Teach from Home

I often talk about the great things our school system engages in. Like a lot of educators who work for Rowan-Salisbury Schools, I am proud to be a part of the innovative endeavors our school system leads. Its great to work for a place that values innovation and change to better the lives of students and teachers.

screen-shot-2017-01-24-at-8-24-47-amI recently wrote a post about our school system approving the opportunity for educators to work from home, giving them credit for the work they did at home, planning and collaborating, on inclement weather days [Work from Home post]. This is a great move in valuing and trusting teachers and respecting the work that everyone does for the school system. When Dr Moody, our superintendent, brought up ‘Work from Home’ at a recent principal meeting, the conversation of Teaching from Home came up [guilty]. As a 1:1 school district in our 3rd year of deployment, our school district has been working hard to increase our competencies and capabilities with digital teaching and learning. I’m particularly proud of the hard work our school commits to in creating personalized learning experiences that challenge students to create and demonstrate what they know. This was the thought for proposing virtual learning on inclement weather days. Our immersion and commitment to digital learning has yielded some great success – now is a great time to demonstrate that learning can extend beyond the walls and schedule of the brick and mortar school.

We had to present this to our school board. Accompanying me was one of our assistant principals, Tricia Hester, and one of our parents. Our parent was my hero for the night. I asked her to speak from the heart about her daughter’s experience working from home on the last snow day. Even though it was not required work, most of our teachers posted assignments for our students to complete. Mrs Arnez spoke eloquently and plainly that her daughter and other children she knew completed the work with the expectation that this was expected and a new norm. This testimony carried significant weight with the board. They were able to hear that the resources and expectations set by our school district have changed mindsets and capabilities and that this next step is a natural step.

elearningAfter some good, critical questions about our goals and design, our Board ultimately approved our recommendation for piloting a year of virtual learning on inclement weather days for the remainder of the year. Their detailed questions showed a commitment to innovative practices that accelerate learning and teaching [change to improve and not change for the sake of change]

screen-shot-2017-01-30-at-1-18-01-pm
Our plan was approved!

The main concerns of the night about lack of access for some of our students. West Rowan Middle is the most rural school in Rowan-Salisbury Schools. Some of our students have 75+ minute bus rides to part that have little to no wifi at home. This is a main reason why West Rowan Middle is a great trial candidate – if we can make it work, it can work anywhere. Our instructional leadership team and our Executive Director of Middle Grades, Tina Mashburn, get major props for setting the vision, resource matrix and expectations for teachers and students and parents for developing the Virtual Learning Plan we developed and presented to the board. Creativity and practicality helped more than anything. Without going into all the resources involved the major focus and area of our plan centers on teachers being well trained and more than proficient with the digital tools we plan to use and fully capitalizing on any advanced notice we can take advantage of and prepare resources for students with limited access at home.

Our major goal is to not interrupt instructional plans created by teachers. As I assured the board, if teachers have planned to teach activities for the next week, we want to see those activities fully delivered or with whatever modification needed to make it happen. To my knowledge, we are the only school in North Carolina to try this [if I’m wrong, please let me know] but I do know very few schools or districts across our nation have tried this. #deepdivers

I have to give several shout outs for this:

  • Dr Lynn Moody – I constantly share her vision and innovativeness regularly whenever I can. This is a superintendent who gets it [if you are inclined to do so, you should visit]
  • Rowan-Salisbury School Board – They asked great, reflective questions. Travis Allen one of the board members used the analogy of the hockey puck not always coming to you – you have to go where it is – this is where learning and teaching is going. We should be there;
  • West Rowan Middle Instructional Leadership Team and Tina Mashburn – awesome plan and foresight! You guys rock!
  • The Great Teachers at West Rowan Middle – Nothing happens without great teachers, NOTHING! When I presented this to them, they jumped at this hard! They are ready for this endeavor!

At the board meeting while I was walking out, someone said ‘Let’s hope we don’t have to find out how well it works [meaning let’s hope we don’t have anymore snow days]!’ I quickly replied, ‘Naw, let’s hope we do!’ Our purpose for this isn’t to embrace change for the sake of change – our purpose is to replace a outmoded notion, make up days, with a relevant learning experience utilizing tools we already embrace and by doing so, eliminating the need for make up days. That’s right, as we continue to be improve on this and capability, our students families and teachers bewp-1485263977021.jpgnefit by not having to make up days at the end of the school year of dipping into holidays. #worthit

We’re looking forward to this. I really applaud my teachers for embracing this as doable and continuing their work into digital teaching and learning. This is a great next step for changing our understanding of learning and education.

Filling in the Gaps – A Must in Digital Learning

wp-1485082047280.jpg
Love this pic! Create opportunities for guided instruction wherever students are using digital resources to help fill in the blanks

Some of the misconceptions of teaching and learning in a digital environment is that instruction comes from the computer and the teacher’s role is primarily making sure students have fixed attention to their computer screen. Part of this reasoning has developed from how we were taught and even our beginning teacher experiences. Delivery for most of us was one sided – with the teacher talking/lecturing or asking questions, maintaining the prominent role in the classroom. Over the years, better teaching strategies have developed and become widespread and technology has gained popularity as an engagement opportunity. Our ongoing work as connected educators is to provide clarity that its not just an engagement opportunity but an chance to empower students to dive into passions/interests and curriculum objectives free of printed limitations and empower teachers to create new ways to connect with students.

Our rural middle school went 1:1 with iPads 3 years ago. We are still discovering nuances about what digital learning and teaching looks like. In some recent midyear conversations with teachers, the topic of ‘filling in gaps’ with teachers has repeatedly come up. Our teachers have become very adept at creating inviting learning classrooms and integrating technology to help with delivery of concepts. As we bring data in the conversations, we discuss opportunities to change or adjust practices that will help us clear up any misconceptions students may have but may not share or even be aware of:

  1. Guided instruction – This is a district initiative. Teachers create specific opportunities to have conversations with students on pertinent learning objectives.  The difference maker for these conversations is if they are planned or unplanned. Unplanned conversations can end up being progress monitoring or conversations focusing on lesser important topics. Planning out these conversations ahead of time helps make sure we hitting on essential learning points we think student will have regarding the learning targets. Utilizing digital resources in a blended environment helps teachers have these impactful conversations and build up relationships with students;

    A flexible space and detailed planning with digital resources facilitate guided instruction
  2. Messaging with students – Regardless of your LMS, connecting and communicating with students either whole group, small group or individually can be effortless but again, there needs to be forethought given. Our district uses Schoology and our teachers are very adept at creating assignments and communicating with classes. Through the LMS, we can plan activities and discussions for targeted groups and individual students on very specific concerns we may have. Our teachers have shown us the data they collect on pre-assessments for upcoming units and standards. Using this information, we can plan check up questions for students who struggled the most or showed little understanding once instruction has began. Utilizing the LMS is a good low-key way to also engage our students who maintain a quiet voice in the classroom. And even though email is old school, email works if teachers work it;
  3. Archiving instructional support – Our district hasn’t bought textbooks for several years [way to go]. As such we have to work to find and use impactful and relevant resources for students. Delivery is an important part of what we plan for but what do we do after we have taught a concept – where do we archive resources to easily allow students to access and refer back to if needed? An LMS [like Schoology], website like Google or Weebly or a blog are important assets to have. But we have to make them part of the learning landscape. Regular mention and specific talks about them help families know where to go and use resources regularly as part of instructional support at home.

Purposeful planning with technology is needed to enhance the great things teachers do in the classroom.

screen-shot-2017-01-22-at-9-51-15-am

Be That Teacher

0050ec171fb4eff4365f729391c9ab38Teaching is hard.

Change is hard.

We regularly ask teachers to make difficult adjustments to their practices. Change talks come from all levels, central office, building administrators and from the teachers themselves. If we are going to commit to relevant and rigorous learning, we have to commit to real, regular and honest conversations with ourselves, and our groups, about what we are doing in our schools, what things need to look and be like, and then work we need to engage in to get there. Without these talks and commitment, we won’t realize changes in:

  • implementing teaching practices to get students to communicate, collaborate, think critically and creatively;
  • making sure students are future ready, whether it be college or a career;
  • changing not only how we teach, but how we think and FEEL about what teaching is and should be;
  • using different mediums or approaches, sometimes that challenge us personally and professionally, to reach students
  • taking deliberate steps to meet the individual needs of every student in every class.

I recently had a conversation with some of our teachers about the difficulties we are facing in our school. As with any school, a new leader brings some new viewpoints and practices in how things are done. But it doesn’t matter if these innovations are brought in from the administration or the central office or from a strong teacher leader – changes have to be made to keep learning the priority. Reflection, new learning goals and a focus on student learning means change is inevitable.

Change is hard. And if that difficulty isn’t managed or monitored or addressed carefully frustration, resentment and feelings of hopelessness can overwhelm everyone. These feelings can cause arguments or conflicts to start between different parties. We can get caught up in making sure our point is heard or that we win a disagreement. If not handled appropriately, while battles are fought, students lose out.

0a83c260d3084c6a58067328d5eab5a0Our recent talk was about how some of the recent changes in our school was affecting everyone. I wanted to convey two big points with the staff. First, I wanted to acknowledge that I know change is hard. Change is particularly difficult for educators because we invest so much, personally and professionally, into creating learning experiences for students and our colleagues that when we find something successful we want to protect and guard it. Every person wants to build something that is good and valuable. These kinds of investments are significant and when we are successful in creating a great activity or lesson to share or design great presentations or trainings for our colleagues, we want to protect it – after all it is great and we are proud. The hard part, especially for teachers, is when we have created lessons or activities that were engaging at some point but have to be changed or modified to fit the needs of different learners or environments or times. Because of investments in time, emotion and sweat, it can be hard to let. These factors make change hard. They have to be respected and heard.

#BeThatTeacher

The second part of my message was a call to the teachers in our great school to rise to the challenge. Our school is great school because we have committed teachers who are determined to make a difference. You can’t have one without the other. They do many things that unseen to make sure students are successful and thriving. Its inspiring to see our teachers daily trying to reach students, personally and academically, and push them to grow and improve, if only just a little, from the previous day. And as they push kids, we have to push ourselves as well.

Be That Teacher who:

  • builds a great activity with a teammate and later asks, how can we improve next time?;
  • acknowledges the frustration, comes into the principal’s office to vent, hugs it out and leave with a plan to do a little better;
  • doesn’t see it as a failure, but sees it as a journey;
  • is learning a new thing this week or month or year;
  • chooses not to hear a criticism but an opportunity to grow;
  • doesn’t accept a 0 or 50 or 100, but looks thinks, ‘Do my kids get it?’;
  • isn’t afraid to bring a good plan to the team and make it better;

[Some of these bullet points weren’t part of my talk but as I write this, I reflect on conversations I’ve had with teachers over the years in different schools and with members in my PLN.]

In one of the opening chapters of Mindset, Carol Dweck writes about athletes who have thrived in competitive environments where they were often outclassed. At the end, they were better for it because it forced them to develop an attitude to keep pushing and moving forward. Its not about the win, its about the struggle – that’s where the victory comes.

#bethatteacher is about change, not for the sake of change, but change to give kids what they need for their future. Its about being happy enough with ourselves to accept that we have to keep working at what we are doing for our classrooms, schools and students.

Stay motivated.

Get inspired

#bethatteacher

A Connected Educator Should Run Twitter

This recent article on Vox.com caught my eye about the CEO of Twitter – Twitter’s CEO is stepping down. Here’s why the company’s in trouble.

It was an interesting read about popular social media site. I was drawn to it because Twitter makes me think of connected educators and our learning experiences. Twitter is how many of us connected and its the reason many of us are the educators we are today. Everyone who has taken the dive to be connected educators, via Twitter, is better for it.

twitter-cognitive-spectrumThe article outlines industry critiques about Twitter – which is ironically the same issue we have in other industries like education, such as the lack of ability to innovate like similar products/companies. I haven’t done deep research on this topic so I can’t speak to the market research given here, but when you read the points of how other social media platforms have adopted to users needs and preferences and the essential components of Twitter have remained the same, you have to give some validity to the concerns about the static timeline, design layout for ‘power users’ and of the other features.

After reading it, I was a little saddened because Twitter was the tool that helped improve my thinking and practice as an educator. We still work hard to get other educators to connect on Twitter and grow their practice. What if some small changes on the front end would help beginners/new users see the value and dive deeper into its potential? Naturally, as an educator, I’m thinking of the education field and what can be done. I can’t say if other fields are diving into chats and professional development explorations like we are but what better group to help others realize that potential. So I made the rational leap – a connected educator should head up Twitter!

I think if that happened, we would see several immediate, powerful changes:

  • Rebranding – We would see a serious effort to rebrand Twitter and highlight lots of the features educator have come to value. The picture to the right is what you see when you log into Twitter – if you are a connected educator think of all the things you do right now that are above and beyond what’s described in this tagline. There is great opportunity here to showcase and highlight some great potential from the onset!
  • Bring back Tweetdeck, FULLY! I thought its was a great move when Twitter acquired Tweetdeck. There weren’t a lot of Twitter-client options then but it was a powerhouse, offering connections and links to different social media. To me, the greatest feature was the mobile app – awesomeness at its best! I have never stopped using Tweetdeck for my chats since I first logged on Twitter but I so use other clients for other features because of limited mobility options. When we bring new educators to Twitter, one of the eventual conversations that comes up is using a client like Tweetdeck. Here’s a chance to revamp, enhance and relaunch. Make it a go-to reference.
  • Do a better job of recommending/helping us select new people to follow! There is so much more potential here than the 3-5 mini-bios we see at the top left of the screen. Show me some hashtags/chats I may want to follow; get with Jerry Blumengarten, @cybraryman1, and start an index of the popular chats across different industries.
  • Do some internal product promotion on how to utilize Twitter as a tool for lifelong learning, professional development and personal growth! Incredible opportunity here!

I’m sure we will see a talented individual take the helm and do great things. A connected educator would bring a great perspective to a potential new evolution of Twitter.

Using Infographics in Our Schools

lrg_1431777381876_0149073206_9e38f291

I love infographics. I make a point to share an interesting infographic to my PLN everyday. As far as I’m concerned, there isn’t a better way to share lots of information in a more concise and interesting display. Its robust and eye-catching.

Steven Weber, @curriculumblog, an active member of my PLN, shared this newly created infographic by his school district Chapel Hill-Carborro City Schools, @chccs. Instead of reading about this district’s information on fact sheet, you can get a great visual experience while reading over some of district’s essential details.They say presentation is everything – in this case, presentation keeps the reader engaged and more likely to retain some of the more pertinent information about this district. Years ago, Steven shared an infographic of similar design from the school he served as principal. It was a great visual and though it was years ago, I still remember my impression from the visual design.

Power of Infographics for School Branding

There is incredible opportunity for schools to use infographics to help promote the great things that happen in schools. When I read the CHCCS infographic, I immediately thought of some banners our school could [and will] create to share some cool, great things we have going on:

  • What middle school is about, strategies for successful transition, study habits
  • Achievement facts;
  • Explanation of the BYOD policy
  • Instead of sharing a stale pdf summary of school improvement goals, , get creative with an infographic;
  • Highlights sports achievements;
  • Explanation of electives, intramurals;
  • Showoff your student/staff of the month;
  • Profile your teachers during Teacher Appreciation Month;
  • Create some great visual on your school’s unique instructional goals i.e., 1:1, blended learning, PBL, focus on literacy, etc.

Promoting our positive school brand is a consistent part of our jobs as school leaders. In addition to committing to spreading the positive word, we have to make sure we are using the language, visuals and tools that help our stakeholders understand our message and take away the important details of our message. Infographics help mitigate the educational jargon, make the data more relatable, and add some essential personalization that our community will buy into.

“If you don’t tell your story, someone will tell a story.”

Resource

5 Infographics to Teach You How to Easily Make Infographics in Powerpoint

Strategies for Coaching Teachers to Use Formative Assessment Tools

Formative assessments are an essential part of instructional design.Did my students learn anything? Ways to find out.

Formative assessments give teachers a glance at the level of understanding students have of a particular topic being taught. We like to focus on the value formative assessments bring in determining if something needs to be retaught, taught in a different way or if we can accelerate on an upcoming. These are some valuable teaching points that have to be incorporated into lessons and planned regularly to make an impact on learning. The reason we are in schools is to help kids learn and planning for these regular glimpses helps us know if we are reaching kids.

Vicki Davis, @coolcatteacher, wrote a great post ‘5 Fantastic, Fast Formative Assessment Tools.” She succinctly captures the true purpose and need for formative assessments – ‘Formative assessment is done as students are learning. Summative assessment is at the end.

I recently sat in on a planning session with some teachers and we had a great discussion about the upcoming activities they were developing for students. In the natural flow of the conversation, a teacher mentioned that she would do ‘some kind of assessment’ one day to see if they understood. Our instructional coach asked a couple of great extending questions to get this teacher to not just give this a cursory thought to assessing but to really think about the teaching that had been done and what we wanted the learning to look like – these would help her in creating a good formative assessment.  The assessment we talked about that day was some verbal cues she would ask the group,

I encourage you to read Vicki’s post! Its a great resource that goes into good descriptive detail about some of the great digital tools out there we can use for getting a picture of the learning in the room. Some of these tools are some of my favorites to use with staff as we conduct meetings and trainings.

Getting teachers to understand the value of formative assessments is step one, seeing them used in classrooms is the critical next step. There are a numerous resources on formative assessments on the web and you can have these talks with your teachers and staff. But there is particular value in using digital tools.

First, these digital tools help with student engagement. Students are anxious to get their hands on devices and tools to showcase learning and understanding. Its a great way to get active. Second, you ensure responses from all students when you use digital tools. If you are still having kids raise their hands to answer questions or you are simply calling on students you are guaranteeing non-responses from some students in your room.  Third, free is great! The tools highlighted here are free for teachers and even have apps for different mobile devices.

IMG_20150129_084751
Plickers in use in our 8th Social Studies class!

In the end, its more important to use a formative assessment than focus on whether or not its digital, paper, verbal or another method. We know that we have to use formative assessments but which ones? I believe in the power of these digital tools because because addition the reasons listed above, they also give teachers quick, easy to read data they can use for planning. With the devices in our school and our BYOD policy, we can ensure that if teachers want to use digital tools for formative assessment, they can.

Part of my duty is to support teachers who want and need to use these digital tools, even encourage them to use them if its outside their comfort zone. Below, I’ve captured some questions and thoughts that may be helpful if you are having those conversations:

  • What are you looking to accomplish?
  • What information do you need to capture?
  • Do you plan on using the data capture for a grade?
  • Do you need the feedback for immediate in class use or will you collect it to reflect on it for later use?
  • What devices are available to you? What devices will you use? Does everyone have a device or need one?
  • Will you use your data capture to look at individual performance or class performance?
  • How long will you allot to this?

These digital tools are great resources in helping teachers get critical information they need to guide instructional planning. Our talks as curriculum leaders and digital leaders has to expand to include what these tools have offer above and beyond traditional means of collecting information.

NC Distinguished Leadership in Practice for Digital Learning Address

Last week, it had the privilege and honor of being invited to the final meeting and end of year banquet of the first cohort of the NC Distinguished Leadership in Practice for Digital Learning [NCDLPDL]. This cohort and event was organized by the NC Principal and Assistant Principals Association [NCPAPA]. The goal of NCDLPDL is to provide principals with a skills boost in ‘best practices for leading a successful digital transformation.’ Partnered with the Friday Institute for Educational Innovation [an innovation lab and playground dedicated to helping NC schools], this has been a year long blended learning experience providing the principals with the best voices and trainers in this transformative journey.

NCPAPA Executive Director, Dr Shirley Prince, was gracious enough to invite me and my wife to their end of year banquet to give the closing address. The audience was comprised of digital leaders, all at different experience levels. My talk was crafted to share some of my experiences as well as some key focus points that we should have to

  • Our focus is on student learning and achievement – 1:1’s, computer labs, devices are all tools to make the learning relevant and engaging
  • Complacency can easily lead to obsolescence. We can’t be afraid to innovate;
  • We have to  be responsive to our new learners. Access has changed how they think and learn;
  • We have to be drivers and supporters, lead conversations from above and below;
  • Develop BHAGs for your school, staff, students and yourself;
  • Connect and grow with your PLN!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I applaud NCPAPA for developing these DLPDL cohorts to grow the digital leaders in North Carolina. Its great to see a statewide organization take the initiative and head up a program that will support paradigm and skills shifts in school leaders. If we want to see the changes, we have to start leading the conversations and build a vision for what it looks like! This is a strong proactive initiative to build the leaders our learners and teachers and schools need.

Thanks to Shirley Prince, Emily Doyle, @NCPAPA, and the @FridayInstitute for this incredible opportunity! Thanks for this incredible opportunity.