William M. Ferriter

William M. Ferriter is an eighth-grade science teacher in a professional learning community near Raleigh, North Carolina. A National Board Certified Teacher for the past 28 years, Bill has designed professional development courses for educators nationwide on topics ranging from establishing professional learning communities and using technology to reimagine learning spaces, to integrating meaningful student-involved assessment and feedback opportunities into classroom instruction.

Tech Tools for Teams: Using Voicethread

I’ve got an interesting admission to make: I’m a HORRIBLE guy to have on a learning team!

Kind of strange, isn’t it? I mean, how could a trained Solution Tree associate and author who has written about the beauty of professional learning communitiesfor years possibly be bad to have around the ole PLC meeting table? You’d think that somewhere in the thousands of pages I’ve churned out, there’s got to be at least something valuable to learn.

Ask my colleagues, and they’ll tell you that my knowledge of the learning community process isn’t the problem. Instead, it’s my complete inability to keep my mouth shut for more than 30 consecutive seconds during meetings!

You know the type: We’re completely wired 24 hours a day. We’ve got ideas (read: strongly held opinions) about EVERYTHING! We’ll tell you exactly how we feel about lesson planning, student assessment, parent conferences, font styles, student schedules, locker assignments, homework policies, discipline plans, remediation, enrichment, after-school activities, teacher certification, state budgets, the Major League Baseball steroid scandal, the wisdom of wearing white after Labor Day, Oprah’s Book Club, Brangelina...

(Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?)

And while there’s nothing inherently evil about our incessant desire to share everything that we know with anyone who will listen during the course of every single meeting, it sure makes it difficult to get a word in edgewise!

You dance around us, don’t you? Sometimes, you’ll poke your way into our one-sided conversations with a comment or two when we pause to catch our breath. Other times, you decide that it’s best to nod your head and agree just for the sake of getting through the meeting agenda in less than an hour.

The problem is that when faculties let a handful of individuals dominate conversations, it’s difficult to build consensus and community! Bright people end up sidelined and feeling marginalized while bloated filibusters like me ramble on for hours. Eyes ALWAYS roll when schools rely on "the loudest voice wins" approach to decision making.

Which is where Voicethread "a free digital tool that allows a group of users to engage in ongoing, asynchronous conversations about topics of interest”comes in. While digital dialogue may seem initially strange in a profession driven by human relationships, I’d argue that electronic forums can make conversations on challenging topics more approachable to all faculty members.

So what exactly can a Voicethread conversation between members of a learning team look like?

Check out this Voicethread presentation that is being used to focus conversation around the vision statements of a learning community.

Pretty powerful stuff, huh? Did you notice how the participants in the conversation were freely challenging one another’s thinking? That is the kind of collective dialogue that is often missing from full staff faculty meetings. Also interesting is how some participants chose to use their real names, while others chose to work with pseudonyms and how participants used text, audio, and video comments to make their points.

Why does this matter?

Digital conversations can provide the members of your faculty with multiple avenues for participation that align with their personal levels of comfort both with technology and with their peers. Digital conversations also allow school leaders to get a better sense of the general thoughts and understandings of their entire faculties and provide teams with a permanent record of their developing thinking and collective decisions.

By structuring Voicethread conversations around key decisions, schools can level the playing field between the assertive faculty members who aren’t afraid to speak out in conversations and the more reserved minds who are seldom heard.

Think about how similar conversations can benefit the work in your building.  Would your teachers embrace digital opportunities to interact? Would having time to think through responses and interactions result in more meaningful contributions to your building’s professional conversations?

Do some members of your learning team end up isolated in full faculty discussions by more assertive teachers? Do you find that teachers shy away from sharing controversial opinions for fear of alienating colleagues? Would participating become "safer" electronically?

Or am I just crazy in thinking that digital conversations can play a meaningful role in the work of professional learning communities?



I think this is a wonderful idea, and can actually see teachers could build confidence and hopefully be more comfortable speaking up when we have team meetings. I do have one question: how could I get teachers involved who are not comfortable with the technology?

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