Learning as I go: Experiences, reflections, lessons learned

Rachelle Dene Poth @rdene915 #FUTURE4EDU #QUOTES4EDU #THRIVEinEDU

This post is sponsored by Listenwise, all opinions are my own.

Back to School with Listenwise

The start of the new school year brings excitement for new opportunities and is often a time when educators are looking for new ideas and digital tools for enhancing student learning. For many educators, having extra time in the summer is great for reflecting on the prior school year and exploring digital tools and their benefits for students. Simply using technology because it is available without a true purpose will not benefit student learning much at all. However, when we implement versatile digital tools that provide students with innovative, more personalized and real-world learning experiences, we empower our students with amazing opportunities. Listenwise is a listening skills program that offers more than 1800 podcasts for students in grades 5 through 12 (with plans to expand further into Elementary content in 2020). The content is updated every day with new stories including daily current events from NPR.

Improve Listening Comprehension Skills With Listenwise

Listenwise is a multi-purpose platform with capabilities to foster improved listening skills, reading comprehension, and create a more personalized learning experience for students. Listenwise is beneficial for increasing participation in discussions and promoting student engagement. It creates a virtual space where students can build listening and reading comprehension skills, confidence, as well as develop their own creativity and storytelling skills. Using Listenwise, teachers can better differentiate learning for students and promote more cultural and global awareness through access to more meaningful, real-world stories.

What makes Listenwise stand out?

The first thing that I noticed about Listenwise is how easy it is to navigate in the platform. There is also a robust teacher support center which offers the basics for getting started, teaching resources, hot topics, and more support to get started with Listenwise.

When making decisions about which digital tools to use, especially those that offer as many features as Listenwise, there may be a concern about the learning curve. However, a key feature of Listenwise is in its simplicity and visual design.

It is easy to locate Lessons, whether by selecting a content area, exploring all of the lessons available, or searching based on a specific word or current event. A great feature of Listenwise is that teachers can also search for lessons based on grade level, the level of language challenge, and even the type of resources (lesson plan or current event). Being able to locate resources quickly enables teachers to find something more personalized for students and their specific interests and needs.

Enhance Collaboration Through Digital Learning Spaces

Teachers can provide students with access to current and relevant resources and news, create more authentic assignments, and promote student agency through the Listenwise platform. There are a variety of teacher materials available to enhance each lesson including comprehension questions, prompts, lesson plans, graphic organizers, tiered vocabulary and more. Finding time to create class activities and provide enrichment can be a challenge, however, Listenwise helps teachers to reduce planning time and instead have extra time for interacting with students. It is a platform that can be used in multiple ways for different forms of instruction. It is a great option for using a blended learning model with station rotations in class. Whether used for individual students or an entire class, or at home as a way to promote more family engagement, Listenwise offers many options for amplifying student learning potential.

Using the different lessons and current events available, we can extend learning, reinforce the content that we are teaching and in the process spark new discussions. We will then build upon student skills of critical thinking, problem-solving, communication, and promote creativity.

It is easy to navigate the site and set students and create classes. Listenwise provides an excellent way to help students stay informed of what is happening in the world around them and to connect with content that they are interested in and to take more control in their learning.

Foster Better Class Discussions

Listenwise provides a way for students to build skills and become more confident as they explore real-world topics and interact more with the content. Students also build digital citizenship skills as they navigate in the digital world, exploring global issues and making connections with their own community.

Key Features of Listenwise

  1. Content: Listenwise offers more than 1800 podcasts from NPR and other podcast providers. Students have access to the audio as well as an interactive transcript, vocabulary resources and an opportunity to work at their own pace.
  2. Teacher resources: There are many resources available through the Teacher’s Guide. Within each lesson, there are listening comprehension questions, discussion themes, vocabulary words, Socrative integration, additional related lessons, and multiple graphic organizers. There are also external materials provided which may include resources such as interviews, drawings, maps.
  3. Interactive transcript: A great feature where students can listen to the audio while reading along with it, and if needed, pause to take notes or to process the information. While the audio plays, the text changes color and moves at the pace of the audio. Students can replay sections by clicking a word in the story, and the audio will re-start on the word they select. This is a great way to have students focus on listening more closely and also being able to make a visual connection with the text and build their reading skills.
  4. Auto-scored quizzes: Each lesson offers listening comprehension quizzes which are embedded in the lesson. Students have the option to replay the audio and listen more closely, helping them to continue to build their skills at their own pace. Students receive their results and if needed, can retake a quiz once the teacher clicks “reset” on the report.
  5. Progress monitoring: There are eight types of listening comprehension skills that are assessed such as main idea, inference, and vocabulary. Teachers have a detailed view of student results, can download the class report and see schoolwide data. Having access to this data
  6. ELL and Scaffolding: Through tiered vocabulary and the option to play audio at a slower speed, students can work at their own pace through the lesson. Students also have the texthelp toolbar which offers options such as Spanish translation, word definition through text or picture, and the ability to read aloud any text from the page.
  7. Standards-aligned: Lessons are aligned to state standards for ELA, science, and social studies. Through the Teacher’s Guide, each grade level band contains the related standards and explanations, making it easy to refer to the standards.
  8. Custom assignments: Teachers can create custom assignments for students, which works very well for a blended learning environment or for schools which are 1:1. Assignments can be customized to include listening comprehension questions, interactive transcripts, short responses, graphic organizers and more depending on the needs of each student.

Listenwise helps to promote better communication, student success, and family engagement. Implementing digital tools like Listenwise promotes learning that can take place regardless of the time and place, also helping to globally connect students with authentic, real-world resources. Providing these learning tools for students makes a big difference in student growth and engagement.

Ready to get started?

Here are a few ideas:

  • Choose one of the lessons for a new way to introduce a unit.
  • Select a theme for Project-based learning (PBL) based on one of the lessons.
  • Teach students about global issues by informing them about the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) and task them with finding events related to these goals. Opportunities like this promote student inquiry and lead students to more meaningful, personalized learning journeys.
  • Search for a recent current event and use it as a conversation starter!

Guest post by Dave Schmittou, @daveschmittou #LastingLearning

via Teachers matter more

I am all about improvement. At the end of every year, I spend some time reflecting on what my strengths and struggles are so that I can make a plan for progress. At work, I spend time evaluating programs, processes, and people. One thing I have noticed recently in schools is that far too many of us say teachers matter more,  that the people make the difference, yet we spend so much of our time focusing our improvement efforts on programs and processes. We think of ways to circumvent those who matter more instead of diving deep to develop the real difference makers. We know teachers are the drivers of learning, but we pour money and time into software, classes, textbooks, and schedules instead of into the people who make it all happen.

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As a sports fan, I often use athletics to try and illustrate my points, so I may as well do so again. Lebron James is considered by many people as one of the greatest basketball players of this era. He is dominant, he can shoot, dribble, pass, rebound, and play defense (when he chooses to). Pretend for a moment that you are a general manager of a team Lebron plays on and you have the task of making the team better. Your goal is to get wins and championships. You can do this by upgrading the concession stands at the arena. You can do this by bringing in new players to circumvent Lebron, players who will not pass him the ball or expect him to be great, or you can do this by bringing in players that complement his game and allow him to dominate. Each of these strategies has been tried on his teams. Some owners and GMs have attempted to distract the fans from what is happening on the court by upgrading the arena. Some have attempted to save Lebron by bringing in others to take the pressure off, and some have brought in players to complement him and make him even better. Only the latter has resulted in championships, however.

Often times in schools we get ourselves distracted by things that don’t matter at the expense of those that do. As a leader who has had the opportunity to help lead turn around efforts in a few schools and districts, I have learned that no program, no paint job, no software will ever impact a child like an amazing teacher. If you are a leader, all of your focus should be on making teachers better, not working around them.

If you have struggling students in your school (we all do), do not go on the hunt of the newest tech gadget to give to the kids. Look for ways to help a teacher work with those students more. If you have accelerated students in your school (we all do) do not look for activities and classes to fill a schedule. Look for ways to have teachers inspire and motivate innovation. Stop looking for ways to work around teachers and begin looking for ways to support teachers.

Support does not simply mean increasing pay. Support means, if you have the option between a new textbook or staff professional development, invest in the teachers. If you have a choice between painting a hallway or developing a teacher, choose the teacher. Always, choose the teacher/

Every research study available describes the effects that matter most for student learning point to teachers as the difference makers. Teachers matter more. Teachers provide feedback, establish the culture, set the expectations, develop the assessments, and plan for progress.  If you are a leader, spend your time building capacity in teachers and you will be amazed at the learning that results from your students.

Check out the podcast on this topic at https://anchor.fm/david-schmittou/episodes/Episode-12-Teachers-Matter-More-e2n3c4

Feel free to also check out Dave’s book:

It’s Like Riding a Bike: How to make learning last a lifetime

 

Want to write a guest blog for my website? Submit an idea here!

Guest Post by Aubrey Jones, Education Specialist/Education Advocate
Twitter handle: @spedteacheriam
Instagram: @justaubrey87
Opinions expressed are those of guest author.

Myspace was the oldest of the five big brothers born on August 1, 2003, quickly followed by Facebook, who arrived on February 4, 2004, followed by Twitter two years later on March 21, 2006. Then there was a bit of a break, and then Instagram was born on October 6, 2010. One year later, Snapchat was born on September 16, 2011. 

My big brothers were moderately successful in providing the world with a distraction. They had the latest feeds and showed the mildly glamorous life of everyone. People seemed happy. There quickly became an obsession with screens and snapping the latest moment. Oddly, tragedies or sadness were not captured.

As I sat in my English class being told how to think, the teacher gave us a template to write our essay from George Orwell’s 1984. It was mostly filled out leaving no room for original thought.  No one asked a question as the period dragged on. The teacher indoctrinated us with his ideas on the book. Everyone was responding in a robotic fashion if they managed to look up from their screens.

As I sat there in the hot classroom waiting for class to end, a thought entered my mind. I couldn’t record it anywhere as the essay only allowed for certain words or phrases to be filled in. As I sat there reading the book, filling in the mandated phrases, my thoughts wanted to desperately escape and join the other words on the paper. I thought of my big brothers and how they were able to consume everyone’s thoughts and time and energy; it was slightly genius. 

Even though there were predictions of a robotic society controlled by Big Brother and the jokes that Big Brother was “always watching,” there were never predictions that people would buy the cameras themselves. It was creative and genius. The idea that Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat were able to control society and get people to buy cameras and photograph every aspect of their lives was brilliant.

As that thought came to fruition, the wall in the back of the classroom crumbled. The crumbled wall showed smoke in the distance; almost like a bomb had gone off. There had been recent whisperings of a conflict that could lead to World War Three. No one else seemed to notice the wall crumbling. In fact, no one looked up from their devices. A whole part of the wall had crumbled and everyone was still writing frantically. 

As the bell rang, everyone got up (almost in unison). The massive zipping of backpacks could be heard as it was almost deafening. Pencils were dropped into empty backpacks. There was a mass rush as everyone had somewhere to be or something to do. Papers were quickly picked up in a flurry and tossed into the direction of the basket. It was like a well-oiled machine and there was no part out of place.

How odd that no one questioned the hole in the wall. Once the papers had been flung towards the basket; people turned toward their devices, not speaking; posting to social media platforms and adding emoticons to others’ posts. The classroom was suddenly eerie as part of the wall crumbled a little bit more as the preceding stampede of students vacated the room. Facebook being the oldest, had some dark secrets under his name. I mean who else could harbor the guilt of the infamous “like” button that was created to create and maintain addiction. These bright dings of pseudo-pleasure have caused and fueled social media addiction. Even though my big brothers have been documented as having the worst effect on young people’s mental health, their hold on the world continues, like the curse of the grim reaper.

 

My big brothers have made users addicted resulting in negative effects on their mental health and adding idiocy and stupidity among the masses.  That pseudo-ding and the partial attention that goes along with social media use scares me; my big brothers have dumbed down users, decreased their ability to focus, and potentially lowered their intelligence. My big brothers have caused a distraction and this distraction with every “ding” occurs all the time. 

As I joined my classmates in the hall, there was no talk of the smoke or the crumbled classroom wall- as if it didn’t exist at all.  Instead, it was about how many followers so and so had or how many likes, retweets or forwards a post or picture had received. 

Snapchat, a glorified version of his older brother, except that it only captures videos or pictures for ten seconds. So, Snapchat requires that you look at the picture or you miss the chance to see it and be part of the buzz that everyone is consumed by. My big brothers have allowed people to send messages to each other while breaking the rules of conversation. This is why the school dance was quiet as everyone was glued to the screen of their phone. 

School has become a regurgitation of others’ ideas. It is not a place for free thought. It is decorated the same, scripted the same and even responses are the same. There is no room for creativity or beauty. There is no room for something different without being teased mercilessly. There is no room for different anymore, to question the material is considered offensive and rebellious. However, this is all part of the script that my big brothers have wanted;  part of a bigger script that has been written and the scariest part of the script is that there is no room for questions.  The reality is that this is not the narrative that can exist through creativity and safe environments.

I felt liberated as I turned in my paper and knew that my teacher embraced creativity through the creation of a safe environment through play, taking risks and exercised autonomy. They created a supportive environment and wanted to pass these tips along:

  • Create a compassionate, accepting environment. Since being creative requires going out on a limb, students need to trust that they can make a mistake in front of you.
  • Be present with students’ ideas. Have more off-the-cuff conversations with students. Find out what their passion areas are and build those into your approach.
  • Encourage autonomy. Don’t let yourself be the arbiter of what “good” work is. Instead, give feedback that encourages self-assessment and independence.
  • Re-word assignments to promote creative thinking. Try adding words like “create,” “design,” “invent,” “imagine,” “suppose” to your assignments. Adding instructions such as “Come up with as many solutions as possible” or “Be creative!” can increase creative performance.
  • Give students direct feedback on their creativity. Lots of students don’t realize how creative they are or get feedback to help them incorporate “creative” into their self-concept. Explore the idea of “creative competence” alongside the traditional academic competencies in literacy and mathematics. When we evaluate something, we value it! Creating a self-concept that includes creativity.
  • Help students know when it’s appropriate to be creative. For example, help them see the contexts when creativity is more or less helpful—in a low-stakes group project versus a standardized state assessment.
  • Use creative instructional strategies, models, and methods as much as possible in a variety of domains. Model creativity for students in the way you speak and the way you act. For example, you could say “I thought about 3 ways to introduce this lesson. I’m going to show you 2, then you come up with a third,” or show them a personal project you’ve been working on.
  • Channel the creative impulses in “misbehavior.” For students who cause disturbances, see if you notice any creativity in their behavior. Perhaps that originality could be channeled in other ways?
  • Protect and support your students’ intrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation fuels creativity.  It is suggested that educators try to limit competition and comparison with others, focusing instead on self-improvement. Experiment with monitoring students less as they work, and provide opportunities for them to pursue their passion when you can.
  • Make it clear to students that creativity requires effort. The creative process is not a simple “aha” that strikes without warning. Tell students that truly creative people must imagine, and struggle, and re-imagine while working on a project.
  • Explicitly discuss creativity myths and stereotypes with your students. Help them understand what creativity is and is not, and how to recognize it in the world around them.
  • Experiment with activities where students can practice creative thinking. “Droodles,” or visual riddles, are simple line drawings that can have a wide range of different interpretations and can stimulate divergent thinking. “Quickwrites” and “free-writes” can help students to let go of their internal censor. As part of reviewing material, you could have kids use concept cartooning or draw/design/paint visual metaphors to capture the essence of complex academic information.

The best thing about my teacher is that they practiced what they preached! In other words, they believed that we can approach any situation in life with a creative spirit. Teachers who can model creative ways of thinking, playfully engage with content, and express their ideas, will beget creative students. Students need to see teachers who have passions, whether it’s drawing, mathematics, painting, biology, music, politics, or theater. That contagion of passion and positive emotion is a hotbed for creative thought. Creatively fulfilled teachers may also be happier teachers.

Teaching is, through and through, a creative profession and so is learning!

 

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Image Credit Pixabay

Guest Post: Jenn Breisacher, Founder of Student-Centered World (www.studentcenteredworld.com)  

Twitter: @StuCentWorld, Instagram: @studentcenteredworld

 

Somewhere along the way, teachers got scared.

I don’t mean scared in the traditional sense. Yes, sometimes there are heart-stopping moments for one reason or another, but teachers aren’t scared of their climate.

Teachers became scared of today.

As long as we can remember, teaching has been about this technique or that in the classroom. We are sent to learn about different methods and spend hours of professional development learning about different ways to help our students be successful. Some teachers take this in stride while others sit back and roll their eyes, knowing that when they go back to the classroom, they’ll just stick to “what works”.

It always has, right?

But what happens when an entire generational shift occurs? What happens when an entire generation doesn’t know what life was like before September 11th? That landlines used to be the only way to call somebody? That “likes” and “follows” used to be a phenomenon that was done in person?

Folks, that generation is here…and “what works” doesn’t work for them.

Generation Z has entered our classrooms and they are different than any other group that has been taught in traditional education before. They are hands-on, tech-savvy, and need to know that what they are learning will help them make a difference. Simply put, traditional methods of instruction will not allow them to perform at their best. 

Let me say it again, “Traditional methods of instruction will not allow Generation Z to perform at their best.”

I’m not saying they can’t learn with traditional instruction. Sure, by osmosis they may learn by sitting and listening to a lecture or taking notes from a PowerPoint…but this is not how they will learn best. As educators, we don’t want to simply go through the motions. We don’t want to know our students learned the bare minimum to pass and move along. We want them to have a thirst for knowledge, to want to know more, learn more, do more. Yes, they may “learn” in a traditional classroom, but there will be multiple layers of potential that simply does not get tapped.

 

The world our students are entering is so competitive, but not in the ways we remember. Jobs used to be industrial, but now they’re turning entrepreneurial. We need to give our students the power to head into that world with confidence. We need to help give them an edge so when the going gets tough, they know what to do. We are preparing our students for jobs that don’t yet exist, which is a scary thought. (Don’t believe me? How many of you recall friends who wanted to be social media managers while you were in school? That’s just one example). The only way we can ensure their success is if we train them now to think outside of the box and to be willing (sometimes quite literally) to get their hands dirty and think like no one else.

This is the scary part for teachers.

Yes, throughout the years, life has changed. Every generation of students who have come to school has had different needs and interests than the ones before them. However, the birth of the information age and the worldwide connections that are now made in an instant are things that have never been seen before. We can debate for days whether or not this is good for society…whether or not “these kids” are being helped or harmed because they know how to function a Smart Phone by the time they’re 2. While those debates are fine, they’re not changing anything regarding what clientele we have in our classrooms right now. These changes to society aren’t going anywhere…at least not for a long time…and it’s our job…our duty…to make sure we are adapting in the classroom so these kids are learning in a proactive way for the world that awaits them, not the way it’s always been done in a world that no longer exists.

 

Change is scary for everyone. It takes us out of our comfort zone and makes us dabble in ideas that may be foreign to us…but remember, those ideas are not foreign to our students. If we want them to be as successful as possible in life, we need to help prepare them for the world that awaits them, not the world that awaited us.

 

 

 

Guest Post 

Katy Garvey, @Katy_Garvey, Social Learning Manager, The Source for Learning Inc., Former MS Principal, Reston, VA

Promoting Healthy Self-Esteem in Schools

Adolescent mental health and the social-emotional well-being of our students is something educators face daily. More frequently (thank goodness!), this topic is being brought to the forefront of many school districts. In my near 15 years in the public school system, I witnessed a transition to more mental health awareness practices as well as preventative and proactive care. The “middle years” can often be the most challenging, as our children are trying to figure out who they are, establish independence, all the while amidst changes in their bodies and minds. Oh, and we still expect them to demonstrate academic and social competencies in school! That is A LOT!

 

As educators, we know that when students feel good about themselves; in turn, they are much more likely to be more successful in the classroom. But, how do we set up our teen students for success? It takes a continuously committed focus on daily routines and practices that help build self-esteem. I will share some basic ideas and teaching strategies to consider when working to promote a healthy sense of worth and belonging in our students.

 

  1. Ask a “question of the day.”

We know that building and maintaining relationships are key and creating connections with students can go a long way in promoting their self-confidence. Try starting each class period with an open-ended question. Students can use an e-journal or blog (see some ideas HERE for blogs or e-journals) to record their thoughts. You could even move toward “circling up” and having students share their responses. Remember if you do this, always give the “pass” option. Read more about circle practice in the classroom HERE. In my time as a high school classroom teacher, I had the unique opportunity to teach a section of a class called Peer Helping, where the focus was to create meaningful relationships and mentorships between secondary and elementary school students. The first quarter of the year, the students were with me in the classroom, and we began each day in this way. As the year progressed, it was amazing to see how the students opened up, sharing beliefs and feelings. Additionally, an uncanny sense of community was established in my classroom as a result- it was something I’ll never forget! 

  1. Have students set goals, monitor progress toward them, and celebrate successes.

These could be behavioral goals, academic goals, extracurricular goals, or all of these. Ensure that the goals are attainable and always find something to celebrate…no matter how big or small. Also, make sure to work with students to create opportunities for them to succeed based on their strengths and interests. Lastly, remember, this will also vary student to student- we are striving for equity, not equality.

  1. Provide ongoing, genuine praise and feedback.

Talk to students frequently and provide consistent, specific feedback on learning and goals. It is important for students to know not only that you care, but that you are an active participant in their academic and social success. Written feedback is also impactful, but strive to be specific—instead of saying (or writing) “great job,” how about something like “I love the way you analyzed that text with such specific details”! This way, students know what the desired outcomes are and also when they meet expectations for success.

Well, that’s certainly a whole lot, but hopefully, it gets you started on the road to shaping our students’ self-esteem and creating those classroom routines and practices that foster a positive learning environment. I would love to know what you do in your daily practice to promote teen self-esteem. Drop a comment and let us all know!

 

Communication is Key

One of the things that I enjoy the most about the summer is having more time to reflect on the different tools and resources that I am using in my classroom and to explore new ones. Summer is also the perfect time to participate in professional learning, whether by attending conferences, taking classes, or meeting with other educators. This summer, I have been involved in several presentations and conversations that are focused on finding a way to enhance better communication between home and school. It is critical for classrooms today that we find a way to increase family engagement in the learning experiences of their children and make sure that everyone has access to the school information and resources, especially those that are time-sensitive.

Finding the right tools

There is no shortage of tools that we can use to form a connection between home and school, whether we want simply to send messages and class updates to students, or we want to focus more on including parents. Because teachers have so many different responsibilities, finding the time to explore tools can be a little challenging at times. This is why it’s beneficial to share what we are doing in our classrooms to help other teachers get started and to make those connections that we know are so important for student success today.

Several years ago I noticed a disconnect and I resolved that by finding a digital tool (Celly, then Remind) to connect with my students so I could share resources and class updates with them. But I soon realized that I needed to go beyond simply connecting my students with the class, I needed to include parents. That’s when I moved to using an LMS, Edmodo, which enabled students to get the materials that they needed, and also keep parents informed about our class.

The benefits of one platform

Although these tools worked just fine, the concern was that teachers were using multiple tools. This meant that parents had to keep up with multiple apps, some of which may not have been accessible on their devices. When I was using the messaging app and the LMS, I had to keep a good routine of posting on both platforms and keep reminding myself that I needed to do so for each class that I was teaching. After a short period of time, I realized that there were too many being used. Being able to effectively communicate and collaborate is easier when everyone uses the same platform. There is consistency and parents won’t have to worry about which teacher uses which app, or whether or not their device is compatible with the apps being used.

Making the shift

Thinking about the different communication tools available to teachers, moving to something that offers more than two-way communication and the sharing of photos, videos, and files, makes sense. We have many responsibilities that could require multiple apps or forms of communication. However, notifying parents about student attendance, scheduling conferences, asking for volunteer sign-ups, or coordinating class fundraisers, are a few added benefits when teachers use a platform that provides all of these options housed within one.

Enter ParentSquare

As teachers adopt free communication tools, districts are looking at alternatives. One such tool is ParentSquare. What does it have to offer for teachers and how does it compare to Remind and other teacher-adopted tools?

Teachers use ParentSquare for:

  • Communicating with families and students
  • sharing pictures
  • scheduling conferences
  • sharing class calendar
  • asking for class and project supplies/class party items and food
  • requesting chaperones and volunteers
  • collecting payments for field trips
  • Providing/Collecting forms and permission slips

In addition to the teacher uses, there are many other benefits for school- and district-based usage such as attendance and lunch balance notifications, bus delays, sharing grades and assignments, delivering progress reports securely, and emergency notifications. Having these capabilities makes ParentSquare a single hub for all school-home related communication for parents.

I have had the opportunity to explore ParentSquare over the last six months, to get feedback from other educators and to compare the ways that I used other messaging tools and apps in my own classroom. Besides the time factor, sometimes educators get pushback because there is just too much technology. Too many things to worry about, too big of a learning curve, and too much to figure out to get started, so it’s easier to stay with the tools that have been used for years and that are more comfortable.

Easy to join

When using a platform like ParentSquare, teachers have a lot less to worry about when it comes to sending messages and inviting parents to become part of the group. ParentSquare automatically integrates with the SIS, making it easy for parents to join because it’s done automatically for them, without the need for a join code like with Remind. Parents who don’t register will still receive messages because their information is pulled from within the school rostering system.

Comprehensive and consolidated

Parents will feel more connected to the school by having one consolidated platform, which resolves the problem of knowing where to find information or keeping up with multiple apps for different classes and yet more apps and tools used by the school and the PTA. ParentSquare combines all into one. With tools like Remind, the options are limited as to the types of information that can be shared.

Privacy

It is important to first guarantee that any tool or platform used is in compliance with COPPA and FERPA. Compliant with both, ParentSquare takes all precautions when it comes to the safety and security of students and their families. ParentSquare is a signatory of the Student Privacy Pledge and the company signs a contract with the district to ensure student privacy. While Remind is also compliant with COPPA and FERPA, it has not signed contracts with the district or school in most cases.

Delivery of messages

At times I also heard that some parents were not receiving my messages. When I used Remind, I could see that messages were delivered, however, the students or parents were not necessarily reading them, which presented another problem. Perhaps because of the use of multiple tools, which is why it makes more sense to have one comprehensive platform. ParentSquare automatically delivers messages using the right modality – email, text or app notification and the right language as is in the school records. Reports show reach and deliverability of messages, making it easy to identify who has or has not been contacted.

Consistency is important

Personally, I have used anywhere between four and six different apps and websites to complete these tasks. However, with ParentSquare, you can facilitate faster and better communication and collaboration between home and school. ParentSquare enables schools and families to engage more in conversations by providing multiple options for communicating in less time through direct messages, polls, and the option to post comments all in one platform. It offers a consistent and reliable way to communicate within the school and school district, fostering and building the relationships that promote better communication, student success, and family engagement.

In many schools, administrators are potentially asking teachers to use platforms that are a paid platform rather than selecting the tools that they feel most comfortable with or prefer to use based on their role or content area. Making the transition from a tool like Remind to that of ParentSquare does not require any extra time, in fact, it is very user-friendly and easy to navigate. And if there are any questions there are many resources available including online self-paced training modules, extensive knowledge base, 24*7 support for teachers and parents.

Sign up for a demo today

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Key features: Also check out the video here.

Key Features  
Privacy Available, updated 2018
District Level Oversight
Messaging to and between parents
Messaging between teachers and staff
Individual/Group Messaging
Notifications as text, email, app
Send/Schedule reminders
Language Translation 100+ with Real-time translation
Class/School Calendar 2-way Sync with Google and iCal
File and Photo Sharing
Conference & Volunteer Signups
Single Sign-on
Unlimited Message Length
Coordinate Events/RSVP
Permission Slips
Devices: iOs, Android, Web
Attendance Notifications
Grades and Assignments
Report Card Delivery
Attendance Delivery and Excuse Notes
Truancy Letters
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Guest post from Rachael Mann

As Benjamin Franklin once wrote, “…but in this world, nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”, to which I would like to now respectfully add, “and technology.”

The dreaded circle of death can take many forms. My love-hate relationship with technology is relatable with everyone it seems. We’ve all been there- the projector isn’t working, the internet is stalling, or in my most recent scenario, repeated laptop failure. While working on the final chapters for my new book earlier this Spring, a message popped up saying that my power was low and to reconnect to a charger before my laptop went to sleep. I quickly went to plug in my laptop only to realize it was already plugged in. I tried a different outlet, but the message persisted. After trying different outlets in another room, I realized I was going to have to make a quick run to the Apple store to purchase a new charger.

The person assisting me at Apple suggested that I set up an appointment for later in the day to troubleshoot the problem and see if there was another underlying issue. The technician assured me that it was a routine check and that there was nothing to worry about after I expressed my fear that I would lose the data that wasn’t backed up. The “routine check-up” escalated to three technicians working to solve the problem as now the login screen wouldn’t take me back to my home screen. Five anxiety-ridden hours later, I was finally able to leave the store with my MacBook working like a brand new computer again.

The following Monday, due to a teacher shortage, I received a request to do a presentation on one of our campuses. Since most of my work is with teachers, I jumped at the opportunity to spend the afternoon in a high school classroom working directly with students. I rushed over and arrived at the same time that the students were piling in. I quickly set up my laptop and connected the projector, only to see that the dreaded message that had popped up at the Apple store only a few days earlier was once again on my screen.

Fortunately, the students had assignments to do for their IT class and were able to work independently. The IT specialist for the campus came to my assistance, but when he saw the message and realized that it was a personal computer, not one of the school’s devices, he could not offer his services after all.

With the students still working on their own, I took the window of time as an opportunity to call the Apple hotline. After 30 minutes of troubleshooting and still no progress, I resolved myself to the fate of spending another full evening at the Apple store. As I walked away from the laptop to see if any of thee students needed assistance, but a student who had been observing my challenge piped up and said, “Miss, I am a certified technician, can I look at your computer?”.

Several students protested, saying don’t let Peter work on it, he breaks everything! At this point, iI figured it couldn’t get any worse, and I was intrigued by this student’s curiosity and confidence, so I agreed to let Peter help me.

After a few clicks, other students began to gather around. What started as a failed attempt on my part had spontaneously turned into a class project. Some of Peter’s classmates began looking up solutions while others were yelling out commands. At one point, multiple kids were saying, “No, not the Kernel!. I thought this was a new slang word from this younger generation and told them to keep it down, later learning that “the Kernel” was actually a term for a code that he was using. They were speaking a foreign language to me!

As Peter continued to troubleshoot, another screen showed that it wasn’t bootable. From the other student’s expressions, I knew this was a bad thing.

At this point, I began mentally preparing myself for purchasing a new laptop and hoping that I had saved my presentation for Pennsylvania, where I was traveling to the next day, in iCloud. After a short time, Peter asked me to log in. He had finally fixed what the tech specialist at his own school, Apple phone support, and several Apple techs in the store, could not accomplish. My evening was once again free and my trip to Pennsylvania would not incur the price of a new computer to deliver my presentation.

This is what Career and Technical Education is all about. Giving students real-world experiences and skills that will serve them as they decide to move forward on their career path.

I asked Peter about his plans after graduation and he shared that he may get another certification, join the military, or pursue a career in cybersecurity. I have since learned that he was offered a job by one an advisory council member from the program and is now employed locally by Code Ninjas.

Regardless of the paths that his classmates choose, at its’ very core, nearly every career imaginable is a technology career. While it may seem that I am overstating, as Peter Diamandis said in Bold: How to Go Big, Create Wealth and Impact the World, “Right now, there is another asteroid striking our world, already extinguishing the large and lumbering, already clearing a giant path for the quick and nimble. Our name for this asteroid is “exponential technology,” and even if this name is unfamiliar, its impact is not.”

To be successful in any field now requires having a strong technology skill set. This program will equip students with that critical tool.

Early on when the internet was just beginning to explode, it was common to hear professionals typing away on their trusty typewriter and stating, “this internet thing is just a fad”. Fast forward to a mere two decades later and “this internet thing” has not only proven that it is here to stay, it has now become a way of life. Technology will advance, whether we agree to join or not. Those who decide to keep pace will own the future.

Now, the greatest challenges facing the world can also be viewed as the greatest opportunities for our students in classrooms in every corner of the world. As educators, it is our privilege, as well as our responsibility, to give students the opportunity to start tackling big problems now, problems that could lead to initial failure, but ultimately lead them to their own success – which in this case, became my success as well.

 

Buncee: More than just a presentation tool!

There are a lot of great digital tools out there for educators to bring into their classrooms. When it comes to deciding on a specific tool to use, we must always think about our purpose and perhaps ask ourselves a few questions, such as: why are we looking for a digital tool, what are we hoping to accomplish by using it and how will it benefit students and learning? I’m often asked by colleagues either to recommend a new tool or direct them to something specific based on their requirements, such as video, audio, text and more. Because Buncee is such a versatile tool and offers so many options all-in-one, I find myself recommending it a lot. It is easy to get started with and full of choices for teachers and students.

Educators want to use tools that promote student choice and student voice and offer more than just one purpose. The reason I recommend Buncee is because it offers much more than simply being a way to create presentations. In addition to all of the wonderful things that can be created using Buncee, there are additional benefits for educators and students that might be overlooked or simply not thought of when getting started. For example, educators can meet the ISTE Standards for Students and Educators. By having students create with Buncee, students become empowered learners, creative communicators, innovative designers, knowledge constructors and engage in learning that meets each of the ISTE standards. With technology, we want to make sure that it is being used in a way that amplifies student voice and choice in learning.

However, Buncee does more than that. Beyond addressing the ISTE standards and providing students with more authentic and personalized learning experiences when creating with Buncee, there are other skills that are being addressed. In my own classroom, we have used Buncee for many different projects and even for project-based learning (PBL). My students created Buncees to share with their global peers in Argentina and Spain. Creating an “About Me” Buncee enabled all students to develop a more global understanding and become aware of cultural differences, as well as to develop empathy in the process.

Students enjoy creating with Buncee and even more than seeing their own creations, they really enjoy seeing what their classmates create. I have noticed that students become more comfortable with one another in class and start to build closer connections while working on their Buncees. Even the quietest students begin to ask questions, interact more and have been more engaged in creating when using Buncee than they had with other tools before. Students tell me that they enjoy teaching one another, learning about their classmates in unique ways, and feel like they are part of a classroom community.

Knowing that students are picking up on this has been a great way to foster the social-emotional skills (SEL) students need now and in the future. Buncee is so invested in providing a lot of options and opportunities for students and educators to enjoy learning, creating and growing together. Now Buncee has templates available to address SEL.

What is Social-emotional learning?

CASEL (The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning), formed in 1994, is an organization which actively works toward promoting the importance of developing SEL skills in education. SEL is focused on five competencies: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision making. The development of these skills can benefit the level of student engagement as well, leading to higher academic achievement and reduce discipline issues in the classroom.

Providing opportunities for students to interact through the use of digital tools and activities in the classroom promotes the development of social-emotional learning skills. Using some of the Buncee templates and emojis, students can comfortably express how they are feeling, provide a quick check-in based on their level of understanding, share personality characteristics or likes and dislikes, or respond to questions in class, for a few options. Buncee is “giving a voice to the voiceless.”

In my own experience, I have seen students who have preferred to not speak out in class or who voiced that they were not creative or would not be able to do a presentation, design amazing Buncees and be excited to share with their classmates. Students build confidence while creating and the benefit is that they become more engaged in and excited to share their learning and interact with classmates. It helps to foster the development of skills such as problem-solving, working with different layouts, visualizing and displaying student learning.

It is always a good idea to ask students for feedback. I want to know what their thoughts are, if the tool or strategy is making a difference for them and if so, how. Here are some student thoughts about Buncee.

“It helps me to express my ideas more easily and make presentations which are much more interactive for myself and for my classmates.”

It is made in a way that allows students to make it really personal and specific to what they need. If students are enjoying their work and are able to make it their own, then they will be more willing to learn and will improve because of using Buncee.”

Hearing from students is important and making sure that all students feel comfortable expressing themselves is even more important. With Buncee, students have many choices to find what interests them and to express themselves in a way that is authentic, meaningful and personalized.

Educators have busy schedules and one thing that I hear quite often is that there never seems to be enough time. We need time to plan for our classes, to complete different tasks required by our roles in education, and of course, most importantly is time to spend with our students. But in order to be at our best, we need to find time to take advantage of different learning opportunities to stay informed of best practices and emerging trends in education. We also need time to connect with other educators. It’s through these relationships and finding the right tools that we will grow personally and professionally, and bring our best selves into our classrooms each day. The challenge is not so much in finding resources, but rather in finding the most valuable ones that will fit into already busy schedules.

Personally, I stay involved in a lot of different ways so I can continue to build my professional knowledge and my connections with other educators around the world. Having chosen to spend many of my first years of teaching isolated, I missed a lot of opportunities to learn more, to do more, and to provide more for my students. A few years ago I made a shift to becoming a more connected educator by leveraging the technology available through social media. It has been an ongoing personal and professional transformation. Becoming connected has increased my awareness of the plethora of learning opportunities available for educators. I have changed my teaching methods, broadened my perspective of strategies and best practices in education and have more options for getting the support that I need to bring new ideas into my classroom.

Here are different ideas for ways to learn on any schedule. These options create a lot of possibilities for how, when, and where we can engage in professional development and become more connected educators. With the summer break coming for many educators, it can be the perfect time to explore new ideas.

Social Media

Over the past few years, there has definitely been an increase in the amount of social media used by educators for professional learning and networking. Depending on your level of comfort and how often you choose to interact, there are many ways to learn, crowdsource ideas and access different perspectives and people with different backgrounds and experiences.

  1. Twitter. Although I was hesitant for many years to create a Twitter account, once I did a few years ago, my Professional Learning Network (PLN) has continued to grow. Whether you have time to engage in a nightly or weekly Twitter chat or just follow one of the many hashtags related to education, there is something for everyone when it comes to Twitter. Do you have ideas and want to gather more? Create your own hashtag and use it to invite people to share their ideas with you. Post a poll to get quick feedback, find educators to follow and create a list to keep track of resources and ideas shared. In addition to hashtags, there are many chats and topics to follow. If you want to find educators to follow on Twitter, David Lockhart created a list of 100 educators to look into.
  2. Voxer. A walkie-talkie messaging app that promotes communication and collaboration. It’s easy to get started with and it provides a lot of different ways to add to your professional learning. Use it for somewhat asynchronous conversations with a colleague, create a small group to discuss specific topics such as blended learning, project-based learning or augmented and virtual reality. Using Voxer for a book study also works very well. It provides a great platform for talking about a book and sharing resources, without having to be in the same space at the same time. There are even groups on Voxer, you can search the list and join them. It’s nice to be able to listen to the messages on the way to or from school, perhaps during a lunch break, or while making time for a walk and self-care.
  3. Facebook. Initially used with friends and family as a way to share what’s happening in each other’s lives and maybe to reconnect to organize events like family or class reunions, Facebook is now used by a lot of educators. There are many educator accounts to follow as well as groups of educators to join.

Information Sharing

Sometimes it is easier to find the information that you need, especially information which is current and offers a lot of resources, by exploring the different digital forms of information such as books, blogs, and podcasts. Knowing that the information is credible, up-to-date, and provided by educators with experience, is what sets these options apart from other options.

1. Blogs are a quick way to get information from a variety of sources, especially when you look at different blogs available from publications such as Getting SmartEdSurgeTeachThoughtEdutopiaeSchoolNews and EdWeek to name a few. Searching the list of top education blogs to follow is helpful for finding specific topics, content areas, and grade levels, or even for opportunities to contribute to a blog.

Many educators have personal blogs which offer a lot of inspiration and share ideas and even struggles. You can browse through this list of educator blogs to follow. Some educators that I follow are Mandy FroehlichJennifer GonzalezEric SheningerKasey BellKristen NanMatt Miller, and David Lockhart.

2. Podcasts can be a great way to pass time when traveling to and from work, relaxing or even during exercise. Most podcasts are short enough that you can listen to an episode and pick up new ideas and inspiration. Over the past year, there has been an increase in the number of podcasts available to teachers, whether created by educational organizations or simply teachers wanting to share their experiences and inviting others to join in the conversation. Some that I regularly listen to and which have been recommended to me are: Edumatch Tweet and Talk, Jennifer Gonzalez (Cult of Pedagogy), Vicki Davis (Ten Minute Teacher), Will Deyamport (The Dr. Will Show, the Edupreneur), Barbara Bray (Rethink Learning), Brad Shreffler (Planning Period Podcast), Don Wettrick (StartEDUp),  Google Teacher TribeTeachers on Fire, Andrew Wheelock (Coffee with a Geek), Dan Kreiness (Leader of Learning), and Denis Sheeran (Instant Relevance Podcast).

3. Books. There are more educational books available for professional learning than ever before. It’s easy to find book recommendations by following specific hashtags on Twitter or looking at different curated lists of education books. For some book recommendations, I generally follow the hashtags #bookcampPD#PD4uandMe, and #Read4Fun, which are led by different educators. The Read4Fun group also shares books in a Voxer group. For a list of recommended books, ISTE crowdsourced recommendations last year and I also created a survey to gather ideas from educators. Some of the books mentioned on the list include: Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess, The Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros, Courageous Edventures by Jennie Magiera, Culturize by Jimmy Casas, LAUNCH by A.J. Juliani and John Spencer, Lead Like a Pirate by Shelley Burgess and Beth Houf, Start with Why by Simon Sinek, Daring Greatly by Brené Brown, Take the L.E.A.P.  (Elisabeth Bostwick), and What School Could Be by Ted Dintersmith. Many publishers have books coming out on an almost weekly basis it seems. Check into DBC ConsultingEduMatch PublishingIMpress and ISTE to explore more books available.

Online Learning Opportunities

When we leverage technology in a way that opens up powerful learning opportunities and pushes back the limits based on time and location constraints, we find innovative ways that we can learn.

4. Online Learning Communities. There are different learning communities to join in for professional development. As a Common-Sense Certified Educator, you have access to the newest tools and resources. By becoming Google Certified or a Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert, educators can enroll in learning modules, training sessions, and receive a digital badge for completion of each different module. Besides building PLN, these opportunities offer yet another way to learn on your schedule, in a time and place that meet your own needs.

5. Summits and Webinars. There are organizations that provide webinars for educators, many of which are offered free of charge or a minimal fee or are subscription-based. For example, if you take advantage of providers like EdWeekSimple K12, or ASCD there are webinars available on a variety of different topics that work with your schedule. As a member of ISTE, joining in any of the PLNs gives you access to a series of weekly webinars and sometimes even more than once per week depending on the PLN. These webinars can be viewed live or as recordings when most convenient to you. The topics are always current and in some cases cutting edge or emerging trends, so you can keep informed of new ideas and teaching strategies, better than you ever could before.

Throughout the year there are even online conferences, or “Summits” which provide a series of speakers and sessions, sometimes held over a multi-day format. These are offered free and in my own experience, have always provided a wealth of knowledge and resources. Personal favorites include the Ditch Summit hosted by Matt Miller, Hive Summit hosted by Michael Matera and EdCamp Voice on Voxer, started by Sarah Thomas of EduMatch.

It’s clear there are many options and resources available to educators for professional development. It simply takes thinking about an area you would like to learn more about, exploring one of the choices and giving it a try.

 

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When people find out that I am a teacher, one of the first things they say is “it must be nice to have your summers off.”  Yes, it is, but in all honesty, I would be fine if my school switched to year-round schooling. I enjoy being in the classroom and look forward to each day and what it brings, even the challenges that might pop up. More than anything, I love working with students and learning from them. My reason for loving the summer is not because I don’t have to go to work; it’s because it is an opportunity to have more time with family and friends and to take part in professional development and reflection.

Time for Reconnecting

Life gets so busy sometimes that before you know it, weeks and months pass by and you might find that you haven’t had a lot of time to spend with family and friends.  Of course, technology helps us to stay connected more than we could before. Whether we use text messaging, different apps, FaceTime or even a hangout to see our family and friends, it’s not the same as time together in person. More days at home means more time for family and friends.

I’m also excited for conference season to be here and to have time to spend with some of my closest friends learning together and relaxing. It was an amazing week at ISTE 2019 in Philadelphia and it is hard to believe that it has already passed! Time to start prepping for ISTE 2020!

I presented several sessions while at ISTE, which is such a fantastic conference that brings so many educators from around the world together every year.  We had so much fun and some of these pictures totally capture that well. It is great to spend time with my 53s and the 4OCFPLN and meet some PLN for the first time in person.  I loved getting to finally meet (in person) Elisabeth Bostwick, Rich Czyz, Tamara Letter, Scott Nunes, David Lockett,  Annick Rauch, Stacey Roshan, the Gimkit team of Josh and Jeff, and a few members of the 4OCFPLN that I only knew through Voxer!

Now I am prepping for the next learning adventure which is coming up in 2 weeks. I’m fortunate to be part of the EdWriteNow Volume 3 group of authors who will meet in Boston to write the book together. An added bonus is that I will get to spend extra time with my good friend Jennifer Casa-Todd while there. After Boston, a few of us are going on a writing retreat to Nashville. While each of us will be working on our respective books, it will be nice to spend time together!

Knowing that I will spend time with my core groups, the 53s and the #4OCFPLN, plus meet other members of my PLN for the first time, in real life, is one of my favorite things about the summer.   

 

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Time for Recharging

Summer is a time for a lot of things, one of the most important is self-care and recharging. So doing some normal summer things like sleeping in late, catching up with friends and family, going on vacations, ditching our devices and not worrying about setting the alarm are important for our self-care. Summer is also a valuable time for teachers to do even more on a personal and professional basis like think about their practice and take advantage of the opportunities that are out there for personal and professional development and growth. Attending conferences like ISTE give me a renewed excitement for the work that I do. My energy rarely dips when I am at these events, surrounded by friends and learning.

Time for Learning

A more flexible schedule for the summer means more time for attending conferences or webinars, joining in book studies or Voxer groups, or connecting within different learning communities. It might be easier to get involved in a Twitter chat, whatever it is during the school year that just doesn’t seem to fit as part of your routine, make it part of your summer routine.

 

There are lots of opportunities out there and my advice is to decide what is best for you. Do you want to be in one Voxer group or join one book study? Then make that your focus. Or maybe you want to start a blog or create a  new website. It’s up to you because it is your time to decide how to spend your summer break. I’m thrilled to be part of the summer BookcampPD book study with my book In Other Words. Looking forward to discussing the six books included in the study and of course, the two weeks in July (July 15-28), when we get to talk about my book and share ideas and takeaways from it.

 

Enjoy yourself

Each summer gets better and better, and it’s not because I traveled and spent hours on beaches, or to the contrary, kept idle. It is because I have used the time to learn more, to read, to connect, to reflect and to prepare for the next year.  My summer goal is to work so I can start stronger and be better than I was the year before. Whatever you do this summer, make time to recharge, connect and learn. And don’t set the alarm 🙂

 

 

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