mccoyderek

Upcoming Virtual Learning Day

Last month, I proudly posted that our Board of Education approved West Rowan Middle to pilot Virtual Learning on Inclement Weather days [here – Teach from Home]. Our B.O.E. created an option for teachers to work at home on snow days by making them optional teacher workdays. We extended that thinking and proposed, and they approved, to allow West Rowan Middle to continue learning, instruction and creating, while teachers were at home and students potentially never got out of bed. Our teachers, students and community were all over-excited to be able to participate in this and not have to make up instructional days at the end of the year or lose any work days.

55b5bf6117cb4721980afbc6cd0b72b8But no one could know that this would be one of the hottest Februarys in recorded history!
We use more AC than space heaters this winter.

#visionaryleadership

Instead of embracing missed opportunities and what could have been, our visionary leader, Dr Lynn Moody, helped create an opportunity for our school to put in place the preparation for virtual learning we’ve been planning for these past couple of months and the overall next level instructional practices we have been engaged in since our 1:1 iPad dive 3 years ago.

March 17th is an early release day for the district. Students are already scheduled to be released 2 hours early making this the perfect day for virtual learning, teaching and learning from home. As soon as we got approval for it, we began communicating with parents, teachers and students about our plans for March 17th. With about a 3 week heads up, we made it an imperative to share our goals for the day and what we are planning on students to stay home to receive instruction and support from teachers through virtual means.

#innovationtrend

This will be a move more and more school districts begin to experiment and implement. Edtech integration has been an priority for districts and schools for years but with the proliferation of 1:1 deployments, create more options for educators. Just this week, Minnesota lawmakers are discussing this possibility with H.F. 1421. This is current proposed legislation that will give LEAs the option to hold ‘school’ for  up to 5 days on snow days. It requires advanced notification at the beginning of the year and when the snow day begins. [Read more of it here- Session Daily Article].

To my knowledge, we are the first school in North Carolina to try this. Given more districts are moving 1:1, including some of our larger districts, this will likely be shift many. The North Carolina Legislature controls the calendar of LEAs and this restriction significantly affects what we can and can’t do if we need to make up days. This is a great step in being able to save professional development days reserved for our teachers that they likely lose when a measure like this isn’t available.

Some Big Ideas

  • The Best of Blended Learning – Since our 1:1 deployment, our district has made a concerted effort to help educators and parents understand how technology integration can enhance learning and blended learning is a core concept of ongoing talks. Several of our schools have become models of blended learning and the growing efficacy is evident district-wide. There will be a modification given for this day but we have been talking to teachers about the critical role blended learning will have that day in delivery and connecting with students at different levels and needs. We have done a good job this year with blended learning support and continued training. We were fortunate to have hired a blended learning coach from a nearby district to serve as our assistant principal. Bill Brown [I’m working on his Twitter profile] has done a lot to enhance talks and capabilities in our school. His next level PD talks have helped fill in gaps in understandings and enhance skills our teachers need for blended learning in our brick-and-mortar setting and in this new venture;
  • Dispelling Notions of Disconnectedness – Our school board, and many parents, have a legitimate concern that technology does not inhibit connecting with students. Our ongoing work is to show and assure that technology enhances, not replaces, the relationship in the classroom. In school, we use it as a critical part in our guided instruction. For this virtual learning, it will be used to connect with groups of students or one-on-ones, to provide support or differentiate instructional efforts. We cannot and will not sacrifice relationships for technology;
  • Communication – There is always advance notice for snow days, its only a question of how much notice. Whether its two hours or one day, this is critical opportunity to communicate with families our work and goals for the day. When I first communicated this with the community, I personally invited every parent to call me directly with concerns and questions. With almost a week past, I have had less than 10 calls, emails and messages about what to expect that. I’m proud and glad that parents have had questions and not complaints – to me, this illustrates that our parents get it. They understand this is a new day in learning and education – we can do more so we should do more. One message from a parent was only to communicate how in favor she was of this move. This shows the power of the positive messages from our school and district these past years;
  • Overcoming Access Limitations – We are the most rural middle in our district. Some of our students are on the bus for the full 90 minute state limited bus ride set by North Carolina. Living in remote areas there are sometimes problems with households not being able to secure reliable wifi and/or sporadic cellular service. This is a common problem with #ruraled schools. Our workaround is the opportunity for advance notice. On any given inclement weather day, teachers will have some time to prepare and send work assignments to students. The assignments, design and delivery, is not the real work or concern [relatively speaking]. The real work comes in creating opportunities to connect with students, answer questions, fill in gaps, feel out their frustrations and coach them through immediate obstacles. This will be the challenge we will have conversations about with staff as the day approaches.

What’s been most interesting to me is the conversations with students. Overall, this is not a big deal. On our previous inclement weather days, they have used that time to catch up on work or even connect with teachers to get a head start on upcoming work. This is a digital native norm. More support has to go to the adults who have to unlearn and relearn skills and understandings to function in a changed education landscape.

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]

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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

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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.

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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!

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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.

Panel Discussion with ISTE and US Dept of Ed – ConnectEDucators

This week, I had the pleasure and privilege of participating in an online panel discussion about present/future critical needs of schools and educators.

ISTE Panel

ISTE originated and hosted this open reflection on our need to understand and drive support for the #ConnectEDucator initiative. #ConnectedEducator is proposal from President Obama’s administration to provide substantial funding for professional development in the area of  technology training for educators. Here’s more about the ConnectEDucator Initiative in this ISTE post.

Hilary Goldman, @hgoldmann, was the organizer for this event. The other panelists included Brian Lewis @blewisiste [CEO ISTE], Richard Culatta @rec54 [Director of the Office of Educational Technology, US Dept of Education @OfficeofEdTech], Wendy Drexler @WendyDrexler [Chief Innovation Officer ISTE],  and Dyane Smokorowski @Mrs_Smoke [2013 Kansas Teacher of the Year/Technology Integration Specialist]. I was proud to be a representative of #NASSP as one of the 2014 Digital Principals.

This was great share experience! Between the chat room and Tweets, there were lots of active sharers and participants who were enthusiastic to lend an ear and provide a question or suggestion for the group on how we can garner support and grow understanding for this needed initiative. Connected educators know the need and value of providing resources and training for our new endeavors in digital education and leadership.

Below are some resources that will get you up to speed on this initiative and our sharing!

Resources:

 

I can’t thank ISTE, Hilary, Brian, Richard, Wendy and Dyane for this experience. This worthy cause deserves everyone’s attention and voice! Please pass this on to other educators and ask that they lend their voice in making sure our schools, teachers and students get the resources we need to improve learning and teaching in our schools.

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It Became a Little Clearer Today..,

The two social studies teachers from our two 6th grade teams collaborated to create this unique learning opportunity.

To help make a great connection for their unit on recent history in India, Maria O’Connor arranged for this Skype lesson/presentation with an 18 year college student in Mumbai. Samuel Thomas, @SamuelThomas95, is a 18 year college student working on a program comparable to a CPA program. [They know each other from their mutual fanaticism with futbol] He graciously entertained and answered questions from our kids on a variety of topics covered in their class.  Samuel is a obviously a smart and engaged young man. Hearing his responses, its easy to see why that he is clearly knowledgeable involved. [Check out his Twitter profile to learn about his interests and where he’s going]

From the students’ questions, I could tell they’ve had conversations about Hinduism/religion, the caste system, general culture questions. These helped provide the share session some good direction and streamline responses. Planning ahead and giving students this guidance is a great means to ensure that the targeted learning outcomes are achieved.

After listening in on this #skypeintheclass share session, it became a little more clear today:

  • That our 6th graders really heard about the impact Ghandi made in India and the world ;
  • That our 6th graders understand how similar and different cultures are around the world;
  • That a 12 minute talk from an 18 year old in Mumbai made as much of an impact on learning [if not more] than talks and discussions and activities in a class. [Take 15 minutes on #skypeintheclass to find someone who will make that #differencemaking connection]
  • That planning the EQs and learning outcomes ahead of time and putting those in the kids hands is as equally important planning for this #Skype experience.

I’ve always been a fan of #skypeintheclass and this lesson validated the need to create more unique, distinctly relevant learning experiences like this one.

Mission POSSIBLE: Our iPad Planning Team

The Mission: Recruit several highly trained and motivated professionals for a secret iPad mission [not really top secret, in fact no secret at all]

The Team: 2 Instructional Coaches, 2 first year Science and Social Studies teachers and an veteran math teacher.

The Objective: To search and gather iPad apps and resources and plan for training delivery to our staff

Our instructional leadership team came up with this great brainstorm. With our newly acquired iPad Project Carts, we wanted to give the teachers good support in coming up with and implementing project based/cooperative activities with our new technology. Our project carts were designed for collaborative experiences, requiring students to work in pairs or small groups. The members of this team all have prior, deep experience with iPads either personal use or professionally. We’ve had talks and presentations on good collaborative work. Its our goal that these resources will help change what goes on in the classroom.

I truly regret not being able to participate in this planning. The teachers did a great job and we have some great outcomes:

  • Resourcing: The teachers searched the internet, combed apps and any resources that I have shared with them [check out the resource on the whiteboard] to find apps to begin framing projects for teachers to begin using in their classrooms. 
  • Integration: The iPad team made sure that all the work done, all the apps and programs found are not blocked and cost free. A major consideration and planning point they drew on was to plan for use of the apps and resources with Edmodo! We are an Edmodo district – ensuring that there is seemless integration will help tremendously with our teaching efforts.

The operatives selected for this mission proved to be valuable assets. We have realized two important mission parameters for all future missions and future teams:

    1. snackCollaboration is key! 6 great minds working on a singular vision is much better than 2
    2. Keeping operatives well fed [and on a sugar high] helps and is a prerequisite of mission success!