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!
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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?

#IMMOOC – Season Two

Last night some pretty smart people kicked off another round of the #IMMOOC – The Innovator’s Mindset Massive Open Online Course focused around the book – The Innovator’s Mindset. I participated last year, but when I heard there was going to be another round of the IMMOOC, I was thrilled. It’s always fun to connect with new people and challenge your own thoughts and ideas.

One of the questions from this week is centered around the idea of the purpose of school. What is it we are actually trying to do with our students? For me, as a former social studies teacher and current technology integration specialist, the purpose of education is to teach students how to engage with the world around them. They obviously need content knowledge to contextualize their ideas, but we really need to support our students in analyzing information, formulating their own opinions, creating new and innovative things to change our world and their experiences with it, and to find creative ways to solve problems.

I always get push back from teachers whenever I bring up the idea of innovation and design thinking. It can be really hard to find the time, but, like most things in life, you make time for the things that are important to you. In the YouTube Live Episode 1, John Spencer said something that stuck out to me: “Curriculum maps are just that – maps. Maps should inspire possibilities.” Too many times teachers get stuck in marching through the curriculum, stuck on one path and not veering off from it or incorporating other standards and curriculum into what they’re teaching.

My favorite part of the episode? When George discussed some pushback he got from a teacher – “Innovation isn’t in the curriculum.” His response: “Yeah, well neither are worksheets.” Right!?! I mean…we do things we KNOW are bad for kids because it’s what we know, it’s what we’re comfortable with, it’s “easy.” This isn’t to say that there aren’t teachers out there who aren’t doing innovative things or out-of-the-box thinking. A challenge I see a lot is that the environment in which a lot of our teachers are currently operating in isn’t always conducive to innovation. It can be hard to take a risk when you feel like your administrator doesn’t have your back.

So how do we get more innovation in our schools given the current climate? I think it’s crucial to talk to kids since they’re the ones we’re in this business for! Kids can solve some pretty interesting problems if we give them the chance! When we do what’s best for kids, we begin to push kids to take ownership of their learning and to show what they know in new and innovative ways.

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?

Training Challenges

I’m so excited to be kicking off 2017 with some new training offerings for teachers. It also means I get to play around on Canva and create some awesome flyers. I’m seriously obsessed with that site; it’s so addictive!

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I’m continuing to work on getting more schools within our district using G-Suite to a higher level. It is a challenge to balance these offerings with other, non-Google trainings, since not every school in the district is a Google school (yet). That may be another blog post for another time…Consistency, people!

Here’s what I’m struggling with, and my situation may be unique to my particular district, but perhaps some of the challenges will resonate with you.

  1. The teachers in this district have vastly different technology skill levels and desires to learn more technology. For example, I worked with a teacher today who did not know how to attach a Word document to an email. I have had other teachers wanting me to show them ways to get their students podcasting. We’re all over the map here. How can you offer a training that is inclusive, meets the needs of the attendees, and is high quality? I know this is a challenge teachers struggle with in their classrooms, too.
  2. There is no time. Literally, there is no time. The teachers do not have a planning period. After school is often filled with clubs, meetings, interventions, etc. Often I am sitting with a teacher trying to plan, while he or she is managing a classroom. It’s certainly not ideal, and really not even functional. There must be other schools out there that have some time challenges. How do you address them?
  3. Unpreparedness. Now, this is not a knock on teachers personally. I used to be in the classroom, and I get it – you make hundreds of decisions every single hour. How can you be expected to remember usernames and passwords, too?! Right. Everything requires a username and password these days, so finding a system that works is crucial. (And by that I don’t mean a list of passwords taped to your desk next to your computer…) I continue to provide a “You will need _____” list with my training offerings so that teachers know. And yet…I still struggle with teachers being able to access their accounts or bring their devices to a technology training.

A  lot of this is cultural change and shifts in expectation. For a lot of teachers, they are used to low-quality, sit and get PD, presented by someone who doesn’t know them and isn’t invested in their role in the District. So many companies include PD when you purchase their products, but it is often a one-and-done kind of thing, and teachers have been conditioned to know that these types of trainings are not very engaging and often not all that useful. I continue to keep high standards for my teachers. While I cannot provide one-on-one support for all teachers in all 27 schools, I am doing my best to provide a comprehensive set of training sessions as well as continue to work on building relationships. Capacity building is huge, so I have worked to identify teachers who are tech leaders in their buildings and tap into their willingness to try new things.

How do you handle some of these challenges? 
Any suggestions you’d like to share? 

The System

I’ve been spending a lot of time in professional development – in book studies, Twitter chats, reading and engaging with blogs, and talking with other teachers and ed tech coaches at events – and I’m really confused.

It seems like so much has changed in education and yet nothing has changed. We know better how students learn. The skills and demands that students will be expected to have are far different than those that existed when I went to school. Our world is much more connected. Technology and access to information inundates and sometimes overwhelms us. It can feel impossible to process all that information sometimes. And yet… I still walk into classrooms and see teachers refusing to let students engage with the world. I hear teachers tell students not to touch anything until they are given explicit instruction. I watch students puzzle and problem-solve on their own, but then shut down when forced to follow along step by step with a teacher or trainer. The thing is, adults feel safe when someone tells them what to do step by step. Kids don’t! Think of a toddler. How does he or she learn? A little boy puzzles over how to get the block into a hole; he tries several holes until he finds the shape that matches the block.

We want students to be problem solvers. We want them to be critical thinkers. Students no longer need us to TELL them what they need to know, we need to show them how to find the answers. We need to teach them HOW to assess and analyze the information they’re given. Students need to apply the knowledge they have in ways that are meaningful, make sense, challenge them.

Nothing is going to change in education until we – the system – changes. We have to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. We have to be okay with giving up some control. We have to be alright with students exploring – and maybe stumbling upon something they shouldn’t. And when they do, we capitalize on that and use it as a teachable moment. If we only tell kids what NOT to do – and punish them when they make a mistake – how likely are they to actually try and innovate?