First Days of School

Back when I was still a classroom teacher, our principal always used to email us before school the wise words of Harry Wong – “You only get one first day of school!”

Such a simple message but really powerful and a wonderful reminder to all of us to strive to set the tone for the first day of school. How do we want students to feel when they walk into our classroom? How do we want to feel at the end of the day?

Building relationships is such a crucial part of establishing a culture of trust in our classrooms. Our students need to know the adults in their lives care about them and respect them as people and as individuals.

When I taught 8th grade, my partner teacher and I shared students; he had them for English and I had them for Social Studies. We did a block schedule Mon-Thursday and then on Friday we saw all classes. So, every quarter, on a Friday, we’d combine our classes and do some team-building activities that centered around validating students and their talents, and generating a stronger sense of community. Middle school students are so great; just on the cusp of figuring themselves out but still wanting to be a little kid every now and then. They want their independence, but they also want to fit in and often conform in order to do so. I loved seeing them grow and change throughout the year.

I know a lot of the teachers in our district are focusing on climate and culture the first week of school, and rightly so. Before you can expect people to work for you, they have to feel valued and respected. It’s important to model that all voices are important, all perspectives are welcomed, and acceptance rules the day. But it’s not only crucial in the first week of school, it’s important to revisit and remind throughout the year.

What are some of your favorite ways to build community in your classroom? How do you cultivate trust all year long?

Advertisements

Do as I Say, Not as I Do…

Why is innovation critical? The other day, General Motors announced that it will be laying off 1,100 workers in the Lansing area. Their plant that currently produces the GMC Acadia is cutting its third shift, and all of those jobs are going to Tennessee. This is the fourth layoff they’ve announced since November 2016. Here in Lansing, we have also endured Oldsmobile – a company born and bred in the Capital City – closing its plant and ceasing to exist as a product. Michigan’s auto industry and its struggles shouldn’t be much of a surprise to anyone who lived through the Great Recession. And while in many ways GM and Chrysler are doing much better, it’s easy to look around and see the effects of the Great Recession on the local economy. Across the board, more and more jobs are being lost to automation and advances in technology – not to “bad trade deals” as a certain leader has alluded to…

Listening to the YouTube Live this week, a couple of things stuck out to me:

“The jobs that can be automated eventually will be. That’s why we need innovators.” – George Couros

I couldn’t agree more. There is vast opportunity for new jobs, to solve complex problems, to fill an existing need, and to generate a lot of money for local, state, and national economies. Obviously on a micro level, a new job that fills a need could be very lucrative for someone, on a macro level, in order to stay relevant we must change and innovate. And yet…we are still working on outdated machines and within models that were designed to solve 20th century needs. It’s pretty crazy when you think about it.

A place where I see this dichotomy is in education – in professional learning specifically. George referenced that a lot of the problems in education aren’t from the teachers themselves, but from their leadership. I (mostly) agree with this. We ask a LOT of teachers – collect an inane amount of data, differentiate, be innovative, integrate technology to a high level, reinforce social skills, teach curriculum, support all learners all of the time in culturally-relevant ways, etc. While all of these things (aside from the overwhelming data collection…) are essential to supporting students and helping them learn and grow, it can be really hard to do, especially when you’re being asked to do things you’ve never done before. Having leadership that models and brainstorms with you ways to be more innovative and feel like you have permission to try new things.

Screen Shot 2017-03-09 at 10.52.49 AM

We had a PD day not long ago on implementing our new math curriculum. Rather than giving people time to share ways they have used the different components in their classes, the PD was focused on the “nuts and bolts” and reviewing (for the umpteenth time!) the online resources available. While that is helpful for some people, other teachers benefit from hearing how their colleagues are changing their teaching strategies.

Another example I see time and time again is asking teachers for feedback – on a paper survey – and only at the end of a session. While feedback is an incredibly powerful tool, it needs to be done throughout the process, and there are ways we can utilize technology to make it more efficient.

I loved Sarah’s thoughts around good leaders providing support and space for their teachers. It’s kind of reminiscent of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs – we need to feel cared for and loved before we can do anything else. Teachers need to know that their leaders have their backs and they have the opportunity to capitalize on their strengths and fly. When I was still in the classroom, I was never afraid of trying a new technology out with my students because I knew that they would figure it out – and teach me something new in the process. Teaching 8th grade students about the Constitutional Convention (prior to the Hamilton craze) could be somewhat challenging to make it meaningful and relevant for them. So I worked on ways to create innovative learning experiences. We made videos that parodied reality shows – Real Housewives of Colonial America for example. Students had to really KNOW that material in order to create a coherent and accurate video. But, I wouldn’t have had the courage to do that if I didn’t have a principal who understood that my ability to connect with students on their level was a strength and I needed the space to be able to do that.

How do we move more leaders and teachers in this direction? I truly believe a culture shift in how we define professional learning opportunities is crucial. Teachers willingly give up their weeknights and Saturdays to engage in Twitter chats or attend EdCamps because they have control over the type of learning they experience. These types of learning opportunities also provide teachers the time they so desperately need to really think through challenges, create innovative projects and lessons, to collaborate, and to connect. Additionally, there needs to be an expectation – and accountability – that the provided time is really being used for that purpose. While there is value in spending 5-10 minutes “venting” about the problems, it’s not the most productive use of your 60 minute PLC time – EVERY week. Or half listening while grading papers and responding to email while your colleagues are speaking – it’s rude and unprofessional. I get it; I taught middle school for 4 years, often had 180 English essays to grade, etc. But at the same time, we would not accept that behavior from our students, so why do we think it’s okay for us to do that? Teachers and administrators need to change the culture of professional learning – space and support – but also accountability and professionalism.

What say you? How can we create more innovative learning experiences for teachers and administrators?

Podcasting

If you’re like me, podcasts have completely taken over your listening preferences. I listen to pods while I’m getting ready for work, running, driving to work (which reminds me, I really need to cancel that XM subscription…), cleaning the house, etc. They are awesome and FREE, which is even better.

This year I decided to challenge myself and get a little bit outside of my comfort zone. I started a podcast! Wha!? It’s pretty sweet, and for the 3 people who subscribe, I hope you’re enjoying the content! Fun fact, there’s more to it than just recording yourself. The hardest part was going through the process of how you share the podcast once you have it created.

Thanks to my PLN, Twitter, and Google, I decided on Shout Engine as the host for the podcast. Once you have a place to host it, you also then need to use the RSS feed to submit to iTunes. It’s a bit of a process. But, now that I have the workflow down, it’s pretty neat. I’m co-hosting the podcast with my coworker Eric Spicer, who is a Technology Integration Specialist at Averill, one of the schools in our district. The two of us try to have a digestible how-to video or technique to implement and we also end the podcast with a short tech tip. Our goal is to eventually get teachers using podcasts in their classrooms – as learning supplements and eventually as ways for students to showcase their work.

You can check out our podcast on iTunes or on Shout Engine. Let us know what you think!

What podcasts do you listen to?
How do you use podcasts in your classroom/professional sphere?

Sharing Stories

Last week I had the pleasure of working with one of my favorite people and her awesome students. She’s a reading specialist here in Lansing and last year I introduced her to the Global Read Aloud last year and she read Fish in a Tree with her students. This year, her kiddos are reading Pax, and, like me, they have all fallen in love with the story of a young boy and his pet fox.

One of the things we love about the GRA is that it allows students to make connections over a common story with people from all over the world. It’s so validating for students to be able to hear people commenting on their ideas and opinions, asking them questions, and making connections.

On Thursday, the students and I used the iPad app Shadow Puppet to create short videos about their favorite character in the book. Prior to my lesson with the students, Mrs. Jacobs had the kids draw a picture of a scene from the book that included their favorite character. They also had a script of what they wanted to say, since some students freeze up when they have to record themselves! After a quick lesson on how to use Shadow Puppet, the kids were off to the races. It was awesome to listen to their explanations about why they chose a particular character.

After everyone recorded their videos, we uploaded them to YouTube. Then I got to sit with the students and Mrs. Jacobs and talk about what they had read so far. I have read the whole book, so the students were anxious to pick my brain about what happens in the book. It was fun to hear their questions and to not really answer any of them, because no one REALLY wants to know how it ends before you get to it!

We are a bit behind the official reading schedule for the Global Read Aloud, but we are really enjoying the deep dive and discussing the book. We’d love to connect with you over Google Hangouts or Skype. Let me know!

 

#IMMOOC Week One – Opportunities

So, I’m super excited to be participating in this awesome MOOC with lots of amazing and brilliant folks on the book The Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros. One of the biggest challenges for me in my role as an Instructional Technologist is letting go of some of my own ideas about what technology integration SHOULD look like, and being more open to hearing other teachers sharing what their visions are. While many of the teachers I work with are eager to utilize technology in more meaningful ways, they aren’t sure how to make that happen. At the core of any real systematic change is the ability to listen to and understand one another. Sometimes in the busyness of the day, teachers and I aren’t always speaking the same language.

screen-shot-2016-09-20-at-4-28-58-pm

Photo courtesy of George Couros: gcouros.ca

One of the prompts for this week is: “‘Change is an opportunity to do something amazing’ How are you embracing change to spur innovation?”

So one of my big goals for this MOOC is to change the way I “do business” to generate some innovative ideas. Spend more time listening and asking questions (of both teachers AND students) and less time talking and trying to provide solutions. I feel stretched in a billion different directions and, when I walk out of a teacher’s classroom, I want to feel like I have helped him or her, so I often feel pressure to give him or her a quick answer or a solution. Rather, I want to embrace the opportunity to do something amazing by CHANGING the way I communicate. Asking questions and really thinking deeply will help me to provide more meaningful supports for the teachers I am working with.

First Day of School

Today, thousands of young scholars attended school for the first time in a couple of months. Teachers have spent lots of time decorating hallways and classrooms, perusing their class list and trying to learn student names, scouring Pinterest for engaging ice-breaker activities that students haven’t done countless times before, and students arrived in their new clothing, freshly sharpened pencils, a variety of colored pens and markers stuffed in brand new backpacks. Some students were anxious to begin their first day of formal schooling. For others, this is old hat, and they are marking time until they walk across that stage and collect their diplomas. Many parents anxiously waved goodbye to their children through misty eyes and tried to look brave.

As I traveled through some of the schools today, I was struck by how, despite the incredibly hot and humid weather, teachers, secretaries, principals, cafeteria workers, janitors, and other support staff greeted their students with smiles and hellos. Our schools are not air conditioned, friends. Here in the Mitten state we often don’t need air conditioning but for a handful of days in the fall and spring. But these buildings many of the teachers teach in are old with few windows that open, that cling to the heat, so that even early mornings don’t offer much respite. I know I have a hard time concentrating and being a pleasant member of society when I’m sweaty and feel like I can’t cool down. Not to mention working with 25 K-3 students, or saying the same “Welcome” speech 6 or 7 times to a group of eight graders and still maintaining my charming personality!

Bravo, Lansing teachers! Day one is over and I am inspired by you. We have a wonderful community of supportive, passionate, inspiring teachers here in Lansing. #LansingComeUp!

School Year Goals

One of the best parts of working in the education field is the opportunity to start fresh each school year. Similar to how lots of people set New Year’s Resolutions on January 1st, I have been spending a lot of time thinking about what my goals for this school year are.

Rather than come up with a list of three or four “things” I want to implement in schools or projects to complete, I have decided to focus instead on something that is both small and large. Last year, I heard George Couros speak at ISTE, and one of things he said really stuck out to me: “What if every teacher tweeted one thing a day they did in their classroom […] and took five minutes a day to read each other’s tweets? What impact would that have on school culture?” You can read more about Building Culture from George here. 

Today’s educational environment – in Michigan especially – is challenging and demoralizing. Threatened with closure, almost 100 schools throughout the state are waiting to learn their fate. The state’s largest public school district (Detroit Public Schools) have students and teachers in buildings with mold growing on the walls, floors, and ceilings. It’s a mess, and it can be really hard to stay positive and work throughout the school year to continually try to innovate and come up with ways to engage students. It is challenging when you’re in the thick of it, to remember all those little moments that get buried in the daily minutiae of teaching.

So, this year, my goal is to tweet out one thing each day that I did or saw in my classroom observation. As the Technology Integrationist for the entire district – all 25 schools – I am sure I will have a lot of things to share! I’m going to share to the hashtag #LansingComeUp. As part of the mission to bring positivity and hope to this area, students brainstormed this hashtag as a way to show people that great things are happening in our schools and we are coming up. I invite you to join me; let’s make this year the best one yet!