What we deny

Check out the Podcast too: “Just Conversations” with Melanie White and Amanda Potts. https://voiced.ca/project/just-conversations/

Only in our isolation and disconnectedness do we discover that everything and everyone is localized and connected. And, in this distancing, I am beginning to question what we deny.

Rebecca Solnit kept appearing in my daily consumption of media and I’m beginning to wonder if this is the work of a latent existential force drawing my attention to something I should have known or done long ago. I listened to her voice in an episode of On Being last week. She wrote, “When all the ordinary divides and patterns are shattered, people step up to become their brothers’ keepers…and that purposefulness and connectedness bring joy even amidst death, chaos, fear, and loss.” The unusual lilt of her voice and calm intellect still spin in my mind’s ear. And, this morning, I stopped scrolling my Twitter feed struck by this linguistic wisdom. She wrote,

“Inside the word ’emergency’ is ’emerge’; from an emergency new things come forth. The old certainties are crumbling fast, but danger and possibility are sisters.” #RebeccaSolnit

And then on Twitter, Gianpiero Petriglieri wrote that an “old therapist friend” told him why everyone was “so exhausted after video calls. It’s the plausible deniability of each other’s absence. Our minds tricked into the idea of being together when our bodies feel we’re not. Dissonance is exhausting. Our bodies process so much context…” I stopped to think about that wording, “plausible deniability”, and the more common legalistic use for one escaping criminal repercussions as a member of a corrupt organization or political power.

However, I couldn’t wrap my head around this experience of dissonance and the connotations of “plausible deniability” as something happening to us rather than something we choose to avoid like the truth or an injustice. According to Wikipedia“the expression was first used by the CIA” but the idea apparently has a longer history. I needed to understand the term, like Solnit explored “emergency”; it was an itch that pressed me, so I read further. “Plausible denial involves the creation of power structures and chains of command loose and informal enough to be denied if necessary”.

Then a thought struck me. What power structures are currently in place which I deny? What small almost imperceptible movements have made me complicit in this dance of distraction? Solnit reappeared during my longer moment of breakfast reading in The Guardian article entitled: “The impossible has already happened: what coronavirus can teach us about hope”. How marvelous and uplifting it is to read her vibrant words calling us to action and existence, to make the most of the worst.

While I cannot deny there is absence in my new-found isolation, I can also see that my thoughts attend a new experience. I am paying attention to moving about my house, to walking the dog, to gazing out the window with no real productivity pressure of this instant. And, yes, I am teaching remotely, but connecting, supporting personalized learning is my focus rather than a product on the line of academic factory life. This is where I cannot sense Petriglieri’s Tweet about “plausible deniability”. I am now working on processing the context of my daily life which I previously ignored in mind-numbing haste consumed by the blind goals of my own productivity or some socialized version of productivity.

My body is processing the context of my life in isolation and thinking about the actions needed for when we might connect again. I am trying not to deny my own physical interaction with and existence in the world.

 

**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  

Riding an edu-emotional roller coaster

 

Opinions expressed are those of the author.

 

Last week those of us in BC ed had no idea what this week would have in store for us. When I was a kid, “self-isolating” was humorously coined for those who rather not deal with the public, “social distancing” was something told to us by supervisors at teen dances, and “quarantining” was something learned in history units.

But like it or not, we have been hit in the face with a crisis of epic proportions. It’s been an emotional roller coaster navigating the slings and arrows of toilet paper hoarding, Bonnie Henry updates, and beachy trip cancellations.

And now, BC teachers are faced with uncertainty as to how we will continue teaching without students in our classrooms. Over the last few years, we’ve been besieged with a renewed curriculum and just started to understand how proficiency scales can be used in our classrooms. Some of us have been making waves by leading teachers on a gradeless mission. Since yesterday’s announcement, I cannot help but wonder if all the work we’ve done will now be undone. I could scream and cry at the same time.

I know it might seem like an unrealistic conundrum to be contemplating the fate of gradeless at a time like this. Like many of you, I’m hanging on pins and needles waiting for our school board to announce how, specifically, we will meet the needs of our students after spring break. I have so many questions from communication to assessment. I’m worried about my at-risk students and how my colleagues will weather this storm. How will my student LEARN at home?

Learn. Hmmm…

Learning is the focus of gradeless teaching and assessment. You’ve heard me explain so many times over that when we remove grades and focus on the individual child and their growth, a child will develop a growth mindset. When we put the needs of each individual child instead of comparing them to each other or categorizing them by grades, we build a culture of learners, not grade grabbers.

Amid this edu-crisis, do we have to stop? Should we still consider gradeless? In fact, isn’t now, more than ever, the time to rethink what our goals are for our students? Is uncertainty and anxiousness a reason to revert to old habits, like handing over packages of content heavy worksheets, and abandoning single point rubrics? Or is this an opportunity to practice…really practice putting learning before grades? Isn’t this the time to think about the needs of the child? Shouldn’t our focus be on how the child will learn instead of how will I teach under these different circumstances? So many questions!

One thing I know is, now more than ever, students do not need grade pressures. They don’t need us to hover a “here’s what you need to pass” over their heads because we’re worried about getting through “the curriculum.” At home, students are juggling feelings of isolation, parents being laid off, themselves being laid off, lack of technology, too much technology, empty grocery store shelves and empty cupboards, never mind the questions: When will we return to school? Will there be a grad ceremony? Why can’t I see my friends?

In my opinion, if the government (or school board, or whomever makes these decisions) is smart, they’ll deemphasize grades. This will reduce the burden on educators. But like letter grades, even discussions over pass/fail, if that becomes the new norm, should not be considered or discussed with students until the end of the year. We can, instead, focus our energy on creative ways to meet students’ social emotional needs, develop a distance classroom community, and give voice and choice. Teachers will need to let go of being an eyewitness to learning in their rooms and we’ll really need to let go of content. If we hand over miles of notes, worksheets and google-able essay topics, we’re asking for trouble in the form of disinterest, cheating and plagiarism, and crushing failure. We’ll need lots of time to settle into a new routine. Students will need time to adjust.

Ultimately, before we start teaching, we need to figure out a balance between Maslow and Bloom….for all stakeholders: students, parents, and us. We need to lower our expectations and big dreams for the perfect online or distance education course. We need to take care of ourselves and our families first, connect with students and their families second, and collaborate with colleagues on implementing curriculum third.

When we implement the curriculum, we need to use the skills that are the focal point of the BC curriculum as a platform for meeting student’s social-emotional needs. If we give students some voice and choice as to what they want to learn and how they want to learn it, it will feel less like us pushing our agenda on them, and more like welcoming students into this new learning environment and building trust. For example, an English teacher (well duh…of course I’m going to use an English example) might begin by asking students to journal every day from a series of prompts but use prompts that are flexible and open to interpretation. This will give teachers some insight into students’ social-emotional levels/needs as well as meeting curriculum requirements to foster reflection and thinking. Information from those journals could springboard into a project-based learning assignment. Creative writers could write a story, critical thinkers could research a topic, and visual learners could create a collage or PowerPoint. Content pieces can be slipped into to individualized projects to try to meet curriculum requirements.

I understand the pressure that content heavy courses like science and math have on teachers. This dilemma has been systemically ingrained in school culture for years. Right now, a math teacher is reading this blog and thinking that there is no way they can do PBL when they have X number of chapters to get through in the textbook by June. My hope is that teachers incorporate a bit of hands on learning in order to make learning in seclusion enjoyable and fun. The reality is, the content students do not learn this year, can be incorporated into next year’s curriculum. Yup it can. But that’s next year.

I’ve made a point to vocally de-emphasize prepping over spring break, but I know that recommendation has fallen on deaf ears. I cast no blame, for if I were to, that would draw attention to me as a proverbial finger-wagger instead of me the genuine worrier for the well-being of my colleagues around the province. I confess, I’ve been thinking a lot about how I will handle my own new teaching situation, as, but I lost sleep thinking about how my colleagues are handling the pressure. I already see the formation of chats and groups with sole purpose of collaborating on resources and expertise. While these groups have good intentions, I hope teachers are using this time to focus on themselves and their families.

Teachers wear their hearts on their sleeves. We want to do what is best for our students. We naturally lack patience when gaps of information are left without direction. We overthink. We care so much. We worry. We’re teachers. Heck, I’m writing a blog in order to manage my own stress. It’s how I roll. It’s how I cope.

It won’t be long and spring break will be over and we’ll return to school. It will look and feel different. We’ll have to collaborate virtually with our colleagues who work just next door. Staff meetings may very well take place in the theatre so that we can sit 2 meters away from each other. It will be weird. Nothing about this pandemic is familiar. It’s important that we don’t expect to recreate what was in our classrooms and in our buildings. It’s important to accept the feelings of uneasiness and frustration that will come. Pause. Breathe. Accept. Repeat.

Focus on yourself. When you are ready to focus on how you’ll teach your students in this new reality, make learning and the social emotionally well being of them the priority. They’ll be just fine. So will you. We are, after all, in this together.

#mygrowthmindset

 

 

**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 Ideas for Learning About Digital Citizenship

Digital citizenship is a topic that educators must continue to be mindful of within their classrooms and our schools. Because so many tasks involve the use of technology, it is our responsibility to embed digital citizenship into our lessons so our students are prepared and knowledgeable about the responsibilities that exist and also expectations of them when it comes to digital learning. There is an increase in technology being used in our classrooms, students have more access to digital resources and global connections than ever before, so regardless of our roles in education, we must stay current with issues, trends, and resources related to this topic. Digital citizenship skills have to be a part of what we teach and model for students, especially because we ask our students to do research, to collaborate online and perhaps even use social media as part of our coursework.

There are many resources available to learn more about digital citizenship, ranging from participation in virtual or in-person learning events held throughout the year to websites, books, blogs, and more that bring attention to and inform about this important topic. When I first started teaching about digital citizenship, I recall myself telling students the things that they should not do rather than focusing on how to use the tools safely and responsibly and showing how they could enhance learning. I recognize this now as I’ve researched more and become more aware of the different resources available for use in education today and following the conversations happening in different educational networks. And along with what’s being done out there, I believe that we need to convey the message to our students of how to use digital tools, to interact responsibly, and also share the importance of knowing how to use these tools for good.

Building these skills is critical because they will transfer to the real world space as well. For some students, they build confidence and comfort by interacting with peers and become better collaborators in an online space first, then apply these to the physical classroom setting and the real-world.

Here are five resources to explore and which offer activities for students to explore on their own and construct their own knowledge and apply it.

1. Events Educators can participate in Digital Citizenship Week, happening from October 14th through the 18th online. During this week-long event, educators can participate by connecting with other classrooms globally, joining in a panel discussion organized through the DigCit Institute and EduMatch Tweet and Talk, or listening to a DigcitIMPACT talk. Sign up on the website and stay connected by following the #digcitsummit hashtag on Twitter.

 

2. Online resources There are many interactive ways for students to explore DigCit topics. Common Sense Education’s Digital Compass provides interactive lessons, tutorials, and fun activities for students to engage in to learn about digital citizenship. One of the many benefits is that students choose how to proceed through the interactive lessons, and can see the positive or negative effects of these choices. Digital Compass addresses topics such as cyberbullying, fake news, social media, and more that are in alignment with today’s trends. Be Internet Awesome by Google has students explore four lands and complete activities and games to build their digital citizenship skills. This is another good way to let students drive their learning, to become curious and develop their own understanding in a space that is safe and that we can support. 21 things for students offers 21 different lessons on topics related to digital citizenship, technology skills, cyberbullying and more. Nearpod offers interactive lessons on Social Media use and topics related to Digital Citizenship in addition to many other content areas and levels.

3. Books Three books that I recommend are Digital Citizenship in Action by Dr. Kristen Mattson, Digital Citizenship in Schools by Mike Ribble, and Digcit Kids: Lessons Learned Side by Side to Empower Others from Around the World by Marialice Curran and Curran Dee. Each of these books offer a wealth of resources for getting started with lessons on digital citizenship and they provide activities for use in our classrooms. Dr. Mattson’s book is also used for the ISTE U Course on Digital Citizenship.

4. Social Media Students are using more social media, especially Instagram and Snapchat, and need to develop an understanding of how to post, the type of information that is okay to share, and how to interact responsibly and respectfully in these spaces. Depending on student grade level, it can be helpful to have students participate in a simulated Twitter chat, create a Padlet wall, or use post-it notes and a space in the room to have students create posts and write responses. It is important to help students understand how social media works and how to properly post. We want to emphasize the safety of our students and knowing how to distinguish between reliable and unreliable sources.

5. Organizations ISTE (the International Society for Technology in Education) offers a Professional Learning Network (PLN) focused on Digital Citizenship for members. In PLNs such as this one, educators can find many resources for teaching about digital citizenship that match the grade level, content area, and specific needs of their students. Individuals can sign up to be a part of the #digcitcommit movement. DigCitCommit is a coalition with the mission of providing educators with the right resources for teaching students about digital citizenship. Educators can sign the pledge and become more involved in promoting digital citizenship around the world.

To provide the best possible opportunities for our students to learn their roles and responsibilities when it comes to digital citizenship, we simply need to start with one of these resources and include it in our daily activities. The idea is not that it’s something extra added onto the curriculum but rather becomes woven into our classrooms each day throughout the year.

*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  

 

3  books.png

Pushing Ourselves Professionally: 5 Ways to Share Our Educator Talent

Previously posted on Getting Smart

As educators, we need to actively take part in the reflection of what we do in our classrooms and schools, our interactions, and make sure we are intentional about setting aside time to think about each day as we plan for the next. As humans, we need to reflect on who we are, our growth, our goals, and be mindful of what we are doing to make a difference in the world and how we can support others each day.  Here are five ways to reflect on our practice, push ourselves personally and professionally, and also highlight the work that we are doing. We each have special talents and need to share them with other educators so that we can continue to grow.

Blogging

One way to reflect more closely, beyond simply processing our thoughts is by starting a blog. Finding the time to sit and write a blog, can present a slight challenge, however, a blog can take whatever form that we want it to. Getting started might simply mean having a stack of post-it notes, where each day you write down one thought on the post-it notes and then at the end of the week or over the weekend, reflect on the questions or comments you made. Compile your thoughts into a document, use voice to text to save time, and share with your PLN.

Another option would be to create your own blog site and start a draft to gather your thoughts in a short or long post. Whether you just keep a draft for your own personal review and growth or choose to publish it and share it with your PLN and the larger educator community, it will still benefit your growth. Sharing our thoughts like this makes us vulnerable, which can be uncomfortable, but if we truly want to grow, we need to put ourselves out there. It is important not only for our own growth but also serves as a good model for our students and our colleagues.

Podcasting

There are a lot of podcasts available to educators today. Some choose to launch a podcast focused on a specific topic or theme, or to create a podcast for the purpose of highlighting other educators and the work being done in our schools. Podcasts can be another beneficial addition to our practice not only for reflecting, but to share the ideas of what we are doing in our classroom. One might ask, what would I talk about? What would I have to contribute? We all have our own unique ideas, skills and perspectives. Even if we reach just one person with a word of advice or a new idea, that still makes an impact. It might be exactly what that one person needed to hear. Again time can be an issue but there are many tools out there that make it easy to create a short podcast. It might be just 5 minutes sharing what happened in your classroom, or 10 to 15 minutes spent talking about a specific topic that was part of a conversation within your PLN or brought up in class. Other options include inviting other educators to be guests on your podcast to share what they are doing. Podcasting is another option for pushing ourselves to continue to grow personally and professionally. I recently started my own podcast after thinking about it for a few years, and it has been a good way for me to think about different topics and reflect on my practice.

Live Streaming

Technology has really enabled educators to do so much more and engage in learning that far extends the reach of classrooms and schools.  Being able to talk about an activity that we did in our classrooms, or describing projects that students presented, of course does not provide a clear picture of what that actually looks like in practice.  We can be as descriptive as possible, we can even share photos and talk about it, but to be able to live stream and invite other classrooms, students and educators into our learning space to see it firsthand is far more powerful. As educators, we can also use these different tools to give a quick update, to talk about topics that are important to us, to share new ideas, to ask for help, and sometimes, to escape the isolation that can happen in our profession. Selecting from options like PeriscopeInstagram, or Facebook Live, we can leverage the platform that makes the most sense for us. Each month, a group of educators hold #PassTheScopeEDU and throughout the day, educators from around the world stream using Periscope to share their experiences and thoughts based on a monthly theme. Look at the different platforms and how educators are using these tools to make connections, and give one of them a try. It can definitely stretch us beyond our comfort zone, but the personal and professional benefits that can result are worth it!

Educators at ISTE presentation. Image courtesy of Rachelle Dene Poth.

Presentations

There are many ways for teachers to share the work they are doing and make new connections. For years, professional development in schools often involved sessions that were presented by outside organizations who sent trainers into the schools for the PD days.  However, more recently, teachers are taking the lead on professional development days within their own schools, traveling to local schools to share the work that they are doing, or even planning special learning events at their own school as my friend Zee Poerio does with a “Taste of Technology”. Opportunities like these foster a more authentic learning experience for educators, just as we want for our students, and also provides the opportunity to receive peer feedback and build our knowledge base. There are many in-person and virtual learning events that seek presenters. Find a conference to submit a proposal for or create your own meet-up with educators and stretch yourself a bit. Taking advantage of these opportunities is important as it pushes us to take some risks, enables us to expand our own learning network, and fosters our professional growth.

Video Tutorials

Something else that not only benefits our own practice but helps to create a resource that we can use in our classrooms, is to create video tutorials or screencasts. For times when we may not be in our classroom and need to have lessons available to share with our students or our colleagues, having video lessons or tutorials available can make a difference. It is something that can take as little as a few minutes to create. Using tools like Screencastify, you can record your screen and navigate a website, explain a project, discuss a concept, work through a problem, teach a lesson, or anything else on your screen. Taking advantage of this technology makes this fairly easy and quick to do. You can also create screencasts and other helpful videos to share with other educators which can explain how to use a certain digital tool or showcase some examples of student projects or other work that you have done. Creating these can be more comfortable because we control the recording and can redo as often as needed. However, the benefit is that we are continuing to build our skills and share our expertise with others; creating more learning opportunities that will benefit educators and students.

Each of these ideas offer many benefits for educators and students. If our students engage in these learning activities or create presentations for our classes, we should also engage in them ourselves. Modeling this for our students, being willing to take some risks, to put ourselves out there, and stretch beyond our comfort zone, is important for our growth as well as theirs.

**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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Educators: 10 Ways to Make Time for Self-Improvement

Originally published on Getting Smart
As an educator, summer is a time for me to focus on a lot of things that tend to slip by throughout the school year. One of the most important is self-care. In order to bring our best selves to our classrooms and our schools, we must make time for our needs each day. Making time to do some normal things like catching up with family and friends, go on a vacation or a staycation even, and sleep in late, are good ways to recharge over the summer break.

When summer arrives, it is easy to get into a new daily routine, finding time for all of the things that we wanted to do but couldn’t fit into our schedules throughout the year. It may take a few weeks to adjust, but I find that once the end of June arrives, I am well into my summer routine of learning and enjoying the extra time with family and friends. The days are still filled but with more than work, although many educators seek professional development during the summer, it is on a more relaxed schedule. Many take advantage of the extra time and lack of a set schedule to engage in personal and professional development. Whether it is a time to travel with family and friends or something more professional like attending conferences or taking a class, we all find ways to fill all of that extra time. We get used to a new routine, and likely feel pretty good about our improvement and feel some balance until August arrives and educators return to their classrooms, hopefully, recharged and excited for the new school year.

But it’s also the time when educators can quickly become burnt out trying to prepare everything and implement new ideas and strategies for the school year. For those who had the “summer off,” making the shift back into the daily school routine can be a challenge. Even though we stay busy, we can still struggle with finding balance and making time to keep up our personal and professional growth once the school year starts back up. So how can we still do ‘all the things’ and stay balanced and find enough time for ourselves?

Here are ten ways to add in more time for you and to be more productive each day:

  1. Connect. We are surrounded by so many people each day in the midst of thousands of interactions. But how many of those interactions are truly meaningful and give us the needed time to pause, lean in and really listen? Are we able to connect with family, friends, students, and Professional Learning Networks (PLN)? Find a way to connect every day. Make time for family first. Share a meal together, go for ice cream, take a walk, watch TV, or play a game. Family time is critical; remember to make time for your ‘school family,’ too. Whether it’s by greeting students at the door, spending time in the hallways or the teachers’ lounge, or using social media to connect through messaging, make time for those moments. Find at least one person to connect with each day. It helps to keep us grounded and gives us access to a constant support system.
  2. Have a routine. Sometimes it comes down to just having a little bit of consistency in each day. Maybe this means setting aside a specific time to read in the morning, listen to music, respond to emails, or simply reviewing your schedule for the day. Personally, I find that having these activities during the day is one way to keep myself in balance. Knowing what my day holds or starting each day with a certain task like reading a blog keeps me accountable for taking time for myself.
  3. Choose one. There are so many choices we have for activities that are worthwhile for our mental and physical well-being. Our days become quite full, and the worst thing we can do is overwhelm ourselves by trying to do everything. Some good advice I received from a friend is to simply choose one thing. Get outside and walk, meet up with family and friends, whether once a week or as often as your schedule allows. Try to pick one activity per day that will be good for your well being.
  4. Disconnect. We all stay connected by a variety of devices. Technology is amazing because it enables us to communicate, collaborate and access information whenever we need to. However, it disconnects us from personal connections, takes away a lot of our time, and can decrease our productivity. It’s beneficial for us to make time to truly disconnect. Whether you leave your device at home during a vacation or simply mute notifications for a period of time during the day, it’s important to take a break. Pause to reflect, and be fully present with family and friends. Personally, I struggle in this area but have been more intentional about taking a break from technology.
  5. Exercise and movement. Think about the students in our classrooms and the learning experiences we create for them. Do we have them stay seated in rows each day or are there opportunities to move and be active? Finding time for exercise and movement is important to our well-being. Go for a walk, have a dance party, or use an on-demand or online exercise program. Get up and moving with your students, and take learning outside whenever you can. Exercise has so many benefits that even setting aside 10 minutes a day is a great way to boost energy and mental wellness. Invite a friend or colleague to join you and hold each other accountable.
  6. Time to rest. Just like exercise, it’s also important to get enough rest. How many times do educators stay up late grading papers or writing lesson plans, and get up extra early to prepare for the day?  We can’t bring our best selves to our classroom if we are tired. Lack of sleep and quality rest will negatively impact our mental and physical health. Our students and colleagues will notice our lack of energy and possibly even mental clarity, so we need to ensure time for sleep to receive the positive benefits!
  7. Reflection. It is important that we model lifelong learning and the development of self-awareness and metacognition for our students. This involves setting aside a period of time where we reflect on our day, the progress we made, the challenges we faced, and even epic fails that we might have experienced.  Finding a way to capture these reflections whether in a blog or journal or using an audio recording to listen to later, are all great ways to track our progress. Then we can revisit our reflections and ask ourselves, “Am I a little bit better today than I was yesterday?”
  8. Learning. Education is changing every day. There are new topics, trends, and tools that make keeping up with everything tough. There are so many ways that we can learn today that don’t take up too much time, however. While traditional professional development training and in-person sessions are useful—especially for the opportunity to connect with other people—the reality is that carving out availability to do this on a regular basis is a challenge. Instead, find something that meets your schedule. Whether it’s listening to a podcast or participating in a Twitter chat once or twice a week, watching a webinar, reading a few blog posts, or joining a group on Voxer to discuss what’s on your mind and ask questions about education. There are many ways to learn on the go!
  9. Celebrate. Make time every day to celebrate something. Whether it’s a positive event in one of your classes, something one of your students did, recognizing a colleague, validating your own efforts or just a random celebration, focusing on the positives will impact your well-being in the long run. No matter how big or small, the steps toward success and achieving goals and even some mistakes should be embraced and even celebrated. Modeling a celebration of the learning process, especially from failures, sends a positive message and is a good model for students.
  10.  The power of no. It’s amazing how difficult it can be to say no. Educators are often asked or volunteer to assume additional responsibilities like sponsoring a club, joining a committee, chaperoning an event, or participating in other school events. There are so many things that comprise our role as educators and with our passion for teaching, it can be difficult to say no, especially when it comes to education and our students. But as hard as it is, sometimes it’s the best choice. Think about what is most important to you and the limited time that you have. I focus on why and how my participation or acceptance of whatever it is can benefit my students and the school community. Saying no is tough, but it is more than reasonable to say no sometimes. We have to do what is best for ourselves, so we can do what is best for our students.

These are just a few ways I’ve tried to maintain more balance and be more effective and productive in my work. We have to start each day with a focus on self-care, because that is how we can make sure that we are bringing our best selves into our classrooms, into our schools, and home to our families each day.

**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  

 

Books available

Teaching Can Be Challenging

 

Guest Post by Andrew Easton, @EastonA1, Personalized Learning Collaborator and Consultant, Westside Community Schools in Omaha, Nebraska

*Future DBC Inc. author on Personalized Learning, Spring 2020

Now that we are into November, it’s likely that at some point this year you’ve been asked the question, “So, do you have a pretty good group this year?” In my time in education, I’ve heard a myriad of answers to this question – some that I don’t want to repeat. Whether it’s right or wrong or not even a thing worth discussing, I do find it interesting to hear what a teacher has to say. And actually, there is one word in particular hat comes up rather consistently when this question is asked. One that on its own doesn’t completely address the question. The word “challenging.”

This year, I am redesigning our high school’s English 4 course and am teaching that class for the first time. When the teacher who had previously taught that course retired, she politely used the word “challenging” when describing to me the group of students that she typically supported in that course. She quickly followed that up with a “Good luck!” that felt more like a warning than words of encouragement.

English 4 is an appealing option for students who are simply looking to pass an English class to graduate and pick up a few helpful life hacks along the way. Many of our students have had significant struggles with learning in the past for a variety of reasons. Those reasons have made it hard for them to find consistent academic success. For these students, senior year has brought both the liberating promise of change once they reach the end of May but along with it the stinging reality that they have navigated their K-12 education to the 12 end of that spectrum and the experience has left them feeling like they have not taken much from a system that has helped some of their peers to thrive. 

Planning over the summer was, well, challenging in its own right. I knew very little about this group that wasn’t second hand knowledge. But as I perused the gradebook and academic history for some of my students prior to the start of the year, I knew one thing: I had to give these learners the opportunity to feel what accomplishment feels like. There is a certain rhythm to success that has to be found and then felt before it starts to beat and almost swell from within. I guessed then and now know that many of these students have never heard, nor much less felt that beat, and I knew that I would be working against thirteen years of baggage if I tried to convince them, initially at least, to search for this experience in an academic setting. But I had an idea.

When I find myself feeling stagnant in my own motivation, I often start a #Five4Five Challenge. The #Five4Five challenge was created by Michael Matera, author of Explore Like a Pirate, in the spring of 2018. He posed this challenge through his Twitter and YouTube account, and I was immediately intrigued by the idea. The #Five4Five Challenge asks individuals to select one “thing to do” and do that thing each day for five days straight. What you decide to do is entirely up to you, but you have to do it once a day for each of the five days to succeed. I myself had done six #Five4Five Challenges before the school year began. I had created a vlog, done anonymous acts of kindness, set workout goals, even given up Starbucks for five days straight (that one was brutal). The goal itself doesn’t matter; it’s not about the goal. It’s about intentionality and filling your day with purpose and success. It seemed like the right fit for my learners, and so in the second week of school, I issued them all a challenge.

Now, if I’m being honest, I wasn’t exactly sure how they would respond to it. Would they laugh this off? Would they be into it for a week or two and then fade away as the grind of the semester progressed? Well, I’m happy to share that as I’m writing this, we just finished our fourth week of #Five4Fives (we go two weeks on, one week off), and the experience has not only gone well but it has exceeded all my expectations.

Our implementation has been pretty simple. We created a one-sided handout that has four boxes on it, one box for each of the first four weeks of the course. Each box contains a line for the learner to write out their goal for that week, the days of the week with a checkbox next to each day, and a place for the learner to sign their name if they complete the challenge by the end of the week. 

This is not for a grade and we try to keep our daily commitment to discussing these goals to five minutes or less each class period. We don’t always open class with our #Five4Fives, but when we do, I really enjoy it. It’s captivating and powerful for class to begin with students openly sharing their passions and accomplishments. It’s been such a positive culture piece. It’s also been encouraging to watch students fail for a day and then keep going for that week. I’ve noticed too a greater sense of resilience in the students; in the first week, most would hang their head if they had to share about missing their goal the previous day, but now they confidently share their failures too. In those moments, I try to ask, “So are you going to get back on track tomorrow?” Most answer yes and at least make that goal for another day or two that week.

One month in, I’m really glad that we don’t require that the #Five4Five goals be education related. It’s funny, despite having the freedom to set any goal they wish, several students each week still choose a goal that has something to do with school. The goals that they set often speak to their values, their challenges, and desires for change; by offering them the freedom to create the goal that they want they are more willing to follow through with it. The only stipulation we have set for the goals is that they must be measurable. 

Check out how we are doing! Here’s some of the data we have collected thus far…

 

#Five4Five Challenge: Number of Students Completing a Certain Number of Goals Per Week

Completed One Goal  Completed Two Goals Completed Three Goals  Completed Four Goals Completed All Five Goals 
Week One 4 Students 5 Students 4 Students 10 Students 25 Students
Week Two 5 Students 4 Students 4 Students 8 Students 27 Students
Week Three 1 Student 2 Students 7 Students 2 Students 36 Students

 

Though I’m not sure that I needed this data to have a sense that this practice was having a positive influence on our learners, I’m very happy with the story these numbers seem to tell. I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions from it.

A final piece of evidence that I would like to share comes from our weekly Flipgrid video reflections that students have gotten into the habit of recording. Every two weeks, the students create a video in which they reflect on their efforts in the course and with their #Five4Five goals. This reflection comes from a student named Luis. In week two, Luis chose to set an academic goal for himself, and I’m proud to say that Luis met his goal that week. Afterward he reflected on his experience saying, “…my goal was to do my homework for every class, and I was surprisingly successful. I picked it because junior year I was not good with homework at all and I just had so many missing assignments. And for senior year I want to be able to do all my homework and get some good grades because my grades were terrible last year. I just want to be able to see what I can do, and this goal has really helped me this week.” 

Ugh, I love that! 

So, the next time someone asks me, “Do you have a pretty good group this year?” I’m looking forward to shooting them a smirk and answering, “Yes, they are definitely… challenging.” Challenging themselves, challenging me to be a better teacher and a better person, and challenging the way I think about my responsibility to help them grow both as people and learners.

Andrew is the Host of the Westside Personalized Podcast (bit.ly/WPPodcast)

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

Guest Post by Maureen Hayes, #4OCFPLN

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

It’s All About a Feeling 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rachel and I on Halloween

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

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

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

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

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

Rachel and I at dinner together 2019

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Teachers matter more

Guest post by Dave Schmittou, @daveschmittou #LastingLearning

via Teachers matter more

I am all about improvement. At the end of every year, I spend some time reflecting on what my strengths and struggles are so that I can make a plan for progress. At work, I spend time evaluating programs, processes, and people. One thing I have noticed recently in schools is that far too many of us say teachers matter more,  that the people make the difference, yet we spend so much of our time focusing our improvement efforts on programs and processes. We think of ways to circumvent those who matter more instead of diving deep to develop the real difference makers. We know teachers are the drivers of learning, but we pour money and time into software, classes, textbooks, and schedules instead of into the people who make it all happen.

8

 

As a sports fan, I often use athletics to try and illustrate my points, so I may as well do so again. Lebron James is considered by many people as one of the greatest basketball players of this era. He is dominant, he can shoot, dribble, pass, rebound, and play defense (when he chooses to). Pretend for a moment that you are a general manager of a team Lebron plays on and you have the task of making the team better. Your goal is to get wins and championships. You can do this by upgrading the concession stands at the arena. You can do this by bringing in new players to circumvent Lebron, players who will not pass him the ball or expect him to be great, or you can do this by bringing in players that complement his game and allow him to dominate. Each of these strategies has been tried on his teams. Some owners and GMs have attempted to distract the fans from what is happening on the court by upgrading the arena. Some have attempted to save Lebron by bringing in others to take the pressure off, and some have brought in players to complement him and make him even better. Only the latter has resulted in championships, however.

Often times in schools we get ourselves distracted by things that don’t matter at the expense of those that do. As a leader who has had the opportunity to help lead turn around efforts in a few schools and districts, I have learned that no program, no paint job, no software will ever impact a child like an amazing teacher. If you are a leader, all of your focus should be on making teachers better, not working around them.

If you have struggling students in your school (we all do), do not go on the hunt of the newest tech gadget to give to the kids. Look for ways to help a teacher work with those students more. If you have accelerated students in your school (we all do) do not look for activities and classes to fill a schedule. Look for ways to have teachers inspire and motivate innovation. Stop looking for ways to work around teachers and begin looking for ways to support teachers.

Support does not simply mean increasing pay. Support means, if you have the option between a new textbook or staff professional development, invest in the teachers. If you have a choice between painting a hallway or developing a teacher, choose the teacher. Always, choose the teacher/

Every research study available describes the effects that matter most for student learning point to teachers as the difference makers. Teachers matter more. Teachers provide feedback, establish the culture, set the expectations, develop the assessments, and plan for progress.  If you are a leader, spend your time building capacity in teachers and you will be amazed at the learning that results from your students.

Check out the podcast on this topic at https://anchor.fm/david-schmittou/episodes/Episode-12-Teachers-Matter-More-e2n3c4

Feel free to also check out Dave’s book:

It’s Like Riding a Bike: How to make learning last a lifetime

 

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Getting 2gnoMe

Personalized Learning for Teachers

Earlier this year, I was seeking guest posts for the monthly ISTE Teacher Education Network newsletter. One of the emails that I received included a link to a platform called 2gnōMe. I had not heard of it, so before responding, I took time to explore the website to better understand how it was being used by educators. After looking over the website and watching the video on the landing page, I learned that 2gnōMe is a platform that enables school leaders to provide personalized professional development for educators. The benefit of 2gnōMe is that the platform helps educators to ideally avoid, or at least reduce, the one-size-fits-all approach to PD and break away from what has become known as the “sit and get” professional development. For administrators, it enables school districts to clarify what individual teachers might need from available resources and personalize their learning experience, at scale, to measure its usefulness and impact.

The background

I contacted Ilya Zeldin, the CEO of 2gnōMe, to learn more about the company’s background, the purpose of the platform and to watch its demo. During our conversation, Ilya shared his vision for the platform and his goals for moving forward and getting the platform into school districts and learning providers. When he began designing the 2gnōMe platform, he focused on human connection and empowerment. Ilya said:

“That was the reason I developed the 2gnōMe concept. I would like to re-imagine the learning process for all adults, but the stakes are just too high with teachers. While teachers are asked to differentiate learning for students in their classroom, they rarely get the same kind of personalized professional learning when it comes to their own needs.”

According to Ilya, 2gnōMe enhances individual skills awareness and uses data to provide teachers and school-level leaders with crucial information to support teachers’ efforts to improve their practice, implement innovative practices, and achieve better results for their students.

During the demo, I saw the example of the 2gnōMe approach and platform based on the ISTE Standards for Educators. As teachers first reflect on their classroom practice, the data is compiled to then provide a more personalized learning experience for them. There is enhanced skills awareness — (the missing piece) after the self-reflection about the teaching practice. The underlying purpose is to impact how teachers can upgrade their skills and to narrow the growing gap between teachers and students when it comes to the integration of technology. By leading teachers through the assessments and providing an easy to navigate the platform, it creates additional opportunities for teachers to build technology skills. More than just content, 2gnōMe has been referred to as a “learning experience platform.”

How does it work?

2gnōMe offers a unique teacher-centric approach and can simplify leadership’s efforts based on their specific PD framework or standards used with teachers. As an ISTE member, I was interested in learning more about its use with the ISTE Standards, which is one of the options available. Using the platform, teachers take assessments and the results help districts scale personalized learning for every teacher. By addressing their learning needs, the program enhances self-awareness about critical skills and behaviors of teachers.

In my experience using the platform, I worked through each of the ISTE Standards for Educators by completing each assessment. The assessments required me to respond to a series of statements by selecting an option based on my perceived skill or comfort level in various areas. The questions and ratings pushed me to really reflect on my practice and consider areas that I need to grow professionally.

What is impressive is how the platform then takes the responses and determines areas where teachers can work to improve. For teachers such as myself, using 2gnōMe enables me to better hone in on my level of skills in each of the different areas, in particular with the ISTE Standards for Educators. For example, once I completed the “Learner” standard, I received information related to the teaching competencies and results that include a summary of strengths and areas that I might need additional support. When the results are received, personalized learning recommendations are provided, which the teacher can view within the platform or click the link to view the webpage externally.

Navigating the platform is easy and the data is displayed in a way that enables you to process the information quickly and understand the next steps. Returning to the platform and finding your results, summary, and portfolio is easy. Being able to review the results, use the summary for further self-reflection and even add items to a portfolio will empower teachers to advocate for their own professional development and also foster peer collaborations through the platform.

Features

Areas that caught my attention were how quickly the additional learning resources are compiled and available immediately to the educator. Having these so readily accessible enables each individual to explore different tools and learning providers available for professional development without the need for teachers, already short on time, to locate resources for themselves.

The Dashboard includes Goal Setting, Professional Learning, and Lifelong Learning and within each focus area, a list of the results for each are provided. Along with the scale showing your individual rating, an average rating is included which shows how you compare with peers. These are great points to use for building your professional collaborations and even mentorships with colleagues.

Benefits for the Educator Community

As a teacher, what I appreciate most about the 2gnōMe platform is that it coordinates a more holistic and continuous learning experience for educators. Just as our students need personalized learning experiences, educators need the same opportunity to build their own skills in our practice. Through 2gnōMe, teachers are able to self-assess and gain access to the right resources that meet their needs, without having to do all of the work. It analyzes all of the data and provides/creates a more personalized experience by gathering from the resources that are built within or made accessible through the platform.

  • Customizable platform to rubrics for learning.
  • Establishes a baseline of skills
  • Enhances teacher self-awareness
  • Promotes teacher-agency
  • Identifies teacher readiness
  • Provides access to portfolios, credentials, and PLCs
  • Personalized learning for educators at scale
  • Recommends courses for professional learning

For school administrators responsible for making decisions about the types of professional development to provide for teachers, using the 2gnōMe platform helps to simplify the decision-making process. It empowers education leaders to support teachers with personalized learning at scale, across their professional development systems. Using the data, administrators can see the type of learning that each educator might need or benefit from, and it personalizes the learning experience for each educator as they work through the different assessments in the platform.

Administrators recognize that teachers have different skill sets and they need to be able to identify what teachers know and what they need, to be able to provide the best learning experiences for students. To do this, there needs to be a consistent method that can customize the personal and professional learning experience for teachers. With 2gnōMe this is possible through:

  • Needs Assessment
  • Personalized Professional Learning
  • Resource Allocation Insights
  • Teacher Induction & Retention
  • Custom PLCs
  • Digital Portfolios for Teachers

Using 2gnōMe, teachers will engage in authentic, meaningful and personalized professional development in a supportive learning space. Together, teachers and schools will improve their practice, implement innovative methods, and achieve better results.

Learn more about district benefits and sign up for a Pilot here.

Be sure to follow @2gnōMe and meet up while attending ISTE.

See the interview with Jeff Bradbury and Ilya, Teachercast interview  ISTE 2018

NoteAffect: A better way to engage

NoteAffect: A better way to engage

This post is sponsored by NoteAffect. All opinions are my own.

The Future of Educational Technology Conference (FETC) held at the end of January has become one of my favorite conferences because of the diverse opportunities available to explore emerging technologies and to network. One of my favorite things about FETC is exploring the edtech startups to find out what new tools and trends are out there and to learn some of the stories behind the creation of these tools. It is a great opportunity to see the different start-ups in the Pitch Fest competition and hear their passions for education.

One that caught my attention this year was NoteAffect, an interactive learning platform aimed at promoting and understanding student engagement. The platform empowers educators by providing many options for delivering a lecture and includes live polling, questions, analytics and more, to enhance the learner experience. With time so limited at the conference, I explored the platform on my own and then contacted Jay Tokosch,Founder and CEO of NoteAffect, to set up a demo.

The story behind NoteAffect

When I spoke with Jay, I learned that he got started in this business by founding Core-apps, one of the leading event management systems in 2009. Core-apps was the first company to create a mobile app used for event management. So if you’ve been to conferences or trade shows, and used a conference app to build your schedule, you may have using Core-apps. Having ten years of experience with a highly engaging event management app, Jay has designed an equally powerful learning tool for education. When I asked Jay about how he came up with the idea for NoteAffect, he told me that he got the idea after observing his son preparing for an exam. Jay noticed his son pulling out a spiral notebook, some printed Powerpoint presentations and other documents to study for his college engineering exam. As he studied, his son was going back and forth between all of those materials, trying to match everything up to study. Jay decided to “fix that problem” by designing something that could store all of the information in one place and make it easier for students to study.

The design of NoteAffect is quite simple and easy to navigate, which makes it a great choice for all teachers, whether they are beginners or advanced users when it comes to implementing technology in the classroom. By using a robust tool like NoteAffect, teachers have immediate access to real-time data that enables them to provide the right instructional supports and make adjustments on the fly as the lecture continues. The goal of NoteAffect is to empower teachers to provide the best learning experience and options for students and to close the gap that happens when students are absent from class. While students can easily get the notes or look over a presentation, without the additional resources added in and the interactive piece that NoteAffect provides, students will be missing out and cannot reach their fullest potential.

What does NoteAffect offer?

NoteAffect is more than simply a way to deliver a lecture. It offers digital interactive learning that is available to students whether live in class or for later viewing at a time that meets their schedule. It is a multi-purpose platform with capabilities to facilitate communication, collaboration and increase student engagement in learning. NoteAffect creates a virtual space for students to fully engage in the lesson, whether participating in class or viewing it at a later time.

When I first explored NoteAffect, what I immediately noticed was how easy it was to set up my courses, add students, locate my lectures, and navigate through the platform. Having time to explore NoteAffect closely, I thought about my own college experience years ago and how beneficial a tool like this would have been for some of the more challenging courses that I had. Although we had access to lecture notes made available after class, being able to interact with the content during class would have increased my understanding and helped with content retention.

Another benefit of Noteaffect is for increasing student engagement. For a long time, I struggled with student engagement and reached out to colleagues and tried different resources to see if I could engage students more. While the methods definitely improved student engagement, I needed more data to work from. Using NoteAffect enables you to focus more closely on student engagement by exploring the analytics available for each lecture and each student.

With NoteAffect, tracking student engagement is easier and it is also a great way to reflect on the teaching practices being used in the classroom.

I will continue exploring NoteAffect and gather some feedback from my students. Check into NoteAffect here and get started with a demo. My next post will highlight some of the features and offer some tips for getting started.

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