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?

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Blended Learning Day Camp 2017

Remember when you were a kid and you went to camp – and it was awesome? Well, last week I got to go to “camp” – and it was awesome! Michigan Virtual University has put on an annual Day Camp for the last three years. Centered around implemented blended learning, the conference features both inspiring speakers as well as examples of teachers implementing blended learning in their classrooms.

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Not only did I get to attend, I was asked to be a Camp Counselor and have my own cabin of campers. Each camper was assigned a cabin (table) and a seat, which was designed to get people out of their comfort zones and to network with others. Our table was split into two cabins – 12A and 12B – and each cabin had a counselor. Most counselors at each table were instructional technology specialists or building leaders. We acted as the moderator to help break the ice with our campers, facilitated some lunchtime discussions around our practice, and helped to manage the GooseChase scavenger hunt.

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And we got some sweet swag! There’s a fanny pack hiding in that coffee mug!

The Keynote speaker for the event was the incredibly inspiring Pernille Ripp. She’s a middle school teacher in Wisconsin who has a really interesting story about how she became a teacher and landed in her school. Aside from the hard work she engages in as a teacher, Pernille also is the founder of the Global Read Aloud, which several teachers in our district have participated in.

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We hear a lot in education about doing what’s best for kids, but we don’t often actually ask kids what it is they want we teachers to do. Pernille does this – and then she makes changes to her instruction and how to interacts with students. Not only does this create an environment where students feel comfortable to contribute to their learning, it also demonstrates to students that their voices are valued and matter. When we think about how we want to teach our students to engage in the world, what better way to model that for our students than to ask them to use their voices and have conversations about those wants.

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I could go on and on about how much what Pernille said resonated with me, but something she has been promoting for a few years is around behavior charts. I couldn’t agree more with her. Whether or not I’m having a bad day should not be public knowledge. Continually publicizing students’ behavior issues really doesn’t seem to make a difference in student behavior. I have seen behavior charts used in classrooms. The well-behaved students continue to behave well. The students who are on “yellow” or lose points become disgruntled or upset and continue to act out, until they go to “red” or lose more points. Of course eventually, those students on “red” lose other privileges. I think about how I would feel if I went to a conference session or a work meeting and was called out for talking or being off task. I certainly wouldn’t engage in the rest of the training with an open mind, and the next time I had to work with that presenter or leader, I’d have an attitude and would have my guard up.  Why would we expect any different from our students?

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There were a few big takeaways from the Blended Learning Day Camp for me. First, I loved the scavenger hunt component using the GooseChase app. GooseChase makes the work of a scavenger hunt super easy. You create a game, others join your game (you can password protect them), and then they complete the various challenges within the game. You can have participants take photo evidence, use GPS location, take a video, or write a text response. I love the multiple modalities incorporated into the app, and it’s so easy to create a game or participate in one. I’m definitely going to incorporate this into some of my day-long trainings this summer.

Another takeaway was the opportunity to get up, network, and play with a small group of teachers. Throughout the day there were multiple times when we were able to stand up, solve a problem, make something, or explore. We had a playground/Makerspace with a variety of “toys” – Spheros, MakeyMakey, Little Bits, BryteBites, etc. There was also a BreakoutEDU game. If you haven’t done one yet, I’d highly encourage you to give it a try. You can order a kit online, or you can make your own. It is a WONDERFUL community-building activity, first week of school, “brain break” activity. It requires students to work together to solve a common problem – with some tension added in as they are fighting against a clock and other teams. The GooseChase game also asked participants to find areas outside of the conference space, so it was fun to get outside and walk around.

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Lastly, I’m excited to participate in a book study with author Liz Kolb, who just published a new book called Learning First, Technology Second. We got to hear about the impetus behind her book and some of the highlights of her research findings. I’m not-so-patiently waiting for my book to arrive from ISTE so I can dive in and really participate in the online book study.

Your Turn: What were some of your favorite summer learning/professional development experiences? What made them so awesome? 

I’m Building an Empire Here

I seriously love podcasts. My husband actually got me into them; he was constantly listening to podcasts when he would do yard work. I finally dove into the world of podcasting a few years ago, and haven’t really looked back since. The challenge now is there are new and interesting podcasts coming out all the time and I sometimes end up with upwards of 10 unplayed podcasts! Then I get stressed out about all the pods I have to listen to!

Many of the podcasts I listen to often include an interview component. One of the newest podcasts I’m listening to is The Planning Period podcast hosted by Brad Shreffler. He and I crossed paths at ISTE this year; he attended our session and reached out afterward. We talked a lot about paradigm shifts that are necessary in education and teacher professional development. He also asked me some tough questions about education and its future! You can check out the full episode here. 

So, now I’ve officially “made it” as a podcaster. I’ll just retire now.

 

Kidding. But, it was really cool and I enjoyed being on the other side of the microphone.

Eric and I were able to finally connect this week and record a podcast recapping our takeaways from ISTE. We shared some big themes and takeaways from ISTE. Common between the two of us? The opportunity to network and dive into deep conversations with teachers and other industry leaders. One of the best parts of the event was the conversation we had with Rushton Hurley at the MACUL meetup. We talked education policy and how it looks different in New Zealand, the U.S. and even varied among different sates. Check out our episode here.

Moving forward, it’s time to start implementing some of the ideas and models I learned about with some of our schools. Scalability and replication of models is important, and I want to make sure that what I bring to our school leaders and curriculum team is realistic for implementation in our district. We are focusing a lot of our professional development this year on 8 schools that are being redesigned with new flexible seating, interactive flat panels, and focusing our teaching and instruction around student interactivity, creation, and sharing their learning quickly and easily with their classmates, teachers, and the world at large.

What are your goals for this school year? 

Did you attend ISTE? What were your key takeaways? 

Why #ISTE17 Was My Favorite ISTE Yet…

Y’all, Texas got me!

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Enjoying the Riverwalk

A couple weeks ago (side note – how has it already been two weeks!? This summer is flying by), I went to San Antonio along with a few thousand other educators for one of the biggest education conferences of the year. Even though it took me over 13 hours to get there – hello cancelled flights, delays, and lost luggage – I had a blast and learned SO MUCH deep in the heart of Texas.

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Significantly less excited to be traveling 6+ hours in and stuck at O’Hare

Honestly, I could write thousands of words about the energy and beautiful chaos of ISTE, but I am going to try to focus on a couple of my big takeaways from the conference, and why this was my favorite one yet. (Full disclosure, I leave every ISTE thinking it was the best one ever…)

Professional Learning Among Professionals

One of the best parts of attending a conference is being surrounded by so many professionals, on fire for improving their practice, sharing what they’ve already done, making connections, and planning how to improve their teaching the next year. This year I was honored to be chosen to present at ISTE on the work I’ve been doing with podcasting in our school district. It is always exhilarating – and terrifying – to present on what you’ve done to a group of educators. I really appreciated how folks took the time to Tweet me, engage in our presentation, and reach out after the presentation to continue the conversation. While there are always a plethora of sessions to choose from as well as Playgrounds, Poster Sessions, and other types of learning to engage in, the most value I always find is in those conversations with others. The opportunity to dig deep, to think critically, to have your ideas challenged, to reflect on your own ideas and practice are all invaluable.

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Model The Behavior You Want to See

We know a lot about how people learn, and the efficacy of engaging with learning versus just hearing about something. And yet, so often, the type of professional learning teachers experience goes against everything we know about best practice. Teachers complain all the time that most of the professional development isn’t useful, is a waste of time, or that they never have the chance to really “learn” because they hear about something once or twice and never revisit it again. One of the best sessions I attended was called “Designing ‘Just Right’ Professional Development” and the presenters – Connie Lippenholz, Lucy Podmore, and Matthew Patty – were not only engaging and entertaining, but it was clear they have given deep thought about what pedagogical approaches will best meet their learners, and will create a systemic change in the ways their teachers model instruction. (You should totally follow them on Twitter because they are awesome!)

Visit the Exhibit Hall

You can’t expect to attend a huge technology conference without a large presence of all kinds of new (and more seasoned) tech companies and tools. It can be totally overwhelming to try to visit all the vendors, so probably don’t even try. But, many vendors are becoming more in tune with what educators are looking for and what kinds of powers they have. A teacher might see a super cool tool and want to bring them back to their school, but most teachers don’t have any budgetary powers. I think a lot of vendors understand that are are focusing more on how their tools could be implemented in a classroom setting. Nearpod had a bunch of mini sessions where teachers could sit and experience using their software in a mock classroom setting. Google also has many different sessions showcasing “nuts and bolts” type examples of how their products can be implemented in a variety of learning environments. Seeing those examples are more powerful than showing a principal or superintendent a flashy flier.

Attend Networking Events

After the conference each day, several vendors host happy hour and cocktail events. A lot of the ISTE PLNs have networking events, too. This is a great way to learn a bit more about a company’s product or offering, but more valuable, is the chance to talk to other educators. We attended a dinner with myON, a company committed to creating a digital literacy environment for students to boost student reading and excitement around reading. We learned a bit more about some of the new offerings and the philosophy behind the company. But, over dinner, I got to hear from two different people from schools who have implemented myON in their district and the effects its had on student reading, growth, and achievement on standardized tests. There is value in spending time with other educators – friends and strangers alike – and doing it in a more relaxed setting is even better.

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Take Time to Reflect

It’s important to spend some time reviewing resources, ideas, products, people, etc. that came across your path. Then, begin setting some goals for your practice. I love to blog in order to reflect, set public goals, and hold myself accountable. Some people podcast – which I’m planning to do, also! Sharing what you learned with your colleagues is also powerful.

ISTE is incredibly overwhelming but also so inspiring and energizing. I had a blast in San Antonio – despite getting “Deep in the Heart of Texas” stuck in my head for about a week.

 

Next year, ISTE is a little closer to home in Chicago, and I’m already excited for it!

 

I Can’t Wait for ISTE 2017!!!

You guys. Only three more days till thousands of educators and vendors descend on San Antonio for 4 days of immersive learning, networking, growing, fun, and connecting! Cannot wait!!

This is the first year I will be presenting at ISTE. While I’ve presented at many statewide conferences, this is my first ISTE and I’m a TIIIIINY bit intimidated.  I’ll be sharing a Snapshot style session on podcasting. This year I started at podcast in my district, and I’ll be talking about our process and how I worked to get the teachers on board and begin utilizing podcasts in their professional practice. If you’re interested, I’d love to see you on Monday!

This will be my third ISTE conference, and for you newbies, it really is an incredible experience. I’m no expert, but here are my tips for making the most of ISTE.

  1. Have a focus – especially in the Expo Hall
    There are SO many sessions going on at the same time! Obviously there is only one of you and lots and lots to choose from. When choosing my sessions, I try to think about what my big goals are that I want to focus on for the rest of the summer and the upcoming school year. Is it GSuite Implementation? Blended learning? Flipped PD? This will help eliminate some options. Another tip: Poster Sessions are a great way to get a lot of ideas and resources in a short amount of time. Most poster sessions will have a QR code to scan or a shortened URL to visit to access resources and presenter information.
    The first time I entered the Expo Hall at ISTE, I was blown away. Some of the big name vendors – like Google – pull out all the stops and create incredible displays and have a lot of events going on. It’s seriously impossible to visit every vendor and have even a 30 second conversation with each one; that’s how many there are! So again, having a focus is going to be super important as you can bypass a lot of the vendors that aren’t in the business of what you’re looking for.
  2. Don’t pack your schedule full, but give yourself some options
    It can be really tempting to pack your schedule full of back-to-back-to-back sessions. After all, your district probably spent a hefty chunk of change to send you here. I liken it to making the decision to lose weight. You decide to do ALL. THE. THINGS at the same time – work out, cut out sugar/snacks/pop/carbs/delicious food, eat more veggies, drink more water, etc. You lose momentum quickly because it’s just too much! It’s kinda the same thing with a big conference like ISTE. Not only are you walking (a LOT), carrying lots of stuff, your brain is trying to process so much information. By day two, you will be exhausted. I find it’s helpful to find sessions that are really focused on my goals. But sometimes you get to a session and it’s not quite as advertised, or maybe the presenter’s situation is so much different from your educational setting, you can’t really connect. Whatever it is, you have options! You don’t HAVE to stay in a session that isn’t meeting your needs.
    I find one of the best parts of conferences is the networking I do outside of formal sessions. Find someone in a session and exchange contact info. Or maybe you meet for coffee with a vendor and you can really dive deep into your goals for implementation in the district. Those conversations are often more valuable and lead to other opportunities, much more than sitting in a session.
  3. Divide and conquer
    If you are fortunate enough to be attending the conference with someone from your district, don’t spend all your time with them! While having a buddy next to you at a session always helps, it’s not the best way to maximize resources. Split up, create a shared Google Doc, take notes, and then you have twice as many resources as you would if you both went to the same sessions!
  4. Attend events outside the conference
    There are always lots of Happy Hour events put on by vendors during ISTE. Of course, you can choose where you want to go and how you want to spend your down time, but it’s really fun to meet up with people outside of a formal setting of a conference and let your hair down a bit. Networking and talking to others is always so valuable – and doing it over some appetizers and a beverage is even better!
  5. Dress comfortably and in layers
    This year’s conference site is in San Antonio, Texas. It’s gonna be HOT! But, most of the rooms and conference spaces are air conditioned and, if you tend to get cold, wearing layers might be helpful! Last year in Denver I was really warm walking to the conference site, but by the time I had been in a session for a few minutes, I was chilly. It’s important to dress comfortably, but still professionally; leave those Lululemon workout pants for the gym! You’re also going to be walking a lot, and maybe from one end of the conference center to the other in short order, so being able to walk quickly is important. My first year I wore strappy sandals; big mistake! My arches were so sore!!
  6. Snacks
    This is especially important if your hotel isn’t within walking distance to the convention center. I like to eat pretty healthy, and sometimes it can be tough to find healthy food options. I always travel with high quality protein bars like RX Bars or GoMacro bars. I usually bring almonds, nut butter, and maybe some fruit. A re-fillable water bottle is also a staple in my bag.
  7. Have fun!

Blogging Buddies

Growing as a professional is key in any industry, but it seems to be a particular focus in education. Ask any teacher; they are engaged in countless hours of professional development, some good and some not so good. But outside of the classroom teacher experience, the opportunities for growth and development are not always so available – at least in person.

Thankfully the Interwebs provide a plethora of opportunities to connect and grow. Over the past year, I have become involved pretty heavily in the PLNs through ISTE. It’s so wonderful to hear so many different ideas and challenges that others are facing. This job can be isolating at times, especially if you are the only person in that role in your building or district like I am. Having a network of friends can really help ease that sense of isolation and provide support and encouragement.

This spring, the ISTE Tech Coaches PLN created Blogging Buddies. Technology coaches from around the world signed up and then we were grouped together in smaller groups. The goal is to hold one another accountable to blog more consistently, to have others engage with our words and our experiences, to learn from one another, to connect and grow, and to make some new professional contacts. You can read more about the project here. 

I’m super excited to get started and be more consistent with my blogging. Sometimes I hit writer’s block or feel like I’m writing about the same thing over and over again. And often it just feels like one more thing rather than using it as a reflective space to grow and deepen my thinking. Having some accountability will help me with that. But more than that, I am anxious to learn from my new buddies and make some connections with others in another part of the world.

Happy summer, friends!

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.

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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?