Tools come and go. Learning should not. And what’s a “free” edtech tool, anyway?

This guy just found out Padlet is now a paid service and spent the day recreating his walls in an analog space.

I like free things. It’s neat when I can log into a service, do my thing, get the most bang for my buck – $0 – and then continue on my day.

But I’d like to think that educators, specifically those who use educational technologies, understand that nothing is truly free.

Not even free services, not by a long shot. More on that in a bit.

There was sadness across the interwebs when Google Reader went away. Simply designed, wildly impactful Google Reader. We’d been subscribing and bundling and organizing all the feeds that mattered to us and our learning and then, they took it away.

We had to find other solutions, and frankly, nothing really came close to replicating the experience we had with Reader. At least in my experience.

But we couldn’t stop reading, subscribing, learning, and sharing, in the absence of that tool. We had to find alternatives, we had to consider: What purpose did the tool serve? How can I replicate that with another service or via other means? And why should I bother? Is it essential to my learning to have a tool like this at my disposal? Or was it an extra? Something unnecessary? Something frivolous?

People are voicing loudly their criticisms of Padlet’s decision to move to a paid service. You get to keep your current Padlets, they’re not going away, +3 on your freebie plan. Additional walls and features are something like $99/year. Steep, for sure. More info on that here.

I’ve used Padlet since it was Wallwisher. I have 30+ walls saved. I used it as recently as last month with my grad students as a break from the drudgery of Blackboard interface. I demo it at workshops. I use it to get participant feedback during conference sessions.

Sure, it sucks that I will have to explore other alternatives, but I don’t need Padlet. You might not need it either. Your students probably don’t need Padlet. 

And yet, maybe they do. Maybe you do. That’s a decision you have to make as a leader of learning, with the people in your school that support technology integration and instructional design and who write the checks. Maybe ask your students, too. What do they get out of using this tool?

We love to shout “pedagogy first, tech second” and “don’t teach your kids tools, teach them skills” and yet when an announcement like this is made, we respond with rage and, heaven forbid, a closed mindset about what this really means in the grand scheme of the most important thing that should be happening in our classrooms: Learning.

If your students can no longer learn because Padlet (or insert any formerly-free-now-paid-tool) is now inaccessible to them, then I think it would be wise to come together as instructional teams and determine what it is that they were doing with Padlet in the first place, and how that experience can be replicated in a different way, if it is something that truly helped them learn.

It’s annoying, for sure. It’s unfair to continue to ask more from teachers, specifically money, when they’re already wildly underpaid and spend hundreds of dollars on classroom essentials and building classroom libraries, but ed tech tools moving from free to paid versions isn’t the most impossible obstacle we have to overcome. We deal with far more alarming problems in our children’s lives: poverty, hunger, racism, inequitable funding for schools, lack of leadership, placing value on the wrong things (standardized tests and assessment measures), failure to have the means to support communities.

Now, back to the “free” services discussion.

When you create an account with a free service, when you offer your name, email address, demographic information, school’s name, and you do the same for your students, you’re relinquishing your – and their- privacy and personal information on a number of levels. Certainly there are privacy policies and terms of use in place for these services that you should absolutely be reading, reviewing, and deciding as a school whether or not the costs of doing business with the service are worth your exchange of information. By the way, you should be communicating all of this to parents, too, and allowing them to decide whether or not they want their children’s information submitted to each service. More on that here.

Those are the costs, for freebie services. The companies may be using your personal information elsewhere. They may be tracking your activity, logging your data, and selling it to other companies. These things happen behind the scenes, aren’t always obvious to the user, and smart people like Bill Fitzgerald and Audrey Watters and other leaders in this space are trying to keep educators more informed about this. Companies love giving free perks to teachers with the expectation that teachers will share their use of the tools with colleagues and in social spaces to help build the brand. Some consider that exploitation, other teachers are happy to do it. When it’s done with classrooms of students who don’t have say in the choice and use of tools, that might be viewed as a questionable practice. And, let us not forget the many giant companies and corporations who are funding many of these ventures, and the motivation behind these “generous” fundings. What’s in it for them?

So what should your next steps be? And prior to bringing new technologies into your schools, what should you be thinking about?

  1. Do I need this tool? Why? How does it really support learning?
  2. What are the costs, both monetary and otherwise, of using this service? Do the rewards of use outweigh the risks?
  3. Is there a paid service I could explore that will meet my needs and better protect the privacy of my information and my students’ information?
  4. How can I inform parents/community members about our use of this tool and what mechanisms are in place for parents to opt their children out of using it?
  5. When this tool and/or its plan changes, how will we adjust? What will our plans be to make seamless transitions to other tools or strategies when the inevitable happens?

Would love to hear your thoughts on this issue in the comments here!


More to Read:

Edmodo’s Tracking of Students and Teachers Revives Skepticism Surrounding ‘Free’ Edtech Tools

Education Technology and the Power of Platforms

Education Technology and the Promise of Open and Free

The ‘Price’ of Free and Freemium Edtech Products

Friends don’t let friends use Chromebooks for CoolMath.

Photo by Kaboompics // Karolina from Pexels

This post was originally posted in ChangeLeaders Community… I’m the community manager there and we love to curate, share, and discuss topics of interest in the educational leadership and innovation realm. Think you’d like to join us? (You do.) Clickity click.


Bruce (Dixon) called my attention to GoGuardian‘s recently published “research” findings about how Chromebooks are being used in classrooms. Titled The 2018 Benchmark Report: A Four Part Seriesthe company is looking to provide insights into “emerging trends” in Chromebook usage. If you are using Chromebooks in your schools or are thinking about how to approach technology integration in your organizations, do give it a look.

But read it with an open, inquisitive mind. I, for one, am still on the hunt for the actual research publication that helped generate the infographics shared on the GoGuardian site. I would love to know more about which types of schools were included in the research study (it mentions 5 million K-12 Chromebook users, but are the students enrolled in schools who pay to use GoGuardian’s services?), how the data was collected (seems to me most of it was pulled right from the tracking features included with GoGuardian), and other components of the research framework. Until I find that, I’ll have to take some of these published findings at face value.

Survey says!

Andy Losik (STEM teacher, Helpful Guy) recently blogged a reflection to these findings: An American Chromebook Crisis: new report shows sad trends of how students are using the devices.

Crisis? Clickbait for sure.

Sad trends? Perhaps.

As Andy summarizes,

In short a huge amount of Chromebook use is being spent on educationally questionable video games, low level assessments, and YouTube with the two highest trending websites for over 5,000,000 learners (after G Suite for Education) being CoolMath Games and Renaissance Learning, the parent company to Accelerated Reader and other assessments.

I totally believe this is happening. But I’m apt to believe this is a people problem, not a Chromebook problem.

Before Chromebooks were made readily available at a seemingly irresistible low price point, there were computer labs. There were PCs. There were Macbooks. There were iPads. And I’ve worked in districts that use all of these devices, and those who are 1:1 with Windows devices or with iPads are just as susceptible to this problem as Chromebook-using schools, where the devices are used as: expensive paperweights, and/or digital replacements for traditional student assignments, and/or venues through which kids use digital content providers meant to “personalize learning”, and/or a place where kids get to play games of choice as behavioral incentives, and/or only in the classrooms where teachers are comfortable with the presence of the devices, and/or only in a situation where the Haves get access and the Have Nots are at a disadvantage because they do not, and/or ways to keep kids quiet.

CoolMath, for one, a game website that a) perhaps just recently infected Missy’s computer, and b) requires little to no preparation for use in the classroom, is among the top visited sites according to the survey.

Wildly disappointing, which means the purchase of these devices is a really expensive investment in something that amounts to not much more than babysitting.

In terms of G Suite for Education use, check out this summary:

Now I don’t love the heading here, it’s a bit confusing to someone who knows Google Sites is an application in and of itself, but compared to Google Docs (which likely includes use of Docs, Sheets, Slides, and Drawings – could be for substitution-level projects, could be for more detailed creations, we don’t know), YouTube is the next most frequently visited site in the Google realm according to this survey.

That could be a red flag if students are using YouTube for basic consumption. Lots of districts run into bandwidth problems because students stream music and videos from YouTube all day while they’re working. (I stream Pandora or Spotify while I’m working, don’t you? I don’t know very many people that work and create in complete silence). Which is why a lot of schools block YouTube in its entirety.

But what we also know is that YouTube is the place to go when you want to learn something new. When you need detailed instructions on how to do something, when you want to hear from others about their own experiences. It’s a place to share learning. It’s a place to help you kickstart your own learning.

It’s one of the places you can go when your school doesn’t provide you with the resources you need to help you move forward on your own learning journey.

How are students using Chromebooks? From the report:

Let all of that sink in. How many of the above bullet points involve student creation or critical thinking? How many do you think are a result of personal learning for students? Probably not even the ones stamped PERSONALIZED CONTENT.

So, what is the real crisis?

The problem emerging with Chromebooks is that because they’re shiny and new, because they’re relatively inexpensive, because the districts next door are going “all in” with these devices, administrative teams are being influenced to take the plunge. Why invest in a few hundred Macbook Pros, for example, when we could outfit every single student with a device?! 1:1 with Chromebooks!

We will be so innovative!

There are schools whose students learn, create and share masterfully with Chromebooks. There are schools who are 1:1 with Macbooks whose students fall short of what we’d consider ideal creation and don’t really make their learning visible.

What makes the difference?

The real crisis surrounding technology integration is a leadership crisis.

It’s a vision crisis. It’s the crisis that most of our schools are built around teaching cultures, not learning cultures. It’s a lack-of-clarity crisis.

Wrong: Hmm, should we get more devices? Maybe Chromebooks. They’re on the cheap. Teachers, can you think about how these can support your instruction? Teachers, can you think about how these will allow you to deliver content? Can we think about programs we can subject students to that will allow us to more easily collect assessment data? Will our test scores go up if our kids start using these devices? How can we control what kids do on these things?

Right: What do we know about how modern learners learn most powerfully? What do we believe are important elements of a classroom experience that will help students thrive as learners? How can the use of device(s) support all students in this capacity? What types of devices will allow students to be the do-ers, the programmers, the creators? Moving forward, what’s our plan to make sure that happens? How can we foster environments where students are agents of learning, where they decide the how, when, where, what of using devices?

GoGuardian’s report doesn’t necessarily make me reconsider the use of Chromebooks in schools. It makes me even more cognizant of the fact that school leadership and technology teams need to recommit themselves to establishing purpose, defining learning in their organizations, and developing strategies and device acquisition plans that will allow students to uncover learning in this information-at-your-fingertips age. That rarely involves the purchase of one type of device and/or one type of program that will meet the needs of individual learners.

Would love to hear from you in the comments. From your perspectives, what’s working with technology integration? What’s not? Can you provide examples of how the devices are supporting powerful learning, and could you explain why you think that is?

 

P.S. In full disclosure, I am a Google for Education Certified Trainer and I do a lot of work with G Suite, Chromebooks, and learning with teachers and administrative teams across the country. But for me, as often as possible, I try to help them make sense of it all. Why do you need these devices in the first place? What can students learn with these devices at their disposal, and how will they share that learning?

Give up or Go up

The other day I tuned in to Seth Godin live on Facebook. When I typed prompt in the comments of his live post it subscribed me to daily prompts that show up in Messenger, so I guess the point here is that I am going to be spending even more time on Facebook, because learning. #Zuck1Lyn0

Yesterday’s prompt:

I didn’t proclaim my One Little Word for 2018 (and if you did, I continue to say this in social spaces and **crickets**, be sure you read and acknowledge the creator of this movement, Ali Edwards!) because despite the other years that I did, 2013 2014 2015 I don’t think identifying one word really grounded me in purpose for the year.

So maybe I’ll focus, instead, on Go Up goals and Give Up goals. Like Seth says in his post, people are generally happy to help you with your give up goals. They’ll remind you to drink less, exercise more, and spend less money. My 2018 give up goals might include be less lazy on the exercise front and eat fewer carbs for breakfast. I’ll try to give up working on a device when my kids are present. I’ll fail, but I’ll try. I’ll give up taking jobs that don’t compensate my worth.

Seth says it’s less likely you’ll tell people about your Go Up goals:

On the other hand, the traditional wisdom is that you should tell very few people about your go up goals. Don’t tell them you intend to get a promotion, win the race or be elected prom king. That’s because even your friends get jealous, or insecure on your behalf, or afraid of the change your change will bring.

Here’s the thing: If that’s the case, you need better friends.

A common trait among successful people is that they have friends who expect them to move on up.

If I shared my Go Up goals with friends and family, they’d probably expect me to achieve them. I’m lucky in that. And I agree with Seth that if you feel you cannot share your aspirations with those around you, you should surround yourself with better people.

In the hopes of making this one of my most succinct posts ever, in 2018 I’ll Go Up by

  • working with the bestest team ever to grow ChangeLeaders Community
  • maybe outline and pitch that book that’s in my head
  • run some miles
  • be intentional about time spent at home vs. time spent working

In 2018, what will you give up? How will you go up?

 

Photo Credit: marcoverch Flickr via Compfight cc

Stop teaching digital citizenship.

Yeah. I wanted you to click on that title. Thanks for stopping by! 😉

Yesterday I spent the day at #DigCitNYC, hosted by Google in their NYC location. 100+ educators/Google for Edu trainers/consultants/parents/teachers/ businesspeople/learners joined together to talk about the ideals of digital citizenship and how Google’s products & services can support those efforts.

Sometimes I feel like I’m living a double professional life. I spend much of my time inside ChangeLeaders Community, where, as community manager, I encourage members to push and challenge and share with one another and we try to think differently about school. We don’t emphasize the use of technology in schools. We don’t particularly care for ambiguous, overhyped buzzwords like personalized learning and digital citizenship, and we’re working hard to bring real change to organizations. We always try to put learning first. ChangeLeaders is a closed community run through Mighty Networks and intentionally serves as an interactive, safe space for discourse. No noise to inhibit learning.

I also work as an educational consultant and spend many days with teachers in my role as Google for Education Certified Trainer. Consulting days are often tool-centric. Technology-centric. Lots of free tools shared. People want to know what’s out there, how it works, and why they should use it. We tinker a lot, both with ideas and with apps & services. I try to muster all the energy in the room to keep things focused on what strong pedagogy infused with a kick of technology looks like, but we almost always use the little time we have to explore tools & tech & techniques.

Yesterday, Stephen Balkam from FOSI shared 7 Steps to Good Digital Parenting, Kerry Gallagher shared the latest from ConnectSafely, and Google team members and teachers shared as well.

Not surprisingly, there was lots of talk about “teaching digital citizenship.” Not so much about learning.

Are we making these lessons relevant to students’ lives? I heard one teacher in the audience tell a peer, “We do teach this stuff. But they hear it, and then they just go back to doing what they were doing.” So for kids, when does it sink in? What stories do we need to tell? Do they need to tell us?

Teachers, principals, parents… we’re still operating in fear-based mode when it comes to misuse of technology in schools. And absolutely, there need to be strict disciplinary measures taken for illegal and bullying behaviors. But for off-task behaviors? When I hear a teacher say something like, “If you’re not careful with the computers, you’re going to get worksheets,” I roll my eyes. Which is what his/her students probably do. Doesn’t seem much like a learning-forward sanction to me.

Lots of the digital citizenship activities out there are pretty contrived. Search for the digital footprints for these 3 make believe characters and fill out this worksheet sharing all you could find. How about, Use Google search and images to find out everything you can about your teacher? Or principal? Or a public figure that students are interested in? They’re doing it anyway. What’s going to be more effective? A worksheet? Or creating conditions for that type of activity to be done in class, with supportive adults, who can then finesse discussions and allow kids to really delve into their findings and implications? Are we considering the broader importance of helping students become digitally literate, not just well-behaved online? I reviewed Doug Belshaw’s work on digital literacy back in 2013, worth a read.

Yesterday we worked in small teams to share two hopes and two fears on this topic, and it seemed the majority of groups hoped that we could better engage families and parents in this discussion, and fears were that many teachers don’t take seriously their responsibilities to include digital citizenship lessons in their classrooms because they see it as someone else’s job. Or, they don’t address these issues because they don’t have the resources.

The resources are out there, and most of them are free. Whether you choose from Google’s Be Internet Awesome or Common Sense Media or any of the ConnectSafely resources, you can put together a fairly comprehensive curricula based on the needs of your students.

The resources or lack thereof, in my opinion, aren’t the issue. The issue is that teachers, and many other adults in students’ lives, do not have command of their own digital lives, and they lack the confidence to discuss these issues in meaningful ways with students. The adults are still trying to make sense of their digital worlds, strike a balance with online and offline time, seek to understand just what the heck kids are doing and sharing via social networks, and I think for many adults, it’s easier for them to live in a bubble and ignore the digital crisis that’s emerging, or simply say to kids, “This is bad for you. No phones in class. No social networks. No internet. No no no.”

Take a step back from the curriculum, the scope and sequence, the online programs.

Look at your students. Listen to your students. Work in time for morning meetings, advisory meetings, student-led forums, student digital health task forces. Educate the teachers. The administration. Help every adult who impacts a child’s life be confident with their own digital lives. Help them understand safety & security, privacy & data, the opportunities and the risks the internet provides. Together with the support of as many families and community members as possible, make a plan to address this that involves student learning, not “teaching digital citizenship.”  

Last week Will Richardson wrote What is the internet becoming?  We need to reflect seriously on the spaces kids are frequenting, their behaviors in those spaces, and whether or not we’re doing our best to mitigate the risks that come with online interactions while also taking advantage of the connections, enhanced communications and collaborative opportunities the internet provides.

My hope? The children in our care now, the ones who are trying to finesse their digital literacy skills, will be the people who can help bring rational thought, joy, and truth back to online spaces. They can be the ones who start to demand honesty in publications and news reporting outlets, respectful discourse in online communities, and equal treatment of all.

We have to put our own insecurities aside and help them do it.

 

Are you ready for Change, Leaders? A Community invitation.

Photo by William White via Unsplash

For the past several weeks, I’ve been working with one of the finest teams in educational leadership and innovative teaching & learning, and I’m pretty darn excited about it.

That team is Modern Learners.

If you’re not familiar with the work of Will Richardson, Bruce Dixon, and Missy Emler, be sure to visit Modern Learners now and listen to their podcasts, read the Shifting Conversations content, and get to know the lenses through which school leaders should seek to bring together shifts in beliefs and changes in practice, all influenced by the context of the world we’re living in today.

So what have we been up to? Will, Bruce, and Missy have ignited a spark in educational leaders through their work in Change.School, “a powerful 8-week online experience for educational leaders who are serious about designing and creating relevant, sustainable change in their schools and districts.” Change.School participants are serious, dedicated, innovative leaders who are looking to move their schools forward in powerful ways. As a result of the work in those cohorts, the need became apparent for a space where fellow administrative colleagues, building-level leaders, and teacher leaders could come together and delve into issues and ideas relevant for today’s school leaders.

Enter ChangeLeaders Community: 

“Where courageous educational leaders get real about learning and schooling.”

Networks are really important to me. I’m not the educator I was ten years ago, and connected learning is one of the reasons why. The ideals of connectivism really resonate with me, and I don’t think you can be a successful leader without a formidable, knowledgeable, supportive network. That being said, many educators have, in recent years, embraced the idea of developing a Personal Learning Network aka PLN, and using the connections made via social networks (Twitter, Facebook, Google+ to name a few), to support their learning and professional development. (If you are new to connected learning, be sure to read Why do I need to reinvent my PLN? and My Personal Learning Network is the most awesomest thing ever! to ground yourself as you continue navigating these waters.)

For the past two years or so, I’ve felt kind of meh about PLN-ing. Interactions from typical social spaces haven’t done much to influence my thinking and learning. There has to be more. It’s been hard for me to get excited about what I read, see, and experience in Twitter and on Facebook, even in groups dedicated to educational chit-chat.

And why is that?

Because networks are not communities, and well-crafted communities better support learning.

Networks are important, of course, because with every connection made, collective knowledge can emerge. In Network vs. Community by Clint LaLonde (2010), he shares a remark by George Siemens who attempts to distinguish between networks and communities. In short, there are more explicit norms and expectations for participation in communities. And in ChangeLeaders, we expect participation from our members and know that our community will thrive on member contributions!

Will our ChangeLeaders Community develop into a true community of practice? Our hope is, yes. A community of practice as defined by Wenger: “Communities of practice are groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly.” As Downes (2007) states, “Learning, in other words, occurs in communities, where the practice of learning is the participation in the community. A learning activity is, in essence, a conversation undertaken between the learner and other members of the community.”

CLC is about conversations, learning, and change.


So, here’s the thing. ChangeLeaders Community is something you subscribe to, and after your 30-day free trial ends, there’s a cost. That immediately turns some people off, and it causes others to shy away who, in my opinion, don’t stop to consider that the small expense is actually a huge investment in one’s own professional growth and learning. I use a number of free digital tools in my work and learning, but I have no problem paying for others that add value to my life. Good (usually) ain’t free.

The ChangeLeaders Facebook group was not a true learning community. It lacked versatile tools and capabilities to propel learning forward for its members. And, it seems as though every day, I see one or more of my Facebook friends jumping ship. Because Facebook. Through the ever-changing feeds and advertisements and algorithms, learning gets lost. And you’re bombarded with distractions.

CLC is a space that eliminates the clutter and allows its members to focus on the task at hand: How do I grow as a learner so I can ignite change in my organization? That can happen through the use of Mighty Networks and the continuing contributions of its members (over 300 members thus far!)

A CLC subscription is far less than a few Starbucks visits each month or a magazine subscription or the purchase of one of the latest educational fad/innovation books or a membership to a professional learning organization that you may or may not get any actual benefit from. We’re confident that through your willingness to engage in our community, you’re going to be challenged in your thinking and make real strides towards change, far more so than you could ever achieve in “free” spaces like Twitter or Facebook groups.

What will we explore in ChangeLeaders Community?

  • What learning is and what it isn’t, and the gap between what we know and believe about how we learn best and what we actually do in schools.
  • The trends, technologies, and changes happening in the world that really matter to our work in schools and that we need to understand in depth.
  • How educational leaders are building their own capacities to lead change in their communities.
  • What reimagined, modern practice in schools looks and feels like.

ChangeLeaders Community offers

  • a space where you can find signal among the noise – carefully curated content in a dynamic interface that fully engages participants and acknowledges the importance of their contributions in this space
  • jargon-free, buzzword-free, platitude-free discussions focused on change
  • critical friends who will challenge your thinking and support your change efforts
  • contributions not only by community members, but also by Will Richardson & Bruce Dixon in their Shifting Conversations posts
  • frequent, live collaborative sessions via Zoom, during which members can come together, build relationships, and tackle difficult change issues (Monday, October 23, 8 PM ET- you won’t want to miss “ChangeLeadership: Laying the Foundations for Creating Relevant, Sustainable Change in Schools” led by Will & Bruce!
  • the opportunity to reflect on practice, set goals and develop artifacts demonstrating professional growth, all while supported by a group of critical friends and colleagues
  • perhaps even a bit of fun!?

We hope you will courageously join us, we really do. But if you don’t, no matter which networks you frequent and spaces you visit, be sure to participate. Give back. Often. Because as Siemens says,

Being connected, without creating and contributing, is a self-focused, self-centered state. I’ve ranted about this before, but there is never a good time to be a lurker. Lurking=taking. The concept of legitimate peripheral participation sounds very nice, but is actually negative. Even when we are newcomers in a network or community, we should be creating and sharing our growing understanding.

Welcome to Change, Leaders! Let’s create some change.

-Lyn Hilt, ChangeLeaders Community Manager

How will you say Yes! this year? (And what are you listening to?)

Lee Campbell

On work days, I typically find myself commuting in the car for hours at a time. Driving is not my favoritest thing. Podcasts have proven to save my sanity on many occasion. It seems as though anyone can create a podcast nowadays, but it’s tough to maintain a listener’s attention if the content is weak and the delivery is mundane, so I find myself dipping my toes in the various podcast waters until I find something that’s both informative and entertaining. Back in 2007, as the K-5 “computer lab” teacher, I helped our second graders use Garageband to record and share podcasts, and it was really cool to see 7 and 8-yr olds developing the skills to articulate their ideas and share what they learned via this platform.

This week I tuned into from the inspiring team at Modern Learners, and of course I couldn’t wait to hear the wisdom shared by superintendent Pam Moran, someone whom I’ve admired since our beginning days of connected learning and enjoy learning from time and time again.

In the episode Developing a Culture of Yes with Pam Moran, Will Richardson and Pam discuss the integral role of school leaders in cultivating a school climate and culture where taking risks, suggesting changes and promoting unconventional ideas are not only tolerated, but supported through to completion. Pam shares her early experiences as a connected leader and learner, reliving the story of how a teacher came to her and told her about the world of Twitter (quite a difference educational space back then than it is today) and how teachers were learning in new and different ways, and shouldn’t she try it out for herself? Not only did Pam find the value in building those connections and relationships as a leader, but she realized that if her teachers were reaching out and looking to use their newly acquired skills and information to innovate, she’d have to step up as a leader and support the changes in practice that resulted. And how could traditional PD continue to be as effective knowing teachers were crafting their own learning networks and learning anytime, anywhere?

A new school year is upon us. And as Pam reminded school leaders, it’s easy to say no. When I was an elementary school teacher, one of my fifth grade students, an incredibly talented, creative, intelligent, inspiring student, came to me and asked if she could orchestrate a production of The Point to perform for the class. I knew nothing of Harry Nilsson’s work or the storyline of The Point. But this student passionately convinced me that she and her classmates could perform the script she wrote and even I could play a role and we could teach so many life lessons through this performance. She was right. When I examined our daily schedule, I thought, We honestly have no time for this. We don’t have time to rehearse, to obtain props and to set up the stage and oh my goodness what have we done? But I knew, that she knew, that this proposed project was vitally important to her and her learning. So we found the time. We did it. She “did” Genius Hour before Genius Hour was a thing. She led her class through rehearsals, she worked closely with peers, she acquired collaborative, organizational, and social-emotional skills through that process that she would never have learned from whatever I was planning to teach from the curriculum that month. We performed for the school, parents attended, and it continues to be one of my favorite memories of my time as a teacher.

How will you say yes this year? 

P.S. Here are a few other podcasts on my must-listen lineup. What are you listening to?

The Longest Shortest Time

Contrafabulists 

The Creative Classroom

ReLearning

Elise Gets Crafty

Google Teacher Tribe

The 10-Minute Teacher Show

IDEO Futures

 

P.S.S. I drafted this post to almost-completion before this NYT article about edupreneurs and edtech was published. I’m currently trying to wrap my head around it all. I’ll be sharing my thoughts in a future post.

What it’s like to learn alongside you.

High-fives to Google Drawings session participant, Joann at the Garden State Summit ’17!

I love being a consultant. I know that to some educators, consultant is a dirty word. It need not be. As a teacher and principal, I, too, was skeptical of someone from “the outside” coming to our schools and classrooms to show & tell their way into our hearts and minds. In fact, I think I truly connected with and appreciated the work of maybe only a handful of consultants in my time as classroom teacher, coach, and principal. But most days, in this line of work, I leave with a smile on my face, feeling energized and privileged to work with the teachers and school leaders in my midst.

So what do I try to do differently? For one, in my role as Google for Education Certified Trainer, I have the privilege of working with many schools who have established relationships with Google for Education Partner Rich Kiker. This is an advantage for me as a trainer because people trust people, they don’t trust products, or brands, or technologies. They trust that the teachers and leaders sharing ideas and strategies are people who care. Who, down to the core, know that the teachers with whom they work are responsible for children and their learning experiences. I also get to serve schools whose staff members have seen my presentations at conferences, heard of my work through other educational leaders, attended previous professional development sessions I’ve facilitated, or who employed me. (Going “home” to Elanco next week and can’t wait!) My audience usually has an awareness of who I am, what I do, and what I believe in.

Sidenote: I want to share my two cents about people, about educators, and the roles they assume and the career paths they choose. No, I am not currently “in the trenches.” I am a consultant, an adjunct in a higher ed program, and I am a full-time mother to a 4 1/2-yr old son and 18 month old daughter. That is the choice I made, and I couldn’t be more privileged and thrilled to serve in that role. So while we are quick to judge others in the edusphere for the roles they assume or don’t assume, while we celebrate #momsasprincipals and #dadsasprincipals and #peopleasprincipals and #principalsasprincipals and the amount of time they and other groups spend connecting/blogging, there are always reasons why others come and go in these connected educator spaces. I’m sorry, Twitter, and my trusty old blog, but my commitment isn’t to you, not anymore.

Back to business. How can we help? When I start planning to work with a school or team, I generally follow these steps. (Wait, you train in G Suite for Edu. Can’t you just re-use the exact same Google Chrome or Google Drive or Google Classroom slide sets over and over again? No. I can’t. Well, I could. But that would be lousy instruction, now, wouldn’t it?)

  1. Get to know the people! School demographics, leadership, teacher experiences, student populations, grade levels served, community information…. I try to get to know as much as I can about the schools I serve. Another advantage I have as a consultant? I get to share the stories and experiences of other teachers, other districts, other schools with all of the groups I serve. I help connect those who might be existing solely within the walls of their classrooms or schools and who lack diverse and unique perspectives.
  2. What do they already know? What do they want to know? Even if I’m booked for a specific workshop or presentation, I typically like to find out the comfort levels, skillsets, and interests of the people sitting in front of me. Sometimes that happens with a pre-workshop Google Form, sometimes it happens with a quick survey at the start of the day.
  3. Using the info collected, I plan out the agenda for the day. What makes sense, pedagogically, given the needs of the group? How can I infuse as many hands-on and discovery learning opportunities in even the most technical of training sessions? How can I get people talking to one another, sharing ideas, connecting beyond the confines of the walls of the building? What’s great about an agenda, though, is how quickly it can change, how quickly it needs to change, once I’ve developed a better awareness of who is actually in the room. We’ve been known to abandon agendas completely if it becomes clear that it’s not meeting the needs of the participants.
  4. Resources, resources, resources. I share a lot of resources. Sometimes I need to do a better job making them more streamlined in nature, but I publish my session resources and CC license them, encourage teachers to share with their colleagues, and keep the links live for as long as forever. Because I want teachers to have the opportunity to go back and review, revisit, reinvent the things they’re doing in the classroom even after our sessions have ended. There is also a lot of differentiation that goes into my resource and activity planning. I put a lot of faith in the teachers to take ownership of the day. I’m reviewing the basics, but you already know this? Move along in the resource guide or the differentiated design lab I’ve created. Challenge yourself. Look ahead, tinker, build, create… don’t worry about not maintaining eye contact with the presenter, you need to do the work.
  5. I reflect on the effectiveness of my efforts. During the day, I’ll read faces and interpret body language. I’ve been known to call out participants if it seems as though they aren’t being challenged. Tough to do? Yes! But important, because it is very overwhelming to attempt to meet the individual needs of 20, 40, 60, or even 100 participants in the room. At the end of the day, I’ll often share a survey for workshop participants so I know how I can improve my sessions in the future. I won’t lie, sometimes the feedback is tough to read! Overall, though, it has been very encouraging and filled with constructive ideas for how to improve my craft.
  6. I get busy making it better.

I make a lot of mistakes. I am constantly thinking about what I can improve. I think about my ten years as a classroom teacher and cannot believe some of the pedagogies I employed and the strategies I used. It’s all I knew, at the time. I think about my tenure as principal and how now, knowing what I know, I would never approach a disciplinary or teacher evaluation situation in the manner I did. It’s what I knew, at the time. As an instructional coach, I could have done more for certain teachers and sought to work more collaboratively with departments and team members.

We use what we know at the time. And as a consultant, it’s my job to learn alongside you and help us both awaken to the possibilities, so that we can know and do more, in this time.

Shameless plug: Want to work with us? Check out Hilt Consultants and/or comment here and/or tweet me @lynhilt and/or email me anytime lynhilt@gmail.com. Thanks for reading!

The Spaces Where I Learn and Work

This week’s #EdublogsClub prompt asks us to share insights about our learning spaces and processes, including tours of our classrooms, offices, and work spaces.

I smiled when I read it, because I planned to share a bit of news this week via my blog, and that news fortuitously intertwines with this week’s prompt.

I remember my first years of teaching…. “decorating” my classroom was one of my favorite school year preparation activities. I loved sharing inspirational posters, bright colors, inventive bulletin boards, and creating spaces where my students could post and share their own work. Desks were in groups or in pairs or we used tables, and my earliest years of teaching sixth and fifth grades are among my favorites in my career! My classrooms were beyond colorful, beyond cluttered, and if I had the chance to do it over today, I’m sure I’d make some changes.

My 2001 Classroom!

I inherited the principal’s office from my predecessor and it served as a functional workspace. In my second year I decided to move my office to a more central location in the intermediate hallway and this larger space afforded me the chance to personalize it and make it an enjoyable space for kids. The putting green, basketball net, bookshelves filled with kid lit, and beanbag chairs were put to good use! I loved being out of the “main office” area and in the heart of the school.

As an instructional technology coach, I used a desk/counter space/table in the hallway in each of the elementary buildings I served, and my classrooms were the teachers’ classrooms!

Well, the time has come where I no longer have an office in a school, or a classroom space that is my own. For the past year I’ve been on leave from my school district after the birth of our daughter, and last week I submitted my resignation.

While on leave I’ve had the great privilege of developing my skills as a consultant, most notably with Kiker Learning offering Google for Education trainings on a variety of instructional topics to a broad range of participant audiences. Professional development is truly my passion. I absolutely loved that aspect of the principalship: designing… facilitating… watching teachers learn and grow…. and before I moved into administration I enjoyed learning alongside my teaching colleagues.

As anyone who has raised two young children knows, these moments are fleeting. I can’t thank my husband enough for supporting my work in this way and affording me the opportunity to stay home with our babies. Serving as a consultant allows me the flexibility to do so while also continuing to learn and serve schools. It is truly an honor to work with so many dedicated teachers, administrators, students, and staff members across the Northeast. I’m thrilled about what’s next and can’t wait to see where future opportunities take me!

My home has now become a place that needs to support my creativity and productivity, whether it’s at my office desk, in the family room, or at the kitchen bar island. I can say that working from home is one of the most difficult challenges I’ve faced in my career! It’s even more incredible trying to find a home-work balance when your work is often done in your home!

I can’t wait to see the variety of different spaces where I’ll work and learn this year. Every school, classroom, teacher, principal, and student I have the chance to interact with strengthens Maybe it will be in your classroom, school, or district?! 🙂

To learn more about opportunities to learn with me, visit the Hilt Consultants, LLC website or the Work with Me page of my blog.

Thanks for reading!

Constructive conversations

7554741094I recently had the opportunity to use World Cafe for supporting conversation and action with a fine group of educators at the Bucks-Lehigh Edusummit. Ross Cooper was my co-host. Our goal? To discuss how to break from traditional professional development practices to more meaningfully engage teachers in their learning.

I know. We talk about PD and how it doesn’t meet teachers’ needs. We talk about it a lot.

But do we listen? Do we act?

A single conference session is not enough time to fully engage in the World Cafe method, but by modeling its use, we hoped administrators and teacher leaders would leave the session inspired to try the process in their own schools and better engage teacher voices in planning professional learning opportunities.

World Cafe was born in the United States through the work of Juanita Brown and David Isaacs in the early 1990s. From World Cafe’s About Us page:

The World Café (TWC)
Using seven design principles and a simple method, the World Café is a powerful social technology for engaging people in conversations that matter, offering an effective antidote to the fast-paced fragmentation and lack of connection in today’s world. Based on the understanding that conversation is the core process that drives personal, business, and organizational life, the World Café is more than a method, a process, or technique – it’s a way of thinking and being together sourced in a philosophy of conversational leadership.”

The essential elements hosts should include in a World Cafe experience include:

principles
Image via www.theworldcafe.com

After a brief introduction to World Cafe, it was time to identify a question. Defining a “question that matters” is an essential element of World Cafe. A good question has no right or wrong response, evokes emotion, invites inquiry, opens up new possibilities, and perhaps even makes people feel a bit uncomfortable.

Our question for the day:

How do we break from traditional methods of professional development to engage teachers in more passion-based, purposeful professional learning?

We divided into three groups. Each table identified a “table host” who would remain at the table throughout all rotations and inform the next set of participants what the previous group discussed. Timer went up, and the conversations started.

Documentation of learning is important in World Cafe. In our abbreviated version we used digital means to document. One table started a set of Google Slides to share their reflections and others contributed to a shared Google Doc. Given more time in a more formal World Cafe, I would cover the tables in chart or drawing paper and provide markers and other types of artistic media for those who wished to document their learning through doodling or other creative means. Each table’s documentation is then shared out at the end of the cafe in a process known as the Harvest.

Conversations emerged quickly and passionately. Ideas emerge organically from community voices using World Cafe. World Cafe hosts do not facilitate or provide protocols for discussions. World Cafe operates under “recognition of conversation as a core meaning-making process”. I noticed nearly every participant in the room sharing openly in their table groups. It took some longer than others to open up and be comfortable with the format. As I introduced World Cafe, I definitely got a few incredulous looks from teachers who showed up to the session and were perhaps annoyed I wasn’t going to be providing any concrete materials or ideas.

IMG_9638

Some of the conversations included stories about negative experiences with PD, and while I would have preferred things were framed in a more constructive light, I think when we ask people to share their experiences and speak from the heart, they aren’t going to censor out the difficult experiences they’ve had. From one such conversation, a teacher expressed her frustration with being asked to implement initiatives that were hastily rolled out, without teacher input or consideration of whether the new initiatives were really worth teachers’ and students’ time. During the Harvest, she very passionately stated that traditional methods of professional development “do not allow teachers to be creative risk-takers”, and yet that is a quality we seek to instill in our students every day.

Tony Sinanis, my friend and the conference’s keynote, addressed the group as we wrapped and said that he heard everyone discussing the importance of involving teachers in the professional learning process, and in his school, he actually involved students and parents in the process too. Could you imagine if more schools asked children what types of learning experiences they should design for their teachers?

Overall I felt this was a successful session thanks to the willingness of participants to contribute. We received positive feedback from many participants. A middle school principal said he was looking forward to using the technique in his school and another participant said it was the best session she attended thus far. Sometimes our teachers need more than “150 tech tips and tricks” to help them think constructively and innovatively about teaching and learning.

“Talk is cheap”? Perhaps, but if you truly listen to what your constituents need and then you devise a plan of action to address it, that combination of acknowledgment of needs and a willingness to act will help organizations grow.

Resources shared with session participants can be found here.

If you plan professional development opportunities for your organization, consider involving more voices in the process using World Cafe. Have you used World Cafe? Would love for you to share your experiences in the comments!

Coaching and feelings.

Photo by Peter Alfred Hess via Flickr CC
Photo by Peter Alfred Hess via Flickr CC

I’m developing online courses using an LMS I’ve never used to author anything before. I won’t name the LMS, you can probably guess which of those available might be the only one to frustrate me to the point of actual tears. For serious. Tears came out of my eyes.

I found it so counterintuitive, organized in a way that, to me, was overwhelming and confusing and redundant and alarmingly annoying and with every second I was forced to interact with it, I wanted to scream. My blood pressure raised, breathing became faster… I vented to my husband and yes, indeed, he agreed that the platform was frustrating to work with, that it wasn’t just me, and several in my PLN agreed.

But that doesn’t much matter, because I don’t get to choose the tool. The organization does. And the point of this post isn’t to say it’s the right or wrong decision or all instructors should be able to choose their platform because certainly that would create issues with continuity and what not.

For heaven’s sake, I’m a tech coach! I can’t be so easily frustrated by technology! Can I?!

What this experience made me realize is that, beyond having someone show me click-by-click where I needed to go to add elements to my course, beyond accessing the readily available video and screencast tutorials for the LMS, I needed someone to empathize with my situation.

I needed someone to care.

I needed a coach.

A skilled coach can sense that you’re struggling. Can look at the situation and try to understand why. What elements of the situation are causing angst? What skills, if acquired, will help reduce anxiety and lead to success? What strategies can the coach use to simultaneously calm your fears, address your concerns, and enhance your skill set?

Some teachers aren’t open to coaching, not because they wouldn’t appreciate the development, but because they’re not comfortable admitting they’re uncomfortable. They don’t want to let their guards down. We see a teacher who’s reluctant to innovate and we consider them stubborn, traditional, grounded in their ways. What they allow us to see isn’t enough to understand why. We need to know what they’re feeling.

If you’re a teacher struggling, whether it’s with technology integration or with a new instructional strategy, don’t be afraid to communicate honestly about your emotions surrounding the situation. That can only help your coach better design support strategies for you.

If you’re a coach and you don’t acknowledge the feelings of those with whom you work, you’re doing it wrong. The person comes first. Development won’t happen without essential relationship-building.

My increasing frustration working with a new LMS made me realize that when I coach teachers, I need to find out why they’re nervous or reluctant about tech integration, why they’re over-the-top zealous about it, why they display negative feelings about it. Everyone’s past experiences shape them as a teacher, as a learner, as a leader. I know I didn’t always put feelings first in my approach to working with teachers, and I would go back and change some of my strategies if I could.

The real value of a coach is having someone willing to be by your side when the learning gets tough. Whether it’s coach-teacher, teacher-student, admin-teacher, remember to acknowledge the fears, the needs, the aspirations of the person you’re learning alongside.