Wednesday, 3 May 2017

The Shift Conference

It’s 3:30 on Tuesday afternoon, and I’m Line Dancing with 200 Halton Teachers and my cell phone is still at 75% battery.  Neither of these things are ever true in the middle of the afternoon on a school day.  First of all, during a regular day my phone is a gateway onto social media for me to share things that are happening in my classes and keep up on what other teachers on various online communities are doing.  Secondly, Line Dancing is far outside of my regular comfort zone.
Two shifters, modelling our new shirts.  Try, Fail, Learn!

So how did it come to this?

First off, the cell phone thing.  I was far too invested in the breakout sessions to seek out my phone for distraction.  Yes, I tweeted about various things that spoke to me throughout the day, but I tried to make it quick.  The only real time I spent reading twitter was during lunch or after the breakout sessions ended.  I loved reading others reactions to what they experienced during the conference.  By and large I was far to occupied to need to use my phone.  That’s a good thing!

 Shari Hollett of Second City kicks of the conference with help from Nancy Zigrovic
The day kicked off with high energy, and included firing off free “Shift” t-shirts with a t-shirt cannon, followed by an entertaining and hilarious introduction by our facilitators, “The Second City Toronto”. The following breakout sessions focused on the language we use to talk to each other, delivered by Second City using an Improv lens.  We were kept busy as we moved from activity to activity, seeing how the words we use and how we use them matter.  You can try it yourself!  Get a friend to pitch an idea to you, and when they are done say “No, because… (fill in your own reason)”.  Now try getting them to pitch a different idea, this time answer their pitch with “Yes, but…(again, fill in the details)”.  Finally, a final pitch from your friend.  This time answer with “Yes, and…(details)”.  Which sentence was easier to say?  Which one felt better?  Which one could lead to better, deeper conversations about ideas?

We also played improv games that forced us to adapt to new situations on the fly.  This dramatic change of direction encouraged a flexible, creatively thinking brain.  Try this:  in a group of 3, with two “actors” taking turns telling a story, the third person being the “director”.  The director interjects “take it back” as the actors create the story, and the actors had to immediately change the last statement that they made. It was hilarious and a great exercise in mental flexibility to keep the narrative going while adapting to the ever-changing direction from the director.
Another skill we built through improv games is the ability to actively listen to others.  So often, in our busy days, we are in a such a rush with our own agendas that we don’t take the time to truly listen to the opinions of others.  To truly grow as a “yes, and” community, the ability to listen to others’ ideas is a valuable asset.   One of these listening games that we played was a great way to practice these skills, and this is how it goes:   In partners, one partner puts their hand up, and they go first.  They start a story by saying a sentence.  The other partner has to continue the story by starting with the last word their partner just said.  Something like this:
A:  Yesterday, I took my bike out with my friends and we hit the trails.
B:  Trails, huh?  I would have pegged you for more into city riding?
A:  Riding my bike is my jam, it doesn’t matter where we go!
B:  Go for it then!  It is great that you are out and getting fit!
This is an easy activity that you can try with your classes of any age.  Try it out and let us know how it went!

Throughout the breakout sessions we were shuffled around from partner to partner, never being with the same person twice.  This was great, as it allowed us to interact with a wide variety of participants.  We worked with fellow teachers from both panels, administrators, library techniciations; at one point Stuart Miller himself was spotted in the crowd!  The diversity of the participants was appreciated.  It’s always nice to meet like minded educators!
The scope of the day focused largely on building relationships, making connections with “shifters” across the board, and less about the specifics of what innovation could look like in Halton.  Developing a culture of “yes, and” and energizing participants is far more important than digging into specifics at the early stages of implementing change.
We were asked to “Start to feel more comfortable with feeling uncomfortable”. By the end of the day, that’s exactly what we were doing.  All of us were starting to take greater risks.  We formed groups to work together implementing “yes, and” by inventing a new product and making an improvised advertisement for that product.  We were visited by "Oprah", "Jean-Luc Picard", laundry folding robots and much more in these hilarious skits!  We were pushing our boundaries of what we were comfortable with, achieving things that we never would have had the nerve to attempt at the beginning of the day.

But why Line Dancing?  The instructor was amazing and shared her general dancing philosophy with us:
  1. There is no wrong way to do this - each dancer makes the dance unique
  2. The steps are repeated so if you mess up once just keep going
  3. Don’t compare yourself to anyone else - this dance is what you make of it
  4. You might feel uncomfortable at first, but you will get there
  5. Anyone can learn this
  6. It’s about having fun!

I couldn’t imagine a better way to revisit what we learned in our breakout sessions.  Replace dancing with learning and you’ve got an innovative classroom in a nutshell.  Please, we want you to learn how you learn best, feel free to repeat things until you get it, don’t worry about where other people are in their learning, yes it’s uncomfortable but ANYONE can learn this!  

And of course people would want to participate in Line Dancing!  We just spent a full day getting our comfort zone explored, expanded and finally tossed aside.  So what’s next?  The purpose of the day was about energizing and learning a language that will allow us all to talk about innovation together.  It’s risky, to bring a new idea to the table.  It’s scary to allow yourself to be vulnerable enough to have that idea critiqued.  Having the tools to empower us to talk openly about our ideas using the philosophy of “Yes, and…” will help us all innovate in our own individual areas.  Each of our own schools and workplaces have different needs and face different challenges.  So of course the innovation that is needed in those places will look different.

Even if you didn’t have a chance to participate in the Shift Conference yesterday, we’d love to know what you are dreaming about.  What is your “why?”  Let us know, because we are ready to “yes, and…” those ideas and shift our practice to something great.

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