Happy New (School) Year!
Did you make your New Year's resolutions when it comes to how you're going to do things differently in your classroom this year?
Have you given any thought as to how you'll #TeachYoSelf over the course of the next nine months? So that you can keep up with the coming-at-me-like-a-fire-hose barrage of new and changing educational technology?
Maybe you haven't. And it's okay, because taking on one more task in your already overstuffed turkey of a day is daunting.
But we don't have to go it alone. Get yourself a buddy this year!
I explain it more below:
I’m giving you fair warning, buttercup: this is not going to be a warm and fuzzy post. So if you’re a sensitive soul, now’s the time to turn back.
I’ve been sitting on a draft of this post for six months now, hesitating to go public for fear of offending anyone. The content that follows--to borrow from the latest in adolescent vernacular--may ”trigger” you. Or it may inspire you. Maybe it will provoke you to stop following me. Or maybe (hopefully!) it will encourage you to think. Here goes...
Last week, I was working with a teacher during her planning period, brainstorming ways to integrate a specific instructional technology tool into her curriculum. As we collaborated, her veteran partner walked in, took one look at us, and responded, “Oh, no. No more technology for me! Absolutely not.” She promptly turned on her heel and exited.
Unfortunately, this is not an uncommon reaction to my presence in a classroom or a school. While I’m often welcomed with open arms, I’m equally as often treated like Frankenstein’s monster in the village.
I’ve tried to not take it personally. In my best Stuart Smalley voice, I’ve self-talked and mentally declared my worthiness to myself when I sense a reluctant adopter’s discomfort with my presence and with what I represent to her--which is change.
However, like Frankenstein’s monster, I believe I am (or at least my role is) frequently misunderstood. So please allow me this opportunity to clarify: Teachers, I was not put on this earth (or in this job) to torture you, but to instead make learning more engaging and productive for your students.
And promise you: This is not about you. And it’s not about me, either. It’s really, really about the kiddos. My misson is to act as a translator and tour guide into the digital domain--a world in which our students already exist. And a world in which they’d be really, really thrilled to have us join.
So when you get angry at me, or snub me, or tell me things like the following, I tend to take it, well, personally:
I take it personally on behalf of our students. I'm not working against you. I hope to work with you. We’re on the same team. Just like you, I strive to challenge students, to push them, and to inspire them.
Imagine how you might react if students said the following to you:
Listen, I get it. Change is scary. But it’s inevitable. Everything evolves. It’s that simple: every industry, every profession, every thing changes.
When an educator summarily rejects the notion that technology is a necessary part of educating our students, when an educator absolutely refuses to improve his or her own understanding of it, and when educators treat as the enemy the people whose job it is to assist them in making the shift, I have to say--and it pains me to do so--then you’re making it about you.
Again, I’m so very sorry if this post makes anyone uncomfortable. But maybe discomfort isn’t such a bad thing, because it’s only when we step outside our comfort zone that true change occurs. As author and speaker Brene Brown so sagely advises us, “You can choose courage or you can choose comfort, but you cannot choose both.” Of course it’s comfortable to stick with what we know and to do things the way we’ve always done them; however, it’s also incredibly courageous to venture into the unknown.
Yet, in spite of it all, I’m very grateful I get to do the work I do. Because even on my bad days, even when the villagers have chased me into the depths of the forest, I have to remind myself:
It’s not about me. It’s not about you. It’s about them.
Dewey quote from Twitter
No One Needs to Teach You (Or...What I Learned About Professional Development From My Vacuum Cleaner)
It all started with my vacuum cleaner and its lack of suction.
I stood there, dumbfounded and helpless, considering my options: Beg my handyman neighbor for help? Pack up the damn thing and drop it at the repair shop? Swing by Wal-Mart and purchase a new one? How much was this going to cost me? And what would befall my crumb-ridden carpet in the meantime?
My 16 year-old, passing by on his umpteenth visit to the refrigerator that afternoon, and spying me confounded, motionless, and fully absorbed in my interior monologue, simply inquired, “Why don’t you YouTube it?”
Out of the mouths of teenagers…
And so I YouTubed it.
In under an hour, I’d dismantled the rotor, cleaned the brush roller, checked the hose and intake, un-hooked and re-hooked the electrical connection doo-hickey, and assembled everything all pretty and brand new(ish). I plugged her back in and...it worked! It really, really worked! (Oh, the sweet sound of a million bits of detritus being sucked up!)
I did it.
All by myself and without the help of a repairman, a salesperson, or a customer service rep. (Okay, yeah, I had Debbie, the YouTuber, but still.) The point is that I--someone who must have grabbed a catnap when God handed out mechanical acumen--managed to single-handedly repair a household appliance.
I did it.
Is there any single phrase more fraught with promise and potential and triumph?
I did it.
Holy cow, did I feel empowered, informed, educated! What could I do next?
I did it.
Wait a minute…I’ve heard that phrase before. Where had I heard that phrase before?
I'd heard it in the classroom. From students.
But not just from any students. Students who were allowed to (or encouraged to or maybe even forced to) figure it out for themselves. And when they did--when they embraced their power of self-discovery--they owned it.
I don’t need to elaborate upon the metaphor here. I think if you’ve read this far, you get the point: let’s stop feeding information to our students and let’s enjoy them figuring it out for themselves. The age of knowledge-depositing is sooooooo over; the age of knowledge acquisition is thriving. And it looks like it might do so for a very long time to come.
This take-learning-into-your-own-hands thing doesn’t apply only to students, by the way. I hear the following lament from educators with such frequency during my training and professional development sessions that I’m ready to drink bleach: “No one taught this to me before!” (You think I’m kidding about the bleach.)
Guess what, buttercup? No one needs to teach you anything. In fact, if you’re sitting around waiting to be taught, then you’ve defeated the whole purpose of learning.
Learning (in this case, professional development) should be something we seek out for ourselves and not something that’s done to us. We can’t inspire a generation of students while simultaneously waiting around for someone to appear and drop their knowledge bombs on us.
My sons didn’t require professional development to learn how to play Minecraft or Pokemon Go. They didn’t wait around for someone to teach it to them. They figured it out for themselves. That's what this generation does--and we should do it, too.
Want to learn how the Google Forms quiz version works? Get in there and play with it. Want to use HyperDocs in the classroom? YouTube it. Don’t know how all these new online formative assessment tools work? Then, sunshine, it’s time to visit the online help section. Or simply Google it.
Be inspired by our students. Be inspired by those who inspire them in turn. (Like Casey Neistat, for example, whose life exemplifies the I-did-it-without-anyone-teaching-me mentality and has almost seven million YouTube followers to prove it.)
Go teach yourself something today.
Gotta run now. Time to tackle my dryer vent.
If you’ve heard the expression “Bye, Felicia!” ad nauseum recently, you can thank the 20-year anniversary of rapper/actor Ice Cube’s comedy flick “Friday” for its revival. If you’re not familiar, click here to understand its popularity. (Warning: The video clip is NSFW. Funny, yes, but definitely NSFW.) Anyway, I’m appropriating the phrase here because it’s succinctly and incredibly apt in describing the way I’ve revamped my own approach to professional development in 2016.
As they currently exist, professional development sessions can best be described as “sit and get” assemblies that fail to produce long-lasting and robust change. Professional development needs to be better. It needs to be more about development. And it certainly needs to be more professional. If we’re making demands on educators to transform the way we deliver instruction (i.e., collaboration, differentiation, and problem-based learning), then shouldn’t we also be transforming the way we help educators learn?
So, I’ve resolved to get better, not bitter. Here’s the thing, though: resolutions--like yoga poses--aren’t my specialty. In fact, I’m actually pretty awful at both. Don’t get me wrong: I’m great at intending to do them, but it’s the actual execution of them where I fall painfully short. However, as I’ve mentioned, I’ve been “beta-testing” my PD resolutions (the whole putting-my-money-where-my-mouth-is-thing) to welcome reception over the last year.. So with that said, here’s hoping my 2016 test balloon results in 2017 productive results. And that’s why I’m saying sayonara to the following outdated PD practices:
1. Being the Expert. Personally, I don't like to make my workshops about me. (Which will certainly come as a surprise to anyone who knows me!) Yes, I like to provide useful websites and some kick-start ideas for incorporating them into your teaching. But, no, I don't particularly care to lecture at teachers. And frankly, I grow weary of the sound of my northeast Ohio nasal twang. (As do others.) Once I decided to stop talking and start listening, though, I realized that I was often standing in front of a room full of other professionals with their own experiences from whom I could learn, too!
The Result: My PD sessions are now (mostly) collaborative sessions where I encourage full participation, sharing, and even sometimes handing over the reins to audience members who have something to teach the rest of us. (That’s my favorite part!)
How It Works: I open all of my PD sessions with the following disclaimer slide: “We are a collaborative group of learners; there are no absolute experts in this room. Like our students, we learn best by doing...and learning is a process.” This sets the tone that I’m not the sage and my audience isn’t the empty vessel. It also takes the pressure off of me to feel like I have to know everything. In addition, I always have a collaborative Google Doc going where participants are encouraged to add their ideas, successes, questions for others, and other educational technology tools.
2. One Size Fits All. One of the things that always plagued me in the past was trying to keep everyone learning and creating at the same pace. It was frustrating for my reluctant adopters and tedious for my whiz kids. And then it hit me: “Duh! How come I’m not differentiating learning for my particular learners???” Now, when I present, I try keep it short and sweet and hand over the remainder of my allotted time to the teachers, allowing them to pursue their own learning at their own pace. I offer up a leveled challenge so that all learners--regardless of where they fall on the technology adoption spectrum--still leave having created something applicable to their own classroom and students.
The Result: The whiz kids speed ahead sans boredom, the collaborators work together and assist each other via peer learning, and I get to devote my full attention to the baby steps group, who self-profess to learning best when guided.
How It Works: Since my presentations have built-in “do” time after “learn” time, I always create a learning challenge or task to apply what we’ve covered. Using polling software (my current favorite is Mentimeter), I ask participants to self-assess their learning style based on the following choices: 1) I’m a lone wolf. I learn best by exploring on my own; 2) Buddy system: I don’t go into the water without a partner; and 3) Baby Steps: Please hold my hand and walk me through this! We then break into respective groups and get to work! Everyone leaves happy and creatively satisfied.
3. Breezing In & Out. The one-and-done approach to professional development is done like dinner. Gone with the wind. Over. In an attempt to be more collaborative, and especially in this age of social media, learning should continue beyond the four walls of the classroom--and beyond the four walls of the seminar room. Keep the conversation going with your audience by connecting with them after all is said and done.
The Result: Everyone gets heard, everyone is validated, and no one feels alone. And you’ve created your own little virtual PLC!
How It Works: I always create a session evaluation Google form to be completed at the conclusion of my sessions, and I also ask for email addresses so that I can inform participants of the latest and greatest updates to our topic at hand. I’m currently exploring the idea of Google Communities to keep the learning going, too. Sometimes, I’ll create a Remind group for the same purpose, but I definitely need to improve my upkeep skills with that one. (Another resolution?) In addition, don’t forget to invite your audience to follow you on social media as well.
And there you have it: help transform pedagogy by transforming professional development. I definitely think these are resolutions (or intentions or goals or whatever the heck you want to call them) that I can actually keep. In the spirit of practicing what I preach, please feel free to reach out to me with your best PD tactics.
In return, I promise to work on my yoga poses. Namaste, peeps!
As my spring break winds down, I consider the fact that we've only got nine more weeks until the end of another school year--and that everything I'd hoped to accomplish in the previous 27 weeks somehow didn't get done. (Isn't that always the case?)
It also gets me thinking about what I've observed and learned this year and how it will shape our district goals for the upcoming school year. For example, one of our schools drained its paper budget halfway through the year, which had more than a few teachers worried about how they'd manage to provide lesson materials for their students. Which begs the question, "What needs to change? And if we're experiencing these issues, aren't other districts as well?"
Change is tough; and it's usually based in fear--the fear of the unknown, the fear of failure, the fear of leaving our comfort zone. But fear prevents us from moving forward, and moving forward is what we need to constantly do in education. Of course, change is scary. And uncertain. And yes, risky.
So teachers, don those Ray-Bans, crank up the Bob Seger, strip down to your tighty-whities, and take these risks in your classroom:
1. Attempt to Move More Content Online
Before you hit the copy machine to make another 30 copies of a worksheet, ask yourself, "Is there a way to do this online?" Make the move to digital content: post to your website, use tools like Wizer and Edulastic for worksheets and formatives, seek out online textbooks and Open Education Resources, direct students to create digital alternatives to research papers. Stop swimming in a sea of paper!
2. Let Your Students Teach Sometimes
Let go of the reigns once in a while. If 90% of what we learn is what we teach, then shouldn't our current model be flipped? Your students are already engaged in collaborative groups and jigsaw activities, so take it a step further: let them create mini-lessons. They'll be more invested in their learning!
3. Give Flipping a Try
Students today grew up with and presently maintain constant Internet access: YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, and a myriad of other digital resources. They're used to online content, so give it to them. Besides that, it makes sense to open up classroom time to working with students instead of sending them home to try out newly-learned (and often-not-yet-understood) concepts.
4. Transform Your Learning Space
Sitting in rows of desks is an archaic concept, and certainly not aligned with post-school workspaces--which are often designed for creativity and collaboration. Physical spaces are central to creating a new paradigm for learning. Change up your seating configurations, create purposeful zones, bring in mood lighting. Get some great ideas here.
5. Embrace Social Media
(See #3 above for justification.) Don't mistake social media for socializing. Besides, reaching out to students beyond the four walls of the classroom creates genuine connections and extends learning. Frankly, you can't be considered a 21st-century educator if you're not willing to adopt 21st-century technologies. Your students will be grateful for it!
Education is evolution. And it's worth the risk.
image via Flickr
t's rather unlike me to return from a trip and toss my suitcase in a corner; that baby's unloaded and returned to the attic within twenty minutes of my homecoming--which is why I apologize in advance for the delay in sharing this post. (It should have been written weeks ago!)
I'm an enthusiastic fan of edcamps and the genuine alternative to traditional PD they offer. And being an edcamp cheerleader means I unabashedly offer my thoughts and takeaways from edcamp in an effort to get more of my colleagues to drink the Kool Aid.
This year's EdCampCLE was held on March 21, 2015, and it was like a homecoming reunion, catching up with the awesome "campers" I met last year. Seriously...I wish we could take the energy, enthusiasm, and great ideas from our sessions and start our own school. But since we can't, I'm unpacking my bags and sharing my shiny travel souvenirs:
1. Homework for a grade is NOT a valuable learning experience.
I attended this session entitled "Evolution of homework: What do you assign, when, and how much? Are you flipping your content? Should you?" because I'm working with a very frustrated teacher who continually assigns homework that his students very rarely complete. Why continue the battle?, I ask. What's the point? Personally, I'm in the anti-homework camp; I see it as purposeless busywork. Too many teachers assign it because they feel they have to; too many students rush through it with the same apathy. As a parent, I know that I've spent more time than is ethically scrupulous helping my sons with theirs.
One teacher argued in favor of making homework subject-specific, like math. I can get on board with that, what with the application-necessary nature of it. This is definitely an argument for flipping the content and for creating stations in the classroom. (Teachers: you don't HAVE to assign homework. Shift your focus: make the classroom learning experience more valuable.)
Another teacher, firmly entrenched in the pro-homework camp, found a compromise with which his students can work: homework is optional, but students can't "level up" if they haven't mastered the standard associated with that homework. I like this gaming aspect of homework, and definitely think it has some merit on two fronts: mastering standards (not homework) and creating autonomy and accountability within learners.
Finally, there's the option to simply not grade homework at all, but instead, to give priority to the summative and formative assessments. This was offered up by a teacher whose administration demands homework but who personally doesn't believe in it himself.
The hour-long conversation was stimulating and thought-provoking. But homework, at least as it's still being assigned, is completely worthless.
2. If you want to transform the way your students learn, then transform your learning space.
In October, I got the chance to visit a school that's completely dismantled and rebuilt learning spaces, and the two mantras from that visit I continually quote to teachers is the following: Get the crap off your walls and remove your teacher desk (aka "Fort Desk.") Teachers are infamous hoarders and we also have the antiquated notion that we need to cover every inch of our classroom walls with posters, banners, and student work. If I had my own classroom today, it would resemble an office space similar to Google or Microsoft: stripped down, inviting, and designed for collaboration. Oh, and with deliberate learning zones (or stations or pods...whatever you want to call them)!
The teachers in the "Creating 21st Learning Spaces" session want to do the same. In fact, plenty of them already have! And the primary idea is to keep the space clean and simple to minimize the distractions. We also floated the idea of (gasp!) ditching desks. One teacher bought high rounds (like those found in pubs) for his classroom students who need a break from sitting. Another keeps a few exercise balls in the classroom; still another shared her story of finding "that room" in the building where all the castoffs go and finding tables to replace the desks in her room. Finally, one very brave teacher decided to put her money where her mouth is: the following Monday she said goodbye to her teacher desk for good!
3. If we ask teachers to change the way they teach, then let's change the way we teach them.
The majority of my job entails reaching out to teachers, and my biggest concern is that many teachers limit themselves to the confines of the four walls of our classrooms. Literally. There's very little time provided to teachers to go exploring...both literally and figuratively. Two edcampCLE sessions helped me think of new ways to encourage both empowerment and collaboration: "Administration in the Digital Age. How do we empower teachers to be the best version of themselves without overwhelming them?" and "Break down those walls! How do we collaborate with other teachers in our own buildings?"
If our goal is to make learning fun again, then let's make teaching fun again--without overwhelming our teachers by throwing a bunch of new tech tools at them and hoping something will stick. Let's face it: traditional PD doesn't work anymore. And quite frankly, I'm pretty sure most of the teachers I work with hear "I want to fix you," when I say, "You do this really well, and here's something that will make it easier and more fun for you."
Some ideas tossed around that I'm definitely going to audition:
There. The bags are unpacked. And I'm determined to not put those precious souvenirs on the shelf to gather dust. Thanks, again, EdCampCLE. See you next year!
We're on the final day of #OETC15, and while I'm looking forward to returning home and to my boys, I'm going to miss the people I've met. From presenters to teachers to coaches, Ohio has a plethora of dedicated educators ready to transform learning and I'm thankful to them! (And thankful, too, to Twitter and Google Hangouts. Because of them, I can continue the conversations that began here.)
While I experienced more than that about which I'm writing today, it's this morning's keynote speech that impactfully resonated with me and one which my brain simply refuses to evict. It seems an exceptional presentation on which to reflect and dissect, and with which to conclude my series on #OETC15.
Fixing the Past or Inventing the Future: Education Reforms that Matter
Yong Zhao is the Presidential Chair and Director of the Institute for Global and Online Education in the College of Education at the University of Oregon
You gotta love a man (and a Duck!) who bravely comes to Columbus on the heels of losing the national championship.
And I'm so glad he did.
Dr. Yong Zhao's message of entrepreneurial-based education reform is desperately needed in this day and age of "college and career readiness." Especially in an era where 53% of our most recent college graduates are either unemployed or underemployed. (That is not a typo.)
Instead of touting college and career readiness, Dr. Zhao encourages us to instead embrace a culture of "out-of-the-basement readiness," which is especially apt with our boomerang generation. (And, frankly, especially hilarious when you think about it. Or especially sad if you yourself are the parent of said basement-dweller.)
The disconnect between education and career these days, notes Dr. Zhao, can be contained in the metaphor of Nokia vs. Apple. (The metaphor appeals to the former English teacher in me.) Do you remember Nokia phones? In a nutshell, Apple didn't kill Nokia; Nokia killed Nokia by trying to add smart features to a dumb phone, and in inventing the smart phone, well...we all know how that turned out for Apple.
If you apply this metaphor to current education reforms, our Industrial Age model of education is the dumb phone, and yet we're trying to pile on smart features (technology, Common Core, NGAs) to that dumb phone. It epically failed for Nokia, so what makes us think it will succeed for education?
Dr. Zhao asserts, and the current statistics certainly support, that our children are miseducated in that they are educated for the wrong economy. A good education should keep your children out of the basement--not destine them to it.
So our current model is failing our students; certainly not making them college and career ready. Our "homogenous sausage-making" approach fails to give birth to visionaries, creators, makers, inventors, and problem-solvers: which is exactly what a global economy needs.
Dr. Zhao urges us as educators to invent a new smart phone. If creativity is job security today, then let's (please!) abandon the homogenous model of learning. We tend to devalue innovation and creativity in the classroom because we're pressured to get the students ready for "the test." And as we all know, "the test" precludes innovation and creativity. (An interesting fact: 40% of Google employees don't have college degrees. Think about THAT.)
Our new smartphone model of education should both permit and accommodate the following for each and every student:
In Dr. Zhao's words, "schools should become personalized learning ecosystems."
How great is that?
What if we allowed for product-oriented learning? What if--instead of testers--we created innovators? What if we provided future-oriented experiences for our learners? What if we practiced what we preached? What if we truly decided to start a revolution to make our students both college and career ready?
Yes, I suppose we need to have the tests; they measure growth. But if employees have evaluations, shouldn't students have the same--with authentic products that serve a REAL purpose in our real world? Do we have to have tests only?
We have to chuck the idea of "traditional" classrooms and "traditional" learning. We have to, as Dr. Zhao asserts, "stop fixing the past and invent the future." We simply have to.
Or America's going to have a lot of dumb phones on its hands.
It's Day 2 here at OETC15, and judging from how difficult it was to obtain parking, SRO at the keynote session isn't surprising. (Seriously, I spent more time in the line for the parking garage than I did getting here this morning.)
It was great bumping into my favorite peeps from back home, and even better sharing what we've learned AND bouncing ideas off each other. I especially enjoyed running into an old friend from my teaching days.
Then it was time to go learn something...
Session #1: Call It What You Want! Smashing, Crashing, Slamming iPad Apps 2.0 - Using Tech for Deeper Learning
Jen and Karen are tech coaches for the Mentor schools and two people who I've come to rely on quite a bit for outstanding advice and support as I make this journey. Their presentation not only provided a useful list of apps, but it also offered up a "philosophy" for app smashing:
Session #2: Changing Roles of Students and Teachers in Instruction & Learning
I knew weeks ago that I would attend Anthony Luscre's presentation on the shifting paradigm of education because I've been talking myself blue about the teacher/learner shift for at least six years now, so it's always comforting to find a kindred spirit. Here's what I learned:
Session #3: Your School's Story Matters! Use Social Media to Tell It
A little self-promtoion never hurt anyone (or any district)...and everyone loves a good story. Principal Ryan McLane and Assistant Principal Eric Lowe shared their social media story with us.
Don't expect people to come to you. We need to go where they are, and that's at:
I'm at the Ohio Educational Technology Conference in Columbus this week and feeling lucky to be here, sharing, learning, and collaborating. Since I know I have more than a few colleagues who couldn't attend, I'm engaging in some "mini-journaling" so they can be here vicariously!
Morning Session: Flipping Your Staff Meeting
Develop the definition of a Flipped Staff Meeting, look at activities which work well presented through the Flipped model, and discover tools to implement.
Afternoon Session: Online Assessments Toolkit
Want to truly prepare our students for the NGAs? Then start providing assignments and assessments that are "NGA-esque." While Eric Curts provided a literal plethora of helpful tools and resources today, here are my faves:
As I prepare for my new position as the Instructional Technology Specialist for a local school district, I've been cleaning out the files, notes, and curriculum ideas that I've accumulated over the last three years. Many of the things I've re-discovered I'm planning to take with me, especially this memo I wrote in June 2013 to the staff of my old school. I had just completed my second year teaching technology and assisting teachers with the steady and gradual integration of technology across the curriculum. To keep the momentum going over the summer, I offered the following suggestions to my colleagues. And even though it's two years old, it's still pretty relevant today as we educators continue to work to prepare our students for college and career.
Here's the memo for you to review and pass on to your network, too:
We need to narrow the gap between what we know and what our students know when it comes to technology. The reality is that our students are connected, and they shouldn’t have to 'power down' when they enter the classroom.
With that said, here are some things to think about over the summer and try to implement for next year.
These are baby steps, designed to get you started in a small but meaningful way, and that's always a good place to start. If you have ANY questions or need ANY help, don’t hesitate to get in contact with me. Otherwise, I’ll see you in August!
Even though the school year is now gearing up, it's not too late to pick one of the suggestions above and invigorate your teaching. Take "baby steps" to integrate technology into your curriculum; you can't run until you crawl first!
Speaking of baby steps, I just recently delivered three workshops designed to assist teachers in making the leap from 20th century to 21st century learning, so please check them out.
Good luck, have an amazing school year, and let me know how this advice works for you!
image courtesy of Flickr
Educational consultant + #pedtech coach in Cleveland, Ohio sharing innovative technology ideas for educators.