This is hard

Guest post by Deidre Roemer, originally posted on her site.

This is hard.  I was very tempted to have that be my entire post as that is how so many people, including me, are feeling these days.  I am always very solution focussed and generally very positive.  That hasn’t changed, but I am trying to adjust how I approach solutions and celebrations.  I am trying to listen to more, acknowledge that this is hard, recognize amazing work frequently, encourage everyone to take several deep breaths, and then offer as much support as I can to help. I have also been reaching out for help from my incredible support system. I need it. This is hard for everyone.

Our community has been asking questions about how we are supporting the mental health of our students right now.  It’s a question we should be asking every day all year long whether we are in a pandemic or not, but this time has undoubtedly brought the concern to the forefront more than ever.  As I compiled the list of what our team has done over the last several years to support learners’ mental health, it was staggering to see how much we have added and embedded across contexts.  We have added licensed therapists to each school site that see learners through their insurance and help families who don’t have access to insurance apply for it.  Some of those therapists also co-teach in classrooms and have office hours for staff so they can problem solve how to best help learners.  We have classroom teachers all over our district embedding social-emotional learning lessons and Mindfulness into daily instruction.  Our teachers spend a lot of time building relationships with our learners and offering them opportunities to build relationships with one another.  We have a school counselor, social worker, and/or a school psychologist at each school to work with staff, learners, and families.  We have Hope Squads at all our secondary schools so our learners have peer to peer support. 

Our professional development has also included training over the last several years in understanding trauma, culturally responsive practices, restorative practices, empathy and design thinking to solve problems, Zones of Regulation, Universal Design for Learning, innovative classroom practices, and many more.  The idea is that staff members (including teachers, administrators, secretaries, assistants, recreation staff, facilities, and food service) have a wide array of tools to use in our schools to understand and empower all learners.  They often get to choose sessions that are important to them or suggest topics on which they would like professional development as we want all staff to feel empowered in their work.  We have also tried to build a lot of support for our staff through coaching as they need to feel our support to make it all work.  

Now, we are trying to make education work in the middle of a pandemic.  Our learners are all virtual right now.  We are anxious to see them back in school and were optimistic a few weeks ago that we could start bringing them back a few days a week until our health metrics took a turn for the worse.  We meet regularly with our local health department to discuss safety and are furiously planning safety measures and logistics for the time when we bring our learners back into physical schools.  In the meantime, our recreation department has opened camps for elementary students and students with special needs that families who need care and/or support with virtual instruction can access.  The camps can be kept small and can spread out across large spaces while providing a needed resource for some of our families in the safest way possible.

Our teachers are more stressed than normal.  Our families are more stressed than normal.  Our learners are more stressed than normal.  Our administrators and coaches are more stressed than normal. Everyone is feeling disconnected from one another.  The unpredictability of the current situation is overwhelming for all of us.  The length of time this has gone on with no foreseeable end in sight is making it even more challenging.  We are also headed into the cold and flu season with the weather getting colder, which means fewer opportunities to be outside.  We have all had to adapt and do it quickly. It can be done, but this is hard.  It is okay to say that out loud and recognize it.  

I am really proud of the work we have done to shift the learner experience over the last several years, which is serving us well in virtual instruction.  It does not make this less stressful on our team, but many of them have been adapting and shifting for years so they have tools to do it. We have been very purposeful in finding ways to meet teachers and administrators where they are and encourage them to make small steps that add up to big ones.  As a district leadership team, we have tried to share the message that we are here to support our schools in any way we can to empower our learners to be ready to live life on their own terms when they graduate from our system.  We are now forced to make shifts at warp speed and shift more frequently than we would ever normally ask people to do. It means instead of just support to grow as professionals; we had to start thinking creatively about how to take some things off their plates.    

Our teachers have the option to teach from home or school during virtual instruction as we trust them to know what is best for them. We have built more planning time into the day at each level and shifted our professional development days to be planning and self-directed time for teachers.  Purposeful professional development with choice for teachers is still a key element of our strategic plan, but that needs to look different right now.  Instead of planning required sessions for all staff to attend, we shifted to self-paced courses that teachers could choose from and complete at their own pace and time. They could also choose not to select one at this time if they didn’t feel it was something they could take on.  We will circle back to those staff later and build professional development support for them when they are ready for it and as they need it throughout the year.

We have encouraged our administrators to give our teachers permission to engage learners differently and focus on their interests.  Academic content is an essential part of our work, but we can spend more time connecting and embed content as we go.  In a collaboration session during emergency remote teaching last spring, a staff member shared how a learner went to work with his dad each day and spent a huge portion of one day on Facetime with his teacher showing her his community and what he had learned about his dad’s job.  Others in that same session shared similar stories apologizing that they weren’t doing anything “academic”. My response was that what they were doing was building a sense of belonging and an academic mindset, which IS essential to academics and life success.  We worked all summer to be ready for virtual instruction that was more robust than what we were able to do in emergency remote teaching last spring, but that doesn’t mean it can’t still be focused on the whole child and embed time to connect as people.  Teachers can find a balance synchronous time with some asynchronous time to meet the needs of learners. They can use choice boards, complete planned activities, write reflections, or work on long-term projects during the time they are asynchronous.  They know their families and learners best, and we trust them to make the right decisions on finding balance.

We always want to hear feedback from our learners, staff, and community as it allows us to know what we are doing well and where we need to improve.  We have sent out an employee engagement and parent satisfaction survey twice a year and learners complete a social-emotional learning survey so we can gauge how they are feeling about the development of their own skills in self-regulation, social awareness, classroom effort, growth mindset, and curiosity for the last several years.  This year, we had the opportunity to offer different surveys that were much shorter for staff and families.  While we still needed their feedback, we also needed a quick and easy survey for them to complete that gave us fast results so we can adjust resources and support.  We added a wellness survey for our learners and do empathy interviews to ask them directly about how they are doing, if they are connected to adults and peers for support, and what they need to feel successful. 

We have encouraged our principals to think about a shift in teacher evaluation as well.  Our teacher evaluation process is intended to be one of self-reflection wherein the teacher sets a student learning objective for the year and a professional practice goal.  The observations should be an opportunity to collect evidence towards those goals with time to check-in with the teacher to help them celebrate success and adjust the goals throughout the year.  We have not always approached teacher evaluation that way but have been trying to move to a more reflective process over the last year.  We get to take this unusual year to accelerate that process so observations can be done in short one-on-one meetings during which teachers can share the evidence they have collected about their own their own practice to share with us.  We want to take the pressure off the formal nature of teacher observation but still get at the intent of the cycle of self-directed, continuous improvement in a way that also gives us more time to connect individually with each staff member.  We have some schools trying this out in the next couple of weeks. I am anxious to hear how it goes and to find out if the change alleviates some stress for administrators and teachers.

Our teachers also had the opportunity to meet as grade levels and departments before school started to share ideas and create lists of resources they thought they would need to make this all work.  We have ordered thousands of whiteboards, music kits, art kits, sensory tools, apps, and online subscriptions. We want our learners to have access to instructional materials in addition to technology and hotspots at home.  We trade reading books and give out learning kits once a month in a drive-up system at most of our schools. We also added many supplies to schools as students won’t be able to share materials with one another as easily in classrooms once we are back.  We’ve added some new and adaptive resources for teachers that all still align with our strategic plan but make the work more doable in a virtual or distance learning.  Teachers continue to send us requests regularly as they plan engaging activities to do at home in the next few weeks.  Sometimes the requests make me wonder what will come next, but mostly they make me excited that our learners are still having interactive, hands-on opportunities in our virtual world.  

This is hard.  Saying so doesn’t make it any easier, but it does create space for us to rely on each other to get through it.  I want all our staff, learners, and families to know that we see them.  We see the efforts they are putting in each hour of the day.  We see that they sometimes need us to support them in new and different ways.  We see that they may feel overwhelmed by the world right now and sometimes need some space to feel that.  We see that we need to find even more ways to connect and listen to them.  Mostly we see that they are all doing the best they can each day, despite everything that is thrown at them, to always keep what is best for children at the forefront.  I love this quote by Todd Whitaker, “The best thing about being a teacher is that it matters. The hardest thing about being a teacher is that it matters every day.” Not only does teaching matter, but the people who do it each day matter too.

I am a proud mother, wife, and educator dedicated to creating experiences for all learners that are authentic and connect their time in school to what and who they want to be well beyond high school. I serve as the Director of Leadership and Learning for the West Allis- West Milwaukee School District in West Allis, WI. The thoughts I share here are my own and my reflections on our work. View all posts by Deidreroemer

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Explore New Ideas and Learning With Buncee

Explore New Ideas and Have Fun Creating With Buncee!

Now that the school year has started and for many, some are moving toward the end of the first grading period, you might be looking for some new ideas to try. Don’t worry, once he definitely has you covered when it comes to finding new ideas to use in your classroom. Whether you check out the many visually engaging tweets of Buncees created and shared by educators from around the world. Educators are posting how they are using Buncee in their classrooms with their students or in their roles as administrators and tech coaches. You should also explore the many templates available or ideas in the Ideas Lab, you can find exactly what you need.

Join the Buncee Educator Facebook community Check out some recent Idea o’clock live sessions that were held. The past couple of weeks had Shannon Miller, Amy Storer and Karina Q sharing ideas for journaling and time capsules, tips for instructional coaches and interactive Buncee journals and OneNote.

Sometimes we just need a few ideas to get started with and then before you know it, we come up with a bunch of ideas and what I find even more often, our students come up with many of their ideas as well. One that I start with in my Spanish and STEAM classes is creating an About Me. I love creating a new one each time with them! We are just getting started this week and I cannot wait to see what they create!

More Ideas to Try

With many schools looking to hold events for families virtually, why not try using some of the templates available within Buncee. It would be fun to have students create their own Buncee to share what they have learned and how they are enjoying their class. Students can add in a video of them talking about their experiences so far and add 3D objects, animations, stickers, emojis and more! All of the student Buncees can then be shared on a Buncee board to share with families. Imagine how fun it would be to see and get to know classmates and post comments even!

Perhaps create your presentation to share all of the information about your class and design your virtual classroom choosing from many the templates available. Why not also include your bitmoji and then record audio and video to go along with it. It’s very important for our students and their families to be able to see and hear us and our excitement for teaching and working with the students. What better way than to create a Buncee virtual classroom

Love these ideas shared from Buncee! Find the templates available in the Buncee library:

Meet the teacher flyers

Virtual classrooms

Daily remote learning journals

Time capsule activities

Digital citizenship lessons

Social media profiles

Record a video for genius hour

So many choices!

Get involved in the upcoming Global Write with Buncee and help to connect students with students from around the world. Daily prompts are provided for students to create and share stories. Learn more about this amazing collaborative project and get involved today!

Check out the many ideas that have been shared by Holly Clark. Look how many great ideas are listed in this graphic! Check out what teachers and students can do with Buncee and see which apps you are using that integrate with Buncee too! My students love using Buncee with Flipgrid and I love being able to share Buncees through Microsoft Teams and even schedule meetings! The possibilities are endless!

Explore the many new templates and have students create vision boards and more with Buncee! Virtual lockers, class schedules, organizers, newsletters, About me Buncees and so many other options to get started with here.

Learn about how other educators are using Buncee in their classrooms. Read about how Teresa Liu is using Buncee to engage special needs students in this blog post.

Updates and training!

If you’re looking for some help in getting started with Buncee, don’t miss out on the daily live training that is offered throughout the week. Each session is focused on helping educators get started with Buncee by showing some of the many possibilities and where to find all of the amazing graphics and the options that are available within Buncee. There really are endless possibilities when it comes to creating with Buncee and there is something in it for everyone.

I love taking courses through the Microsoft educator program, check out the Buncee course on Creative Expression & SEL with Buncee.

Buncee is always adding new features and expanding all that they provide for educators and for student learning. Recently they had a partnership with Flipgrid where now you can find many Buncee templates available to use in combination with Flipgrid, especially some for promoting SEL and also for organization. Stay tuned for some new updates coming with Buncee’s partnership with Microsoft.

Get involved!

Buncee is currently taking applications to become part of their Ambassador program. Applications are due on October 9th and if you’re looking for a supportive network to become a part of and to learn more about the power of creating with Buncee, I definitely recommend that you check out the ambassador program and see what is happening in the community. Especially at a time like now, where we are working through a lot of challenges in the world and an education, we need to have a supportive network to learn and grow with, especially one that is focused on promoting student voice and choice!

One of the ambassadors, Ilene Winokur has been telling the story of Bunceeman’s adventures! Bunceeman is visiting all of the Buncee ambassadors and this is a fantastic way to collaborate and learn about people and places from around the world! Check out his adventures here!

Global Events Coming up!

DigCit Summit happened on October 14th and Buncee was a sponsor of the event. See all of the digital citizenship templates and graphics available in the Buncee library! One of my first Buncees was a digcit lesson! Add in links, videos, audios, questions and more to create a lesson for students and then have them create their own digcit PSA! Join in the #Usetech4good Buncee challenge!

Global Maker Day is coming up on October 20th! Sign up to join in this day of amazing learning opportunities! Looking forward to seeing some Buncees created and shared throughout the day!

What’s Your Green Sauce?

Guest post By Brent Coley, @brentcoley

Principal, Alta Murrieta Elementary School, Murrieta, CA

#EduInfluence

Most people have a favorite restaurant. Ask 20 people to identify their favorite and you may get 20 different answers. Some may name a fine steakhouse like Ruth’s Chris or Morton’s. Fans of sushi might select as their favorite a local establishment serving up this Japanese delicacy. Ask a small child to name his or her favorite and you may get McDonald’s or Little Caesar’s as the answer. To each his own.

What about me? What’s my favorite restaurant? If you hadn’t already read the title of this blog post, the answer may have surprised you. My favorite? El Pollo Loco.

That’s right. El Pollo Loco.

Seriously, Brent? El Pollo Loco? Out of all the restaurants you could choose, your favorite is a drive-thru fast food restaurant serving a variety of inexpensive chicken meals? That’s right. El Pollo Loco.

I love this restaurant. It’s affordable. It’s relatively healthy when compared to other fast food options that serve up only burgers and fries. And there’s a location only a mile down the road from my school. I’m not ashamed to say I order lunch here multiple times a week. I get the same thing every time. A $5 Pollo Bowl Combo with flour tortillas and a large tropical iced tea. Mmmm. My mouth is watering just thinking about it.

But it’s not the taste of the food that keeps me coming back, though I do enjoy the combination of chicken, beans, and rice. It’s not the value either, though being able to fill my stomach for under six bucks is a fact my budget definitely appreciates. And it’s not the comfortable ambience I used to enjoy before COVID-19 forced the closure of all restaurant dining rooms in my community. So what is it? What pulls me to this restaurant like the Millennium Falcon caught in the Death Star’s tractor beam? (You’re welcome, Star Wars fans.)

It’s the avocado salsa, what I affectionately call “green sauce.” I absolutely love it. Seriously, can’t get enough. It’s flavorful with just the right amount of kick. I could drink it like water (which I actually did one time to win a bet, but that’s another story). I love smothering each bite in this liquid slice of heaven.

If I hit the drive-thru and discover upon returning to the office they forgot to put my green sauce in the bag, my mood turns grumpy. The birds stop singing, and the day seems darker. The meal just isn’t the same. I go to El Pollo Loco for the avocado salsa. I go for the green sauce. If the restaurant stopped serving it, I can honestly say I wouldn’t eat there as frequently as I do. I’m not sure I would go at all. It’s that important to me.

​It’s salsa for crying out loud. A side dish. No, it’s not even a side dish. A condiment. It’s a condiment, something extra the restaurant gives away for free, but it’s what keeps me coming back over and over. And over.

So let’s tie this into education. Ladies and gentlemen, my question to you is this — “What’s your green sauce?”

What is that extra something that keeps your students wanting to come back to your classroom, to your school? What is it that, figuratively speaking, makes their mouths water when they think about getting to spend time with you?

While this question focuses on the “extra,” let me be clear. The main dishes we serve in our classrooms, lessons in reading, writing, math, or whatever subject you teach, are important. Very, very important. It’s imperative we provide our students with rigorous opportunities for learning, that we fill their “stomachs” with nutritious “food.” But my point is this — the main dish may not be what gets your students up in the morning. It may be that something extra you provide, that cherry on top. It may be the green sauce.

So I ask you once again, “What’s your green sauce?”

  • It may be your smiling face that greets students each day when they enter your classroom or the front gate of your school.
  • It may be the high five, fist bump, or hug at the door each morning (current physical distancing restrictions aside).
  • It may be the smelly stickers you put on your students’ exams when they do well. That’s right. A smelly sticker may be making a student’s day, may be what he or she is looking forward to. And this is not just limited to the elementary grades.
  • It may be the instrumental music you play in the background as students are working, or the upbeat music you have playing in the room as students enter each day.
  • It may be the corny dad jokes you tell every day. You know, the ones at which the students outwardly roll their eyes, but inwardly look forward to hearing.
  • It may be the class Instagram account you created to share the great things taking place in your classroom. Or maybe you’re on TikTok, creating funny videos, making you “cool” in your students’ eyes.

In the grand scheme of things, these are all actions or gestures that could be considered small. These may not have been the things upon which your professors focused when you were studying to be a teacher. But that doesn’t mean they can’t and don’t make a big difference in the lives of those we serve. Don’t underestimate the power of the little things, because more often than we may think, it’s that little something extra, that green sauce, that our students are thirsting for and what keeps them coming back for more.

​What’s your green sauce?


Want to hear more? I devoted an entire chapter of my book Stories of EduInfluence to the topic of how small actions can make a big impact. Click/tap here to listen to the Audible version of “Chapter 8: The Power of the Little Things.”

If you’d like to purchase a copy of the book, available in paperback, Kindle, and audio versions, head over to Amazon.

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

Looking for a new book to read? Many stories from educators, two student chapters, and a student-designed cover for In Other Words.

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

************ Also check out my THRIVEinEDU Podcast Here!

Join my weekly show on Wednesdays at 4pm EST on Learningrevolution.com THRIVEinEDU  Join the group here

EXPOSE YOUR STUDENTS TO INNOVATORS – EVEN DURING A PANDEMIC!

Guest post by Kevin Anselmo

Many are eloquently making the case for enhancing students’ social capital – access to human connections that support a students’ career goals. 

Traditionally, one might think that the best way to do this is via in-person activities like mentoring programs and career events. It is indeed a shame that many in-person activities are curtailed due to COVID-19. Many are rightfully in survival mode trying to get by during these difficult times. Experiences that might be a bit outside the box are put on the backburner. 

My message for you is simple: now is a better time than ever to expose your students to individuals who can support a students’ career goals. Overall, many successful business people are more willing to give back to society. Many empathize with the situation that educators are being tasked with during these times. Hopefully, you might sense and experience a greater appreciation for teachers and school administrators.  

There are surely many ways to do this. I wanted to share with you one way to accomplish this: have you students do interviews with innovators and entrepreneurs, both within your school community (alumni, local leaders, etc.) and beyond. Then have the students create content based on this interview, whether it is a video posted online, a podcast or a written article. 

I put together a process that focused on the writing aspect through Interview an Innovator, an experiential, eight-module online course that is part of my Global Innovators Academy initiative.  

Six different college students and one high school senior have gone through this experience over the summer by interviewing different professionals and entrepreneurs aligned to the student’s particularly interest. I have seen first-hand how their social capital has been impacted through the process of conducting interviews and then publishing their work on the Global Innovators Academy website. Here is a recap

1. Motivation

Imagine you are a college student interested in working in the fashion industry. You interview an entrepreneur who started a clothing retail brand that now has over 100 stores around the country. You engage in a meaningful conversation with this entrepreneur before writing an article online highlighting this individual’s journey, advice for young people and your key takeaways. This is exactly what Haley Panessa, a student at Rollins College, experienced when she interviewed Kevin McLaughlin, the co-founder of the clothing retail brand J.McLaughlin (here is the article).

“This gave me the confidence and knowledge as to how I can work on my professional growth during these early stages of my life,” she said.

Cali Carper is an aspiring community leader who used the course experience to interview two different political leaders in her home state of Wisconsin. 

“The opportunity to interview different leaders and write a story offers the potential to imagine our future,” she explained. “The journey starts with curiosity. Then, our imagination motivates us to create new connections, ask thoughtful questions and form new beliefs. We have to imagine a future for ourselves and our work and then ensure we find the proper steps to make that vision a reality!”

It is hard to fathom any sort of typical in-class lecture or presentation that can generate such student feedback.

2. Digital networking

Many reading this have probably experienced the benefit of doing an informational interview – “picking the brain” of a professional over coffee. I consider the process of connecting with a professional and then writing an article online to be the “informational interview 2.0”. By publishing an article online, the student practices real life communications skills and showcases their work to a public audience. The individual who is interviewed reaps the benefits of positive exposure, and thus is more likely to take part.

Anybody who has ever created content online has probably benefited from new connections. This has certainly been the case for the students I worked with this summer. The articles are highlighted on the students’ individual LinkedIn profiles, liked on Facebook and retweeted on Twitter. Many of the interviewees promote their articles through online platforms, and the Global Innovators Academy’s social media channels also shine a spotlight on the students’ content. As a result, the students connect to many new individuals. Just as important, if any future recruiter searches any of these students online, they would come across thoughtful, well-written content that showcases their different skills and aspirations.

“I had the pleasure to speak with a successful businesswoman,” said Ashley Gunter, a junior at Rollins College. “I wrote an article about this experience which not only aids in self-promotion and networking but also serves as a resource for others.”

“Students and young professionals need to consider how they can enhance their marketability on a digital platform,” added Carper. “I used to think it was daunting to market myself online. The experience of interviewing an innovator gave me confidence and taught me important content marketing principles, interview best practices and professional communication tactics.” 

3. Global connection
Yejin Sohn, a senior at Perry High School in Arizona, went through the course experience. She did an interview and wrote an article about an entrepreneur literally located halfway around the world in Seoul, Korea. 

Andrey Alipov, a student at Penn State University, is currently in Russia and is in the process of writing two different articles based on interviews with U.S.-based entrepreneurs whose businesses are in the video production space, an area that he would like to work in one day.

We certainly need to educate students to be global citizens. Giving students the means to interview individuals who are located in other parts of the world gives them the opportunity to hear different perspectives. 

In addition, providing a platform for students to publish content potentially provides a global audience. As opposed to just a teacher evaluating a student’s work, now an audience located anywhere in the world is able to consume the content and provide feedback.

COVID-19: An Opportunity to Facilitate Connection

Never in our lives has there been as much uncertainty about the future of education. We can be sure that online learning will increasingly be part of education. 

We put so much emphasis on what a student knows. Without the proper networks, such skills and knowledge can’t be deployed in an optimal way. A world of connections waits at our fingertips. Let’s use the disruptions caused by the pandemic to provide students with meaningful experiences to connect with other individuals they aspire to be like one day. 

This is an adapted version of an article that was originally published on the Getting Smart blog. 

Kevin Anselmo is the founder of the Global Innovators Academy and creator of the Interview an Innovator course experience. Connect with him on LinkedIn to discuss how to expose students to innovators outside your classroom. 

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

Looking for a new book to read? Many stories from educators, two student chapters, and a student-designed cover for In Other Words.

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

 Also check out my THRIVEinEDU Podcast Here!

Join my weekly show on Wednesdays at 4pm EST on Learningrevolution.com THRIVEinEDU  Join the group here

How I Created a Podcast PD for Teachers

Guest post by Laura Cahill @engageducate

I’m always looking for ways to innovate professional development. Teachers are busy people and sometimes those after-school, face-to-face sessions just aren’t doable. I actually prefer PD that comes to me…webinars, Twitter chats, blog posts, podcasts…so I ran with that and created a podcast PD for the teachers in my district. Think book club, only with podcast episodes and online discussions. This was really simple to set up, especially because we are a G Suite for Education district but this could be done in other platforms as well. To get this running, I:

  1. Posted a sign-up to my district (this could be done at any level; district/school/grade-level/etc.)
  2. Created a Google Form with links to 20 episodes for participants to vote on (I chose all Cult of Pedagogy episodes for this initial session because I am familiar with the high quality of them but episodes could be from any/many podcasts.)
  3. Chose the top five episodes and created a Google Classroom with the link to one episode per “assignment”.
  4. Added open-ended discussion questions (What resonates for you? What do you agree/disagree with? How can you see this working in your own setting?)
  5. Set two-week “due dates” for each episode.
  6. Sat back and watched amazing conversation unfold…I didn’t really sit back, I participated, BUT I was shocked at how rich and thoughtful the conversation was!

Some logistics:

  • I offered 2 professional development hours for each week (10 total), assuming that listening takes about an hour and posting/commenting takes another hour.
  • We require that our PD participants demonstrate learning through some type of product, so we are going to create reflection videos at the end.

The participants are already asking for additional sessions and I’m thinking that participants could make suggestions for podcast episodes in the future! Such a simple solution to creating accessible and relevant PD for educators!

 

************ Check out my THRIVEinEDU PodcastHere!

Looking for a new book to read? Many stories from educators, two student chapters, and a student-designed cover for In Other Words.

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

An In-Home Learning Strategy for Busy Quarantine Families

Guest post byAndrew Easton: teacher, edu-blogger, podcaster, and future author for Dave Burgess Consulting Inc. Follow him on Twitter @EastonA1, on Instagram @andrew.d.easton, or at andrewdeaston.com/

 

In our household there are two teachers and two primary-age students, and during our first week staying at home, we had a problem. As adults, we still have work responsibilities, and at ages 5 and 8, the kids need help navigating the five subjects of schoolwork they receive each day.

Our first thought was to set a schedule so that routines would be established. In that way, designated times would kick-start certain subjects and tasks. 

Fail. 

What we quickly realized was that sometimes the kids needed support with certain tasks, and if there happened to be a Zoom staff meeting or any other commitment that prevented us from supporting them in that immediate moment, the structure fell apart. The schedule needed more flexibility.

Then, we tried a checklist.

Fail.

Next, we tried using a checklist. I mean, who doesn’t love the feeling of crossing things off your to-do list?!? Well, the answer to that is my children. Even though a checklist does not have to be done in a specific order, don’t try telling that to them. The checklist was frustrating, and stopping a task to take a break routinely killed all their motivation to continue on with their work.

 

Finally, an answer.

Recognizing the shortcomings of our initial attempts, we felt optimistic about using a “To-Do, Doing, Done” board. The idea was that each day we would write down each item on their to-do list on a separate post-it note. Those post-its get placed in their “To-Do” column, and then as they start a task, the post-it moves to the “Doing” column. Once complete, it gets moved to “Done” and five completed tasks earns a sticker that is worth 30 minutes of free time.

Success.

Here’s what’s happened since we started. The kids now wake up each morning and run to their board to search through their list for the day. We intentionally scatter the post-its so that there is no implied order, and we like to put a fun, surprise activity on a post-it and hide it in the mix. 

Oh, and in case you are wondering, yes, chores also go on post-its.

The “Doing” column has also been a godsend. There are times throughout the day when our responsibilities as adults make us momentarily unavailable to lead them through a portion of their work. The kids now know that they can leave a task in the “Doing” column and start something else if an adult is busy.

The “Doing” column has also been great for motivation. When the kids choose to stop mid-activity, we ask them to reflect on how close they are to finishing and to move that post-it to the place between the start/finish lines in the “Doing” column that reflects just how close they are to completing that task. Last week, my daughter had stopped her writing earlier in the day, but she was bent on moving the post-it to done. Seeing just how close she was to finishing, she, unprompted, wrote for an additional 30 minutes later that night.

 

Overall, this board has made our household happier and more productive. It’s helped us to maintain a more positive learning dynamic during these stressful times, which is why I wanted to share our story. I hope this strategy can help you! 

 

So from our family to yours, please know that we are thinking about you all and are sending our best wishes your way.

 

 

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

 

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Teaching HardDoes Not Always Equate to Teaching Well

Opinions expressed are those of Guest Blogger

Guest Post by Kwame Sarfo-Mensah, Founder of Identity Talk Consulting, LLC. (www.identitytalk4educators.com

Math Educator & Teacher Development Specialist, @identityshaper

 

I have been in many situations throughout my teaching career where I spent countless hours planning, what I thought, was the greatest lesson ever!   I then delivered the lesson plan with the expectation that all of my students will be successful. Over the course of the unit, I provided classwork & homework assignments, conducted small group instruction for students in need of additional support, sacrificed my lunch periods to tutor struggling students, and pretty much did everything in my power to reach all of my scholars.  After weeks of teaching my heart out, I gave my students an end-of-unit test with the confidence that all my efforts would translate to passing test scores. To my dismay, the converse of that expectation happened and that left me totally dumbfounded and wondering where it all went wrong.  

 

For too many of us, we’re quick to place all the blame on our students for their failures and stand on the notion that we did everything we needed to do to fully prepare our students for success.  As I write this piece, I’m not questioning the effort and energy that I exerted into our lessons nor am I questioning my dedication and love for them. The paramount question I had to ask was whether I taught the lesson well enough for my students to demonstrate mastery of the academic standard.   Given my past failures, I surmised that my students had gaps in their understanding because I had gaps in my own understanding of the academic standard. That being said, I had to ask myself the following questions:

 

Did I unpack the language of the academic standard? It is one thing to identify the academic standard but it’s another thing to decipher its language and develop a complete understanding of what it actually means.  I visited the Common Core Standards website to identify the standard of focus and read it carefully to identify the verbs (i.e. what students need to do), as well as the nouns (i.e. what students need to know) within it.  Some standards require students to perform multiple skills so I needed to make sure to highlight each individual skill.        

 

Did I identify the prerequisites of the academic standard?  To determine the starting point for my lesson, I had to figure out what prior knowledge students should already have in order to master the standard.  As I’ve taught previous lessons, I realized that I didn’t give some students a fair shot at having success because I never addressed the gaps in their basic skills foundation.  By identifying the prerequisites of the standard, I was able to determine if I needed to reteach previous grade-level concepts before formally introducing the new standard to the students.

 

Did I closely monitor and assess my students’ progress throughout the unit? Throughout any lesson or unit we teach, we should be actively assessing our students’ understanding of the content.  The assessment of student progress towards academic standards should be daily and ongoing. Regardless of whether the assessment is formative or summative, we should be gathering data and analyzing what type of errors they are making in their thinking.  Are there specific concepts within the unit where students are demonstrating a level of mastery? When students are sharing their thinking verbally or through writing, are we solely focusing on their response or going the extra mile by asking them clarifying questions to investigate the thought process they underwent to arrive at their response?  The bottom line is this…….if we are proactively assessing how our students are progressing throughout the unit, then we should have an accurate gauge of how well they will perform when given a final assessment.

 

Did I make the tasks challenging enough and accessible to each and every student in my class?  With any new standard, teachers have to thoroughly assess the scope of it and determine the appropriate tasks or assignments that our students need to complete in order to build their knowledge of the standard.  Every student enters the lesson at a specific developmental level so using a uniform instructional method probably won’t yield the best results. Some students may be further along the learning curve than their peers so teachers need to differentiate their instructional approach and create tasks that will meet the diverse academic needs of their students. To assess the difficulty level of the task, I used Bloom’s Taxonomy as a reference point.  If I’m only giving my students “easy” tasks so they can feel good about themselves, I’m doing them a huge disservice.

 

Teaching is a hard enough job as it is.  With the overemphasis of standardized testing, we sometimes find ourselves in a position where we don’t always have the time allotted to thoroughly assess how well we are teaching.  However, our students cannot excel academically if we don’t develop the habit of asking the aforementioned questions and take the time to evaluate our performance as facilitators. If we are bold enough to point the finger at our students when they fail, then we must be equally bold enough to point it back at ourselves when we fall short.

**********************************

 

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

 

Looking for a new book to read? Many stories from educators, two student chapters, and a student-designed cover for In Other Words.

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Reflection

Guest Post by April McKnight (@rilmcknight)

Reflection is concerned with consciously looking at and thinking about our experiences, actions, feelings, and responses, and then interpreting or analyzing them in order to learn from them. That is a big statement and a hard topic for our students. So how are we as educators supposed to work towards helping our students reflect on their thinking / learning and that of others.

So first I ask, as teachers and educators do we spend time on self reflection. Do we have the time to look back at our day of learning and “reflect on the information we receive through observation, experience, and other forms of communication to solve problems, design products, understand events, and address issues.” Yes that quote is straight out of our core competencies for critical and reflective thinking.

Yes I know every teacher is doing their self reflection in some way whenever they can but ho do we help students learn this process and see the benefits of reflection.

As a high school STEM educator, I always had reflection as part of my labs. We use our three go to questions for every lab:

What worked the best?

What needs to be tweaked?

What could we do to make it better?

This became common place in my classes and extended to all our work. Students would reflect on their own learning and ask each other to assess their work based on these questions.

As the new BC curriculum came around, I started to look at the self reflection during our projects. We have always looked at the process as more important. Photo journals or design changed diagrams or written reports were used to show their journey. But now we wanted to add in more self reflection along the way. After classroom discussions, it was decided that we would do weekly self reflection on large projects as a journal, blog or vlog. Students used the 3 questions to show their progress. The learning became very evident and assessment of their learning process was easier too.

I feel we need to all use reflection as part of our classroom routines and it wont feel so daunting in the end. It will make our assessment for, of and as learning much easier.

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

 

Looking for a new book to read? Many stories from educators, two student chapters, and a student-designed cover for In Other Words.

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To Be a Global Educator

Guest post by Ava-Gaye K Blackford (@BlackfordAva)

(I read this post and and agree with the foreword below, Ava is an inspiration and her passion for education is clear.)
From Ava’s blog

I had the pleasure of connecting with Ava through my work with Participate. I was helping to pilot a new professional development program, and Ava was one of the brave teachers who took a risk and learned alongside her students as they looked for ways to make their school lunch healthier through multiple student-driven avenues. I was immediately impressed with her motivation and excitement toward teaching and learning and her openness to feedback. Here’s what Ava believes about education and what she’s been up to since I last worked with her.


lunchAva.jpg

I believe that teaching is the foundation for all other careers which requires compassionate and patient individuals who have a passion for scaffolding students and imparting knowledge. I feel that it is the ability to help others to acquire new information, competencies or values and implementing specific interventions to help students who need support to learn particular things. I also believe that teachers are born and not made. I know that I am an outstanding teacher because I am able to connect with and relate to my students to bring out their true potential. I also do not crumble under pressure or when I face obstacles instead I persevere. I am intrinsically motivated, and the reward I find in teaching is the personal satisfaction I obtain when I see students learn something new and achieve academic success and development. Being a part of the Participate international teaching program has been a very fulfilling and life-changing experience, and I recommend more teachers to gravitate towards this adventure.

My decision to join participate was due to several reasons. First, I wanted to share my culture by acting as a Cultural Ambassador so people can learn the uniqueness of my Jamaican culture as well as learning about other cultures. Secondly, I wanted the opportunity to travel the world, meet new people and build partnerships with stakeholders in the education system. Besides, I would be able to learn new strategies so that I may share with colleagues back home, learn about different technological devices, apps, and sites that may be used to boost students’ engagement and learning. Finally, to grow professionally as an educator. Reflecting on my journey thus far, I can safely say that I have achieved all of these goals and have grown into a productive Global Educator.

Currently, I have been assigned the role of Local Advisor. I have been granted the opportunity to guide two new Participate teachers and help them to transition smoothly in their new job position. As a local adviser, I serve as a mentor to new international teachers and share my own experiences, cultural opportunities, and ideas on how to be a successful exchange visitor teacher and cultural ambassador of their country.

School lunch project

School lunch project

 To be a successful exchange teacher, one has to capitalize on both human and physical resources present within the walls of the school to maximize students’ full potential, improve one’s self as a Global Educator and adjust to the school’s culture and climate. In my first year, I worked closely with the Academic coach to plan classroom routines and school-wide management procedures. The use of technology in my lessons made my work as a teacher easier because I am able to allow students to direct and take control of their own learning by conducting research, become involved in Project Based Learning, and participate in online quizzes. I researched different sites that I may use with students to boost active engagement and learning.

I share students’ work on Twitter, send emails and write letters to pen-pals in Jamaica and other countries like Mexico. We participate in video calls with students from Jamaica sharing culture or concepts learned, and we have even video called resource persons from Nigeria.

In addition, I try to globalize my lessons as much as possible. Students enjoy learning about other countries, and this makes learning more authentic and meaningful. I also collaborate with grade level teams to focus on differentiated learning opportunities for students to meet students where they are at. We also gather suitable resources and plan effective and developmentally appropriate instructional lessons and strategies. We progress monitor students and use data to set grade-level goals and identify students who need tier 2 or tier 3 interventions.

I have learned so much throughout my journey as a Participate teacher, and I have enjoyed sharing and showcasing my culture. My students and I participated in a Last Year’s Winter Celebration (December 2017) where were attired in Jamaican costumes and paraded for parents and community members to view. We also did a presentation where we sang Jamaican Christmas Carols like “Christmas a Come me Waan me Lama.” My colleagues, principal, students, and parents were fascinated by the performance, and we received positive feedback. This was the perfect opportunity to connect with the school community and bridge the gap between home and school.

Ava’s students learning about Jamaican culture.

Ava’s students learning about Jamaican culture.

We also prepared a Jamaican display for all to view, ask questions and learn about the Jamaican culture. Students seem to be eager to learn about other countries and cultures so by globalizing lessons this makes the teaching and learning process more meaningful and interesting. I have also done research and read about schools that have shown marked improvements in academics because of the inclusion of Global Education to the curriculum. This has helped me to develop a new level of understanding and depth to my teaching.

I have made a positive impact on my school and living community by allowing each stakeholder to develop vicarious experiences about my culture. In data meetings or team meetings, I help to include information about the Jamaican culture in our lessons. I also bring colleagues and community members Jamaican souvenirs, teach songs and stories from my culture and share past experiences about my country. I mount multiple display boards showcasing the Jamaican culture in the classroom, also during culture night and market day celebrations. For Market Day this past year, my students and I made Jamaican souvenirs such as key chains, flags, and bracelets. We were also mentioned in the Time News. You may click here to read the story.

Being a teacher means demonstrating the ability to provide authentic, engaging, meaningful and cultural learning experiences to cater to the needs of diverse learners. It also means equipping students with effective and efficient skills needed to function in a global society. I have learned to do this through imparting knowledge, skills, and attitudes required to be a global citizen, giving students the opportunity to build vicarious experiences and travel the world through virtual exchange. The world is becoming a smaller place due to advances in technology and mobility. Hence, students need to be globally prepared, develop self-awareness, cultural understanding and empathy so that they will be able to appreciate others and their culture. As Global educators, we should incorporate Global Instructional Practices used to integrate global concepts and lenses in the classroom meaningfully.

AVA JRNEY.png

My continuous participation in Professional Development activities has boosted my self-confidence and determination as an educator. When I return home to Jamaica, I also plan to conduct workshops to impart some of the fabulous strategies and interventions that I have learned here. I have already started sharing best practices with some of my colleagues back home, and they all seem to be loving them and are trying new things in their classroom.

Since writing this post, Ava was invited to present at Participate’s Global Schools Symposium on “Using Cooperative Learning Strategies to Boost Students’ Learning and Engagement”. In addition she attended a Life Lab PD in Santa Cruz, California, and she continues to inspire her students and the community through innovative projects like incorporating garden-based learning into the mainstream curriculum and being a facilitator at three of ABSS’ Core Four Professional Development workshop focusing on “Learning in the Outdoors.”

 

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

 

Looking for a new book to read? Many stories from educators, two student chapters, and a student-designed cover for In Other Words.

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

The “A” Word

  @deidre_roemer 

The first time I heard the word Autism I was teaching Early Childhood Special Education at an elementary school in Kapolei, Hawaii. It was very early in my teaching career, and I moved from teaching students with significant Emotional and Behavioral Disabilities in a self-contained setting at a middle school to teaching three and four year olds with various special needs in an inclusive setting with a Head Start class. Some of you may be thinking, why in the world would anyone move from Hawaii back to Wisconsin? That is an excellent question that I have asked myself regularly from November through February each year since, but my family is in the midwest. Family is more important that constant sunshine and living a few blocks from Waikiki Beach (at least that is what I tell myself :)).

As I reviewed the records of the students I would serve that year, I read about a young girl who was diagnosed with Autism. This was 1996, so it was long before Autism was as well known as it is now. It was also my first encounter with a learner who had the diagnosis. On our first day of school, her mom explained that she had echolalia (a new term to me at the time) and was a runner (another new term to me at the time). I quickly learned that echolalia meant that she repeated everything that was said all day long. Now, if you can get a picture of how much talking you do to a room of three and four-year-olds, you can see where someone following you around all day and repeating every word that you say is problematic. I also quickly learned that being a runner meant she takes off without warning and runs to anywhere and everywhere in the school and even out into the street. I had done all of my student teaching and my first couple of years of teaching working with older children who had a lot of mental health issues and behavior challenges, so this experience was certainly going to be a challenge.

I went home the first day beyond exhausted and started doing my research. This was at the time of dial-up internet, so getting access to information was not as easy and quick as it is now. I read lots of books and went to conferences. I used everything I had learned about shaping and helping learners control and change their own behavior to apply whatever strategies I could. I did not realize what I was doing at the time as there was not as much research available then about the science of the brain, but since I have learned about brain mapping and how you can create new neural pathways that make sense with where we found challenges and successes that year.

After the first few weeks of school, I realized that one of us was not going to make it through the school year if something did not change, and the four-year-old was winning. I started working closely with her parents, her doctor, other staff, and anyone else I could ask about strategies to help. We made visuals for everything and eventually trained her to follow cues to tell us what she needed instead of running away. The key to success was being more consistent in my practice than I had ever been before and making sure as a team we all used the same language and the same cues whenever we worked with her.

We ended up having a great year. She learned how to respond to real questions instead of repeating others, she told her mom she loved her for the first time (That was a great day!), she was able to play with others at recess with laughter, and she taught me a ton. I learned new ways to problem solve and how to see behavior as communication in a different way. I always understood that behavior was communication, but I was used to a lot of angry, acting out behavior. This was new stuff for me and helped me to see learners from an asset-based lens. This little girl, who happened to have Autism, had so many incredible gifts to offer the world; she just needed us to look for them in really unexpected ways. Although I went back to the mainland at the end of that year and back to working with older students, I have never forgotten all that she taught me that year and still talk about it almost twenty- five years later in sessions about how to work with children with unexpected behaviors in the classroom.

Since then, I have worked with many students who are on the Autism spectrum and their families. I know even more now about the communication, academic, and behavioral needs of these learners and have continued to learn so that I can help our teachers and leaders have the best skills to include them in every setting. I’ve learned about the entire spectrum and how varying the needs are across it. I know that if you know one learner with Autism, you know one learner with Autism and that what works for one rarely works for all. When I served as the Coordinator of Special Education for our school district, we started one of the first Autism specific programs for high school students in our area. We worked with grants and research organizations to get additional training for all teachers in understanding how to connect to and include students on the spectrum in meaningful ways. I have been able to support amazing teams of teachers and speech pathologists to develop a high school course based on the work of Michelle Garcia Winner in Social Thinking. Since then, our speech pathologists have expanded the work to running groups at most of our schools for students with special needs. Over the last two years, they have also trained many regular education teachers and school counselors to work with ALL learners on lessons in Social Thinking combined with the Zones of Regulation strategies from a very early age. Our goal is always that ALL of our learners can see their own place in a group, learn how to identify their needs, and learn strategies to feel empowered. When they understand their own social interactions and emotions, they are more likely to find a sense of belonging within a group and therefore want to contribute and create.

With all that I know now, you might be surprised to find out that it took me almost three years to use the word Autism in reference to our son, Nick. Our Nick has Autism, ADHD, and Dyslexia, which has turned out to be an opportunity to learn everything that is important in the world. Although professionally I knew a lot when we realized he was on the spectrum, you forget everything you know as a mom. It took me a long time to accept his diagnosis and talk about it with others. In a class for pre-service teachers at a local university, one of my students recently shared that one of her learners has “no support from home. His mom didn’t even come to his Individualized Education Plan (IEP) meeting.” I have been really open about Nick, his diagnosis, and why school getting it right is so essential in our class. My response that it took me three years to say the “A” word when it came to my son shocked her, and it made me realized I should talk about that more.

I have been open about sharing many of our success stories and what we have learned in the last several years both at work and with my family and friends. I don’t always talk about the time when we lived in a world of grief for what he might not become or denial that others just didn’t know him well enough. If that is how I felt with years and years of professional experience, how does someone feel who is trying to navigate an impossible system of medical care with no background or connections to resources to find the right support within the system? If I find IEP meetings ridiculously intimidating when I ran them for many years, how does it feel to be a parent without that background knowledge in a room full of experts talking about what is wrong with their child and our plan to help? I have the support of family and friends who stick by me even when I am not in a place to receive that help. I have access to resources through my professional networks and the privilege of being able to get him to multiple therapies and services each week with the support of my husband and extended family that not everyone has. We recognize that and are thankful for it every day. We certainly don’t have it all figured out by any means, but we have found some alternative therapies that are game-changers and were able to move him to a school that we thought was a better fit for him where he is thriving.

When I think about why I was so afraid of the “A” word, it comes down to not wanting him to be seen as his disability before someone gets to know him as a person. I had accepted that he has special needs for years, but I was really fearful of the “A” word because many people want you to know everything they know about Autism before they ask you or him one question about Nick as a person. He has this amazing, gentle spirit and sees the world in a really beautiful way. He just doesn’t show that side of himself to many people, which also took me a long time to realize as I have always been one of “his people” and made some assumptions that others were having a similar relationship with him to the one that I have.

My fear that his relationships would be defined by his label impacted me and kept me from teaching him to own who he is and express how he thinks differently about the world, why, and what he needs from others for a long time. I feared that others who have sympathy for him instead of empathy and therefore not hold him to the highest standard or simply ignore him if they didn’t understand the disability and that he is more than his label. He has made me a better educator and leader, as I am much quicker to try to see everyone and every situation from an empathetic lens. I don’t always need to be able to understand why someone feels a particular way to recognize that those feelings are real and take that into consideration with a response or some support. In the role I get to serve in now, our experience in supporting him helps me to know why every classroom needs to be a place where every learner feels embraced as part of the community, appreciated for the gifts they bring, and given opportunities to create in ways that connect to who they are even if who they are is different than what we would typically expect.

At the end of the day, we all have to remember that we are each doing the best we can. We each have different levels of education and life experience that contribute to who we are and how we respond to the next challenge life throws at us. People expected my acceptance to be different based on my experience, but it was not. I love my children as much as my parents loved me and as much as the parents we serve love their children. Those without the skills to navigate the system or the background to know what to do to support their child who learns differently in school love them just as much and really do want the best. They may just have a harder time showing it and being vulnerable enough to share their story with us. Given how long it took me to share mine, I get it.

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