Change Your Bat Angle

Guest post by Brian Kulak

K-5 Principal at Tatem Elementary School in NJ

@Bkulak11

Brian’s Book: Level Up Leadership: Advance Your EduGame

Read this blog long enough and you’ll realize how obsessed I am with baseball. Inevitably there will be posts devoted to baseball, anecdotes will center around baseball, and metaphors will be drawn from baseball.

Barguments often focus on which sport is the most difficult to play, the most demanding physically and mentally, the most failure heavy. As a lover of all sports, I can appreciate that an argument can be made for each of the four major sports: baseball, basketball, football, and hockey but, to me, there’s really only one answer.

Baseball.

Because of the physics (round ball, round bat), the variables (pitcher, weather), and the psychology (streaks, slumps), there is nothing more difficult than hitting a baseball consistently. A monster game at the plate can just as easily be followed by a soul-crushing slump of weeks, or months, the time in between at-bats seeming equal parts interminable and immediate as you perseverate on what went wrong.

As a 41-year-old weekend warrior, I only get a chance to play games on Sunday mornings. While my preparation for each game often dictates some midweek tee work or live batting practice, I’m still only playing once a week. Admittedly, I take baseball too seriously, but part of me doesn’t apologize for that because I don’t understand why folks would set out to do anything poorly, so I want to play as well as I can each week.

A few years ago I suffered through my worst season ever, and I’m including my high school playing days, during which I hit a paltry .179. During that summer, getting on base was such an anomaly that I could recall when I did reach base because it was only a handful of times. That ain’t good.

Deflated but undaunted, I continued to work that offseason because I was not going to return to my team the same player. At one point, I sent a video of myself taking swings off the tee to a friend of mine who is a hitting tactician. In seconds, he responded with a diagnosis and, ultimately, saved my swing.

“Dude, look at how far you’re wrapping the bat around your head. Change the bat angle to 1 o’clock before you load, and you’ll be quicker to the ball.”

Change. Your. Bat. Angle.

No amount of work on my own would have led me to that conclusion because, though I would have been working hard, I would have been working incorrectly. There was no way for me to self-diagnose my own flaw, so I had to ask for help.

Now, I “change my bat angle” all the time.

When I’m struggling with a certain colleague, I change my bat angle.

When I’m trying to convince my five-year-old that he can, in fact, put on his own socks, I change my bat angle.

When my early morning writing process stalls, I change my bat angle.

As you approach the upcoming school year, I challenge you to change your bat angle. Reflect intentionally on that which you have done the same way each year and change it.

  • Experiment with flexible seating and let the kids help you design the classroom’s layout
  • Revolutionize your “Back to School Night” by asking parents to leave their kids a video via Flipgrid
  • Reframe your instructional walkthroughs to focus on the kids, even a specific kid, in each room, and then write those kids a note of appreciation
  • Flip and hang old posters and allow kids to recreate them using their own words and images
  • Print, laminate, and hang Tweets or blog post excerpts about which you want your staff and students to think
  • Use a mobile desk so you’re in the hallways more and in your office less
  • Take time for yourself each day, even if it’s five minutes of nothing but sitting and breathing

Baseball is a game of failure, and in many ways, so is education. In each, the best players make adjustments all the time in order to best help their team. In each, those who refuse to make adjustments all the time don’t often have teams for long.

Change your bat angle.

**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? Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks

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Reflective Teaching and Powerful Professional Learning with LessonLoop

Reflective Teaching and Powerful Professional Learning with LessonLoop

Educators are always looking for new ideas to boost student engagement in the classroom. To do so, they need to understand student interests and needs and also be intentional about reflecting on their teaching practice. While teachers want to understand the impact of their instructional methods and tools on students’ learning, they often don’t have time to solicit feedback from individual students, and students are afraid to provide honest feedback when they feel saying the wrong thing could impact their grade. Yet students need to be part of the conversation, because not only is student voice a powerful tool that can be used to engage students in their learning, but student feedback surveys are better predictors of academic growth than principal observation and teacher self-ratings (Hanover Research 2013). 

As Alex Isaacs, an 8th-grade math teacher notes, “LessonLoop allows me to quickly conduct a survey with great questions built-in where I can quickly push this out to my students to better inform my practice.” 

LessonLoop instantly shows you how engaged your students are with a class lesson so you can gain immediate insights and adjust your instruction in real-time to help them learn better. As shown below, LessonLoop works through the four simple steps of:

1. Anonymously survey students, 

2. Review instant actionable lesson engagement reports, 

3. Receive personalized instructional recommendations, 

4. Discuss results with students so learners feel seen and heard. 

How LessonLoop Works

How do the surveys guide teachers about their practice?

LessonLoop measures student engagement in nine actionable categories (see below) that provide you with insight on how to calibrate your instruction to support active learning at each student’s just-right instructional level. With these categories, teachers have better ways to focus on the specific needs and interests of their students. Especially for social-emotional learning (SEL) and determining student progress in class, the categories and questions provide tremendous insight for teachers with information not easily accessible in any other way. 

With the information the surveys provide, teachers have many ways to evaluate, analyze and then act upon authentic student feedback to improve their practice. Working with LessonLoop’s instructional coaches/Tip Masters, they can explore new methods and tools to help address some of the areas indicated in the survey.

Sample Lesson Engagement Report

What can we learn about student engagement from using LessonLoop?

Through lesson embedded feedback, teachers better understand the impact of their instructional strategies and how students experience the learning environment. By reviewing the responses, especially the free responses, teachers receive feedback that promotes reflective practice. Using the survey results, Tip Masters work with each teacher to find strategies and tools that will increase active student learning.

Sample LessonLoop Student Free Responses

How does LessonLoop facilitate getting to know students? 

LessonLoop provides opportunities for every student to share their perspective on their immediate environment and how they are experiencing a lesson. Incorporating student voice allows students to experience a sense of respect and empowerment from their teacher. With LessonLoop, students can provide valuable feedback to their teacher and all feedback is provided through an anonymous survey, which promotes more honest feedback. Students feel comfortable responding to the survey, and because their opinions are heard, they feel more connected to and comfortable in their classroom community. When teachers circle back and discuss how to improve a lesson with students, students feel their voice is impactful and are empowered to take ownership of their learning. Students that feel seen and heard have greater motivation for and engagement in learning because they feel like an impactful member of the classroom community. 

How does the gamification aspect of LessonLoop lead to better and more authentic, honest feedback from students?  

LessonLoop incorporates gamification elements through our fun, animated surveys (see pictures below). According to Dr. Shawn Clybor, “These gamification elements keep students more alert, more active in engagement, and therefore more likely to read the questions and think about their answers.”  LessonLoop is designed to be a robust platform that informs instruction and involves students in their learning experiences. It is also meant to “encourage joyfulness, to be fun, to be funny,” says Clybor.  Using it becomes its own experience, building bonds between teachers and students.

LessonLoop Gamified Surveys

In addition to the gamified surveys, LessonLoop provides educators the ability to ask custom questions and generate two new games (humorous poll and secret word) with one click. These games focus on student engagement at the beginning of class, serve as a pick-me-up if attention is flagging mid-class, or are a fun way to end a student engagement survey.

What professional learning comes with LessonLoop?

LessonLoop provides personalized data-driven professional learning for teachers.  While all teachers have access to a knowledge base of free tips, with a paid tips subscription, every teacher is assigned an experienced Tip Master to help with reviewing their surveys and finding strategies and tools to try. The real-time lesson-embedded feedback helps educators better connect their instruction to students and be more reflective in their practice. Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) also benefit as all teachers receive instructional recommendations from subject-area specialists and coaches! PLCs can be organized around student-centered data for engagement and professional learning. Within the PLCs, teachers can share ideas and provide support to one another which then enhances the learning experience for all students. In addition, educators accumulate continuing education units (CEUs) based on minutes of use of the platform aligned with Learning Forward and/or Charlotte Danielson standards.

What to expect with LessonLoop

So many benefits!

Student Engagement Surveys: 

  • Amplify student voice through anonymous surveys
  • Strong predictor of academic outcomes 
  • Provide missing actionable data on why students aren’t learning 
  • Provide daily feedback on the delivery of the curriculum with a clear focus on social-emotional learning (SEL),  critical thinking and collaboration, and culturally responsive instruction.

We are offering free trials of LessonLoop to educators who provide feedback on our new gamified student surveys. Click here for a free trial!  And if you missed our webinar, here is the link!

Follow Rachelle on Twitter @Rdene915 and on Instagram @Rdene915. Rachelle has a podcast, ThriveinEDU available at https://anchor.fm/rdene915

**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? Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks

************ Also check out my THRIVEinEDU Podcast Here!

Turning Towards Focus in Schools

Guest post in collaboration with Focusable @getfocusable

Engagement is a concept that really has a hold on us, and it’s not just educators. Social media and game designers obsess about maximizing it. Enterprise software companies espouse the value of it towards team performance. Heck, our banking app tracks our session duration and tries to increase it. 

It’s likely accurate to say that the majority of educators have chosen engagement as the goal of their work. Overall, this is a good thing. It has helped move teaching methods beyond compliance and remain relevant. Engaged students are an unequivocally good thing. 

But recently we started to ask ourselves some questions about engagement. What does it really mean to be engaged? Both from the teacher’s perspective, and from the students’. Further, does it matter how engagement gets created? Or is all engagement the same? And if every experience you have across society is also aiming to maximize engagement, is it the right thing for educators to be doing? Or should educators be taking a left-hand turn…

We dug into the education literature on the topic. There are countless informative and thoughtful sources. What was most interesting to us was what our research didn’t reveal – a clear definition. Frankly, the more we dug, the more confused we got. There is a huge range of definitions. And not all of them agree. Here’s just a sampling. Engagement is paying attention. It is purposeful learning. It’s curiosity. It’s interaction (or action). It’s immersion in a task. It’s flow. It’s exhibiting a passion for learning. It’s excitement. It’s just compliance but with another name. There are scaffolds trying to integrate and make sense of all the disparate definitions. 

How does a teacher even know what engagement is and how to create it with this lack of definitional clarity? 

As we stated in our first post, our goal is to figure out how to set the conditions for an optimal learning experience, or flow, in education. We know this has the greatest potential for both academic performance and enjoyment of the experience for students. Our research into engagement was fueled by trying to understand how we can leverage the concept better towards this goal. But if we’ve learned anything about flow so far, the details matter in how you approach it. Deplete dopamine too much or avoid the struggle of balancing brain chemistry, and you simply never get there. 

The more we thought about it, the lack of clarity around engagement started to feel more like a hurdle than a concept for educators to leverage.

One early realization that we had was that engagement is an exhibited trait or behavior. This stands in contrast with flow, which speaks to inner experience. This introduces the potential for at least some disconnect. 

For example, do you look engaged when you are in flow? This must be true sometimes, but is it always true? And do the actions that set the conditions for flow look like engagement, too? Or do they look different? How do you know the difference between the two? And worse, what if what looks like engagement actually represents an internal state that interferes with flow (ie, overstimulation)? 

Our sense is that to strive for optimal, we need to work with terms that have more precise definitions, clearer look-fors, and less potential dualities. 

In our last post, we attempted to build a scaffold to help us seek this clarity. We already have some tweaks and improvements in mind based on the feedback we got that we’ll publish soon. 

In the meantime, we’ll turn our attention to the term focus. 

If you are interested in something, you will focus on it, and if you focus attention on anything, it is likely that you will become interested in it.MIHALY CSIKSZENTMIHALYI, AUTHOR OF FLOW, THE PSYCHOLOGY OF OPTIMAL EXPERIENCE

Focus is a term that we all know, or at least think we know. And it’s surely something that almost anyone would agree is essential to learning if you asked. But as we found in our last Twitter chat, it is not a hot topic with many educators (likely due to the emphasis of engagement). 

Focus is often equated with the words attention and concentration. In scientific circles, attention is the most clearly defined of this group. The neuroscientific definition of attention is a cognitive process of selectively concentrating on one thing while ignoring other things. Attention comes from a rather complicated interaction between several brain networks (the default mode and task-directed networks). Interestingly, ADHD and other attentional conditions are differences in how these two brain networks interact.

The definition of focus is more varied and less scientific. It is often described as the center of attention. But for educators, this definition isn’t as enabling as it could be. A more useful definition is to think of it as the control of attention. 

Why is control of attention a useful definition to educators? Most scientific findings support the idea that attention isn’t fixed. It varies. It varies between individuals and contexts. And importantly, it can change. You can improve it. Even those with ADHD can show progress with time, behavioral changes and yes, medication. It is both accurate and useful to think of it as a skill. Control of attention is a definition that captures this important fact. 

This means that not only is focus practically helpful towards things like managing classrooms, it is also a skill that you are developing through the learning experiences you create.

So what is the relationship between focus and flow? Flow can be defined succinctly as ordered consciousness. This is in contrast to normal consciousness which is usually disordered (distracted, out of our control, etc).  So it follows somewhat logically that control of attention is the very foundation. Some definitions for flow even use the words intense focus. But the two shouldn’t be directly conflated. Focus itself is not flow. Focus requires effort to get started. There is no loss of self, as there is with flow. Finding focus can provoke all sorts of reactions, often negative. Frankly, it’s a struggle. Flow is none of those things. Flow is what happens when your neurochemistry finds balance while struggling to focus and starts to feed further action more naturally. 

It is worth stating that you will never experience flow if you cannot control your attention.

It is also worth noting that focus is a useful skill beyond the purposes of finding flow. Most of the predictions about the future of jobs, and the skills educators should be aiming for in response, are misguided at this point. We can say this with confidence, because frankly, we have a horrible track record as a society of seeing the capabilities of technology in advance. 

But there is one aspect we are 100% confident in, and it is this: there will be more, and more sophisticated, experiences to control your attention with each passing year. It’s already a huge problem, as we all know. And it’s only going to get worse. Controlling your attention is just about the only ‘skill of the future’ we’d bet our life savings on. 

Control means you can direct, or redirect your attention at will. You can stop doing one thing, and start doing another. You are aware of where your attention is and where it isn’t. It is often a struggle, but in this case, visible struggle might be a positive sign. A sign that the skill of focus is being worked on. 

A lack of control, then, is distractibility. It is the inability to switch from one task to another. It is a lack of awareness of what you are doing. It could be a lack of struggle, or even just over-excitability. 

If you were to try to observe whether a student is focused, or not, these would be some of the things you would look for. 

While we recognize, again, that some definitions of engagement might match up – it’s really the ones that don’t that have us most concerned. They incent teachers to skip over the development of the skill of focus in the interest of more obvious interaction. And to us, this is a short-term gain for the long-term loss of the potential for flow, as well as interfering with the development of an essential skill. 

Perhaps moving away from engagement is the left-hand turn educators should consider.

**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? Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks

************ Also check out my THRIVEinEDU Podcast Here!

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Scena 360 – The metaverse for education

Scena 360 – The metaverse for education

Sponsored post in collaboration with Danilo Joksimovic, Co-founder & CEO of Scena 360

Visit homepage: https://links.scena360.com/yo5zWN

Learn more about Scena 360 for Education: https://scena360.com/education/?ref=blog

view from within Scena 360

Just about when the pandemic hit, Scena 360 founders Danilo Joksimovic and Anshuman Banka realised that meeting up online is nowhere as immersive and natural as it could be. Because of their love for engineering, they decided to get their hands dirty and go on a mission to make meeting up online truly delightful for everyone.

Scena 360 is an online platform that intends to create more immersive online gatherings in 3D spaces, particularly focusing efforts on easy onboarding, realistic & professional avatars, and spatial audio. Scena 360 initially tested out their product with friends and coworkers in various settings, both professional and casual and eventually found a very appealing use case in online education. Right after their beta launch, they were approached by several professors and teachers from different grade levels around the world who wished to make online learning more engaging and productive. Danilo and Anshuman learned from these educators through dozens of interviews and collected their feedback to make Scena 360 what it is today.

How does it work?

To use Scena 360, you start by creating a private 3D space, which can be as simple as selecting one of the provided scene designs and optionally a custom name for your space. This generates a link that you can then send to invite attendees who can join your space from their desktop or mobile device.

While joining the space, attendees can either join with their video turned on or optionally create a realistic 3D avatar to appear as in the space. They can then interact with students or with other educators, somewhat similar to how they would in real-life gatherings – this includes walking around, making eye contact, forming huddles, and much more.

Solving online learning challenges with Scena 360

Through the course of the pandemic, educators have been forced to adopt various virtual meeting apps, often running into issues that have made online learning a rather dull experience; the most important issues being the following:

  • Lack of natural interactions, engagement, and co-presence
  • Forcing students into awkward breakout rooms, often making moderation and monitoring of said breakout sessions much more difficult
  • Difficulty tracking student engagement and attentiveness due to cameras being turned off

Scena 360 decidedly focuses its efforts to solve these key issues through their platform. For instance, students and teachers can face each other in 3D space, and walk in and out of different conversations by moving around the space – just as they would in real life. Educators can see everyone in the space, which allows them to monitor which students are participating in group activities/discussions – without having to jump between different breakout rooms.

Unlike most alternatives, Scena 360 provides a suite of built-in integrations available directly within spaces to help make online classes more engaging and effective, such as:

  • A more collaborative and powerful whiteboard that lets you write and draw on a whiteboard.
  • A guessing and drawing game that stimulates the imagination and agility of the brain
  • A shared instrument that lets students and educators make and play music together in real-time
  • And many more are underway!

Try Scena 360 Premium for $0 for 4 months using promo code: TEACHMETAVERSE at checkout: https://scena360.com/upgrade/?ref=education-blog

(no credit-card required, cancel at any time, offer expires in April, 2022).

**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? Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks

************ Also check out my THRIVEinEDU Podcast Here!

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Poth: Building Digital Citizenship Skills with Book Creator

Sponsored post. All opinions are my own.

Each October, educators and students have opportunities to participate in events focused on digital citizenship. This year “digcit week” will be held from October 18-22. Learning about digital citizenship is important not only during October, but should be something that we focus on throughout the entire year. With such an increase in the use of technology, especially during the past school year, educators need to intentionally create opportunities for students to build digital citizenship skills in our classrooms by exploring the digital tools and learning experiences that we can provide with them.

Book Creator for DigCit!

Using Book Creator, we can create opportunities for students to become more digitally aware and literate and to be responsible in using and creating with technology. Helping students to learn to safely navigate through what has become a highly digital world is something that we are all responsible for. Students need to learn how to collaborate online, to access and share information, to create and manage accounts and protect their personal information, which are essential elements of digital citizenship.

With so many students interacting and having access to social media and digital tools, they need to develop the right skills to navigate in these spaces and be prepared to deal with any challenges or barriers that may arise. When students have the chance to collaborate and create a book together, there are many benefits. Some of the positive outcomes include building essential SEL skills like strengthening relationships, becoming more self-aware and developing a greater understanding of diverse perspectives and backgrounds.

Ideas for a digital citizenship book with Book Creator

  • Creating passwords and Internet safety
  • Using social media and responsible posting
  • Cyberbullying and how to respond
  • Finding balance on social media platforms and with technology
  • Communicating and collaborating in the online space
  • Create a book about an experience related to the theme of digital citizenship or one of the focus areas.

Getting started with Book Creator is easy!

Book Creator now has three books available to help educators get started with activities and experiences focused on digital citizenship. In June of this year, the new books were created in collaboration with Common Sense Education and are available for use in classrooms with students ages 5 through 11. In addition to using these books, Book Creator is a great choice for having students create their own books to share what they are learning about being a responsible digital citizen. Students are able to collaborate with their classmates in the digital space and learn how to post responsibly, access and use information, and build their own digital citizenship skills during the process.

Book Creator promotes more authentic and meaningful learning that helps students to build content knowledge and the essential skills they need now and for the future. All books can include audio, images, text, and video. Why not have students select a relevant topic or one of the nine elements of digital citizenship, to create a book to share with others in their school community or with global connections?

Templates!

The Book Creator team worked with the Hillsborough County Public School district in Florida to design special events for their entire district. Using the Digital Citizenship Week curriculum from Common Sense Education, they created templates to use for activities which will be part of a competition. There are many important topics to choose from including: Choosing the right words, avoiding drama in the online space, social presence on the social media platforms, this is also great for educators. There are options available to use with students in grades K through 12 as well as for teachers. Everyone can use their templates which makes it easy to get started today with some digcit activities using Book Creator!

Having access to great topics and ready-to-use templates saves a ton of time! All you need to do is add the books to your library and with the “remix” feature, students and educators can really make the books their own.

Also check out the book by Dr. Monica Burns which is based on the 6 themes of the Digital Citizenship curriculum from Common Sense Education.

Join some of the events happening during #digcitweek through Common Sense Education and @BookCreatorApp. Be sure to sign up for some of the upcoming Book Creator webinars to learn more!

About the author

Rachelle Dené is a Spanish and STEAM: What’s nExT in Emerging Technology Teacher at Riverview High School in Oakmont, PA. Rachelle is also an attorney with a Juris Doctor degree from Duquesne University School of Law and a Master’s in Instructional Technology. Rachelle is an ISTE Certified Educator and serves as the past president of the ISTE Teacher Education Network. She was named one of 30 K-12 IT Influencers to follow in 2021.

She is the author of six books including ‘In Other Words: Quotes That Push Our Thinking,” “Unconventional Ways to Thrive in EDU” “The Future is Now: Looking Back to Move Ahead,” “Chart A New Course: A Guide to Teaching Essential Skills for Tomorrow’s World, “True Story: Lessons That One Kid Taught Us” and her newest book “Your World Language Classroom: Strategies for In-person and Digital Instruction” is now available.

Follow Rachelle on Twitter @Rdene915 and on Instagram @Rdene915. Rachelle has a podcast, ThriveinEDU available at https://anchor.fm/rdene915

**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? Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks

************ Also check out my THRIVEinEDU Podcast Here!

Join my weekly show on Mondays and Fridays at 5pm EST THRIVEinEDU on Facebook. Join the group here

Adult SEL and Why it Matters

In Collaboration with Peekapak

Social-emotional learning (SEL) is an area that we need to intentionally focus on in our classrooms. As we reflect on the challenges experienced this past year, we must closely focus on our own well-being and make sure we can provide the right support for our students. For many educators, SEL has become a new addition to planning for each day. We need to be intentional in facilitating opportunities for our students to build their SEL skills each day and to do so, we need access to the right resources and support.

In our classrooms, it is crucial that we model SEL skills for our students. For example, the importance of building and maintaining positive relationships, developing self-awareness and social awareness are essential for everyone. And as we have experienced this year, being able to manage stress, making decisions and focusing on self-care practices are vital for us as educators and in our daily lives. Educators need access to the right professional development to know how to bring SEL curriculum into every classroom. With Peekapak, schools have access to structured and easy to use curriculum for students and SEL workshop resources for educators.

Research shows that teacher well-being has a substantial effect on school climate. If educators are experiencing burnout and elevated levels of stress and do not have the right strategies to push through, it will negatively impact students. To prevent this, we need to establish routines, work with colleagues and with students, and build trust with each other.

Building Our SEL competencies

To learn more about SEL, there are many resources and professional learning opportunities available. Peekapak offers the SEL Summit which has been providing informative webinars each month full of valuable ideas and resources for getting started. These webinars have been a great opportunity to not only learn about how to build holistic and school-wide strategies, but also ways that educators can practice SEL skills and feel more confident to bring it to life in our classrooms. During these live sessions, it is also a great opportunity to ask questions and connect with other educators.

During the most recent June 15th “SEL Starts with Adults” SEL Summit, the panelists discussed the latest research and shared some best practices and tips for supporting educator SEL. You can access the recording here to learn how the panelists have been supporting SEL in their schools and what their plans are for the coming school year.

Here are a few of my favorite tips from the event, given the importance of starting the year with a focus on SEL. There was a “Turn off the Noise” suggestion from Dr. Salvatore, encouraging us to limit distractions and give yourself mind breaks when possible. Additionally, I found Dr. Grant’s “Caller #10” activity to be an intriguing way to not only show appreciation for staff, but to get the students excited for their teachers to call and possibly win a well-deserved prize. Some other strategies included icebreakers during meetings, creating activities during PD days, trying out “half smiles,” and providing opportunities for staff collaboration. This emphasis on self-care and mental health is essential for teacher wellbeing, and more schools need to provide such resources for educators that promote SEL, and in doing so, help design meaningful experiences for students.

You can access the June 15th recording here to learn in greater detail the different ways the panelists have been supporting SEL in their schools and what their plans are for the coming school year. I think that if we all recognize and work toward improving SEL for all of us it is going to benefit us as educators and we can nurture all students through the upcoming recovery in the years ahead.

Sign up for your free trial with Peekpak today!

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Designing Authentic Project Based Learning

Guest Post by Stephanie Rothstein, @Steph_EdTech

I hear it often, “Oh yeah, I do projects.” But doing a project is very different from Project Based Learning. Chairing a Design Thinking PBL pathway has changed me as an educator. I now look at all situations through a project application lens. A few years ago at a leadership conference, I went to a session on Project Design. The speaker explained that there are three ways to approach project design. 

When designing projects, you can be inspired by your content, you can be inspired by a real need in your own community, you can be inspired by an issue that impacts the world. 

I have thought back to this approach often as I approach project design. I find when I work with educators, that most approach projects trying to figure out how to apply their content to a project that helps students showcase their learning. But Project Based Learning means revamping this idea and essentially inverting it. So instead of a project at the end after doing the learning, it is through the project that students learn the concepts. It might not be in the order we would have planned for them, but they will learn it and in my experience will go deeper because they developed questions and created meaningful connections. 

So, what does this actually look like in the classroom? How does it actually work? I will take you through one of my English 9 projects to walk you through.

I have done Service Learning for 18 years but it was only about 8 years ago that I finally felt like this really became Project Based Learning. Based on a general interest survey on service topics, I split the class and bring them to 6 different locations. We learn about that service organization and volunteer. These students then come back and present to the class about the organization. Students in the class are able to ask questions to the student experts. After, students then pick their topic to focus on for the unit. 

Students are then organized into shared topic groups and together these students pick a non-fiction book. I have a suggested book list that has been made by local and global non-profit groups, teachers, and students. Groups are also encouraged to propose a new book. While reading their book, students hold their own book chats, record them and use them to create their own podcasts to submit to the NPR student podcast challenge. This is not “the project” and is just one part of the project design. Students also select their own individual research topic and use articles, the interview of an expert at their non-profit, and reflection on their time volunteering to help inform their research paper. 

The last part of this unit came because students asked me a question. They said, “I’m glad we volunteered 20 hours, interviewed someone, read, researched, wrote a paper, but shouldn’t we be doing something more? Shouldn’t we apply our learning and give back in some way?” After that, the real Project Based Learning opportunity was born. Students create a Give Back Opportunity that helps spread awareness, collects items to donate, or fundraises and must be based on the needs of that organization. These projects have brought about real impact. This year, being virtual has broadened my perspective on how to make an impact with this project and we will use Solve In Time Cards to Design Think their Give Back Opportunity and The Global Goals for Sustainable Development to help students think both locally and globally. This unit takes 14 weeks and closes with group presentations to the class and an invited group of non-profit panelists. 

This project approaches from all three focus areas: content, local, and global. I always knew for this project that I wanted to connect with local non-profits and that I wanted students to better understand non-fiction resources. The other layer to consider when building the unit plan is which tech skills will students build upon during this project. 

Project Based Learning is complex and is rooted in questions. It must begin with an entry experience. My “workshops” are based on student needs that they create at the start of the unit. These workshops may be for small groups or the entire class. Students still have deadlines, they still have goals, but project based learning means that groups may be at different stages of the project. I use a shared SCRUM board to help students track project progress so that I know where they are and the team understands where they are in the process. Topics for this project vary based on year and interests. And this is real life. I have had students who focus on Foster Care, Women’s Rights, LGBTQI, the Environment, Black Lives Matter, Food Insecurity, Animal Rights, Homelessness and more. It is the variety of topics that helps me know that my students are connecting individually and are able to teach something to their classmates and to me. They are all learning the skill of researching using articles, non-fiction books, interviews, and personal experiences. 

It keeps me on my toes and no year is ever the same but I am proud of the learning experiences created through deep Project Based Learning.

**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  

Providing the Right Learning Spaces for Students to Explore and Create

 

When looking at the design and structure of classrooms today, they may look quite similar to the classroom setting that you experienced when you were a student. Structurally, students in most schools follow a set schedule each day and spend time in different classrooms throughout the building. Unlike years ago when I was a student and even as recently as five or 10 years ago, learning was still confined to the physical classroom space. However, through the capabilities we now have with technology, the opportunities to connect students with learning that takes them out of the classroom space are incredible.

For most students, learning took place in the classroom and on-the-job or real-world learning experience had to wait until the end of the school day or in some cases, after high school graduation. Of course, there were students enrolled in vo-tech or career and technical education programs outside of the school building, taking them to a new learning environment to interact and collaborate with students from other schools, learn from different teachers, explore ideas and strategies, and even different types of careers. These types of learning spaces helped students to better understand the skills they might need in the future. However, not all students had access. But today, we have the power to offer these opportunities to all students. With the resources that we now have, we owe it to our students to offer them learning experiences in as many different learning spaces as possible so that they have time to explore and build the skills that they will need when they leave our schools.

So where or how do we provide these different learning spaces for students? We start by making sure that we are connected in the right spaces ourselves. As educators, this means being connected in a space that goes beyond our school community. It means leveraging social media and different networks, attending conferences, reading blogs, listening to podcasts for ideas or picking up educational books on topics that we wish to learn more about. We must make sure that we have the right knowledge to stay current and relevant so that we can design the best learning experiences for our students. Not that we need to create everything for them; we just need to get them started so that they can take the initiative to design their learning path in the space they decide best fits their interests and needs.

How to Provide Space for Students to Explore

1. Project-based learning (PBL): By implementing PBL, we empower students to look for problems or challenges in their community and globally, try to find solutions, and focus more on learning as a process. Beyond just doing PBL in a class, there are schools opening which are PBL schools, like Gibson EK, a public high school located in Washington. The motto at Gibson EK is “Real World, Real Learning, Real Life.’” Students do not enroll in traditional courses, instead they “earn academic competencies through projects” and work with a mentor through internships two days per week. The school is designed on principles such as “Stop learning for school, start learning for life.” I truly believe that students need opportunities to explore their passions, design their own problems or challenges, and have the time to work through the learning process. To best prepare students for the future, whether college or career ready, they need to decide on their learning space, experience productive struggle, reflect, revise and continue on their path of learning.

 

2. Student Organizations: Schools that have student organizations like the Model United Nations empower students to build skills of advocacy, leadership, critical thinking, problem-solving, creativity, and self-confidence. In my school, I have seen remarkable growth in the students who have become involved in the Model UN under the leadership of Mr. Ken Kubistek, a history teacher, who has led this group through conferences and competitions for many years. Through work with the Model UN, students engage in authentic learning experiences that take them out of the classroom and connect them with real-world learning and global issues. Students develop their voice and build many vital skills for the future by exploring new learning spaces through organizations like the Model UN.

 

3. Media Creation. Students need opportunities to create their own space to show learning. Whether students create a YouTube channel and develop their own show, explore an emerging technology trend or prepare a solution to current event issues, there are many ways that students can create a different type of learning space for themselves and for others. Perhaps a student-created podcast using tools like Anchor or Synth, where they invite guests to discuss current issues, focus on themes for education or anything that interests them. A podcast designed with the goal to help educate not only classmates and members of their school community but the public at large. Opportunities like these promote more meaningful learning while also building digital literacy skills and empower students to find space that meets their interests.

 

4. School Community Connections: I recently gave a keynote about the future of education and how the look of school is changing.  I received a lot of great questions and comments and one suggestion that led me to think about the power of creating more community connections. The idea was to have students go to local senior care facilities where they can share some of the things they are learning in school, and engage in discussions with older adults to learn about each other’s experience in education, work, and life. I think this would have a great impact because of the connections that would form between students and members of the community. The learning space can be anywhere and it would be an authentic way to engage students with learning about the world around them. Build connections and greater understanding about what things used to be like, what things are like now, and make predictions for the future.

 

5. Brainstorming ideas: Push student thinking by asking them to brainstorm ideas for the top five or 10 challenges in a certain area of the world, maybe based on geography, a certain industry, or perhaps ask students to come up with a list of complaints or things they notice about the world around them. Give students space to develop plans for how to solve these challenges or how they could have solved them better. Another idea is to have students be part of project event management for planning. In my school, students can take an entrepreneurship course in which they design products, make sales pitches and plan large scale events. The course also takes students out into the Pittsburgh area to tour businesses and learn about different industries, where they can get that close view, ask questions and make connections. They begin in the classroom and then find the space to pursue new knowledge and explore.

 

There are many ways to expand where and how our students can learn. We have access to the world as our classroom and the more we can increase the learning space we provide the better prepared our students will be 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  

Educators: 10 Ways to Make Time for Self-Improvement

Originally published on Getting Smart
As educators, we need to make more time for self-care. In order to bring our best selves to our classrooms and our schools, we must make time for our needs each day. Over the holiday breaks, making time to do some normal things like catching up with family and friends, and sleep in late, are good ways to recharge over the summer break.

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

This has been a challenging year and educators can quickly become burnt out trying to prepare everything and keep up with the changes. We can struggle with finding balance and making time to keep up our personal and professional growth during the school year . So how can we still do ‘all the things’ and stay balanced and find enough time for ourselves?

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

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

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

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

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

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

Supporting Educators and Students

Guest post by Lee Ann Raikes, @mastereducator @MRS.RAIKES/MES

Teaching is difficult. Studies have shown that some teachers have taken on symptoms of PTSD because they become so engrossed in each of their students’ lives. If you are human, it is bound to happen. One of the reasons I chose to pursue this profession was to inspire and empower our future generations to be bold enough to follow their passions regardless of any obstacles that stand in the way. Easier said than done when most of our students come to us with some form of past trauma that can hinder their desire to learn and grow both as an individual and a student. The students who need us the most are the ones who never miss a day of school and the students who challenge us the most. While I still struggle some days in finding a way to maneuver through the behaviors my students may present, I have found ways to make my life, as well as my students’ lives, in and out of the classroom more bearable.

I am a huge proponent of whole child education and realizing the importance of building relationships with my students. I am also a very passionate and emotional human being. I made myself physically and mentally ill because I could not find a way to help the most challenging students understand their potential. They would fight me every step of the way. The harder I tried to support them, their behaviors would escalate. After many conversations and battles, it all became so clear. These students were so afraid that I would let them down and give up on them, as so many others have. An epiphany of sorts, but that didn’t make my job at hand any more comfortable. Sadly, there were days I wanted to give up. I knew I couldn’t go on this way, so I began researching what I could do to transform learning in the classroom and improve my mental state. I am known as a very energetic, happy, and positive individual. My students feel comfortable in my classroom and know they can come to be at any time, but I knew I needed to find strategies that would better prepare me for dealing with obstacles that would impede learning and growth over the school year.

Like it or not, I, as the adult in the room, set the tone. It all begins with a mindset. If I am saying to myself I am going to have an awful day, then I will. If I hold preconceived notions about my students, that is a disservice to them. I would sabotage my day the moment I woke up by putting thoughts in my head that possibly weren’t even going to occur. Not only was this unfair to myself, but my students as well. I would engage in negative self-talk, which led to having a terrible day. I would think during my first period about a student I wouldn’t see until 4th period and how awful he was going to be. When he would enter the classroom, and he was having a great day, I already had it in my mind he was going to misbehave, so I would react negatively instead of correctly praising him for engaging appropriately. How wrong is that? Trust me, students felt any vibes I was putting out there, whether positive or negative. If I wanted to continue to grow as an educator and connect with my struggling students, I had to change.

For about two years now, I have followed the strategies of a growth mindset, the power of positive self-talk, and writing daily affirmations. I have brought these strategies into my classroom as well. My 7th graders had no idea that challenges grow the brain. They didn’t realize that the more they said they hated math, the harder it would be for them. They felt they were labeled by grades or the services they received; therefore, they wouldn’t give their best efforts. By visualizing where they wanted to go, it made the process of achieving their goals more bearable. Now, we as a community of learners catch ourselves before letting negative words or thoughts come off our lips or enter our minds. Just by teaching the students about the brain and the power of a positive attitude and mindset, I have seen substantial growth in my students academically and as humans. Yes, I prepare my students for meeting academic goals, but more importantly, I want to prepare them for life. Life is hard, but understanding positive thinking’s benefits and power can make difficulties easier to handle.

Reflecting is a powerful tool. I knew I could do better and find ways to deal with the teaching profession’s emotional aspects. Ask yourself, are you sabotaging your day? Do you hinder your relationship with your students or colleagues based on preconceived notions? Do you limit yourself based on negative thinking or a bad attitude? It matters! I challenge you to wake up each morning and start the day with positive self-talk and carry that into the world. You will find a sense of inner peace, and the negativity you encounter won’t consume you. Research has shown that people who are positive thinkers add years to their lives. We are what we say we are. Who are you choosing to be?

Teach Better

Rachelle Dené Poth @Rdene915 #THRIVEinEDU #QUOTES4EDU

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