Blogging with buddies! #ETCoaches

Earlier this year I participated in a few #EdublogsClub blogging challenges to help make writing in this space more of a consistent habit.  I’ve also recently signed on to be part of #ETCoaches Blogging Buddies. What I love about this initiative is that willing edubloggers have been placed in groups with other bloggers looking to form collegial relationships around their blogging efforts.

What I remember most about blogging “back in the day” is that there were many readers: educators of all kind, including classroom teachers, technology specialists, and principals, who flocked to Twitter each week to share and comment on one another’s thoughts. Most of this was shared via the #cpchat and #edchat hashtags. Comment threads were a mile long. We faithfully organized and checked our Google Reader feeds and reading and commenting was part of our daily routines.

Why blog? Cory Doctorow, 2002:

Blogging begets blogging. I blog because I’m in the business of locating and connecting interesting things. Operating a popular blog gives people an incentive to approach me with interesting things of their own devising or discovery, for inclusion on Boing Boing. The more I blog, the more of these things I get, as other infovores toss choice morsels over my transom. The feedback loop continues on Boing Boing’s message boards, where experts and amateurs debate and discuss the stories I’ve posted, providing depth and context for free, fixing the most interesting aspects of the most interesting subjects even more prominently in my foremind.

Over time those to read lists of RSS feeds became long and tangled and messy and we didn’t pay enough attention to what was being shared, how it was applicable to our roles and schools, and it became more and more difficult to keep up.

The digital spaces that educators flock to today are very different than those from the early days of “connected educators.” There are so many more voices, and diverse perspectives present that were not well-represented before. This is good. But what it requires is a consistent and pervasive effort to think critically, time manage, publish, and give back in order to read and use what’s being shared in digital spaces in constructive ways.

This is easier said than done. Depending on your role, your life, and responsibilities outside of education, you perhaps don’t have time to compose and post to a blog regularly, let alone dedicate time to reading and commenting. My blogging life is very different now than it was before I had kids. Priorities shift and time spent online diminishes (for good reason!) and I consider myself lucky when I stumble upon a gem of a blog post that is worth sharing via Twitter or when I read one that truly moves me enough to sit down and concentrate and compose and share a comment.

The Blogging Buddies guidelines are simple:

  • Blog at least once per month.
  • Offer feedback in the form of blog comments to all others in your group on at least one of their posts per month.
  • Practice best digital citizenship. Discourse is encouraged, rudeness is not allowed. It is okay to disagree with one another (how else will we grow?), but this should ultimately be an encouraging experience. If you find yourself getting heated on any particular topic, remember the LARA method- Listen (or read, in our case), Affirm, Respond, Add.

Check out the links below to visit the blogs of the buddies in my group! I’m sure they’d love to hear from you. Also be sure to follow the blogging buddies list on Twitter to read the latest and greatest from a dedicated group of blogging professionals.

Robin – Pence Passion

Susan – Susan Zanti’s Blog

Rachel – Tech from the Trenches

Erin – Reflections in Tech

What have you been reading? What have you been writing? It’s not too late to join #ETCoaches Blogging Buddies!

I see teachers who…

In my consulting role I have the opportunity to work with teams of teachers, administrators, and on occasion push into classrooms to work with students. Recently I’ve been working with K-2 teachers and students who are learning to craft digital stories on the iPad, using apps such as Book Creator, Scribble Press, GarageBand and iMovie. This initiative came about as the result of an eventual shift in curriculum away from an adopted (textbook/series-based) literacy program to one that is more project-based and technology-infused. A grant was written to obtain the iPads and to fulfill the grant, teachers are working with students to publish a variety of digital storytelling projects that demonstrate their creativity and ideas learned.

Each class has achieved a different level of proficiency using the apps and story publication. This is due to the varying age level and developmental level of students, for sure, but it’s also due to the mindset and willingness of the teacher to embrace this initiative and the resources she has been given.

So what did I see, and what have I seen through both my district coaching and principal roles,  in classrooms where technology use has been embraced?

I see teachers as learners. I see teachers who:

  • Make the time. They examine what they’re currently doing: the books they’re reading, the activities and projects students are completing, and they think: how can technology enhance and transform these projects? How can we change what we’re doing instead of add on one more thing? 
  • Have routines and procedures in place, especially for collaborative projects and times when teamwork is expected. Student roles are established and clearly defined. Management is evident, which in turn leads to students being able to lead, learn, resolve conflicts, and create in an environment with fewer distractions.
  • Plan. Anyone who has ever tried to incorporate technology meaningfully into the classroom and who has tried to “wing it” knows it can be less than successful. Know the purpose. Use with intent. (And perhaps your students will unveil a purpose you perhaps never before considered…)
  • Model. These teachers get hands on. They create! They’re not afraid to tinker, not only during their own professional learning sessions, but in front of a student audience, allowing them to observe what it’s like to try something new.
  • Have high expectations for project performance. In my digital storytelling workshops I emphasize the importance of students making meaning, not just making media. Bernajean Porter is a key resource for anyone looking to ensure meaningful content and idea development through digital project work!
  • Learn alongside students. It’s so encouraging as a coach to see a teacher who sits down with a student or a group of students and taps, swipes, creates, questions, and troubleshoots alongside his little learners.
  • Showcase student work. One teacher in particular was so enthused with her students’ creations and couldn’t wait to have them share their projects with me. These teachers find a way to make sure their student voices are heard. Publishing to an authentic audience is a great way to do so. In addition, they utilized the sharing features from each app to publish to Google Drive and share with parents and families via links. Another group’s publications will be shared with local pediatricians’ offices as waiting room reading material!
  • Embrace the noise. Learning is messy. Collaboration can be loud. Conflict resolution is a pretty intense process that rarely involves whispering. Movement to different learning spaces throughout the day is not the quietest of activities. Find ways to help your students thrive in the busiest of environments.
  • Ask for help and actively seek out resources to learn more. Not every teacher I’ve worked with in a coaching capacity is comfortable asking for help. They’re very fixed in their methods and they have a very narrow focus: teach the written curriculum, the way it has traditionally been taught. When a teacher (or principal or coach) asks for help and embarks on a journey to learn more, see more, do more, think differently… kids win.

What am I missing? What do you see when working with innovative teachers and learners?

 

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!

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.

 

Reconsidering what’s “required”

Busy student bloggers. Blogging isn’t “required”… should we make time for it?

Recently I read a post by my friend Bill Ferriter titled Making Room for Uncertainty in the Required Curriculum

Bill shares this article that states that instruction centered on facts has largely failed our students. Teachers are handed required curricula, complete with scope and sequence, and in some schools teachers are expected to teach lesson A on day 1 and lesson B on day 2 and continue onward and upward and they’d better make sure they cover everything that’s expected to be covered. This approach leaves some kids in the dust and fails to challenge others. And it completely overwhelms teachers. I tackled that in a post years ago.

The top form of resistance I encounter as an instructional technology coach when trying to urge teachers to consider the use of more inquiry or project-based, technology-infused activities in their classrooms is their fear of losing time and therefore not being able to cover the required curriculum.

Bill, a teacher in practice, tells it like it is:

If moments of genuine discovery are going to make their way into my classroom, something has to give — and that ‘something’ is going to end up being content that is currently listed in my ‘required’ curriculum.

As a former principal, I’d prefer to stumble upon those moments of “genuine discovery” in my classrooms rather than check a teacher’s lesson plans to ensure they’re on track to cover required curriculum. Not all leaders share that mentality, however. Because standards and testing and accountability. What if a teacher gives her students the freedom to spend time blogging in class, but her students’ mid-term reading proficiency scores aren’t any better than any other students’ scores? Should they carry on? Do we stop to consider the “untestable” impact of their blogging practices? Their connections to other classes and cultures worldwide? Their constantly improving writing practices and the digital citizenship skills learned? Perhaps the principal is concerned because due to blogging, these students are losing time completing the lessons of the prescribed language arts curriculum. But if we’re not inspiring and challenging our kids and allowing them to make important discoveries leading to enduring understandings, then “covering” curriculum doesn’t much matter, does it?

The comments on Bill’s post also made me ponder our ready access to information and how we find it and use it. We’ve all heard the “If you can Google the answer, it’s not a good question” argument and “If kids can look up the answers online to cheat, then it’s not a good assessment” line. Perhaps, although every question and every assessment has its own context worth considering. David Jakes goes on to reply that he uses Google to answer questions every single day, which allows him to better understand the work he’s doing. And, as David says, they shouldn’t be the only questions we’re asking, but they help us make connections that lead to bigger understandings.  I have to agree.

Sometimes I think teachers quickly email a colleague or submit a help desk ticket to tech support or their instructional coach without pausing to think, The resources I need to answer this question are readily available to me. I can find the answer to this. 

I want to tell them: Google it. Seriously. I can’t tell you how many times I received a query for help, I typed the exact question into Google, and seconds later the answer was listed for me in step-by-step format. Next I’d relay this information to the inquirer either by linking to the answer online or by summarizing it. In the time it took the staff member to compose an email with their question, they could have conducted online research to find the answer themselves.

Would the learning be more powerful if the teacher or administrator conducted the search on his own? Struggled through the process a little? Discovered new venues through which to answer questions?

I think so. And we’d be modeling something powerful for our students. I hear teachers complain constantly that our kids stink at Google searches… are we any better?

Would it take more time? Perhaps. What I think many don’t realize is that “tech savvy” folks aren’t tech savvy because they are born that way. They devote themselves as learners first. The learning is hands-on and minds-on. They’ve Googled. They’ve trial and error-ed their way through developing blogs and learning the ins and outs of Google Drive and have connected with other educators to make sure they surround themselves with people who are smart and willing to share. And much of these learned content and skills are not “required.”

The freedom to veer from the required curriculum requires administrators who believe in their teachers’ abilities to learn alongside their students and to roll with it… to identify students’ needs and passions and provide them with the FREEDOM to learn. A curriculum is great, it’s neat, it can serve, when well-written, as a guide for teachers to help students know and understand important content. But we can’t expect our teachers to innovate given the constraints we’ve placed them under. It’s very possible to provide this type of freedom while still maintaining high expectations for learning. I’d wager you may even have some happier, less-stressed teachers and students on your hands. #eduwin

I will continue to ponder how we can best free teachers and students from the constraints of what’s “required” to provide conditions better suited for innovation… would love to hear your thoughts on how you’ve made this happen in your schools!


P.S. I’m on leave from my tech coaching position this semester, blessed with the opportunity to keep a new, tiny human nourished and entertained while simultaneously giving her older brother the exact same amount of love he had in his pre-baby-sister-days and maintaining some semblance of an organized household. #supermomma

Given those responsibilities I still can’t stop reading and connecting and learning, it’s a curse. I’ll also continue consulting and presenting and webinaring so be sure to contact me if you and your organization are looking for an energetic, passionate learner and leader!

Some thoughts on rotational learning.

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Oh, hey, blog. How you been?

One of the things I enjoy most about reading others’ blogs and tweets and Google+ postings is that I get a glimpse into what other schools and classrooms are up to. In the tech coaches world, there are plenty of fascinating things being shared and a lot of important questions being asked as we start the new school year. I thought I’d write a bit about rotational learning.

Rotational what-now?

Yes.

Our district has embarked on another year of implementing the PA Hybrid Learning Initiative. In its initial stages, we implemented the model in middle school classrooms, and last year we piloted in grades 1 and 6 in our three elementary schools. This year we’ve expanded to grades 2-5.

We decided as a district to refer to it as “rotational learning,” rather than hybrid learning, since that term can invoke feelings of tech-dominated learning environments, and we’d prefer not to think of the model in that way.

Rotational learning is, quite simply, a method of managing a classroom in three learning stations, through which students rotate during a block of time. For us, at the elementary level, it’s during Language Arts (120 minutes) and Math (90 minutes) blocks.

Direct Instruction – The teacher meets with a small group of students who have been grouped according to their academic data and delivers a lesson targeted to their needs.

Collaborative Station – Students work with one or more peers on an activity or project. This collaborative project usually builds upon content learned during direct and/or asks students to problem solve and work through concepts they’ll be learning in their direct group. It likely also incorporates content from science and social studies.

Independent Station – Students work independently on a learning task, including interacting with digital content providers.

Friends, this isn’t earth shattering. It’s not new. Especially in elementary-land. (It’s been marketed well. Districts in our state are all over it. Because education. Because edtech. Because profits.) We know the power of small group instruction, because we recognize value in establishing personal connections with kids and designing instruction to best meet their needs. This model attempts to provide a framework to organize the rotations and help districts understand how to organize the use of the technology they’ve provided to classrooms. (I do believe it is causing more a shift in what instruction looks like in our secondary classrooms, and I do believe it’s making a positive impact.)

One summer a few years ago, it was announced our intermediate students would be 1:1, and the laptop carts showed up in classrooms, with no preparation or teacher development on what a 1:1 learning environment looks like. Those laptops remained in the carts for quite some time. No one is comfortable handing out devices to every student in the room and expecting magic to happen. Many schools are encountering similar scenarios. The devices are coming in… now what do we do with them? What should we do with them?

We are very fortunate that we are able to provide a variety of technologies for student and teacher use. We also try to provide “people” support.

  • Kindergarten classes have a COW (computer cart on wheels) to share, some buildings have access to a computer lab.
  • Grades 1 and 2 – 1:1 Chromebooks, expanding to grades 3-4 in years to follow
  • Grades 3-6 – 1:1  PC Laptops
  • Our teachers have laptops and classrooms have Polyvision interactive boards and audio-visual setups.
  • We use content providers and services such as ST Math, Achieve 3000, Reading Eggs, Raz Kids, Edublogs, GAFE, IXL, and Defined STEM.
  • We have a large technical support staff, and this year one technician is stationed directly in each elementary school, which has been fantastic. We have an elementary tech coach (me, I rotate among three buildings) and a secondary tech coach who serves grades 7-12.
  • We contract with our local IU to provide days of coaching to every elementary team each month. This looks like the IU coach spending time in classrooms, talking with teachers and kids, providing feedback to teachers, helping them brainstorm ideas for projects and activities and brainstorm solutions to issues that arise.

What are we finding? (These are my thoughts from an elementary perspective).

Rotational learning #wins:

  • Reduction in the amount of whole-group instruction time. Does whole group instruction have value? Of course it does. But to use it all day, every day… you might as well guarantee  you’re losing 50% or more of your kids as you enter your 8th minute of lecture. And does every student in the room need to hear the content you’re sharing in whole group every lesson, every time? Not likely.
  • Allows for teacher flexibility with how the model looks, based on the needs of their classroom. This may mean adding a fourth or fifth rotation (some teachers add a Writing station, some actually do 6 rotations for shorter periods of time to keep things moving along). Our teachers are champs at this. They’re not feeling pigeon-holed by a model, they know their kids best, and they’re making it work for the students in front of them each day.
  • Lots of motion. No one is sitting still for 45-60 minutes at a time.
  • Students take ownership over schedules, transitions, roles they play, and their assigned devices. Many teachers incorporate leadership roles for kids like “computer captains” and “switcher” to help keep everything running smoothly in the classroom.
  • Requires thought into how technology is used in the classroom. What role will it play during direct instruction? During collaborative projects? How will students engage independently? How will we know if it’s making a difference?
  • Realizing that collaboration is hard. Kids (and adults) don’t inherently know how to be productive members of a team. This means that we spend time teaching accountable talk, establishing group roles, modeling positive group interactions, teaching kids how to problem solve and resolve conflicts in a group, and more.
  • Incorporate a coaching model to support teachers through this process. Preferably, use coaches that have classroom teaching experience as well as instructional technology integration experience.
  • There are no pull-out groups for kids. All instruction happens in the general education classroom. Support specialists, Title teachers, learning support teachers, etc. run intervention groups and specially designed instruction in the classroom. (This is actually the model we moved to before using rotational learning.)

Rotational learning #fails:

  • When differentiation doesn’t happen. When the same direct instruction lesson is being taught to three different groups that contain kids with varying needs.
  • When no thought is given to the work happening in Independent, but rather content providers are just used as glorified babysitters. Similarly, when a teacher does not use data from said content providers to plan instruction.
  • Teachers and admin who are uncomfortable with noise. Quality collaborative stations are busy, busy places. Filled with conversations. Of course student voices need not overpower the voice of the teacher who is delivering direct instruction, but please let the children talk.
  • Admin who micromanage. Consider that this model requires teachers to triple+ the amount of planning they do to ensure they meet the needs of a diverse group of students. Let’s not nitpick the way we require them to write and format lesson plans.
  • Failure to incorporate student choice and voice into rotation activities.
  • Not involving parents and community members. Parents hear “hybrid,” parents hear “1:1,” parents think their 6-yr-old is sitting in front of a laptop all day, every day. (Hopefully) not the case.
  • Thinking that because we’re using the rotational learning model and our classrooms are 1:1, we’re doing something innovative.
  • Not providing teachers with enough collaborative planning time, or, failure of teams to capitalize on the common planning time that IS available in their schedules. Planning for rotational learning is no small undertaking. You need each other.

As with all initiatives, the majority of successes we experience with rotational learning can be attributed directly to the teacher and his ability to effectively plan, co-plan, instruct, create, assess, and manage. Teacher feedback has ranged from “this is so great, it makes the day go quickly, I love seeing students in small groups so often,” to “this is too overwhelming, we don’t have enough time to plan for collaborative,” etc. Students definitely seem to enjoy the variety it brings to the day, and our preliminary data indicates that we are helping our students make appropriate academic gains.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on rotational learning or similar and the types of things you’re experiencing and learning as you work with your students!

 

 

Blogs and Smores and Texts, Oh My!

This summer I worked on solidifying the ways in which I communicate with my staff to support their learning. As an instructional technology coach who works in three elementary schools with 100+ staff, digital communication is essential. I can’t be in every school every day, and I certainly don’t have the luxury of face time with all of my teachers on a consistent basis. Now in my third year of coaching, I feel like I have established a communication plan that is going to work well for us. I will keep tweaking and evaluating the effectiveness of what I share, but here are some ways I’ve going to reach out and stay connected with my staff this year:

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Elementary Instructional Technology Blog – This Edublogs site (our district uses Edublogs K-12) is my main hub for communication. A place where I share resources weekly, house content provider and device tutorials and must-knows for teachers, and link to other important spaces and places like our @elancoelem Twitter and Pinterest feeds. Whenever I receive an email question re: “How do I do this?” or “What are the login credentials for that?”, the answer is almost always found in this space. I encourage teachers to subscribe by email, and although I don’t email blast every post I write, I do, on occasion, email the elementary staff en mass with a link to a blog post that I feel is beneficial to everyone.

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The Google – This summer I published a 2015-16 Elementary Tech Updates Google doc, shared internally via GAFE. I utilized Google Doc’s Table of Contents feature to allow teachers to jump to topics of interest and it helped better organize the updates. Did every staff member read it? I’m not sure, but there’s pertinent information there that they’ll definitely need to know before starting the year. If I receive a question that’s answered on the doc, I’ll reference it and make sure teachers know how to access it and to read it as soon as possible. I’ve used Google Drive shared folders to share unit or lesson resources easily with teams, teachers, and administrators, and I’ll use Google Classroom with staff to support some asynchronous professional learning opportunities this year. In addition, since our elementary schools run on a common schedule, we’re going to to utilize Google Hangouts during common planning times so I can meet virtually with two schools while I’m physically meeting with the third, allowing a PD session to expand to all three buildings and not limit the learning to where I am physically stationed. We’re hoping this platform inspires our teachers to reach out to one another across building lines more often! The secondary tech coach and I also use Google Forms to ask teachers to self-evaluate on the Spartan Digital Competencies we’ve developed, and to set goals for the year in instructional tech integration. This allows us to better focus our coaching efforts.
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Smore – I fell in love with Smore’s easy to use interface and designs for creating interactive flyers a few years ago, and I’ve been using them to create Tech Tidbits to share on the elem tech blog and through social media channels. I plan to continue using Smore to share resources I find while browsing online. Its ability to easily incorporate text, photos, videos, and links, as well as share via link or embed code, makes it a no-brainer choice for me to spice up my communications!

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Remind – My first experience with Remind (then Remind 101) was about five years ago when I was elementary principal, and we signed up for the service to announce weather-related closings and delays to staff, eliminating the need for a clunky phone chain. (No one wants to answer the phone at 5 AM on a potential snow day!) I loved that it was opt-in, that there was no exchange of phone numbers or email addresses, and that it was dead simple to communicate quickly with a large number of people. I didn’t consider using it to support professional learning until Kyle Pace shared his strategy of connecting with conference participants to continue sharing resources with his Kyle’s GAFE Tips & Resources class. What a great idea! I love receiving Kyle’s updates via text. I read a lot on my mobile device, and it’s simple to access his shared links, be inspired, and save them to spaces where I can access later.

This year I’ll use the Mrs. Hilt’s Tech Tidbits class to share resources, tips and tricks via Remind. Join us! Here are the instructions to join my class:

Screen Shot 2015-08-06 at 9.05.18 AMHere’s the full set of directions if you’d prefer to subscribe via email. I plan to start sending updates once the school year begins later this month, and I promise not to bombard the system!

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Wired Wednesdays – This year I’m offering after-school, hour-long professional learning sessions on a variety of tech topics. Since the elementary has a limited amount of common planning time devoted to instructional tech PD, I’m hoping teachers will take advantage of these sessions and join me for some fun Wednesday afternoons!

Along with face-to-face team meetings and check-ins with teachers, I’m hoping these digital communication strategies will help inspire my teachers and provide them with the resources they need to successfully use technology to support student learning!

How will you communicate with staff and your school community this year?

Whats and whys and whos and hows.

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The first two weeks of school have been a whirlwind. I think typically that is the case, no matter what role you play in education. But I also think the beginning of the school year is the time when you and your students, your faculties and administrators, deserve to exist in a calm enough state of mind that you can start to build key relationships with one another in order to create the strongest possible start to the school year.

In the world of educational technology, when things are implemented without thorough planning, with inconsistent procedures, and with little thought to how things will impact actual classroom practices and the lives of teachers and students, you run the risk of raining on the parade of the eager teachers and students who are bustling with excitement and giddy energies the first few weeks of school, not to mention completely stressing everyone out.

I’m not interested in rehashing the specifics of the types of hiccups we’re encountering as we embark on several new adventures in adding new content providers, changing the way we manage rosters and accounts in certain systems, and attempt to provide professional development to teachers. Every school system in the midst of changes and new implementations is going to hit some rough patches. But there are definitely some essential elements of the planning and implementation process that, if neglected, can lead to major frustrations for all educators and students involved. These are the things I’ve been reflecting on this week.

This post is not going to contain a textbook-style list here’s-what-to-do-when-you’re-a-school-leader-in-charge-of-planning-stuff.

Rather it contains a common-sense-just-stop-and-think-about-what-you’re-doing-for-one-second kind of a list.

Questions to ask yourself when you decide to implement a new instructional technology initiative (or any initiative, really) in your district, school, classroom, or school community:

What do you plan to accomplish?

Have a clear goal. Have a purpose. It should be actionable.

Why?

Make sure that purpose is connected to an actual need in the world of teaching and learning. Not just in your mind- in reality, according to established needs of your district, schools, classrooms. You should probably consult with people who are in the “trenches” to find out what those needs truly are. There should probably be some kind of established system for doing so.

Who is going to be involved?

Think beyond yourself, your department. Who is going to be impacted by this implementation? ON EVERY LEVEL? Who’s going to have to deal with the fall out if things don’t go smoothly? Whose learning lives are going to be impacted? Whose voices should be included in the planning, implementation, and evaluation stages? Who will be encouraged to speak freely if things are not going well? Who will be celebrated when things do go well?

How?

How will the goal be accomplished? What steps will be taken to ensure ts are crossed and is are dotted? What’s the timeline, and is it realistic? Or are things going to be sprung on teachers/students/admin at the last minute? How are problems going to be addressed in a streamlined, timely manner? How are all of your stakeholders going to know that they will be supported throughout the change and implementation process? How are ideas and implementations going to be communicated? How is the effectiveness of the initiative going to be evaluated?

Yes, take risks. Yes, try new and exciting things every single day, and don’t be afraid to make mistakes. But think carefully about the whats, whys, whos, and hows, and how every decision we make ultimately impacts one, two, five, twenty, hundreds, and potentially thousands of other educators, students, and school community members.

 

Photo Credit: appropos via Compfight cc

The first year.

Image via icanread
Image via icanread

This year marked the fifteenth (gak!) in my career in education, so it’s nice that I still have the opportunity to reflect upon firsts. As time passes, many of us transition into new and exciting roles, and the 13-14 school year was one of those for me.

I accepted the position of elementary instructional technology integrator for our district after my son was born last school year. I had no desire to attempt to balance the demands of new motherhood with the likely-more-insane-and-less-fun demands of being an elementary principal, so I resigned at the end of my maternity leave. (People often ask me if I miss administration. That is a terribly phrased question. I do not miss administration. Do I miss being the principal? Every now and then. I miss kid time and -some- decision-making authority.)

My current role is to support the teachers and students of three elementary schools in our district. I have a “base” in each of the three schools, and spend my work days each week traveling to the three buildings. I commute a decent distance so I will say one of the lows of this position is all of the driving that is involved. I dislike commuting immensely, so I need to devise a plan to make that time more worthwhile. Perhaps a Voxer podcast? 🙂 I also end up schlepping around my belongings from place to place, thus my cart and I have become intimately acquainted this year. (And for the record, I really need one of these. Cords are pesky.)

To guide my reflections on this year, I’m using some questions shared by Elena Aguilar in her collection of coaching tools  (also check out her post, Reflecting on a Year of Learning for more great tips on the reflection process). I uploaded her Questions for reflecting on a year of learning document here in Google Drive for you to access. It’s available in Word in her post.

My reflections go a little something like this.

This Year

This year I crafted the role of the elementary tech integrator kind of from scratch, as it did not previously exist in our district, although my job description mirrored that of our secondary tech integrator. I spent time getting to know the teachers and students at each building. I made sure certain online accounts were up and running, such as those for Kidblog and Qwertytown. I devoted a good deal of time to curating and sharing resources. I used Google Forms for record keeping purposes, to easily track the grade levels, teachers, students and teams I worked with, as well as the different topics and tools that I coached/provided tutorials and/or direct instruction. My summary of responses indicated that I spent a lot of time working with grades 3-6 and less time in the primary grades. Reflecting on that, our Grades 4-6 students learn in a 1:1 setting and therefore have more opportunities for fluent tech use on a daily basis, where the primary classes typically share devices and/or utilize the computer labs for project work. Google Apps for Ed accounts begin in grade 3, and I completed numerous lessons and push-in support for students and teachers on GAFE topics this year. I worked 1:1 with a number of teachers, supporting their classroom endeavors, and also with specific grade levels supporting needs as requested. I had the opportunity to push into a grade five classroom during their Genius Hour project work time for a handful of hours, and the students really inspired me with their questions, thinking, and project work! Also this year I finalized the K-6 technology integration framework that is built on ISTE Standards for Students, and I worked with the secondary tech integrator, the mighty Tim, to write Spartan Digital Competencies for Teachers based on ISTE Standards for Teachers. This will be used in conjunction with our teacher evaluation system to provide teachers with the opportunity to set goals and make plans to integrate technology meaningfully into their practice and classroom activities. I worked through the Common Sense Media scope and sequence and instructed students in grades 3-6 on various lessons from that framework, and also met with our computer lab personnel to help them roll out these lessons in their settings as well. Throughout the year I developed and presented sessions during our elementary in-service days. We learned more about blogging with students, incorporating Google Drive into classroom activities, digital storytelling projects, and formative assessment with digital tools. Tim and I co-planned the end of year “Tech Day” for all K-12 staff, which was held on the last day of school. We received some really positive feedback about the structure of the day and the sessions offered! I also ended up assuming the role of overseeing some of the district’s social media channels.

I’d like to think I made a positive impact this first year. I noticed an increase in use of many of the digital tools our district offers, and I received some complimentary feedback on a personal level from a number of teachers. That being said, I didn’t reach as many people as I could have. I didn’t “push” enough and perhaps didn’t make myself as available as possible. My hope is that now that my position is well established, folks will think of me sooner than later next year, and eagerly ask for my input and help when needed. What I learned about adult learners is that they want relevant, timely resources. They want to be coached in a way that does not belittle them or make them feel as though the skills they already have are not important. Teachers will not plan to use technology/devices/tools that are unreliable. There is nothing more defeating than getting psyched up to take a risk and try something new in your classroom, and then have a huge fail: device fail, network fail, battery fail, whatever. What I learned about students is that they want to talk about their digital interactions and their lives using technology. Even our youngest learners are using technology in ways that can be powerful, yet many are subscribed to services and using apps and platforms that are collecting their data and using their personally identifiable information, and they’re doing so without a parent’s permission or without some adult in their life looking over their activities. That makes me nervous and further solidifies to me that we, as educators, need to model for our students what it means to be a critical, wise, healthy, and kind consumer and creator in the digital age.

As I spent a lot of time locating, curating, and sharing resources for my teachers and school community, I can share evidence such as my Elementary Tech Integrator blog, Tech Tidbits issues made on Smore, and family newsletters. I also created instructional materials to accompany the Common Sense Media digital citizenship lessons we taught in grades 3-6 and became a Common Sense Media Certified Educator this year. I presented with some of our district support staff at a Title 1 parent conference at our IU to share family-focused digital citizenship resources.

In the connected edusphere, I had the opportunity to write a chapter for an upcoming Learning Forward publication, presented at FETC, PETE & C, and several webinars for Simple K-12. I facilitated another successful Educational Leadership in the Digital Age course for PLP (hoping to run another section in the fall, if you’re interested!) and next year I am slated to attend and present at Edscape, the Learning Forward conference, and integratED PDX.

This Summer

Truthbomb: this summer I am going to spend a lot of time with my ridiculously handsome and personable toddler and family and a lot of time at the beach! My position is a teacher contracted position and thus I am no longer a 12-month employee. I am scheduled to work a handful of days in the summer months, which will include

  • Attending IU13’s e-Learning Revolution conference next week, presenting on digital age professional development on day 2 and the Bucks-Lehigh Edusummit in August to share about elem. tech integration
  • Providing a day of training for staff with our new district blogs through Edublogs/Campuspress!
  • Continuing to update the Elem Tech Integrator blog and sharing resources with staff
  • Working with our grades 1 and 6 teams who are transitioning to a hybrid instructional model next year
  • Reading Invent to Learn and putting some ideas together for an elementary makerspace
  • Continuing to moderate the Instructional Technology Integrators and Coaches Google+ community
  • Capturing family moments in thousands of photos and videos, using Day One to journal our special time together, and working on my Project Life 2014 album

No matter what your role this year, take some time to reflect. You’ll be surprised at how this process allows you to see how much you’ve learned, the ways in which you contributed to your learning community, and the things you need to do to improve and grow professionally to make an even more lasting impact in years to come. This post is certainly worthy of a TLDR tag, and I know I didn’t articulate all of the ways in which I served my district this year, but this reflective process is truly a powerful one.

In my next post, I’ll tackle the final two sections of Aguilar’s reflection guide: what I hope to accomplish come August/Fall and Next School Year. Stay tuned!

Technology tidbits.

3502028224_d19df4870e“So, how do you like your new job?”

In the two weeks since I’ve been “officially” back to work, I have been asked that question over a dozen times by colleagues. Teachers, principals, central office staff, parents.

Well, truth be told. I kind of love it.

The first week of the school year was dizzying. In a good way. I’ve already learned some lessons about the role of the instructional coach and the ways in which we use technology to support learning. Here are a few tidbits that have been on my mind.

1. The more devices the merrier? Not quite.  Our grades 4-6 are 1:1 this year and our primary students have access to a ton of devices. Lucky us! However, with more devices come more headaches. Java incompatibility/updates/whatever. Desktop shortcuts pointing to the wrong URL for a site-based program. Upgrades to a new early learning system caused teachers to be unsure how to manage it. Newly enrolled students without access to key accounts. Entire labs freezing up when attempting to get online (via Internet Explorer, so.) These things will happen, and do happen, in schools everywhere. My takeaway here is that our technicians look like they have been run over by a bus during the last few weeks of summer and the first few weeks of school. If you’re going to increase the number of devices and services on your campus, you’d better be prepared to increase the amount of support personnel. Otherwise, you will frustrate the teachers, students, and administrators who expect to work with functioning devices and services.

2.  Email is the devil. In my opinion, it’s just not a great way to communicate. Threaded email is even worse. I sent a few mass emails during the first two weeks of school to communicate some issues common to all three schools, and it was like my emails self-destructed a second after they were opened by recipients. The administrators and I continued to get a multitude of emails asking questions that were answered in my proactive attempts at communication. I continue to send my teachers to our elementary instructional tech blog (a work in progress), in the hopes it will serve as the central hub for our teaching and learning efforts this year, thus eliminating the need for 50 emails about how so-and-so can’t access what’s-it-called. And let’s just all take a moment to remember that writing something in all-caps and/or boldface doesn’t make me pay more attention to your message. It hurts my ears. And feelings.

3. There’s probably a reason why your tech department is asking you to submit a work order. When I was a building principal, and I had a tech issue, I emailed the tech supervisor. I didn’t stop to consider that there were probably 100 other people doing that as well. (See #2.) I did it because I wanted an immediate response and action to be taken. I know everyone who has a tech issue feels that exact same way. This year I’m in a role where I’m not a member of the technology department, but I can help teachers with technical issues that arise. While my instinct is still to email technicians my questions so I can quickly get an answer in order to most efficiently help staff, I’ve come to realize that it’s important for us to submit formal work orders. The help desk system is designed to track, monitor, and assign work tasks to technicians. If we skip around that step, the system begins to break down. So as much as it’s a pain to log onto yet another portal to access yet another site and fill out yet another form, it’s necessary. Would I rather have access to the technicians on Google chat 100% of the workday? Yes.

4. Plan, plan, plan.  Then, backup plan. Due to an issue on Pearson’s end (so we’ve been told- we’re still waiting for our Successnet issues to be remedied -anyone from Pearson technical support reading this?), our teacher and student access to the online literacy program portal is not yet up and running. Heading into our third week of school, teachers had already planned to access the portal and use a number of the resources there. Now unavailable, teachers have to resort to plan B. Perfectionists all, it’s difficult to plan for the use of technology, have it fail you, and then buck up and try again when things have been remedied. You lose a little faith each time that happens.

5. Those who take initiative reap rewards. Since the first day of school, I’ve worked in the classrooms of about ten different teachers across the district. Some eagerly invited me in to teach a lesson about quality blog commenting and others asked for modeling the use of Google docs and helping their kids get acclimated to the tools. They asked for my help without hesitation, and I could tell they spent a lot of time over the summer or at the start of the year prepping their students and preparing themselves to include technology in the daily business of the classroom. They were brave in the face of challenges and accepted what they did not know. These teachers will serve as the leaders for their colleagues moving forward and will no doubt allow their students to make the most out of their learning experiences supported by tech. I’ve had initial conversations with teachers who want to integrate technology in more meaningful ways this year, but they feel absolutely swamped at this point. My role will be to support them where they are, all the while gently nudging…

6. Relationships rule. I still haven’t met face-to-face all of the new teachers I’ll be working with this year, but when I’m in the buildings I try to say hello and as unobtrusively as possible, let people know I’m here for them!

7. There is still a lot of fear. It must be difficult to relinquish control. We have a classroom management/monitoring program to assist in the computer labs and the classrooms with laptop carts. I think for some teachers, the most exciting aspect of this is that they can blank the students’ screens and/or “control” what they’re doing at certain times to ensure they’re giving their fullest attention where it is due. Where is the attention due? Shouldn’t our attention be given to them? Here’s an idea. Plan well and engage your kids. Deal individually with the students who having difficulty using the technology to support their learning. Don’t focus on “locking down” an entire class as an attempt to have its undivided attention. I appreciate that we have tools to help monitor students’ use in order to keep them safe. I just don’t think we need to be all Big Brother-y about it.

8. Kids are the best. Kids are so great. I really missed my students. It’s been so fantastic seeing their faces. They are so much taller than they were when I went out on leave! I am also enjoying meeting some new kiddos at the other two schools where I now work. I love watching kids in the computer labs. Did you ever watch a kindergarten student try to work a mouse? It’s clear who has a mouse on their computer at home, and who uses Mom’s iPad/iPhone/tablet/trackpad/swipey device. Did you ever watch a six-year-old attempt to login to a computer with some ridiculous username like Gard3485 and an even more ludicrous password of GSKDG7485? Did you ever hear kids laugh out loud or sing along to a game while they’re wearing their headphones, oblivious to what’s going on around them? Adorbs.

9. I don’t miss administrative meetings.

10. I have a lot to learn. There’s so much I want to learn this year. I’m excited about our county technology integrators meeting coming up next week, held monthly throughout the year. (Thanks for organizing, Ken!) I really want to dive into some of the coaching academy courses from ISTE.  I continue reading some great posts and conversations in the instructional technology integrators/coaches Google+ community. I’ll keep tweeting and perusing chats and reading blogs. Hopefully I’ll get to some conferences like Edscape and Educon to connect with some smart folks. I started some lessons in Codecademy. I have a pile of books to read and blog about.

What have you learned with the start of your new school year? 

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