When you feel like you’re not getting anywhere

Sometimes it’s difficult to figure out what the problem is or where to start when you feel like you’re not getting anywhere. What I mean is that as teachers, we may have days when we might feel like we’re just not connecting with the students. Sometimes when trying to create a lesson or some new experience for students, we are met with less enthusiasm than we had hoped for, and sometimes, it might even be nonexistent.

About two years ago, I really struggled with finding ways to engage my students in learning. I reached out to my PLN to ask for advice, I tried Twitter, pretty much anywhere that I could think of to gather ideas from other educators who might be experiencing the same thing. That’s probably the most important point if anything out of my thought process, is that had it not been for those connections and knowing where to look to find help that I greatly needed, I would have been working through it on my own in isolation, as I had been for many years of my teaching career.

It’s not easy to ask for help especially when as teachers, we feel like we are supposed to be the experts when it comes to students and learning and teaching. There may or may not be assumptions about our abilities to manage our classroom, deal with student behaviors, to be flexible in our instruction, and to balance so many different things every day. But without having a way of connecting with others, we would be stuck doing the same things we’ve always done. While in some cases that might be good if the experiences went well, often times it might not be that great. And that is how it was for me.

Last year is what I considered to be probably my best year in teaching and it came to be because of relationships I had formed over the years and also because I got away from doing some of the same traditional things I had always done and pushed the limits a little bit and tried some different things in my classroom. There were some things I just didn’t appreciate any more like standing in the front of the room and talking at my students. It was exhausting trying to think of ways to spend 42 minutes leading the class and keeping the students “busy.”

I had reached a breaking point early in September two years ago when I just decided to get rid of the rows in my classroom and see what would happen. The combination of these actions and everything in between is what I believe led me to have the best year yet. I felt connected with the students, I could see them learning and that they were more engaged. Students would come in throughout the day and say how much they liked class better than the prior-year. I just felt that there was a different vibe, I sensed a more of an excitement about being in the class and while at times it was uncomfortable worrying about if my class was too noisy or if students were off task on occasion, I really felt good about it

So I decided to keep the same kind of methods and habits in the new school year, making changes here and there, but I was not seeing the same results. I had different students than I had in the past and so it kind of led me to go back and rethink what I had been doing. What had worked so well last year was not working as well this year. I did not expect that because I was assuming that things would be the same as they were the year before. Thinking like this, the “way we’ve always done it” is what gave me some trouble in the first place. I taught the way I had been taught using methods that worked for me as a student and even as an adult, but these methods did not work for all of my students. So by doing that I was doing them a disservice. Flash forward to this school year, trying to use the same methods and strategies should not work because I had different students than the year before.

There have been days that I left school feeling frustrated and overwhelmed, a bit uneasy because like I said, last year I had a great year. And I had not experienced that type of struggle in several years. so trying to figure out what the problem was and how to work through it has been something I’ve been working ever since. I felt some moments of success and other times I thought I just couldn’t do it anymore. Sometimes I became so frustrated at the behaviors, whether it be lack of respect or lack of wanting to work or negative attitudes that instead of trying to better understand the students and focus on having conversations, I responded to their behaviors and the reactions. I lost my “cool,” I lost my composure, my eyes filled with tears of frustration and I didn’t like it. I even told them that it was something that would bother me the rest of the day and for days to come, because that was not like me but I had “had it.” I had been doing everything that I thought I could to help them and I was getting nothing or the bare minimum in return. I just wanted them to hear me and to understand that their behavior matters. Being respectful matters, and that it doesn’t matter how great your grades are or what you have in life if you are not a nice person. If you do not show respect and you don’t take time to listen to others and give them their attention when they ask for it or when they deserve it, that makes it very uncomfortable.

I thought it was just me, I had convinced myself that it was something that I was not doing. There was something wrong with me that I needed to fix within myself. But the more that I talked to people I was connected with locally, nationally and even around the world, I soon realized it was not just a problem that I was facing. Again, if I was still in isolation staying in my room and not connecting anywhere in my school building, I would feel exactly like I did. It’s just me, I’m the problem. Because I had those connections, I was able to recognize that it isn’t just me it’s a struggle other educators face and there are different ways that they deal with it that may or may not work for me.

I had lots of recommendations, great ideas, stories of how changes in different classrooms made a big difference for different friends of mine and for every suggestion they offered I felt terrible telling them that know it just would not work for me. While I may not have all the answers, I know my students well enough to be able to figure out what might and might not work for them. So while I did not come up with a magic solution to any of the challenges that I feel like I’m facing, which in the scheme of things in the rest of the world they’re not that big at all. But there are bumps in the road, a road which prior to this year had finally been mostly well paved with occasional potholes along the way.

But a new year, new challenges changes just to show why we can’t teach every year the same way that we were taught. You can’t do things the way you’ve always done them and as Don Wettrick’s dad said: “Don’t teach the same year 20 times.”

I guess I felt that because my methods worked so well last year, that I should just do the same thing again this year. I was wrong. New year, new beginnings, some changes, a bit of discomfort, challenges, through all of it. Yes, please. That’s what keeps us moving, what keeps us active and engaged and although sometimes you feel like you’re becoming disengaged from the profession when you sit back at the end of the day or in the middle of the day or whenever it is that you reflect, you must stay focused on your why. The why is your purpose, your passion for what you do and why you’ve gotten up early every morning and worked through weekends, holidays and even summer vacations. It is when you come full circle and realize that you’re there to make it work to find an answer and a solution because it might be that you are the problem

And sometimes you might be the problem creator, it’s never the same. It’s always changing, it’s uncomfortable but it’s how we grow. And if you don’t share your experiences with others then you are going to be limited to only growing in your own space. To put yourself out there, be vulnerable and ask for help when you need it, that is not a sign of weakness it’s a sign of tremendous strength. When you can identify that you have a need, a weakness, an area of struggle, you show that you are vulnerable and that is more than okay. Because as many times as I’ve said it, I will continue to say it twice as much:

I’m not an expert.

I don’t know everything.

I make tons of mistakes every single day.

I’m willing to try and I’m willing to grow.

I’m willing to get up no matter how many times I’m knocked down and go for it again.

I am a work in progress and I am learning as I go. 

 

**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  

 

How I Created a Podcast PD for Teachers

Guest post by Laura Cahill @engageducate

I’m always looking for ways to innovate professional development. Teachers are busy people and sometimes those after-school, face-to-face sessions just aren’t doable. I actually prefer PD that comes to me…webinars, Twitter chats, blog posts, podcasts…so I ran with that and created a podcast PD for the teachers in my district. Think book club, only with podcast episodes and online discussions. This was really simple to set up, especially because we are a G Suite for Education district but this could be done in other platforms as well. To get this running, I:

  1. Posted a sign-up to my district (this could be done at any level; district/school/grade-level/etc.)
  2. Created a Google Form with links to 20 episodes for participants to vote on (I chose all Cult of Pedagogy episodes for this initial session because I am familiar with the high quality of them but episodes could be from any/many podcasts.)
  3. Chose the top five episodes and created a Google Classroom with the link to one episode per “assignment”.
  4. Added open-ended discussion questions (What resonates for you? What do you agree/disagree with? How can you see this working in your own setting?)
  5. Set two-week “due dates” for each episode.
  6. Sat back and watched amazing conversation unfold…I didn’t really sit back, I participated, BUT I was shocked at how rich and thoughtful the conversation was!

Some logistics:

  • I offered 2 professional development hours for each week (10 total), assuming that listening takes about an hour and posting/commenting takes another hour.
  • We require that our PD participants demonstrate learning through some type of product, so we are going to create reflection videos at the end.

The participants are already asking for additional sessions and I’m thinking that participants could make suggestions for podcast episodes in the future! Such a simple solution to creating accessible and relevant PD for educators!

 

************ Check out my THRIVEinEDU PodcastHere!

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  

Getting 2gnoMe

Personalized Learning for Teachers

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

The background

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

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

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

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

How does it work?

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

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

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

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

Features

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

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

Benefits for the Educator Community

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why we all need mentors and how to make it happen

Published originally on Getting Smart 

One of the most important roles for educators today is that of being a mentor. As educators, we are often called upon to mentor the students in our classroom, as well as colleagues in our school. Throughout our lives, we have all had at one time or another a person who has served as a mentor, whether they have been selected for us or it is a relationship that simply formed on its own. Take a moment and think about the different mentors that you have had in your life. How many of them were teachers? How many of them were other adults, such as family friends or perhaps even coaches? How many of your own mentors have been the colleagues in your building or members of your PLN (Personal or Professional Learning Network)?

There may be a few that come to mind immediately, both because you remember having a specific time that was set aside to work with your mentor, maybe during your first-year of teaching or as a teacher who needed some guidance while working through some of the challenges of teaching. There is probably a mentor that comes to mind because you credit them with some aspect of personal and or professional growth. For myself, I have been fortunate to have some supportive mentors that have helped me to grow professionally and taught me what it means to be a mentor. These relationships are so important because it is through mentorships that we continue to learn and grow and become a better version of ourselves. In the process, we also develop our skills to serve as a mentor to someone else and continue the practice promoting growth.

Getting Started with Mentoring

Take a moment and think about your classroom or your school and the types of programs which may be already in place in your building. Are there specific times set aside for teachers to act as mentors for students? To their colleagues? In my school district, Riverview, we implemented a homeroom mentoring program a few years ago, as part of our RCEP (Riverview Customized Educational Plan) which we were making available for our students. A few years prior to that, we began with the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program, and our school was among the first schools in the United States to achieve national/state recognition for bully prevention. Through the program, we implemented a variety of learning activities, with the goal of engaging students in learning and collaboration, to promote a positive school climate and to create opportunities for students to build positive and supportive peer relationships.

For our Homeroom Mentoring Program, small groups of students in grades 9 through 12, are assigned to a homeroom, with a mentor. By having these smaller groups, the teachers are able to serve as a mentor for each student, working with them closely, to not only support them during their high school experience but also to prepare them for their future after graduation. It is a way to provide a more personalized learning approach for each student and for each student to know they have support available to them. These mentoring homerooms meet on a regular basis, providing ongoing opportunities for the teacher and students to interact in team-building and work on fostering peer relationships. During these homeroom meetings, some of the activities include pride lessons, goal-setting discussions, career exploration surveys and job shadowing, community service experiences and other topics which come up throughout the year. It is a good opportunity for the students to have a small group to work with and to develop critical skills for their future, such as communicating, collaborating, problem-solving, and developing social and emotional learning skills as well.

In addition to the planned activities, a key part of our mentoring program is the creation of a “portfolio” which includes samples of student work, a job shadow reflection, resume, list of volunteer experiences and additional artifacts that students can curate in their portfolio. The past few years, students have organized these materials into a binder, which has been kept in the mentoring homeroom. The materials become a part of their required senior graduation project. This year, we have started creating an e-portfolio, using Naviance, a program that promotes college and career readiness. Students begin by creating their online profile and sharing their activities and interests. Using the program, students can take surveys to learn more about their own skill areas and interests, learn about colleges which might match their interests, and also continue to build their digital citizenship skills. According to one of our guidance counselors, Mrs. Roberta Gross, the mentoring program was implemented to help students make transitions toward post-secondary goals and plans, and moving to the e-portfolio is creating more opportunities for students to explore their own interests and create their online presence.

There are many benefits of having students create an e-portfolio. Moving to an e-portfolio makes it easier to access the information for each student, it can be shared with parents and it opens up more conversations between the students and the mentor teacher. It is important to prepare our students for whatever the future holds for them beyond high school graduation, and working with them as they grow, in these small groups, really promotes more personalized learning experiences and authentic connections.

As a final part of this program, our seniors take part in a senior “exit interview”, a simulated job interview with a panel of three teachers, a mix of elementary teachers and high school teachers. It truly is a great experience to have time to see the growth of each student, learn about their future plans and to provide feedback which will help them continue to grow and be better prepared for their next steps after graduation. And for students, being able to look through their portfolios, reflect on their experiences, self-assess and set new goals, knowing they have support available, is the purpose of the mentoring program.

Resources on Mentoring

There are many resources available that can provide some direction for getting started with an official mentoring program.

  1. The “Adopt a class” program, founded by Patty Alper, who also wrote a book on mentoring called “Teach to Work: How a Mentor, a Mentee, and a Project Can Close the Skills Gap in America.” Alper talks about the impact of mentoring and how her view of it is towards an “entrepreneurial” mindset, preparing students for the future, with the skills they need. Alper breaks down the process into practical steps, with examples and encouragement for those new to the mentoring experience.
  2. The national mentoring partnership “MENTOR”, offers a website full of resources and ways to connect with other mentoring programs. MENTOR even held a Mentoring Summit in Washington, D.C., this January, where professionals and researchers gathered to share ideas and best practices for starting a mentoring program. Be sure to check out their monthly themes and presence on Twitter.
  3. The National Mentoring Resource Center offers a collection of different resources for mentoring include manuals, handouts and a long list of additional guidelines for different content areas, grade levels, culturally responsive materials, toolkits and more. The website has most of the resources available as downloads.

How you can get started

I would recommend that you think about mentors that you may have had at some point during your life. What are some of the qualities that they had which made them a good mentor and why? For me, I felt comfortable talking with my mentor, being open to the feedback that I would receive, and I knew that my mentor was available to support me when I needed. Another benefit is that we learn how to become a mentor for others, and when we have these programs in place, our students will become mentors for one another. I have seen the positive effects in my own classroom, and many times, these new mentorships have formed on their own.

 

A phenomenal mentor that taught me what it means to be an educator.

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Thrilled to have an awesome mentor and professor, thank you Bruce Antkowiak

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