Building a School from the Ground Up: Part II #IMMOOC

I started this blog post about three years ago, addressing the idea that we often do what we’ve always done without reflecting on the WHY. We tend to go about our daily business and not stop to consider what if?

What if we changed the schedule?

What if we got rid of this furniture?

What if we got to the root of why students misbehave rather than giving them consequences to change behavior?

What if school was relevant to life?

So many what ifs.

What if the school schedules were changed so that subjects were no longer taught in isolation? Think real world. I’m not just talking elementary kindergarten, either. We know that we need connections for learning to stick. By making connections across content, students learn in a way that is relevant and authentic. Learning feels meaningful and has connections to the world. Project-based learning is one powerful way this might be done.

What if we took the time to understand our students deeply?As educators we often operate in a reactionary way. A student does something we don’t agree with: check or consequence. It happens again –> more severe consequence. And so the story goes. On a given day,  the same students receive consequences over and over. What does this tell us? Are those consequences effective?

OR

We walk by a primary classroom with that dreaded stoplight or card system. By the end of the first month of school, what have those students learned? Often a tracked system where the red kids are quickly labeled, and they themselves find it difficult to change who they are after September. I have often had students tell me, “I am red.” What an awful thing for a five-year-old to believe. Why is he given the label? Because he is excited about school and can’t contain that excitement? By taking time to get to the root of students’ issues, we can properly handle them.

Now, we also must be sure that there are even issues there. Excitement and wanting to stand…. not issues for a five-year-old child!

If I am rebuilding school, my school is engaging. So that busy little 5-year-old from the above example. He won’t be sitting in a desk. There won’t be desks for him to sit in. Before being hired, every staff member will follow the path of a students all day in a traditional school, so that never becomes our school. Our kids will learn through projects and singing and dancing and authentic learning.

They will be outside learning. Recess will be recess. Several times a day. Not moderated by adults. It will involve problem solving by students.

And homework. Nope.

Until we consider ideas we haven’t before, can we really take our education to the next step?

Breaking Out #IMMOOC

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Today I spent time doing breakouts with sixth grade classes. For those who aren’t familiar, think breakout rooms but on a smaller scale.

Students work in small groups with clues tied to given content. In today’s breakout, the content was tied to Gary Paulsen novels and adventures. Once the groups solved the clues, they could attempt at the locks which are either directional, numerical, or word.

Students must use clues, collaboration, problem solving, and content knowledge to solve the clues that will unlock the box.

This is an exciting and new way for students to learn and demonstrate learning. It is the 4Cs (collaboration, communication, critical thinking, creativity) pulled into content in different ways.

I was taken aback when one student asked for the point of as we were debriefing after the break out. So I threw it back at the class; I took a deep breath, wondering if anyone had gotten it. I knew we hadn’t wasted our time. I had watched them work together; have great discourse; use their brains in new ways. BUT had they?

Deep breath. One student responded: we have to collaborate.

Ahhhh. Yes.

Another: we have to work together.

Yes, you do.

We have to look up information on our iPads. Figure it out.

That is true.

They had gotten it. Learning. Wrapped up in a new package.

They got it!

The Connected Educator #IMMOOC

Continuing on my journey this week with George Couros and 1800 of my closest friends in #IMMOOC, I continue to reflect on this concept of innovation: what does it mean for me and our schools? How can I innovate to help the students in my school learn better?

A few things came across my Twitter feed this week, which makes me think of one huge thing: CONNECTEDNESS! For me, being connected has been an enormous asset in my path to innovation. The more teachers I can get connected, the more innovation will be happening in our schools.

Across my Twitter feed in a given day, so many ideas come across. Here are a few highlights from this past week that show innovation in different ways:

This school is looking at discipline which can be a hot topic. If what we do doesn’t change behavior (suspension, detention, time out, rewards), we haven’t done anything. Maybe meditation is truly the answer or one answer.

Here we see a principal building rapport with his students through the simple yet powerful act of read-aloud.

Barbara Bray and Kathleen McClaskey use UDL to move our thinking from looking at students (and students to looking at themselves) through a fixed mindset to one of growth. Using UDL in our classrooms is so powerful!

In each of these cases, I can’t imagine not having had Twitter to connect me to these people and this information. Innovation through my PLN has been so powerful. It has changed my practice time after time.

Can’t wait to see what this week brings!

Purpose of School #IMMOOC

The purpose of education is simple and complex. It is simple because we must prepare our students for the world they will graduate into. This is complex because this world is ever-changing. It isn’t the factory line driven world of the 1900’s that our Prussian-style education system is still preparing our students for.

Because of this, we must make some drastic changes to our classrooms and schools to meet our students where they are and prepare them for the unknowns that the world brings.

We know that many careers that our students will choose post-graduation have not even been thought of yet. The best thing that we can do for them is to make students good at learning; good at thinking; good at problem solving; and most of all, good at relating to others. These are the skills that are important in this century.

In this century we can Google any fact or any calculation faster than we can retrieve it from our head. With critical thinking skills students can figure out how to access information and the accuracy of the information that they’re accessing.

The innovation that we most need is open-mindedness to imagine the unimaginable. To recreate schools and get away from low-level trivial knowledge into deeper levels of thinking.

To embrace this change, I try to model it. As an instructional coach, I meet people at their level of comfort and show them how a tool or strategy can enhance learning in their classroom. It is my responsibility to take them from where they are to a place they might not realize even exists: slowly and within their comfort zone.

 

Coach!

As educational leaders we often talk about taking risks; this week I took one. Our school needed a coach for the tennis team, so I thought, Why not? I coach. I play tennis. Just never both together.

This week I did both together. Most likely with some students who may or may not play better than I do. But could I teach them something? Coach them?

So we got started, and headed to the courts, a bit of self-doubt in my head but never outwardly. I mean, technology coach by day, teacher by day, but was I a tennis coach by night?

Can we wear different roles? Can we be agile and seen differently with different expertise by the same people. Risk taking?

I tell teachers this all the time. Take a risk. Try something new.

Sometimes we have to be pushed out of the bird’s nest. So here I go. Nobody laughed at me.

I will model what I tell my teachers and my students. Risk taking. Trying something new, something that makes me a little uncomfortable.

When do we grow? Just outside of that zone of comfort. And so I will grow in this experience.

I will grow as an educator.

I will grow as a tennis player.

I will definitely grow as a human being.

 

 

Innovation #IMMOOC

For many we know that change can be difficult. People get comfortable, cozy and “it works.” Sometimes, though what we deem as working is more existing. Sure, compliant students leave the K-12 system reading, writing, doing basic math, knowing some level of facts in their other classes, but is this really all we want from our students?

Our schools need to take a hard, deep look at themselves. Reform is one thing. Transformation is something entirely different. For our schools to truly meet the needs of the world that our students are graduating into, we need adults who are ready to innovate in every sense of the word. We all know that schools are one of the only industries that look and function much like they did 100 and 200 years ago; neither the business world nor the medical profession does –can you imagine? Yet we continue to tweak here and tweak there. Trade a white board for a chalk board. Trade a tablet for paper. Without changing the functionality of these, it’s just not enough. We need true innovators to wipe the slate clean and dream up a system that will work in 2016 to prepare our students for their present and future.

The impact will be students who are ready for the world.

Students who can think.

Students who are not compliant but are creators and innovators themselves.

Our world cannot wait. We must innovate.

 

 

Implementing Change: ISTE 2016

I was fortunate to attend ISTE and bring some ideas and technologies back to my school. Below are some of my favorites!

Bloxels

Bloxel

This is a way for students to create their own video game. First you use cubes and a board to build the structure. Then you take a picture of the board and it becomes the actual video game board….so cool! Create a character and you’re off!

CUE STEAMpunk Playground

Hopscotch: this is an iOS app that is a FREE way for students to learn to code. It’s available now  and so. much. fun.

Swift 3: iOS also. This is a free app for students to learn to program. Powerful application for schools!

Drones/Sphero: why not use drones and Sphero to teach content? Think STEAM rather than giving it lip service. By integrating these into our subjects, we can better engage our students in their world and make content come to life! My students will be coming up with a way to create a Sphero/Ollie obstacle course for our tech lab…..

Virtual Reality

Whether it’s Google Cardboard or another, this is the perfect way to take a 36o degree field trip under the ocean or abroad. Students will love it as it opens your classroom to the world in ways never seen before. We can create our own with students through older technology like Pano360 or newer technology like Ricoh Theta and a selfie stick. Easy and educational.

Risk-Taking

iFLy

Finally, conquering fears. I went to iFly for some indoor skydiving with some others from my district. I have no problem taking risks when it comes to my professional life, but my personal life, well, I think I speak for most of us there when I say we were a bit scared. I conquered a fear and modeled what I preach.

Getting to this Point…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Going through the National Board process early on in my career certainly helped shape me as an educator. Additionally it had provided me with opportunities I would not have otherwise have: I have spoken with district and state superintendents, local politicians, and one of the highlights was speaking before members of Congress on Capitol Hill.

But our career is not made up of highlights but of day-to-days…..how we impact students, educators, and the field overall: that is what will make a career.

For me going through the process solidified my reflective nature. I have renewed also and that process gave me the opportunity to reflect on the professional learning I had gone through and how that learning actually impacted my practice. I took months to reflect on the training that I had completed and determine how worthwhile they were; what impact they actually had. As a result, I am particular about how I spend my time. Particular about the professional learning I take part in. Particular about the degree programs I choose.

I am currently the Innovation & Technology Coach at a middle school. I oversee the professional learning at the school as well as coach teachers as we move our school to one that is project-based learning and 1:1 iPads.

I work hard to use that same high standard to create personalized professional learning for my teachers and staff that I want for myself. I am reflective after each PL session that I plan and ask for feedback to better it for the future.

The National Board process is one that allows us time for reflection. Reflection to become better teacher. Reflection to become better coaches. Reflection to become better educators.

Downtime

 

Over the break I took some much needed time to rejuvenate.

And then I jumped right back into EdCampVoxer to get some much needed personalized professional learning! What an amazing few days it was! Sessions about blogging, school culture, personalized PL, and coaching. Everything I needed to get myself ready for second semester.

Personalized professional learning is something I strive to do well in my school. It’s my first year in this position, so I am certainly evolving. I work hard to create learning opportunities both face-to-face and online for teachers that will meet their needs. Sometimes I am successful and sometimes I am not.

What did EdCampVoxer bring?

Voxer: Using this simple walkie talkie voice and text tool to create groups for teachers to communicate, share resources, and learn from one another.

Slack: This is an app I’ve only downloaded from the app store but not gone too deep into. I believe that there are great positive implications to it, though. This is a place where I could organize different groups for different purposes and people could opt in according to their wants/needs. A give coaching cohort could be one group, people interested in tools for one specific purpose could opt in to another. That way people don’t have to get cluttered inboxes. I see read potential in this!

Twitter: Not going too detailed into this one. One of the best ways to personalize PL. Join it. Join chats. Enough said.

Digital badging: A fun way to get credit for the learning that one accomplishes. These are set up through Mozilla or Credly or others and educators can convert badges to credits. Badges can also be shared via social media for fun.

Edcamp: This free unconference has become wildly popular all over the country. People attend ready to share knowledge or simply gain it. Sign up and show up for a day of unconventional learning: you will get out of it what you want! Do a search online to find one near you!

These are a few of the modes but when it comes right down to it, we have to work with our districts to be sure they are on board with personalized PL. The key is to move beyond one side fits all ‘sit and get’ to understanding that if personalized learning is the way to for our students, it is certainly the way to go for our teachers. Many systems are on their way, some more than others. It’s so important that teachers get the learning they need and crave.

Leaving a Legacy

I’ve been working with my middle school student advocate team. Together we are learning about leaving a legacy and the importance of advocating for themselves and their school. In my opinion there is no better time for this than during the middle school years. By nature middle school students know that they can change the world. Watching them come together for three days with three other local middle schools was incredible. They fed off one another’s energy as they came up with these plans to each leave a legacy.

One of the iniatives of my team is to teach teachers and students to better use their devices–in authentic ways in class. As we are 1:1 iPads, this is brilliant, timely, and useful. I felt I needed to come up with ways to encourage and assist them with this goal. Today at our meeting I borrowed some tips from Jennie Magiera’s session at GAEtc.

We practiced teaching one another by doing it one step at a time, hands behind our backs, counting to three while we use our voices and not our hands. Tough, of course, when we’d rather do it for our partner! After some practice, they got the hang of it and we came up with a list of useful techy things we’ll teach our peers….theirs and mine!

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