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!

About a community.

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Last week at IntegratED in Portland (a conference filled with crazy-inspiring people, blog post on that coming soon), I had the chance to facilitate a session about developing digital learning communities using Google+.

We explored driving questions such as, What are the essential ingredients of a strong learning community? Of a digital learning community? Are they one and the same? Can they be? Should they be? Participants shared their thoughts on communities here, and together we summarized the responses into five essential components of a powerful learning community:

  1. Active participation
  2. Trusting culture
  3. Openness to new ideas and new learnings/willingness to learn by participants/risk taking
  4. Purposeful, goal-driven
  5. Connecting out to a wider community -outreach

So, how can a digital learning space like a Google+ community help support these ideals? The goals of the participants were varied. Some wanted to join pre-established Google+ communities to grow professionally. Others wanted to set up their own communities to promote sharing among their local colleagues and beyond. We then considered some key questions when both searching for communities to join and creating new spaces.

“Is it a place you want to spend your time?”

Two years ago I started the Instructional Technology Integrators and Coaches community, with the intent of finding support among other educators in the technology specialist/coaching roles as I transitioned to a new position in my district. Full disclosure: I created this community out of pure selfishness. I wanted to surround myself with people that were smarter and more resourceful than me to support my work in schools.

Now, with over 3,500 members (and yes, I realize they’re not all contributing members), the community has blossomed into an active space where educators can pose questions, share resources, provide feedback, and search through archived conversations on topics ranging from collaborative learning activities to account management to digital citizenship to best practices in a 1:1 classroom.

It is a place I like to be. I enjoy reading each and every post and the responses that follow. Moderating duties do not exhaust or irritate me. (Although as more members joined, I did seek help moderating- thankful for Doug and Susan who also devote their time to this community!) Which brings me to more questions to consider.

“Do you believe in the community’s purpose? Is it moderated by people who care? How can you tell?”

From the beginning, I did not want this community to become a place where people simply linked to their blog posts or shared their edu-events or plugged their stuff without engaging other members of the community. Do people occasionally do this? Yes, they do. I miss the boat sometimes and maybe should remove more promotional posts than I do. But if a post is flagged as spam, even from a reputable educator, it’s usually because the post was shared out among several communities. And, if there was no other content added to the post aside from the link, I typically choose not to post it in our community. All members have to be approved before they can post. I look at the profile of each member who requests to join, searching for some sign of an educational affiliation. I don’t approve requests from companies or vendors, even those with an edtech focus. I block people who take advantage of their memberships, and remind people of our community’s purpose via comments on their posts and in posts I write.

In a digital learning community, just as in a real time, face-to-face community, purpose matters. Intent matters. Etiquette matters. Respect matters. Members in our community freely give their time, ideas, and feedback to others. They deserve to learn in a space that honors what they give as professionals.

To make the most of your experience in a Google+ community, find (or create) a community that has a clear purpose, is well organized, has moderators that help make the learning experience streamlined and meaningful, promotes opportunities for discussions, has a variety of resources shared around the common purpose, displays evidence of respectful participation and engagement among a diverse membership, and openly accepts and encourages members’  critical questions, thoughts, and ideas.

Google+ communities as well as Hangouts and other community tools can help create spaces for “intellectual collisions” that can promote sharing and innovation in your organization. But the success of this type of community has little to do with the technological aspects of the shared space and much more so with the people involved. While Google announced earlier this week that Google+ was undergoing some changes, I don’t believe Communities will be leaving us anytime soon. But, even if they do, I know there are a band of people who will come along with me to whatever space we inhabit next.

Find yourself some good people. I am thankful each and every day for the voices that contribute to our community.

Here are my slides from the session and here’s the link to the page where participants accessed resources.

How are you using Google+ communities in your teaching, learning, and professional growth?

Do you let your kids use Google?

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I recently attended Pete & C, PA’s educational technology conference. It’s the fifth or sixth time I’ve attended. I typically find some interesting resources and enjoy connecting with members of my PLN and hearing about all of the great work they’re doing in schools.

So there I was, minding my own business and feeling genuinely grateful that the session presenter, Lexie Konsur, was being up front about copyright and fair use issues in education and not telling us we needed to use only 30 second clips of video and 100 words of text and spewing other fallacy-ridden copyright guidelines, when a participant raised her hand and proclaimed something like,

“We don’t allow our kids use Google to find information.”


She was talking about elementary students, of course, because it seems as though in our quest to shield and protect our youngest students from the perils of the intertubes we neglect to properly educate them about what resources are available via the web, how to access them safely and securely, what to do if they stumble upon something precarious, and how to think critically about the resources they’ve found and put them to good use.

I wanted to ask her, but didn’t, for fear of getting all riled up and embarrassing those sitting around me,

  • What DO you let your students use to find information online?
  • Is this how they find information when they’re not sitting in their classrooms?
  • Do they know what a search engine is? Do they know how it works?
  • Would they know what to do if, while browsing, they stumbled upon something harmful or dangerous?
  • Do they know how to manage digital resources and information to best support their research?
  • Do they know there are tools built into search engines like Google to help them narrow their searches productively?
  • What about YouTube? (I’m guessing that’s off limits, too. And, like, Wikipedia.)
  • How do YOU as the teacher find information online and conduct research? Would you be someone who could model your research efforts for students and demonstrate how to use Google appropriately and effectively?

This post is not meant to knock resource libraries like Discovery Ed or PA’s PowerLibrary – I love perusing those resources and know students find many valuable resources there while researching.

But not always. Sometimes the library is too small, the information can’t be found.

So, then, where do we send them to learn?

As we are making a move to Chromebooks next year in our primary classrooms, I’m genuinely interested to hear what others (at the elementary level, particularly) are doing to support students and their research. Thanks for reading!