Friday, December 29, 2017

It's All About Relationships

As I reflect on 2017, I think about all of  the people who have I have connected with this year.  Whether meeting an "Edu Hero" or a long awaited face-to-face conversation with a Twitter friend, I am lifted up by the connections that I have with inspiring and supportive people.  Face-to-face conversations with friends and colleagues or long-distance email exchanges, it really is all about the relationships.

This summer, I attended the International Literacy Association Annual Conference in Orlando.  What a jam-packed agenda!  The biggest names in reading were there--truly amazing to listen to so many experts (Fletcher, Richardson, Ripp).  What was even better was meeting some of my Twitter friends in person.  Sean Farnum @magicpantsjones and Jennifer Williams @JenWilliamsEDU were even more friendly and motivating than I could've imagined.  With a big hug from each, it reinforced the importance of a digital #PLN.

This fall I had the pleasure of being a part of a mentoring project with a fellow Compelled Tribe member, Jodie Pierpoint  Talk about a go-getter!  She has orchestrated a phenomenal match up of aspiring administrators and experienced school leaders.  With Twitter chats and webinars, she is facilitating some amazing work.  I am happy to serve as a mentor working with a talented up-and-coming school leader.

With mentoring in mind, I am thankful for the ongoing support I have received from from an accomplished author who reached out to me several years ago after I reviewed one of her books.  Since then, Cathie West and I have corresponded via email about the ups and downs of being a writer.  Though we have never met, her always positive outlook and encouraging words keep me pursuing my love of writing.

Earlier this month, I attended a state conference.  I love presenting at conferences, as I get the opportunity to talk with others about my passion for STEAM and Maker Education.  But with a conference theme of innovative practices, I was grateful to meet some truly remarkable innovators in our field.  Randy Ziegenfuss @ziegeran and Lynn Fuini-Hetten @lfuinihetten shared the awesome work in their school district.  After participating in their podcast earlier this year, it was great to meet in person.  A session on innovative PD with Rich Czyz @RACzyz was a must-see.  High energy and great ideas, meeting Rich was a a highlight of the conference.  I couldn't possibly forget the show-stopper of the conference George Couros @gcouros .  He was incredible!  Honest, inspiring, funny, and encouraging.  It was so great to meet him, after following his work for so many years.

At the conference, I was joined by a team from our district, as well as other educators in our county.  The time spent at the conference strengthened our relationships and allowed us to build new friendships.  Over the course of several days, we talked, learned, and laughed together, which is after all a foundation for a great relationship.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Your Best Self: The Power of a Learning Network

This week I had lunch with a group of teachers from 3 neighboring school districts.  The group is a part of a consortium of educators working in our county to support creativity and innovation in our classrooms.  We had just finished a classroom visit where an eclectic team of teachers planned a lesson together and one implemented it while the co-creators observed.  (Think “lesson study”, but a hacked version that better met the needs of our team.)

The team reflected on the lesson, highlighting the evidence of learning from the students who were engaged in a variety of tasks, all centered on the holidays.  The students collaborated, used technology to research, and discussed their learning.  They persevered through some challenges which resulted in the creation of a cool hands-on project.  Some students succeeded quickly, where others failed and tried again.  Some worked cooperatively, while other worked alone.  Students had voice and choice in where they sat and who they worked with.  It was a very positive visit for all involved, but it was the reflection from the teachers that made it all worth it.  

Over lunch, the team described the way that they worked together as educators.  (This hacked lesson study was a part of a 2 month project with multiple classroom visits.)  They shared how they had texted each other last night with a new twist on the lesson.  They talked about their plans for what they wanted to do next.  They wondered about the possibilities of a classroom swap.  Their enthusiasm was truly infectious!

Keep in mind, these aren’t teachers who knew each other well or were friends outside of this project.  These are teachers from three very different school districts, all teaching completely different subjects and grade levels—elementary, middle school social studies, high school English, and high school biology.  They were assigned to a group to participate in this professional learning endeavor through our consortium, but somehow have come together to become an innovative thinking powerhouse.

The team gushed about the energy they felt during the morning’s lesson.  They marveled over the skills and empowerment that the students demonstrated during the lesson.  They begged (pretty much) to continue working together because they loved the opportunity to visit each other’s classrooms and share insights on how to improve their instruction.  They confessed that they wouldn’t want to work on any other team—that their placement on this team felt so right.  They asked to take on a leadership role within our consortium and were overjoyed at the thought of being able to mentor new teachers coming into the project in the New Year.  They continued to brainstorm ideas and talk about things they wanted to pursue together.  Professional learning is their passion.

As their colleague and “coach”, I am amazed at their drive to become better educators.  I am ecstatic about the possibilities for these teachers to be leaders and learners, but I think one teacher summed it up best when she said:

“When I’m with this team, I’m my best self!”

And that my friends, is the power of a professional learning network.  As you reflect on 2017 and consider what you will accomplish in 2018, I hope that you surround yourself with a team that helps you to become your best self.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

3 Last Minute Gift Ideas for Every Maker

The countdown is on!  Holiday shoppers are beginning to panic!  What last minute gifts are still on your list?  Here are 3 easy, last minute gifts for every young maker.

1.  Create Your Own Maker Kit

Head to the local dollar store.  Spend less than $20 and create a maker kit that every maker with love.
  • craft sticks
  • pipe cleaners
  • balloons
  • plastic cups
  • straws
  • marshmallows
  • tape
  • glue sticks
  • rubber bands
  • construction paper
  • scissors
  • playing cards
  • foam shapes/sheets
  • colored pencils
  • aluminum foil
  • play-doh
  • notebook
  • and basket or bin to hold all the stuff !

2.  Children's Books

There are so many great children's books that support creativity and the maker mindset. These are perfect for teachers, parents, and kids!  Check out my website for a full list of books that support STEAM Maker learning K-12, but here are a few amazing ones:

3.  Duct Tape!

Sometimes a cardboard box is better than the present inside.  The box is the gift--the gift of creativity.  So, buy some duct tape and grab some of those Amazon boxes you tossed into the garage.  Build a race car or a rocket ship or a secret hideout--the possibilities are endless!

Happy Making One and All!

Monday, December 18, 2017

Thanks for the PUSH !

As a part of the Compelled Tribe, I am not always the best at keeping up with our goal to blog every month.  OK, I'm pretty bad at that part, but I love reading the blogs of my colleagues from all over the US.  I appreciate our Voxer group and reflect on those conversations often.  It is the support from this group and others in my life for which I am grateful.  They provide the push I often need, even if they don't know it.

The push comes from  colleagues, friends, and family members, too.  It's the encouragement I often need to keep moving forward that think about my next step, personally and professionally which comes in the form of an encouraging word, an friendly text, or a call-out that holds me accountable.

Accountable towards our work, our vision as a school district, and my pursuit of innovation as an educator and learner.

Its even more interesting when push or a nudge comes from a stranger--well not really a stranger but someone who you've never really met.  If you've ever been lucky enough to hear George Couros speak, then you know he can challenge your thoughts and cause you re-imagine your practices.  He nudges people within his talks--well OK sometimes he downright shoves you!  But in a good way.  In a way that makes you momentarily second guess your stance on things and potentially question your practices.

At a recent conference he blatantly tells a group of school and district leaders--if you didn't bring a device to this session, you are making yourself irrelevant!  He goes on to push the audience further and explains that social media is an necessary tool in the world we live in.  Within a few minutes, a superintendent in the audience who vowed never to join Twitter did just that.  She was pushed out of her comfort zone to try something that she didn't consider doing before.  That was a risk for her but one that will surely pay off in the open communication that she will create in her district and within her personal learning network.

While this superintendent shared this news with the group she had a huge smile on her face, but you could see that she was still nervous about taking this leap.  The reality is, we need to use social media in education to connect with others, build relationships, and share our stories.  As school leaders, we need to model social media use for our teachers and students.  George shared insight from a student he worked with who said, "Social media is like water.  You can either let us drown or teach us to swim."

The superintendent in that session is now taking on this responsibility to teach the students and teachers in her district the power of leveraging social media.  It was the push from a stranger that propelled her forward.  It is that same push that often drives me to Persist Until Something Happens. 

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Create Your Own Lane

Earlier this week, a Twitter friend of mine (Thanks @kerszi !) posted this Quote of the Day.  I'm on Twitter every day and see lots of quotes, quirky sayings, and cool images, but this one has stuck with me all week.  There are 3 things that really made this resonate with me.

1.  I laughed at the term "boss up" but I loved that choice of words!  You know, like a boss, take control and do it.  I felt like that was a good motivator, a way to call others to action.  Sometimes you have to just step up and make a decision.  Take a risk.  Make that leap.  Just do it.  Like a boss.

2. Sometimes in education we have to create a new path where one  never existed.  Create your own lane.  That's what innovators do, whether in the classroom or as a school leader we have to forge ahead through new territory and design our own lane because we know it's what's best for kids.

This reminded me of those old "create your own adventure" books.  You remember these?  You get to a certain juncture in the story and you either choose between page 47 and page 86.   I used to love these books when I was little, but sometimes you need more than the two options provided.  That's when you have to create your own lane--jump off-road and take the path less traveled.

Innovators are often lonely on those single-lane highways, but usually the journey and the destination are well worth it.

3.  The last part that really had an impact was the phrase"had no choice".  Truly, there was a choice, wasn't there?  It is a choice to stay on the same path and keep moving along at the same pace as everyone else.  But for innovators, that's just not an option.  That lane is full of other cars doing to same old thing.  Innovators are pushed to the point that they have no other choice that to break away and create a new lane--that's when the magic happens.

Are you ready to "boss up"?  In what ways are you creating your own lane?  Share your comments!

Thursday, November 16, 2017

10 New STEAM Makers You Should Know

Over a year ago I wrote a post about the 25 STEAM Maker educators that you should follow on Twitter. Since then both STEAM (STEM, STREAM, whatever you call it) and Maker Education are heating up and more and more educators are getting involved in this exciting pathway to learning.

This list of educators represents those with less than 1000 followers on Twitter, who are doing AMAZING things in their schools.  Please check them out!

1. Tori Cameron @STEAMuptheclsrm
Check out Tori's podcast STEAM Up the Classroom.  She connects with STEAM Maker educators who are taking risks and pushing innovation.  She promotes all things STEM, STEAM, Maker and Makerspaces.

 2. Ed Bringas @annoyingDrones
A STEAM Maker Specialist--gotta love that title!  Ed posts relevant articles and examples of amazing student work. 

3.  Chris Cook @FlintHillMakers 
Coding, 3D printing, robotics, sewing--Chris posts all kinds of student projects.  Where was this middle school maker teacher when I was in school ???

4. Kristen Nan @nankr1120 
Kristen is a third grade teacher who is overflowing with passion for teaching and learning.  Her students are leaders in the classroom, as Kristen facilitates project-based learning in her school's makerspace. You must check out the learning happening in this classroom!

5. Bethany Jones @bethany_jones4
This middle school engineering design teacher truly embraces the 4Cs.  The creative projects from her class are awesome and her Makey-Makey projects are off the charts!!!!

6. Maureen Frew @FrewsCrew
Maureen is a teacher on special assignment with a mission for making.  The hands-on making that she does with the youngest of learners is just amazing.

7. Penny Rayhill @PennyRayhill
Penny is a tech coach and maker from West Virginia.  She works with students and teachers to incorporate digital making and tech in creative ways.  Check out what she is doing with Quiver!

8. David Lostetter @MrLostetter
This technology/STEM teacher does some pretty cool stuff in his elementary makerspace.  His student projects definitely have the WOW factor!

9. Mandi Figlioli @mrsfigmakes
As a curriculum specialist, Mandi sees both the classroom side and the leadership side of making.  She is passionate about hands-on learning and posts great ideas for other makers.

10. Mr. Russo @RussosRoom
This NY teacher's profile says it all:
STEM isn’t about showing your students how to do something, but empowering them with the right tools to create and discover it on their own.

Of course, this is not an exhaustive list, but simply some great educators to connect with around everything STEM, STEAM, and Making.  Who else would you add?

Friday, November 10, 2017

4 Types of Educators You May Know

There are many analogies that can be made about educators, but one that I've heard recently stuck with me.  I've been in school leadership for the last 14 years and have worked with lots of teachers.  They range from passionate go-getters, to competent, compliant educators to those who are simply stuck.  Consider the attitudes, motivation, and actions of the teachers that you know. I bet they will fall into one of these categories.  It is important to recognize that all of these people are a part of your organization.  The key is to figure out how to connect with each and move on a successful path for your school or district.

Speed boats
Image result for speedboat
These are the teachers who are always one step ahead, zipping through the waters with ease and often leaving others in their wake.  They don't mean to leave others behind, but they are interested in trends in education and pride themselves on being connected educators "in the know".  When presented with a new initiative they go full speed ahead.  If you want to grab on, they are willing to show you the way, but you better be ready to move forward.  As an administrator, these are the teachers I love!  They are curious, creative, and forward-thinking.  They want to try new approaches and new technologies because they are excited about what it could provide to their students.  The speedboats don't get bogged down in rules and regulations, once they know better, they want to do better.  (Thanks, @nankr1120 !) 

The tug boats are consistently strong classroom teachers--they can hold their own in the water, chug-chugging along. Progress may be at a slower pace than the speedboats, but they are moving.  Sometimes, they connect with a speedboat and they are off making waves, too.  These teachers need our encouragement.  They need to know we are with them on this voyage and together, we will exceed our goals.

Imagine a huge barge inching down the river.  It will get to its destination, but at its own time and pace.  There's not much to make it move faster or take another path, but try as you might--keep pushing it forward.  The barge is just fine with waiting for the speedboats to zip ahead and then report back with the success of an initiative.  There's just no urgency to rush.

These won't be your leaders of innovation, but school leaders must support the barges through their journey and continue to communicate the end goal.  Connect the barge with a tugboat and now you might have some momentum.

Image result for anchor oceanAnchors 

A heavy, immovable weight stuck down into the depths.  You aren't moving this one--and they're not afraid to tell you so.  They've watched many things pass them by and they are content right where they are.  Focus on ways keep all the other boats moving.  Don't let them get pulled down by the anchor.

Teachers--which one are you?  If you are not where you want to be, how might you change it?

School Leaders--how do you support each of these?  Can you lift the anchors? How to you respond to your barges?  How do you continue to fuel your speedboats?  

Sunday, October 29, 2017

3 Things That Scare Me in Education--(Halloween Edition)

Education is shifting--but that's not scary to me. Schools are embracing changes and looking ahead to the future. That's exciting!  Infusing inquiry and hands-on learning into classroom--that's the good stuff, but there's some scary stuff out there that is more a trick than a treat.  Here are three things that we need to reconsider in education.

1.  Homework

As an educator and a parent, I am scared about the mounds of homework I see.  Matt Miller and Alice Keeler preach about this in their book Ditch That Homework  and I couldn't agree
more.  Why are we inundated our young people with meaningless assignments and piles of paperwork?  Let's give them valuable tasks to do at home, like reading together or taking a walk as a family.  Homework is scary, mostly because there's just so much of it but also because research doesn't support it.  Research shows that less is more.  So, let's stop this terrifying trend and reconsider the type of work that our students should do at home. 

2.  Desks in rows

When I see sterile classrooms with desks in neatly formed rows, I just want to scream!  AAAHHH! Who wants to learn in a space like this?  With the recent flexible seating trend, more classrooms are shifting away from this frightening set-up and moving towards seating options that meet the needs of our students.  Student-centered classrooms should fit the learning needs of the kids.  My NAESP article Learning Space Transformation talks about why this is so critical for our students.  Let's create classrooms that support creativity and collaboration, because the only other place I know of that is set up in rows is here!

3.  BOOOOOO worksheets!

I know some classrooms, who alone, may send the school copier to a cemetery from the amount of papers they copy each day.  In one day, I know a kindergarten student who brought home 15 papers.  Yes, FIFTEEN! That is an awful lot of trees killed--and that is pretty scary.  Can't we move away from the worksheet mindset and look to more authentic types of learning?  I know that some people will never give up their paper and pencil tests on Fridays, but we owe it to our students to provide meaningful learning opportunities that engage and excite them.

I know the thought of moving away from homework, desks, and assignments may be just as scary to some.  Maybe what I am suggesting sounds like a horror movie to you. I challenge you all to ditch the homework, change up the rows, and give up the worksheets--- just for a week.  I wonder what will change for your students if you do????

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

6 Tips For STEAM Maker Success

Chances are your school is moving forward with some type of STEMish program.  STEM or STEAM or STREAM or whatever you may title it--this integrated approach to learning in the content areas is taking hold in many schools. 

Personally, I favor the term STEAM, because I believe the A is an integral part of learning.  Makers are artists, thus bridging the connection between STEAM and Making.  Many schools are pushing their thinking ahead and pairing his hands-on approach with makerspace learning. 

Just as every makerspace looks different from the next, every program will also look different.  Here are 6 tips that will help as you develop any of these learning experiences in your school.

1. Empower

Why are you embracing STEAM and Making?  What types of opportunities will you provide?  Let your student decide!  Empower them to make decisions.  Can they design the learning space?  Can they select the materials to buy?  How might they learn the learning for others?  Include your students early and often when planning any STEAM Maker initiatives. Empower them to drive the learning.

2.  Invite

Reach out to parents and community members and invite them in.  If they aren't familiar with STEAM or Making, here's your chance to share the joy.  Plan a parent maker night.  Not only can an event like this engage parents, it's always a great way to restock your space.  Ask each family to donate a clean recyclable item like paper towel rolls, water bottles, or even a dollar store item.  The important part is to share the experience with those who are outside of the school by extending the invitation and the learning.

3.  Connect

Explore the potential partners you may have right in your backyard.  Community partners like local businesses, universities, or corporations can add value to your program in a number of ways.  Can the community partner support your students through mentoring?  Can students design and create for an authentic business audience? Maybe they can support you with funding or support with materials.  Establishing relationships with communities partners can have both long and short term benefits for your students.

4.  Ask

Don't be afraid to ask . . . for anything.  There are lots of organizations supporting STEAM and Maker learning.  Ask them for stuff!  Materials, time, support, tools.  We beg, borrow, and steal in education, right?

Bird Brain Technologies, a Pittsburgh company, has a loan program for their educational robotics materials.  So instead of struggling to figure out how to fit this into your budget, you can borrow items for a month or two and then pass them on to another educator.  Last year, I reached out to a local company who sold used furniture and other recycled items and asked for some flexible seating for my school.  They generously donated twice what I requested.  You'll never know unless you ask!

5.  Visit

In education, we can become isolated.  We stay in our classrooms and teach our students, and that's it.  Now with social media like Twitter, Pinterest, and Facebook more teachers are sharing questions, ideas, and practices but we still stay isolated in our physical spaces.  Get out!  Visit other schools.  Check out other makerspaces or innovative STEAM programs near you. Talk to other educators engaging in this work. Expanding your horizons and visiting other schools can be both validating and refreshing!

6.  Build

STEAM and Maker learning is only as good as the facilitators leading it.  Building capacity among the educators in your school by providing innovative PD that includes hands-on learning and skills in Making are critical to the sustainability of a program.  During our recent professional development day, we offered an "innovation lounge" where teachers could tinker with educational technology tools and collaborate with colleagues in an informal setting.  This summer, we offered teacher workshops on sewing, circuitry, and soldering for those who wanted to plan ways to incorporate hands-on learning into their language arts classrooms.  How do you build capacity for STEAM Maker learning in your school or district? 

STEAM and Maker Education provide a hands-on pathway to learning that is growing in schools across the country.  These six tips can provide some guidance for those just getting started or for those well on their way.  What other tips would you share?

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

Image result for the most dangerous phrase we've always done it this way

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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