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Guest Post by Laura McDonell@lmcdonell14

A look at What Actually Worked for Me

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Reading is one of those things that I go to the wall on.  Growing up, reading was something I struggled with. As a teacher, I see how critical it is to overall success as a student.  Today, one of the reasons my life is so incredibly rich has to do with the books I read. As a parent, I am determined to give my kids opportunities to find success with reading. As with everything in life, some days everything comes together, connects and makes a beautiful picture.  However, there are other weeks or years where the struggle is real and seems like it is never going to end.

It doesn’t matter where my kids are starting from (I can still remember checking out different copies of the Dick and Jane anthology because it worked, and my middle son needed repetition.  While all three of my kids have grown up in the same environment, they have all been unique in regards to what works best for each of them as readers.  Overall the key is persistence, and never giving up no matter how challenging it might seem. I have found success as a parent by visiting the library often, allowing them to change their minds about what they like, becoming their personal assistant, reading and talking about books in front of them, using audiobooks, hosting a book tasting and celebrating accomplishments.

  1. Visit the Library Often.

jaredd-craig-HH4WBGNyltc-unsplashLibraries might seem dated, but they are in fact one of the best-kept secrets.  We got library cards for our kids as soon as they could write their names. Today, cards can be used to check out everything from audiobooks to new release movies.   Apps like Hoopla and Overdrive are amazing. With a library card, these two sites offer thousands of books, movies, and music. Giving kids the opportunity to borrow a stack of books without any cost is ideal for many families.  Taking advantage of MEL, the state’s interlibrary loan program, allows people to request books from all over the state of Michigan and have them sent right to your local library. Showing someone how to use the library unlocks a world of possibility.  Anything can be learned by using the public library. And, using the library saves a lot of money. Surrounding kids with books is one of the best things you can do to get them reading. The library makes reading an inexpensive activity. I am not alone when it comes to using the library.  Several financial enthusiasts highly recommend it.

2.  Allow them to Change Their Mind Often. 

When my middle son was in first grade, he loved the Nate the Great series. The books were right at his reading level, and I thought I had struck gold since there were several of them in the library.  I requested every copy I could find. After reading about 10 of the books, one day he said, “I don’t really want to read Nate the Great anymore.”  At first, I was a little sad since there were still books to be read, but after thinking about it, I was excited that he was willing to be honest about what he wanted to read.  Minutes later, I realized had a new challenge. I had to help him find his next book, and do it quickly so that he did not lose momentum to continue reading. Humans are always evolving.

matthew-fournier-G971e4EFKtA-unsplashA few years ago one of my boys really got into hockey. We found all of the Matt Christopher books about hockey in the library, and he eagerly read each one cover to cover. Last summer my daughter was obsessed with learning about swimming.  We raided the library for any nonfiction book we could find on the topic. During the winter it was graphic novels, and today she loves to dive into anything related to fairy tales. Even though I have a pretty good idea about what each of my kids likes to read, I had experiences where I selected a book or two I thought might be perfect, only to have them not show an interest in what I picked out.  I do not take it personally, since there is no cost associated with it, and know that as a reader I don’t read every book I take home from the library.

3. Be their Personal Assistant.  

Kids need to be taught skills to thrive on their own. However, when they are starting out, they need someone to guide them:  like a coach, or a personal assistant.  The personal assistant does not do the work but instead sets a person up for success.

If we want to raise a reader, the more times children can be successful will improve the overall possibility of them sticking with reading early on, and then eventually becoming adults who are drawn to books.

Personally assisting a child, looks like helping him or her find books, help them find books that are just right for their level, challenging them, suggesting new authors, reading a chapter aloud, placing books in their path, and helping them organize their schedule to support reading time. As an adult, I have read a lot of books and heard hundreds of titles and authors, and because of it I am in a great position to offer guidance.  Scrolling through Bestseller Lists helps me to find current and high-interest reading material.  As my kids get older, I have started to transfer this responsibility. However, it is still important for young adults to have help in selecting books. My husband even enjoys it when I pick out a book for him tailored to his interests.

Reading aloud the first chapter of a book can help a child get into a story.  I knew my middle son would love John Grisham’s Theodore Boone Kid Lawyer books.  I was also aware that some of the terminology, setting, and background given in the first chapter could be very new, and confusing.  So I offered to read the first chapter to him. After hearing and then talking about the chapter, he was hooked and settled in for a great series of books.

4.  Read in Front of Them.  And Talk about Your Books.

dan-dumitriu-3w1XBUGj4ds-unsplash.jpgWhen I first started teaching, I would ask the parents of my really motivated readers who seemed to always be reading, “Tell me how you did it?  What do you think has made the difference in getting your child excited about reading?” Almost every time I was given the same answer, “I suppose he just sees me reading all the time, and it just seemed like the thing to do.  My nose is always in a book”.

If you expect your kids to read, you have to also be a reader.  You gain credibility when you pick up a book on a regular basis.

It is also important to be a “Real reader”, and model what it is like to struggle with something in a book, fall in love with a new series, or make the choice to abandon a book because you cannot get into it.  It is helpful for kids to know that they are not alone in how they think about books.

5.  Use Audio Books

When my kids were really little, I would get audio CDs with the corresponding picture book from the library.  It helped me to team parent with myself, as I could catch a break where my kids could listen to a story and follow along with the words.  As my kids have grown older, they continue to enjoy audiobooks. We listen to them on vacation in the car, and two of my three kids absolutely love hanging out in their room listening to a book while putting together Legos or doing chores.  We have found that they are awesome for the kids to fall asleep listening to.

Lastly, as a Spanish student, I remember being able to listen at a higher level than I could read or speak.  One of the coolest things about audiobooks is that students can comprehend at higher levels than they can speak or read.  Plus, audiobooks give kids practice listening to correctly pronounce words, perfected grammar, and give them the opportunity to work on fluency as a reader.

6. Do a Book Tasting.

hannah-busing-0BhSKStVtdM-unsplashExposure to good literature and authors is one of the best gifts we can give our readers.  I absolutely love sharing some of my favorites with kids. Just as we could taste cheese, wine, sauces, desserts, or other menu items, book tastings are a great way to try new things.  I typically put a book in front of each place setting. Each child will get a chart to list the title he or she tasted along with the author, genre, and the likelihood that he or she might read the book.  The tasting is timed to keep it moving. And so after a total of several, ninety-second tastings, kids are able to walk away with several new titles that could be considerations for future reading. This activity can be adapted to any size (I have had great success with it in the classroom).

7.  Celebrate Success as a Family.

daniel-olah-VUGAcY35Ubw-unsplashThere are times that I find my kids book hopping, and not finishing titles.  I have also seen my kids plateau as readers. It is fun when we all work together and focus on completing a challenge that encourages reading and celebrating the success of others.  It works well for us to keep a running list of books read on the refrigerator. We set a goal for a number of books to be read and immediately start brainstorming how to we will celebrate our success.  It is nice to focus on working together and cheering each other on.

Maybe some of these ideas will work for you. What works well one day to encourage reading, might not work as well the next.  Plus, reading is personal. Everyone is motivated differently. But, the important thing is as a parent or teacher, you never stop trying.  Persistence is so important. Sometimes it is really tough to find the perfect author or series for a child. But, there is always one more book, genre, author, or method to try.  It won’t necessarily be easy, but it will be worth it.

 

Read more from Laura: Her blog site

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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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Guest Post by Maureen Hayes, #4OCFPLN

Connecting With the Past…Meeting With Former Students (#2): It’s All About a Feeling

It’s All About a Feeling 

This is the second in a series of blogs about meet-ups with my former students. As I shared in my first blog, my students now range in age from 22-34 years old. I recently connected with many of them through Facebook, and plans have been made to get together and catch up.

In 1996, I was fortunate to be part of my district’s multiyear classroom initiative (AKA Looping), which means I taught the same students for two years; from first to second grade. I loved being a looping teacher! Having the same group of students together for two years was an incredible experience! Essentially, we were given the gift of an extra month of school together, as September of 2nd grade became a continuation of 1st grade. There was no “first six weeks” of the new year for getting to know each other and establishing a classroom culture for learning. That had been done in first grade, so we began September right where we left off in June. I knew my students well, and the connections we made through two years together was strong. We were a family.

I taught my second looping class from 1997-1999, and the end of our second year together culminated (for me) with the birth of my daughter. As I was waiting to become a first-time mom, my students pampered me and even threw me a surprise shower. Of course, watching my stomach move around while I was teaching math (right after lunch) became entertainment for my students (and me!) by spring of that year.

Our Looping Class during Year 1- 1996
Rachel is right next to me.

Rachel was one of my students in this looping group. I remember that she always had a smile on her face, and was a genuinely happy kid. Rachel’s twin sister was in the other looping class right next door. I honestly couldn’t tell them apart, but I always knew Rachel because her face would light up with a smile when she saw me.

Rachel and I recently met up for dinner, and the first thing we realized is that we hadn’t seen each other in twenty years! After my daughter was born that June, I transferred schools within my district to shorten my commute. I hadn’t seen her since.

Rachel’s first question to me “how do you remember me?”.  Honestly, I remember every student from my looping classes. They have a special place in my heart. 360 days together over the two years where students demonstrate more academic and social-emotional growth than any other years in school was pretty significant to me.

Rachel shared that she doesn’t remember a lot of details from our classroom. She explained that it was more about the atmosphere, or feeling she remembers and less about the specifics. She does know that she liked school and that she felt smart in first and second grade.

Rachel and I on Halloween

She did remember our class hermit crab (Bud) and hamster (Speedy), and a class trip to Duke Gardens in second grade. Reading groups (guided reading) was a special time and she has always loved reading. Rachel specifically remembers changing groups during the year, and that she was intimidated at first in her new group because she knew they were the “good readers”.

A memory Rachel shared that I don’t recall, is that someone once put glue on the toilet seat in our classroom bathroom. Apparently, I was not happy.

On the whole, we both agreed that this class was a pretty amazing group of kids. There were very few behavioral issues…we really couldn’t remember much of anything,  but these were six and seven-year-olds so there had to be some amount of behavioral issues/lessons, right? I guess I just forget things like that 😊

We looked through pictures together and remembered the students in our class. Rachel is still in touch with several of them, and her classmate Megan is still one of her closest friends. We both noted the lack of diversity in the class and the school as a whole. We had a great conversation about education, equity, and multiple intelligences. It was a fun time together reminiscing and telling stories.

The thing that most resonated with me after my dinner with Rachel was her comment about her memories being rooted in a “feeling”. Though specific memories fad, the feeling of connections, relationships, and belonging remain. Children need to feel a sense of safety and belonging and that someone cares. Only then are they ready to learn.

Rachel and I at dinner together 2019

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Guest Post by  Laurie Guyon, @smilelearning

If you have met me at a conference, a workshop, or in a school, you would consider me an extrovert. I’m friendly, always smiling, and comfortable talking to anyone.  Even as a self-proclaimed chatterbox, I get anxious in certain social situations. One on one conversations makes me nervous. My mind reels with thoughts like “will I talk too much” or “will I overshare” or “will I say something stupid” or “what if there is a lapse in the conversation’.  These thoughts have caused me to avoid what might have been a wonderful conversation. I try to step outside my comfort zone and engage in these moments more often. I know that these thoughts and ‘what ifs’ are part of being human.

“I restore myself when I am alone.” – Marilyn Monroe

While reflecting on these moments, I thought about my teenage daughter.  She is a self-proclaimed introvert. Her anxiety in social settings is completely the opposite of mine.  She is fine one on one, but crowds get her inner thinkings reeling. She hates public speaking and will avoid group situations whenever possible.  She once told me that my teaching style would give her hives because I like a loud and active classroom. She prefers quiet and independent work. In our classrooms, we have students with all different communication abilities and fears.  How do we foster an environment that can support all learners and communicators?

 

In the TED talk about introverts by Susan Cain, she defines shyness as fear of social judgment.  She states that introversion is more about how you respond to stimulation.  In the classroom, there is a multitude of stimulation. These can be visual noise, people, and expectations.  How each of our students responds to this stimulation tells us if they are comfortable or not. We may even discipline students based on their behaviors.  But, what if we are pushing students outside of their social norms?

 

Bob Dillon and Rebecca Louise Hare ask educators to make sure that there are spaces for all learners in their book, “The Space: A Guide for Educators”.  They mention creating areas that give students a chance to learn and work so they can thrive. When I taught 6th grade, I created a variety of learning spaces.  I then asked my students to choose the spots in the room where they feel they could learn best. I learned so much about my students by giving them the agency to choose.  I utilized choice boards to give students autonomy. Students were more likely to create quality work when given a choice on how they would showcase what they learned.

Have you ever gone to a presentation or a workshop and the presenter asks you to do something you don’t want to do?  For example, I was in one recently where they asked us to do charades. I am not a fan of playing that game for a variety of reasons, but we had to.  I did everything I could to be the guesser and never have to act it out. Then, at ISTE I lead a mini engagement session with the amazing MCE Melody McAllister and Nearpod.  In the session, we had to lead the participants in a rousing game of charades. Once again, I was outside of my comfort zone. The energy of Melody, the Nearpod team, and engaged educators allowed me to participate in the activity.  It was the support and encouragement that allowed me to be successful.

“The greatest art is to sit, wait and let it come.” – Yogi Bhajan

To reach all learners, we need to think about our learning spaces.  We need to think about the amount of agency we give our students and give them a chance to be inside their own heads.  We also need to encourage them to try and do what may not be in their wheelhouse. We can support them with encouragement and time to build on their comfort level.

We want to maximize talent and success for all our students.  This does not need to always be group work and active activities.  Sometimes, the best activity is in speaking softly or to work alone in silence.  But sometimes, it’s using our talents as part of a community that can make us successful.  Finding this balance is what will help us reach all learners.  

 

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Guest Post by Kristen Koppers, @Mrs_Koppers

Educator and Author of Differentiated Instruction in the Teaching Profession 

The movie Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants was one movie that brought together friendship through hardships. But a single pair of pants (no matter the size of each of the girls) fit perfectly to where they would wear the pants, write on them, and send them to each other throughout the summer.

We all know that wearing a pair of pants in one size does not mean that another pair of pants will fit even with the same size. The fact that one pair of pants can fit four different girls ‘perfectly’ who all have different body types is not realistic. Although the movie focused on the jeans, it was more about the friendship of the four girls during their personal problems they went through without each other.

The same idea goes for teaching and learning. While we hope that one size pair of pants (learning styles) would fit more than one student, we know that is not the case. Students come from a variety of backgrounds, cultures, schools, and learning abilities so we cannot think that one curriculum or one “pair of pants” can fit all. This goes the same for purchasing a Halloween costume or outfit where the tag says “one size fits most.” Someone who weighs 120 pounds wearing the same costume that a person who weighs 30 pounds more won’t fit the same way. While the outfit will fit both sizes, the look will be quite different.

ONE SIZE DOES NOT FIT ALL – What many forget is that teachers come from all backgrounds, cultures, educational institutions, and ethics. We cannot expect one teacher to teach the same way as other teachers. This is the same for students. It would be a perfect world if one style of teaching will reach all students. However, this is not the case. Differentiating work can be difficult as well to meet the needs of all students. In order to have that perfect pair of pants to fit all students, teachers must be willing to put their ego and pride aside and stretch the pants just a little wider so that not one size person but multiple sizes can fit.

The struggle is real. We all know how it is to try and fit into a fresh pair of washed jeans. The jeans that fit you the day before now feels tighter 24 hours later. If we think about how that one pair of jeans fit the day earlier and then the next day they don’t, this is how many students feel. One day they feel like they understood the information and then the next day nothing makes sense.

Using Differentiated Instruction is not about separating all students or creating one lesson plan for many. It’s about assessing student needs throughout the year. While one lesson plan will help several students at one point, another lesson plan may not work for the rest. Assessing students needs does not need to be cumbersome. It can be as simple as noticing non-verbal clues in the classroom to written work.

Recently, we were reading a novel by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Students were intrigued by the reading and began to focus on the plot. It wasn’t until they were to share out what they learned to the class that everything unfolded. When I moved around the room, most groups were able to explain what they were thinking. However, between the individual group discussions and the informal presentation, something went wrong. This is where I used differentiated instruction. We discussed the lesson, the assignment, and guidelines. It was the connection from what they read to their knowledge that seemed ‘not to fit.’

As an educator of 16 years and instead of taking it as an insult to my teaching, I swallowed my pride of experience and began to learn how to fit into a pair of jeans that did not fit me. After a large group discussion, I was able to use differentiated instruction to meet the needs of all the abilities in my classroom. Students were given the choice to keep their grade or complete one of the two alternative assignments to replace the previous grade. Instead of making this decision, I let the students choose because, after all, they are the ones who truly know their own learning ability.

When one pair of pants does not fit, we shouldn’t just give them away and buy a larger or small pair, we need to stretch them a little to fit.

Follow Kristen on Twitter and Check out her book! Differentiated Instruction in the Teaching Profession

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

 

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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!

 

Interested in submitting a guest blog? Apply here.

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
Cafeteria Balance
Payments and Invoices Recurring & one time
Polls and Surveys