Learning as I go: Experiences, reflections, lessons learned

Rachelle Dene Poth @rdene915 #FUTURE4EDU #QUOTES4EDU #THRIVEinEDU

professionaldevelopment

 

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)

WestsidePersonalized.com

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**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

This post is sponsored by Abre, all opinions are my own.

Abre provides a set of solutions for schools looking to manage and consolidate the different software apps and websites used for student attendance, assessments, communication, student data and much more. Abre offers a robust platform that enables you to choose specific solution areas to get started and then add to it over time, continuing to build additional features of Abre into your school.

Communication

With Abre, you can facilitate faster and better communication within the district, schools, and between home and school. Abre offers a consistent and reliable way to streamline the numerous communications happening within the school and school district. Having a consolidated and reliable platform helps to foster and build home-to-school relationships, promote better communication, and student success.

Learning Management Solution

Abre provides one space where teachers can access the resources necessary for classroom instruction and teaching responsibilities. Included within the Learning Management solution are a group of web apps such as Class. A teacher uses Class to communicate and manage all classroom activity, do grading, post homework and generally manage instruction. The Assessment App allows for easy creation, delivery, and analysis of formative and summative assessments. Schools can organize the curriculum, including pacing guides, for all their classes with the Curriculum App. For tracking progress through a lesson, the Learn App delivers on that. To make sure students are staying on task with their devices, the Focus App ensures that the browser is only being used for teacher-defined websites and documents.

Data Management & Integrations

Abre is all about consolidating data to help administrators, teachers, and students improve. Abre integrates with a large and growing number of other software providers. They even integrate with products that provide competitive solutions to theirs. The Students App is the centerpiece of this solution and provides a clear view of student progress and makes it easy to find all relevant student data in one place. It also saves paper! Rather than students and parents having to fill out and exchange multiple papers, they access forms right from Abre. Some options such as an Acceptable Use Policy (AUP), medical forms, and athletic forms, which are easily accessible within the Abre platform. Individual student plans are also accessible in the Student app. Again, this provides a single place for staff and parents to easily find all their student’s information.

Administrators can access all student data and track growth over time, look at state and local assessments to analyze trends in academic performance. Parents can access student data which includes academic performance, behavior, forms completed, attendance, and state assessments. Access to this vital data is made simple with one platform!

Teacher Professional Learning Solution

For districts looking for better professional development options for teachers, through Abre, teachers can create their own staff and individualized professional development plan for use over an extended time. Abre offers a more flexible solution making it easier for administrators and teachers to create, deliver, and track professional development activities. Abre can integrate schools’ digital courseware and customized courses for delivering staff development.

For completing courses online or in face-to-face environments, districts can offer teachers opportunities to earn badges, micro-credentials, and engage in gamified professional development. This is great for building professional portfolios, as teachers can use these activities to receive CEU credits or hours awarded based on state requirements for continued professional development.

School Management Solution

Similar to Learning Management, Abre provides great functionality for staff to manage day-to-day school requirements. The Behavior App helps with the workflow, easy documentation and tracking student data when either positive or negative behavior needs to be documented. The workflow features are especially helpful for office referrals where other administrators are needing to get involved and having transparency for parents is important. Abre Behavior takes on a significant portion of this manual work.

  • Easy to understand graphs and plots for tracking student progress.
  • Teachers can see details in terms of specific consequences as a result of any behaviors and referrals. The bar graph represents conferences, detentions, in-school and out-of-school suspensions.
  • The behavior app links directly to the student information so everything is readily accessible which leads to a better understanding of each student and their needs.

Beyond behavior, the School Management Solution allows admins and teachers to easily create and manage individual student and teacher plans. Rather than students and parents having to fill out and exchange multiple papers with the school, they access forms right from Abre. Some options such as an Acceptable Use Policy (AUP), medical forms, and athletic forms, are easily accessible within the platform. Whether teachers need to create an IEP, a gifted education plan, behavior or Response to Intervention (RTI) plan, teachers can build exactly what they need and have it live in Abre. And Abre provides a clear view of student progress and makes it easy to find all relevant student data in one place.

Likewise, administrators can work with teachers to create professional development plans using the same solution. It makes sense to have one platform that provides all of these options. For teachers, students, parents and administrators, having access to student data and other information is vital for promoting and tracking student growth. This solution really saves a lot of paper.

Connected Community Solution

Abre sees connecting schools with the communities they serve as critical to student growth. The Connected Community solution facilitates the exchange of important information, data and communications between students and administrators and members of their community. Abre allows a school’s learning partners to register in the Abre platform, roster the students in their programs back to the school, and enable the safe exchange of student attendance and other data. This is critical for schools to evaluate all of the influences that are growing their students. And for learning partners, it is how they can better understand whether their programs are meeting the needs of the students.

As an example, looking toward the future of learning and work, it’s important that we provide options for our students to engage in real-world learning experiences. One outstanding feature coming from the Partners App is where districts can add local businesses into the platform and facilitate connections between students and members of the community. The goal is to manage, track and capture quality attendance data when students take advantage of opportunities for place-based learning, experiential learning, CTE, and service-based learning.

Abre also lets students and staff create digital portfolios based on the work they’ve done. These portfolios are a powerful way of demonstrating, beyond the test scores, what they have learned and the skills they have acquired. Schools can then choose to allow these portfolios to be shared with others such as businesses, other schools, or organizations.

Privacy

Abre is FERPA compliant. The student information is only released with parental permission.

Using Abre is quite simple and I find that it is easy to navigate, which makes it a great choice for all users, whether they are beginners or advanced when it comes to implementing technology. By using a robust tool like Abre, educators and parents have immediate access to a lot of data. Abre is a multi-purpose platform with capabilities to facilitate communication, collaboration, and much more. It provides benefits for teachers for tracking PD, administrators looking to provide a comprehensive and consolidated platform to meet the needs of their schools and students, parents looking to stay connected with student learning and be informed of important information regarding their child’s education.

Guest post by Deidre Roemer,  Director of Leadership and Learning West Allis, WI, @deidre_roemer

 

When I reflect on my skills as a teacher throughout my career, I can think of examples of what I did well and a million things I would have done differently.  I am teaching a class at a local university this semester and know confidently that I am a better teacher now than I was when I was in the classroom. The opportunity to see other teachers in action in my leadership role for the last several years is what has made me better.  I get to speak to educators and learners all the time about what is working well in their classrooms and what they would like to see grow. It includes spending time in many classrooms where we and others are getting it right and learners can articulate the process of their learning in order to create great things.

Professional development that is connected to a vision of our work with meaningful processing time to reflect is how we push teachers to move from single projects to true learner driven practice.  We take a lot of teachers and teams on site visits to schools in our area and across our country who are already doing the kind of work we are trying to do to see it in action. It is hard to find a large comprehensive system that is there yet, so we are often at small charters of specialty programs that are offshoots of schools.  The visits are always amazing as we are able to interact with teachers and learners and see learner driven practice, but often the most important part of the time is the meal after the visit or the long trip home where we can talk about what we saw, process, and plan for what parts we can implement within our system. The goal is not to replicate but to figure out how to ask the right reflective questions of ourselves and one another to tie what we saw to our personal passions and interests and figure out how to bring all of that together to shift the learner experience.

We also spend a lot of our time talking about how this is the kind of learning experience ALL learners should have.  It should not be reserved for some kids in special programs or special schools. The visits with the deep discussions are often the leverage point that takes an educator from trying a few things to a true shift of practice that is more inclusive.  It helps them to be more collaborative as they are often on these visits with other staff from across our district that they might not already know having a shared experience . The power in seeing some things we are already doing well and celebrating those helps us to not be overwhelmed when looking for ways to grow.  The key is to make the time, take the staff who are ready to take some bold steps, and then follow up with them multiple times throughout the year so they have support to keep going with the work.

On a recent site visit, I took a chance and messaged some of the teachers to join us off-site after the formal conference to continue our learning.  Fortunately, they were willing to take the opportunity to discuss their work with us over dinner. It was an impactful experience to listen to teachers that have been doing this work for some time engage in professional discourse about grading, telling their story and standards.  The teachers were open about their own growth over time and how our staff could take pieces of what they saw back to our schools to create a more equitable opportunities for all learners through empowerment. We went back to the site the next day with a new lens on what to look for in learner and teacher observations that we could do instead of being lost in the surface things like the physical set-up.  Things that may have looked idealistic the day before now looked possible. The modeling of professional discourse created space for our team to do the same and ask some great questions about how we can do this work and how it does not have to look the same across all our schools.  Encouraging staff to push boundaries and challenge one another’s thinking is how we look at someone else’s professional practice and find a way to make it our own.

A few things we discover each time we do a site visit became apparent:

  • This work is messy.  It takes deep dialogue on what is right for learners and how to give up control in a way that is not always natural for teachers.
  • Change is uncomfortable and unpredictable, but easier with the proper support.  People tend to say, “Change is hard.” There was a great article from the Harvard Business Review in January of 2008 that explained why that phrase becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy that permits us not to try.  We have to be able to think bigger than that.
  • We need to get more comfortable with professional discourse and open discussion about where we are now and where we can go that may push our thinking.
  • Teachers have to connect their own passion to their work in schools.  When it is authentic to the teachers, it becomes authentic with the learners.
  • Our teachers need to see the work in action often and learn how to get and give productive feedback.
  • The standards are always embedded in innovative, learner driven work.  They just aren’t always owned solely by the teacher.
  • Many times, the teacher in a learner driven classroom finds joy in their work.

We have evolved our district wide professional development to hopefully reflect all of these.  Our teachers will have time in small groups to learn their standards well enough to empower learners to take ownership of mastery of those standards within cross-curricular projects.  Staff will then have the opportunity to sign up to see another teacher modeling classroom practice that is learner driven. They will be our own internal site visits. We will use structured protocols to get and give feedback at each site to ensure we are using the time for genuine collaboration as we know that is what drives teacher practice.  We can’t make more time than we have, so we use the protocols from The School Reform Initiative as a way to restructure the time and make sure it is used for purposeful feedback and collaboration.

Our teachers hosting visits that day have been invited to participate for the first round as they are already trying new things, having success with learner empowerment and finding joy in their work.  It is not expected that anything that is “perfect” or a “show”.  It is meant for one teacher to share their experience and encourage others to try new things with an open dialogue about how and what supports they will need. Our goal is that our teachers engage with one another to see what’s possible, work together to get there for every learner and find joy in the work.

 

**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

Guest Post by Jethro Jones

Twitter: @jethrojones http://twitter.com/jethrojones

Web site: http://transformativeprincipal.org

My name is Jethro Jones, and I am a principal in Alaska. I have helped three schools become trauma informed as a principal and many others through my podcast and Trauma course. I have worked long and hard to figure out some strategies that all school personnel can implement effectively. I’ve gone through a lot of trial and a lot of errors where I have really messed up and I’m going to share some of those secrets here.

Whether your school has created or attended a trauma-informed practices training or not, there are three things you can do to respond to situations in your school in a trauma-sensitive way. Implementing these strategies is simple enough that you can start implementing them today. They are powerful enough that you will see results almost immediately.

1. Ask Questions

Anytime you’ve got a kid who’s acting out or who’s struggling or whatever, instead of saying, “You need to be doing X,” ask the student questions.

This is really simple.

“How are you doing?”

“What are you working on?”

“Where are you heading?”

“What’s going on over here?”

“Can you help me understand…?”

Asking questions gives the student an opportunity to express him or herself in a way that allows them to deal with whatever’s going on.

The challenging part about asking questions is sometimes we as teachers turn questions into statements of condemnation!

For example, “Why are you running in the hall when you know you should be walking?” is more of a condemnation than a question.

We need to ask questions and figure out what is actually happening. Give them an opportunity to express themselves and deal with it. This is a hard thing for us. Because we have rules, we have expectations, we have policies and procedures.

And we as adults are very comfortable in those shoes.

And if we’re not comfortable, then it’s easier for us to say, Stop running. Stop doing that. Stop this. Stop that.

And that’s just not helpful to a child experiencing trauma. Because they’re not thinking–they’re only acting. We need to get them to slow down and think!

When you ask questions, you require the student to stop and think about what they are doing. Your voice doesn’t sound like a teacher in Charlie Brown when you ask a question.

Don’t turn questions into accusations, but make them clear, inquiring concern for the student.

You’ll get great results.

2. Don’t Take Things Personally

Every educator works hard and takes her job seriously and personally, and teachers put so much into their work.

And I don’t mean don’t take your work personally. What I mean is, don’t take the students actions towards you personally.

They’re most likely not a personal attack.

Yes, they will hurt. Yes, it will be uncomfortable. But you can’t take what they do, and think they’re acting out towards you to hurt you personally, that’s just not what is happening. Even when we feel like it is.

Kids desire to please the adults around them. Kids desire to make good choices.

The number of reasons that they have acting out is probably innumerable.

It’s rare when a student wakes up and says, boy, Mrs. Jones really is going above and beyond and helping me at school, I should totally do something that hurts her today. That’s not what kids do.

Sometimes, kids don’t know how to react to someone giving them positive attention, and they attempt to push them away. I once had a student who found out she was moving away from the school, and proceeded to destroy all the hard work her teachers had been putting in. When we talked to her, she was finally able to articulate that it was easier to leave with people mad at her so she didn’t feel like she was missing them as much, because you don’t miss people who are mad at you.

So there are two things you can do. Number one, ask, why is this kid doing this?

Number two, what can you do to deal with this behavior?

We as educators have to recognize that we can’t change anybody, every person has to make that choice for him or herself. We can certainly put things in place to help them make good choices, which we do all the time.

But we cannot change anybody. They need to change themselves.

We need to be sure that we are making choices that allow us to not take it personally like they’re attacking us, because even if they do attack us, it’s not personal. Kids are naturally kind, nice, wonderful, sweet, thoughtful little human beings. It’s when they’ve had these adverse childhood experiences, that they start acting differently.

And what our role is, is to help them to be successful even when they’ve had those experiences.

3 Know Your Role

The image above is a powerful way to make sure that people know their role is in a school that is trauma informed. Get a printable version here that you can use as a handout.

You’re not a counselor or a social worker. You’re an educator. You shouldn’t try, and NOBODY should expect you to be anything you’re not.

Could you be a therapist, counselor, or social worker if you tried? Yes. Do you have what it takes? Absolutely!

When a student doesn’t know how to read, what do we do? We teach them.

When a student doesn’t know how to write, what do we do? We teach them.

When a student doesn’t know how to drive or swim, or do whatever, what do we do? We teach them,

When a student doesn’t know how to behave, what do we do? Usually we punish them, what we should do is teach them.

And so our role as educators is to teach and help kids learn.

Now, there are so many different ways to do this!

Our purpose here is not to discuss all the many ways we can teach them, but to emphasize that it is our role to teach them, regardless of how they come to us.

Now, I want to share an experience that is really powerful. In her book, Allison Apsey shares a very similar experience. There are certain students that take up all your time! You are constantly spending time with those students, recognizing that it is worth the time and effort to intentionally and proactively spend time with those students that take up all your time,

if you’re going to be spending time with them anyway, why not work with them to get support in advance, why not work with them to build that relationship?

I call this Proactive Teaching. Some call it check and connect, or check in check out.

These students that are really struggling need additional support. You’ve got to have good Tier 1 behavior expectations and practices in place, but you and I both know there are kids for whom that doesn’t work, and they are the kids that reside in Tier 3! They need the extra help.

Instead of waiting for this student to be sent down to the office, we proactively go teach this student how to make good choices. Don’t think you can do this with 100 kids! It won’t work.

Find those two (or maybe three) students and get with them before they cause the trouble. Take the initiative and connect with them before they can get into trouble. Get with them before they get overwhelmed and can’t perform. Get with them before they wreak havoc in your class!

I had one student who would have a meltdown nearly every day because he was so worried about his mom and young sister. Instead of waiting for his behavior to cause him to be taken out of class, I met up with him before he had a chance for that, and talked about how things were going and what I could do to help him. Then, when his meltdown would inevitably come, we already had a connection that day.

Did this take a lot of time? Yes.

Was it worth it? Yes, it was, because it was so much better to do that in a positive, preventive proactive way than it was to deal with the issues and problems that he was going to have after the fact. Because when he had a bad day, he wanted to get it out in an aggressive way that hurt other kids, and that just wasn’t going to work in our school.

So instead of spending the 30 minutes trying to calm him down after a problem out on the playground, we spent 20 minutes before and during recess to give him that support.

It wasn’t my role to help him deal with his issues at home. I needed to be a trusted adult who was teaching him how to deal with things at school. Of course, a counselor was involved to help him deal with the challenges he faced at home.

To recap:

1. Ask questions.

2. Don’t take it personally

3. Know your role.

These three strategies will help you out immediately with whatever challenges you are facing in your school. If you need additional help or support along the way, please reach out to me by email or at my web site: jethrojones.com/trauma

 

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? I 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

To say that the summer of 2019 was tremendous is an understatement. Besides having time to spend with family and friends, I enjoy having extra time in the summer to participate in professional learning opportunities and to connect with educators from around the world. As educators, it is important that we continue learning and involving ourselves in opportunities to build our own skills and also to contribute to the personal and professional growth of others. I am fortunate to have been asked to be one of the writers for this year’s Education Write Now book.

In July, ten of us met in Boston for three days to work on chapters that will become part of Volume 3 of Education Write Now, a book whose proceeds will go toward The Will to Live Foundation, a non-profit organization founded to support teen suicide prevention. The time together started with a welcome from Jeff, an introduction to what the organization does, and an opportunity to hear from John Trautwein, a father who lost his son to suicide. John created The Will to Live Foundation to honor his son and to provide support for other families and their children.

It was an honor to be a part of this project and work alongside and collaborate with Jeff Zoul, Sanee Bell, David Guerin, Josh Stumpenhorst, Jennifer CasaTodd, Danny Steele, Katie Marin, Ross Cooper, and Lynell Powell. It was a great experience, although initially, the thought of writing a chapter within a short period of time of two days was a little bit stressful. However, having that time to work together, have peer feedback time, to listen and share out what we were writing with the other collaborators, made all the difference. It just reaffirmed the importance of connections and building those professional relationships. We need to make time to share what we are doing in our classrooms, exchange ideas, solve problems together, and embrace risks and face the challenges that are part of education today, but to do so with a supportive network.

The theme for this year was “Solutions to Common Challenges in Your School or Classroom.” In thinking about this theme, I decided to write about teaching in isolation and sharing my own story of how I chose to be isolated for many of my years of teaching. In my chapter, I explore how isolation happens and offer ways for educators to escape what can sometimes become an isolating profession.

Here are a few excerpts from my chapter, Chapter 2: Choosing to teach in isolation is a choice to isolate our students from a world of learning opportunities.

Have you ever experienced any of the following?

You have to make your very first phone call home to a parent and you are worried that you won’t say the right thing.

You are going to be observed for the first or fifteenth time, and you are worried that you will make a mistake or not use the right instructional strategies. The class starts in five minutes.

How many of these statements can you relate to? For each one, think about if you reached out to someone or just kept it to yourself. Did you choose isolation rather than asking for help?

Clarity:

You are not alone

For years I struggled with classroom management and student behaviors. Rather than ask for advice, explore resources, or try to work it out by talking with my students, I kept it to myself and did my best to make it through each day. I hoped for improvement, but I did not actively try to make changes. I did not ask for help or even talk about the problems that I was having. I did not know where to begin but at that time, so I thought that I was better off keeping it to myself. My biggest mistake was hiding in my classroom and not reaching out to colleagues or other educator friends.

Isolation is not something new

Life as an educator, trying to complete everything that we need to can lead to a career spent in isolation if we let it.

Ten ways to break free or avoid isolation

There is so much potential for connecting regardless of where we are and the amount of time we have. We must take the first step and just start somewhere. We can leverage technology to check-in with colleagues, even if they teach next door to you. Sometimes seeing our neighbors does not happen on our busy days, which are most days. There are ways to stay connected while driving to and from school, taking a walk, wherever you are and on your schedule.

In the end

The most important thing to remember is that you are not alone.

You are not alone in feeling like you do, like the job is difficult, or there are too many things to remember, too many initiatives to keep up with.

We all understand the importance of asking for help; Those who achieve big things are the ones who accept it when it’s offered. Simon Sinek

The choice is now yours, how do you want to connect?

 

Be sure to check out next week’s post from Jennifer Casa-Todd, Chapter 3 “The Challenge: Broadening our Definition of Literacy.”

 

This post is sponsored by Abre. Opinions expressed are my own.

The story behind Abre

Beyond knowing what a particular tool does or how a platform works and the benefit for educators, families, and schools, I enjoy getting to know the people behind the tools. Understanding their story and motivation for creating their product helps to make a more authentic connection with them. I had the chance to speak with Damon Ragusa, CEO of Abre and Don Aicklen, VP of Sales, to learn more about the platform and what it offers for education.

What is Abre?

Abre is a platform that grew out of a need to help schools provide more for educators, students and the school community at large. Chris Rose and Zach Vander Veen, co-founders of Abre, noticed that there were so many different apps and tools being used in education that it was becoming challenging to keep everyone informed consistently. The concern was that staff, students and parents were using multiple tools which led to an increase in confusion and the amount of time needed to manage them. Chris and Zach then created this platform for use within school districts.

Why Abre?

Parents, educators, administrators, and students need to be able to exchange important school information, access school data, track student progress, and facilitate communication between home and school efficiently. The challenge with multiple apps and tools being used throughout one school system is that it becomes more difficult to keep everyone connected as they need to be. Now school districts have a better way to solve the disconnect and provide more streamlined communication, school news, access to critical information like student data and software solutions to carry out the daily work. The answer is Abre.

How does Abre help?

Abre offers so much within one platform that it resolves many of those challenges initially identified by the founders and that are still faced by many schools and districts. Without having to manage multiple logins and learn a variety of single-purpose systems, Abre helps educators to save time, reduce paper, create digital workflows and offer a highly efficient way to exchange information. The value in Abre is through the connected software apps, which makes it easier for teachers to use tools that will positively benefit students and learning. In addition to the teacher, there are many other benefits for school- and district-based usage. Abre provides easy access to a wide variety of student data in one place for staff and parents to obtain information directly from school, without the need for multiple tools and extra time. It also provides students and parents with exactly what they need to feel connected to the school community via announcements and headline features. Administrators can explore how Abre promotes a better workflow and enhances collaboration within the school community for a typical school day.

Comprehensive and Consolidated

Abre provides a single hub for all school and school-home related communication for staff, students and parents. It streamlines many of the important and required tasks that need to happen in schools and helps to reduce the number of apps being pushed out and the time required to become familiar with a new system. Using Abre, parents will be more connected to the school and have access to information when they need it. With one consolidated platform, it resolves the problem of knowing where to find information or keeping up with multiple apps used in different classes and by the school.

Single Sign-On and Integrations

It is easy to sign-in to the Abre platform whether using Google or Microsoft or even Facebook for parents. Once logged in, Abre users are automatically signed into many of the apps provided to them via the Abre platform.

Privacy

When deciding on a digital tool or a platform to use in our schools, it is important to first verify that it is in compliance with COPPA and FERPA. Abre is compliant with both.

Teacher Benefits

There are many integrations available within the platform to enhance student learning. As a classroom teacher, several of these apps caught my attention and are tools that I use in my class such as Duolingo, Flipgrid, and Quizlet. Being able to use these within one platform would save time and I believe encourage other teachers to implement more digital tools in the classroom. For schools using Learning Management systems like Moodle or Schoology, Abre can connect to and enhance these tools as well as replace functionality. Teachers have access to everything they need to enhance workflow for curriculum planning and instruction as well as professional learning and much more.

Consistency is important

Personally, I have used anywhere between four and six different apps and websites to complete a variety of tasks for attendance, grading, assessments, communication, and student projects. Abre provides solutions with all of this functionality. My next post will speak to the main solutions, beyond the hub, that Abre provides.

To learn more, check into Abre and get started with a demo today!

Guest Post by Kim Weber, LINC Transformation Agent,@mskimbaweb 

 

Throughout my work in schools as a LINC Coach, there is a concern consistently expressed by teachers; one that results in the biggest deterrent for those who are beginning to transform their teaching practice by leveraging technology: What do I do when students misuse or break the rules for technology?

Just about any teacher who is using technology has encountered this in one form or another. For those of us at the early stages of implementing blended learning, this can be the roadblock that stops us in our tracks. We spend hours (at home) finding and figuring out the perfect digital tool that will enhance students’ learning. We introduce it with so much gusto, it sounds like we’re about to announce the winner of the lottery. We are well-prepared: all devices are charged, apps loaded, logins created, and we even have an offline back-up plan. We get the kids up and running, and are all set to work with a small group on targeted instruction, and you hear it…the giggling. You see it…the repeated covert glances at you. And you immediately know, they’ve broken the trust and digital contract that you and the students thoughtfully created to be the foundation of this type of learning. Most likely they’ve gone to an inappropriate website, broken a cell phone rule, vandalized classmates’ work on a shared document, or any other creative, disruptive shenanigans they’ve concocted. (Student innovation in this department is legendary.)

What comes next varies, but it often goes like this:

  • Stop the entire class.
  • Lecture everyone about the rules that were broken.
  • Close and collect all devices.
  • Switch to that offline (probably traditional) activity you had planned but didn’t really want to use.
  • Divvy out appropriate punishment to those who committed the transgression.

It is no surprise that many teachers feel uncertain about how to address these types of issues. According to a recent ISTE article,New OECD Report Shows Major Gap in Preparing Teachers to Use Technology Effectively, “In the U.S., only 45% of teachers stated that they were ‘well prepared’ or ‘very well prepared’ for the use of information and communication technology for teaching, the lowest rating of all dimensions ranked.”

I’ve developed some alternative approaches for addressing these difficult technology-related issues in our classrooms to help teachers feel more prepared:

First – View this as a teachable moment for the student(s) involved and the entire class. These are often the same kids who would find some other way to disrupt the learning in a traditional lesson. I once heard an educator explain it this way:

In the past, when a student would throw a pencil, a teacher would take the child aside and sternly explain that he/she could have poked someone’s eye out. Then, with the rise of a cautionary eyebrow, the teacher hands back the pencil back with a directive to get back to work. Conversely, our common reaction when students make poor choices with technology is to immediately confiscate the device and have the student “do something else.” Chances are that “something else” does not afford this student access to the same rich, personalized, engaging work you had planned. 

I suggest you consider alternatives to removing technology as it may not be the most effective response. These transgressions are moments that lend themselves to restorative practices and require patience, flexibility, and thoughtful actions on our part. At the heart of a restorative practice approach, the person who makes the mistake has the opportunity to be held accountable for their actions and repair the harm. By using restorative practices, you create a safe space for students to develop critical life skills and learn from their mistakes. This is often more productive than a response that is punitive in nature and stops the student from having access to learning.

Second – It’s never too late to revisit the contract and shared visioning work you did before you introduced technology into your lessons. If you didn’t start your digital instruction with these student onboarding lessons, then now is the perfect time to hit the stop button and do this essential mindset work with students. The key is to first help them understand “the why” of blended learning and second to co-create rules and expectations that help them view technology as a tool and not a toy. LINCspring, our online professional development platform for educators, provides ideas, resources and lesson plan templates that will help you structure this important work. This might also be a good time to show students the technology features that allow you, the teacher, to monitor behaviors such as revision history in Google Docs or how an LMS identifies user names on posts.

Third – In these moments of frustration, I suggest you remember our commitment to preparing students for the world they are entering. Why did we begin blended learning in the first place? Is it something that we can stop doing and still meet our students’ needs? From my observations and personal experiences as a teacher, I have seen blended learning work in ALL learning environments for ALL students. I’ve seen students who were grade levels behind catch up and students who were completely disengaged, engage. Changing the way we teach is challenging work, and the stakes feel higher with technology. It is easy to revert back to methods we are more comfortable with due to fear and loss of control. For inspiration through the rough spots, look to places like Twitter or follow podcasts such as “Cult of Pedagogy.”  Better yet, find someone in your school who can collaborate with you in this work. You can begin by creating PLCs to support one another. Just today, I was observing a blended learning classroom and another teacher walked in and proclaimed, “I want to do this too!”

If you have other strategies for addressing student mistakes with technology, please send me a note at kimweber@linc.education.

Kim Weber, LINC Transformation AgentKim Weber is a Transformation Agent for LINC, the Learning Innovation Catalyst. Before joining LINC, Kim worked for 20 years as a public and private school teacher in California and New York City. She is a presenter and coach for schools across the country who are embarking on school transformation projects that focus on creating classrooms that put students at the center of learning and help teachers become pedagogical problem solvers.

***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

Guest Post by  Laurie Guyon, @smilelearning

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

Books available

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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

 

Want to write a guest blog for my website? Submit an idea here!

Educators have busy schedules and one thing that I hear quite often is that there never seems to be enough time. We need time to plan for our classes, to complete different tasks required by our roles in education, and of course, most importantly is time to spend with our students. But in order to be at our best, we need to find time to take advantage of different learning opportunities to stay informed of best practices and emerging trends in education. We also need time to connect with other educators. It’s through these relationships and finding the right tools that we will grow personally and professionally, and bring our best selves into our classrooms each day. The challenge is not so much in finding resources, but rather in finding the most valuable ones that will fit into already busy schedules.

Personally, I stay involved in a lot of different ways so I can continue to build my professional knowledge and my connections with other educators around the world. Having chosen to spend many of my first years of teaching isolated, I missed a lot of opportunities to learn more, to do more, and to provide more for my students. A few years ago I made a shift to becoming a more connected educator by leveraging the technology available through social media. It has been an ongoing personal and professional transformation. Becoming connected has increased my awareness of the plethora of learning opportunities available for educators. I have changed my teaching methods, broadened my perspective of strategies and best practices in education and have more options for getting the support that I need to bring new ideas into my classroom.

Here are different ideas for ways to learn on any schedule. These options create a lot of possibilities for how, when, and where we can engage in professional development and become more connected educators. With the summer break coming for many educators, it can be the perfect time to explore new ideas.

Social Media

Over the past few years, there has definitely been an increase in the amount of social media used by educators for professional learning and networking. Depending on your level of comfort and how often you choose to interact, there are many ways to learn, crowdsource ideas and access different perspectives and people with different backgrounds and experiences.

  1. Twitter. Although I was hesitant for many years to create a Twitter account, once I did a few years ago, my Professional Learning Network (PLN) has continued to grow. Whether you have time to engage in a nightly or weekly Twitter chat or just follow one of the many hashtags related to education, there is something for everyone when it comes to Twitter. Do you have ideas and want to gather more? Create your own hashtag and use it to invite people to share their ideas with you. Post a poll to get quick feedback, find educators to follow and create a list to keep track of resources and ideas shared. In addition to hashtags, there are many chats and topics to follow. If you want to find educators to follow on Twitter, David Lockhart created a list of 100 educators to look into.
  2. Voxer. A walkie-talkie messaging app that promotes communication and collaboration. It’s easy to get started with and it provides a lot of different ways to add to your professional learning. Use it for somewhat asynchronous conversations with a colleague, create a small group to discuss specific topics such as blended learning, project-based learning or augmented and virtual reality. Using Voxer for a book study also works very well. It provides a great platform for talking about a book and sharing resources, without having to be in the same space at the same time. There are even groups on Voxer, you can search the list and join them. It’s nice to be able to listen to the messages on the way to or from school, perhaps during a lunch break, or while making time for a walk and self-care.
  3. Facebook. Initially used with friends and family as a way to share what’s happening in each other’s lives and maybe to reconnect to organize events like family or class reunions, Facebook is now used by a lot of educators. There are many educator accounts to follow as well as groups of educators to join.

Information Sharing

Sometimes it is easier to find the information that you need, especially information which is current and offers a lot of resources, by exploring the different digital forms of information such as books, blogs, and podcasts. Knowing that the information is credible, up-to-date, and provided by educators with experience, is what sets these options apart from other options.

1. Blogs are a quick way to get information from a variety of sources, especially when you look at different blogs available from publications such as Getting SmartEdSurgeTeachThoughtEdutopiaeSchoolNews and EdWeek to name a few. Searching the list of top education blogs to follow is helpful for finding specific topics, content areas, and grade levels, or even for opportunities to contribute to a blog.

Many educators have personal blogs which offer a lot of inspiration and share ideas and even struggles. You can browse through this list of educator blogs to follow. Some educators that I follow are Mandy FroehlichJennifer GonzalezEric SheningerKasey BellKristen NanMatt Miller, and David Lockhart.

2. Podcasts can be a great way to pass time when traveling to and from work, relaxing or even during exercise. Most podcasts are short enough that you can listen to an episode and pick up new ideas and inspiration. Over the past year, there has been an increase in the number of podcasts available to teachers, whether created by educational organizations or simply teachers wanting to share their experiences and inviting others to join in the conversation. Some that I regularly listen to and which have been recommended to me are: Edumatch Tweet and Talk, Jennifer Gonzalez (Cult of Pedagogy), Vicki Davis (Ten Minute Teacher), Will Deyamport (The Dr. Will Show, the Edupreneur), Barbara Bray (Rethink Learning), Brad Shreffler (Planning Period Podcast), Don Wettrick (StartEDUp),  Google Teacher TribeTeachers on Fire, Andrew Wheelock (Coffee with a Geek), Dan Kreiness (Leader of Learning), and Denis Sheeran (Instant Relevance Podcast).

3. Books. There are more educational books available for professional learning than ever before. It’s easy to find book recommendations by following specific hashtags on Twitter or looking at different curated lists of education books. For some book recommendations, I generally follow the hashtags #bookcampPD#PD4uandMe, and #Read4Fun, which are led by different educators. The Read4Fun group also shares books in a Voxer group. For a list of recommended books, ISTE crowdsourced recommendations last year and I also created a survey to gather ideas from educators. Some of the books mentioned on the list include: Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess, The Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros, Courageous Edventures by Jennie Magiera, Culturize by Jimmy Casas, LAUNCH by A.J. Juliani and John Spencer, Lead Like a Pirate by Shelley Burgess and Beth Houf, Start with Why by Simon Sinek, Daring Greatly by Brené Brown, Take the L.E.A.P.  (Elisabeth Bostwick), and What School Could Be by Ted Dintersmith. Many publishers have books coming out on an almost weekly basis it seems. Check into DBC ConsultingEduMatch PublishingIMpress and ISTE to explore more books available.

Online Learning Opportunities

When we leverage technology in a way that opens up powerful learning opportunities and pushes back the limits based on time and location constraints, we find innovative ways that we can learn.

4. Online Learning Communities. There are different learning communities to join in for professional development. As a Common-Sense Certified Educator, you have access to the newest tools and resources. By becoming Google Certified or a Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert, educators can enroll in learning modules, training sessions, and receive a digital badge for completion of each different module. Besides building PLN, these opportunities offer yet another way to learn on your schedule, in a time and place that meet your own needs.

5. Summits and Webinars. There are organizations that provide webinars for educators, many of which are offered free of charge or a minimal fee or are subscription-based. For example, if you take advantage of providers like EdWeekSimple K12, or ASCD there are webinars available on a variety of different topics that work with your schedule. As a member of ISTE, joining in any of the PLNs gives you access to a series of weekly webinars and sometimes even more than once per week depending on the PLN. These webinars can be viewed live or as recordings when most convenient to you. The topics are always current and in some cases cutting edge or emerging trends, so you can keep informed of new ideas and teaching strategies, better than you ever could before.

Throughout the year there are even online conferences, or “Summits” which provide a series of speakers and sessions, sometimes held over a multi-day format. These are offered free and in my own experience, have always provided a wealth of knowledge and resources. Personal favorites include the Ditch Summit hosted by Matt Miller, Hive Summit hosted by Michael Matera and EdCamp Voice on Voxer, started by Sarah Thomas of EduMatch.

It’s clear there are many options and resources available to educators for professional development. It simply takes thinking about an area you would like to learn more about, exploring one of the choices and giving it a try.

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