communicating Student Learning fits the conditions for such an open format:

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  • Complexity: communicating student learning is bigger than any one person, group, or area of expertise to fully address
  • Diversity: communicating student learning requires a wide variety of different kinds of stakeholders with a wide diversity of interests
  • Conflict: real or potential, communicating student learning brings out passionate situations and causes people to care enough to fight for or about it
  • Urgency: when the time for decisions and actions around communicating student learning was yesterday

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