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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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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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!

 

 

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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Educators: 10 Ways to Make Time for Self-Improvement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

 

Books available

Teaching Can Be Challenging

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

Ugh, I love that! 

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

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

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.

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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.

What made me better

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

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