backtoschool

Originally published on Getting Smart

 

Involving families in the education of our students is crucial to their success. Beyond just involving families, schools need to strive for family engagement and the creation of partnerships between school, home, and community. These partnerships, or connections between “stakeholders”, are important for promoting student well-being and success. When there is a greater focus on fostering more meaningful and personal connections, the school, community, and families can work together to provide the support, structure and make decisions for the benefit of student achievement.

Importance of Connecting

To promote family engagement, we must be intentional in learning about the families in our schools. It is important to make an initial connection, invite families in to engage in conversations and start to develop an awareness of each family’s needs, preferences and prior experiences in terms of involvement with the educational community. We should also explore any perceived or real barriers to family engagement. Recognizing some of the biggest barriers to family engagement will help schools to develop the most effective strategies to help families feel more connected to and supported by the school.

A survey of over 18,000 parents indicated some of the biggest barriers to family engagement were: time, lack of information, availability of childcare, and inconsistent treatment of students. Using this data, schools can develop specific strategies aimed at reducing and eliminating these barriers. Understanding the diverse needs of the families and students in our school system is crucial, as we always want to create a welcoming and supportive environment, one which should also be reflective of the educational setting for our students. A strong and collaborative home to school partnership has been shown to positively impact student performance as well as empower parents.

Communication between school and home has traditionally involved sending information in letter form, an email or by making a phone call. While these methods are still useful, they are not the best choices in terms of timeliness, especially when it comes to time-sensitive matters. Being able to connect and share school news and update families on student progress, in a timely manner, is vital to classrooms and fostering this sense of “community”. The sense of “community” comes from focusing on the building of family relationships, which are critical for student success in the classroom.

In a survey done by SpeakUp in 2015 (cited in Learning Transformed), 55% of the half million K-12 parents surveyed stated that they wanted a weekly text message with updates. The same survey given five years prior yielded a result of only 5% of parents interested in this form of communication. With the digital age and many options for communicating, it is not that surprising to see such an increase. However, before starting to use a certain messaging tool, teachers should first consider what might be the best way to connect with parents and how to provide access to the classroom resources which will support student growth. Sharing an initial survey can help educators can determine how to best establish a classroom presence and open channels of communication.

Connecting with Families

There are many ways to connect with parents. With technology, tasks such as sending class updates, assignment reminders, creating a calendar, sharing photos and distributing information are much easier. Knowing that families have mobile devices, does not guarantee that WI-FI access is available, and this is something that can be determined through the use of a survey.

In a recent Trends in Community Engagement report, written in partnership with Project Tomorrow, 30,000 parents expressed expectations for frequency and forms of communication. Among the key findings of this report were that parents want timely and impactful communication. While parents want to be kept informed, they do not want to be overwhelmed with a flood of information. The CDC created strategies to help schools build frameworks to promote family engagement. The focus is to “Connect, Engage, Sustain” families’ in the educational community. Schools can refer to the many resources with tips for promoting engagement. To get started, here are five different ways to “connect, engage and sustain” family involvement.

1) Communication Tools: By using social media tools such as Twitter or Instagram, school leaders, and classrooms can transmit messages quickly and with a far reach. Tools such as Remind, or BloomzApp enable teachers and parents to communicate and also share information quickly. Both options offer translation capabilities which promote digital equity and accessibility. ParentSquare, is a multi-purpose platform with capabilities to facilitate communication, collaboration and increase family engagement in schools. ParentSquare is for use in grades PreK-12, geared toward streamlining parent notifications, increasing participation and family engagement in the school community and more. It can be used by students, teachers, staff members, administrators, and parents, and it creates a virtual space where so many vital communications and interactions can be completed. By using these tools, teachers and parents communicate instantly, privately, and as often as needed throughout the year.

2) Video Tools: Sharing news about student work, or creating a lesson for students to view outside of class, can be done with tools such as EducreationsFlipgrid, or Screencastify. Teachers can record videos of weekly announcements or special events, or even teach a lesson and share the links with parents, which will create a more supportive connection between home and school. Videos can also be a great way to have students share their learning, even creating a digital portfolio, or have families record video introductions to learn about one another.

3) Blogging/Class Webpage: Maintaining a classroom space in the form of a blog or a class website, can be done easily using tools like KidblogPadletEdmodo or other web-based learning platforms. When families know they can refer to one centralized location to obtain class updates, ask questions, or read about class events, it provides a more structured framework for engaging families in the daily activities of the school and fosters a greater connection between school and home. It also aids in resolving the barriers of time and lack of information, as families can refer to these spaces when convenient.

4) School and Community: There are a lot of possibilities for amplifying student learning by connecting with and sharing news of school events within the community itself. Social media can be one way of connecting, or simply by seeking out the local library and businesses to bring in real-world experiences for learning and to inform the community of the educational events going on at school. Invite the community into events such as Back to School nights, Open Houses or STEAM showcases, or hold a learning night for families. Any of these offer a good opportunity to meet and engage families in conversations and planning to impact student learning.

5) Family Activities: Finding ways to involve parents in the learning process can be a challenge. A good opportunity to co-learn is to take part in something called “Family Playlists”. A Family Playlist, devised by PowerMyLearning, basically has the student becoming the “teacher”. In their role as “teacher”, students share their knowledge with the family, who then provides feedback to the classroom teacher, as to how the student conveyed the information and their confidence in doing so. Trying this method is a good way to further involve families in the educational experience, leading to a greater understanding of the type of learning occurring in school as well as provide beneficial insight into a child’s progress. It also promotes ongoing and supportive collaboration between home and school.

There are many strategies that schools can use to keep families informed and involved. The key is to find a way to not only make an initial connection and build the “family to school” partnership but to engage families and continue to collaborate and grow together. These connections will lead to the creation of solid and supportive relationships between school and home, which will promote student achievement and enhance their sense of belonging.

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It’s back to school time! Depending on who you are, your feelings about heading back to school might differ dramatically. And I don’t just mean whether you are a parent versus a teacher, I mean even within these two groups. Among those of us in the classroom, the realization that we are headed back to school brings about a lot of different reactions. Of course there is still that perception that teachers have the best, easiest job, because we have summers off and all those holiday vacations as well, and don’t forget about the weekends. And there may even be a perception that teachers are happy when the school year ends. I have been asked many times, “How many days left until you’re off for the summer?”

I have never been one to count down the days till the end of the school year. While I am cognizant of the end of the year, I don’t, nor have I ever posted a countdown of how many days until summer vacation begins. A few years back there was a countdown board posted, but it was just for a student’s birthday. (Fun fact, she had written using a sharpie, so it kind of became a permanent birthday countdown board).

For me, I consider school to be year-round. Even though I don’t have to report to my classroom during the summer months, I am still involved in professional learning and trying to grow and learn as much as I can during that period of “free” time. I love being able to set my own schedule, in my own space, definitely perks of having the summer off. But I know that there are educators who do count the days until the end of the year, not because of excitement for a family event or vacation, or any special occasion, simply because they are done “working” for the summer.  I think that to be in education today, you really have to love what you do. You have to know your “why” behind it and you need to stay focused on what your purpose is for having chosen to be in this amazing profession.

Just like any other job, teaching has its challenging moments as well. And who hasn’t been excited about the weekend or an extended holiday break coming around? That’s natural regardless of what profession you are in. But if you are in education and you are counting down the days, you end up conveying the message to students that you cannot wait for the year to end. Why would they want to be in your class, or even be positive about being a student your class whenever you’re sending the message that you can’t wait to have a break over the summer? That may be blunt, but that’s exactly what I think of when I hear of “countdowns” in classrooms. 

I know that students may count down the days, especially seniors, until summer vacation starts. This is understandable because they have spent so much time in classrooms, sitting in uncomfortable desks for nearly eight hours a day and then going home to do even more work. And I know there’s a big controversy regarding the benefits of whether or not homework should even be given, especially when we think about the real world and the jobs that are out there, like teaching, where work does not end at the end of the “work day”. But at this point in time, I think that we need to focus on preparing students to make decisions about their future. To do this, I changed my practice of nightly homework and instead, created more ways for them to work in class and for me to work with them individually and in small groups. It is also important to stay positive about the learning experience and to do that means not counting down until the end of the school year.

Now the flip side is the back to school. Some parents are thrilled to have their children head back to school after a busy summer of family activities and hectic schedules. Some teachers are not as excited to head back to school because for them it means giving up that flexibility in the schedule where they can spend time doing what they want, learning, or just simply relaxing with family and friends.  But there are some educators who are excited about heading back to the classroom, so much in fact that they go in over the summer to prepare their classroom, to buy school supplies for their students and to really work on making it a welcoming place starting with Day one.

Now don’t get me wrong, I have enjoyed this summer, and I am somewhat sad that there are two weeks remaining before I head back to school for the year. However, once I get there, I’m happy to be there. The opportunity to work with students and my colleagues and to just have something new and exciting to learn and explore every single day inspires and motivates me. And I think if you are in the business of counting down the days until the school year ends and openly sharing how upset you are that the school year is beginning again, you might want to consider a career change.  Again, apologies for being slightly blunt.

 

A few weeks ago my #4OCFPLN noticed that there were tons of negative memes being placed on Twitter and social media by educators about heading back to school. So to make a difference, they began to create their own memes with positive messages and excitement for heading back into the classroom. Think about it. As an educator you have the opportunity to do something different every single day. You make the decisions, it’s your classroom, you interact with the students and your colleagues and you have the power to make it something wonderful and unique and fun. It is YOUR choice to make it amazing. If you don’t enjoy heading back into the classroom, then maybe you should think about the way that you are doing things and ask the students for some input. Don’t be afraid to mix things up a little bit. Especially if you find that teaching can be overwhelming at times or if you have been counting down at the end of the year.

Each summer I spend a lot of time traveling to conferences, reading a lot of books and trying to take care of things that I can’t get done during the school year. I do stay connected with my students over the summer, as they have some ongoing reading to do to keep up their language skills. As much as I love teaching, I definitely get used to my routine of sleeping in later or staying up late and reading, and not really having any set schedule to follow. But a lot of the time I find that I’m thinking about what I’m going to do once I get back into the classroom, how can I be better than I was last year, and what can I do differently to really make it an exciting learning experience for my students.

So if you are thrilled to be heading back to school, I think that’s awesome. Please share your positive outlook with others who may not be as excited as you. And if you are thinking about how sad you are that school is starting so quickly, think back to your previous year and some of your best interactions, or your best lessons or even your worst lessons. What made them go so well and why do you think some of them didn’t go as well? Invest some of your remaining summer “break” rethinking the lessons that didn’t go as well and make those the point that you start the new year with. Challenge yourself to do something different and something better than the year before. Maybe that will be the motivation and the catalyst that you need to build some excitement for heading back and greeting your students for the upcoming school year.

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Welcome back to school!

 

Here are a few from the #4OCFPLN –

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Honored and Amazed: EdmodoCon 2017

 

I have been a huge fan of Edmodo the last four years and it has really brought about tremendous, positive changes in my classroom, for my students and opened up a lot of new opportunities for me as well  Edmodocon, an online conference, takes place in August and is held at Edmodo headquarters in San Mateo, California. Each spring, Edmodo accepts proposals from educators to be selected as one of the featured speakers during this event. The last two years I had submitted a proposal to speak at EdmodoCon, not fully understanding the magnitude of it even though I had watched it each year, and definitely not expecting that I would be one of those selected to present.  I took a chance again this past year and submitted a proposal and definitely put some extra time into what I wanted to say and decided to just go for it. Honestly, I did not think that I would be selected.

​Finding out I was one of the educators selected to speak at ​EdmodoCon was really an emotional moment where I felt a little bit overwhelmed, very surprised, tremendously honored, and definitely scared. There was also ongoing disbelief that I had been chosen.

I had watched ​EdmodoCon the last two years and knew how it was set up​,​ where the people were speaking from​,​ and also that many thousands of people were watching from around the world while the event was ​streaming live. All of these images passed through my mind a​t​ a glimpse when I found out I was selected but the excitement ​was sometimes exchanged for nerves. I​ just could not believe that I was chosen and could not wait to attend.
I have been using Edmodo ​since 2015 and it truly has made a huge impact in my classroom. I found it almost accidentally, looking to find a way to open up more access for my students and to help solve some problems in communication, and availability. Over the years, the way​s​ that we have used Edmodo has changed and many new features have been added, making it even better than it already was. Having the opportunity to see the people working behind the scenes at Edmodo and to talk with ​each person was phenomenal.

How does one prepare for ​EdmodoCon?

Unlike any other presentation you have prepared for! While I have given many presentations in the form of Professional Development sessions, speaking at conferences and online learning ​events, preparing for something like this was a much greater feat. My session would be a ​2​​0 to ​30 minute presentation, speaking ​live from​ Edmodo. I needed to craft a message that would inform the participants or “Edmodians”, who were​ ​already familiar with Edmodo and knew so much about it. My goal was to convey my message of why and how it has made such an impact ​in​ my classroom.
Countless hours spent crafting the presentation​,​ re​-​working the images​,​ thinking through what I would say on August 1st, and lots of communication between myself and N​iccolina and ​Claire. The support I received was fantastic. The team was always readily available to give guidance and feedback, to do practice run​s​ ​or​ whatever was needed. They were there to support me and all of the speakers and definitely made the whole experience phenomenal, and always found ways to calm those nerves with reassurances and positive encouragement.

 

Prepping for EdmodoCon

I think I lucked out because I had the benefit of a little preparation when I was asked to speak about Edmodo during the Microsoft Hack the Classroom in San Antonio​ while at ISTE​ this summer. I prepared a​ ​5 minute “Ignite” talk on the integration of Microsoft Office with Edmodo and this experience definitely help​ed​ me to better prepare for EdmodoCon, but then again it was unlike any other experience I have had. It gave me some practice speaking in a studio setting with a live audience, microphone and cameras, but it didn’t quite prepare me for the full experience since it was only a five minute talk. But nevertheless, I am grateful for having had that opportunity to connect and to get a little bit of practice in before heading to the main event. Being able to step out of my comfort zone, and do something like this for the first time, was a challenge and I was very nervous about it, but having this experience definitely helped.

Heading to EdmodoCon

Going ​to San Francisco, arriving at Edmodo Headquarters, and meeting the other educators was tremendous. I was very excited about the day, getting to spend time at Edmodo, practicing a little and just being in the same space with educators from around the world, and having time to sit down with them and share how we use Edmodo was awesome. Being there and having the support and generosity of the whole Edmodo team, becoming connected with these other educators, really added so much more to what I already love about Edmodo. The whole team of Edmodo is people focus​ed,​ they work ​​for the students, they are a family and they are there to be a constant source of  support and encouragement to one another.

The way that we were all welcomed by the team was unlike anything I have ever experienced. We were greeted at check-in with welcome bags full of Edmodo gear, picked up by members of the team and driven to Edmodo headquarters where we had time to tour the office and also to ask questions of all of the team members working hard to make Edmodo what it is. We had catered meals, access to anything we could possibly want to make our time there more comfortable and most of all, we experienced a true sense of belonging and being part of the Edmodo family. Being able to meet for the first time people who have done nothing but work to make Edmodo a better platform for students and for education and who truly value the input from educators and the connections made, was an honor. Edmodo is how I made changes to my classroom that enabled me to open up more access to the resources the students need and also access to a world full of learning opportunities. Being selected to speak there and to share my experience with so many educators around the world was very humbling.

It is probably the most nervous I have ever been before a presentation and waiting for it to be my turn to speak was definitely a challenge for me to stay calm and focused.  But hearing Jennifer’s presentation before mine helped and once I entered into the room and put the headset on, my nerves pushed aside and I was ready to go. Of course I was still nervous but I felt like I could get through it, I was ready to share our story.  And I think the one thing that really helped to break the ice for me was when my slide deck would not load correctly and I just had to go on and start talking with fingers crossed that it would actually work. It’s really not much of a surprise that I would have some kind of a technical difficulty because I often joke that the technology cloud of darkness follows me at times. But the show must go on and if my slides did not work well then I was just going to have to talk my way through it as best as I could. Fortunately it only took a few minutes for everything to reload and so I was able to carry on through the presentation.

How did it go? I think for the most part I am pleased with how it went and I caught myself getting a little emotional at the start because it really hit me that I was speaking there and I have been so thankful for what Edmodo has provided for me to make things available for my students in my classroom. But standing there and having that chance to speak and share our experience with my own personal learning revelations about my teaching methods and why I needed to change was bittersweet.

Because I’m a reflective person and I did want to evaluate my speaking and be mindful of words or mannerisms that catch my attention, I watch the replay of the video. I first noticed the look on my face when told that my slides weren’t loading and then I should just start, it was a look of wait what? And as for my overall presentation, of course I did come up with a few things  that I would change. But that’s how we learn and grow and move forward. We have to reflect, we will make mistakes, we will face challenges and while it is important to acknowledge these, the most important thing is that we share our message and that we also share our learning and reflections in the process.

 

Edmodocon was amazing and it gave me a lot of new ideas for this school year and ways we can use Edmodo to knock down those classroom walls and to bring in opportunities for students to learn more about the world and to provide a safe space for them to connect with other students in the world. We can empower our connected learners.

Celebrating together after EdmodoCon 2017

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Getting ready for the start of a new school year – new students, new curriculum, and new tools – means teachers have a lot of preparation ahead of them. Whether new to Kidblog or a veteran classroom blogger, these tips will help you get the most out of your class blog this year.

1) There is no better way to start the year than by way of introductions. Blogging can be a great way to get your students comfortable with you as their new teacher, as well as, their new classmates. In my classroom, I also use this time to cover expectations in the classroom. This is all done in a “Welcome back to school” blog post. Choose a fun theme for the class, add some links and include helpful information. Share information about you, including some fun facts, and encourage students to then respond to your post. You can begin to develop those vital relationships for your classroom.

2) Get parents connected. Make the decision to use blogs as a way to keep parents informed about what is going on in the classroom. Set a goal to write a blog post with a weekly update and share what is going on in the classroom, give highlights of upcoming events and activities the students will be participating in. Also, use the blog as a way to share student work with parents, which will really connect the home and the classroom, and involve all members of the learning community.

3) Involve students in planning for blog posts. Encourage students to come up with their own ideas or to work with peers to brainstorm some writing prompts to use throughout the year. Gather their ideas and then draw from their prompts. Involving students in the decision making process in the classroom helps to provide more authentic and meaningful learning experiences. It promotes student voice and choice in the classroom and helps students feel more valued and empowered. By actively engaging them in classroom decisions, students will feel more connected to the content and their peers.

4) Create a bridge between content areas by doing some cross-curricular blog posts. Find time to talk with and encourage other teachers who may not be using blogs, to work with you to create some cross-curricular opportunities. The blog can be a way for students to complete some writing assignments or projects for communicating their ideas and showing their learning. Students create their own personal space to share ideas and really have an opportunity to practice their skills for multiple content areas in a comfortable manner.

5) Try adding some other tech tools to app smash with Kidblog or use Kidblog as the means to share student work! Implementing other tools will help students develop their technology skills and digital literacy. For example, have students create a Buncee and write about what they’ve created, or, they may share it with a peer to create a story. These apps can be easily embed into Kidblog for their classmates to comment.

6) Have a routine for sharing student blog posts and set aside time in class for the students to work together to share their blogs, offer feedback and learn to reflect on their work. Making time for students to work with peers will build those positive classroom relationships and help students to become more confident in their learning. Their confidence will increase through the writing process and also by communicating and collaborating in the classroom.

7) Be sure to have resources available for students so they understand how to use the blog, how to write a post and to properly cite any images or other information they add to their posts. A great way to do this is by screen-casting a tutorial available to students, as well as, creating a “guide post” that gives students pointers on how to publish a post, the required format, and other information related to your expectations. By providing all the information in a place which is accessible, the process will be much easier for students throughout the year to have the support they need when they need it.

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Buncee

There are a lot of great digital tools that promote student creativity and choice and give students an opportunity to learn about each other in the process. Two tools that have worked well together for this purpose are Buncee and Padlet. Using these together promotes student creativity, provides more authentic and meaningful ways for students to share backgrounds and introduce themselves to classmates. It builds digital citizenship and technology skills by teaching students how to interact in a virtual space. It promotes communication and collaboration through the sharing of projects and opens the ability to engage in conversation through the commenting feature on Padlet.

 

When students start the school year, learning about classroom procedures and becoming familiar with their peers are important activities. Teachers go about these procedures in different ways, some even choosing to dive right into the content material and to open up opportunities for these typical procedures on a daily basis. The past few years I have tried to get students to interact more at the start of the year, share who they are, their experiences, their interests and have them set some goals as well. I try to do so with variety of icebreakers or other activities like surveys or classroom games to get the conversations started. However, this year I plan to have students share their information by creating a visual representation. Students will be able to choose from the library of thousands of images, props, icons, animations and more in Buncee to tell their story. The requirement will be that they use very little in terms of text and rather choose the images, animations and even videos to tell their story. I also hope that it creates a way for students to share some learning goals they may have or things they wish their teacher knew.

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Before the advancements in technology and the increase in types and number of tools available, sharing these creations required either printing or sending through email or storing on a flash drive. But with collaborative tools such as Padlet, it has been very simple to not only share the information quickly but to embed a Buncee project right onto the Padlet so it is fully visible to everyone instantly. By doing this, students have gained new knowledge of technology, developed peer relationships, teachers learn about the students, the students will learn about each other, and it will start the conversations going. By using imagery rather than so many words, students will be able to see some commonalities in the classroom which will help to drive the development of a classroom culture.

Besides the learning potential in this, I think it is a lot of fun and highly engaging for students to create and to see what their classmates have created. I would not be setting a good example if I myself did not create a Buncee and add it into the group. Students need to learn about their teachers as much as the teachers need to learn about the students. I’ve heard the quote and read the quote of Teddy Roosevelt many times “Children do not care how much you know until they know how much you care.”  This couldn’t be truer, so we need to learn about our students and show that we care about them and their success.

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Combining Buncee and Padlet

Throughout this app smashing (when two tools are used in conjunction to create and present a product), students enhance their skills in many areas. In terms of the ISTE Student Standards, all seven are addressed in completing these activities. The main one addressed is 6, Creative Communicator. Students have a choice and their voice is represented in creating their Buncee. But in the process of creating, they become Global Collaborators because by posting it on Padlet, others can view their work and comment. They are Empowered Learners because they have choice and voice in their learning experiences. Computational Thinkers because they are deciding how to present the information in the Buncee, Innovative designers choosing from the thousands of features available in the library to put into their own creation. Digital Citizens because they are learning to respect others’ work and to publish and post responsibly. For some students, this will be the first time they are really interacting with digital tools and so it will be perhaps a big learning curve. However, everyone will be doing the same thing and there will be comfort in this which will help student confidence to increase. I promote student empowerment and it will be a good way to set up the classroom culture and to help students gain some new skills moving forward.

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New Buncee Boards! Announced today!

Today is an exciting day for Buncee and the many users of Buncee. The newest feature, Buncee boards, provide a great way to gather resources in one place, open up communication and collaboration, and share ideas with others in and out of the classroom. There are a lot of great ideas for using #BunceeBoards in the classroom, so be sure to check out this post: 10 ways to use Buncee Boards to see some of the ways Buncee Boards can be used in the classroom. There are a lof of great ways to use these in the classroom, and even better, students can have fun sharing, commenting and posting reactions to the boards.

There are many possibilities for using Buncee in the classroom and the nice thing about it, the best thing about it, is that it promotes choice and authentic creations for students and teachers and anyone. It is a skill that students can learn and can share with their families which will open up more learning opportunities beyond the school setting and move it into the community and beyond.

 

Thank you @Kidblog for publishing my recent post on how to start blogging with your students.  Great way to start off the new school year.

Getting Started: Tips for launching a successful class blog

Enthusiastic Students Showcase Kidblog

Summer is full of opportunities for reflecting, learning, and planning. Teachers and students have the ability to review the past year and develop goals for both the summer and the upcoming school year.  While summer gives teachers a chance to unwind and relax, it is often used as a time for exploration and preparation for the new year.

During their time off, many teachers participate in professional development events, become involved in learning communities, and look for new ways to engage their students in the classroom.  I am no different. This summer I had many opportunities to connect with other educators and discuss ideas for increasing engagement in students’ learning and blogging became a common topic. I welcomed these conversations as I have seen first hand the positive results blogging has had on my students.  These discussions revolved around questions about getting students started, privacy, the best use of blogs in the classroom, and how to create new ideas and keep students motivated to blog in and out of the classroom. I was always happy to offer my advice. I created this post in hopes of sharing what I learned from these discussions with a wider audience.

The benefits to student blogging are endless. If you are looking for something new to try with your students, to get them talking, and to learn about your students, I highly recommend blogging as a way to start this new school year.

If you are not familiar with classroom blogging, I suggest setting up your “class URL” first – select a theme, familiarize yourself with the settings, features and how students will create their accounts and log-in.  Additionally, by setting up an account as a student in your class you can better understand the student experience and be prepared to answer any questions. Once everything is ready for real students, creating a handout to explain the use of blogging for your class, listing your expectations and some guidelines, and encouraging creativity in the process, is a great way to start the blogging conversation.

I have tried various methods to getting students started in our class blog. Regardless of the method you choose, it is always worth while to start with a conversation regarding your class blog. Talk about what students will write, when they will use the blog, who will be reading their posts, etc. Getting students excited about the options for post styles, fonts, and the wide audience they can reach in the process is helpful in driving motivation to write.

One option to get students started writing in class is through the use of prompt responses. I started small by instructing students how to join the class and having them begin responding to my posts with meaningful discussion points. If you have time in class to do this, facilitate as the students create their account, personalize their page and begin writing. Eventually students will feel comfortable and excited about creating their own ideas for writing.

Another successful way to get students blogging is to start with what they know – pen and paper. Try providing a prompt and having students write a response on paper, as they had done in the past. This is a great way to ensure students learn to evaluate their work and self-correct. It also reinforces that the true value in blogging is to feel comfortable and confident in expressing one’s ideas and using it as a means for personal growth. Once the students have written their responses, you can ask them create their Kidblog student account and use their writing as the first entry.  By having the first draft, and then entering it as a blog post, students have the opportunity to think, reflect and work on their skills.

Either option provides a great starting point. I recommend that you base your decisions for your class blogging on your students and what will be the most beneficial to your classroom.

Getting students excited about blogging only takes that first step. It is a continuous work in progress.  We are all involved in ongoing learning, and by being learners ourselves, we can help our students to take risks, accept challenges, reflect, and grow. And, through the process, we learn about each other, reinforcing the value of relationship building and support in the classroom.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

I am a Spanish Teacher at Riverview Junior Senior High School in Oakmont, PA. I am also an attorney and earned my Juris Doctor Degree from Duquesne University School of Law and recently received the Master’s Degree in Instructional Technology from Duquesne. I enjoy presenting at conferences on technology and learning more ways to benefit student learning. I am the Communications Chair for the ISTE Mobile Learning Network, a Member at Large for Games & Sims, the Innovation Resources Co-Chair for the Teacher Education Network and the PAECT Historian. Additionally, I am proud to be involved in several communities including being a Common Sense Media Educator, Amazon Inspire Educator, WeVideo Ambassador, Edmodo Certified Trainer, Nearpod Certified Educator and also participate in several other networks. I enjoy blogging and writing for Kidblog and I am always looking for new learning opportunities to benefit my students. You can connect with me on Twitter @rdene915.

Thank you Sarah Thomas @sarahdateechur and @EduMatch #edumatch for the opportunity for this post on August 1, 2016. Logo from Edumatch.com

A couple of reasons why I love summer

Rachelle Dene Poth

I am a teacher and when people find this out, one of the first things they say is “it must be nice to have your summers off.”  Yes, thank you, it is nice to have a more relaxed schedule over the course of the summer break. But in all honesty, I would be fine if I taught year round. And there are a lot of teachers who don’t really have the whole summer “off” because their school operates on a different type of school calendar. And like I said, I love summer, not because it means that I don’t have to go to work. I enjoy being in the classroom and working with students.  I look forward to each day and what it brings. I love the routine, the new challenges each day, and more than anything, working with the students and learning from them. However, the main reason I look forward to the summer is because it is an opportunity to seek out new learning experiences that will enable me to return to my classroom refreshed, with new ideas and hopefully improved skills that will help me to provide the best learning experiences for my students.

Connections

Another great thing about summer is that it is a time to connect with other educators. And I have been fortunate to meet a lot of educators over the past few years, but even more so this summer because I had the opportunity to be involved in several tremendous conferences and learning experiences including Summer Spark, ISTE 2016, and EdCampUSA.  So yes, it is nice to be a teacher and to have those breaks throughout the year and especially during summer, but I bet if you ask some of your friends who are teachers or even if you meet someone new who is a teacher, if they really have their summers “off”, I bet almost all of them will tell you no, and maybe even follow up with a laugh. And here is why.

Summer for educators

Summer is a time for a lot of things. One of the nice things about being in education, in my role as a classroom teacher is that I do have the summers off. But we all know the reality of it is that we don’t really have the time off.  Teachers have time of course for some of the normal summer things like sleeping in late, catching up with friends and family, going on vacations and not worrying about setting the alarm.  But it is also valuable time for teachers to do even more, on a personal and professional basis. Time to think about their practice and take advantage of the opportunities that are out there for professional development and growth. 

Teachers devote most of their time during the school year, focusing on students’ skills and needs, their interests and providing a supportive, positive, meaningful,  engaging learning environment for their students. For some of our students, school is the safe place to be.  Each teacher’s classroom is unique and offers an opportunity for the teacher to create a whole new world, for lack of a better phrase, to immerse their students in learning, to draw them into new experiences and help each student develop their skills, to become reflective, to have choice and voice in their learning. In addition to striving to provide this for our students, we work to be a constant source of support and guidance for each student each day.

And contrary to the “school day schedule”, when the school day ends, these tasks, jobs, responsibilities do not end with the ringing of the bell. We may leave our work on our desk in our classroom, but these other parts of our work continue 24 hours a day every day. The impression that we make on our students and the atmosphere that we create for them, the guidance we provide have an impact that does not end when they leave our classroom nor when they leave the school for the day.  Each student takes something unique away from the classroom when they leave us. Whatever our connection is with each student, the relationships that we build and that continue to grow throughout the year, in some way help each student. There is something created unique to each teacher-student relationship, that forms the foundation for the learning to occur.  We are their teachers, but also their mentors, providing more than just a lesson in the classroom. We don’t just teach. We give ourselves and our support to our students.

And it is exhausting, in a good way. And if you leave your classroom at the end of the day, and you are not exhausted when you get home, then something is wrong.  There is more work to be done.

Our schedules

Teachers put a lot of time in outside of the classroom and that time is not evident to the rest of the world. The hours at night at home or on the weekend grading papers, making parent phone calls, preparing lessons, attending conferences, are not factored into how people view the time and place of the job of the teacher. And I do not see this as negative, it’s just the reality that because school is perceived as an 8 hour day experience, that is where the work ends. And maybe in the past it would be viewed in that way because technology did not exist to enable emails or other collaboration to occur beyond the school day.  But the work involved and the personal investment was and still is the same.

So back to why I love summer

Getting back to some of the reasons I love summer. Each summer gets better and better, and it’s not because I traveled and spent hours on beaches, or to the contrary, kept idle. It is because I have used the time to learn more, to read, to connect, to reflect and to prepare for the next year.  My summer goal is to work so I can start stronger and be better than I was the year before. This summer has been an unbelievable period of growth for me and I knew at the end of the school year that it would be exhausting but a well worth it kind of exhausting.

I have been fortunate to travel to different conferences throughout the country, to confront some fears such as flying and speaking in front of many people, to challenge myself more each day. And no worries, I am enjoying some time sleeping in and also sitting outside on the deck with my cup of coffee, but the computer, a book or a magazine are always there. The Voxer groups I join are part of each day, listening and learning. I use the time I have because I want to learn, to connect, to develop skills so I can be the best teacher and mentor that I can be for my students. I will do whatever it takes to make that happen. And this summer I have met a lot of inspirational role models, leaders in education, Eduheroes, people I have known through Twitter chats,Voxer groups or Google communities. These are things which two years ago I would not have even thought possible. But learning from these different groups and developing a new awareness and new perspectives and facing new challenges, has really given me pause.   To be among some of the great educators and benefit from truly amazing professional development experiences, has served to make me want to use every moment of this summer “break” to take in and learn as much as I can.  Does this sound like you?

My summer recommendations

Some things that I think are important to do in the summer. I think you have to give yourself some freedom and flexibility with your schedule. So that means if you want to go to bed early and get out of bed late, that’s fine. If it means that you then spend the majority of your day working and reading, or doing nothing at all, that’s okay too. You have to make time for friends and family, connect with people that are important and that matter and that maybe throughout the school year you don’t have as many opportunities to spend time with. Once the school year starts, schedules become very hectic. That is the nice thing about being a teacher in some sense, is that your availability is more open in the summer but then again people with year-round jobs aren’t as available as you. You should find conferences or webinars, join in book studies or Voxer groups, or try connecting with some different learning communities. Get involved in a Twitter chat, whatever it is during the school year that just doesn’t seem to fit as part of your routine, make it part of your summer routine.

There are lots of opportunities out there and while there is not time for everything, there can be time for a little bit of everything. So decide what is best for you.  Do you want to be in one Voxer group or join one book study ? Then make that your focus. Or maybe you want to participate in writing tips for a blog or website. It’s up to you, because it is your time to decide how to spend your summer break.

Personally I stay in good practice during the summer because I keep my schedule as chaotic as possible because it’s better prepares me for the school year. The first day or two of summer break I feel a bit out of it because of that absence of routine, the lack of students waiting to hear from me, but I soon develop my summer plan and get started right away.  On Monday.