Sunday, August 13, 2017

Connected Learning: 3 Summer Experiences That Pushed Me Forward

I love summer!  But not because of the reasons people probably think.  It's not that students and teachers are not in the buildings.  It's not because administrators sit around with their feet up all summer. NOT!!! It's because this is my prime time for learning!

The summer affords me the opportunity to do 3 things that I love to do: read books, connect with other educators, and attend conferences.  Sure, I can do these things during the school year, but this is the time that I refocus myself and re-energize my brain for the new school year. 

This summer was no different.  I have been reading lots of great books, both educational books and children's books.  I read Matt Miller's Ditch That Textbook and found myself wanting to tweet from the rooftops. We must, must, must move away from this textbook-drive system and provide more authentic learning opportunities to our students.  I also read Tribes by Seth Godin.  Not necessarily intended as an educational book but this had profound implications on school leadership and helped me to rethink some of my practices. 

Since I have two young boys at home, I also dedicated some of my reading time to checking out cool children's books.  Most of the books fed my interest in STEAM and Maker Education.  Most notably, I read Emmet's Storm by Ann Rubino. It won a Best STEM Book for 2017 and was well-deserved.  An intermediate level chapter book, it focuses on the innovative spirit of the main character who isn't always supported in his tinkering and inventing.  His inquisitive mind serves his community well in the end.   Set in the late 1800s it is a great book to read aloud to students of many ages as it highlights many of the dispositions that we want to see in our students.

In July, I participated in EdCamp Voice.  If you aren't on Voxer, you are missing a great opportunity to connect with inspiring educators across the country!  While the Compelled Tribe has been my primary Voxer group, I loved adding new groups to my queue.  EdCamp Voice provided me with new connections through an "Authors and Aspiring Authors" group, as well as a STEAM/Makerspace group.  The conversations with others who want to learn and grow has helped me to refresh this summer.

I was fortunate to attend the International Literacy Association's annual conference in July.  What a great experience!  Not only did I enjoy presenting but I also attended sessions with major ELA "educelebrities"--Pernille Ripp, Ralph Fletcher, Kylene Beers, Jan Richardson.  Need I go on ?!?! 

I also had the chance to meet some of my PLN face-to-face for the first time.  Jennifer Williams and Sean Farnum (aka Magic Pants Jones) are just as friendly and inspiring in person as they are on Twitter.  During the conference, I also participated in EdCamp Literacy (so much fun!) and attended a panel session with editors from ILA. 

While my summer was busy, I was able to refuel my educational engine and get focused on a new school year.  Can't wait to get started!

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Professional Learning--Eye Opening Experience or Energy Draining In-Service?

Professional development, in-service days, educational training.  Whatever you may call it--does it invoke excitement or dread?  If your PD days are mandatory "sit and get" sessions that don't appeal to you (and how could they?!?!) what if professional learning was more like a curated experience?  What if it was a well-planned excursion that allowed for personal choices, casual conversations and unique perspectives? 

Our district recently had an administrative professional learning day that included principals and central office leaders.  Instead of sitting in the board room for a meeting or learning through a webinar, we had a day-long experience that would help to guide our thinking as we planned for the next school year. 

There were no sessions.  No scheduled agenda.  No Power Point.  Instead, it was a series of experiences that promoted team collaboration and personal reflection with a small community flair.

Prior to this day, our team read The Starbucks Experience. (If you haven't read this one, I highly recommend it.  There are so many educational connections and insight into how we serve our students, teachers, and communities.) The book focuses on the 5 Principles that guide the company through their successful domination of the coffee industry.  The principles don't really have much to do with coffee and are applicable to any field. 

To explore these principles in more depth, we visited a local main street with neighborhood shops and restaurants.  We met that morning at (who guessed it?) Starbucks where we talked with a manager as she told us about her experience with the company.  She shared small ways that Starbucks pays attention to its customers and builds on relationships with one another.

Our learning experience continued as we strolled down the street and visited a family-owned bakery, chatting with the owner and his son about the connections they have with their customers and the importance of knowing what matters to them.  They shared stories of how they have maintained tradition while also moving forward with the changes times, adding new technologies to a 50-year old neighborhood favorite.

Next we visited a newer restaurant where the chef/owner talked about the ways his business has overcome challenges in the last year.  He recognized obstacles in his way, but worked to find creative solutions to them.  He urged us to take time to listen to get to the heart of any problems.

Our last stop was at a long-standing restaurant where we dined with a 40-year veteran of public education.  She shared the history of the community with us and talked about ways that she moved up through the ranks to become one of the first female superintendents in the area.  She pointed out the importance of knowing your community and looking for ways to partner with them to embrace new ideas during times of change.

Here we also talked with the restaurant manager about the idea of being in the business of serving people--which we often forget in education. She made connections with the way that her work aligns with the work of our school system. We have many visitors come through our doors each day (parents, grandparents, students, teachers, paraprofessionals, therapists, community leaders) just as she has diverse customers who come to her restaurant.  Each one may be seeking something different, but it is our responsibility to greet them all, welcome them in, and give them what they need. 

Much like Starbucks, we need to make personal connections with our customers.  In our ongoing efforts to move forward and be future-ready, we must remember to honor traditions, as the bakery owners have done.  We will face obstacles as the chef/owner of the new restaurant, but by listening and understanding the issues we can find success as he has.  Reflecting with our veteran educator, we have to remind ourselves that we are in the business of teaching. Teaching students.  We have to make learning personal for them, developing sincere connections, and helping them to overcome obstacles.

While our day of learning could've been spent in a workshop being lectured on leadership skills or listening to an educational speaker, instead we built connections among our team in an unexpected way-- eating, talking, and hearing the experiences of different people, which ultimately allowed us to reflect on our ability to be better school leaders. 

Things to Consider:
How might this learning experience change the way we plan professional learning for teachers?
How can we rethink what learning looks like? for teachers and students?
What opportunities to we have to reflect on education as a service and make changes to ensure that we are serving those that enter our schools?

Saturday, July 1, 2017

5 Phrases We Must Ban in Education

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A couple weeks ago, I tweeted out this picture.  It's is a phrase that I feel represents a huge barrier to positive educational change.  Apparently, it really resonated with people, as I received hundreds of likes, re-tweets, and comments.  This got me thinking about other phrases that get in the way of our progress in schools.  Many phrases damage the culture in ways that are challenging to repair.

So, here are the 5 phrases that I believe we must ban in education if we are going to provide positive, future-ready schools for our students.

1. "My kids can't do that."

A group of teachers are learning about a new initiative that requires student independence and a well-managed classroom when I overheard one teacher blurt out this negative phrase--"Oh, my kids can't do that.  They're just not ready."  Her attitude pained me as I thought about the students in her class that probably missed out on so many opportunities.  As school leaders, we need to fill our schools with educators that have a Can-Do attitude while also finding ways to support those who don't hold positive beliefs about young learners.

(And I'm pretty sure we should just get rid of the word "can't" altogether.)

2.  "If I wait long enough this (Fill in the blank---trend, administrator, parent) will go away."
When we wait for something uncomfortable to go away, we are wasting valuable time--time that we could be devoting to our students.  You know the type I'm talking about.  The educator who balks at a faculty meeting because he thinks "Eh, in a year or two this principal will be gone.  I'll just wait him out."

Ugh!  I hope you don't have many of these individuals in your schools, as they can put a real damper on things.  Make the positive so loud that they just can't stand it.  Once they see how an optimistic outlook can impact a school, perhaps they will reconsider.

3.  "He's way too far behind to ever catch up with the others."
We've all encountered struggling learners.  We worry about them when we aren't at school.  In class, we give them all we've got to ensure they their needs are being met, but some teachers see the impossible rather than the possible.  Yes, there are students who are far behind, but it is our responsibility to help them "catch up" in any way we can. You never know what small nudge a student may need that will allow them to have an educational breakthrough. 

4.  "I don't know why they didn't get it.  I covered it!"
How many times have you heard this one?  A teacher gives a mid-term and half of the students bombed it--but they assure you that they covered all the material. 

Our students learn in different ways and at different rates.  Are we designing instruction that will allow them to access the content?  Are we providing engaging opportunities to learn the concepts?  Allocating time for practice and feedback?  If a student didn't learn it the way we taught it, then we need to be self-reflective enough to recognize that we may need to go back to the drawing board. 

5.  "We've always done it this way."

It is easy to get into a rut--we've all been there.  We keep plugging along doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results.  This happens in our classrooms, schools, and districts.  Don't stay stuck!  Sometimes we have to stop, reflect and consider if this way is the best for our students.  If it's not effective, then stop doing it that way.

There are probably more phrases in education that get under your skin.  What are your pet peeves?  How do you counteract them in your school?  How do we rise above these (and other) challenges to create positive schools that support teacher growth and student learning?

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Game Hacks for Makers

My son turned five in April.  Among the gifts he received was the card game UNO.  I remember the game from my childhood and thought that would be a good one for him to start to build his strategic thinking.  As we opened it and started to set up the game, I saw a new component.  The new version contains "customizable wild cards" that you can write on.  Players can create a new dimension to the game by having players swap hands or making your opponent give up all their wild cards. 

So I "googled" UNO's new twist and found tons of ideas for how people are customizing the game. Just one small hack by including some blank cards can totally change the game.  It allows players to think creatively and strategically about how to beat their opponents. 

The concept made me wonder if other games have added any new twists.  But then I thought--they don't need to!  Who says we can't create our own hacks to games? 

Surely, we've all considered different twists to Twister or adding a creative rule to Monopoly.  Lots of people have switched up Jenga to make it more unpredictable and interactive by writing different commands on each wooden piece. 

Why couldn't we hack other card games or board games?  How might we transform traditional board games into something new and different?  By changing one component of a game, our approach may be different. Would our strategies need to change?  Could we merge two games into one or take parts from many different games and combine them?  The possibilities are endless!

In education, we are pushing the 4 Cs- fostering creativity, building communication skills, developing critical thinking skills, and pursuing collaboration.  Adding a small hack to an existing childhood game can provide opportunities for all four.

We are in the era of the Makers.  A generation of young people are growing up with a tinkering mindset that gives them the permission to hack, deconstruct, and mess with just about anything in order to create something new and better.  This hack in the UNO game is small step towards innovation. 

What games have you hacked?  Share you ideas on how hacking a board game can be a creative shift for students.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

3 Ideas to End the Year Strong

Raise your hand if you've shown your students a movie towards the end of the school year.

I know lots of teachers who have relied on movies because they just didn't have the energy to do much else.  I get it.  The weather is getting warmer--it's hot inside your classroom.

"My kids are done!" ---I have heard teachers say.  But as teachers, we have this awesome responsibility to educate our students the very best we can in the time that has been given to us.  So, let's make it the best experience all the way til the last bell rings.  End the year strong!

Whether you teach first grade, high school chemistry, or somewhere in between, here are 3 ideas you might try to end your school year as strong is you started it.

#1 Engage Them

When you give up, so do your students.  Show them that you will stay engaged even into June. Engage them with hands-on projects, an end of year project-based learning unit, or an engineering design challenge. Engaging students through Making is one way to keep them thinking, collaborating, and creating throughout the school year.  Check out my book STEAM Makers for more ideas to infuse creativity and innovation into your classroom.

kinesthetic Classrooms .png#2 Get Moving

Do your students get a little antsy this time of year?  Keep them active!  Plan a scavenger hunt around the school.  Take the class for a walk around the building. Get outside and beautify your school grounds.  Try some action-based learning.

Plan regular brain breaks.  There are lots of benefits to using this strategy in the classroom.  Check out this list of brain breaks from Jill Thompson:

#3 Have Fun!

Are students really having fun watching Finding Nemo or some other Disney classic?  Throwing on a movie might make the day seem a little easier to you, but your students would rather learn about a new tool, play a game, use technology, plan a project, or talk about their interests.  What can you do to have fun and keep kids going until the last bell?

Explore Common Sense Media and let students check out new apps or summer movie releases.  They can blog about a new app they've tried or create their own movie trailers for a summer blockbuster.

Start summer vacation early by trying Google Expeditions . Choose exotic locales or historical hot spots that the class may want to visit.  Check out the amazing experience with Google Cardboard or other virtual reality tools.

Look at some DIY projects to end the school year. Students will have fun choosing projects that interest them from decorating and building to gardening or hacking.  The end of the year can be filled with engaging, creative, and fun learning opportunities.

So put down that VHS tape that you've shown for the last 10 years.  Make the end of this year memorable.  Use the last few days or weeks left with your students to do something amazing and keep them learning until the last bell.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Press the orange button!

Several months ago I started using Voxer.  I joined a lively group of educators who were reading Innovator's Mindset by George Couros.  The concept of adding voice to the discussion format that I loved on Twitter really intrigued me, so I jumped right in.  Some of the educators were hesitant and only sent out a "vox" after lurking for a while--and that it OK.  At least they did it!

As I listened to my Voxer messages on my way to work one morning, someone said something simple that really struck me--you have to have the courage to press the orange button.  (If you don't know Voxer, there's an orange button that you press to record your voice to send your message out.) The person that said it was encouraging others in the group. Come on.  Press the button.  You can do this!

Since then, I've noticed evidence of metaphorical button pushing all over the place.  One motivated teacher was interested in flexible seating for her classroom.  She knew this was a risk and outside of what her colleagues might consider, but she pressed the button anyways.  She created a plan for seating options in her classroom and went for it, resulting in enthusiastic and engaged students.

Another teacher, a digital immigrant, wanted to find new ways to involve her students in her ELA lessons.  While she was ready to try something different, she wasn't convinced that technology was the way to go.  She collaborated with another colleague and learned a few apps that could infuse technology and increase student participation in class.  She pushed the orange button and even showcased her new learning for her annual classroom observation.

Some teachers are still pretty reluctant to push the button.  Perhaps it's that they don't like the sound of their own voice.  Or maybe it's the fear of stumbling as your speaking.  I get that--I had those same fears at first too.  But, I hope that the reason isn't that they don't think they have anything important to say.  Sharing your ideas is critical to growing as an educator.  So, maybe your vox isn't mind-blowing. That's OK!  It doesn't have to be.  It does, however represent the opportunity for you to connect with other educators--just by pressing that button.

Go ahead . . . you can do it.


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