Learning as I go: Experiences, reflections, lessons learned

Rachelle Dene Poth @rdene915 #FUTURE4EDU #QUOTES4EDU #THRIVEinEDU

reflection

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

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

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

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

Social Media

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

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

Information Sharing

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

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

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

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

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

Online Learning Opportunities

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

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

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

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

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

Personalized Learning for Teachers

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

The background

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

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

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

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

How does it work?

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

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

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

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

Features

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

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

Benefits for the Educator Community

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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Assessments used to track student progress are certainly not new to teachers. However, it is important to consider that if you consistently use the same tool for assessment, these materials should be curated and referred to throughout the year. This ensures a conversation can happen between teachers, students, and guardians, reviewing  progress and growth.

Kidblog offers extended options for promoting student choice, giving students ownership in learning, and facilitating communication between home and school (family engagement in learning is critical for student success).  Over the years, I have tried to encourage students to keep prior assessments or writing assignments as artifacts of their work to share with families. It wasn’t long before these papers were misplaced and the opportunities for review, reflection and growth disappeared. Using Kidblog’s built-in digital portfolios empower students to self-regulate learning and develop their metacognitive skills. It also allows a conversation between student, teacher, and families happen.

Tracking growth in a more accessible way

There are many benefits of using safe student publishing that go beyond simply blogging and improving communication skills. Through Kidblog, students gain the tools necessary to prepare for their future with the skills they need to be successful.

  • Promotes digital literacy and citizenship: Blogging engages students in building their writing skills whether it be basic English grammar, practicing foreign language skills, or learning to write in a specific format such as a persuasive text or narrative. Students can share their posts with classmates and provide feedback to one another. Peer assessment builds student collaboration skills and promotes digital citizenship and the responsible use of digital tools.
  • Track their growth: Students build their online presence and create their own space unique to their needs. They develop confidence as they become more creative in their expression and learn to self-assess with each blog post they write. Because Kidblog offers a safe learning space, students can get started by writing posts that are private, visible by the teacher, and then continue to grow their audience, sharing their work with classmates, connections, and beyond. Using Kidblog across multiple courses provides students with an even greater opportunity to track their progress across the course of a semester, school year, or even year-over-year.

 

  • Build relationships and become confident learners: Receiving feedback throughout the learning journey is critical to student growth. However, some students may be hesitant in sharing their thoughts with their peers in the classroom. Through blogging, when students create their own online space, they can comfortably begin to develop their voice, express their thoughts in a personal space, and become more confident learners. The relationships that form by sharing their work at first with their teacher and then by publishing it to a larger community have a tremendous impact on student growth. Publishing work to a wider audience benefits the student through the additional feedback that can be provided. Students know their work is having an impact on readers.
  • Goal setting: When students consistently create through blogging, they can use their history (in digital portfolios) as a guide to push forward with goals. Each student can use Kidblog as a space to set personal learning goals. By publishing their goals in the class, they are held accountable and, in turn, will be motivated to hit those goals. Preparing students for their future requires that we provide opportunities for them to learn responsibility, to work within a schedule with different tasks and timelines.

 

  • Personal expression and growth mindset: Kidblog provides a space for students to explore their passions, be creative, and reflective. Students have the opportunity to share these passions with the world, and hopefully, make a connection with another student based off of these passions.

 

Consider adopting Kidblog as your tool for promoting student growth and formative assessment. Teacher premium memberships are a great way for an individual teacher to pilot Kidblog in all their classes, with benefits like automatic digital portfolio curation for your students, a class page, moderation tools to customize your audience levels per post, and so much more.

It’s back to school time! Depending on who you are, your feelings about heading back to school might differ dramatically. And I don’t just mean whether you are a parent versus a teacher, I mean even within these two groups. Among those of us in the classroom, the realization that we are headed back to school brings about a lot of different reactions. Of course there is still that perception that teachers have the best, easiest job, because we have summers off and all those holiday vacations as well, and don’t forget about the weekends. And there may even be a perception that teachers are happy when the school year ends. I have been asked many times, “How many days left until you’re off for the summer?”

I have never been one to count down the days till the end of the school year. While I am cognizant of the end of the year, I don’t, nor have I ever posted a countdown of how many days until summer vacation begins. A few years back there was a countdown board posted, but it was just for a student’s birthday. (Fun fact, she had written using a sharpie, so it kind of became a permanent birthday countdown board).

For me, I consider school to be year-round. Even though I don’t have to report to my classroom during the summer months, I am still involved in professional learning and trying to grow and learn as much as I can during that period of “free” time. I love being able to set my own schedule, in my own space, definitely perks of having the summer off. But I know that there are educators who do count the days until the end of the year, not because of excitement for a family event or vacation, or any special occasion, simply because they are done “working” for the summer.  I think that to be in education today, you really have to love what you do. You have to know your “why” behind it and you need to stay focused on what your purpose is for having chosen to be in this amazing profession.

Just like any other job, teaching has its challenging moments as well. And who hasn’t been excited about the weekend or an extended holiday break coming around? That’s natural regardless of what profession you are in. But if you are in education and you are counting down the days, you end up conveying the message to students that you cannot wait for the year to end. Why would they want to be in your class, or even be positive about being a student your class whenever you’re sending the message that you can’t wait to have a break over the summer? That may be blunt, but that’s exactly what I think of when I hear of “countdowns” in classrooms. 

I know that students may count down the days, especially seniors, until summer vacation starts. This is understandable because they have spent so much time in classrooms, sitting in uncomfortable desks for nearly eight hours a day and then going home to do even more work. And I know there’s a big controversy regarding the benefits of whether or not homework should even be given, especially when we think about the real world and the jobs that are out there, like teaching, where work does not end at the end of the “work day”. But at this point in time, I think that we need to focus on preparing students to make decisions about their future. To do this, I changed my practice of nightly homework and instead, created more ways for them to work in class and for me to work with them individually and in small groups. It is also important to stay positive about the learning experience and to do that means not counting down until the end of the school year.

Now the flip side is the back to school. Some parents are thrilled to have their children head back to school after a busy summer of family activities and hectic schedules. Some teachers are not as excited to head back to school because for them it means giving up that flexibility in the schedule where they can spend time doing what they want, learning, or just simply relaxing with family and friends.  But there are some educators who are excited about heading back to the classroom, so much in fact that they go in over the summer to prepare their classroom, to buy school supplies for their students and to really work on making it a welcoming place starting with Day one.

Now don’t get me wrong, I have enjoyed this summer, and I am somewhat sad that there are two weeks remaining before I head back to school for the year. However, once I get there, I’m happy to be there. The opportunity to work with students and my colleagues and to just have something new and exciting to learn and explore every single day inspires and motivates me. And I think if you are in the business of counting down the days until the school year ends and openly sharing how upset you are that the school year is beginning again, you might want to consider a career change.  Again, apologies for being slightly blunt.

 

A few weeks ago my #4OCFPLN noticed that there were tons of negative memes being placed on Twitter and social media by educators about heading back to school. So to make a difference, they began to create their own memes with positive messages and excitement for heading back into the classroom. Think about it. As an educator you have the opportunity to do something different every single day. You make the decisions, it’s your classroom, you interact with the students and your colleagues and you have the power to make it something wonderful and unique and fun. It is YOUR choice to make it amazing. If you don’t enjoy heading back into the classroom, then maybe you should think about the way that you are doing things and ask the students for some input. Don’t be afraid to mix things up a little bit. Especially if you find that teaching can be overwhelming at times or if you have been counting down at the end of the year.

Each summer I spend a lot of time traveling to conferences, reading a lot of books and trying to take care of things that I can’t get done during the school year. I do stay connected with my students over the summer, as they have some ongoing reading to do to keep up their language skills. As much as I love teaching, I definitely get used to my routine of sleeping in later or staying up late and reading, and not really having any set schedule to follow. But a lot of the time I find that I’m thinking about what I’m going to do once I get back into the classroom, how can I be better than I was last year, and what can I do differently to really make it an exciting learning experience for my students.

So if you are thrilled to be heading back to school, I think that’s awesome. Please share your positive outlook with others who may not be as excited as you. And if you are thinking about how sad you are that school is starting so quickly, think back to your previous year and some of your best interactions, or your best lessons or even your worst lessons. What made them go so well and why do you think some of them didn’t go as well? Invest some of your remaining summer “break” rethinking the lessons that didn’t go as well and make those the point that you start the new year with. Challenge yourself to do something different and something better than the year before. Maybe that will be the motivation and the catalyst that you need to build some excitement for heading back and greeting your students for the upcoming school year.

2fn33h

Welcome back to school!

 

Here are a few from the #4OCFPLN –

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**this is a work in progress

Things on my mind: Self-awareness, Competition,  Failure, Focus

During the last couple of weeks as the school year was winding down, the demands on my time were increasing exponentially. While this may seem a bit exaggerated,  there really is no other way to describe it. Granted, I take a lot of extra things on personally and professionally, when most people meet me, they ask if I sleep. I do, some. So why do I, or educators take on so much? For me, the reason is because I truly am a lifelong learner. I don’t want to miss opportunities, especially when that might mean I miss out on creating opportunities for others.  I don’t want to say no to someone that needs my help, because I realize that for some people, asking for help required that they be vulnerable and step out of their comfort zone. So I will always try to help someone else, even if it means delaying my own goals or veering from some path that I am on. And I am good with that, but I also realize that there is only so much that I can do. 

 

Self-awareness

Being self-aware means you recognize your strengths and weaknesses, emotions, thoughts, and have a deeper understanding of what motivates you, at least this is my way of defining it. I can somewhat identify my strengths, but it is uncomfortable to openly admit my weaknesses.  I have no problem admitting mistakes and failures in front of my students. The more that I can do this with them, will help to dispel that misconception that failure is final. Personally or among friends, for me, admitting weakness is tough, but the first step in trying to improve is acknowledging that there is a something to improve upon.  I’m well aware that I have certain areas that I need to devote some time to in order to become more effective and consistent and possibly attain some level of balance. If balance is really a thing. Maybe it is because I set demands on myself that are too high or overly ambitious, but I have reached a point in my career and my life, where I feel I need to engage in activities that I am passionate about being involved in. Even while I was in law school,  my friends would often laugh at my ability to multitask and my methods of over-preparation for class. I did then what I try to discourage my own students from doing now. I would take notes on the computer, write notes on paper, listen to the lecture and grade papers all while sending text messages throughout the class. And somehow while doing all of that I still managed to answer a question when called upon. I survived the four years of teaching full-time and four nights a week of law school. When I think back and compare schedules of then and now I feel so much more out of balance now than I did back then. It just does not make sense. 

 

While this post has started off as random thoughts,  they do have a point, which will present itself sooner or later. (perhaps not even in this post, as I am between a few projects).  These random thoughts are my reflections, and how I become more self-aware. As some of my friends know, I tend to not sit and type but rather speak my thoughts into a document and then go back and revise and reflect in the process. It simply works for me and it makes me more productive, at least I think that it does.  We don’t need to make big gains each day, it is in the small wins, ongoing progress that we achieve more. Reading this post yesterday, reminded me of this fact.  I got away from reading the posts by Thomas Oppong, and this quote helped me through some of my reflections. “It’s so easy to overestimate the importance of one defining moment and underestimate the value of making small gains on a daily basis.” 

But lately, I have not felt as productive as I would want to be. Yes I’ve made lists, checked items off as I completed them, kept up with email only to have two or three emails pop in as soon as one is sent. I have opened Voxer to find four or five hundred messages waiting and many other notifications from other forms of social media. So how does one find balance? How does one keep focus when surrounded by and consumed by so much “connectedness.” In the pursuit of learning, how much is enough and how much is too much?

What I mean is I think as educators we need to involve ourselves in a variety of learning possibilities. We no longer need to leave our homes to go out for professional development, nor be limited to that which we have at our schools. There are so many options available that meet our needs as far as goals and time and passions. But it seems that more and more time is consumed by social media like Voxer or Twitter, just for a few examples. Don’t get me wrong, these are tremendous tools for becoming a connected educator, for breaking away from the isolation that can happen. But how do we keep up with everything and everyone?  If you know, please share.

 

Competition

It is tough “keeping up” lately. I read a lot of blogs, books and stay active through Twitter and Voxer, and have a pretty good routine for keeping up-to-date with information. Reading has never been a problem for me. The area in which I need to improve is with my own writing. Some days I feel like I just can’t keep up. I feel like I’m falling behind, that I’m not meeting the goal, not pushing myself enough to accomplish things. But today I had a moment to pause and think, and it came after reading  some of the The Path to Serendipity , by Allyson Apsey and also “What School Could Be,” by Ted Dintersmith.  After reading these, it occurred to me that I am doing the exact same thing that I try to stop my students from doing which is push myself so hard, judge myself so critically, to the point where my desire to work and to get things done becomes consumed as soon as my eyes focus on that ever-growing list of goals. I put up a wall and that inner voice tells me that I will never get things done. The inner voice convinces me that I can’t, so I don’t even try.  And then I remember the quote  “the only thing standing in your way is you,” so I need to get out of my own way. 

My list is full of things which are not part of my daily work as a teacher, but rather tasks that I have voluntarily pushed myself into becoming a part of. Maybe it’s my fear of missing out, maybe it’s my drive to keep doing better, to keep pushing myself to do one more thing, take one more step, to see how much I can handle and how much I can learn. But in recognizing this, I realize that my students do this as well. I’ve seen them push themselves and worry that they won’t finish something in time, that they won’t get into the college that their parents want them to, that they won’t get the highest grade, that they won’t be as smart, as quick or as good as somebody else in the class.  Pressure.

How many times this year I have said to them “You don’t need to worry about anybody else. You only need to worry about yourself because you aren’t in competition with anyone else but yourself.”  I came across an anonymous quote a while ago that said “I’m in competition with no one but myself.” The power of this quote really hit me. These are the reminders that I give to my students, but yet are ones that I have failed to be cognizant of within myself.

In reading “Path to Serendipity”, so much of what Allyson says resonated with me, especially when thinking back to when I first started teaching. And in reading “What School Could Be,” I am thinking about the structure of school, the “game” of school and all of the pressure that exists. Pressure which is placed on students whether by the school system itself, the testing, parents, teachers or the students themselves. How do we break this cycle? Wanting the best for someone should be more about supporting them with whatever decision they make, and being there if they find out that it was not the best decision to be made. That’s the risk we take when we step out of our comfort zone, when we go against the grain and do something that is different, that may not be the traditional way to do something but it’s the way that we want, it’s personal to us, it’s our passion.

 

And I know I have derailed a bit in this, maybe more than a bit, but sometimes it’s good for me to just sit with my computer, and thanks to the voice to text, I can close my eyes and talk through what has been going through my mind, and then edit the writing. Lately it’s been that I just can’t get enough things completed. Countless presentations, proposals, webinars you name it, I am doing and experiencing the same thing that many other educators are experiencing as well. However the difference is that my perception of others is that there are no struggles. Blogs are being published, podcasts are being recorded, books are being written, speeches are being given, and my question is where do you find the time? How can I find a time? And I am so impressed and inspired by the work of my friends and my colleagues who share their stories and seem to have a lot of balance, but then again how do I really know? My perception is not necessarily their reality.

A good friend of mine Mandy Froehlich has written a book which just came out today, called “The Fire Within”, in which she shares personal stories as well as stories of educators who talk about the different struggles that they’ve gone through. We don’t often hear of the struggles and the negative experiences that we as educators may have, but there are a few things that I’m sure of. We need to start with relationships. We need to be open and vulnerable. We have to tell our stories. It is from these stories, whether they are stories of great innovations or epic failures, where we can connect and provide the inspirational redirection that someone else may greatly need. And while telling our story makes us vulnerable, there is great power in vulnerability. Vulnerability does not mean weakness, as defined by Brene Brown in her book “Daring Greatly”. It is “uncertainty,risk and emotional exposure.” My favorite quote from Brown is that vulnerability is “the courage to  show up and be seen even when you have no control over the outcome.” This quote is one I read last summer, and I kept in the back of my mind while preparing for different events in which I felt completely out of control. I didn’t think I had the courage and was ready to back down, but this served as a reminder to me that it was better to try and fail, than to never try at all. The interesting part about this book is that she came up with the title after reading a quote by Teddy Roosevelt from 1910, where he spoke about the man who enters into battle valiantly, and at best he has success and at worst he errs while daring greatly.

 

Focus

So there is nobody pushing me to get things done but me. Nobody adding more items to the list but myself. And there is nobody that I’m in competition with. I have to accept that I will accomplish the things that I need to accomplish in my own time and in my own way. Pushing the publish button on this was definitely out of my comfort zone, but I’ve been thinking a lot and decided to put my thoughts out there. 

comfort

ocean under blue sky

Photo by Artem Bali on Pexels.com

Being a teacher is easy.

It must be nice to have your summers off.

You’re so lucky, you don’t have to work on the weekends.

You have such long holiday breaks!

If you are a teacher, you likely have heard at least one of these statements before, perhaps from friends and family, or from people you just meet, that respond with similar statements when they find out that you are a teacher. Are these statements accurate? Well, I guess to an extent, but there are some ways to counter these comments.

 

It can be easy to be a teacher, if you love what you do, it does not feel like” work.” I enjoy  working with students, learning with and from them, and having the opportunity to start fresh each day and create experiences to engage students in learning. Having the summer off is nice too, but most teachers I know either work in the summer, attend conferences, or pursue some professional development. The “summer off” is nice for providing a more flexible schedule, and a time to reflect, explore new things and prepare for the new school year.

And as for weekends, I am fairly certain that most teachers look forward to the weekend for many reasons. Of course, time with family and time to relax are important. But it is also a time to catch up on some grading, emails, or exploring new methods to bring into the classroom. So weekends without work, I don’t think they happen too much.

And the extended holiday breaks are nice as well. But again, many teachers use this time to reflect, recharge and prepare for the return to school.

So, What is the reality?

The reality of being a teacher is that teaching today can be quite challenging. Maybe in the past, the life of the teacher was perceived to be a pretty comfortable and easy profession. The typical school day of 7:00 to 3:00 or some variation, with weekends and holidays off and of course, that summer break. With those hours and that schedule who wouldn’t want to be a teacher? From the outside looking in, it might seem like each day is the same, right? Each passing year the same as the year prior. How could it be that difficult? Once you make a worksheet or a test you have them to use forever, right?  Lesson plans are the same, projects are the same, and folders full of worksheets and activities pulled from the file cabinet, simply copy it, teach it and then move on to the next day. Same. (hopefully not).

There may be some truth to this, as I’m sure there are some teachers who are teaching the same way that they were taught and/or are using the same materials each day with each class and then doing it all over again the next year. No judgments made.

To an extent, I myself was this type of teacher for a long time. Not because I was trying to take the easy way out or save time. Rather I was using some of the methods that worked for me when I was a student. I thought this was the right way to prepare. And sometimes I used some of the same materials each year because I thought there was value to them for student learning. I know that when I was a student, some of the same issues that exist today existed then (copying homework, cheating on tests), but we didn’t have the technology, which creates tremendous learning opportunities but it also takes away some opportunities as well.

Foreign Language Teacher vs. Online Translators

I thought that being a foreign language teacher meant that I was a member of a group that had a distinct battle not experienced by any other content area.  It took some time for me to notice some bothersome trends in student work. The copying of assignments, the use of online language translators, and even copying information directly from websites. So the struggle was to find a way for students to have authentic practice that would not encourage student copying or trying to take a shortcut with learning. But each year it becomes more and more challenging to stay ahead of technology in this sense. I don’t know the answer as to how to get students to stop copying homework other than to not assign homework. And this has been a very strong discussion as to the value of homework, the type of homework, and whether or not homework should even be given at all. #ditchthehomework (follow the hashtag)

 

I will not make a decision either way, other than to say that for me, I do assign some “practice” tasks for the students to do, but they typically don’t come in the form of a worksheet. And sometimes when we are working in stations in class, if students do not finish something, I do ask that they work on it until complete. But I do add, “at their pace.”  Instead, I encourage students to practice the content by playing a game of review using the Quizlet cards, sharing a Quizizz game or provide prompts for writing a blog post. And these are ongoing practice tasks that are due on a weekly basis or that I have students create to use in the class. Why? Because in doing this rather than assigning the same worksheet to each student to complete,  I know that it is more authentic, will provide students with personalized practice and it is not something that can readily be copied.

But recently I was rather surprised when I saw some students switching between screens on their computer while working in their practice workbook. (As a side note, I stopped assigning practice from the workbook for homework because of copying).

I thought that by having students work on the pages in class, during stations, that I could interact more and provide more one on one feedback and  give time for students to collaborate with their peers. I did not anticipate this “new” form of copying, until one day a few weeks ago, I caught a glimpse of a student switching screens on his laptop and then writing in the workbook. The process repeated and continued for a few minutes. From across the room I had an idea of what they were doing, but I gave it some time before I walked over. Hoping that I was wrong, and that it was not the website that provides answers to so many books and workbooks. (Still cannot believe what is available).

 

It was exactly as I had thought, one of the students was using that website, to look up and copy the answers for the workbook. While I understand that there can be comfort in having a resource to look at, especially when a student may be struggling with a concept, it is helpful to learn that you were on the right track. But I do have a problem when the answers to all questions in every book are so easily accessible and available to students. I know when I was in school, often our math teachers would assign questions opposite to the answers that were available in the back of the book. It was nice to have an option to look at some answers to do practice problems and see if we were working on them correctly, and there were times when I did wish that all of the answers were available. But it forced us to push through the challenges and solve the problems. There were struggles in the learning but that’s how we improved and kept going forward.

Simple lesson learned. In these experiences, and on a personal basis, you cannot or should not assign students the exact same thing if you can avoid it. Especially when teaching a higher level course or one in which students have the possibility to create, rather than simply consume. We need to give them more authentic opportunities to practice what they are learning. They need to create, not consume, be active, not passive, and have the opportunity to set their learning path and be curious in their pursuit of knowledge. This is how we prepare them for the future.

DEWEY

 

A Classroom’s Journey To Student-Led, Interactive Lessons

Written for the RUBICON SUMMIT

About two years ago, I found myself struggling to find ways to keep my students engaged in the lesson. I tried to get them involved more in class activities by offering more choices and providing opportunities for them to be part of the decisions made about what we were doing in the classroom. Why did I do this? Partially because I saw – and could feel – a decrease in student motivation and engagement. It was approaching the end of the school year, and the focus had shifted more to “when does summer begin?”

So I tried to do things a bit differently, think creatively, and take some risks. I wanted to keep us all moving, to finish strong at the end of the school year and begin summer vacation with a sense of accomplishment, to celebrate all that we had learned throughout the year and also what we had gained from these new experiences.

Educational Technology and Digital Tools with Purpose
Educational Technology provides so many resources that enable students to learn anywhere and at any time, and at a pace that is comfortable for each student. We can instruct from inside the traditional classroom, ​”​the brick-and-mortar​” ​as it is called, or from anywhere around the world. Using digital tools provides more differentiation and personalized learning, and provides opportunities for the students to move from consumers to creators. When students have choices in how to show what they have learned, they are more likely to be engaged and excited for learning. They will feel valued​,​ and the lesson and learning will be more meaningful because it has been made perso​n​al to them.

Creating Interactive Lessons
What did I change? I started by having my students create some interactive lessons using educational technology tools like Formative, Nearpod, and EDPuzzle, or even games with Kahoot! and Quizizz. It proved to be a very beneficial learning experience for all of us. By doing this, we had extra resources available that could be shared with students who might need some extra practice. I thought it went so well that I decided to take it a step further and start a “teacher for a day” activity during which the students create a lesson based on a grammar topic or vocabulary.

I stepped back and had the students lead our classroom. It was a really good way to learn a lot more about the students, to better understand what their needs were in terms of the content material, and for the students to learn about each other. Giving students the control and the opportunity to become the creators and leaders in the class has tremendous benefits and it has been something that we have enjoyed.

Giving Students the Control
At first when students created interactive lessons, I would launch the lesson and control it on the SmartBoard, but find ways to involve the student who created it during the presentation. I eventually decided to move aside, and took a seat in the back of the room, having the student lead the lesson, give explanations, answer questions, call upon students for answers, and provide feedback. Having the opportunity to sit back and experience this was tremendous. The students enjoyed the activity, supported each other, collaborated, and provided some positive feedback to each of their classmates. I was very impressed with how well they taught, led, and learned during each of the “teacher for a day” lessons.

Empowering Students in Learning
The use of these digital tools means ​that ​the “time and place for learning” is no​ longer​ confined to the ​traditional time and setting of the physical ​classroom​. It opens up the learning environment ​to​ anywhere​, at any time and at a pace that is comfortable for the students as well. Learning and having timely, purposeful and authentic feedback is critical ​for growth to happen. When we shift our focus to creating opportunities, giving students the control, leaving the decision making to students to choose ​how t​o show what they have learned, or ​letting them​ design their own assessments, they are more empowered in their learning.

What are the Next Steps?
Have a conversation with your students and ask for their honest feedback. What did they like? What did they not like? Which lesson or format seemed to help the most? What did it feel like to be in control, decide how to deliver the lesson, and experience being the teacher? You can have this as a face to face conversation, students can respond on paper, or use one of the many digital tools available for communication. No matter which way you choose, look to your students for the valuable feedback to decide your next steps. Be sure to ask yourself these same questions and continue to reflect on steps taken and progress made!

For more strategies about integrating technology into instruction, read Overcome

EdTech’s Problems With Blended Learning!

 

  1. Empowered Learner
  2. Digital Citizen
  3. Knowledge Constructor
  4. Innovative Designer
  5. Computational Thinker
  6. Creative Communicator
  7. Global Collaborator

 

The Student Standards reflect the skills that we want the students of today to develop, so they can become more connected with their learning and prepare for their future in an increasingly digital world. The use of blogging is a good way to address the ISTE Standards for Students. The new standards, which were released in June 2016, focus more on what we want for students – The pursuit of lifelong learning and ways in which we can help to empower students in their learning. The emphasis is on providing opportunities which promote student voice and choice and help educators to implement technology in ways that will increase student growth and readiness for the future. The ISTE standards represent the skills and qualities that students need for su​​ccess in the 21st century.

Supporting the standards with technology
There are many educational tools (both digital and traditional) available to promote student voice in the classroom. Blogging is one tool that serves to support and meet the ISTE standards. Educators can refer to the standards as a guide for selecting tools to use with students that will amplify learning and promote student choice. The goal is to support students so they begin to take ownership in their learning. A move in the classroom from teacher-centered, to student-centered and optimally, student driven. Here is how Kidblog can help.

1. Empowered Learner: As empowered learners, students “leverage” technology to show their learning and demonstrate their mastery in a platform that is comfortable to them and in a personalized space. Students take more responsibility for and have choices in how to show their learning.

2. Digital Citizen: Blogging promotes digital citizenship as it helps students to develop their social presence. Through blogging, students become active in online communication, learn about proper use of internet and resources and interact in a safe learning environment. Posting online and sharing information helps students to develop the skills they will need in the future and to recognize their responsibility when it comes to digital resources. Blogging gives students the opportunity to practice appropriate and ethical online behaviors, which transfer into the classroom space as well.

3. Knowledge Constructor: Students gather information and resources to use in creating stories, conveying information in a way that is more authentic and meaningful for their learning. The use of blogs helps students to work on their writing skills and ties in nicely with gathering information to share in their digital space. Students can research and analyze the resources, to determine which is most relevant and applicable to their task.

4. Innovative Designer: Students can use the different tools and features in the Kidblog platform to express themselves in a more unique way, share ideas and create in an innovative way. Designing and creating more authentic ways to show their knowledge as well as creating new and more “imaginative” solutions to a question or problem presented.

5. Computational Thinker: Students can use blogs as a way to discuss and talk through a process of decision-making. Blogging is a great format for working through projects or solving complex problems, and to demonstrate the thought processes and analysis involved through their writing.

6. Creative Communicator: Students can use the different features of Kidblog to share their knowledge, convey information or tell a story in a more engaging and creative way, to be shared with peers and the teacher. Blogging opens up more opportunities for students to be more expressive than the traditional formats such as paper or other digital tools. Students can express themselves in a way which promotes creativity and with Kidblog, can incorporate other tools to present their information in a way that supports the learning goals and meets individual student needs and interests.

7. Global Collaborator: Students can use blogs as a way to learn about other cultures and connect with others by posting their blogs and sharing information with peers. Students narrate background experiences and connect with others in a safe learning environment that builds confidence and promotes student learning. Students share their blogs with peers and can also connect with other students from around the world. It facilitates the opportunity to local and global issues and perspectives, and to use the blog as a way to express their thoughts.

The focus of the ISTE Student Standards, helping students to become better with communication, collaboration, critical thinking, problem solving and to express themselves in more creative and innovative ways, falls in line with the features of Kidblog.

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