Preparing for the Future: Career and College Ready

Previously posted on Getting Smart

Over the past couple of months we have had to make many adjustments to our personal and professional lives. During this unprecedented time, educators and families have been trying to find balance in their days, to work together to keep learning going, and perhaps more importantly, to provide the academic, emotional, and mental support that our students need.

For many educators, finding the right resources that can be used to teach and mentor remotely, and which will also engage students in learning activities, can be difficult. The challenge is not so much in finding tools, but rather in knowing whether our students can access them, determining which will benefit them the most, and making sure that we can provide the support that students and families need. At this time of the year in particular, guidance counselors and educators who work with mentoring programs are quite busy as they help seniors prepare to graduate from high school or other students as they transition to a new grade level or school. In many school districts across the United States, students are required to complete a job shadow, explore careers, and develop a digital portfolio that will become part of their application for college or work. Integral to these requirements are school guidance counselors.

After speaking with a guidance counselor from my school and following conversations in different learning communities and on social media, I’ve noticed that guidance counselors are seeking resources that can help them to provide this same support for students during remote learning. Even when we are in school with access to guidance counselors and resources, it can be difficult for students as they prepare to transition to their next grade or the next phase of their educational or work journey after graduation. Trying to plan their next steps, whether entering the workforce or pursuing a college education, has not been easy during this time. Students have questions about jobs, college applications, and skills needed for the future and without being in the same space, providing that information can be a challenge. However, there are many resources available to educators, students, and parents that can help now while we are experiencing school closures and that will be beneficial throughout the year in addition to the programs already in place.

Here are seven options for guidance counselors to support students during their transitions between grades, schools, and education and career. These options provide ways for students to explore careers, find job shadow opportunities, create digital portfolios, and even visit college campuses.

Career Readiness. In Pennsylvania, the Lincoln Intermediate Unit has a website that provides many links related to career awareness and readiness that will be helpful to elementary, middle and high school educators and students everywhere. It also offers resources for secondary transitions for special educators, direct links to the PA Department of Education, opportunities for virtual college and job visits, and many other relevant materials for educators that are helping students to determine their career pathways.

Couragion. Provides work-based learning experiences for students. Some options include career shadowing for students in grades 4 through 8 and micro badging for career exploration for middle and high school students. There are four curricular models to explore including technology, engineering, manufacturing, and business. There is also information provided for doing remote externships during the summer months and students can also build career portfolios.

Ecampus Tours. Educators and students can choose from more than 1,300 tours to explore college campuses in 360-degree virtual tours. The website also offers additional resources for college planning as well as materials for guidance counselors such as documents and other handouts for students and parents to plan for college.

MyPlan. Through the Career Exploration section of their site, there are videos, salary calculators, and other resources that enable students to explore different careers at their own pace. Students can learn about different industries, find out about the top 10 careers, and even ask questions in the community to learn more about specific careers and skills needed.

Nepris. This site offers educators the opportunity to connect students with professionals working in many different careers and industries. Through their Career Explorer program, educators can request a speaker to join in a virtual discussion with students, provide students with an authentic audience as they present project-based learning, or even arrange a panel discussion. There are live virtual chats and more than 9,000 recordings available for students to explore different careers on their own time. The virtual industry chats and video library are available to everyone during this time.

Smart Futures. This Pittsburgh-based company has created SmartFutures.org, an online career planning platform for students, whether kids or young adults. Using Smart Futures, students take surveys and complete activities to learn more about their skills and interests, and are able to explore careers and create their digital portfolio. E-Mentors are also available through Smart Futures.

Xello. This resource provides a variety of options for students to learn more about careers and build future-ready skills as they transition through each level of school. Using Xello, students take an assessment and then can explore hundreds of career and college options that match their results. As they work through the activities, reading biographies and engaging with the resources provided, a portfolio of their work and explorations is created. Xello’s software also assists students with gathering documents needed as they prepare college applications.

Regardless of whether in the physical or virtual space, we need to support students and provide them with opportunities to explore their interests and prepare for the future, whether for careers or college. Using any one of these resources, students have opportunities to build self-awareness of their skills and interests and can engage in different learning experiences that prepare them for the future.

 

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

 

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

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

5 Ways to Build Collaborative Learning Skills In and Out of the Classroom

Developing skills for collaboration is a critical component for our students for their future. It is so important that educators provide opportunities for students to work together in our classrooms so that they can develop the necessary skills for working on a team which will also enable students to build social-emotional learning (SEL) skills. As we think about the importance of social-emotional learning and its role not only in education but in the future, this is why we must be intentional about finding ways to engage our students more by learning from one another in their classroom and beyond.

There is so much potential for having students work in teams or in small groups in the classroom. Technology can be an important component of these collaborations by creating access to more resources. There are many great opportunities for students to use digital tools available that help to create extra time in the day and offer various ways for students to collaborate beyond the time and space of the classroom, by fostering connections with other students in classrooms around the world.

When and Where to Collaborate

I think that the most critical piece of this is realizing that learning is no longer confined to the instruction that happens in the classroom during class. Unlike years ago when I was a student, our learning took place in the classroom and then we took time at home whether in the evening or weekends to complete homework assignments and projects. But for having opportunities for collaboration, it was far more difficult to work with partners and find a common time to meet beyond the school day. Meeting required physically going to a place to work together and have discussions. With access to new digital tools which bring innovative and more interesting ways to collaborate, these constraints on how, when, and where learning can occur exist minimally today. The biggest factor is whether or not our students and schools have the right access to the resources that are needed.

Just as students need opportunities to collaborate, as educators, we also need to find ways to work with colleagues and members of our Professional Learning Network (PLN), often beyond the school day. We also need to build our own skills and share our skill-sets and methods with our colleagues and PLN. by actively engaging in this right along with our students. We must model lifelong learning and the importance of asking for and offering help to others. Our goal is to construct a supportive foundation where we can all grow from.

Five ways to collaborate wherever and whenever

Here are five ways to promote collaboration both in the physical classroom setting as well as the virtual learning space. With each of these ideas, teachers can have students working together using different digital tools or teaching strategies. Beyond the content involved, students will build their communication, collaboration, critical thinking, problem-solving skills and develop the SEL skills at the same time.

  1. Learning stations when used in the classroom open up more possibilities for personalized learning, for social interactions, and the building of relationships between students and between the teacher and students. Using between three and five stations in the classroom, depending on class size and grade level, teachers can have students work together through a series of learning activities. Selecting a mix of digital tools, hands-on learning activities, and teacher-directed instruction creates a good mix of ways for students to engage with the content. For some, giving students the option to collaborate and design their own way of practicing the content can lead to new ideas for the whole class. Encourage students to team teach and take more of a leadership role in the classroom.
  2. Cross-curricular collaboration: How about working with another curricular area or even grade level?  Find a connector between your class and that of a colleague. Create a task where the students in both of your classes must collaborate on the same project while you do the same. Maybe you use project-based learning (PBL) in your class and you want to share that framework with a colleague or it is something that you are hoping to learn from a colleague. Find a common bond between your courses and start collaborating. I connected with an eighth-grade science teacher and our students used Buncee to create their presentation. This past year, my students connected with students in Spain and shared backgrounds, interests and other facts about their lives by leveraging technology tools to exchange information. Working together with colleagues to create these opportunities for students and helping students to engage in more meaningful learning makes a
  3. Beyond Classroom Discussions: Have you had a great discussion going in class just to have it interrupted by the bell? Or have you tried to encourage students to share their ideas but have not been successful? How about getting students to share ideas on important topics, by using some of the digital tools available for curating material or gathering feedback. We have many tools available that when leveraged with purpose, can add great benefits for student learning and student confidence. Some of the options are using things like Padlet to create a wall for discussion where students can post comments and respond to classmates. Try Wakelet to post an idea or a theme and ask students to share and create resources. To get students speaking more, use Flipgrid to create short videos as a prompt for students to discuss. Or try having students create a podcast using tools like Anchor or Synth. Which enable students to create on their own, and using Synth, students can ask and answer questions asynchronously. These are just a few quick digital ways to promote collaboration.
  4.  Collaborative Creations: When it comes to having students do more creating in the classroom, we have a ton of resources and materials to choose from. Giving students the option of using traditional formats versus digital formats is something that I do a lot in my own classroom. I want my students to have choices, however I also want them to build some other skills like online collaboration and designing. There are many tools that are adding features for students to create together. Beyond the collaborative options within Microsoft and Google, students can now work with emerging technologies. Using tools like CoSpaces and 3DBear, students can work together to create augmented and virtual reality spaces for digital storytelling. With either of these options, students work together in ways that build collaborative skills while also connecting them with more authentic and meaningful learning experiences.
  5. Blogging and Website Design: Blogging offers so many benefits in addition to building literacy skills and helping students to share ideas in a more authentic way. It also offers an effective way to build relationships between students as they exchange ideas, offer peer feedback and engage in more conversations in the classroom and online. Teachers can learn more about students and their interests, and use these ideas to create additional opportunities for collaboration within the classroom and with global peers. Tools such as Kidblog or Edublogs are good options. Creating a group project can be done using many different presentation formats, but one which helps students to build skills transferable for the future is in designing a website. Students in my school created websites for History Day and had a great artifact of learning to share and developed skills which will benefit them in the future.

Beyond these ideas, reach out into your school community and find local organizations that are open to working with students. It would benefit our students by connecting with real-world learning experiences and building skills beyond those covered in the curriculum. It benefits the school community by learning about what education looks like for students today. Providing options through place-based and experiential learning opportunities will open new possibilities for student interests and future career explorations.

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my Rdene915 site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

 

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

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

5 Ideas for Building Communication Skills for the Future

My prior post on Getting Smart

Looking toward the future, as we consider how to best prepare our students for jobs that may not exist yet, what are the skills that will benefit them no matter what they decide to do? If we look at the research, trends over the past five or ten years of the top skills required by employees, there are a few that have stayed in place if not shifted toward the top because they are becoming increasingly more important. Looking at the shift from 2015 to the projections for 2020 and beyond, what do students need?

We’ve been talking about 21st century skills for a long time, often referring to how we are addressing the four C’s: critical thinking, creativity, communication and collaboration within our respective content areas and/or our roles. I have even heard mention of the “5Cs” and “7Cs,” with the addition of character, computational thinking, and citizenship included in the “C’s” of 21st century learning. With the increased use of technology in our classrooms and  daily lives, we can leverage some of these digital tools to help our students build the vital skills that will benefit them in the future, regardless of where their learning journey or careers take them.

As a Spanish teacher, I am always interested in finding ways to help students communicate their ideas, to express themselves in the language of study. Beyond language skills, I also want to help them learn how to communicate and collaborate with one another in various settings and contexts and in different media formats.

What are some tools that we can use to help our students become better communicators and to build confidence and promote student voice in learning?

Here are five different platforms or ideas that I think can be very beneficial for student learning and will help educators to implement some digital tools into the classroom without taking too much time to get started.

Written Communication

Students need to do a lot of writing to build their skills although this does not necessarily need to involve technology. However, the benefit of using digital tools for written communication can enhance student learning by creating more meaningful connections and providing different formats for students to convey their thoughts. Blogging is an effective tool to promote writing skills and literacy, to build digital citizenship skills, and to help students create a digital portfolio where they can track their own growth and build self-awareness as a result. Using tools like KidblogBlogger, or Seesaw offers students a space where they can take more ownership in learning, track their progress and growth over time, and become more comfortable and confident as they express themselves in a space where they can truly develop their ideas. It also promotes collaboration and fosters relationship building and getting to know our students.

Video Response

We also want to promote oral communication and give students opportunities to engage in speaking, especially if students tend to be shy in the classroom and prefer not to speak in front of their peers. We can leverage the video tools available to give students a comfortable space to begin building their speaking skills. In the past, I used Recap (now Synth), and students expressed how much it helped them to feel more comfortable to share their ideas, to reflect on project-based learning, and to be able to record their thoughts wherever they were and in a way that was comfortable. Flipgrid with its updated features offers more than just recording videos, it also promotes the opportunity for students to become global collaborators, and explore different ideas and perspectives from students in their classes. We can also use these tools to more easily connect our students with classrooms and experts around the world.

Podcasting

There are a lot of educational podcasts and platforms for creating them, depending on the amount of time you have, the age of your students and access to these resources. One idea is to start one podcast for the class, post a question for discussion and have students respond by creating a thread of their own to each question. Perhaps students can create their own podcasts or listen to the podcasts of their classmates, to focus on listening comprehension skills and also use it as a way to further expand conversations in and out of the classroom. We can build relationships between our students as they begin to better understand their classmates and make connections with one another. Students could work together to create a podcast to share within the class or to create for the school community, which would be a great way to facilitate that home to school connection to share the work being done by students in our classrooms.

Infographics

Having students work on conveying information, communicating ideas, even advanced or complex concepts, is sometimes more difficult if limited to writing a report or sticking to solely traditional methods. However, by using infographics, students learn to break down information and sort and share the most important facts or the data and determine how to best convey it to someone else. We meet the ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) Standards for Students by using activities like this because students are creative communicators, they develop computational thinking skills, problem-solving, and become empowered in their learning as they choose how to convey their information. We connect them more authentically with the content. Some digital tools to try are Adobe SparkBunceeCanva, or Piktochart. However, it does not have to involve technology.  It’s not about using tech, it’s about the activity itself and how that can benefit students. Giving students the choice to use a digital tool or simply use paper and do something like a sketchnote or other visual representation, will still develop their skills in this area.

Videos and Vlogging

If these options have been tried, educators may try out vlogging to take learning to a higher level or simply to just build upon each one of the other ideas. Even if these are simply created for use in the classroom and not shared publicly, having students create and experience the power of video for communicating and being able to create these products, will no doubt benefit them in the future. Whether students create a screencast or do a short talk about a topic of study, they are engaged in project-based learning, teaching a lesson and recording it so it can be used for other students in the class. Some digital tools to explore are WeVideo and Educreations.

There are many options out there; it just takes thinking about what we’re already doing in our classroom and making one slight change to do something a little bit differently. Or as I have done in my classroom, offer all of these possibilities for students. At times, this initially felt a little uncomfortable  because it was so open, but it had huge benefits for student learning and engagement. I want my students to build their skills with technology and connect with what we are learning in the classroom, but I also very much value the power of choice and making sure that students feel comfortable. For this, I sometimes start by offering choices and then letting students decide what will work best for them. When they do, I’m there to support and encourage them to take the next step.

 

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

 

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

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

Skip the Course, Get the Curriculum

Guest  post by Monica Gupta Mehta  @EmotionalMUSE

I know there are many teachers who just don’t have the time to read anything extra right now, but would love to include more social emotional learning into their virtual week. For those teachers, I have pulled together all of the student activities in one place. In order to not feel overwhelmed, I would recommend choosing just 1-2 activities to include in your curriculum this month!

These activities are organized by topic, so you can find them in the following order:

Curiosity, Mindsets, Self Awareness, Social Awareness, Self Care, Emotional Regulation, Calming Mind and Body

Feelings Board: Make a feelings board for your own students. You can do this using Padlet as I did, using your own digital tools…or simply make it an activity at the start of classroom chats, having every student share with one word how they are feeling.

Exit Slips: Use digital exit slips in your next class session to ask students what they most want to learn about a specific topic. Try to incorporate their ideas in your next unit.

Personal Projects: (Not a typical curriculum item, but especially helpful for emotional regulation and coping during this time of high stress) If your teaching team agrees, you could reduce workload for each course and jointly allow students to come up with their own project, something they would like to spend their time doing. Each teacher could take charge of one component – helping students set goals, make a plan, and checking in to see how it is going and if adjustments need made. I did this with my own kids over Spring Break – one chose to create a website for collecting people’s experiences during COVID19 (covid19capsule.org), one chose to study neuroscience, and one learned Scratch programming. It was a great form of mental engagement and inherently motivating.

Gratitude Journal: Begin a gratitude journal with your class. You can do this in numerous ways – you can use digital learning tools, ask them to complete one at home in a journal, make it simple or artistic. The practice of writing down what we are grateful for each day helps us to focus our attention on the positives in our life. A positive attitude helps us cope, and makes it easier to avoid excessive worrying.

Here is a link to one on teacherspayteachers but it costs money – fairly simple to make your own.

Gratitude Read-a-Loud: Choose your favorite picture book about gratitude and read it to your students, or record yourself reading it and post it for them. If you can find your book on Storyline Online, it will be read aloud by a celebrity and have beautiful illustrations to accompany it.

One book that works well for this is ‘Please, Please the Bees’ by Gerald Kelley – you can find it on Storyline read by Rashida Jones. It is an excellent story of gratitude and appreciation.

Everyday Heroes: For very young students, you could use this game to discuss gratitude for our everyday community heroes.

Mastery Orientation: Ask students about a time they did something well. Ask them to write a few sentences about what rewards they received. Ask them to think about what external praise they got for their work, and what internal rewards they felt. Ask them what else makes them feel proud inside themselves.

Growth Mindset Charts: Ask students to list sentences they have said or heard about their ability, and have them classify each as growth or fixed mindset on a chart. Have them convert fixed mindset expressions to growth mindset ones.

Growth Mindset Discussion Question: Ask students about something they used to struggle with, but now are good at. What are all of the things that helped them to improve?

Self Check-In: Using the Starfish/Tornado visual below, ask your students to check in about how they are feeling. Are they calm as a starfish, or agitated like a tornado (or have fun making up something in between!). Brainstorm a list of ways to calm back down when they feel agitated inside. Ask them to stop and think a few times each day about how they are feeling. It helps to give them a place to make a tally (worksheet, digital document) each time they remember to stop and check in with themselves.

Emotional Vocabulary: Ask students to process one emotional vocabulary word each week. Ask them to define it, comment on times when they have felt it themselves, and times they have seen others exhibit it. For example – ‘What is courage? What is a time when you felt courageous? When have you noticed others being courageous?’

Identity: For older students interested in personality as a component of identity, a basic starting point is on the topic of extroverts/introverts. This is an often misunderstood dichotomy, and it can help students to understand themselves better. Many are surprised to learn that being an introvert is not about being antisocial…it is about where we get our energy from. An interesting discussion point: many argue that these days, our society more publicly rewards people for being extroverted. Being in quarantine, we are seeing introverts thrive (relatively) and extroverts have a much more difficult time.

One of my all-time favorite TED Talks is this one, on the Power of Introverts.

Coping Skills: Take a ‘Coping Skills Inventory.’ Give students a list of activities that are often useful for coping with big emotions. Explain that people all around the world are feeling complex emotions – for example, a child may be happy they are getting to play more games with their family, but sad that their birthday party is cancelled. Ask them to check off which coping strategies most help them, and to brainstorm others that may help as well.

Sample List: Going for walks, Music, Sleeping, Family Movies, Online Communities, Connecting with Friends, Puzzles, Comedy, Audiobooks, Books

This site has some great printables.

Sesame Street and Big Emotions: For very young students, Sesame Street continues to have wonderful content about understanding and processing our feelings. Here is a very sweet song with Abby Cadabby about big emotions. Here is a link to activities and other Sesame Street videos on emotions.

Calm Down Spot: If possible, ask students to create a place that is just for them to sit and be calm. This is a great place to have ready for later in this course, when students will practice going there to cool down when their emotions become overwhelming. For now, it can just be a place to sit and think about how they are doing, and what they might need at that moment. They can keep a few books nearby, perhaps some coloring, or even a water bottle can be helpful. A favorite stuffed animal is always nice to have. My daughter keeps her ipod and headphones there to listen to some music when she wants to relax and reset and think about life.

Empathy and Appreciation: One fun way to build empathy is to give your students an ‘Acts of Kindness’ challenge. Explain that to do effective acts of kindness, students need to observe others and think about what would make the recipient happy – not what the student themselves would want. Ask students to document their acts of kindness, ideally in a way that can be shared with their classmates. For example, you could ask students to create short videos about their act of kindness using FlipGrid or to create Padlets. For older kids, share the Berkeley study on acts of kindness and their impact on happiness. The study discovered the greatest benefit to self came from doing 5 acts of kindness all on the same day, once a week every week for 6 weeks. Teenagers could even do my #fiveacts challenge on Tik Tok!

Social Detective: You can teach students active listening and observation of others by playing ‘social detective.’ Ask students to think of a situation coming up in which they will be interacting with others. At this time, it will most likely be other family members in their household. Have students draw the anticipated scene and place each family member in it. Then ask students to give each person a thought bubble, and to write in one thing that person might be thinking – something the person might be feeling strong emotions about or hoping for.

Another way to play social detective is to use picture books. Stop at an interesting scene and ask students to notice everything they can about the scene and the people in it. This can also be done with movies. Here is a sample worksheet from the Michelle Garcia Winner Social Thinking series.

Cry Baby: This is a simple ‘social detective’ type activity as well. Show students a picture of a crying baby, and ask them to think of all the reasons a baby might cry. This is particularly effective as young babies can not yet talk to communicate their needs, and so students must work hard to be observant and practice empathy skills.

Turtle Time: Ask students to sit and observe people by acting like a turtle. They should move their head around in a slow, exaggerated fashion. Ask them to write (or draw) everything they notice. Then ask them to think of a behavior that would be appropriate for them when entering that scene…and one that would be inappropriate. For example, if their brother is having a school video chat, it would not be appropriate to be loud as they enter that scene.

(They do not have to be turtles. They could be spies with binoculars, or anything else they can come up with!)

The Main Point: Host small group virtual chats, ideally with 2-4 students per session. Ask students to take turns sharing a short story about their day, and ask other students to listen carefully. Then have each student practice showing they were listening by identifying what they felt was a ‘main point’ in the story, along with an appropriate emotion word. An example might be, “It sounds like you felt really scared when your sister got sick.”

Same But Different: Tell your students a statement in a neutral tone, and then practice saying it in different tones of voice. Ask students to differentiate the possible emotions and thoughts of the speaker.

Feelings Cards: There are countless online resources for creating a stack of ‘feelings cards.’ These are simply a collection of photos of people expressing different emotions. Ask students to identify what they notice in the photo, helping them make careful observations. Then ask them students what they think the person is feeling. I enjoy doing this activity with gifs, as they show a bit more of the natural movements of a person’s body and face.

Whichever images you choose, please don’t use emojis for your feelings cards. They teach very little, as they are not realistic expressions and have no body language.

Connection: Students are in need of connection to their peers, and as teachers we can serve as facilitators for this. Schedule video chats with students in small groups of 2-4, and send out a sign up sheet ahead of time. This allows students to sign up for slots with friends they are missing. If that does not work well for your schedule, you can also create ‘break out rooms’ in Zoom chats to allow a few students to be together during a full class video chat.

Some ideas for games students can play together virtually are Simon Says, Guess Who, I Spy, and Twenty Questions.

Vulnerability and Belonging Discussion: For older students, just a great TED Talk that can be spun off into a discussion about connection: Brene Brown and the Power of Vulnerability.

Simple Self Care Practice: One very simple activity is to ask students to print out this handout, or something similar, and ask them to check off each item across the week.

Piloting Your Plane: This activity is a complex metaphor, but tends to resonate very well with young students. For a fun example of how to explain this analogy to students, watch my own videos here: Piloting Your Plane. (I made these today quickly to give you an example – the sound quality is not stellar. If anyone wants a better quality version to actually use in class, let me know and I can remake it.)

You’ll need to give kids some way to keep track of checking in with their bodies all day. Here is a sample worksheet you could ask them to use for this activity. Some other ideas: you could ask them to check in on a spreadsheet or document in Google Classroom, or use Padlets.

The script goes something like this:

“Imagine your body is a plane, and your mind is the pilot. Your mind is in charge of keeping the plane flying smoothly, without crashing. When you have tantrums, overreactions and large emotional outbursts, that is like your plane crashing. If you pay attention to piloting your plane, you can fly it smoothly all day.

Just like a real pilot, there are important gauges you can check to make sure you are flying smoothly all day. It is important to stop and check on your gauges all throughout the day. These gauges are:

Temperature: When you are feeling calm, you are in the green. If you check your gauge and it is green, you can go back to your normal activities. If you are in the red, that means you are very angry, frustrated, or upset for some reason. It is important to stop what you are doing and calm your body back down to green. Blue means you are feeling sad, or lonely, or disappointed, and perhaps could use a hug or something that makes you feel happier.

Fuel: Your fuel gauge measures if you are hungry or thirsty. Take a minute to check in with your body, and if you are running low on fuel, fill it up! Being hungry or thirsty can actually make our emotions overreact to situations.

Energy: Your energy gauge tells you if you are too full of energy, or perhaps too low on energy. If you are too full of energy, do some exercise and movement to help release it. If you are not getting enough exercise and movement in your day, then your energy gauge is going to get too full and could cause a crash. If you are low on energy, allow your body some rest – if not a nap, then perhaps reading a book or just relaxing on the sofa for a bit.

Weather: Your weather gauge tells you if your plane is going to run into some turbulence ahead! Think a little forward in your day – is anything coming up that might cause your emotions or body to not fly smoothly? Something exciting, or difficult, or a change of routine? Preparing for bad weather ahead can help you to handle it better.”

This analogy can extend further than teaching kids to check their gauges. Here are some additional pieces you can add on to this activity.

The Watchtower: The Watchtower is essential to flying a real plane, because there are events or conditions that a pilot cannot detect by themselves, even if they are very good about checking all of their gauges. Let’s take a moment to think who acts as our watchtowers? Often, this can be your parents or teachers, and perhaps even siblings. It is important to listen to our watchtowers about our emotional well being, because they often see things we don’t see ourselves.

The Rocket Ship: When something really big or exciting is going on, sometimes our everyday plane turns into a rocketship!! When this happens, it usually means our emotions are turbo charged!! This means we have to be even more careful about checking our gauges often, and taking care of our bodies all day. When we blast off for a big event, we have to look out for not only bad weather turbulence, but also asteroid fields and meteors!! When in our rocket ship, we fly fast, and that also means we can crash fast! It can be really helpful to take extra good care of your body when you are flying in a rocket ship.

Habit Tracking for Older Kids: Older students may not need the full ‘piloting your plane’ analogy, but they do need to learn about taking care of their bodies. For teens, a helpful activity is to ask them to track for themselves:

1. Sleep

2. Exercise/Movement

3. Screen Time (non academic)

4. Socializing Time

5. Outdoors Time

6. Water

7. Food

8. Mood

Ask them to draw connections between their activities and their feelings/energy levels. What is one habit they want to keep in their daily life to feel better? Have them set a personal habit goal and check in on it weekly.

Mindfulness – Nature Walk: One mindful activity that is often satisfying for young children is going on a nature hunt. Ask them to take a magnifying lens if possible, and to walk slowly around their yard or neighborhood looking for nature. They can analyze leaves, look for insects, find snails, notice spiderwebs…there is so much to discover. Ask them to remember the things they are seeing and to come back and journal them.

GoNoodle – not just for movement!: GoNoodle has a number of video series that are helpful for self care, beyond their movement and exercise videos. One that is good for self care is: Take on the Day,

Movement and Exercise: Since movement and exercise are so critical to emotional regulation and sleep quality, it would be beneficial to offer students ideas for how to stay active at home. To get you started:

GoNoodle

Backyard Play

Biking

Walks

Station Rotations (sit ups, jumping jacks, push ups, plank)

Games (tag, Simon Says, hide and seek, freeze dance, animal workout)

Dancing – zumba videos, Kidz Boop, Just Dance

Cosmic Kids Yoga or simple yoga on own

Mental Enrichment: Students may need mental stimulation beyond school work. It could be fun to brainstorm a list together of things students can do to stay busy beyond school, ideally without devices. To get you started:

Reading

Video Chats

Obstacle Courses

Escape Room

Imagination Play

Art

Board Games and Cards

Puzzles

Brain Teasers

Cleaning/organizing/tidying

Helping parents with tasks or chores

Clue Hunts

Learn a new skill

DIY projects

Experiments

Writing stories, poems, comic strips, etc.

Building (Legos, scrap materials)

Acts of Kindness

Origami

Audibooks

Journaling

Problem Solving Wheel: Teach students to stop, calm down, and then think. Use this wheel to help them make a good choice for what to do next.

Bending the Rules: Try playing games but changing the rules of the game. This might be met with resistance, but if you can come up with rules that make the game slightly more fun, eventually it may be met with joy and curiosity.

Three Solutions: Students often come up with one answer, and then dig in their heels defending that answer or way of doing things. Ask students to come up with three possible answers to various questions or riddles. This is a very important skill to hone for group work.

Breathing with Cookie Monster: For very young kids, they might enjoy watching Cookie Monster use breathing to calm down and increase his patience while waiting for his cookies to be ready.

Yoga/Stretching: There are many printables available online of ‘animal yoga.’ These stretches are relaxing to the body. You can also find great story-telling style yoga at Cosmic Kids Yoga.

Calm Down Spots: I mentioned these earlier, but having a spot that students are used to using as a ‘calm’ area will also help them when agitated. Students can be asked to go to their calm down spots until they are back in the green, or at least the yellow. It should be explained to students ahead of time that this is not a punishment, being ‘sent’ to their calm down spot. It is merely a strategy that is very helpful for avoiding poor behavior when agitated. In this article, I give lots of advice for how we made a calm down spot at our home for my son. This includes building a ‘calm down kit‘ to keep nearby.

Breathing Shapes and Props: A unique way to practice breathing is to ask students to choose their favorite breathing shape. I have included one example here, but there are many different ways to practice deep breathing – often one style will suit a particular student better than another. Ask students to practice this daily, so that they build their muscle memory. Students who attempt to do deep breathing when agitated, without practice, often end up breathing far too rapidly and feeling more frustrated. This site also includes props, such as breathing with bubbles.

Exercise and Movement: As discussed in the unit on Self Care, exercise is great for emotional regulation. While a child who is very upset won’t likely be in the right state to go for a bike ride, taking a little walk or doing some movement in place, such as jumping jacks, might help them to work out some of their energy. Whatever movement they choose should not be one that requires much coordination. My favorite is to keep a balloon around, and to ask them to bop the balloon in the air and keep it up for at last 10 iterations. This helps their mind focus and clear, while also giving them an opportunity for safe movement. If something more aggressive is needed, students could try ripping up a pile of junk mail paper.

5-4-3-2-1 Grounding: For children who struggle with anxiety, it can be helpful to teach them grounding activities. 5-4-3-2-1 Grounding is a method in which you use all your senses to ground yourself in the moment. Ask students to list:

5 things they can see

4 things they can touch

3 things they can hear

2 things they can smell

and 1 thing they can taste

Here is a graphic you could use while practicing.

Accomplishments Box: Celebrating accomplishments can help build confidence, self esteem and optimism, all of which are helpful to staying regulated. Here is a fun activity for building an accomplishments box, which will help keep students motivated as well.

Finding Humor: Humor is often the secret key to help students return to a state of calm. Keep some joke books, comics, or even comedic audiobooks handy for when a child needs a pick-me-up.

________________

The Importance of Being a Mentor & Having a Mentor

Mentoring is a very important part of what we “engage” in as educators. Whether we serve as a mentor to a colleague or a student, or perhaps we seek out a mentor to help us with challenges or simply to have a system of support in our personal and professional lives, it has a tremendous impact. Whether or not we even realize it at times, we are all serving as a mentor to someone.

Recently a colleague stopped in to talk and confided in me that they were experiencing challenges with classroom management, student behaviors such as disrespect and keeping up with the responsibilities of teaching in general. Without a doubt, teaching can be tough sometimes. I’ve been in that same position more than once during my teaching career.

Having taught for the last 25 years, I’ve had a lot of experiences, some good, some bad, and some in between. At times in a position where I needed to improve, fearing I would possibly lose my job, and felt like no matter what I tried, that I just would not succeed. There were days that I left school feeling helpless and alone. I was embarrassed to confide in anyone that I was struggling. There were people who impacted my life, not because they were assigned as my mentors, but because they just took the time to listen, care, and support me to keep pushing through. Because of their impact on my life, I learned the importance of relationships, of being available to listen and to support, but also to give pushback and critical feedback when needed.

The Roles of Mentors

Mentors have a pivotal role to play in education. Whether you are enrolled in a pre-service teacher program, working as an intern in a school, new to teaching or to a new school, you often have a mentor to help guide you through any transitions along the way. Most of the time the “mentorship” is formed between a more veteran teacher and a newer teacher, to help to lessen any feelings of being overwhelmed when starting the teaching journey. Mentors can help newer teachers find their place in the school, establish their classroom presence and get into daily teaching practice. While I believe that mentoring for new teachers is critical, I think that an area that is often overlooked is that veteran teachers need mentors as well. For many years I thought that teachers were only assigned mentors as part of a school induction program, part of an improvement plan, or simply because it was part of the pre-service or teacher preparation program.

Teaching can become an isolating profession if we let it. Isolating in the sense that we don’t have enough time to connect with colleagues. We have many tasks to keep up with, but the most important part of our work is making time for our students. We must be available and invest our time to help them to succeed. Whether specified or not, everyone is a mentor and I believe that sometimes we don’t even realize it.

We mentor students. We don’t know everything that they might be experiencing when they leave our classroom. Students need a constant in their life, a relationship based on trust and support that they know is there when they need it. Our colleagues need to establish these same relationships as well. But how do we find time to seek out a mentor or to act as a mentor to someone else? For these mentorships, the relationships are critical for our personal and professional growth. We need to be intentional in serving as mentors for those we lead and lead with. Finding mentors for ourselves will help us continue to learn, grow and improve our practice each day.

Mentorships Today

Mentorships typically involve a mentor and mentee, with clearly defined roles. A mentorship is defined as a “wise and trusted counselor or teacher.”  However, I think the definition has evolved and within mentorships today, an individual can be both a mentor and a mentee. New teachers paired with more veteran teachers both bring unique skills, experiences, and knowledge to their mentorship. They each have something to teach and a lot to learn, which is why finding time to be part of a mentorship is critical for professional growth.

Colleagues within the same school can serve as mentors to one another, or even connect with a colleague from a neighboring school. However, finding the time to sit down in the same space or have a quick conversation can be a challenge on most school days. The lack of time is one of the most common problems facing educators. When we think about all of the tasks that we do in a given day whether, in school or home, there can be little time left for mentoring. But there are many options that can solve this problem of lack of time and assist you in pairing up with a colleague or creating small groups of educators to serve as mentors to one another.

And finding a mentor does not require, at least in my opinion, that pairing of a new teacher with a veteran teacher. Everyone has something to offer and as a teacher of 25 years compared to a teacher early in their career, there is a lot of knowledge and skills that can be shared between us. But how can we find time to connect? When used with purpose, technology can make a difference. The purpose being professional growth, avoiding isolation or having somewhere to turn when feeling frustrated or in need of support.

How to Connect

  1. Social Media – Social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, enable educators to connect and share stories, ask questions, and to interact whenever is convenient. These platforms offer educators a space to learn about issues educators are facing and brainstorm ideas for making changes in their practice, or engage in conversations and foster some connections on their own. There are even focused communities available on Facebook to connect based on the content area, grade level or even topic.
  2. Book studies and Voxer groups – There are many book studies happening, many of which are announced on Twitter or Facebook, and focused on books related to education or specific trends in education. Personally, I have made some great connections with educators from around the world, simply by joining in a Voxer book study and building relationships in a supportive environment. The book study of “Four O’Clock Faculty” by Rich Czyz led to a #4OCFPLN, which has become a large part of my professional growth and reflective practice every day.
  3. ISTE: The International Society for Technology in Education is a worldwide Network that includes more than 20 Professional Learning Networks (PLNs). By getting involved in these networks, you have access to thousands of educators and can engage in conversations, post questions, and make your own connections that will help you to keep building your practice.
  4. School committees- Schools can offer different activities for teachers to engage in whether it be a health and wellness committee or a leadership council which gives teachers an opportunity to talk, share ideas, or bring school concerns to light. By bringing teachers together in a meeting like this, it is an intentional way to create time for teachers to collaborate and form those valuable relationships.
  5. Clubs –  Another option for establishing mentorships in your school that can be beneficial for teachers and students, is to create a club which has mentoring, building leadership skills and student confidence as its purpose. One possibility is creating a Ted-ED Club. where students get to know their peers, explore passions, build confidence and become mentors for their peers. All schools need to have mentoring in place for students and give students the opportunity to serve as mentors for their peers.

We all need mentors whether in our first or thirtieth year of teaching. At times it might be someone assigned to us, a friend or a member of our PLN. Sometimes we don’t even realize that we are in a “mentorship,” we are just supporting one another on our teaching journeys. Veteran teachers need to seek out mentors as well, and that might mean connecting with a teacher who is new to your building or to the profession. How can we expect our students to interact and understand different perspectives, and to be accepting if we ourselves do not do the same thing and go beyond that? It starts with us. It always starts with us to take that first step.

 

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my Rdene915 site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

 

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

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

Unconscious Bias

Guest post by Sari Goldberg McKeown @sgteach_sari & Jessica Liakonis @MrsLiakonis

Opinions expressed are  those of the guest blogger. 

 

I embrace education as an opportunity to inspire and empower. As an educator, it is my goal to enhance student learning as a transformative experience. Teaching is a privileged position. It  demands humility as much as respect. It is crucial that as educators, we recognize the power inherent in our role and are self-reflective about our actions. It is critical that we are mindful of our position as a role model and the kind of learning we strive to promote among students. Our students are always watching. They are always learning from us. When the image below was recently posted by Adam Welcome, it forced me to stop in my tracks. This small image has a BIG impact.

“We say we teach all children, but do we teach all stories?  Do we teach the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, or just the sanitized version that will not ruffle any feathers? I can choose to bring others into our classrooms so that their stories are told by them. I can choose to model what it means to question my own assumptions and correct my own wrongs.” As Jessica and I unpacked Pernille Ripp’s post “These Divided Times,” with our Voxer group #StrongTies, Pernille’s words swirled in my head. This conversation brought my own assumptions to the forefront. Do I support all stories? Do I create a space that encourages the whole truth? What do I model? -Sari

 

𝕊𝕒𝕣𝕚 𝔾𝕠𝕝𝕕𝕓𝕖𝕣𝕘 𝕄𝕔𝕂𝕖𝕠𝕨𝕟@sgteach_sari

How do you flatten the walls in your classroom? @pernilleripp @kemnitzer3 @JamiePandolf @AKennedy61 @MrsLiakonis @lopescommack @ChrisKauter @MrECuff

View image on Twitter

Who’s different? What’s fair? As a society, discussions about bias, discrimination, culture, and social justice tend to happen more in middle and high schools. Educators sometimes believe that younger children may not understand these complex topics, or maybe they just want to delay exposing them to injustices as long as possible. However, young children have such a passion for fairness. They want to do the right thing; they want to be fair. The best though is that they notice differences without apology or discomfort. Why does your hair feel different than mine? What is that in your lunchbox? How come you have two mommies?

As Sari mentioned, while we unpacked Pernille’s post, I thought to myself, bias can be unlearned or reversed if children are exposed to everyone’s differences in a positive way. The burning question, how do we do that?  -Jessica

Searching Inward

I quickly realized I had a lot to learn. I am so grateful for the time that Pernille spent with us that week digging deep into this meaningful work. As Pernille shares in this message (that I highly encourage you to listen to), this is messy, exhausting work that is so incredibly important. Before we can do the work with our students, we need to do the work with ourselves. I needed to search inward and identify my own personal bias. Bias. What does that mean? I used to believe that word had a very negative connotation. This learning journey has shifted my perspective.

To have personal biases is to be human. We all hold our own subjective world views and are influenced and shaped by our own experiences, beliefs, values, education, family, friends, peers and others. Being aware of one’s biases is vital to both personal well-being and professional success.

Our lens is created through our experiences. These experiences create our bias. That does not make our lens wrong…it just makes it personal. Believing that our lens is the only lens or the correct lens, is wrong. – Sari

The Power of a Story

Yes, Sari! We must identify our own bias first, and it’s not always easy. Once we can understand and recognize this, we can begin to teach students how to acknowledge their own. The early years are the time to begin helping children form strong, positive self-images and grow up to respect and get along with people who are different from themselves. So, how can we start beating bias? With books!

Jessica Liakonis@MrsLiakonis

Day 46 Another great story by @bwittbooks & @LondonLLadd set in 1959 about Bernard’s wish for the Red Sox to finally integrate their baseball team! @JLVacchio @miss_anderer @WilletsRoadMS Ss loved learning from the back matter! @EastWillistonSD

View image on TwitterView image on Twitter

Jessica Liakonis@MrsLiakonis

Day 160 An important topic told in a fairy tale. Student discussion was powerful. Thank you @DanielHaack @EastWillistonSD @WilletsRoadMS @kemnitzer3 @sgteach_sari @JamiePandolf @AKennedy61 @dmgately @pernilleripp

View image on Twitter

Children’s books continue to be an invaluable source of information and values. These books can begin extremely positive and powerful discussions in your classroom, if we allow them to. We must allow them to. The experience of listening to others read aloud or reading picture books with an anti bias message provides an opportunity for young children to see and identify with characters often different from themselves. They can also experience a wide range of social dilemmas and points of view. These stories teach students how to look at events from a variety of perspectives, in other words, feel what it is like to “be in another person’s shoes.” Jessica

Jessica Liakonis@MrsLiakonis

Day 70 The Undefeated by @kwamealexander is an ode to black Americans through history: the dreamers and the doers who have made a difference despite the many injustices endured and challenges faced. @JLVacchio @miss_anderer

View image on Twitter

Continuing the Conversation

Pernille ignited a flame within me. Jessica and I gravitated towards one another. We shared a strong desire to seek more answers. This marked the beginning of our journey. We continued to dig deep in an effort to understand our own personal bias. We explored books, podcasts, TED Talks, hashtags, blogs, and workshops that have stretched our thinking. Please click here to find the list of resources that have opened our eyes. This document also includes many of the incredible read alouds Jessica has utilized as a catalyst for these important conversations with students. (Please also reach out to us with recommendations to help support our journey!) We developed a workshop, Unconscious Bias. To date we have facilitated sessions at EdCampLI and The New York State Middle School Association Regional Conference. We designed this workshop not as experts, but as learners. Our intention is to create a space to continue the conversation and learn with others. – Sari

I read picture books to my students on a daily basis as part of #ClassroomBookADay. Recently, I decided to look back on some of the picture books I have read to my students and connect them with our current Civil Rights unit, as well as current events. Having the students explore the literature and discuss hard topics was just what we needed in order to reflect back on our biases. 

Through meaningful activities that promote critical thinking and problem solving, based on carefully selected books, our students can begin to build the empathy and confidence needed for becoming caring and knowledgeable people who stand up for themselves and others in the face of discriminatory behavior. Let’s continue to teach them the beauty of others.  -Jessica

Ed Kemnitzer@kemnitzer3

This presentation is just amazing! Great conversation on bias, putting all stories on bookshelves, and engaging all voices. Using gentle stories to talk about heavy topics. Shout outs to @pernilleripp and @dmammolito. Great work, @MrsLiakonis and @sgteach_sari.

View image on TwitterView image on TwitterView image on TwitterView image on Twitter

____________________ Thank you Sari for the Guest Post _____________________

 

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

 

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

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

 

Distance Learning, the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly!

COVID-19 & Education:

Guest post by Shelly Vohra: See the prior posts in the series.

The shift to “emergency online learning” in the last month or so has created some discussions and debates about what ‘school’ will look like once we do return. Depending on the structure and demographics of the school (e.g., K-5, middle school, high school etc), how will students and teachers return to ensure everyone is safe? Will there be a staggered schedule? In other words will we have students rotating through school for half days or full days to maintain physical distancing rules? Will each class be split in half and desks spaced out 2m/6ft with everyone wearing a mask and then sanitizing their space when the class/day is done? For example, in middle school, will we see half of the Grade 6s come into school in the morning and the other half in the afternoons 2- 3 times a week? Will grades 7s and 8s come in the other days and the rest of the time is being supplemented by virtual learning? And what are the implications for daycare, babysitting and parents work schedules depending on their work situation? Will teachers move from class to class instead of the students to minimize contact between individuals? If students are coming in for half days, what does that look like in terms of mathematics, language, social studies, science, and subjects like art, phys-ed, music, etc? There are so many factors to consider in terms of our kids returning to school and still ensuring their safety. Will we even return at all depending on what unfolds over the next few months? Many experts are talking about the fear of a second wave of COVID-19 cases if we ease restrictions too soon as well as the regular flu season later this year that will cause many to get sick. Or another scenario could be that we stagger students back into schools in September (or whenever your school year starts) to meet each other and build community and then in October, move to virtual learning. Again, there is so much to think about moving forward and the truth is we don’t really know what will happen because it all depends on what will happen over the next three months in terms of how the coronavirus is contained or how it might cause a second wave of infections. For now, it’s a wait and see situation.

The shift has also created discussion about more permanent changes to the future of education. I have seen teachers and various other stakeholders talk about some of the ‘permanent’ changes they would like to see as a result of this pandemic. While some of these ideas are good and can move education in a positive direction, some of the ideas need to be considered carefully due to several factors (e.g, developmental levels of students, equity, etc). Based on what I have heard and discussed with a variety of students, parents, and educators, here are five changes I would like to see:

1. Focus on Wellness & SEL: this pandemic has brought to light the importance of wellness and mental health. Many of our students are going through a range of emotions, which includes, fear, anxiety, and sadness. There are many reasons our kids are feeling this way and some of those reasons are: (a) they are missing their friends, (b) they are missing the regular routine of school, (c) their parents are front line workers, (d) they might have lost a loved one, (e) they are stuck in an abusive household, (f) they are bored, (g) they are stressed about school work and meeting deadlines set by teachers (which is another issue in itself!). According to CASEL (Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning), “Social and emotional learning (SEL) is the process through which children and adults understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.” They identify five core competencies (self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision making). Research has demonstrated that when there is a focus on SEL, there are positive changes in behaviour (e.g., attendance, classroom behaviour, etc) and academic achievement (https://casel.org/what-is-sel/). This pandemic has demonstrated that we need to invest more resources and time in this area. Students need to learn how to manage emotions when challenges and difficulties arise, which is currently happening due to the impact of the coronavirus. They need to identify their emotions and have a range of strategies to deal with these feelings, which might help them build a positive relationship with themselves and others. This pandemic has also brought to light the importance of play. As I’ve mentioned in my other posts, many parents/guardians are talking about how they are spending more time with their kids engaged in a variety of activities (e.g., cooking, baking, sewing, talking, playing board games, gardening etc), which has helped their relationships with their children. Perhaps there is something to be learned here. Should the school day be shorter, placing an equal or more important focus on SEL and play? If many parents are going to continue to work from home due to the shift in thinking in terms of what work now looks like, should we be re-thinking what school looks like? Again, these are all questions that came up during my conversations with parents, friends, and educators that I’ve had the privilege of having over the last few weeks. Our kids these days, in my opinion, are over-scheduled. Between school/homework and all the extra-curricular activities, children these days are overloaded. It seems they just don’t have time to just be kids! I think we can all agree that we don’t want them to hate learning; we want them to be excited about learning and new ideas. We want them to be thoughtful, and kind and compassionate and curious. But to be happy, we can’t and shouldn’t overload them. Do we really want to take away their present for whatever the future may hold? I believe somewhere along the way, we forgot that we need to be educating the whole child. In the recent past, there has been way too much emphasis placed on exams, grades, and standardized test scores, that we have forgotten we need to teach to the heart. We need to be placing more emphasis on teaching habits of mind, relationships, ethics, and morals.  What about bringing in the community to support student learning? I truly believe we have lost the community aspect of educating our children. As the saying goes, “It truly takes a village”.  We need to get back to working with our community members and organizations in order to educate the whole child.

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(www.casel.org)

2. Focus on personalized learning:  this pandemic should also bring to light the need for personalized and individualized learning. Learning needs to be student-centered and not teacher-centered; in other words a focus on learning over teaching. Learning should be approached from an inquiry stance (big idea and driving questions) with a social justice & equity lens. This approach is linked to student wellness & SEL – students learning in a manner in which empathy and other habits of mind are developed as well as digital citizenship skills. We need to move away from traditional worksheets and teaching methods as well as busy work to more authentic learning. Information is everywhere; it’s pretty much at the end of your arm and we need to be asking questions of our students that require critical thinking, evaluating, judging, synthesizing, and constructing, just to name a few. If you can Google an answer to a question, it’s not a good question. This kind of learning means we need to move away from exams, which usually test knowledge & facts and not on understanding, thinking, and application to more ‘projects’ and assignments that are choice-based. It also means we move away from using textbooks (yes, I still see teachers using this as the sole source of information and there are reasons behind this, which I will talk about in another blog post), and teacher ‘lectures’ where students sit and take notes; in other words students are not passive recipients but they take control of their learning and become active members of their learning. This type of learning just might fit nicely with shorter and staggered school days, especially in middle and high schools. Students would come into school to participate and host seminars, focus groups, and discussion with their teachers and classmates on their learning tasks and learning journey; then they might spend some time in the LLC (Library Learning Commons) or go home to continue their learning and complete their work. They need to be provided with opportunities to access learning in a manner that suits them. This type of learning model not only lends itself to students focusing on deeper learning and less on tests and exams but it also builds time for students to focus on their passions and interests, more time for play, and their well-being. For this to be successful, we need to re-examine the curriculum so that it is more flexible and there is a focus on skills and not content. We would also need to focus on digital literacy skills – we have all heard the term “digital natives” but our students are not digital natives. Yes, they were “born with technology” and they might know how to use tech tools like social media for personal reasons but they still require a lot of support on how to use technology for learning purposes (one example is teachers conveying to me that most students don’t know basic online etiquette when talking to their teachers and peers online). They not only need to learn how to collaborate online but they need to learn to use tech responsibly and in ways which deepen and extend their learning. Of course, this blended model will require parameters in terms of teacher availability and students’ schedules. Teachers can not be expected to be available 24/7 and students learn and complete their work at different times. And as always, privacy and security issues need to be maintained in this type of environment (more to come on this). We also need to look at equity in terms of this type of model to work. As I’ve said before, “equity is an institutional commitment, it’s not a band-aid strategy we use when needed.”  How are we getting devices into the hands of every student? How are we ensuring they have strong internet/wi-fi connections? In order to close the achievement gap, we need to start by closing both the engagement gap and the opportunity gap.

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3.Assessment and Evaluation: related to personalized learning, we need to rethink how we assess and evaluate students. We need to move away from “unit tests” and exams, which only seem to test knowledge and not understanding of the material. These types of assessment do not for the most part, develop student skills in critical thinking and other higher order skills. We need to look at providing more descriptive feedback based on learning goals and success criteria (and know the difference between success criteria and task requirements) and moving away from assigning grades; we know research has indicated that when we provide a grade with descriptive feedback, students only focus on the grade and not the feedback the teacher provided and when teachers provide only descriptive feedback, learning is enhanced. For example, students are given descriptive feedback on a writing piece and given the opportunity to improve on their next draft and subsequent drafts based on just descriptive feedback. This type of assessment shifts the focus from achievement to learning. I know grades are a contentious issue in education because of the implications related to higher education but I honestly don’t remember the last time an employer asked me for my transcript during an interview. They want to see what skills I bring to the role and how I can contribute to the team as a whole to improve the organization’s mission and vision. If we are to give grades, then let’s sit side by side with the student and negotiate a grade based on all their work and effort throughout the learning experience (e.g. not just after two drafts of a writing piece). And in the age of technology, let’s ensure all students have an online portfolio and some sort of online presence in the form of a blog and/or website. And let’s please get rid of standardized testing; not only is it not necessary but it’s harmful and negatively impacts students well being and we all know it is not a true reflection of what a student knows and understands.

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4.Conferences: We also need to rethink educational conferences (or all conferences for that matter). Conferences have either been postponed or cancelled for the foreseeable future due to the pandemic. I know several conferences have opted for an online version of what should have been their face to face conference and I believe this is something we need to examine more closely. Costs to attend a conference has become astronomical. From registration fees to hotels and from flights to food, attending even one conference can take a significant bite out of anyone’s budget (a very small percentage of educators get their expenses covered by their district or school). And even when we get past the pandemic, flying may never be the same. So why not move towards more online conferences where educators can attend live sessions as well as pre-recorded sessions from the comfort of their home? If you must, charge a minimum fee to cover any costs based on the platform(s) you are using. And organizations can archive these sessions and have a repository available for everyone to access at any time.

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5.Teacher Professional Learning: last but certainly not least, let’s rethink teacher professional learning (PL). I’ve always believed that teacher PL needs to be  personalized, differentiated, and self paced. Teachers should be able to choose their own PL based on their goals, experiences, and background knowledge. This makes the learning more meaningful for teachers if they are allowed to pursue their own interests and passions related to education in the form of action research, collaborative inquiry cycles, etc. I believe the quote/image below says it all in terms of my beliefs for teacher PL. Let’s use an LMS (Learning Management System) like Brightspace to enhance teacher PL where teachers are learning from and with each other across districts – technology gives us the power and opportunity to learn with teachers from around the world so why not connect with teachers from different schools around the world to enhance and positively impact our practice? Why not use these PL opportunities to create learning experiences with these teachers for your students that incorporate social justice and equity mindsets (as mentioned in my bit about personalized learning? Let’s start putting PL back into the hands of educators.

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It will be interesting to see what education looks like when we do return and if any of these five points will be examined and explored further to not only enhance and improve education but also ensuring we keep students at the centre of it all.

I will be writing in more detail about each of these five points in upcoming blog posts but for the next few weeks, I am going to shift to writing about some other topics in education 🙂

 

 

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

 

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

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

 

Using a Lens of “Gratitude”-

Guest post by Debbie Tannenbaum (@TannenbaumTech)

This past week was probably the best week I have had since schools closed for COVID-19 on March 13, 2020. I have felt more productive, more centered and most of all, more focused. As I reflected on the week, I identified lots of things that I did differently this week, but one really stood out.

During my morning walk with my dog Monday morning, I was listening to an episode of George Couros’ podcast, The Innovators’ Mindset. In this episode, number 18, he shared five ideas for improving mental and physical health. Idea #1 was to approach life with a lens of “gratitude,” but he shared gratitude using a new approach to me. He explained after reading an article by Tim Denning called the Most Important Way to Measure Your Day, he modified what Denning shared to identify three simple questions to ask yourself daily.

  1. Did I learn one new thing today?
  2. Did I help or inspire one person:
  3. Did I show gratitude to someone who had a positive impact on me?

Prior to this , I had been recording 3 things that I was grateful for each day in my journal. So I decided to experiment with this practice this week and from Monday on, I answered the three questions above. I have to admit that I was amazed by its impact. Suddenly, I looked at each day as an opportunity.

  • What was I going to learn?
  • Who was I going to help or inspire?
  • How would I show gratitude to people who had a positive impact on me?

It is shocking how when you specifically focus on or are more aware of something how it reveals itself more often. That’s what happened to me this past week and it was transformational.

What did I learn this week?

I began the week by learning about the idea of framing gratitude with these three questions. This led me to be more conscious of other things I learned. The biggest thing that I learned this past week was the awareness of how it felt when you needed to persevere through a hard task. As my Monday blog post shared, this helped me have not only more empathy for my colleagues as I asked them to try new things this week during trainings, but more patience. It made me more reflective as I worked with my colleagues and increased my sense of gratitude as many took risks and tried new things using technology.

I also learned this week how much I missed interacting with students. I had not seen any students since March 13th, but this week, I was invited in to model technology into three classrooms. Yes, I was happy to share new ways to use some of my favorite edtech tools, but seeing those faces I missed so much, it made me realize how important my interactions and relationships with students are.

Who did I help or inspire this week?

This past week, I provided four trainings and had eight hours of virtual office hours. I knew that I had been busy, but writing down who and how I helped people made me feel so grateful to have the opportunity to help and inspire some many people.

This past week, fifteen people attended one of my trainings. Nine of them learned about Pear Deck, while three learned about EdPuzzle and another three learned about Flipgrid. In addition, sixteen people came to my virtual office hours. But two people specifically shared feedback that warmed my heart.

  • “You are a life saver.” One of my colleagues shared as I helped her learn how to trim the end of her synchronous learning session.
  • The band teacher at my school shared at our CLT how she was using Flipgrid to have students share their instrumental practice in a moderated grid and then was able to give them individualized feedback!

How did I show gratitude to people who made a positive impact on me?

This question helped me to ensure that I shared appreciation for those who had a positive impact on me. As a result, I ended up sending emails and tweets that I might not have sent otherwise.

The first group of people I thanked for their positive impact on me were the teachers who invited me into their synchronous sessions to model edtech this week. I wanted them and their students to know how much it meant to me to connect with students again. I also wanted them to know how much I appreciated them giving me some of their valuable synchronous minutes.

I also thanked some people who had made a positive impact on me through their suggestions of healthier habits. Last Saturday at a WW meeting, a friend suggested taking more movement breaks. I ended up adding circles to my journal and filling them in as I took more breaks. This Saturday, I thanked her for inspiring to add this healthy habit to my day. In addition, last Saturday, during a #crazyPLN chat, Matthew Joseph discussed training as a way to be more positive. I used to train- last year, I trained for my second half marathon. But since then, I have stopped running. Until now- this week, I began and completed Couch to 5K Week 1. I am so glad that I did this.

Lastly, I want to let George Couros know the positive impact that his blog made on me this past week. That is one of the reasons I wrote this week’s blog post. Like George, I am a work in progress. His strategies, especially the first one, really helped me this week and I hope me sharing this will encourage others to listen to his podcast and be as inspired as I am. As I begin this new week, I plan to continue these practices. I can’t wait to see what else I discover as I view life more using a lens of “gratitude.”

 

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

 

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

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

 

When you feel like you’re not getting anywhere

Sometimes it’s difficult to figure out what the problem is or where to start when you feel like you’re not getting anywhere. What I mean is that as teachers, we may have days when we might feel like we’re just not connecting with the students. Sometimes when trying to create a lesson or some new experience for students, we are met with less enthusiasm than we had hoped for, and sometimes, it might even be nonexistent.

About two years ago, I really struggled with finding ways to engage my students in learning. I reached out to my PLN to ask for advice, I tried Twitter, pretty much anywhere that I could think of to gather ideas from other educators who might be experiencing the same thing. That’s probably the most important point if anything out of my thought process, is that had it not been for those connections and knowing where to look to find help that I greatly needed, I would have been working through it on my own in isolation, as I had been for many years of my teaching career.

It’s not easy to ask for help especially when as teachers, we feel like we are supposed to be the experts when it comes to students and learning and teaching. There may or may not be assumptions about our abilities to manage our classroom, deal with student behaviors, to be flexible in our instruction, and to balance so many different things every day. But without having a way of connecting with others, we would be stuck doing the same things we’ve always done. While in some cases that might be good if the experiences went well, often times it might not be that great. And that is how it was for me.

Last year is what I considered to be probably my best year in teaching and it came to be because of relationships I had formed over the years and also because I got away from doing some of the same traditional things I had always done and pushed the limits a little bit and tried some different things in my classroom. There were some things I just didn’t appreciate any more like standing in the front of the room and talking at my students. It was exhausting trying to think of ways to spend 42 minutes leading the class and keeping the students “busy.”

I had reached a breaking point early in September two years ago when I just decided to get rid of the rows in my classroom and see what would happen. The combination of these actions and everything in between is what I believe led me to have the best year yet. I felt connected with the students, I could see them learning and that they were more engaged. Students would come in throughout the day and say how much they liked class better than the prior-year. I just felt that there was a different vibe, I sensed a more of an excitement about being in the class and while at times it was uncomfortable worrying about if my class was too noisy or if students were off task on occasion, I really felt good about it

So I decided to keep the same kind of methods and habits in the new school year, making changes here and there, but I was not seeing the same results. I had different students than I had in the past and so it kind of led me to go back and rethink what I had been doing. What had worked so well last year was not working as well this year. I did not expect that because I was assuming that things would be the same as they were the year before. Thinking like this, the “way we’ve always done it” is what gave me some trouble in the first place. I taught the way I had been taught using methods that worked for me as a student and even as an adult, but these methods did not work for all of my students. So by doing that I was doing them a disservice. Flash forward to this school year, trying to use the same methods and strategies should not work because I had different students than the year before.

There have been days that I left school feeling frustrated and overwhelmed, a bit uneasy because like I said, last year I had a great year. And I had not experienced that type of struggle in several years. so trying to figure out what the problem was and how to work through it has been something I’ve been working ever since. I felt some moments of success and other times I thought I just couldn’t do it anymore. Sometimes I became so frustrated at the behaviors, whether it be lack of respect or lack of wanting to work or negative attitudes that instead of trying to better understand the students and focus on having conversations, I responded to their behaviors and the reactions. I lost my “cool,” I lost my composure, my eyes filled with tears of frustration and I didn’t like it. I even told them that it was something that would bother me the rest of the day and for days to come, because that was not like me but I had “had it.” I had been doing everything that I thought I could to help them and I was getting nothing or the bare minimum in return. I just wanted them to hear me and to understand that their behavior matters. Being respectful matters, and that it doesn’t matter how great your grades are or what you have in life if you are not a nice person. If you do not show respect and you don’t take time to listen to others and give them their attention when they ask for it or when they deserve it, that makes it very uncomfortable.

I thought it was just me, I had convinced myself that it was something that I was not doing. There was something wrong with me that I needed to fix within myself. But the more that I talked to people I was connected with locally, nationally and even around the world, I soon realized it was not just a problem that I was facing. Again, if I was still in isolation staying in my room and not connecting anywhere in my school building, I would feel exactly like I did. It’s just me, I’m the problem. Because I had those connections, I was able to recognize that it isn’t just me it’s a struggle other educators face and there are different ways that they deal with it that may or may not work for me.

I had lots of recommendations, great ideas, stories of how changes in different classrooms made a big difference for different friends of mine and for every suggestion they offered I felt terrible telling them that know it just would not work for me. While I may not have all the answers, I know my students well enough to be able to figure out what might and might not work for them. So while I did not come up with a magic solution to any of the challenges that I feel like I’m facing, which in the scheme of things in the rest of the world they’re not that big at all. But there are bumps in the road, a road which prior to this year had finally been mostly well paved with occasional potholes along the way.

But a new year, new challenges changes just to show why we can’t teach every year the same way that we were taught. You can’t do things the way you’ve always done them and as Don Wettrick’s dad said: “Don’t teach the same year 20 times.”

I guess I felt that because my methods worked so well last year, that I should just do the same thing again this year. I was wrong. New year, new beginnings, some changes, a bit of discomfort, challenges, through all of it. Yes, please. That’s what keeps us moving, what keeps us active and engaged and although sometimes you feel like you’re becoming disengaged from the profession when you sit back at the end of the day or in the middle of the day or whenever it is that you reflect, you must stay focused on your why. The why is your purpose, your passion for what you do and why you’ve gotten up early every morning and worked through weekends, holidays and even summer vacations. It is when you come full circle and realize that you’re there to make it work to find an answer and a solution because it might be that you are the problem

And sometimes you might be the problem creator, it’s never the same. It’s always changing, it’s uncomfortable but it’s how we grow. And if you don’t share your experiences with others then you are going to be limited to only growing in your own space. To put yourself out there, be vulnerable and ask for help when you need it, that is not a sign of weakness it’s a sign of tremendous strength. When you can identify that you have a need, a weakness, an area of struggle, you show that you are vulnerable and that is more than okay. Because as many times as I’ve said it, I will continue to say it twice as much:

I’m not an expert.

I don’t know everything.

I make tons of mistakes every single day.

I’m willing to try and I’m willing to grow.

I’m willing to get up no matter how many times I’m knocked down and go for it again.

I am a work in progress and I am learning as I go. 

 

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

 

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

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

 

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