Gearing Up for #IBTO2016: Finding New Ways to Learn Together

It’s that time of year again! The IB Conference of the Americas (#IBTO2016) is fast approaching as IB educators from North and South America are heading to the beautiful city of Toronto, Canada for what is sure to be another exceptional conference. As the Head of an IB World School in Westchester County, NY (USA), there is no better conference to attend and I’m both thrilled and honored to present for a second year in a row with @careim2, @MegHalberg, and @ErinVred. Our session, “Promoting Equity and Access in the IB DP,” runs on Sunday morning at 9:00 a.m. and is an extension of our 2015 presentation in Chicago on how our 1:1 Chromebook program promotes the development of 21st century skills for all students in our middle and high school.

The conference theme of “Learning Together” certainly resonates for the members of the team from Dobbs Ferry that is joining me at this year’s conference. We put a group together each summer to attend this event and “learning together” is something that we are committed to and, perhaps more importantly, enjoy doing with one another. We are fortunate to have a team that is comprised of forward thinking educators and this conference always seems to bring out the best in us. Over the past five years we have not only doubled the size of our DP program, but are also prepared for authorization to the MYP this fall. A great deal of these changes occurred as a result of our team “learning together” at this annual conference.

The notion of “learning together” is certainly not new and part of what makes the IBO so special is that it provides like-minded educators with many opportunities to do just that on a local, national, and international level. Whether through local roundtables, regional meetings (GIBS), or international conferences like this one, the IB is comprised of a community of a learners who are united through a common vision of creating “a better and more peaceful world.” But while the idea of coming to a conference to learn with one another may seem like a somewhat obvious concept, the last few years have brought forth a tremendous shift in how we learn with one another. Perhaps the biggest reason for this is the explosion of social media on the education scene and the role that tools such as Twitter continue to have on both professional development and professional networking. In fact, social media has singularly eliminated all of the walls as it relates to connecting with others and educators from around the world are now connecting and “learning together” daily as a result.

Given this radical shift, it makes sense that the IBO would take on the theme of “Learning Together” for this year’s conference since the IB is constantly challenging us examine how we learn, ways of knowing, and of course how we receive and interpret information (think TOK). So the challenge for all of us at this year’s conference is to find new “out of the box” ways to “learn together” apart from the obvious approach of attending different sessions and passively taking notes. Not sure how? Here’s a few ideas…

  • #IBTO2016: If nothing else, you need to stay connected to the conference hashtag and you need a Twitter account in order to best do that. If you still do not have a professional Twitter account, stop reading and create one right now. This year’s conference hashtag will connect all of the conference attendees as well as vendors and other members of the IB community who are not in attendance. The hashtag is a superb vehicle for promoting dialogue as well as sharing information, infographics, blog posts, and of course links to articles and other conference notes. 
  • Session Hashtags: To the presenters, it’s imperative that you create a session hashtag for your attendees. Our session, “Promoting Equity and Access in the IB DP,” will have the following session hashtag: #DFIBforAll. As noted above, a session hashtag will allow all of the members in the room to connect with one another, follow each other, and stay engaged long after the session has ended. A session hashtag is also a perfect way to keep a backchannel discussion going so that attendees can pose questions, comment, and interact with one another.
  • Conference EdCamps: The EdCamp movement has taken off as teachers get together, brainstorm topics, and engage in mini-discussions based on common interest and need. While EdCamps are typically events unto themselves, an annual conference is a perfect opportunity to gather a group of attendees to engage in an EdCamp experience using a “conference within a conference” approach. The conference hashtag is the perfect way to solicit interest to organize this type of impromptu form of professional learning. For more on EdCamps, check out this video:

  • Collaborative Note-Taking: Whenever I attend any meeting or workshop with @careim2 or another member of my team, we instantly “share” a Google Doc so that we can take collaborative notes, interact within the document, and essentially engage in a backchannel discussion for the duration of the time. This approach allows us to crystallize ideas as they are coming our way while providing us with an opportunity to “learn together” in a way that is natural and free flowing. This simple yet highly effective approach is ideal if you are attending either the same session as someone from your group or if you are in different sessions and want to “learn together” across sessions that are running at the same time. It’s also a great way to learn with colleagues from back home by allowing them to engage with the respective workshop remotely and in real time.
  • You Had Me At Hello: Sometimes it’s best to just go “old school,” put the phone and computer away, turn to the person next to you, put out your hand and say “hello.” Meet someone new, have a conversation, make a contact, and perhaps find an opportunity to learn with that person during the session. It’s how people have been doing it since the beginning of time and is something that sadly feels foreign to so many of us these days. So don’t be shy and go for it…

Have other ideas for how we can “learn together” at #IBTO2016…? Please share below! I wish you all the best for a great conference. 


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