Transcribed by Kanako Suwa
[ Introduction music plays ]
Welcome to the SENIA Happy Hour, where you get 1 hour of learning in less than thirty minutes.
Lori: Hello everyone, this is Lori Boll, your host of the SENIA Happy Hour Podcast. Well, I’m really excited about today’s conversation as it’s all about watch parties! So in December, we will be holding our virtual conference and as an organisation, we encourage you to hold a watch party at your school or in your community. What is the watch party, you ask? Good question!
Laura Cox, the PK-12 Inclusion Services Coordinator and Coach at the American International School of Johannesburg discusses that today on our podcast. Laura is an educator and leader who believes that our questions inform our learning journey, and this belief inspired her to hold a watch party at her school last year. Today, we will learn how Laura and her team organised the event, what it looks like for them, and how they got their administration on board with the idea. Laura’s and my hope after listening to the podcast today is that you will consider hosting a watch party at your school as we believe that when we learn and discuss together, we all grow as individuals and as a group collectively. And if you want to know what those crazy bird sounds are the background, well, those are Hoopoe birds from South Africa and Laura’s given us a picture of them so make sure to check those out on our web page!
And now, onto the show.
Hi, Laura, and welcome to the podcast!
Laura: Hello Lori, it’s lovely to be here! Thanks for having me.
Lori: Well, we’re certainly excited to have you here today. And we are discussing watch parties! Wooo! So before we begin this conversation of parties, can you just tell us a little bit about yourself and where you’re joining us from today?
Laura: Sure, ya, so I’m Laura Cox and I’m originally from the US but I’ve been teaching international for about 20 years now, and am currently in Johannesburg, South Africa where I am the K-12 inclusion services coordinator and coach, so coordinating ELL and learning support across our both our campuses and all of our divisions. I’ve been here for 3 years now and prior to that, I was in Prague at the International School Prague for quite a long time.
Lori: Oh wow. Such beautiful places. Lucky you! One of our directors of SENIA yeah Jay Lingo is working at your school and I follow him on Facebook, and he’s always posting beautiful pictures of safaris and things he’s gone on so yeah, insanely jealous.
Laura: it is, it is kind of amazing like you just go a little bit outside the city and you’re like so I am at this beautiful place and there are giraffes and zebras and elephants just walking around, so… and Jay is one of our learning support teachers and we’re so lucky to have him, he’s a great addition to the school.
Lori: Yeah super positive, super fun. So, last year, you organised a watch party for the SENIA virtual conference and that’s what we’re here to talk about today. We’ve had people ask us about our term “watch party”, which people are like I don’t understand that term, what is it, what do you mean by that? So our definition is “watch parties are virtual or face-to-face gatherings of colleagues and friends to watch and discuss the content of the SENIA presentations”. What’s your understanding of a watch party?
Laura: It’s pretty similar, in our context, the watch party was an excuse to get ourselves and our colleagues together in a situation where we don’t always have the time to get together and really engage in professional learning and professional conversations because they’re always so busy. And so for me, a watch party is a time to pause and learn and reflect together as a team and as a school community.
Lori: Yeah, that’s great. So how did you go about organising it last year as far as… did you have a day off from school to watch it? Did you do it on the weekend? What was your plan around that?
Laura: Yeah so it started because we were, when we learned they were going to be virtual and not in person, I mean, it was just much more cost friendly for a larger percentage of our population to participate. So it was like, hey this is a great conference, you know, when it’s in person and face to face and and now we have this really great opportunity that a lot more people can participate.
So I started with that and then the watch party came a little bit later, because then, you guys were sending out, “hey, you could do a watch party and here’s what it could look like!”, and Jay and I had a chat about it and some others. And so, we, on the Friday when the conference was starting, we did, we had a regular day of school and what we did is just those people who were able to get coverage and there were some subs provided by the school, and some people came and went based on when they were free during the day. But there was a significant percent, you know, a good chunk of us that were there all day with sub coverage or released time off, so the school had supported that idea. And so we spent the day together. So it wasn’t the day off and we didn’t do it on the weekend as a group, although many of us then engage with the conference over the course of the weekend.
Lori: Okay, well, that’s a good point about your admin and how they supported you. How did you go about getting them on board to have this opportunity for your staff?
Laura: Yeah I mean, we were very lucky that we had a quite supportive admin. They were super keen for us to grow our knowledge because of course it positively impacts our families, our students, and our community so they saw the value. It wasn’t so much convincing in terms of that, the convincing part was just figuring out the coverage and the release time. How do we make the logistics of it work. The theory, you know, the idea was very well supported. It was just the logistics of making it happen that was a bit trickier. But because they supported this theory, they figured out how to, you know we work together to figure out the logistics so…
Lori: Now, at your school, did you have learning support teacher only or did you have more of your teachers involved, general ed and specialist teachers?
Laura: Yeah, so in our first watch party, so last year was our first watch party, and we are organising one for this year as well, which we’ll talked about in a minute, I’m sure, but it was predominantly learning support staff. I’m not really… because I it was my first time, actually, I had not participated in SENIA before. I had heard great things but haven’t had the opportunity and so I was only… and again I wear that learning support / ELL hat so I was kind of a little bit focused on that, and so I had communicated to my team that it was a great opportunity but hadn’t gone much further. And we were a little bit late coming to the party, in terms of getting people signed up and then organising the watch party, so one of the things that we recognised after having the watch party last year was that it would be an awesome opportunity to really extend that to the wider community of our school.
And so this year, I just actually sent out, in the past week, all of our principals added it out on their weekly newsletter, you know, SENIA is coming and we’re going to organise it, and whether you participate in the watch party or just participate just in the conference virtually at your own time to let us know. And I’ve had a lot of good feedback from a number of class teachers and the Specialists and others that are interested this year so we’re getting together a list and I think we’ll have a wider representation of the community this year.
Lori: That’s really exciting to hear. Many of us at SENIA conferences, year after year, people have come up to me and say, “you know, as a learning support teacher, this conference is so powerful and so wonderful but sometimes I feel like we’re here, you know we’re preaching to the choir so to speak. in that we’re learning this but we can’t… we can’t get it to our wider audience of teachers at our school,” and so we really were excited about inviting presenters this year that we felt would benefit all teachers, not just those in the learning support field.
So you know, we have Shelly Moore who’s just this dynamic inclusive educator that anytime you watch one of her videos you’re just empowered and it’s just so exciting. Then we have, you know Michelle Garcia Winner, who talks about social thinking and Leah Coopers who designs Zones of Regulation which is beneficial for everyone, right? And then we have that SEL strand which I think is going to be really powerful for everyone there because we’ll be talking about student mental health as well as teacher mental health and how to support everyone.
Laura: I think that strand in particular, the social emotional learning, is attracting a lot of our teachers because I think we just recognise in the current times with COVID and being virtual and back and forth, just a lot of unrest in the world currently that are certainly we’re feeling as individuals and professionals and absolutely our students are so I think there’s a just such an urgent need to understand that better and that’s that’s a lot of our teachers and why they…
Lori: Good, good. And I would be remiss in not mentioning that when when you sign up for teachers, you actually get a much cheaper rate so that’s pretty exciting for schools. We have a flat rate of you know it’s it’s pretty inexpensive rate for 50+ individuals who want to attend, so anything over 50.. We’ve got one school last year who brought 77 people from their school. That was Jakarta Intercultural School, and Singapore American brought well over 50 so we have that flat rate. Then we have anything from 10 to 20 individuals is just 125 per person and then 21 to 50 individuals is just $99 per person US dollars so really it’s just so cheap kind of like why not?!
Laura: It’s a bargain!
Lori: I mean, with the, with the keynote speakers that we have, we also have Lederick Horne who’s this fabulous spoken word poet who is, he has a learning disability so we’ll just learn so much from him and then our teacher presenters so overall we have over 60 hours of content and you have 4 months to watch it.
Laura: And I think, I think for those of us who participated in the watch party party or virtually in some capacity last year were super excited to hear that it’s 4 months because I think some of us, since the conference was at the beginning of December, then many of us went away on break, it felt a little bit rushed or crunched for time to really capture everything that we wanted to get out of the conference. So having access to them, it’s awesome.
Lori: Yeah, great. Well, let’s talk logistics… So you had the watch party, how did you make it work, like how did you do it? Did you watch all the keynotes together or… and I know many schools have done this and they’ve all done it a little different way so really just interested in how your school did it.
Laura: Yeah, so we did the watch party over one day on a Friday and we started all together and watched the keynote on executive functioning with Sarah, Sarah Ward I think I’m remembering that correctly, which was amazing, it was just such a great way to start together. So we started together watching and then we spent some time discussing and considering that and then we had a chunk of time in the middle of the day where people were watching, sort of, their own choice of things so we kind of went off into our own different in areas. And that was again because people, you know, some people had all day, 3 or 4 in terms of coverage and release and others only had smaller chunks of time.
So then we whould watch your own thing and then came back together, and say “what did you watch”, “definitely check this one out, it was really good,” you know, so that we sort of share what we had watched during those couple of hours in the middle of the day. And then we watched another session, we watched one of the sessions all together at the end of the day and that’s how we closed. And then yeah and then people watched it over the next weeks and then over the course of the next weeks, when we’re back for the year in January after the break, we were all comparing notes on what we had taken away from the sessions that we watched and and sharing resources if people hadn’t watched the same sessions. So there’s a bit of a, there’s a bit of a follow-up discussion and and conversation on going after the actual day of the watch party as well.
Lori: That’s great, I love that it lasted through time. You know, and I’m circling back to what you said at the beginning; learning support department, I mean, you rarely have that opportunity to gather together and discuss new learning or anything really and so to have that time set aside for everyone to do that is a very powerful, a very powerful thing.
Laura: Yeah, and I think, you know, in pre-COVID days, when people would go away from a conference, you know, there’s the cost of the airfare and the hotel on us, so maybe only one person would go or maybe team of three or four people would go and they would get really energized and come back with all these different ideas but it was, you know unless you’re very intentional and clear about how you then disseminate that learning and figure out how you want to grow that into the rest of the community, sometimes it can get lost or you can be in the sort of pocket of enthusiasm about something but also on your own.
So having a large part of our team as a part of that especially like… When Sara Ward, when she was doing that “Get Ready, Do, Done”, like I think all of our learning support teachers across the entire school is using that right now. So then you start having common strategies and common language that your community like that your kids that you work with specifically that then we had. And it more quickly and easily disseminated out into the classroom, into the classroom where it’s a class feature and then it’s being used within that context as well. I think that’s the power of having a large chunk of people involved in, you know, a watch party because you’re learning together.
Lori: I love that. Well, we do have a watch party kit on our website and so it’s just right there on the top tab of the conference website, and it does include all of the logistics that you might need to think through in planning, planning this. Have you used any of our watch party kit for your events?
Laura: I didn’t use it so much so like the first year, last year, but now we have watch party part 2 coming out in December, so I’m looking at a few other bits and pieces that you guys have shared as suggestions. One of the things that we’re looking at is also adding in some sort of the social peace, like a TGIF after the end of the day or dinner or something, to make it a little bit more social.
And also we are hoping to actually connect it to some other work we’ve been doing. We’re very fortunate in Johannesburg because English is one of the official languages so we have a lot of resources within our community and English in terms of outside providers, and play therapy and OT and Speech help and psych on site and all of that and so we have this wide range of people that partner with the school and we’ve done some work with them, again pre-covid, bringing them on campus and doing some sessions where they’re learning more about schools and see if they can better support us. And we’re learning more about what they can do to better support so we can better support our families within our community and our hope has been that we were going to do this watch party and connect it to this networking with our outside provider so we can continue to deepen our understanding on our part with some are outside providers…
But unfortunately, because of COVID still, we’re not allowed to bring all of those people on campus so it’s going to be a closed event just in our teachers on our campus. But I think there’s a lot of opportunity there depending on what the situation is where you’re living or in the future, to use the watch party to our advantage, to also build in your ties within your community and do some learning in your wider community. Like, we were also hoping, I know we have some families that are, you know, would have been thrilled to be involved as well with this so.
Lori: I hope so and thank you for bringing up families. I know that Singapore had many families attend their event with them last year and they said that was extremely powerful for for all of them to learn from the families as they had their discussions together after each each presentation. A part of the watch party kit is the discussion questions that the presenters put together themselves so they they present and then they have listed some questions that they thought you might want to discuss afterwards so yeah the families were a major part of that group and we got really good feedback from that. And we want to add orgnisations as well! I love that, I love that you’re thinking through that and planning that and I hope in the future you will be able to have those groups attend as well so thanks thanks for doing that, and thanks for giving us the rest of us the idea. So maybe there’s someone out there that’s like, “yeah I’m going to do that this year!” that can!
Laura: Yeah, no, we’ve been thinking that for a while and things are getting better and and we’ve been very fortunate to be on campus and in person for most, or significantly more of this whole COVID thing than a lot of other schools so we were cautiously optimistic that we would be able to bring more people on the campus by this time, or the end of the year but unfortunately not. Not yet.
Lori: Yeah, not yet. Not yet.. Growth mindset! Let’s see… What’s another question that I have….? What are some of the feedback that you received from your learning support teachers from this event?
Laura: From the watch party last year?
Laura: They were really impressed with the quality of the sessions and the variety of the sessions, like as if there really was a bit of something for everyone. You know we have a more diverse team, we have people who are trained in different parts of the world, people with more and less experience, so it seems like there was enough there for everyone to find something of interest and to find something that where they feel they felt like there were many, multiple things, sessions, or ideas that they they felt like they took away something of value from it so I think that was one really key feedback, that there really was a lot on offer and so there was enough of a range for everyone to feel like they were getting something out of the experience. So that was one thing.
Lori: That’s great!
Laura: I think, you know, conferences and sessions are always a hit or miss; some are awesome and some are not so great so I think one advantage of it being virtual is when your 5 or 10 minutes and and you didn’t love what’s going on you can very easily change and it is one little bit of flexibility that you have, when you’re doing it from home on your computer in your pajamas…
Lori: Yeah, exactly. And for those schools out there that may not be able to be in session right now due to the restrictions, that is a possibility as well. I know Malaysia chapter last year held a watch party virtually. So, they set it up on Zoom, I believe, and they just all met, they went off to say, a keynote, and came back together and discussed it, so they had a really nice experience with the virtual watch party as well.
Well, just to change gears a bit, you are going to be one of our presenters at SENIA 2021, you and Mary Donohue, so can you just give us a little sneak peak into what you’ll be discussing?
Laura: Sure! Mary was one of the learning support teachers that participated in the watch party last year and she and I were so inspired by the experience so we said we may have something we can offer, I’m sure. So we put our heads together and one of the things that we’ve been working on quite a lot at our school currently and Mary and I work very closely on this together is really working on refining our multi-tiered systems of support and improving and deepening our understanding practice in that area. And so we wanted to share our journey doing that so that those who are new to MTSS can take something away from what it is and how we feel it supports students and what it can offer and those who may be are already involved in MTSS can think about how they might want to reflect on and refine and deepen their practice as well, based on what we did. And she’s going to, she works in third and fourth grade as a learning support teacher, and so we’ll do sort of a macro look at that work, from a big picture system side, and then she’s going to speak to what it actually looks like in practice in her third grade literacy work last year with the grade 3 teachers and her learning support students.
Lori: That’s a really relevant topic and I know many of our participants will enjoy that so thank you for bringing it to us…
All right, well, I think that’s about it today so thank you so much for your time and for telling us about your great school and all you do there for your students! And hopefully exciting some people to or motivating some people to throw a watch party!
Laura: Do it! It’s awesome!
Lori: I love it.
Laura: If I haven’t convinced you yet… it’s fun and we are super excited to do it again!
Lori: Sure. Great. Thanks so much, Laura!
Laura: Thank you so much for having me; it was so great to talk to you today.
Thanks for stopping in to SENIA Happy Hour, don’t forget to head over to SENIAinternational.org/podcasts and check out our show notes from the discussion today. We at SENIA hope you’re enjoying these podcasts. There’s so much to explore and we’re at the very beginning. So feel free to drop us a note and let us know what you’d like to hear more about during your next SENIA Happy Hour. Until then… Cheers!