360 degree inclusive feedback for learning through storying

Guest post by Virna Rossi @VirnaRossi

Inclusive feedback for learning is like a flower. A flower is both fragile and resilient. To thrive it needs good conditions, such as good soil.

Who is the learner in the feedback process? It is the student. But it is also the teacher. Both students and teachers can thrive with inclusive feedback for learning.

The roots

The roots of the feedback flower are the inclusive principles and values that underpin inclusive feedback practices such as:

  • Accessible
  • Dialogic
  • Iterative
  • Respectful
  • Timely
  • Personalised
  • Developmental

The Petals

To be multidimensional, feedback should come from a variety of sources. In the flower analogy, these are the four petals which form the 360° wide-angle view.

Self

Inner feedback is very valuable to develop self-efficacy. We ‘talk to ourselves’ about our learning, during the learning experience as well as once it is completed. If we journal or blog – articulating our inner feedback – our ongoing inner narrative becomes more explicit and is more easily shareable.

Others

This is to enhance peer-learning. For students ‘others’ can be fellow students; for teachers, these can be colleagues and the students themselves.

Top-down

For students, this is feedback from teachers and other educators such as librarians. For teachers this is feedback from line-managers, principals or anyone ‘above’ them in their institution.

Research/literature

For the students, this the body of research of the discipline that they are studying: learning what the ‘experts’ in the field say – and discovering the present boundaries of the discipline – helps the students situate themselves within their field of study.

For teachers, engaging with current educational literature (generic or subject specific) provides indirect feedback on their own professional practice and expands their pedagogical horizon.

The Leaves

How, in practice, can we educators receive and give this type of inclusive feedback?

One very effective way in which the feedback flower can thrive, fed by inclusivity values, is through the use of journaling, storying and blogs (one of the leaves at the base of the flower). This applies to all disciplines.

Learning feedback activities such as these promote pausing and reflecting; they constitute a personal, safe space; they are context rich; they help learners re-focus, articulate and share their learning experience.

Journaling can effectively be integrated into the course. Teachers can plan a dedicated journaling time towards the end of every lesson: everyone is invited to blog or journal for about 15 minutes. Each student’s inner feedback written in the form of blog/journal can then be shared, discussed and used for ‘comparative’ learning. It can be used for formative and summative assessment submissions; it can also be part of an ongoing, life-long learning portfolio. And it constitutes very rich feedback for the teachers.

To build trust and truly model a learning mind-set, teachers should also journal at that same time: to articulate, record and share their inner feedback on the lesson, the cohort, their own learning, successes or missed opportunities in the learning that just took place. This enhances teachers’ feedback literacies.

The pandemic has accelerated and emphasised the need to review assessment and feedback processes. Teachers must design learning experiences that enable and enhance feedback literacies through inclusive, learner-driven processes. Feedback literacies are situated. The emphasis is now on engaging and learning from feedback – rather than simply about teachers giving ‘good’ feedback. For all these reasons, storying, journaling and blogging are powerful, effective ways to encourage 360° inclusive feedback for learning.

Find out more

Watch my 5 minute video below about the why/what/when/who/how of inclusive feedback: What best practice in feedback can I embed in e-learning?https://player.vimeo.com/video/408054242?dnt=1&app_id=122963

References

Baughan, P., (2020) On Your Marks: Learner-Focused Feedback Practices and Feedback Literacy. [ebook] AdvanceHE. Available at: click here [Accessed 17 September 2020]

Nicol, D. (2019). Reconceptualising feedback as an internal not an external process. Italian Journal of Educational research, 71-84. Available at: click here [Accessed 17 September 2020]

Winstone, N. and Careless, D. (2019) Designing effective feedback processes in Higher Education, London: Routledge

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

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How to Find the Right Space to Create and Engage

Earlier this school year, I thought about how I could be more consistent in my classroom. When I say classroom, I mean all aspects of where I engage in my work and not simply my physical classroom space. Some areas that I wanted to focus on were the building of relationships, making better and more consistent connections with families, and designing a comfortable and welcoming classroom space for my students.

I think about each of these, I see them as “spaces” where we interact and exist together. I recognize that as educators, there are a lot of different spaces that we need to create and stay connected within. Being able to find the best ways to stay engaged in each of these spaces is important, especially with busy schedules and demands of the work that we do. Having the benefit of digital tools that can assist us also makes it easier to provide more for our students and their families, both in and out of our classroom space. So what are the spaces that educators need to create and engage in?

A Professional Learning Space

For educators, it is important that we really look at our professional learning space differently today than we may have in the past. For myself, having been an educator for many years, I did spend the first 15 years of my career mostly in isolation. While I engaged in opportunities for professional development within my school or attended a local conference periodically, those were the only types of professional learning spaces that existed for me—because I limited myself. What is worse, is that I also placed limits on my students by not putting myself out there to connect, to learn new ideas and methods to bring back to my classroom. Years ago, finding learning spaces and making time to engage in them was more time consuming with fewer choices available. Today, we have access to so many different and more accessible professional learning spaces. We can find something that meets our interests and our needs especially when it comes to time and place. What are some options?

ISTE offers Professional Learning Networks (PLNs) focused on specific topics related to technology and roles in education. It is a great space to become connected and to share ideas and connect classrooms.

LinkedIn is a social media platform for professional connections and professional learning. Educators are using LinkedIn to connect, gather resources and even help students develop their professional identities in this space.

Twitter offers many ways for educators to connect and learn via Twitter chats happening on a daily basis, and by following specific hashtags related to education. It is a great space to ask questions, to crowdsource ideas and to build a PLN.

Voxer is a walkie-talkie messaging app that promotes instant conversation with people from all around the world. Educators use Voxer for creating small groups for a PLC, having a space to share ideas and collaborate with educators from around the world, and even for participating in book studies and virtual learning events.

A Classroom Space, Both Physical and Virtual

The look of classrooms and learning today is so different from what it was when I was a student and quite different than even five years ago. We have the potential to learn from anywhere around the world and at a time that meets our needs. We truly have the capability to provide more for our students than we’ve ever been able to before. Through the use of digital tools and purposefully leveraging technology, we can provide the support our students need exactly when they need it. The world becomes our classroom when we include some of these tools and ideas in our practice.

The physical space can look quite different when we use station rotations in our classrooms, provide more flexible learning spaces for students to learn in, and also connect our students with learning that happens in our school community. We redefine the “space” of the classroom and can provide something to meet every student’s interests and needs. We can also explore different digital tools that help us create a more accessible connection with our students and provide ongoing support when they need it. Here are some of the tools that we have used to stay connected in our learning space.

Edmodo is a digital space for students and teachers to interact in a safe learning network. It provides access to resources, has helped us facilitate global collaboration and build digital citizenship skills.

Padlet allows us to create a wall of discussion and share audio, video, music, photos and text. It has helped us to connect with classrooms from around the world in real-time interactions.

Flipgrid is great for extending classroom discussions and providing students with a comfortable way to express their thoughts through video responses. Students build comfort that transfers into the physical classroom space by being able to connect with their peers in the digital space.

Kidblog provides many ways for students to build literacy and digital citizenship skills, as well as create their online presence. It promotes class discussion and collaboration and gives students a space to share their ideas and track their personal growth in the process.

A Space for Promoting Student and Family Engagement

Being able to connect with the families of our students is critically important. In order to provide the best for our students, we need to make sure that we are building and fostering true family engagement. To do so, we must rely on the traditional methods we have used such as exchanging emails, making phone calls home or holding meetings in the school, but now we have access to doing even more. Being able to bring families in to see and experience what learning looks like for their students, to share in the learning that happens in the classroom or to participate in a student’s in-class presentation is possible through digital spaces we set up. Events held at schools such as Open Houses, or STEAM showcase events, for example, are great for showing families the amazing things happening in our schools. However, not all families can participate due to time constraints which is why having digital tools available that enable us to share these events can make a difference.

Remind is helpful for messaging and sharing photos and files with families to include them in the school events.

ParentSquare facilitates better communication and collaboration and helps to build a solid connection between the home and the school community.

Buncee is a multimedia presentation tool that can be used to design a class newsletter with audio and video, or for students to share their work with families and include it in a Buncee presentation. Using a tool like this is helpful for families that cannot attend events such as Open House.

Seesaw is a platform that enables teachers to share what is happening in the classroom with parents. Teachers can record and directly share each child’s progress.

These are just some of the spaces that we need to consider as educators today. There are many options available for creating these spaces and the best part is that we can find something to meet the needs of our students, their families and ourselves.

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What if Students Designed Their Education?

Originally published on Getting Smart, updated

In education today, there have been a lot of discussions in regard to what skills students may need for the future. We hear conversations about “21st century skills” and how to best prepare students for life and work in the 21st century. Often these 21st-century references are followed by reminders that we are well into the 21st century.

According to Alan November, keynote speaker and international leader in educational technology, there are certain skills that students need and that teachers need to promote within the classroom. Students need to be taught “how” to learn and prepare for more than knowing the content, by developing skills that are transferable to multiple areas of life and work. During a keynote presentation, November stated: “I think we should begin to move more and more toward the skill side, because if we teach you to memorize and regurgitate content and your job is wiped out by technology, you’re not well prepared to reinvent yourself if you didn’t learn how to learn.”

November’s message reinforces the importance of students developing skills such as being able to communicate, collaborate, problem-solve, think critically, to name a few. These are some of the key skills that will enable students to be adaptable to whatever type of work they ultimately find or whatever the next steps are once they leave high school, whether enrolling in college, seeking employment, pursuing specialized training.

With changes in technology and in the capabilities when it comes to learning and the future of work, we don’t know skills will be needed years down the road. The best we can do is to provide students with access to the right tools to equip themselves with not only the content that we are teaching, but infuse the curriculum with choice through independent learning and exploration of interests that students have.

Changing the Look of Schools and Learning

We’ve heard about the “gig economy” and how students need to have the capability of working in different industries and with different types of work. In a gig economy, each job or work assignment is comparable to an individual “gig” or temporary employment.  We need for students to do more than simply consume content, we need for them to create and beyond just creating with the content we have given them, they need to come up with their own questions and problems to be solved. Students need to be the designers of their learning journeys.

So what can we do to help our students become part of Generation DIY?

Students need space to design their own learning path and to take charge of their education. There are instructional strategies that lend themselves to this “generation do-it-yourself” such as a genius hour, project-based learning, service-learning, experiential learning, and makerspaces, among others. As educators, what can we do to ensure that all students have an equal opportunity to explore and have access to whatever it is that they might need? How can we truly know what they will need in the future to enable us to help them? We can best prepare by giving and being open to options that diverge from the traditional look of schools and learning.

Schools around the country have started to offer more courses based on emerging trends and what the “predictions” are for future-ready skills. Some courses or components of courses available in schools, including my own, are entrepreneurship, web design, sports and entertainment management, and other courses with content and opportunities to help students develop the skills necessary to design their own learning journeys. Students need more real-world opportunities to engage in that connect them with their community and develop the skills to assess needs in the community and globally, and brainstorm ways to offer services that will be beneficial for others. It happens that educators often assume that students have certain skills, for example, they know how to use and leverage technology effectively because they have grown up in a technology-infused era. However, the reality is quite different. Students need time to learn to adapt and be flexible and move beyond the traditional format of school and move into more learning that does not necessarily have clear-cut specifications.

Options for Generation DIY

You might wonder what options exist for students in the Generation DIY. Here are a few ways for students to explore different choices after high school that would promote some of the skills they will need as they prepare for the uncertainty of the future of work and learning.

  1. Schools can consider creating more opportunities for students through Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs. Through these programs, students can explore careers and work on building skills that are transferable to diverse types of work. When students have access to  CTE programs, they get to look into emerging trends in the workforce, explore different careers and walk away with certifications that can increase their marketability in the workforce. For students who may be unsure of the next steps after graduation, CTE programs can offer them time to be curious by exploring possible career options, while developing their skills in high school.
  2. Place-based education gives students the opportunity to explore their communities, learn about the geography and immerse more in authentic learning by stepping out into the “real-world” for more meaningful ways to develop skills in math, social studies, science, language arts, and other content areas. There are six design principles in PBE, which are not required as part of the place-based education, however, when they are included, lead to more authentic and higher quality experiences. The Place Network is a collaborative of rural K-12 schools which provides a wealth of resources for learning more about PBE and becoming a PBE school.
  3. Service learning programs give students an opportunity to learn by exploring real-world issues, even investigating on a global scale and then taking action in their own community. Educators can implement methods such as project-based learning or inquiry-based learning to engage students more by addressing problems or challenges identified in their local environment. Involving students in service learning programs gives them the chance to build skills for the future and learn about their own interests in the process.
  4. The Generation DIY Campaign is aimed at giving students the chance to “chart” their own course through high school and college by exploring different careers and developing diverse skills that are transferable to multiple areas of work. The Generation DIY toolkit provides information and resources for educators and students to get started and also includes personal stories about the process and impact of Generation DIY.
  5. Artificial intelligence (AI) is a growing area in which students can design their own technologies to address issues they identify in the world. AI use is increasing and students can become the creators of AI that can possibly change the way students learn, by creating things like chatbots, or learn how to code and create a virtual assistant. There are many tools available for students to explore how AI is used in everyday life and design their own project based on  AI. These technologies help students to build skills in problem-solving, critical thinking, collaboration, and creativity, to name a few, which are essential skills for whatever the future holds for them.

In the end, it comes down to the different choices that we make available for students in schools today. While we certainly cannot predict the jobs that will exist in 10 years, when the current kindergarten students will be entering their high school years, the best way to prepare is by having options in place and connecting school and community.

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

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Why we should all go to the staffroom

Guest post by Alice Codner, @MsCodner

Let’s all go to the staffroom! ( oh wait … )

It was a year ago that I remember a visitor from another school walking into our staffroom and stopping short. “What’s happening?” he asked me, bewildered at the merry scene that greeted him, “Is there an event on or something?”

A past foray into supply teaching confirmed my suspicion that in many schools, except the occasional teacher flitting through to grab a cuppa on the flypast, the staffroom generally lies empty and unappreciated. Yet staffrooms have the potential to be a centre of professional development, the focal point for community cohesion and an effective resource for staff well-being. In these days of social distancing and contact tracing, when visits to the staffroom feel more uncertain or even precarious, it is important to remember just what they contribute to school life, and an opportunity to reflect on the value of their place in the school.

Those who imagine that teachers have a whole hour lunch break have clearly never worked in a school. After morning lessons have been eked out and the last child has finally left, there’s marking, going over the plan, setting up resources and a myriad of other jobs that should have been done by yesterday. An hour is not a long time.

Oh. And there’s eating.

Time in the staffroom so easily gets classed as an extravagant luxury. After all, what isn’t done during the day will have to be done after school. Nevertheless, over the years, I can honestly write that I have learnt more in the staffroom than on any course I have ever been on.

I should say at this point that I know I am incredibly lucky. Staff at my school are overwhelmingly kind, friendly and fun, and I do not find the friendship groups and teams cliquey. Not everyone gets on all of the time – that would be impossible in such a large group – but in general, we enjoy each other’s company and understand that we all have a lot to learn. I know that I do.

The staffroom is the first port of call when something hasn’t worked out as planned. In particular, staff members can give and receive bespoke advice on improving lessons and on effectively supporting the needs of particular children in each other’s classes.

Common phrases used in our staffroom include:

  • “Have you tried …?”
  • “x worked well with him in year 2 – you could try that”
  • “What do you think we could do for our [e.g. Vikings] topic?”
  • “Tell her she can come and show me her next piece of writing.”
  • “He can definitely do better than that. Have you spoken to mum? She’s very helpful.”
  • “That’s really good for him! You must be doing something right.”
  • “She never used to do that. What do you think might be causing it?”

The advantage of this system is that staff members can get immediate help from those who know the particular families and children that they work with without going to the leadership team, freeing up their time and getting a broad range of input as groups pool their ideas. It also means that many questions get answered before they become problems. More than simply being a luxurious space to relax, the staffroom can be a vital place of casual exchange of expertise and information that benefit the children, the staff and the leaders.

Of course, not all staffroom chat is work-related. Common topics in our school include cooking, weekend plans and Love Island – and believe me, it gets loud! Though superficially this could be judged a ‘waste of time’, in reality, these positive, relaxed conversations perform a range of important functions. Most obviously, they balance out the intensity of day-to-day teaching life and act as an emotional reset button, making it more possible to start afresh after lunch. Even if it is only for 15 minutes, making the deliberate choice to have a break tells your body that despite the pressure and speed of school life, you are not out of control, and stress levels can be kept in check.

Moreover, these light-hearted conversations form the basis of trust, preparing working relationships to be able to carry the weight of deeper or more difficult conversations when they need to happen. It is always easier to ask a favour from someone you already trust and it is always more enjoyable to do a favour for someone you already like. Schools are places of incredible interdependence. Investing in building positive relationships with other staff makes this interdependence a joy and not a burden.

Working in a school that has a ‘staffroom culture’ has not only been beneficial to my mental wellbeing, it has also played a significant role in my professional development. At a time when we might not all be able to be physically present in the staffroom itself, we might remember that ultimately, ‘the staffroom’ means each other. In a school, we are each other’s greatest resource, be that in a classroom, in the playground or anywhere else. Let’s use that. Just because it’s fun, doesn’t mean it’s a luxury.

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Alice Codner is a class teacher and outdoor learning leader at an inner-city school in NW London. As such, she has led a team to start a school farm including growing vegetables and keeping a range of animals, winning the ‘School Farm Leader 2019’ award from the School Farms Network as well as the ‘Best Garden for Wildlife’ award from the London Children’s Flower Society. She is passionate about school as a hub for community and is convinced that education is the most effective way of addressing social inequality.

@MsCodner   https://partwaythere.co.uk

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

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

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

 Also check out my THRIVEinEDU Podcast Here!

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JabuMind for Teacher Self-Care

Guest post by Erin Swanson, M.Ed,  JabuMind

Teachers are in crisis, suffering from compassion fatigue and burnout at an alarming rate. Tasked with adapting to the pandemic, protecting their students from school shootings, teaching to high-stakes state tests, juggling crushing workloads, working overtime for little pay, responding to their students’ trauma, and more—teachers need our help.

The JabuMind self-care app for teachers is here to help. JabuMind was designed by a group of teachers, coaches, artists, school principals, and mental health clinicians. We share a common goal of creating a safer, stronger, and more supportive classroom experience for both teachers and students. Our mission is to support teachers in their own social and emotional growth so that they, in turn, can help their students and school communities.

Why Teachers Need Self-Care

Teachers are overworked and overwhelmed. No doubt about it, teaching is one of the most stressful professions. An analysis by the National Foundation for Educational Research revealed that “one in five teachers (20 percent) feel tense about their job most or all of the time, compared to 13 percent of similar professionals.” In addition, The American Federation of Teachers found that “78% of teachers reported feeling physically and emotionally exhausted at the end of the day.”

Let’s not forget the additional weight placed on teachers during the pandemic. A March 2020 survey from Yale and the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) showed that teachers’ top emotions regarding teaching during COVID included fearful, worried, overwhelmed, and sad.

One of teachers’ main stressors is compassion fatigue. Compassion fatigue is the experience of emotional and physical fatigue due to the chronic use of empathy. It is often used interchangeably with the terms secondary trauma and vicarious trauma.

As teachers, we care deeply for our students. When our students face trauma, we feel the weight of heartbreak, fear, uncertainty, and responsibility as their caretakers. Distraught over how to support a traumatized child, we might start experiencing the symptoms of compassion fatigue—anxiety, difficulty sleeping, exhaustion, hypervigilance, decreased motivation, trouble separating work from personal life, increased cynicism, or a sense of hopelessness.

Suffering from compassion fatigue is among the top reasons teachers leave the profession. No longer able to handle the pressure and heartbreak, they experience burnout. “Burnout is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. The negative effects of burnout spill over into every area of life—including your home, work, and social life. Burnout can also cause long-term changes to your body that make you vulnerable to illnesses like colds and flu.”

The Solution? Mindfulness

Fortunately, there is an antidote to the struggles teachers face. Research shows that teachers who participated in a mindfulness course had reductions in burnout and increases in self-compassion. Additional research proved that teachers who followed a mindfulness program developed resilience to stress and nonreactivity by practicing mindful awareness.

Even more, a study on mindfulness intervention and workplace productivity showed that mindfulness produced “increases in team and organizational climate and personal performance.” Meditation, in particular, activates the part of the brain associated with more adaptive responses to stressful and negative events.

JabuMind Brings Teachers Mindfulness and Self-Care

The JabuMind self-care app for teachers uses the iRest® method to support teacher self-care. Co-Founder of JabuMind, Jill Apperson Manly, explains why JabuMind chose the iRest® method of meditation for its app in this interview. We explain the 10 tools of iRest® and their connection to teacher wellness here.

Research shows that iRest® promotes better sleep, decreases stress, alleviates symptoms of PTSD, and enhances quality of life for school counselors.

The JabuMind app offers guided meditations, daily sleep and mood check ins, and professional development designed to meet teachers’ stressors. All premium app content is free through the pandemic to support teachers during this difficult time.

Jabu2Learn more about how the JabuMind app can support your self-care in these articles:

You might also enjoy our other resources to support teachers, such as:

Teachers—you, more than anyone, deserve self-care. In a career that asks you to be selfless, be the one to prove that self-care leads to better care for everyone.

**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  

4 Ways To Rebuild Our Students’ Emotional Health

Guest post by Monica Gupta Mehta @emotionalMUSE

Across the country, millions of teachers are preparing for what will be the hardest year of teaching in modern history. Educators are dealing with stress, anxiety and fear from unrealistic public expectations and rapidly changing plans. While we work diligently to perfect our Zoom skills and transform curriculum into distance learning content, the nagging thought on almost every teacher’s mind is an entirely different one; a looming problem of epidemic proportions. Our country is entering one of the biggest mental health crises we have faced in decades.

Once we tackle the logistics of where our children will physically be as the school doors “open,” our gears will have to quickly shift to where they are at emotionally, and how to best support them.

Like many teachers, some of my favorite work hours are spent learning from my PLC on social media. These days, our conversations center on how to include more social emotional learning (SEL), including diversity and inclusivity curriculum. However, with so much going on in the intersection of education, politics and public health, teachers are finding themselves with a Herculean labor to perform. Teachers are busy either preparing their classrooms for in-person learning to comply with ever-changing guidelines (often without adequate funds); or transforming their entire curriculum into a virtual learning format…or both. This leaves little time for SEL efforts, which often fall to the back burner despite our best intentions.

Many teachers know the benefits of investing time on social and emotional learning. CASEL, the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning, has collected decades of research showing the impact of SEL education. Focusing on social emotional learning leads to better academic outcomes, such as better test performance and higher graduation rates, as well as reducing behavioral issues and improving mental health. So how do we create a safe, nurturing, relationship-based environment for students when we have so little time to invest in it? One answer is to use “SEL Hacks” from the MUSE Framework for Social Emotional Learning.

SEL Hacks are stand-alone curricular components that can be easily incorporated into the classroom with minimal effort. Start by choosing just a few of these to add on for the start of this school year. As each component becomes ingrained in your curriculum, visit the MUSE website to find new ideas and learning units. SEL Skill Set #1: Modeling Behaviors

Developmental psychologist Lev Vygotsky calls this concept ‘apprenticeship.’ The incredible learning that happens through apprenticeship starts very young, in the home, and continues with teacher scaffolding throughout the school years. We model emotional health for students by prioritizing our physiological and psychological well-being. We ALL must ‘Maslow’ before we can effectively ‘Bloom.’

Start by spending the first week of school sending this message loud and clear. Introduce your students to virtual tools they can use to learn and practice SEL skills, and dedicate at least 30 minutes per day to the explicit teaching and practice of social emotional learning. For example, here is a feelings board that was created using padlet. Tell students to identify which emotion(s) they are feeling each morning, and make sure you include your own name as well.

Having a feelings board shows students they are not alone in feeling such turbulent emotions. It also increases student awareness of their own resiliency as they notice their moods shift back to the positive, which can help increase optimism. Lastly, this gives you the opportunity to quietly note which students seem to be struggling more frequently. You could follow up one-on-one with these students by having private chats, phone calls home, or using apps like Seesaw that allow you to communicate with your students individually. Another great ‘first week of school’ activity is to discuss a set of classroom rules or community standards. The emphasis you place on this discussion will help you set up a safe learning environment for the school year.

Allow students plenty of opportunities to feel heard each day. Keep your lectures to a minimum and allow for group games, break out rooms, and one-on-ones. One way to accomplish this is to record your lessons for students to watch asynchronously, so that more of your synchronous learning time is spent connecting with one another and practicing their learning. Motivation theory says that allowing students to use their voice, and additionally allowing them to make choices in their learning, increases engagement.

One model example of student choice is Genius Hour, inspired by Google’s policy of allowing employees to spend 20% of their time on side passion projects. During Genius Hour, students are allowed to pursue their own educational learning objectives. SEL Skill Set #2: Understanding Emotions The Feelings Board, shown above, is one way to help students to label their emotions, which is one of the first steps in building self awareness skills. You can also add mindful moments into your students’ days. Mindful moments allow your students to check in with their emotions and their body throughout the day, an important step towards building emotional regulation skills.

Another useful time in the day for a quick check-in is just before class ends. Exit slips can be used as a simple tool for seeing how students are feeling about class, or just in general. Exit slips can also be a useful formative assessment tool for teachers, allowing insight into whether or not each student is understanding the concepts being taught.

The most important part of helping students understand themselves and their emotions is to give them plenty of opportunities to speak up and connect. “Be willing to have personal, empathetic, authentic conversation,” says fellow educator Traci Browder. SEL Skill Set #3: Social Skills

While it may seem as though socialization and the teaching of social skills has necessarily hit the pause button, there are still ways to teach these crucial life skills. If your district is doing distance learning, one practical way to start off the school year is to have a conversation about virtual classroom etiquette. Here is an infographic you are welcome to use:

Teach children to show respectfulness and kindness to their peers, even via video conference. This means using non-disruptive signals, being on time and prepared as they would be to a normal class session, and respecting each others’ privacy. If you are teaching in-person, these masks that allow students to see your facial expressions will help greatly with creating connection. Practice greetings by the door, if possible, though without the hugs and fist bumps. Make mornings fun and relationship building — for example, you could ask students to do a little dance move that you mimic as they come through the door.

If you are teaching virtually, smile and greet each student every morning by name. Ask attendance questions to get students sharing and connecting right from the start of class. Having morning meetings is just as important now, if not more important than ever. Visit Responsive Classrooms for inspiration for morning meetings.

Not all of your time on video calls needs to be academic learning. Spend some time allowing students to share, getting involved in random discussions, telling jokes, and discussing feelings — just like you would in a regular classroom environment. Create break out rooms and pair students with random “recess buddies” — you could allow them to play digital games together, or interview one another. Another idea for building relationships is to create virtual ‘dialogue journals.’ You could create a journal to write back and forth with each student, and also create journals for students to dialogue with their peers, taking turns in rotation. You can include a combination of SEL topics as well as academic check-ins in your journaling prompts.

Teach students how to treat each other kindly by encouraging appreciation.

You can build student communication and conflict resolution skills by teaching “I Statements.” I statements are scripted conversations that follow this format:

I feel… because… I need…

While this format often feels stuffy and unnatural at first, with practice you may find students attempting to use a more relaxed version on their own. For example, “I feel overwhelmed by the constant changes in expectations for teachers, and I need the administration to pick one course and stick with it for at least one solid month.” SEL Skill Set #4: Emotional Regulation

Emotional regulation has been a struggle for many people lately, not only for children. Mental and emotional health issues are rapidly rising, and often result in behavioral issues. One of the most important skills you can give your students is the ability to manage their responses to their emotions.

The MUSE website has a virtual curriculum called ‘Piloting Your Plane,’ geared at early elementary age students. This curriculum uses the analogy that our bodies are like planes and we are the pilots. Our responsibility is to fly our plane smoothly without crashing. In order to do so, children learn to check their control centers throughout the day, including their emotional thermometer and hunger/thirst gauges. The curriculum comes with plenty of ready-to-use activities that could be easily integrated into virtual or in-person classrooms, creating a wonderfully playful and highly effective common language.

Teaching ‘growth mindset’ can also help students with emotional regulation. The concept of growth mindset helps students to normalize mistakes, treating them as part of the learning process rather than as a sign that they are incapable of learning.

Having calm down kits and either in-person or virtual calm down centers is very helpful for students who need to take breaks in order to remain regulated. Storyline offers a wonderful online library of books read aloud by celebrities, with beautiful animated graphics to go with them. Set up your own virtual calm down center, and teach students how to use it when they are in need of a break.

While we will continue to see the effects of this pandemic on our children for years to come, incorporating the MUSE framework into your classroom will help you begin to rebuild your students’ emotional health.

For more tips on how to help your students (and yourself) during this chaotic time, please follow me. I am working fast to upload hundreds of units of SEL curriculum for all ages to my new site, EmotionalMUSE, and will send out updates as new units become available.

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10 Strategies to Help Parents with Distance Learning

How to Beat the “Back To School Blues”

Guest post by Monica Gupta Mehta @monicagmehta and Co-authored by Ariana Pokatilova, EmotionalMUSE Volunteer

“MOMMYSCHOOL,” by Deb Liu, released a cartoon entitled ‘Back To School Blues.’ The humorous graphic proclaimed fire and brimstone and doom for the 2020–2021 school year. When I saw this cartoon, I was struck by how much I related to every single one of the 10 bulleted items, based on our own family’s first week back to school.

This past week was essentially a series of timers set about 20 minutes apart to keep our three kids on track…three kids in three different schools with three entirely different schedules, despite being in the same district. Snack breaks and lunch breaks did not line up even once, which meant the adults in the house were “short order cooks” all day every day. As I frantically attempted to work with any amount of focus in my 15 minute windows of distraction-free time, I found myself looking up to “shhhh!!” the one child who was on break while the other two were on zoom calls. That’s right — even when they had breaks, there could be no loud boisterous play, out of respect for their siblings still in school. A collective sigh was heaved each day at approximately 3:30pm.

Reading Deb Liu’s ‘Back to School Blues,’ I find comfort in the knowledge that our family is not alone. If the plane is about to go down in flames, at least we are all in this together. But why is that comforting? I suppose it is the hope that comes from knowing that others are experiencing the same obstacles and challenges; somehow, somebody will come up with solutions to these challenges. As founder of the MUSE Framework for Social Emotional Learning, with a mission of developing the emotional intelligence of generations of students, I felt compelled to offer whatever advice I could to the parents who are attempting to thrive…or at least survive!…during this unprecedented school year.

1. “Orientation: Attended orientation with sixteen 8 year-olds, half didn’t know how to mute, one was upside down. Chaos ensued.”

I think we can all agree that it is not the most natural thing to have children set up on all day video conferences that rival the schedule of the busiest tech execs.

One way to help mitigate the unfamiliarity of this situation is to teach children the basics of video conferencing, beyond simply showing them how to join a video call. If your child’s teacher doesn’t already have something similar, share this graphic with them to help create a set of virtual community guidelines. It is also helpful to have a discussion with your children about what steps to take when their call is not working. Teach them to self advocate!

2. “Textbook Pickup: Freshmen book pickup cancelled due to the insufficient staff. Still TBD on the updated calendar. School starts Monday.”

It is eerie how similar our experiences were — our schools had to delay materials pickup multiple times, and many students did not have their textbook pick up until after the school year had started. The schools tried to recruit more parent volunteers, but without adequate childcare, most parents with younger kids are not free to leave their homes. My teen found a partial workaround for this problem — there are many sites out there that offer both free and rental versions of textbooks in digital, PDF format. To make this easier for younger children, print out the pages they actually need so they can take notes and annotate as they would in a print textbook.

3. “Class Assignments: Middle school class assignments were delayed until just before the first day of class due to technical issues.”

I guess this is one of those “it is what it is” things in life. Hopefully it’s true what they say — tough situations build strong people. One thing is for sure…we’ll come out of this pandemic with more grit and resilience than we could have learned through any purely educational methods.

4. “Lunch Roulette: Found all three kids have different lunch times. Will need to be a short order cook to feed them.”

Ugh. I feel your pain, Deb Liu! This was my life the first few days of school. However, I wised up (eventually) and remembered that we used to pack lunch in the morning before school, and my kids had lunch whenever it fell in their school schedule — without me trying to give them company, or serve them hot, fresh food. Save the nice meals for dinnertime and go back to pre-packed foods that are prepared ahead of time! If you find yourself wanting to make fresh lunches, prepare everyone’s lunch at the same time as you prepare the first child’s lunch. The other children are likely to be along within the hour, and most foods can sit out that long without spoiling.

For those feeling especially ambitious, one bonus idea I had is to set up a lunch ‘playdate’ schedule, with virtual calls set up for each child to socialize during their lunch break. For some of my kids, this works great…for others, they just want a break from video calls even more than they want to socialize with their friends at lunch.

5. “School Days: Kids are expected to be on zoom for 5 to 6 hours a day, but each day is staggered so the schedule is different per day of the week, per kid. Send help.”

Yes. This. This is exhausting. Not only does each child’s day look different from their siblings’ day; each child also has a different bell schedule for each day on their own school schedule. This is difficult to manage for all of us, and creates the additional difficulty of children who are on “break” having to be quiet and solitary while the other children are still in school. One way to deal with this is to plan your younger children’s breaks a little bit ahead of time, ideally with their input. Write down various break activities your child could do during downtimes. For my own children, I ask them to use the restroom and drink water at every break as needed, then to either get a snack or do anything on the list of brainstormed activities. These include stretching breaks, puzzles, journaling, coloring, quick chats with friends, shooting some baskets, taking a short walk (for older kids), having a mindful moment, reading a book, etc. I also let my kids play in this virtual “playroom” I created, which they find simultaneously both fun and relaxing. (FYI the virtual playroom only works on computers; it is not yet optimized for mobile use.)

I’d also recommend creating a master schedule of all of your children’s log in times as well as codes. If possible, give your children “view” access and teach them how to check the master schedule. Include all additional schedule items, such as exercise, meal plans, and extracurriculars. As things change (updated zoom links, changes in schedule) you can then simply update this master spreadsheet, and your kids will always find the most updated schedule/links as they check back throughout the day.

I find it useful to include my own general schedule in this spreadsheet — that way my kids know if I am in meetings or appointments, on a walk with our puppy, etc.

6. “Communication Management: After reading through two dozen back-to-school emails from five schools and filling out online forms for two days, I am sure I missed at least three things. Just not sure which three.”

This is not my strong suit; I have come to dread my emails with a passion (can you dread something with a passion?? I think the answer is you can during a worldwide pandemic.). However, one hack I have started using seems to be working pretty well. I’ve created a separate folder for emails coming from school, since there is so much communication home these days. Any school email that comes across my inbox I dump in the folder to read in the evening, and I keep the email there even after I’ve read it. Once I am sure I have processed it, noted vital info, and done all tasks from the email, then I remove it from the folder.

7. “School IT Support: Juggled logins to Schoology, Infinite Campus, UpToUs, Google Classroom, Quickschools, Clever, and Konstella to figure out all of the action items. Probably forgot all of the usernames and passwords already.”

I think the solution to this one is obvious…it’s just frustratingly time consuming. Somehow, somewhere all of that information needs stored where it can be readily retrieved. I threw out my usual hesitation to write down passwords and created a login information tab in my master spreadsheet (the one the kids use to see their schedule each day and all the zoom links). The benefit of this is that the kids can see their own login information, and they now come to me far less for this specific need. If I end up getting hacked because we wrote everything down, I suppose I’ll be eating my words. Fingers crossed it all works out.

“8. Calendaring: Realized one of us will be a full-time executive assistant to manage the calendar for three kids or else everything will fall apart.”

This is just factually true, and it is no fun. I do have hope this will get better as things become more routine; but it does feel like half my day goes to this. There are two strategies that have helped me counteract this. One is, yet again, my master schedule. Having a really organized place to collect all information, and to update it as it changes, is a game changer. Every bit of new info that comes in has a spot either in that spreadsheet or on my Google calendar. Knowing where to record the constantly changing information as it comes in is half the battle.

The other two thirds of the battle (yes, we are all metaphorically putting in way more than 100% effort!!) is to not procrastinate. This is a huge ask when everyone is overwhelmed and working way too many jobs at once (paid and unpaid)…but aim for an empty email inbox each day if possible. The more you let the emails build up, the more reluctant you will become to address them.

9. WiFi: Our WiFi is melting down already with too many concurrent video connections. Next week will be WiFi-Mageddon.”

Oof. I have lost count of the number of things we have tried to do to create enough bandwidth for the kids to all be in school synchronously, for me to get my work done, and for my husband to be on all day long conference calls. We have called our Internet service provider, and that has occasionally helped, as sometimes the issue is on their end. You can also try resetting your router — sometimes if we do that enough, the WiFi magically begins working again.

If this issue persists, internet connection is the area I would say is most worth spending a little extra money if you can afford it. Upgrading to a better router will generally help immensely. We have also purchased something called a MiFi — a personal internet hotspot that can be plugged anywhere, with its own monthly fee. This is amazing to have for our outdoor classroom, which we are doing four days a week (we are allowing some friends to come do school with our kids socially distanced in the backyard). That is, four days a week if the California wildfires are not devastating our air quality and trapping us indoors! (…while simultaneously making us so grateful to have an “indoors” to be trapped in, as our neighbors to the north, east, and south are all being evacuated).

One last suggestion for sparing your WiFi is to encourage yourself and your kids to take breaks from their devices when they are on school breaks. Encourage them to move their bodies and to engage their minds in different ways, such as reading, puzzles, chores and games.

10. “Assessment for School Year 2020: We are doomed.”

Well…here’s hoping my Dad is right. He is always telling us to be “wildly optimistic.” While every word of Liu’s cartoon depicts exactly how I felt last week, this week I am optimistic that the tips and strategies collected here can keep us aloft. It certainly won’t be a smooth flight, but with a confident pilot and the advice of our co-pilots, I believe we will get through this. Together.

Visit Monica’s site EmotionalMUSE.com for Social Emotional Learning curriculum you can use with your children. My first two units include a Piloting Your Plane emotional regulation curriculum for early elementary school children, and a Socializing During A Pandemic social skills unit for secondary school students. It is a rapidly growing site — follow me for updates when new units become available!

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6 Must Haves for School Districts to be Successful in Remote and Hybrid Learning

Guest post by Stephanie Burroughs (@BurroughsEDk12)

For this school year to be successful, we have to take the 40,000 foot view and make sure we have the systems and structures in place to help all students, teachers, administrators, and community members work together to support student learning. 

Whether your district is beginning the school year fully in-person, remotely, or in a hybrid learning model, there were clear concerns over approaches to emergency learning in the spring that we should be fixing no matter what school will look like for your district. Below are six ideas that K-12 districts should be planning for: 

1. Train your students to LEARN online 

It’s not just about technology training. We should be prioritizing executive functioning in the same way that we are prioritizing learning padlet and flipgrid. What we got wrong in emergency learning is creating a massive tech learning curve for our students. Over-stimulating students with log-ins to platforms instead of focusing on student-centered discourse, consistent workflows, and modes of communication would be a mistake moving forward. 

Learning online requires more initiative and better time management. In a US News article for college students they discuss the need for improved communication and self-discipline in order for students to be successful in an online environment. K-12 schools are beginning to acknowledge their role in on-boarding students, with one district releasing plans that prioritize student training prior to shifting to fully remote.

Advice: Give students a learning coach, a teacher in the building that checks in with them each week to assist with managing their assignments and advise them on communication with their teachers.  

2. Have Open House early and virtually

​Supporting student on-boarding is only the first step in ensuring a smooth roll-out of learning expectations. We must remember that families are partners in learning and get them in the loop early. When emergency learning rolled out, parents were overwhelmed with taking on their child’s learning and it doesn’t have to be that way. 

Parents need to know how this is all going to work. Answering these questions for parents at an early open house will help parents act as allies in learning:

  • How can I prepare my child for an online class? 
  • How will teachers communicate expectations and how can I stay in the loop on my child’s learning?
  • When will I be able to check-in with teachers on my child’s progress?
  • What is a reasonable amount of time for asynchronous work?
  • What strategies can I support my child with in communicating with teachers and knowing when/how to get help?

Advice: Give parents a cheatsheet newsletter that clearly defines workflows and expectations for their child, including the technology students will need to be using and all the ways their child can get support. 

3. Train your teachers to teach online 

I earned a doctorate online at the University of Southern California and we used 3 tech tools: G-Suite, a Learner Management System, and Zoom. My classes were engaging, rich discussions with clear expectations for learning. There is no reason why we should be exhausting our teachers with learning every technology platform they can get their hands on. Instead, we should be focusing our professional learning time on modeling online pedagogy and creating workflows that maximize engagement while minimizing the technology learning curve. 

In my post on learning online, I highlight the need for student-friendly online learning and identify the following action items for teachers:

  • Front-load student learning – Let asynchronous work act as a springboard for live class discussions
  • Begin class with a quick check for understanding – Keep it simple and let students warm-up to engaging in an online environment
  • Prepare templates for group work ahead of time – It will help students focus and help teachers keep track of the progress of small group work
  • Share your slides, make your expectations clear – It helps your students focus and aids them in processing important information
  • Make caring a part of your routine – Let checking in on how your students are feeling be a routine in your classroom

​Advice: Give teachers permission to keep technology tools simple, support them with distance learning pedagogy first.  

​4. Embrace virtual parent conferences 

It was always bizarre to me that a common practice for parent-teacher conferences was a 15 minute time slot in the middle of your workday. Virtual parent teacher conferences will enable more families to engage in conferences, but it will also allow districts to schedule time for conferences with more flexibility. But let’s not stop there, let’s look for opportunities to engage with families and make sure that there are consistent feedback loops to support a successful school year for our students:

  • Open up PTA meetings to have consistent opportunities for parents to ask questions
  • Have time slots for parent-teacher conferences throughout the year so that teachers have the time set aside to support families
  • Hold coffee hours with families to offer support with technology and support with navigating their child’s learning experience

Advice: Plan for opportunities to engage with families and communicate them consistently so that every parent feels connected to their child’s school.

5. Focus on consistent communication

School districts all around me have communicated throughout the summer months on their plans for the fall, opened up family forums to ensure that all voices were heard and that districts could account for feedback, and truly spent a significant amount of time on developing out plans for opening school buildings in compliance with state guidelines. It’s been great, students and parents need to know what to expect and when to expect it.

As we kick off the school year, that same steady communication must happen within the classroom and within school buildings. As a parent, I hope to see the following:

  • A clear schedule of how and when assignments will be communicated
  • Consistent meeting times for each of my kid’s classes, communicated at the start of the year and consistent throughout
  • Consistent time for extra help and support for students so that we can plan for it in our day
  • Consistent communication on grades and progress in each of my kid’s classes

Advice: Parents should be added as viewers to google classrooms to help with communication and grade books should be kept open.

6. Embrace professional learning communities 

Teachers need time and they need us to honor that. Professional Learning Communities, or teachers meeting intentionally to co-plan curriculum, instruction, and assessment, must be a top priority for school districts developing their schedules for the upcoming year. PLC time is sacred and should be intentionally scheduled so that not a single one of our teachers feels isolated in their efforts to provide the best possible learning opportunities for their students. 

That being said, collaboration on building materials and resources must be a priority in PLC time and we all need to embrace teamwork over autonomy. That last bit is hard, but our students deserve a consistent learning experience in the upcoming year and we can only accomplish that by being intentionally collaborative in our creation of student learning experiences. 

Advice: Teachers should talk as a team about what they can commit to building together and where they need breathing room to add their own personal touches. Asynchronous materials may be the best place to start for building common ground.

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

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Game based learning versus Gamification.

Guest post by Brigid Duncan @MsBDuncan

There is a difference? So, what is it?

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As many teachers head back out to instruction with many fears and anxiety of the unknown to come this school year, I am happy to share that being on lockdown for many months, there was a silver lining in it for me.  And that was being able to attend many online professional training programs for free, in places I would have to travel too to get to those conferences. Extremely fortunate to connect with many amazing and talented curriculum and instructional educators. At one of these online PDs I met @Sarahdateechur from Microsoft and Cue #GETA sessions on Steps to gamify your instructional approach to classes. 

In this session, stark differences were drawn between the two instructional teaching tools. Whoa! Who knew that they were different? Gamifying as she stated has been around for many decades. We all remember the excitement when we got back a test and there was a “red star “on your paper. This meant you got 90% or higher. And if you got the “golden” star you aced the test with a perfect score of 100%. Today in education, this is not the best way to assess or motivate student learning outcomes, however this was a primitive way of introducing gamification into the class lesson. Badges for merit rings a bell? 

Gamification takes your class lesson and uses themes to create excitement, engagement and innate motivation to get the lesson assignments completed while having educational fun. Students can work in teams by choosing a token player, mascot or game piece for their team identification, and then complete lesson stations/group activities. Along the way they collect a stamp for each completed activity. And all if all stamps on score card are filled in, congratulations you have earned your first badge.  Challenges can be created to mimic standards from DOK levels of 1 to the highest level of rigor difficulty, an instructor wants to make the lesson. Differentiation is also evidenced by having groups from low level challenges to high level, still actively participating in the game and completing the lesson essential question or objective successfully. 

The super talented @MeehanEDU author of EDrenaline Rush has designed many thematic and challenging gamified lessons that you too as a teacher can see and feel the excitement invested to want to complete this game and get that prize. Gamification can be built on current or “pop” themes. The game of Thrones, Harry Potter and use the Houses as game token or player. Teachers have used creative writing interwoven by way of mini stories, as they developed these gamified lessons. Stories that when included add more excitement as students read instructions to get to that prize. 

Another great Gamification Master, as I like to refer to him is @MrMatera. A middle school social studies teacher who use his curriculum to create the gamification themes. Teachers can design themes based loosely on pop culture movies retro movies such as Indiana Jones, Star Wars, or more current ones such as Stranger Things or Game of Thrones. Most important element that makes gamification works, is having a challenge adding some element of danger/ depth defying or “must save the day” to complete a mission.  Thus, class teams work together to defeat the “bad guys” to earn that badge of honor.  Added bonus: classroom community and relationships are forged. 

So the question becomes where does a teacher begin. How much will this cost me? I highly recommend starting on a Tuesday night visiting Twitter. The instructional coaches and mentors mentioned in this post, who are all great people to follow. Most have Tuesday or Wednesday chats based on how to start gamification in class. What practices have worked. Some teachers even share lessons that you can re-mix with credit to that teacher, so that you can practice or build into your curriculum instruction. Unfamiliar with what are popular movies?  This is the best time to get to know your students. Have them share what are movies or tv shows are they watching now. Build from them and see how much more they connect and build a relationship with you, as you used movies that they shared with in class, in a lesson. Bonus points with students: if you know they struggle with a math concept like say fractions but used a movie theme they like…and designed fraction lesson based on that theme, chances are you have them engaged already to trying your lesson. A win-win for everyone. 

I hope this post has inspired you to rethink and want to try incorporating gamification into your lesson plans.  Start simple maybe with your syllabus or classroom expectations and then assess how it worked with your students.  Do come back to the second part of this post, which is centered more on game-based instruction, creating games the old school style. Retro!   Until then happy learning teacher friends!

**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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Guest Post: Culturally Responsive Teaching

Guest post by Chris Orlando @Dr_ChrisOrlando

When COVID-19 struck in the spring, it forced an unprecedented portion of our country’s schools to suspend brick-and-mortar instruction. Teachers were thrown into distance teaching—referred to by many as “crisis teaching”— with little preparation. It was like trying to build a plane while flying it.

The crisis has exposed societal inequities impacting our students’ daily lives including food deficits, inadequate health care—including mental health care, issues with housing stability, and insufficient access to the internet.

This fall, to ensure that I’m meeting the needs of my marginalized students even as I shift to a new learning environment, I plan on creating a culturally responsive digital classroom, one that can provide a space where students feel welcomed and valued. Culturally responsive instruction centers on building the learning capacity of all students. According to Zaretta Hammond, author of Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain, “There is a focus on leveraging the affective and the cognitive scaffolding that students bring with them.”

Here are three ways in which I plan to implement culturally responsive teaching this year:

Building Relationships

The single greatest investment teachers can make is to build relationships with their students. Relationships boost motivation, create safe spaces for learning, build new pathways for learning, and improve student behavior. The question, of course, is how can I build relationships with students who I might never see in person?

First, I plan to master the soft start to class in order to ease students into our learning environment each day. Though often thought of as an elementary school strategy, my middle schoolers respond well to soft starts. It allows time for students to transition and to re-engage their mental muscles with a short game, puzzle, brainteaser, reading, or interesting “Would You Rather” question. Be cognizant that typical icebreakers like, “What I did this summer” may leave children with nothing positive to share and create a social hierarchy of who had the most impressive summer break. Instead, pose questions like, “Imagine your best day ever. What would happen?” or “If you could change one thing about the world, what would it be?” Taking even ten minutes to check-in with students at the beginning of class each day is vital because high-trust, low-stress environments can help marginalized students effectively process and retain learned information. Additionally, I plan to do the following to build relationships and increase connectedness virtually:

  • Learn my students’ names promptly and use them as much as possible. As a teacher who often mispronounces my students’ names, I’ll assign students to create a short video in which they pronounce their name so that I can reference it.
  • Ask for student feedback regularly through an ungraded video or Google Form known as “Friday Feedback”
  • Host informal office hours that will encourage one-on-one communication
  • Collect and share virtual notes of gratitude and appreciation

Be a Personal Trainer of Students’ Cognitive Development

As a teacher who is preparing for Round 2 of distance teaching this fall, much of the success or failure of this upcoming school year will depend on my students’ ability to work independently. In order to foster this independence, I will be providing students who are dependent learners with cognitive routines and tools that will help them organize their thinking and process content. Consistently using a regular set of prompts in all assignments helps students internalize cognitive routines so that they can use them when I’m not around. After all, isn’t the goal of education to help students become lifelong learners who can marshal their critical thinking skills long after they’ve left the classroom? Internalizing cognitive routines will help expand the learning capacity of students who have been historically marginalized and work to dismantle dominant narratives about students of color.

Make It a Game, Make It Social, Make It a Story

Each day students walk into our classrooms (or this year, log in to our classrooms) armed with their own learning tools, but too often teachers fail to use them to maximize student learning. Students’ culture can inform us whether they learn best on their own or by collaborating with others. In a distance learning context, students are often given packets and assigned independent projects, which serve independent learners, but are a detriment to communal learners. For example, diverse students who come from oral traditions, might benefit from activities that require social interaction, physical manipulation of content, or narrative. In other words: make it a game, make it social, or make it a story. Utilizing breakout features in Zoom and apps like Jamboard, Flipgrid, and Socrative can help engage communal learners. However, it’s important to remember that culturally responsive teaching isn’t simply a set of strategies. It’s consistently mirroring students’ cultural learning styles and tools.

My job is to be responsive to students’ individual and collective lived experiences, and in particular this year, their experiences with the COVID-19 pandemic. That will require me to integrate my students’ cultural learning tools into my pedagogy and be a warm demander of their cognitive development. But above all, this year will be about relationships. Creating a learning partnership that encourages my students to take ownership of their learning has always been important, but this year it will be paramount to address gaps in learning outcomes between diverse students and their white counterparts. Through robust reflection of my own pedagogy and the adoption of culturally responsive teaching practices, I plan to make learning exciting and joyful for my students so that they’ll be motivated to take ownership of their own learning. Students will be seen. They’ll be heard. They’ll be loved. And we’ll make it through this school year together.

Gonzalez, J. (2017, September 10). Culturally Responsive Teaching: 4 Misconceptions. Cult of Pedagogy. https://www.cultofpedagogy.com/culturally-responsive-misconceptions/

**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  

Enjoying Every Mile

Anything Is Possible

Meredith Akers

Grow, Reflect, Share

Moments with Mike

A journey through double-duty teaching.

T.R.U.E. G.R.I.T.

Call me stubborn, but I refuse to quit! T.R.U.E. G.R.I.T. is the foundation to success in learning and life! Exploring the dynamics of a successful classroom and how grit is a vital characteristic for student achievement

Katie Martin

Informed by research, refined by practice

#RocknTheBoat

Rocking today's classrooms, one teacher, student, and class at a time.

User Generated Education

Education as it should be - passion-based.

#slowchatPE

A question a day for Teachers with an emphasis on Health/PE

Learning as I go: Experiences, reflections, lessons learned

Rachelle Dene Poth @rdene915 #FUTURE4EDU #QUOTES4EDU #THRIVEinEDU

Serendipity in Education

Join me, Allyson Apsey, as I stumble upon the fortunes of learning, laughing, and celebrating alongside incredible people.

Brian Aspinall - Blog

Teacher, Speaker, Coder, Maker

The Effortful Educator

Applying Cognitive Psychology to the Classroom

Divergent EDU

Supporting educators so they can best support students | Mandy Froehlich

The Principal's Desk

Educational leadership, reform, and consulting resources

Teaching & Learning with Technology

"Classrooms don't need tech geeks who can teach; we need teaching geeks who can use tech."

Dene Gainey

Educator. Author. Singer/Songwriter.

SimonBaddeley64

Minecraft in the Classroom