10 Strategies to Help Parents with Distance Learning

How to Beat the “Back To School Blues”

Guest post by Monica Gupta Mehta @monicagmehta and Co-authored by Ariana Pokatilova, EmotionalMUSE Volunteer

“MOMMYSCHOOL,” by Deb Liu, released a cartoon entitled ‘Back To School Blues.’ The humorous graphic proclaimed fire and brimstone and doom for the 2020–2021 school year. When I saw this cartoon, I was struck by how much I related to every single one of the 10 bulleted items, based on our own family’s first week back to school.

This past week was essentially a series of timers set about 20 minutes apart to keep our three kids on track…three kids in three different schools with three entirely different schedules, despite being in the same district. Snack breaks and lunch breaks did not line up even once, which meant the adults in the house were “short order cooks” all day every day. As I frantically attempted to work with any amount of focus in my 15 minute windows of distraction-free time, I found myself looking up to “shhhh!!” the one child who was on break while the other two were on zoom calls. That’s right — even when they had breaks, there could be no loud boisterous play, out of respect for their siblings still in school. A collective sigh was heaved each day at approximately 3:30pm.

Reading Deb Liu’s ‘Back to School Blues,’ I find comfort in the knowledge that our family is not alone. If the plane is about to go down in flames, at least we are all in this together. But why is that comforting? I suppose it is the hope that comes from knowing that others are experiencing the same obstacles and challenges; somehow, somebody will come up with solutions to these challenges. As founder of the MUSE Framework for Social Emotional Learning, with a mission of developing the emotional intelligence of generations of students, I felt compelled to offer whatever advice I could to the parents who are attempting to thrive…or at least survive!…during this unprecedented school year.

1. “Orientation: Attended orientation with sixteen 8 year-olds, half didn’t know how to mute, one was upside down. Chaos ensued.”

I think we can all agree that it is not the most natural thing to have children set up on all day video conferences that rival the schedule of the busiest tech execs.

One way to help mitigate the unfamiliarity of this situation is to teach children the basics of video conferencing, beyond simply showing them how to join a video call. If your child’s teacher doesn’t already have something similar, share this graphic with them to help create a set of virtual community guidelines. It is also helpful to have a discussion with your children about what steps to take when their call is not working. Teach them to self advocate!

2. “Textbook Pickup: Freshmen book pickup cancelled due to the insufficient staff. Still TBD on the updated calendar. School starts Monday.”

It is eerie how similar our experiences were — our schools had to delay materials pickup multiple times, and many students did not have their textbook pick up until after the school year had started. The schools tried to recruit more parent volunteers, but without adequate childcare, most parents with younger kids are not free to leave their homes. My teen found a partial workaround for this problem — there are many sites out there that offer both free and rental versions of textbooks in digital, PDF format. To make this easier for younger children, print out the pages they actually need so they can take notes and annotate as they would in a print textbook.

3. “Class Assignments: Middle school class assignments were delayed until just before the first day of class due to technical issues.”

I guess this is one of those “it is what it is” things in life. Hopefully it’s true what they say — tough situations build strong people. One thing is for sure…we’ll come out of this pandemic with more grit and resilience than we could have learned through any purely educational methods.

4. “Lunch Roulette: Found all three kids have different lunch times. Will need to be a short order cook to feed them.”

Ugh. I feel your pain, Deb Liu! This was my life the first few days of school. However, I wised up (eventually) and remembered that we used to pack lunch in the morning before school, and my kids had lunch whenever it fell in their school schedule — without me trying to give them company, or serve them hot, fresh food. Save the nice meals for dinnertime and go back to pre-packed foods that are prepared ahead of time! If you find yourself wanting to make fresh lunches, prepare everyone’s lunch at the same time as you prepare the first child’s lunch. The other children are likely to be along within the hour, and most foods can sit out that long without spoiling.

For those feeling especially ambitious, one bonus idea I had is to set up a lunch ‘playdate’ schedule, with virtual calls set up for each child to socialize during their lunch break. For some of my kids, this works great…for others, they just want a break from video calls even more than they want to socialize with their friends at lunch.

5. “School Days: Kids are expected to be on zoom for 5 to 6 hours a day, but each day is staggered so the schedule is different per day of the week, per kid. Send help.”

Yes. This. This is exhausting. Not only does each child’s day look different from their siblings’ day; each child also has a different bell schedule for each day on their own school schedule. This is difficult to manage for all of us, and creates the additional difficulty of children who are on “break” having to be quiet and solitary while the other children are still in school. One way to deal with this is to plan your younger children’s breaks a little bit ahead of time, ideally with their input. Write down various break activities your child could do during downtimes. For my own children, I ask them to use the restroom and drink water at every break as needed, then to either get a snack or do anything on the list of brainstormed activities. These include stretching breaks, puzzles, journaling, coloring, quick chats with friends, shooting some baskets, taking a short walk (for older kids), having a mindful moment, reading a book, etc. I also let my kids play in this virtual “playroom” I created, which they find simultaneously both fun and relaxing. (FYI the virtual playroom only works on computers; it is not yet optimized for mobile use.)

I’d also recommend creating a master schedule of all of your children’s log in times as well as codes. If possible, give your children “view” access and teach them how to check the master schedule. Include all additional schedule items, such as exercise, meal plans, and extracurriculars. As things change (updated zoom links, changes in schedule) you can then simply update this master spreadsheet, and your kids will always find the most updated schedule/links as they check back throughout the day.

I find it useful to include my own general schedule in this spreadsheet — that way my kids know if I am in meetings or appointments, on a walk with our puppy, etc.

6. “Communication Management: After reading through two dozen back-to-school emails from five schools and filling out online forms for two days, I am sure I missed at least three things. Just not sure which three.”

This is not my strong suit; I have come to dread my emails with a passion (can you dread something with a passion?? I think the answer is you can during a worldwide pandemic.). However, one hack I have started using seems to be working pretty well. I’ve created a separate folder for emails coming from school, since there is so much communication home these days. Any school email that comes across my inbox I dump in the folder to read in the evening, and I keep the email there even after I’ve read it. Once I am sure I have processed it, noted vital info, and done all tasks from the email, then I remove it from the folder.

7. “School IT Support: Juggled logins to Schoology, Infinite Campus, UpToUs, Google Classroom, Quickschools, Clever, and Konstella to figure out all of the action items. Probably forgot all of the usernames and passwords already.”

I think the solution to this one is obvious…it’s just frustratingly time consuming. Somehow, somewhere all of that information needs stored where it can be readily retrieved. I threw out my usual hesitation to write down passwords and created a login information tab in my master spreadsheet (the one the kids use to see their schedule each day and all the zoom links). The benefit of this is that the kids can see their own login information, and they now come to me far less for this specific need. If I end up getting hacked because we wrote everything down, I suppose I’ll be eating my words. Fingers crossed it all works out.

“8. Calendaring: Realized one of us will be a full-time executive assistant to manage the calendar for three kids or else everything will fall apart.”

This is just factually true, and it is no fun. I do have hope this will get better as things become more routine; but it does feel like half my day goes to this. There are two strategies that have helped me counteract this. One is, yet again, my master schedule. Having a really organized place to collect all information, and to update it as it changes, is a game changer. Every bit of new info that comes in has a spot either in that spreadsheet or on my Google calendar. Knowing where to record the constantly changing information as it comes in is half the battle.

The other two thirds of the battle (yes, we are all metaphorically putting in way more than 100% effort!!) is to not procrastinate. This is a huge ask when everyone is overwhelmed and working way too many jobs at once (paid and unpaid)…but aim for an empty email inbox each day if possible. The more you let the emails build up, the more reluctant you will become to address them.

9. WiFi: Our WiFi is melting down already with too many concurrent video connections. Next week will be WiFi-Mageddon.”

Oof. I have lost count of the number of things we have tried to do to create enough bandwidth for the kids to all be in school synchronously, for me to get my work done, and for my husband to be on all day long conference calls. We have called our Internet service provider, and that has occasionally helped, as sometimes the issue is on their end. You can also try resetting your router — sometimes if we do that enough, the WiFi magically begins working again.

If this issue persists, internet connection is the area I would say is most worth spending a little extra money if you can afford it. Upgrading to a better router will generally help immensely. We have also purchased something called a MiFi — a personal internet hotspot that can be plugged anywhere, with its own monthly fee. This is amazing to have for our outdoor classroom, which we are doing four days a week (we are allowing some friends to come do school with our kids socially distanced in the backyard). That is, four days a week if the California wildfires are not devastating our air quality and trapping us indoors! (…while simultaneously making us so grateful to have an “indoors” to be trapped in, as our neighbors to the north, east, and south are all being evacuated).

One last suggestion for sparing your WiFi is to encourage yourself and your kids to take breaks from their devices when they are on school breaks. Encourage them to move their bodies and to engage their minds in different ways, such as reading, puzzles, chores and games.

10. “Assessment for School Year 2020: We are doomed.”

Well…here’s hoping my Dad is right. He is always telling us to be “wildly optimistic.” While every word of Liu’s cartoon depicts exactly how I felt last week, this week I am optimistic that the tips and strategies collected here can keep us aloft. It certainly won’t be a smooth flight, but with a confident pilot and the advice of our co-pilots, I believe we will get through this. Together.

Visit Monica’s site EmotionalMUSE.com for Social Emotional Learning curriculum you can use with your children. My first two units include a Piloting Your Plane emotional regulation curriculum for early elementary school children, and a Socializing During A Pandemic social skills unit for secondary school students. It is a rapidly growing site — follow me for updates when new units become available!

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Guest Post: Culturally Responsive Teaching

Guest post by Chris Orlando @Dr_ChrisOrlando

When COVID-19 struck in the spring, it forced an unprecedented portion of our country’s schools to suspend brick-and-mortar instruction. Teachers were thrown into distance teaching—referred to by many as “crisis teaching”— with little preparation. It was like trying to build a plane while flying it.

The crisis has exposed societal inequities impacting our students’ daily lives including food deficits, inadequate health care—including mental health care, issues with housing stability, and insufficient access to the internet.

This fall, to ensure that I’m meeting the needs of my marginalized students even as I shift to a new learning environment, I plan on creating a culturally responsive digital classroom, one that can provide a space where students feel welcomed and valued. Culturally responsive instruction centers on building the learning capacity of all students. According to Zaretta Hammond, author of Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain, “There is a focus on leveraging the affective and the cognitive scaffolding that students bring with them.”

Here are three ways in which I plan to implement culturally responsive teaching this year:

Building Relationships

The single greatest investment teachers can make is to build relationships with their students. Relationships boost motivation, create safe spaces for learning, build new pathways for learning, and improve student behavior. The question, of course, is how can I build relationships with students who I might never see in person?

First, I plan to master the soft start to class in order to ease students into our learning environment each day. Though often thought of as an elementary school strategy, my middle schoolers respond well to soft starts. It allows time for students to transition and to re-engage their mental muscles with a short game, puzzle, brainteaser, reading, or interesting “Would You Rather” question. Be cognizant that typical icebreakers like, “What I did this summer” may leave children with nothing positive to share and create a social hierarchy of who had the most impressive summer break. Instead, pose questions like, “Imagine your best day ever. What would happen?” or “If you could change one thing about the world, what would it be?” Taking even ten minutes to check-in with students at the beginning of class each day is vital because high-trust, low-stress environments can help marginalized students effectively process and retain learned information. Additionally, I plan to do the following to build relationships and increase connectedness virtually:

  • Learn my students’ names promptly and use them as much as possible. As a teacher who often mispronounces my students’ names, I’ll assign students to create a short video in which they pronounce their name so that I can reference it.
  • Ask for student feedback regularly through an ungraded video or Google Form known as “Friday Feedback”
  • Host informal office hours that will encourage one-on-one communication
  • Collect and share virtual notes of gratitude and appreciation

Be a Personal Trainer of Students’ Cognitive Development

As a teacher who is preparing for Round 2 of distance teaching this fall, much of the success or failure of this upcoming school year will depend on my students’ ability to work independently. In order to foster this independence, I will be providing students who are dependent learners with cognitive routines and tools that will help them organize their thinking and process content. Consistently using a regular set of prompts in all assignments helps students internalize cognitive routines so that they can use them when I’m not around. After all, isn’t the goal of education to help students become lifelong learners who can marshal their critical thinking skills long after they’ve left the classroom? Internalizing cognitive routines will help expand the learning capacity of students who have been historically marginalized and work to dismantle dominant narratives about students of color.

Make It a Game, Make It Social, Make It a Story

Each day students walk into our classrooms (or this year, log in to our classrooms) armed with their own learning tools, but too often teachers fail to use them to maximize student learning. Students’ culture can inform us whether they learn best on their own or by collaborating with others. In a distance learning context, students are often given packets and assigned independent projects, which serve independent learners, but are a detriment to communal learners. For example, diverse students who come from oral traditions, might benefit from activities that require social interaction, physical manipulation of content, or narrative. In other words: make it a game, make it social, or make it a story. Utilizing breakout features in Zoom and apps like Jamboard, Flipgrid, and Socrative can help engage communal learners. However, it’s important to remember that culturally responsive teaching isn’t simply a set of strategies. It’s consistently mirroring students’ cultural learning styles and tools.

My job is to be responsive to students’ individual and collective lived experiences, and in particular this year, their experiences with the COVID-19 pandemic. That will require me to integrate my students’ cultural learning tools into my pedagogy and be a warm demander of their cognitive development. But above all, this year will be about relationships. Creating a learning partnership that encourages my students to take ownership of their learning has always been important, but this year it will be paramount to address gaps in learning outcomes between diverse students and their white counterparts. Through robust reflection of my own pedagogy and the adoption of culturally responsive teaching practices, I plan to make learning exciting and joyful for my students so that they’ll be motivated to take ownership of their own learning. Students will be seen. They’ll be heard. They’ll be loved. And we’ll make it through this school year together.

Gonzalez, J. (2017, September 10). Culturally Responsive Teaching: 4 Misconceptions. Cult of Pedagogy. https://www.cultofpedagogy.com/culturally-responsive-misconceptions/

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5 Ways to Prioritize Social & Emotional Learning for the 2020 School Year

Guest post by Peter Davis, @kapwingapp 

Opinions expressed are those of the guest blogger.

 

The 2020-2021 school year has just kicked off in some areas, and it is already proving to be a year like no other. Heightened anxiety among students, teachers, and parents is a certainty this year, across all of the various educational methods administrators are using. Some students will be stuck in precarious, distracting, or harmful home environments, some will be forced to walk halls that could threaten the health of them and their families, and others face an uncertain fall in districts that have yet to finalize their back-to-school methods.

In total, all these changes mean that social and emotional learning will be front and center in the 2020 school year. I talked to Denver-area elementary school teacher Adin Becker about his learnings from spring 2020, his uncertainties in approaching the fall term, and his plans to prioritize SEL in the virtual learning environment. Here are the 5 main things to strive for in the fall semester:

  1. Make sure students have opportunities to interact with each other
  2. Schedule socially distanced visits when possible
  3. Make your materials more inclusive than ever
  4. Advocate for remote health services
  5. Make space for trauma
  1. Give your students opportunities to interact with each other

If you’re conducting some or all of your school through remote e-learning, it won’t be possible to replicate the social environment that your students would experience under normal class conditions. Students’ social interactions with each other are vital to their engagement in school work and their growth as individuals. Becker puts it this way:

The biggest difference this year is classroom community. Young students need social interaction to grow, and there is no question that the online learning environment is not the same as seeing your friends in-person. My school has already experienced the difficulties of limited engagement in e-learning from the last semester. I plan to introduce more in-class discussion between students, make use of online academic games, and show interest in my students’ wellbeing.

There’s no perfect way to transfer the social benefits of in-person school to the remote classroom, but there are lots of things you can do to make up for students’ loss of social engagement. Especially with younger students, their social experiences are as important as your lessons, so it’s vital to dedicate a similar amount of your time and attention to both. Something as simple as using Zoom breakout rooms for free discussion during remote class periods can help to make up for students’ lack of social interaction in school.

  1. Schedule socially distanced visits when possible

Students’ social relationships with each other are indispensable to their SEL experience, but so is their relationship with their teacher. And the same way remote classrooms can’t replicate the social experience of in-person school, Zoom meetings with your students can’t provide quite the same student-teacher relationship. Here’s what Becker has to say:

Unfortunately, it’s simply not possible to provide the same access and inclusion to students through e-learning. Districts can do their best to provide all families with laptops and internet, but there’s only so much they can accomplish – there are nearly 100,000 students in my district, for example. To bolster student interest, I am hoping that I can organize a few socially-distanced home visits with each of my students so that they can get to know me and hopefully feel more comfortable with me online.

Luckily, it’s easier to stay safe while meeting with just one student at a time. If your school’s administration allows it, try to set up socially distanced home visits with your students at least once a semester. This allows students to feel individually heard and acknowledged, so they can feel even more comfortable and engaged in remote learning sessions.

  1. Make your materials more inclusive than ever

Inclusivity and accessibility are crucial in the social & emotional learning of all students under “normal” conditions, and the remote environment of 2020’s classroom means you have to be more intentional than ever in serving all of your students equitably. Record your lesson videos at a pace that all of your students can follow, and add subtitles so every student can absorb the lesson the way they learn best. And if you’re trying to make your e-learning materials fun & distinctive, keep an eye on the readability of your resources for students with visual difficulties.

Unfortunately, even if you include helpful subtitles, visual aids, and voiceovers in your videos, kinesthetic learners won’t find the same tailored learning support that they could in the classroom. Becker explains:

In-class I like to use manipulatives to supplement student learning. Because I’m a general education teacher, I cover every subject including math. Online, I can’t provide extra physical materials to help students understand concepts like fractions. Instead, I will make use of online academic games, and interactive learning models that can engage young students outside the classroom. Because it will be exceedingly easy for students to tune out during online learning, class will need to be hyper-interactive.

Inclusivity extends to every corner of your teaching: use gender-appropriate or gender-neutral pronouns in your materials, and be wary of your students’ personal needs. When planning recorded lessons and producing e-learning videos, be efficient and make use of your students’ limited attention spans. In the classroom, you’re able to monitor your students’ engagement, but teaching remotely means that you can’t always keep an eye on their focus.

  1. Advocate for remote health services

Another important aspect of the in-person school experience that’s missing in remote learning is the accessibility of health services for students. While in-person medical care can’t be provided to students using typical school resources, it’s especially important during the COVID-19 pandemic to provide adequate mental health resources for students of all ages.

You likely don’t have much direct control over your administrators’ use of health resources. But if you’re able, do what you can to advocate for mental health resources to be made available for your students. This might involve bringing several educators together in order to work for what you believe is best for your students, speaking with parents in order to focus the school’s entire community on students’ well-being, or doing your own research on accessible mental health resources online. This terrific list of accessible remote mental health resources is a great place to start.

  1. Make space for trauma

It would be great for your remote teaching to be just as effective as in-person school, but most likely that’s not possible in 2020. And what’s more, it shouldn’t be your primary objective. Many students are experiencing an especially traumatic year, and their health and wellness has to be prioritized over the diligence of their schoolwork. Becker elaborates:

Many students are traumatized after losing family to COVID or getting sick themselves. For that reason, social-emotional learning will be front and center this semester to address trauma. Education through this catastrophe needs a dose of realism: pushing your students harder than usual will do more harm than good.

The main takeaway here is that educators need to be especially responsive to all their students this year and rethink the teacher/student relationship. More than ever before, the parent/teacher relationship may occupy a lot of your attention, as students’ whole lives become central to the success of their education.

 

 

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If it ain’t broke, then break it

 

Guest post by Cory Radisch, Follow Cory on Twitter @cradisch_wc

Wait, that’s not how the saying goes! However, even though data still demonstrates consistent opportunity and achievement gaps in schools, there are many who think things are not broken. It doesn’t matter that the data tells a different story. In many places, if adults are satisfied and comfortable, many believe the system “ain’t broke”! My longtime mentor, Marc Natanagara, used the title of this blogpost with former staff, not only to inspire them to challenge the status quo, but also to let them know it’s perfectly acceptable to break the system! It was appropriate long ago and it’s even more appropriate today. If we are going to truly transform education, then we just may need to break it. 

  • We need to break the system that marginalizes students!
  • We need to break the system that perpetuates learning and opportunity gaps!
  • We need to break the system that disproportionately disciplines students of color!
  • We need to break the system that disproportionately has fewer students of color in AP and advanced classes!
  • We need to break the system where your zip code usually determines what level of education you receive!
  • We need to break the system that fails to recruit and retain teachers of color!   
  • We need to break the system that teaches a unilateral perspective of history!

 

Breaking the system is not blowing up the system. Breaking the system is about addressing and interrupting implicit and explicit bias in our policies, curricula, and procedures. It will undoubtedly cause discomfort. Then again, when has breaking something not created discomfort? We can either be comfortable or we can grow, but we can’t do both!  I would love to know what you will break in order to ensure equity in your district, school, or classroom.

This post is dedicated to my longtime mentor and friend, educator Marc Natanagara, who recently retired after 33 years of breaking things that weren’t broken!

 

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Your Story Matters, Here’s Mine

LEAN ON ME, WHEN YOU’RE NOT STRONG

From the time I became very aware of what my parents did for a living, I firmly decided that I did not want to follow in their educational footsteps. They worked too hard for too little compensation for all the time and effort they spent on their work, students, and school. They were outstanding educators (my dad retired as an elementary principal, and my mom retired as a psychological examiner for an educational cooperative). In college, as I considered my major area of study and degree options, Dad pointed out that careers define where we live. At the time, I wanted to write for a magazine, so I was considering a Bachelor of Arts in English. However, Dad suggested that if I completed a Bachelor of Science in Education with an English major, then magazine companies would still view it as an English degree, but I would have the flexibility to become a teacher as well, allowing me to live anywhere.

AND I’LL BE YOUR FRIEND

I took over my first classroom a few years later in October, becoming the third Spanish teacher that year for McDonald County High School after working for Missouri State University for 3 years. I nearly hyperventilated the night before my first day as I pondered all of the responsibility I had just agreed to shoulder, but the next morning, as I stood in front of my first class of thirty high school students, I realized that I was finally home. Education was where I belonged.

I’LL HELP YOU CARRY ON

Thoughts of my greatest accomplishments in education over the years always have me looking outward, not inward for impact. Have I made a difference in anyone’s life? Many have made a difference in mine. Am I transmitting inspiration and motivation? Many have inspired and motivated me. Have I equipped students to be able to walk through any door they want in life to fulfill their dreams? Am I walking through my own doors? These questions are why I am never satisfied with my own knowledge and skill. I must know better so that I can do better. Toward that end, I relentlessly pursue professional development, typically completing 150 or more hours each year (and I’m blessed to have a passion be what I do for a living, though I also get time away from PD, so don’t judge your own learning based on mine. Nothing normal here.) As I learn, I share what I know with other educators everywhere. Since the summer of 2016 (I had Twitter before that, but I had no idea what to do with it), I have become a connected educator on social media and have discovered my voice, my audience, and shifted my focus to being a conduit of empowerment for all learners, adults and students alike.

FOR IT WON’T BE LONG

I tell my students that while in my classroom, they will learn to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. Together we will push ourselves to take risks and go beyond the boundaries of what we think we can do (Thanks, Dave & George!). In my classes and professional development sessions, we leverage technology to flatten the walls of our classroom so that the world awaits. I have connected my students with experts and companies (Thanks, Buncee!) from all over the world during global DigCit Summit 2019 (Thanks, Marialice!). We connect with students from as close as Jackson, Missouri (Thanks Lance!) and as far away as Argentina (Thanks, Rachelle!) to learn other cultures, spread kindness (Thanks, Heather!), practice digital citizenship, and to develop authentic audiences for our work (Thanks, JessicaJamie, and Heather!). My passion for technology helps me guide students in a world where they no longer have to wait “grow up” to make an impact (thanks for reminding me, Kevin!).

‘TIL I’M GONNA NEED

Besides leveraging technology to empower students, I also cultivate their voice. Communication is another big skill that employers look for when hiring. Google, at the time this post was written, ranks it second in their top 7 desired employee skills, so I want my students to be able to articulate ideas then see them come to fruition. Students guide my teaching by giving me after action reports when I try a new activity or lesson. They give me as much feedback as I give them. Students have input on what activities we do, how we do them, and in choice of tool for completing the activities. Their voice matters (Thanks for reminding me, Rick & RebeccaLet Them Speak: How Student Voice Can Transform Your School).

SOMEBODY TO LEAN ON

But I don’t stop there. While I flatten the classroom walls for my students, I also do that for myself. An educator in North Carolina, my friend Holly King, pointed out that one of my talents is in connecting the dots, whether that be in combining learning sciences with supported research based teaching strategies, social emotional skills with academics, using tools in new and unique ways to help students learn, or just in the realm of ideas and theories, I make connections. By doing so, I connect people. Whether it is high school students or adults, I connect people, which connects ideas, and that elevates us all and empowers us with a platform, with a sounding board, with a brainstorming opportunity to be better, to elevate the field for us all. (Speechless, Holly.) This is what a lot of us in education do, whether we realize it or not. It’s why left our own islands and continue to grow our professional learning network. Teaching is a life changing business (Right, Dave?), and not just for students. It changes us all.

HEADING TITLES ARE PARTIAL LYRICS FROM BILL WITHERS’ SONG, LEAN ON ME, © UNIVERSAL MUSIC PUBLISHING GROUP

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

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CONUNDRUM SCHOOLING: PART DEUX

Guest blog post by Jillian DuBois  @JillDuBois22

When COVID chose to collide with our lives in March, teachers and educational leaders defied time and space by achieving more than we could ever dream of doing in our profession.

FOR our STUDENTS.

We gave up Spring Break. We sacrificed family time. We had sleepless nights. We KNEW what needed to be done, followed through, and gave it our all.

Some described it as distance learning. Homeschooling. Virtual school. These types of schooling require months, even years of preparation before taking on that challenge.

In the simplest of terms – it was far more than that. It was what I called CONUNDRUM schooling (conundrum – An unstable time or period, usually marked by intense difficulty or danger. Thank you to wordhippo.com for the explanatory definition.). Traumatic schooling that was disruptive, stressful, and anxiety-inducing, leaving little time for research + planning. Teachers sent up an SOS.

We grieved over what was lost. In just one critical moment, we somehow surrendered our community, fellowship, daily routines, and a predictable schedule that gave us satisfaction + security in our profession.

But we persevered. It was muddled, unpredictable, and often frustrating. We came out of it still breathing and somehow able to exhale, knowing that during our physical time away from our students we had gained meaningful pedagogy in our learning strategies and skills.

Thankfully, the #edtech platforms we chose provided excellent facilitation and reinforcement for the majority of our instruction and learning. In turn, that opened up a new path as to how to process + present our instruction differently and more efficiently. Teachers met via teleconferencing and innovatively collaborated together. We shared lesson plans, ideas, and exceeded what we assumed we could do – like superheroes.

So as I begin to conceptualize the next few weeks in preparation for the new school year…I am drawing a BIG, FAT…blank, that leads to…

CONUNDRUM SCHOOLING: PART DEUX.

The current space available in my head is not prepared for academics + curriculum planning AT ALL. I don’t even have the words to properly and politically respond to friends and family who ask how I feel about returning.

BLANK. NADA. NOTHING. (and if you know me at all, I don’t blank on anything, that’s NOT what teachers do. We are masters at improvisation.)

Moment of truth? I believe I’m a darn good teacher. The last semester drained every ounce of imagination + creative skill that I estimated I had. I’m slowly rebounding. What I DO know is that I WILL be brave + undaunted. I will NOT let fear worm its way into my tenacious spirit. I refuse to give in and give up.

WILL consider + celebrate the progression that I made as a teacher last year.

I have cultivated new ways of being FLEXIBLE + RESILIENT. I was able to give up control and allow my students unique opportunities to drive their own learning. They participated in the decision-making process by expressing their choices when given the chance. There was extended time for inquiry + building out their curiosities with enthusiasm.

They had questions that I did not have the answers for…and that was truly amazing. There was project-based learning alternatives that sparked many in-depth conversations, ‘a-HA’ moments, and periods of self-reflection. JUST this alone was worth the efforts. We honored the process of learning + accountability as a class…together.

There MAY not have been any stellar discoveries of new content during this time of conundrum schooling, BUT there was incredible facilitation of educational experiences that they will never forget. Neither will I.

What will I carry into this new year? These things I just mentioned. I will join tens of thousands of other teachers who will be using their newly-gained expertise to keep some semblance of normalcy + security for our students.

Unlearn the conundrum. Relearn confidence with conviction.

I will teach them honesty, kindness, empathy, justice, and inclusivity. THAT is where I will begin. I know I will get to the planning + academics, don’t you worry. But FIRST things FIRST. I love them already.

We need time to heal together.

We will get there. There’s still a steep learning curve ahead with no signs of caution. Education will now be in stark contrast to what was before comfortable + traditional. As we launch with students, we will crawl along slowly. Next, steadily we will learn to walk together as weeks go by. Possibly, we may even start to run again. GRACE + PATIENCE will be generously granted each day as we encounter new circumstances and ways of life.

We are in it for the beautiful mess that it is. It will be SUCH a monumentally great year if we allow ourselves to take one day at a time, appreciate our vision + mission, and lean into our passion for our students.

Oh, and don’t forget the #impartEDjoy.

Best wishes for an amazing conundrum of a journey.

Jillian

 

**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.

Here are my books available. Find them at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

Exploring the World From Our Classroom

As we prepare our students for their future once they leave our classrooms, I believe that one of the most important skills that they need to develop is that of collaboration. We cannot be certain of the type of work that they will do nor the type of jobs that will exist, but being able to collaborate and to provide and receive support will be beneficial to any line of work. However, we need to go beyond the collaboration that occurs whether in person in the classroom, working in small groups or collaborating virtually through the use of digital tools. We have so many possibilities for extending their collaboration to a global scale and to best prepare for the future, this is what we must do in our classrooms. The benefit of setting up virtual collaborative learning experiences for students is that it shows the powerful capability of technology. Through different digital tools and organizations available, we can now offer faster and more reliable access to resources than we ever had before. But probably more important than this, it fosters a greater understanding of life in the real world and promotes cultural awareness for our students.

As a Spanish teacher, for years I have wanted to create global connections for my students but only until the past few years did I become more intentional about finding ways to do so. Drawing upon my experiences as a student and during the first years of my teaching career, finding opportunities or knowing where to look were areas that I struggled with. However, after doing some research and becoming more connected, there are a lot of digital tools and resources available for making these global collaborations happen and which do not take much time at all to get started.

In my practice, to connect globally, I use project-based learning is the first way that I connected my students with other classrooms and that has made a positive impact on their learning as well as on their personal growth. It simply took connecting with teachers using Edmodo as our platform and then building the different tools in to open up those conversations and create that space for students to collaborate within. Tools like Flipgrid, Synth, Padlet or Wakelet can be used for students to post messages whether written or audio or video and to work together to better understand a concept or potentially work together to solve a problem.

Resources for global collaboration and learning

Scavenger hunts: I’m sure most of us have participated in a scavenger hunt. A few years ago I found the platform Goose Chase which made it a lot easier and quicker to create a scavenger hunt for use in my classroom. What I realized is that by using digital tools like Goose Chase for example, is that those who can participate are not limited to students in the same class nor students in the same school community. Find a partner teacher to collaborate with and design a scavenger hunt that can be a way to exchange information about each respective culture, post images of the school, the town or what life is like beyond your own school community. The results would be amazing when students in both classrooms learn about another culture, become curious for learning, collaborate and problem-solve together while being in a completely different geographical location. This idea had not occurred to me until I participated in a scavenger hunt for a conference in California, from my home in Pittsburgh, and I actually won a prize. And if not Goose Chase, I can use things like Fliphunt or even Wakelet as a good friend of mine Laura Steinbrink had created. There are many tools to get started with this, but the idea is that we push beyond our own classrooms and involve other students so that we can learn and grow together.

There is no shortage of tools for use in our classrooms, whether digital or traditional format. What makes any one of them stand out is the purpose and knowing the why behind our decision to use them in our practice. When it comes to preparing our students for the future, the best that we can do is open as many doors as possible for them to look out into the world, explore, and find something that is interesting and leads them down a road of discovery. In addition to digital tools for promoting global collaboration, there are some organizations that have invested in building global awareness and digital citizenship.

Here are a few resources to start with:

Belouga: An educational platform that provides resources for educators and students to connect with classrooms around the world and engage in more authentic learning. Belouga focuses on promoting intercultural communication and offers resources such as projects for students to participate in to develop a greater global understanding. Belouga offers a deep dive series as well as a new feature that focuses on Mission 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals.

Empatico: A free platform for use with their students ages six through 11. Educators can connect their classroom with a partner classroom and design activities to engage students in more meaningful learning as they develop greater global awareness. Through the connections made within the platform, students can build their vital 21st-century skills and take a more active role in learning.

Teach SDGs:  The “Sustainable Development Goals” are something that we have been learning more about as we’ve done project-based learning in my classroom. Exploring the website and learning more about the needs and challenges around the world has made an impact on my students as well as myself for learning. Going to the Teach SDGs site, students can learn about the 17 goals set forth by the United Nations. Together we can look at global issues, learn how places around the world are solving these problems, and use this to set up connections with classrooms globally. Again it just takes finding the right tool to communicate through. It could be with Microsoft Skype, to set up a call to talk with someone who teaches in one of those places or to connect with an expert I can talk about a specific topic, but that opens up the potential to connect our students’ work together.

Write the World: Students ages 13 through 18 can write and share their work with writers from over 120 countries around the world. Through the global platform, students have opportunities to build their writing skills and become more comfortable expressing themselves. Write the World is a good way to get feedback from students, educators, and authors and to work to build a writing portfolio. With access to writing from around the world and the ability to share their work on a global scale, students and build cultural awareness and become more connected as they design their learning journey.

Global Book!: Or how about Michael Drezek, an educator from New York who came up with the idea to create a global book! Using Buncee, he started the story by sharing it with classrooms around the world and having students add to the book. In the first year, the book traveled over 23,208 miles! This is the second year that Michael is doing this project and the focus is on the global sustainability goals. Imagine having your students come up with part of a global story and in the end to see how they’ve connected with students from around the world without leaving your classroom or possibly even their seat.

As educators, we must continue to push ourselves to learn more about resources available as well as the different ways we can become more connected. There are many online events to build our skills, including virtual learning summits, webinars, and Twitter chats our own professional development. It is through these formats that we can reach out to connect ourselves and serve as a model for our students about the importance of and the power in global collaboration. Check out some of the resources that were available for global collaboration week, there are a lot of ideas and links to excellent resources.

Preparing for the Future: Career and College Ready

Previously posted on Getting Smart

Over the past couple of months we have had to make many adjustments to our personal and professional lives. During this unprecedented time, educators and families have been trying to find balance in their days, to work together to keep learning going, and perhaps more importantly, to provide the academic, emotional, and mental support that our students need.

For many educators, finding the right resources that can be used to teach and mentor remotely, and which will also engage students in learning activities, can be difficult. The challenge is not so much in finding tools, but rather in knowing whether our students can access them, determining which will benefit them the most, and making sure that we can provide the support that students and families need. At this time of the year in particular, guidance counselors and educators who work with mentoring programs are quite busy as they help seniors prepare to graduate from high school or other students as they transition to a new grade level or school. In many school districts across the United States, students are required to complete a job shadow, explore careers, and develop a digital portfolio that will become part of their application for college or work. Integral to these requirements are school guidance counselors.

After speaking with a guidance counselor from my school and following conversations in different learning communities and on social media, I’ve noticed that guidance counselors are seeking resources that can help them to provide this same support for students during remote learning. Even when we are in school with access to guidance counselors and resources, it can be difficult for students as they prepare to transition to their next grade or the next phase of their educational or work journey after graduation. Trying to plan their next steps, whether entering the workforce or pursuing a college education, has not been easy during this time. Students have questions about jobs, college applications, and skills needed for the future and without being in the same space, providing that information can be a challenge. However, there are many resources available to educators, students, and parents that can help now while we are experiencing school closures and that will be beneficial throughout the year in addition to the programs already in place.

Here are seven options for guidance counselors to support students during their transitions between grades, schools, and education and career. These options provide ways for students to explore careers, find job shadow opportunities, create digital portfolios, and even visit college campuses.

Career Readiness. In Pennsylvania, the Lincoln Intermediate Unit has a website that provides many links related to career awareness and readiness that will be helpful to elementary, middle and high school educators and students everywhere. It also offers resources for secondary transitions for special educators, direct links to the PA Department of Education, opportunities for virtual college and job visits, and many other relevant materials for educators that are helping students to determine their career pathways.

Couragion. Provides work-based learning experiences for students. Some options include career shadowing for students in grades 4 through 8 and micro badging for career exploration for middle and high school students. There are four curricular models to explore including technology, engineering, manufacturing, and business. There is also information provided for doing remote externships during the summer months and students can also build career portfolios.

Ecampus Tours. Educators and students can choose from more than 1,300 tours to explore college campuses in 360-degree virtual tours. The website also offers additional resources for college planning as well as materials for guidance counselors such as documents and other handouts for students and parents to plan for college.

MyPlan. Through the Career Exploration section of their site, there are videos, salary calculators, and other resources that enable students to explore different careers at their own pace. Students can learn about different industries, find out about the top 10 careers, and even ask questions in the community to learn more about specific careers and skills needed.

Nepris. This site offers educators the opportunity to connect students with professionals working in many different careers and industries. Through their Career Explorer program, educators can request a speaker to join in a virtual discussion with students, provide students with an authentic audience as they present project-based learning, or even arrange a panel discussion. There are live virtual chats and more than 9,000 recordings available for students to explore different careers on their own time. The virtual industry chats and video library are available to everyone during this time.

Smart Futures. This Pittsburgh-based company has created SmartFutures.org, an online career planning platform for students, whether kids or young adults. Using Smart Futures, students take surveys and complete activities to learn more about their skills and interests, and are able to explore careers and create their digital portfolio. E-Mentors are also available through Smart Futures.

Xello. This resource provides a variety of options for students to learn more about careers and build future-ready skills as they transition through each level of school. Using Xello, students take an assessment and then can explore hundreds of career and college options that match their results. As they work through the activities, reading biographies and engaging with the resources provided, a portfolio of their work and explorations is created. Xello’s software also assists students with gathering documents needed as they prepare college applications.

Regardless of whether in the physical or virtual space, we need to support students and provide them with opportunities to explore their interests and prepare for the future, whether for careers or college. Using any one of these resources, students have opportunities to build self-awareness of their skills and interests and can engage in different learning experiences that prepare them for the future.

 

**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  

#singlevoicesglobalchoices

Guest post by Barbara Zielonka  @bar_zie

 

Dear educators,

We would like to invite you to the global and collaborative project for middle and high school students and teachers #singlevoicesglobalchoices. We are reaching out to educators who want to bring the real world into their classrooms and who want to engage their students without the coursebook.

We are going to do that by focusing every month on one or more international event/ events created by the United Nations and other organizations and by analyzing current events. International days are occasions to educate our students on issues of concern, to mobilize political will and resources, to address global problems and to celebrate and reinforce the achievements of humanity. The existence of international days predates the establishment of the United Nations but is also a powerful advocacy tool that may help us empower our students and create global citizens who are aware of the wider world, have a sense of their role as world citizens, respect and value diversity, want to tackle social justice, and believe that all children and young people have a right to an education.

Each international day offers the opportunity to organize activities related to the theme of the day at our schools. The themes of international days we have selected will always link to:

  • the maintenance of international peace and security;
  • the promotion of sustainable development and global mindedness;
  • the protection of human rights, and the guarantee of international law and humanitarian action

The main aims of this global and collaborative project are to:

  • infuse curriculums with more project-based learning and exposure to real-world examples;
  • empower students by giving them the opportunity to co-create knowledge and learn through mistakes in a safe environment;
  • support students in becoming familiar with the professional environment and behaviours such as clear and timely communication, thinking critically, problem-solving and time management;
  • help students to see how their achievements are based upon more than just the grades they earn in class, but also the experiences they develop during their lessons

Upon completion of this project, students will:

  • define real world problems and find solutions;
  • meet international students and become a part of a global community;
  • participate in thought-provoking conversations and self–reflection activities that challenge students to investigate global problems;
  • gain factual knowledge of human rights and environmental issues;
  • learn and expand their digital citizenship skills;
  • be challenged to share the information they learn;
  • develop their global competency.

More than ever before rapidly changing working conditions and social structures require students to actively shape their role in society. Schools form future leaders for positions in society that require a high degree of social emotional skills and global mindedness. In response to that, our project provides specific collaborative assignments and strategic threads to realise related education goals. Democracy and citizenship, health and life skills, sustainable development are three interdisciplinary themes the project aims to address.

After having registered, we will verify your identity and invite you to our Microsoft Team where all the collaboration will take place.

Find more information about out project here:

https://singlevoicesglobalchoices.wordpress.com/

Registration: https://singlevoicesglobalchoices.wordpress.com/join-us/

We hope to see you soon! Join us in this collaborative and global adventure!

Kind regards,

Lesley Fearn, Lynn Thomas and Barbara Anna Zielonka

Project logo- created by Barbara Anna Zielonka

 

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my Rdene915 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  

5 Ideas for Building Communication Skills for the Future

My prior post on Getting Smart

Looking toward the future, as we consider how to best prepare our students for jobs that may not exist yet, what are the skills that will benefit them no matter what they decide to do? If we look at the research, trends over the past five or ten years of the top skills required by employees, there are a few that have stayed in place if not shifted toward the top because they are becoming increasingly more important. Looking at the shift from 2015 to the projections for 2020 and beyond, what do students need?

We’ve been talking about 21st century skills for a long time, often referring to how we are addressing the four C’s: critical thinking, creativity, communication and collaboration within our respective content areas and/or our roles. I have even heard mention of the “5Cs” and “7Cs,” with the addition of character, computational thinking, and citizenship included in the “C’s” of 21st century learning. With the increased use of technology in our classrooms and  daily lives, we can leverage some of these digital tools to help our students build the vital skills that will benefit them in the future, regardless of where their learning journey or careers take them.

As a Spanish teacher, I am always interested in finding ways to help students communicate their ideas, to express themselves in the language of study. Beyond language skills, I also want to help them learn how to communicate and collaborate with one another in various settings and contexts and in different media formats.

What are some tools that we can use to help our students become better communicators and to build confidence and promote student voice in learning?

Here are five different platforms or ideas that I think can be very beneficial for student learning and will help educators to implement some digital tools into the classroom without taking too much time to get started.

Written Communication

Students need to do a lot of writing to build their skills although this does not necessarily need to involve technology. However, the benefit of using digital tools for written communication can enhance student learning by creating more meaningful connections and providing different formats for students to convey their thoughts. Blogging is an effective tool to promote writing skills and literacy, to build digital citizenship skills, and to help students create a digital portfolio where they can track their own growth and build self-awareness as a result. Using tools like KidblogBlogger, or Seesaw offers students a space where they can take more ownership in learning, track their progress and growth over time, and become more comfortable and confident as they express themselves in a space where they can truly develop their ideas. It also promotes collaboration and fosters relationship building and getting to know our students.

Video Response

We also want to promote oral communication and give students opportunities to engage in speaking, especially if students tend to be shy in the classroom and prefer not to speak in front of their peers. We can leverage the video tools available to give students a comfortable space to begin building their speaking skills. In the past, I used Recap (now Synth), and students expressed how much it helped them to feel more comfortable to share their ideas, to reflect on project-based learning, and to be able to record their thoughts wherever they were and in a way that was comfortable. Flipgrid with its updated features offers more than just recording videos, it also promotes the opportunity for students to become global collaborators, and explore different ideas and perspectives from students in their classes. We can also use these tools to more easily connect our students with classrooms and experts around the world.

Podcasting

There are a lot of educational podcasts and platforms for creating them, depending on the amount of time you have, the age of your students and access to these resources. One idea is to start one podcast for the class, post a question for discussion and have students respond by creating a thread of their own to each question. Perhaps students can create their own podcasts or listen to the podcasts of their classmates, to focus on listening comprehension skills and also use it as a way to further expand conversations in and out of the classroom. We can build relationships between our students as they begin to better understand their classmates and make connections with one another. Students could work together to create a podcast to share within the class or to create for the school community, which would be a great way to facilitate that home to school connection to share the work being done by students in our classrooms.

Infographics

Having students work on conveying information, communicating ideas, even advanced or complex concepts, is sometimes more difficult if limited to writing a report or sticking to solely traditional methods. However, by using infographics, students learn to break down information and sort and share the most important facts or the data and determine how to best convey it to someone else. We meet the ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) Standards for Students by using activities like this because students are creative communicators, they develop computational thinking skills, problem-solving, and become empowered in their learning as they choose how to convey their information. We connect them more authentically with the content. Some digital tools to try are Adobe SparkBunceeCanva, or Piktochart. However, it does not have to involve technology.  It’s not about using tech, it’s about the activity itself and how that can benefit students. Giving students the choice to use a digital tool or simply use paper and do something like a sketchnote or other visual representation, will still develop their skills in this area.

Videos and Vlogging

If these options have been tried, educators may try out vlogging to take learning to a higher level or simply to just build upon each one of the other ideas. Even if these are simply created for use in the classroom and not shared publicly, having students create and experience the power of video for communicating and being able to create these products, will no doubt benefit them in the future. Whether students create a screencast or do a short talk about a topic of study, they are engaged in project-based learning, teaching a lesson and recording it so it can be used for other students in the class. Some digital tools to explore are WeVideo and Educreations.

There are many options out there; it just takes thinking about what we’re already doing in our classroom and making one slight change to do something a little bit differently. Or as I have done in my classroom, offer all of these possibilities for students. At times, this initially felt a little uncomfortable  because it was so open, but it had huge benefits for student learning and engagement. I want my students to build their skills with technology and connect with what we are learning in the classroom, but I also very much value the power of choice and making sure that students feel comfortable. For this, I sometimes start by offering choices and then letting students decide what will work best for them. When they do, I’m there to support and encourage them to take the next step.

 

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

 

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

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

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