Creating an Action Plan Through Reflection

Guest Post by Debbie Tannenbaum @MrsTannenb

During Winter Break, I read three amazing and thought-provoking books. Each one provided me with new ideas, takeaways and made me examine my practice. The last book I finished was Innovate Inside The Box by George Couros and Katie Novak. As I began reading Part Three: You Are The Change You Seek of this book, George issues this challenge, ” We can consume pages and hours of great content, but until we do something with it, we have no ownership over the process of learning. He then asked the reader to reflect on these three questions based on our reading

1. What has challenged you?

2. What has been reaffirmed?

3. What will you do moving forward?

When I began to consider what challenged me from my reading, I really had to stop and think. Having already read Innovator’s Mindset last year and having prior experience with UDL, so much of what I read in this book resonated with me.

As I returned to school on Monday, several ideas from my reading kept bubbling up in my mind.

1. Shifting our focus and practice to be learner-driven and evidence-focused

2. What does risk mean?

3. Encouraging problem-finding and not just problem solving

Learner-Driven, Evidence Focused

In chapter 2 of the book, George Couros describes how he dislikes the term data-driven. Working in a model PLC school, there is no doubt that we spend a lot of time on data- in fact, some months, with increased testing, it feels like all we do is collect data. So when I read this, it gave me pause. Are we truly learner centered? Are we telling the story of the whole child? Are we preparing students for their futures or to meet benchmarks and goals based on our school improvement plans?

This section really led me to question our practices as educators. It made me examine why we do things the way we do, why I do things the way I do? Is the support I provide “opening doors” to the future? If so, are there any ways that I can further tweak this to make it more learner centered?

Risk-takers

In chapter 5, George and Katie discuss risk-taking, which is one of the characteristics of the Innovator’s Mindset. As I read this, their definition of risk caught my attention and made me look at risk through a different lens. I have always called myself a risk-taker, an early adopter, but reading this definition made the WHY behind it so clear. “Risk is moving from a comfortable average in pursuit of an unknown better.“Looking at risk through this lens took the negative connotation usually associated with this word away. It equated risk with innovation.

As a tech coach, I am constantly not only taking risks, but modeling it for all my learners. How can I better empower my learners through the use of UDL to develop more agency and risk-taking.

Problem Finders- Solvers

Chapter 6 shares how when we act as problem finders-solvers, we demonstrate an Innovator’s Mindset. In the district I work in, we have been heavily immersed in PBL or Project/Problem Based Learning. In late November and early December, one of our PBL Leads even came to our CLTs to help us plan upcoming PBL units. I love the idea of PBL and giving our students authentic purposes for their learning.

So when the idea of being a problem finder was introduced, I looked a little closer. I love this idea; it reminds me of 20% time and Passion Projects. It sounds amazing, but once again, time seems to be a culprit. How can we provide time for students to cultivate such endeavors while covering the curriculum? Could we involve students more in planning our PBLs beyond just the “Need to Knows?”

Reading this book reaffirmed so many things for me especially as I CHALLENGE myself this year to establish healthier habits and take more risks.

In chapter 3, as George and Katie described the importance of empowerment and shared how it leads to ownership and agency. It reminds me of how Ron Ritchart emphasized the importance of language when I attended WISSIT19 this summer.

In chapter 4, George and Katie share the importance of not only being a master educator, but also a master learner. If I have learned anything this break, it has been what a dramatic impact that reading 10-15 minutes a day can make in my learning. “In a profession where learning is the focus of our job, growth is essential and the target is always moving.” We all need to embrace that mantra and model being lifelong learners for our colleagues and students

So as I look towards the future, what will I do moving forward? The first thing that came to my mind was reflection. As part of #myoneword2020, I CHALLENGE myself to journal regularly. Journaling is such a huge component of reflection. George shares, “Reflection is what links our performance to our potential.” As I journal and monitor my goals daily, I am focused on my goals and making progress towards them. Linked to that is the idea of self care. ” When our job is about serving other people, we have to not forget to serve ourselves.” Moving forward, I CHALLENGE myself to be committed to healthier eating, regular exercise, doing activities that fill my bucket such as blogging, reading and writing. Dedicating time each morning to this pursuit has been so inspirational so far.

“Is there a better way?” Sometimes there is and we need to take a risk. Other times, we need to examine if what we are currently doing meets our students’ needs. But behind it all, there are so many ways we can take our learners and the relationships we build with them and empower them for an amazing future. I am ready to take the CHALLENGE, are you?

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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  

 

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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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The Power of Listening

Guest post by Charles Williams, @_cwconsultingOpinions expressed are those of the author.

Anthony* stormed into the office, marched past the front desk without acknowledging the startled office manager, and into my office where he dropped into a chair heaving deep breaths with a hint of moisture in his eyes. Calmly, I stopped working on whatever mind-numbing report I was completing and turned to him.

“Hey Anthony.What’s going on?” I asked as I took a tissue from my desk and handed it to him.

Wiping his face, he responded, “They never listen. They always get to talk but they never want to listen.”

I didn’t need to ask. I already knew to whom he was referring and it was something that I knew needed to be addressed. But how? How do we get teachers to actually listen to our students?

Recently I was introduced to the concept of Talking Circles through the book “Circle Forward: Building a Restorative School Community” by Carolyn Boyes-Watson and Kay Pranis. I was sharing my frustrations with a colleague and he immediately reached for the book. As I listened to his similar experiences I thumbed through the pages noting that it offered strategies for both students and staff both in the classroom and during meetings. Two days later, I had my own copy.

This past August we held our first Courageous Conversation as a staff during our back-to-school orientation week.

The first question asked was what led us to the field of education. We were surprised to find that many of us did not start in this field and thus brought an entirely different world of expertise that we could now tap into. We had chefs, engineers, and even artists. It was enlightening.

The second question asked was why we have remained in education. The stories varied but they all had the same central theme – we’re invested in our students. From those ah-ha moments to grieving with families through loss to providing for a family in need to celebrating a student’s graduation, we knew that our students had potential and that we were committed to helping them find it. It was emotional.

The final question asked about privilege. Some teachers reflected on how they struggled growing up, needing to figure out how to reach their goals with substantially less than some of their peers. Others talked about their appreciation for the ability to have access to resources and materials without worry. Some noted that they had forgotten what it was like to struggle now that they were financially secure. It was powerful.

There were several reasons that I wanted my staff to engage in these Courageous Conversations.

First, I wanted my staff to understand the power of listening. A central tenet of Talking Circles is that only one person at a time is allowed to speak. Furthermore, the other speakers are encouraged to share their own thoughts and are not expected to respond to someone else’s comments. Participants are, essentially, forced to listen to others.

Second, I wanted my staff to separate themselves from their titles. Talking Circles remove any form of hierarchy. During these conversations, no participant is more important than the other. The information being shared by all is equally valuable and should be treated and respected as such.

Third, and the biggest driving force, I wanted my staff to connect this experience with our students. I wanted them to see how they learned something new about a colleague and how that information may shape their interactions moving forward. I wanted them to readjust their perceptions from seeing our students as at-risk to budding successes. I wanted them to remember that our students come to school on a daily basis dealing with so much more than academic tasks.

My teachers were hooked and asked that this become a regular part of our staff meetings. It has.

More importantly, this practice has become common place in the school. It may be implemented differently from class to class – some start the week to get a pulse of the students’ after a weekend while some end to help students bring the week to a close while some use it when the vibe in the classroom isn’t quite right – and that is okay.

This simple yet powerful practice has had profound impacts on the school’s culture and climate. During the first two months of school, our referrals have dropped nearly 70%. Our attendance rating has soared to 97%. I now see teachers and students mutually engaged in honest conversations when issues arise to develop solutions.

And Anthony? Well, he still visits my office regularly. Only now its to check in on me and to take a peppermint.

Charles Williams is a professional educator with nearly 15 years of experience. Williams currently serves as a K-8 Principal in Chicago, IL. He is also a member of Great Expectations Mentoring and Men of Color in Education. Williams has presented at numerous conferences including the Statewide ESSA Conference, the Annual INCS Conference, and the CPS Leadership Institute. He has also started his own educational consulting firm, CW Consulting.

**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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On Vulnerability

Guest Post By Dustin Pearson, @DustinPearson2

We Are One Team Blog

Opinions expressed are those of the guest blogger

 

Dear We Are One Team Family

A new year always brings a time of optimism, goal setting, and resolutions. Like millions of others I am no different, I am a goal setter. Not only am I a goal setter, I am a big one. I enjoy setting goals and putting together a plan to accomplish them. However big or small, they are fun and give me something to work for. One of the constant themes I have noticed is people making a goal to be more vulnerable.

Vulnerable is defined in the dictionary as, “susceptible to physical or emotional attack or harm.” There are other definitions, but this definition definitely does not align with this piece. Vulnerability for this piece is putting yourself out there and sharing personal information as a way to connect and grow. With 2020 less than 18 hours away this is a great time to share, connect, and grow as a person.

People that know me know I am a private person, and writing this piece is rather difficult.Those that know me know that kindness, love, compassion, and humility are greatly apart of my life. I share it as with as many people as I come across. It is a foundation of my classroom, and I have been rather successful with it. What very few people know about me is that. I have suffered from depression, at times deep, and severe anxiety for several years. It has taken me a while to accept and find coping practices that work, but I have found those and have accepted that it is perfectly ok to have depression and anxiety. Unfortunately millions of citizens including educators fight these battles. At times the most basic things seem insurmountable and having conversations with others feels like getting your teeth pulled.

I don’t know where my depression and anxiety came from. It could be a combination of losing a close family member to suicide last winter break, constant self doubt, shame of who I am, negative mindset, comparing myself to others, being a natural introspective person. The last one I believe is a major factor. I am a thinker and it is easy to get lost in your thoughts which can be a good and bad thing. It took until having a severe panic attack which I thought I was not capable of a 5 years ago to realize I needed help, and had to make some lifestyle changes.

Those that ask how I teach with depression and anxiety, well it is one of the easiest things I tackle. Understanding that our students battle these same things everyday. I have a deep compassion for what they go through and we are a team that grows and learns together. I also become self aware of what I go through, learn about depression and anxiety,  and adopt different changes things that work for me. For example, I stay busy, I go for walks in the building during my prep, I check on my colleagues, and say hello to every student I come across, and I love going to school. I love being with my students, teaching, growing, and achieving together.

Outside of school I see a therapist regularly to organize my thoughts, I take medication, I am an avid weightlifter. I am pretty darn strong. I also read and write, and look for ways to continue to grow. I have grown to love challenges and change. What used to literally make me shake and bring tears to my eyes is now one of my favorites, and is a great learning experience. The biggest impact on myself was the adoption of a mindfulness lifestyle. I meditate everyday, practice yoga 3-5 times per week. I am quite talented with my balance poses, and I am a firm believer in what citizens such as the Dalia Lama share with others.

One of the biggest challenges  was my shift in mindset, this change did not happen overnight. I was never a pessimistic person, but I needed to make changes for the benefit of my health. I have always wanted to help, guide, and love others. In years past anxiety crept up and made this area more difficult to achieve. I worried what others thought which held me back. Now, I couldn’t care less what others think about about me and what I believe in. I absolutely love helping others, spreading kindness, compassion, and love. These qualities are who I am as a person and who I want to surround myself with. I know the people who want to be a part of my life with gravitate in my direction.

Lastly, I have become a strong advocate for mental health, the stigma must stop. I suffer from mental health issues, and I am perfectly ok with it. I am in a great spot and have never felt better. Will it always be this way, no!  Does that worry me, absolutely! I will take on that challenge, grow, and we will do this together. I am far from a finished product, I will have to battle this for the rest of my life, I can do this, and so can you.

If we are entrusted with taking care of our students we must take care of ourselves and each other. How can our students learn and grow as individuals if they don’t have a person to guide them through challenges they face. Our students need us and we all need each other.When someone wants to talk, listen, and listen with intention. Check in with your students, colleagues, and most importantly yourself. Everyone who reads this and shares it with others has so much value to this world. I am grateful for each and everyone of you.

It’s okay not to be okay, and we are here for you. Mental health is just as important as physical health and our community of compassion, love, understanding, and growth will only help remove the stigma, and accept each other for the faults and challenges we face. My attempt at vulnerability was this piece, and I am proud to share it with you.

WE ARE ONE TEAM

-Dustin

 

 

 

My first book: Why I wrote In Other Words

All books available at  bit.ly/Pothbooks

It has  been quite a year. Three books  published this year, looking back to one year ago as I was writing all three, very different books at the same time. But  the book In Other Words came to me as I was preparing to work  on The Future is Now.  It stemmed from a quote:

Teddy Roosevelt once said, “I am a part of everything I have read.” When I read his quote, it greatly resonated with me because of my love of quotes and the impact they can have in our lives. In Other Words is a book full of inspirational and thought-provoking quotes that have pushed my thinking, inspired me and given me strength when I needed it. The book shares stories around the importance of growing ourselves as educators, knowing our why, as well as learning from and embracing failures and taking risks with learning so we can become our best selves for those we lead and learn with.

Get your signed copy here: bit.ly/Inotherwordsbook

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There are stories shared by educators with different backgrounds and different perspectives. My own experiences and interpretations and the educator vignettes shared by my PLN (Personal or Professional Learning Network) will hopefully push your thinking, inspire you, and provide whatever it is that you need. My hope is that by sharing our stories, it will inspire you to share yours.

 

There were many people involved throughout this journey. I reached out to members of my PLN and friends to include as many educators and students as possible. I  wanted to share more than just my story, but rather many stories and experiences.   This book is one that can be read by anyone, not just people in education. There are many quotes, unique personal experiences, beautiful graphics and more.

About the book #Quotes4EDU

In this book, I share some of my experiences and reflections based on quotes. I have included the stories of different educators in the form of vignettes or guest chapters. One chapter was written by two of my students and my book cover was drawn by one of my 9th-grade students. The story behind the book cover is included at the beginning of the book.  The book is available on Kindle or in paperback: bit.ly/Inotherwords  A few of the stories are available for listening on Synth. gosynth.com/p/s/pyzbnm  

Chapter Authors
Dennis Griffin
Maureen Hayes
Holly King
Elizabeth Merce
Melissa Pilakowski
Laura Steinbrink
Amy Storer
Donald Sturm
Cassy DeBacco
Celaine Hornsby
Vignettes
Marialice B.F.X. Curran
Jon Craig

Kristi  Daws

Sarah Fromhold
Jeff Kubiak
Matthew Larson
Jennifer Ledford
Kristen Nan
Toutoule Ntoya
Paul O’Neill
Zee Ann Poerio
Rodney Turner
Heather Young
Graphics 
Michael Mordechai Cohen
Dene Gainey
Manuel Herrera
Shelby  Krevokuch
Amber McCormick
Dana Ladenburger
Heather Lippert
Scott Nunes
Chris Spalton
Tisha Richmond
Monica Spillman
Laura Steinbrink
Kitty Tripp
Julie Woodard
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Thank you Kristi Daws for creating these images!!

 

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Why Connections Matter

Guest Post by Sean Scanlon, @polonerd

Republished from his blog site, a great message about why we need to connect, and how to do so at conferences. 

 

On Tuesday night I returned from Summer Spark in Milwaukee. My head was still spinning and full from all of the great presentations and new ideas I heard, my heart was still racing from Joe Sanfelippo’s keynote, but most of all my heart was full from all of the love shared between friends at an Edtech conference.

This was the 4th year I’ve been to Spark (sorry to say I missed year 1) and every year my PLN grows but in different ways than just connecting with someone on Twitter or Facebook groups. At a mid-sized conference like Summer Spark you make awesome personal connections with people who have been in your PLN for months (maybe even years). You get to have dinner with people you haven’t seen in a year or more, or maybe people you’ve never even met before.

game night

It’s pretty clear when we go to dinner for game night on the first evening of the conference, and we turn 10 tables into one giant table so we can all sit together (until the table literally can’t grow anymore), this group is close and wants to learn more about what we’re doing in our classrooms, our schools, and even more about our future plans.

As far as game night goes, Jon Spike walks in with his bag of games, along with others who bring their favorite board games and let the fun begin. The fun and connections at this point are amazing and there are even some grudge matches from two years ago when it comes to CodeNames. Right Kristin?

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The conference is wonderful because Pam NosbuschChuck TaftMichael Matera, and so many others put their heart and soul into making it great. However, the true “Spark” we get in June is an uplifting of spirits and excitement from connecting with other inspiring educators, learning from them, and most importantly sharing with them what we do, what we want to do, and how they can help us get there.

All of this fun and all of these close relationships really go back to where it all started for many of us – Twitter. When we connect on Twitter, or any Social Media platform, we share what’s we’ve accomplished, we look to others for advice or ideas, and we ‘talk’ with each other about different topics in chats.

Who to Follow –When you find that first person you want to follow, click on their name and then click on where it says “Following”. Look at who those people follow because that is a choice they made to follow those people. You can glance at their profile and even see who those people follow – welcome to the most awesome rabbit hole.

Twitter Chats – If you haven’t done any Twitter chats, I’ve listed a few below but feel free to try ones that more closely tie into your content area or grade level. The chats are usually 30 or 60 minutes long and you’ll be connecting with educators from all over the country and possibly people from other parts of the world. Make sure you don’t pull a @GameBoyDrew and forget the #. If you don’t use the #, nobody else in the chat will know you’re saying anything.

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Use Tweetdeck – Tweetdeck allows you to created columns based on a # or a particular user – plus other choices.  This makes it easier to track what people are talking about in that chat. You also have a notifications column so it makes it easier to see who ‘liked’ your post, replied to your post, or even just mentions you in possibly a different chat.

Simply put, get on Twitter and follow other educators. It’s polite and good practice to follow the people who follow you; except for the bots and the inappropriate accounts – check who they are and what they’ve posted before you follow someone. Check your feed occasionally and search some hashtags (#) to see what people are talking about.

Most of all, have fun connecting with other educators and don’t forget to introduce yourself when you meet them in person at awesome conferences like Summer Spark @usmspark #usmspark

 

Sign up for  Summer Spark, happening in June 2020!

 

 

What is YOUR Walk-Up Song?

Challenges, Connections, and Learning every day!

Recently I had a colleague ask me for some ideas for dealing with challenges when it comes to classroom management, student behaviors and just keeping up with the responsibilities of teaching in general. I’m always happy to have time to talk with other educators, there is so much to learn by connecting. I think sometimes there is an assumption that because someone may have been teaching for 10 or more years, or worked in the same school district for a long period of time, that’s there is a higher level of knowledge and skill held by a teacher that fits into this description. While of course the more that you teach, it might seem like you would have a lot of ideas and answers to share with younger or new to the school teachers, but the longer you have taught also means, I think, that you have that much more to learn.

Having taught for about the last 25 years, I’ve had a lot of different experiences, some good, some bad, some in-between and some just absolutely fantastic. I have been in the position where I needed to improve, and felt like no matter what I tried to do or could try to do, that I just would not succeed. That I would lose my job. I’ve also been at the opposite end where I felt like things were going well, I could feel more success and a change in how I had been teaching in the classroom and in my connections and relationships that I had built with the students and colleagues.

 

I think if you ask any educator, most can probably identify the best year they’ve had, and if they can’t, they just can’t yet. We always have room to grow and things take time. How do educators decide what makes it the best year? For some, is it a year without many challenges, the students are well-behaved, homework is complete, other clerical tasks and responsibilities held by the teacher are finished, observations went very well and teacher ratings are satisfactory or proficient or whatever the ranking may be? Maybe. But how do we truly define what would be the best year ever?

It takes time to build

I am fairly certain that last year was the best year I’ve had yet. I think because I changed a lot of things in my classroom, I stopped worrying so much about having every minute of every class accounted for and instead gave the students more possibilities to lead in the classroom and for me to have more opportunities to interact with them. Now it did not come without its challenges, some student behaviors that in some cases pushed me so far beyond frustration that I thought I reached my breaking point. I reacted in ways that I was not proud of, but I let the frustration get the best of me. I stopped seeing the student and only saw the behaviors. My “lens” had become clouded and it took some reflection and just not feeling very good about it for me to realize that I had to do something different.

 

The common feeling or response is when you feel like there is a lot to handle or come up with a plan for, can feel so isolating. you might feel lost or like others are judging you based on what you perceive to be your weak areas when it comes to instruction. And I’ve had a few people confide in me that they feel like they’re too different or too weird or they’re not normal enough to be teachers. Hearing those kinds of things breaks my heart because I don’t want to see teachers become disengaged or to lose their passion for doing the work that teachers do because of worrying about how others may or may not perceive them.

My response is always it’s good to be different, what does normal look like anyway? Does normal mean everybody gets and does the same thing? Does being normal mean you fit into some kind of mold, one that may or may not be who you truly are? I think the best that we can do for our students is to show them who we are because we want to know who they are.

We can’t hide behind some perceived idea or model of what a teacher should or should not look like. Nor should we compare ourselves to our colleagues or other teachers that we may have had in our own experience. When we do this we lose sight of something and I think it’s important for us to demonstrate and model for students. We need to worry about ourselves first and only compete with who we are today by judging it based on who we become tomorrow. Everyone has weaknesses, everybody struggles, everybody feels like they don’t belong at times, a friend once wrote about being in the land of misfits, I’m totally fine with that.

 

What can we do, regardless of what year we are in during our careers? New teachers have a lot to offer us veteran teachers, there are better pre-service teacher programs and more information available to current students that are seeking to get into the profession, than what is available to us veteran teachers, who may not have access to or may not even know they exist. And for the new teachers, when you are assigned to have a mentor in your school, I really don’t think you should consider it to be that you are the learner and that you must follow and adhere to all of the advice of your mentor. You have to decide who you want to be, what is your purpose, your why, your spark, your passion for doing what you’re doing?

It starts with us and it always starts with us to take that first step. We have to be okay with who we are and commit to doing whatever is best for our own personal and professional growth but being mindful of what that means and how it will impact those we lead and learn with.

So if at any time you feel down or lost or frustrated or like you’re becoming disengaged or that you don’t fit in, please send me a message. I’d love to talk to you and share some of my own experiences on my 25-year learning journey.

 

**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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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)

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  

 

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Core Solutions Provided through the Abre Platform

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.

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