From Behind a Screen to an Out Front “Hangout”

About three years ago, during a conversation with my Learning Supervisor Susan Bruyns, she encouraged me to start sharing what I had been sending her as written monthly reflections as a blog.  My response at that time was: “No thanks, I’m good with 140 characters”.  I was happy Tweeting.  A few months later, I attended a session on blogging given by Cliff Kraeker and Sue.  By the end of the session, they had me convinced.  The argument that won me over was Instructional Coaches have a unique point of view that should be shared.  So, I moved out of my comfort zone and started this blog.

By now, I’m pretty comfortable with “living out loud”.  I remember my initial trepidation the first few times I hit “tweet” or “submit”.  Putting yourself out there can be scary and feels so “public”.  But you get over it.  Now, tweeting is easy and my blogging confidence is improving.

Recently, I’ve been trying to push myself to do something I am less comfortable with too:  video chats.

Admittedly, I started simple and with the people that I feel most comfortable with.  My husband and I posted a “Facebook Live” of him doing some beekeeping maintenance.  And while my voice was explaining, I was still behind the camera.  Next, I did a Google Hangout with my friend Dawn.  This year, we don’t work at the same school, so we had a hangout to do some planning for #fslchat.  Last week, we held one of our Sunday night #fslchat questions on Google Hangouts.  While my connection didn’t work, I’m told others were able to chat through this format.  Kind of neat!  You start with the familiar and then move outward.

A few weeks ago, I saw a tweet by a fellow FSL teacher (@MilouMccarthy) seeking to do a Mystery Hangout with another class.  She has a 3/4 French Immersion class, as does my sister (the other Mme Aston).  I asked my sister if she was interested, and she was.  A few messages back and forth and a time was set up.  My sister and I had a text exchange one night where she asked me yes or no questions to determine where the other class was, just to get an idea of what her kids would need to know.

I have to admit, that my main anxiety the night before was “Will the tech work?”.  I had plan A, B, and C packed in my bag.  I watched David Carruther’s video tutorial.  I got there early and ended up going with my iPad, connected to speakers and the VGA cord to the Smartboard.  It was simple and effective.  And guess what?  It worked!

Within minutes, students in each class were introducing themselves and starting to ask those “yes” and “no” questions (in French) to try and determine the other classes’ location.  The kids were really into it.  Some were still camera shy, but would provide questions for some of the more “brave” students.  Being a French teacher, I thought of the grammar points I would teach the next week. For example, how to answer a yes or no question with some of the words from the question instead of just “oui” and “non”.  I thought about how neat it would be to see their questions get better as they dive into their Social Studies unit on Canada and Ontario’s landscapes in the next few weeks.  I started thinking about which questions gave them a lot of information and which questions did not.  For example, using your question to guess a specific city does not help you move further in guessing.  What questions give you the most information?

Reflecting on the experience afterwards, students in my sister’s class noticed that asking a question about if it snows where the other class is was not helpful.  They asked this after determining that they lived in Canada and it snows everywhere in Canada.  Neither did making random city guesses.  These types of questions did not provide them with new information that they could use.  They noticed that asking about directions in relation to something else was really helpful (i.e. Are you east of the 401?).  They determined which classroom Hangout roles worked well and which ones they would have more or less people for next time.  My sister posted pictures of the activity in action on her class “Dojo” and got really positive responses from parents about how she is making school fun from parents.

I left the school on a bit of a high.  That’s what pushing yourself out of your comfort zone feels like.  Uncomfortable, stressful even… and then great!

In my previous blog post, I explained a TLLP project that a team of us will be exploring this year.  We’ll be using iPads to use French beyond the walls of the classroom, and measuring the activities’ effects on student confidence, the strategies for interaction that they use and their value of learning French.  And I know that if I’m going to lead a team of teachers to do this, I need to do a little risk taking myself.  This way, I might be able to better understand how uncomfortable some teachers and students might be with this.  I’m generally an “early adopter” of new things, and not afraid to jump all in.  In both technology use and elsewhere.  But that does not mean I’m not scared.  How can I encourage someone reluctant to try new things to take a risk?

I’m going to switch gears a little bit here on that risk taking idea.  This week’s #fslchat was about creating a culture of French.  One of the questions about teaching students to value French had Francesca Martinez (@fran_martinez01) tweet about some conversation in her class about Prince William trying out a few French words in his speech and having a self-deprecating laugh at his own attempt.  The conversation quickly turned to how brave he was to do so!  I think Francesca is on to something important.  If we want our students to take risks, part of creating that culture of French is taking some risks in front of them too.  Perhaps that’s true of any learning culture, not just a French one.

Following this, I had the opportunity to see Sylvia Duckworth give a brief “GAFE in FSL” session at a literacy conference by TVDSB called TVLitCon this weekend.  And she said something that stayed with me.  She shared that she first had her class do a Mystery Hangout with one person on the end of the line.  I thought that was good advice.  Then you gradually move them further and further beyond from familiar to less familiar.  From similar to you to perhaps a class from Quebec or France… but gradually.  She shared her Google Hangout resources.

She has some amazing ideas beyond finding each other’s “place” that you can find in the link above.  Her website is full of so many generous things that she is willing to share (

Next on my list… trying her “Qui suis-je?” activity which is like the game “Guess Who?”.  But I need a class of kids and a teacher willing to jump in with me…

What are you attempted to try, but holding back on?  How do you overcome that fear and move out of that comfort zone?

4 Responses

  1. Rachel Trow at |

    I really enjoyed your thought-provoking blog Jennifer!

    Your blog has me thinking critically about my digital learning experience over the past 3 months. I am currently taking a Digital Teaching and Learning Course at Lakehead University, where I have been introduced to many new digital spaces and been shown how to incorporate them into the classroom. You’re right, I think trying new ideas; especially with the possibility of it not working is a daunting undertaking but important to succeed. I can relate to your experience of feeling uneasy and scared of trying the Mystery Hangout with another class; I experimented with ThingLink for an inquiry assignment on the topic of digital storytelling. It was something I had never done before, so I felt scared of making a mistake. I experienced a lot of trial-and-error throughout the process; however I was successful in creating and learning about a new digital tool that I could use in the classroom.

    As digital teachers and learners, it’s exciting to try new things, to then hopefully try in your classroom one day. By taking risks, it shows students to be courageous and try new things, as Prince William did. He experimented with a few French words in a speech and was commended for being brave. I am curious to know how you are able to connect digitally with other classrooms, to do things like Mystery Hangouts… not all teachers like to try risks and know how to do Mystery Hangouts. How would you suggest finding a teacher who you would be able to do this with?

    At the end of your blog post you ask the question of how do you overcome the fear of attempting something new, and move out of your comfort zone? I think by knowing people make mistakes but to continue to persevere if it doesn’t work the first time is extremely important. Also, to ask for help when you are confused and need more guidance. Are there blogs on Mystery Hangouts that a teacher could ask questions to about it, to ease some of their fear?

    I am feeling extremely inspired and excited to try a Mystery Hangout one day!

    Aspiring Teacher,

  2. Marissa Pinto at |

    Hi Jen,
    My name is Marissa and I am a student at Lakehead University majoring in Interdisciplinary studies and Education. I purposely chose to take a Digital Learning education class to push myself out of many digital comfort zone. I see you have taken many leaps and definitely stepped into the digital world by starting up your blog. I created a blog for my education class and post on their weekly for various assignments. One of my tasks this week is to respond to an educators blog! So here I am !

    I can safely say that I am not a big fan of technology – when the reading KOBO came out in substitution from holding an actual book, I was outraged. I like simplicity and no chance of “disconnection”, “network error”, “server not found” issues. I am also a believer of the saying, “you teach how you were taught”, but I see a huge change in the way educators deliver their lessons these days! When I was in elementary school (over 10 years ago) we did not have much technology. We rarely sat a computer, cell phones were clunky, music was on a Walkman (and too large to carry around anyways), and we still watched movies via VHS. Now, educators are connecting with other teachers via social media, digital literacy has entered classrooms, creating short videos, voice recordings, PowerPoint slide shows, and iPads for educational apps, are being used regularly in classrooms. I know that if I teach my future students by the methods I was taught while I was in school, I was be giving my students a great disservice. I have learned through my course (and educational bloggers such as yourself) that technology is something all educators need to embrace and ensure they are connecting themselves with technology as it has been shown to be a valuable resource in the classroom.

    Thank you for your post!


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