Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Summer stock: Prepping for next school year

Ahh, summer. That enviable time of the school year when teaches haul out their chaise lounges and brain candy books to loll about and wonder how in the world they'll fill all those hours until school starts again. Yea. Right.

For those of you who are teachers or know teachers, you know how misguided and offensive that particular teacher trope is. As school years are winding down, preparation is underway and has been underway for summer school. Administrators have been planning for summer professional development and/or summer work that needs to be done to review and revise whatever didn't work as well as hoped during the past school year. Classroom teachers are revising lesson plans or starting anew if they're changing to a new grade level. Educators are also starting to explore resources they've been setting aside for when they have time, even as more resources are recommended to them. In other words, there is no chaise lounge, no brain candy books, and most certainly no umbrella drinks. Or not many of them.

Not sure how to get started preparing for next year? Check out what Matt Miller has to say. He's got 12 great ways for you to grow this summer. Twelve things is overwhelming to me, so focus on the first three. You can modify the PD Bingo Board to suit what makes the most sense to you and your colleagues. If the first three don't do it for you, find three that do. But only three.

You can revisit an "oldie but goodie" from Vicki Davis who always has great ideas for teacher growth and development.

Because Vicki is a wealth of ideas, you should follow her blog and follow her on Twitter. Just do that. Right now. I have a list of others you should follow, at least in my opinion, and I'm happy to share that with you.

Most educators love to learn and often think that summer will be their time to "catch up." Which can be possible if there are no kiddos to get to travel sports teams practices and games, or to camp, or to wherever it is that the kids need to be. In fact, their expectations of teacher-as-parent availability skyrockets during the summer. Too often teachers get to mid-July and wonder what happened to summer and their plans.

So review Vicki's list and Matt's list. Then pick no more than three. If you find you have more time, wonderful. Add another something to your list but if you pick only three and can really explore those three, you'll be in great shape for the school year.

I've created another Personal PD Bingo board you can find here. The second page includes some notes for how you might accomplish some of the items on the board if you're not sure where to start. I'll continue to add to that but don't hesitate to reach out if you've got questions about any of the options or possibilities.

The bottom line is this: learning doesn't stop for learners. Educators want to be better and do better every year but are often overwhelmed by the choices. Find three things that will help you accomplish your personal professional goals for the upcoming school year. Focus on those three things and grow, grow, grow!

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Becoming Future Ready

"Future Ready." The phrase has a nice ring to it, but what does it mean and what does it mean not only for educators but for the work place?

In 2014, as part of the ConnectED launch, Future Ready became an initiative of the Office of Educational Technology. Superintendents who attended the launch event at the White House were the first to sign a pledge to support the transition to digital learning in their schools.

Over the past few years, "future ready" has become a thing for K-12 educators as well as library media specialists/librarians. That makes sense to me because a school's library media specialist (LMS) should be well attuned to resources to assist in a digital transition.

While there are plenty of schools that are working towards a digital transition, there are many that are not for lack of planning, funds, and/or inclination. But I suspect there are some that have failed to make headway for lack of knowledge, understanding, and/or expertise.

What is "future ready"?
It doesn't mean your school is 1:1 or has "gone Google." It does mean your district and your schools have put together a plan to figure out what makes the most sense for your student population to help ensure they can stay in school, graduate from high school, and apply successfully for college if that is their desire. It also means students and educators in your district have the wherewithal to make decisions about the skills and knowledge they will need to find suitable employment.

It means that educators in your schools and districts, regardless of the student population, realize that just as the one-size-fits-all model does not fit for professional development, it does not fit for student learning. Differentiation, made popular by Carol Tomlinson in the 1990s, has staying power because of its relevance.

Future ready means recognizing that education is not static just as learning is not static. Sure, technology will continue to change and change rapidly. That should be a strong indicator that teachers need to be willing and able to make adjustments. They and parents need support in providing the kind of support and opportunities students need to learn and prepare for their futures and a world we cannot begin to imagine.

Understanding future ready
Part of being future ready is aligning thinking, planning, and action to these seven categories of the Future Ready Framework:
  • Curriculum, instruction, and assessment
  • Personalized professional learning
  • Robust infrastructure
  • Data and privacy
  • Community partnerships
  • Budget and resources
  • Use of space and time
Note what is central: personalized student learning. The phrase that excites and encourages many educators and terrorizes others who believe they cannot support personalized student learning for many reasons or who believe their students are not capable of personalized student learning. Let me say this to that: balderdash.

Most of the framework categories are not new but some of the elements of these categories are different. Wifi bandwidth is part of the infrastructure. Managing the school day and allowing teachers to have freedom in determining how their classrooms are furnished and organized is part of the use of space and time as is allowing teachers to have some freedom in determining how best to use the time they have with students.

I worked with a teacher who had a wonderful idea about how to organize her day into large blocks of learning time but a district administrator was not happy that each day didn't have a specific amount of time allotted at a specific time of day for each of the content areas. The teacher was frustrated because that structure of 30 minutes for ELA, 30 minutes of science, etc. simply reinforced that learning is compartmentalized. But when her students were doing project-based learning in larger blocks--still with reading, writing, math, and science--they were learning in a more transdisciplinary  capacity which makes so much more sense for a future ready student.

Just as teachers worry about letting go because of technology, administrators must worry about letting go because they have to learn to allow their teachers to have more autonomy in their classrooms and with their students. It's not that simple, I know.

However, I believe that if teachers have more autonomy and are trusted to do the best thing for their students AND administrators provide the kind of personalized professional learning and instructional coaching teachers need and want, then teachers will be more likely to ask for help and specific help when they need it.

Teachers want to do well. They want their students to be successful. The best teachers with whom I've been privileged to work are already good teachers but have no qualms about asking for help because they know that's how they will continue to stretch and grow and learn their craft. They don't always realize that when they ask for help and coaching, they model something very special to their students.

Supporting future ready
As with the seven categories of the Future Ready Framework, the centerpiece of the Future Ready Librarian is personalized student learning. The focus of the Future Ready Librarian is curriculum, instruction, and assessment, though I think I could argue that the librarian is not limited to this single area. I know far too many librarians who are outstanding resources and learning partners in most of the other categories, too.

These elements of curriculum, instruction, and assessment are strengths of the Future Ready Librarian for students and their teachers, and not just at the local school. Most librarians are part of district, state, and national organizations so can help build different partnerships to meet different needs and interests.

So what's next?
It depends where you are in the process. Do you have a plan? If not, you might start with the framework dashboard tool that helps you assess your district and being to plan (https://dashboard.futurereadyschools.org). You'll need to create a free account. If you don't want to go that route, form your own team at your school or district level. Make sure your team includes a technology coordinator or coach, at least one librarian, and representative teachers. I'd include one tech-savvy teacher who is already doing some project-based learning and/or elements of personalized learning as well as at least one of the teachers who is reluctant to try to incorporate technology.

Keep in mind that to be future ready you do not have to be 1:1. You do have to have a plan for integrating technology and you do have to have a plan for supporting your teachers, parents, and students in the use of technology. And you need to have a plan for encouraging digital citizenship--for parents and students.

As part of your work, think about the way your school and/or your district goes about education. I'm serious even though this seems self-evident. What are your practices and policies around testing? What are practices and policies around learning? To what extent do administrators have autonomy to make decisions about what happens in their buildings for their students? To what extent do teachers have autonomy to make decisions about what happens in their classrooms?

When was the last time you did a technology audit? Do you know what technology resources your teachers are using? Not just tablets or laptops, but what digital resources are they using--apps or web-based? What is the process for teachers getting access to grade-level and/or learner-appropriate resources? How complex/frustrating is that process? What are the safeguards to make sure students don't download or access their own random stuff but also don't limit teachers from getting to things they have reviewed or that have been recommended by trusted professionals? To what technology resources do your students have access? How many students have access to technology at home? If not, is it because they don't have access to a computer of some sort or because they don't have access to the internet or both?

When was the last time you did a curriculum and resource audit? In other words, what resources are teachers being asked or required to use? Are they timely? relevant? Are they learner-appropriate? Do they provide opportunity for students to learn at their levels?

When was the last time you did an initiative audit? This is one of the reasons some teachers don't do or use some resources or programs. Districts too often toss something over the fence without rationale or training or access to support/help. Some of the initiatives are contradictory. Some of the initiatives are not useful. And sometimes there are just too many and teachers have no time or support to figure out how to use what and when, so they do what they know and what has been successful in the past.

It is imperative you figure out where you are as a district or a school and be very, very clear about where you want to go and why. It's probably a good time to mention Knoster's Change Model. Without each of these components, including a plan, productive change will be nigh on impossible. It will be hard to build a plan that will lead to productive change without having a vision, without considering the skills and resources your team has and needs, and without considering the kinds of incentives--intrinsic and extrinsic--that will enable your team to move forward in ways that make sense to them because they have participated in developing the vision that they now support.

Just as any strategic plan has a shelf life, so does the action plan for being and becoming future ready. Don't plan for five years. You have no idea what's going to change and to what extent in the coming year never mind five years from now. Plan for this year and outline what you hope will be able to happen in the next two or three years.

Make sure someone on your team can help you track the trends, not only in K-12 education, but in higher education and in the work place. There is a distinctive trickle-down effect from the work place, but think about the work places most likely to impact your students. You don't want to limit their opportunities and options, but you need to be realistic about what you can manage.

However, and this is the beauty of technology and digital learning, just as you need to be realistic about what you can do in your school and your district, you don't have to settle. There are educators and professionals out in the big wide cyber world ready and very willing to support your teachers and your students in ways--trust me on this--you cannot now image. Not just Skype in the Classroom, though that is one resource. Discovery Education, like many others, offers a wealth of digital resources (Disclosure: I am an independent consultant doing work with Discovery Education. Because my colleagues and I are digital geeks, we bring a lot of digital know-how and passion to our work!).

So as you look ahead beyond 2017-2018, think about competency-based education and what it means to make learning appropriately personal for students who are ready and interested.

Follow people like Vicki Davis, Eric Sheninger, Matt Miller, George Couros, Shannon McClintock Miller, and Angela Maiers. Learn more about Mark Moran and SweetSearch. And sure, follow me on Twitter (@elainej) or LinkedIn or check out my web site.

Take some time to figure out what makes the most sense for where you and your team are right now. Think about how far you and they can take each other this next school year.

Plan realistically and provide for incredible possibilities because once you get started, well, as Dr. Seuss taught us, "Oh! The Places You'll Go!".

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Two4Thursday Tech: Padlet and Screencastify

This Thursday we're looking at Padlet and Screencastify.


I'm always pleasantly surprised when teachers I work with have already discovered Padlet. It is a nifty tool for collaboration as well as creation if you're looking for ways for your students to curate their learning.

My recommendation is that you create a free account. It's free. One of the major advantages of having an account is being able to name your padlet rather than attempt to share what I call the incomprehensible combination of letters and numbers.

Once you get to the site and login with your free account, you click on one of the two indicated buttons to create a padlet. Okay, I could explain this to you but it's just easier to show you.

Pros: Easy to use; free
Cons: Video limitations

Screencastify is a really easy-to-use Chrome extension but it's important to note it is a Chrome extension.
What I like about Screencastify is how easy it to use. The lite version gives you access to the fundamental features. You set up the microphone, let the extension know you want to record your screen, and click the record button. You'll get a countdown and be good to go.

You'll have the option of storing your video on your Google Drive or a YouTube channel, or both. You'll be able to download your video, etc. In other words, there's a marvelous opportunity for students to create videos of their learning and save those to Google Drive with the option to share it to a Google Classroom, should you be using Google Classroom.

There are some additional features if you're willing to pay the $24/year for the subscription. Is it worth it? Maybe. I suppose it depends on how many videos you plan to make and how you plan to use them. If you want to create videos to share with colleagues and others in the profession, you might want to pay the $24 to upload to a YouTube channel but also to convert it to a downloadable .mp4 file. But, before you pay the money (even though $24 isn't a lot compared to how much money you're already spending for your students), play with the tool to make sure there is real value for you.

If you're using Screencastify only with your students, don't bother. When you've finished recording your video, you can copy the link saved to your Google Drive so you can post those links to your Google Classroom (or elsewhere). You'll want to test this to ensure you know how these features work with your school/district network.

Pros: Free, easy-to-use
Cons: Not sure yet

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Fighting for Day 1 . . . Every Day

You may have already read some articles and blogs about the letter to Amazon shareholders from Jeff Bezos in which he writes about Day 1. The letter begins with this:
 "Jeff, what does Day 2 look like?"
That's a question I just got at our most recent all-hands meeting. I've been reminding people that it's Day 1 for a couple of decades. I work in an Amazon building named Day 1, and when I moved buildings, I took the name with me. I spend time thinking about this topic.
 "Day 2 is stasis. Followed by irrelevance. Followed by excruciating, painful decline. Followed by death. And that is why it is always Day 1."
He goes on to say that he is interested in how organizations can fend off Day 2.

How does that play in education? In the classroom? I've been thinking about that on and off for a while.

What if teachers came to school every day as though it were Day 1? What if they greeted their students with no preconceived ideas about their students' abilities? What if they approached their students' processes and capabilities of learning as full of potential?

That's not to say they should do a Groundhog Day and literally start over every day. Teachers need to be and will be mindful of the very real challenges of their students and because of their students. But a Day 1 mindset suggests more positivity.

George Couros asks if we'd want to be a student in our own classrooms and wonders what students say about their time in school. I can answer that for some students.

"The teacher is always sitting at his desk or in his chair looking at his phone when we come in."
"The teacher is checking her email or texting while we have our breakfast and doing our silent reading in the morning. It's almost as though she's just keeping us busy so she can do her own thing."
"The teacher yells at us to be quiet but why do we have to be quiet All The Time?"
"The teacher never listens when we try to tell him we didn't do something but he always blames whoever he thinks is misbehaving. He judges us."
"The teacher gets impatient when I ask questions because I don't understand. So I stopped asking questions and now she yells at me because I don't try."

It doesn't help that students have a massive number of testing days towards the end of the school year. It doesn't help that any work done after those testing days is mostly about keeping students busy because their grades are essentially locked in.
It doesn't help that everyone can sense that day-counting futility of the last two or three weeks.
It doesn't help that teachers are checking out and lose their tempers faster.
It doesn't help that districts too often don't provide the kind of classroom support--aides, coaches, resources--that teachers really need.
It doesn't help that too often parents aren't involved in meaningful ways.
It doesn't help that too often some parents simply can't be involved in meaningful ways.

There are a lot of factors working against teachers and students from Day 1. Even so, I can't help but wonder what would happen if teachers and students approached every school day with a sense of hope, possibility, and determination as though it were Day 1.

It's too late for this year school year, but maybe some teachers, parents, and students will take up the challenge to fight for Day 1 every day in the 2017-2018 school year.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Two4Thursday Tech: Flipgrid and wizer.me

We are awash in technology. Even if you don’t feel like you are, that’s probably because you’ve managed to make it far enough up the beach and you’re being careful not to look back. I learn about new technology resources every week. Just as some new arrives, others are discontinued or just drowned out by the noise of whatever new stuff is clamoring for my attention. Each Thursday I will talk about two new or rediscovered tech resources. Let us commence.

Flipgrid (www.flipgrid.com)
As they say on the web site, “Flipgrid is a video discussion community for your classroom that supercharges your students’ voices. You add the topics, your students respond with short videos, and everyone engages!"

You create a discussion area, maybe create a few topics within the discussion area, give the code to students. Yep, about that easy.

Students can record videos that are posted on the grid. Students can view and review each other’s work. Students can re-record their work as often as they need or want so they can get it the way they want. Flipgrid works on laptops, iOS, and Android devices.

Pros: Students enter the code and record. They can delete the recording if they like, but it’s easy to submit. Students can see each other’s work right away and even indicate if they like it.
Cons: Students can see each other’s work right away so the teacher might not be able to moderate student work before it is posted. The free version of Flipgrid allows for only one grid at a time so if you don’t upgrade, you’ll have to delete student work to create another grid.

Flipgrid is $65 per year per educator. There is a 10-classroom pack available for $400 per year. https://info.flipgrid.com/images/Flipgrid_2017.pdf

Who knew creating worksheets could be so much fun? And easy? 

Well, it is. Join wizer.me, click on Create a Worksheet, and follow the directions. They have created designs for you, have made it easy to select different visual components such as background, fonts, and colors. You can add tasks or activities by selecting what you want.

There is a WYSIWYG editor that fairly sophisticated for the price I’m paying, which is nothing. 

When you’ve created your worksheet, you can assign it to students, create an answer key if you need one, set some tags, and let kids get to work. Yes, you can assign it to them electronically so they can complete the work using a tablet, laptop, Chromebook, or desktop. It is also fully compatible with OneNote. 

If teachers make their worksheets public, you can search in the community, find something you like, copy it, edit it, and assign it to your students. Boom! 

Wizer is incredibly versatile, works with Google Classroom, can be embedded in other LMS platforms, has nifty audio options. In fact, so far, my only complaint is that I can seem to adjust the width of the columns in a table. 

Pros: See above
Cons: Nothing glaring that I can find

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

The Power of Yet

Carol Dweck, the Stanford psychology professor catapulted to fame with the emergent popularity of her theory of growth mindset, gave a TED Talk in 2014 that linked the power of yet with growth mindset.

Growth mindset became the newest trend in the K-12 classroom with teachers filling their walls with posters encouraging students to persevere, to evidence their grit. We have Angela Duckworth to "thank" for the imposed connection between growth mindset and perseverance. There are some who seem to think that if students simply tried a little harder and believed in themselves and their abilities, like modern day little engines that can, those students could be "successful."

In 2015, Dweck revisited growth mindset in an attempt to remind teachers that, among other things, it isn't just about trying harder.

When I think of all the children who experience stressors outside of the classroom about which we are ignorant or that we simply cannot imagine, growth mindset is the least of my concerns. Yet I am still perplexed when a student refuses to exert even a nanosecond of effort before whining "it's too hard" or "I can't do this." I try to imagine what has happened in a child's life that even in second grade there is a lack of willingness to try. Or is it a lack of willingness to fail? I don't know, though I do know that a child questioned about why they think it is too hard will often just put his or her head down and shrug.

Recently I was talking with a teacher about the power of yet, which motivated me to find the Dweck TED Talk and to do a bit more research. That's when I found this article making another connection between the power of yet and growth mindset. In "The Power of Yet: Do You Believe You Can Improve?", Sam Thomas Davies revisits that unorthodox grade of "not yet." Rather than give a student a failing grade, students at a particular school in Chicago are given the grade of "not yet." Let's not quibble about the details of how that actually works and focus instead on what it means to a student to get a grade of "not yet."

As I was thinking about how a student might respond to that idea of "yet," I started thinking about the challenges some of our schools have with students being respectful of themselves, their classmates, their teachers, and their school. Check out Step 2 in Davies' article which focuses on the belief of change.

You'll see this statement in Step 2: "You have a choice." All day long teachers talk to kids about making good choices. So very easy to say but my contemplation led to an epiphany: what is a student's frame of reference for what we call a "good" choice? Is a good choice one that keeps them out of trouble? away from a buddy room? Is a good choice one that keeps the teacher's focus on some other kid with behavior that doesn't necessarily lead to learning but also doesn't lead to being in trouble?

This idea of choice is connected to a belief in the possibility of change. I'd want to help students understand that some changes are incremental. That some changes are harder than others and are often marked as much by figurative (maybe literal) scrapped knees and elbows which means we have to be that much more determined to work towards change because it is work. By the same token, we have to be realistic about the reach of those changes and the possibility that some changes won't survive the boundaries of the school.

And that observation because of another epiphany or a slow realization: we really, really need to find ways to engage parents in making good choices, in understanding the power of yet, in understanding that change takes time and hard work. I fear their expectations of what can, should, and does happen in a classroom and in a school may be inaccurate and/or misguided.

On the other hand, I plead complete ignorance about what is really going on in our kids' homes. No matter where our kids go to school and live, I have bouts of concern that we make too many assumptions about the conditions of their home lives. I grew up in a nice middle class neighborhood and no one knew that my father was an alcoholic and my mother often took out her rage on me. Maybe we were better at pretend and false faces in those days. Maybe some of today's kids can manage the false front as I did, but I'd wager many others simply haven't the energy or ability and that's why we see what we see in the classroom.

I know how hard it is to get parents to be an active part of a school community. I know how difficult it can be for parents to find the time and exert the energy to learn more about their student's school and teachers. Parents, teachers, and kids need to be clear that learning is more than having green or purple at the end of the day. Sometimes a yellow day might still be a day of learning even if the behavior was a little rocky along the way.

In far too many of our classrooms, managing behavior has become the necessity making managing learning that much harder. Even so, my heart tells me that finding ways to help students understand how learning matters, that it really is worth the effort even when it seems hard, that not knowing or not being able to do yet is really the way of learning, then maybe, just maybe, we can begin to make more progress with our kids, and their parents.

But first we have to spend a little time with ourselves and make our own good choices about not losing heart, about not giving up--on them or ourselves.