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School staff focus on curriculum alignment, differentiated instruction, professional development, college and career readiness, standards, and academic interventions. Is it possible that schools can lose their focus on customer service? Customers include families, community members, and all guests who visit the school website or schoolhouse.
Customer service involves the front office staff, classroom teachers, teacher assistants, custodians, counselors, and all staff members. How are customers treated when they enter your school? Ask your school staff, “What does it mean to go the extra mile for the customer?” Do families feel like the front office staff answers the phone in a professional manner? Do teachers fire off emails when they are upset with students or parents? How do schools analyze the way they are treating customers?
Six Ways To Pour Some Sugar On The Customer:
The school website is the new front door. Families and community members make a judgment about your school before they arrive in the front office. Is your school website customer friendly? If you have a focus on technology integration, does your school website look like it was created in 1990? Does your website offer a welcome message or invite families to visit the school? If Open House was the biggest event between 1980-2000, then the school website opens your school to more than the all of the guests who attended Open House during that 20 year span. Your school is connected with the world. What kind of message are you sending? Would a family in Florida view your site and want to buy a house in your community, based on the information and message on your website?
Customer service involves phone skills, email etiquette, communication skills, and the way the customer is treated when they spend time at your school. Which restaurants come to mind when you think of outstanding customer service? Have you ever had poor customer service at a hotel? Have you ever visited a church and felt like none of the members knew you were in attendance? Customer service is easy to identify, especially when we are the recipient of poor customer service. When families have a bad experience at your school, they will spread the word throughout the community and through social media. As communities build more charter schools, private schools, and home school organizations, customers will walk rather than talk.
The media may promote your school once or twice a year. Administrators and teachers can promote the school on a weekly basis by posting on a school or teacher blog. Pictures from field trips, class projects, community service, guest speakers, and student awards can assist in communicating with families. Most blogs allow for families to forward the message to their family and friends via Twitter, Facebook, and other social media. Blogs also allow for two-way communication. The traditional method of communicating with families was a flyer in a second grade student’s backpack. With a blog, the school can communicate with families and families can post comments or ask questions about the event before their child arrives home.
Several schools host a Principal’s Coffee Hour once monthly. There is usually a topic that the principal or a guest speaker shares with families. The highlight of any Principal’s Coffee Hour is the time that families are able to share their opinions, ask questions, and brainstorm ways to support all students. Coffee Hour provides a monthly time for two-way communication. Parents will provide you with their opinions and they will feel respected because the school provided a forum for adult conversation about their most prized possession, their child. How is your school promoting two-way communication with families and stakeholders?
Twitter allows home-to-school and school-to-home communication. Families can receive updates from the school. While Twitter may not work for all families, it is a great tool. Most schools see social media as one form of communication. The sign in front of the school reaches some families, the school website reaches others, and a flyer may still work for families without a computer or a Smartphone. The reason I feel like schools should consider Twitter is because it allows families to forward or reply to each tweet. If you have ever been in a relationship with someone you realize the importance of two-way communication. A strong relationship between families and school staff will improve your customer service and customer satisfaction.
As the number of people with Smartphones increases, your school should consider a school app. “Smartphone vendors shipped 216.2 million units in the first quarter of 2013, which accounted for 51.6 percent of the worldwide mobile phone market” (Bean, April 16, 2013). If the school website is the new front door in 2013, then the school app may be the new front door of the future. An app can combine all of the items highlighted in this article. A school app may not be nice to have, but the next step in your communication and customer-service plan.
Most schools have a professional development plan, school improvement plan, and a curriculum map. I have rarely seen a school’s customer service plan. When it comes to service, if you fail to plan you may be planning to fail. Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon.com, said, “We see our customers as invited guests to a party, and we are the hosts. It’s our job every day to make every important aspect of the customer experience a little bit better.” There are only two kinds of schools; those with outstanding customer service and those without outstanding customer service. On a scale of 1-10, how would you rank the customer service at your school?
Questions for School Staff to Consider
1. Does our school provide outstanding customer service?
2. What are our weaknesses? What action steps do we need to take to improve?
3. What are the characteristics of outstanding customer service?
(Share your own experiences in school and non-school settings)
4. What can we measure every 18 weeks (semester) to analyze our efforts to provide customer service?
5. Do we have a school plan outlining what customer service looks like?
(Think Chick-fil-A; It doesn’t matter if the manager or a teenager provides you with service. There is consistency within and across stores).
Not every student needs to prepare for a Google-like workplace. And, as popular as STEM is presently, most students don’t want to become software engineers or scientists. But every student, in any job, will collaborate as a member of a team. I once talked with a student who told me he wanted to be a Fed Ex driver. “Just drive around and deliver things,” he said, “No teamwork there.” I urged him to look at the handheld device carried by every driver—the one that communicates with a worldwide network and plugs the driver into a global team.
Every student needs to be prepared for that environment, partly for employment opportunity, but mainly because the deeply embedded mental model of learning and creating as an individual process is obsolete. No one, any longer, can isolate themselves from someone else’s knowledge base, and collaboration has shifted from its earlier incarnation as a social networking skill into the chief way in which we talk to one another in order to get things done. Powerful collaboration is driven by incisive communication—and out of that process come the very best expressions of innovation, creativity, and critical inquiry. In other words, collaboration is now the foundational 21st century skill.
Thinking that students are ‘naturals’ at this is a fallacy. High performance collaboration requires training and the development of key personal skills. For teachers, two initial steps will help launch this process. First, reframe the conversation by using the terminology of ‘teams,’ not group work. Think of your favorite sports team and now call them a ‘group.’ Feel the difference? Teams focus on accountability and commitment; they form for a purpose and operate through norms and shared expectations.
Second, import and adapt the high performance principles common in the work world to teams in the classroom. This requires time, good coaching skills, a relentless focus on the quality of interaction between students, and a set of team tools, including contracts, rubrics, and exercise. But the payoff is noticeable. Once students form teams over an extended period and begin to collaborate well, they learn more, get better at teaching others, produce more powerful products, and enjoy the process. Here are ten principles that can help you design high performance teams:
Thom Markham is a psychologist, school redesign consultant, and the author of the Project Based Learning Design and Coaching Guide: Expert tools for inquiry and innovation for K-12 educators. To download the tools mentioned in the blog, go to the PBL tools page on the website, www.thommarkham.com. If you can’t find what you need, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A high performance team is a small number of people with complementary skills who are equally committed to a common purpose, goals, and working approach for which they hold themselves mutually accountable. Members of the team are deeply committed to one another’s personal growth and success (Katzenbach & Smith, 1993).
As I observe classrooms and visit schools, I am always looking for high performing teams. I am impressed by a fourth grade teacher who can differentiate, analyze assessment data, lead professional development, teach students to think outside the box, and integrate technology on a daily basis. However, I am in awe of high performing teams. In The 17 Indisputable Laws of Teamwork, Maxwell (2001) wrote, “Communication increases commitment and connection; they in turn fuel action. If you want your team to perform at the highest level, the people on it need to be able to talk and to listen to one another” (p. 197). Does your professional learning team communicate on a regular basis? Do you plan to meet daily, weekly, or monthly? How often do you need to meet in order to make certain all students learn the essential learning outcomes?
High performing teams use the following strategies to take students to the next level:
Team norms are the foundation of a high performing team. Some teams feel like they can operate without norms, but conflict or a dysfunctional team member highlight the purpose of norms. When teams operate with norms, each member of the team understands how to communicate, how shared decisions will be handled, when to arrive for meetings, and how to professionally disagree. I have observed teams that developed norms five years ago, but they fail to revisit the team norms. When a new teacher moves from a different grade level or from another school district, it is difficult for the teacher to participate as a team member because the team norms are akin to living and working in a different country or culture. Solution Tree has developed a free online resource which supports the development of team norms titled, Developing Norms.
A precursor to improvement is a clear understanding of the goal. Educators often enter a new nine weeks and don’t pause to reflect on the current reality (i.e., Where are we? Where are we going? How will we get there?). If six eighth grade science teachers each develop their own goals and learning outcomes, is it likely that students will end up at the same place when they enter ninth grade science? Blanchard (2007) contends, “Goal setting is the single most powerful motivational tool in a leader’s toolkit” (p. 150). A school without clearly defined goals is like a ship without a rudder; it lacks direction and a slight wind could easily blow it off course (Wiles, 2009).
Teams set goals, companies strive to meet sales or production goals, and successful individuals monitor their diet, finances, time management, life-long learning, leadership growth, and other established goals. If school teams are aiming for student achievement, then they must become crystal clear on how to help each member of their school district meet the goal. DuFour, DuFour, & Eaker (2008) wrote, “One of the most pressing questions a school must consider as it attempts to build the collaborative culture of a PLC is not, ‘Do we collaborate?’ but rather, ‘What do we collaborate about?’” (p. 28). A lack of clarity on intended results is a barrier to growth and continuous improvement in schools.
One strategy that is overlooked in schools is the power of small wins. When I memorized 1 x 1 through 12 x 12, my second grade teacher gave me a poster autographed by a Razorback basketball player (talk about a small win)! Memorizing my multiplication facts did not make me a mathematician, but my teacher took time to recognize the small win each time a new student reached the goal. When I played high school basketball, the coach would require each member of the team to make ten free throws before we left practice. This was a small win and it was psychological. New York Times bestselling author Daniel Coyle wrote, “Perhaps most important, the “small-win” approach is aligned with the way your brain is built to learn: chunk by chunk, connection by connection, rep by rep. As John Wooden said, “Don’t look for the big, quick improvement. Seek the small improvement one day at a time. That’s the only way it happens – and when it happens, it lasts” (April, 2012).
School teams are implementing common formative assessments, the Common Core State Standards, technology integration, reading programs, literacy across the curriculum, character education programs, state initiatives, and more! Most teachers understand the importance of celebrating a small win with students. We need to use this same strategy when we work with our colleagues. Small wins are identified and celebrated by high performing school teams!
Meetings have become a burden to teachers. If a school still operates where each teacher believes, “These are my students and those are your students....” – Then, it will be difficult for teachers to see why they need to meet as a team. High performing teacher teams realize, “These are our students and this is our community.” High performing teams have a meeting agenda, clear meeting outcomes, and action items. If team members are arriving at each meeting asking what are we going to discuss today, then it won’t be a very good use of time.
Some of the best ideas at my elementary school come from team meetings. A collaborative team of teacher leaders, motivated by preparing all students for the next level, is a powerful force to reckon with. This is the scene that every taxpayer should demand from a public school. Schmoker (2005) wrote, “It starts with a group of teachers who meet regularly as a team to identify essential learning, develop common formative assessments, analyze current levels of achievement, set achievement goals, share strategies, and then create lessons to improve upon those levels.” That is the kind of school I want to send my children to.
Essential Learning Outcomes
Effective teams develop and agree to provide all students with essential learning outcomes. In the absence of learning outcomes, students receive a disjointed curriculum experience. Why do some teams skip this step if it is such an important part of teaching and learning? From my observations, developing essential learning outcomes involves trust, conflict, debate, time, and the ability to come to consensus. If teams lack trust or don’t schedule a weekly meeting, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to identify essential learning outcomes. Swan (2010) wrote, "Learning outcomes refer to the skills, knowledge, and attributes students should have upon completion of a particular course or program of study."
Wiggins and McTighe (2005), wrote, “In the absence of a learning plan with clear goals, how likely is it that students will develop shared understandings on which future lessons might build” (p. 21)? If teachers claim to operate as a professional learning team, but they lack clearly defined learning outcomes, then students will experience a disjointed curriculum. If goal-setting is important in athletics and on business teams, then professional learning teams must take time to see how the absence of essential learning outcomes can interfere with the team’s common purpose. Does your team have essential learning outcomes for each nine weeks or semester?
Sports fans love to analyze the greatest teams of all time. The New York Yankees have won more World Series than any team in baseball (27). UCLA men’s basketball team has won more NCAA National Championships than any other college basketball team in history (11). Ten of those championships were won under legendary coach John Wooden. The Pittsburgh Steelers have won more Super Bowls than any other NFL team (6). What makes a great team? Great teams are made of great individuals. Mark Sanborn outlines the “4 C’s of a Great Team Member (1:44).”
If you entered the field of education to make a difference, ask how your individual strengths can benefit the entire team. Michael Fisher (2010) wrote, "If your schools/districts are made up primarily of those with an ‘island mentality,’ then they need to join the continent.” High performing teams are needed in our schools. Students deserve our best and we can work more efficiently if we turn our school teams into high performing teams.
I just spent the morning viewing a livestream from an Education Forum from Education Week. For those who may be unaware a livestream is a live transmission of an event over the Internet. This was a forum that recognized Education Leaders. It was titled Leaders To Learn From 2013. I think what Education Week did was great and I hope not to diminish their contribution. I do have some observations that I would like to share.
My friend and colleague Kyle Pace, @kylepace, was the person who drew me to this forum. Kyle is a connected educator known to tens of thousands of educators as a collaborative, connected educator who engages people with knowledge and information in the realm of technology in education. If any educator deserves an award for collaborative leadership, Kyle would top my list of candidates. It is a well-deserved recognition.
What struck me about the other award winners recognized for their leadership accomplishments that other educators are supposed to learn from was that we as an education community have not heard from them before? I realize that not all educators are connected through social media. It also seems to me as an observer of social media in education that it is often more difficult for Administrators to connect than teachers. There are reasons for that, both real and imagined, and I understand that. It would seem to me however, that if collaboration is part of a reason for recognition, the award winners should demonstrate some proficiency in modern collaboration as educators.
I also attended a Discovery Education forum recently where a number of Superintendents were recognized. When asked about their professional Social media involvement and collaboration, each claimed Twitter accounts and some claimed to have blogs. Of course sitting with Josh Stumpenhorst, @stumpteacher, we were able to quickly fact-check each of their claims to discover that most of them rarely tweeted and few had Blogs.
In a time when mobile devices can vet any speaker in a few seconds, people should not speak out of hand. In addition to education leaders, all leaders should get the fact that they can, and will be held more accountable for what they do compared to what they say. The world and information distribution has changed. Their failure to recognize that fact is testament to their relevance in a technology-driven society.
I have made my views on sharing as a professional responsibility known in many previous posts. A question from Dean Shareski really summed it up for me in regard to professional collaboration. What would we say about a doctor who found a cure for cancer or even a partial pathway to that end, but failed to share it with medical colleagues?
If educators are doing things in a better way, why are they not collaborating using the methods of today? Educators may not have the Journal of the American Medical Association, but we do have Twitter and we do have Blogs. I am tired of educators who espouse technology for everyone else, but fail to employ it for themselves and their profession.
Many Administrators use the Internet to vet out teaching candidates. They get to Google information about individuals that they are legally precluded from asking about in an interview. If that has become the standard then let’s have at it. We should look at everyone’s digital footprint including administrators. What is their educational philosophy as it is stated in the digital world? What does their Professional Learning Network include? What is it they have collaborated on in the Social media world? How effective are they in the very collaboration skills that they claim to have? How reflective are they based on their public blog? Do they hold to their principles in their public reflections?
We are moving forward in the way we access and obtain information. If an administrator has not contributed and that information is not obtainable, then that may be an indication of ability, or relevance, or both. At the very least it should be a red flag. I am not suggesting that any administrator who is not on social media is a Luddite. I am suggesting that the best leaders in an age of technology are those who understand it as a result of effectively using it, as well as modeling it for those who follow. We need to consider relevant collaborative skills as a requisite for administrative positions if we have hope for changing the system in positive ways.
In school, we depend on language to convey ideas. The teacher walks up to the board, writes words, uses words to ask and answer questions; the students receive books with words and are assessed with tests using—you got it—words. Even when it comes to assessing math literacy, we depend on words. This dependence on language is precisely what TED Talks speaker Matthew Peterson—Chief Technical Officer and Senior Scientist at the MIND Research Institute—addresses in his eight-minute lecture, Teaching Without Words. Sounds crazy, doesn’t it?
Words, words, words…do we need them to teach math literacy?
Interrogating our dependence on language starts to make sense, however, when we consider states like California where 25 percent of students are English language learners, 15 percent have language learning difficulties and 20 percent fail language comprehension tests. Is Peterson suggesting that reading proficiency is not a priority? Not at all. He is simply suggesting that it may be necessary to find new ways to teach students for whom language is still a barrier. He’s also suggesting that we may not need language to teach math literacy.
In addition to watching his brief lecture (which you’ll find below), we recommend stopping by MIND Research Institute’s website to learn more about Peterson’s spatial-temporal approach to teaching K-5 mathematics. The software he and his team have designed to teach math literacy does not use language, numbers or symbols; instead, it teaches students to visualize and focus on interactive problem solving.
Originally posted at K2TWelve.com
The first two parts of Be Social Change and the Center for Social Innovation's three-part series on the Future of Education began with attendees sharing in small groups their personal transformative educational experiences outside and inside of the classroom. At both meetings and in both instances, the general opinion was that transformative educational experiences were personal experiences that felt "out of the box" or "above and beyond" what was expected.
What has been clear in both Future of Education Meetups is that these transformative experiences are currently missing from college and K-12 classrooms. Both teachers and students are dissatisfied with the current education system and has chosen to value.
From the educational entrepreneurs at the first Meetup, who spoke about their role in complementing and enhancing core college curriculum with hands-on job experiences, to the K-12 educators at the second Meetup, who spoke about an "educational ecosystem" and the necessity for self-efficacy and the acceptance of failure, the resounding message was that there is a disconnect between the classroom and what students want to know. Ivan Cestero of the Avenues school and a panelist at the second Meetup put it best when he said as educators we needed to "meld the passion piece with the stuff they (students) need to know."
Lyel Resner, co-founder of Startup Box: South Bronx and moderator of the second Meetup began the discussion by asking the audience: What is school for? I was reminded of something Eduwonkette wrote years ago, conveying historian, David Labaree's vision of school as an environment that nurtured children's ability to
Participants responding to Lyel's question echoed Labaree's vision. They responded that the purpose of school was to prepare students for civic engagement and to teach them how to apply their passions, as well as build their social and emotional skills.
Like going to an art opening and dropping words like "derivative" or "jejune", for the past couple of years, the password into educational cliques has been "Common Core" (sometimes "STEM", sometimes "21st Century skills/literacies"). When the topic of Common Core State Standards came up, there was no overtly negative criticism, only a cautionary thought from Ivan Cestero that the standards required "habits of mind, passion, and social skills to be meaningful."
When the issue of standardized testing came up, panelist Tim Shriver, Dream Director at The Future Project said "test scores won't matter to students if they are not hopeful about their future success." Most everyone in the room (including me) believed portfolios are a superior and more accurate assessment than test scores.
Panelist Leigh Ann Sudol-DeLyser, Computer Science Teacher & Consultant at the Academy for Software Engineering NYC, spoke of the trial and error process that software engineers engage in when writing code. She said that it was important to get students to try and fail at something and then try again. She said "self efficacy" needed to be cultivated. Students need to believe in their ability to solve difficult problems and overcome seemingly impossible challenges. Most of the room agreed with what Leigh Ann was saying.
What has interested me most about these Meetups is the pragmatism. There is a lot of talk of innovation and "new" ways, but it has been tempered with talk of "accreditation" on the college level and systems level implementation in the K-12 grades. Andrea Coleman, CEO of the Office of Innovation at the New York City Department of Education, cited her office's partnership with The Future Project. I'm looking forward to that same pragmatism in the final Meetup of this series.
Most people in the education community know me as the principal of Fiske Elementary School, and many years back, as an elementary school teacher. My career in education has spanned almost 20 years, which is short compared to some, and long compared to others just entering the field. It also has moved by swiftly, and it feels as though it was just yesterday that I entered my first classroom and began working with students, enjoying everything about helping them and giving back to parents who entrusted me with their children. Oddly enough, although I love my work and can’t imagine myself not working in education, I started off with another career path. It wasn’t until I was faced with failure that I learned important lessons that I carried with me into my current career.
I don’t tell the students I interact with that I failed my first attempt at college. My dream of entering the restaurant business took a quick turn for the worse and before I knew it, I was finished. At this point in my life and career, I wouldn’t be embarrassed to tell them, however, I don’t necessarily put it right out there either.
I was not ready for college when I started the first time, despite being older than many other freshman. And despite my being raised to be pretty self-sufficient, I quickly found myself not being able to manage the expectations of college life and thus, experiencing failure.
While it did not feel great to fail at the time, later on I used those life lessons to have a better experience. I decided to go back to college when I felt I was ready and I became a serious student. I suddenly loved being in college again and realized that I had learned a few very important lessons:
It is ok to fail at things. You can’t be great at everything, and sometimes, it is about the timing.
You should do what you really love, because in the end, happiness is derived from that work.
Hard work and perseverance pay off. It wasn’t until I had my second chance in college that I realized my extra effort would really pay off and that I could do well with my studies.
I didn’t have anyone that came behind me and “scooped” me up after my failed attempt at going to school. In the end, I am glad things turned out that way. I learned about myself, what my values were, what I loved, and what I was willing to do to be successful.
When I am in classrooms and watching students work, I wonder if we let them “struggle” enough, in the good kind of way. Do we encourage them to work through challenging math problems, sticking with them until they can find a solution that is correct, or do we just jump in and try to help them? Do we let students banter about characters in stories, letting them make hypotheses about why events happened and why characters behaved the way that they did, or do we jump in with our own thoughts and ideas to move the conversation along so that we can get to the next lesson?
Students and all learners should have a chance to learn and grow, and those chance opportunities can also include failure, struggle, and challenge. The key, in the school setting, is for supportive adults to tell students, “I believe in you, you can do this, I won’t give up on you.” We need to build perseverance and teach students that they may not be successful the first time around, but that effort and not giving up will most always help. These lessons, when taught to students, will help them learn as adults that if they fail at something, they can persevere and grow, even when it doesn’t feel like they will. They may also be able to overcome obstacles in their way and get to a very different place from where they intended to go. Every learning opportunity provides each of us a chance to grow, even when that opportunity does not work out the way we had planned. After all, if at first you don’t succeed, what did you learn?
Watch this great video featuring J.K. Rowling as she addressed Harvard University graduates about the positive side of failure. http://www.ted.com/talks/jk_rowling_the_fringe_benefits_of_failure.html
As I have traveled around this country participating in education conferences I have made several observations in regard to the effects of the Internet and social media on various levels of education as a profession, as an industry, and as an institution. These are often the topics of sessions at education conferences that draw thousands of educators in to look at, examine, talk over, consider, and move on. This all takes time and has been going on since tech was first introduced to education in various forms as tools for learning. It may be time to step back and look at the bigger picture.
As technology advances there are consequences for many industries that either fail to adapt, or whose product is replaced by what technology offers. Horse drawn carriages were replaced by horseless carriages. Typewriters were replaced by word processors. Instamatic cameras were replaced by digital cameras, which are now being replaced by cell phones. Photographic film is not found in any of the millions of stores from which it was previously sold in mass quantities. The news cycle no longer faces deadlines because of 24-hour news cycles. Newspaper and magazine stands have only a fraction of the offerings they had even five years ago. There is no longer a Kodak, Polaroid, Underwood Typewriter, or Newsweek magazine. They were all giants taken out by technology.
With all that, we as educators should have learned from all the examples of those industries that preceded us as victims in the advancement of technology. Why is education so slow in making decisions that would employ tech rather than resist it. Kodak was huge. It was in the “too big to fail” category. Its products included cameras, but its main product was film. Once digital photography moved into the industry it was a very short run to ruin.
The product of education is content. My path of reasoning must be getting clear about now. The key to content was always held by the academics to be shared by those who attended and prevailed in the education system. Teachers were the content experts. The Internet has now strained the value of content experts. Few content experts will ever be able to retain and command the content held by the power of the Internet. The shift that should take place in education is to teach students the skills to responsibly and critically access that content in order to create additional content.
We shouldn’t be guided by the demands of industry to teach skills that may not be in existence over the course of a student’s academic career. The idea that business can best direct the needs of learners is surpassed by the fact that business will only direct education to meet the present needs of business.
If education is to direct its own path and avoid becoming as irrelevant as a film company in a digital world, as educators we need to change. We can’t continue contemplating the use of technology for the sake of protecting our comfort zones. We need to update and restructure the way we administer Professional Development. We need to employ strategies to incorporate social media for collaboration. We need to better understand how to use technology to help us do what we do best even better. Our professional organizations need to move from the models of the past and lead teachers through professional development, discussion, and collaboration to a deeper understanding of their profession in a modern world. We are not a profession of the 1800’s, yet in many ways we carry ourselves and approach it that way. This to must change.
Professional development is a necessary component of the teaching profession. It must be part of every teacher’s workweek. It needs to be prioritized, funded and supported with time. Too many educators have no idea how much they do not know about their own profession. This will require a good amount of directed professional development, which is never popular with educators. Technology has changed things and continues to do so at an incredible rate of speed. If educators are to be effective they must be relevant. If harnessed, technology can be used to our advantage with proper training. If ignored, or not taken seriously by the entire profession, it could very well make educators irrelevant. Our education system is not too big to fail.
We have an all-comedy radio station in Denver—non-stop clips from various comedians. I missed the name of the comic, but one talked about digging through his closet looking at all the junk he had discarded in there. One of the items was his Rosetta Stone CD set. I spent a couple of minutes researching “what percentage complete Rosetta Stone” but couldn’t find the answer right away so I quit looking. I bet it is a very small number. I’ll wager that a lot of people have the idea of learning a new language but don’t follow through.
Then I started thinking about my health club. Every year it gets crowded during January and part of February, but it gets back to normal after that. Seems many people have the idea that this will be the year they start exercising but almost none of them follow through. Then I saw a New York Times article that said that 90% of people who lose weight gain it all back. Seems like most folks have the intention to change shapes but don’t follow through. Then I thought about an adult education class offered at the “free university” in my town that told writers how to self-publish a book. The instructor said almost none of the people attending will actually do it. They all have the idea that there is book inside of them and this will be the year that they write it, but almost none of them will actually follow through. I had 300 people sign up for the webinar I just did for ASCD but there weren’t 300 in the virtual room when the webinar happened. Seems lots of folks didn’t follow through.
You can see where I am going with this. One of the outstanding traits of human beings seems to be that we don’t follow through. This truth applies in the world of education, too. You probably saw the recent studies about the completion percentage of online courses. Only ten percent of people who start actually finish. (Rosetta Stone coulda told you that but they won’t, of course). But MOOCs will transform education! Some students will sit at home and explore the world and get their degrees!! Other students will rush home to watch our flipped instruction videos and they will watch over and over until they understand the tricky part!!!
Three things are true of the biggest proponents of the online instruction movement. First, many are older folks. They are so impressed by the new gadgets and what they can do. Years ago, Edison predicted that his invention (movies, of a sort) would transform education. It didn’t. And now other older adults are pretty sure video and the Internet will transform education eliminating classrooms and allowing independent, self-created curriculum. It’s just so cool!! Second, many are not in the classroom. Any classroom teacher could tell you that most students need the personal touch, the human contact, the in-person support in order to stay on task. Not only do large numbers not complete homework, large numbers have a hard time completing work right there in class. (I hear the response: homework should go away anyhow, and if the lessons were meaningful, then they would complete it! My response to that: dream on.) The successful teacher is one who can inspire, prod, and personally connect, and for that, you must be present to win. Third, the proponents fail to understand human nature. Yes, they understand that part of human nature is that we are curious. We do get excited about new things. They missed, however, that we don’t follow through. MOOCs, flipped class videos, webinars all compete with all the other distractions at home. Students sorta watch…while eating, texting, checking email and Facebook, watching television, and playing with the dog. If there is one outstanding feature of Americans it is that they lack discipline. How did you not notice that?
Don’t get me wrong. I absolutely believe we all need to update instruction. I am a strong proponent of using today’s tools. (That’s why I wrote Digitally Speaking: How to Improve Student Presentations with Technology.) And I also know that no matter what the tech gadget is, it won’t trump human nature. I guess my message is settle down. Don’t get so blinded by the incredible possibilities that you forget who you are dealing with here. When you finally lose that twenty pounds you have promised yourself you would lose and when you get back to the gym to get in shape and when you finish that Rosetta Stone Spanish CD, then start talking about how independent, self-guided instruction is the future.
Today is the day after a test. I walk around to hand back tests to the students. Students, who did well, put a smile on their faces. Students, who did poorly, sink into their chairs in displeasure. I come back to the board to review the problems which created the most difficulty. The students who did well are so excited they don’t want to listen. The students who did poorly are so upset with themselves they can not concentrate. So, what am I doing? I’m pretty much talking to no one. I’m not helping those students who received a bad grade and the students who were successful are now bored.
After about two and a half years of doing this in my classes, I realized something must change. Some students were not successful on a test. The only way they can help their grade is to do better on the next test. But they need the material from the previous test to help them. So what service am I providing to my failing students? How am I motivating them to do better? I used to say, “You are going to need to learn this to do well on the midterm. Don’t just put the test away and not look at it. Study it and learn from it.” After thinking about how I would take that statement as a student, I realized how little impact it actually has. Something needed to change in my grading philosophy, and change fast.
Everyone deserves a second chance, right? You fail your driver’s test; don’t you get another shot at it? You do poorly on the SAT’s; you can take them again right? So for a test in class, why are students only getting one chance? After much questioning, research, and consideration, I decided to implement a re-take policy for my classes.
After students receive their test and are not happy with the score, they can come to me and inquire about a re-take. I give the student a contract that lists the steps they must follow in order for the opportunity for a retake. The contract must be signed by the student and their parent/guardian. The steps are as follows:
1. Get the test paper signed by a parent/guardian
2. Attend extra help session for corrections on the test
3. Complete given assignment on your own (if necessary)
4. Make an appointment after/before school to take your re-take
(You can see my full written policy and contract HERE)
Once students take the re-take, I look at how much knowledge they have gained, and use my professional judgment to assign a new grade. Students are appreciative of the second chance and are taking full advantage of it. Students are recognizing how much more work they need to put in if they are unsuccessful. This gives them some motivation to do well the first time. And it also gives them an opportunity to right the wrong.
What is our goal as educators? My goal is for every student to have the best opportunity at succeeding in my class. If my students have only one chance at every test, then they really don’t have the best opportunity at succeeding. I want my students to learn and one of the best ways to learn is from your mistakes. I have a little saying I like to use: “Failure is not an ending, it’s a beginning.”
I am so proud of Jeff and the rest of my staff for re-evaluating their grading practices to focus on the most important aspect of education - student learning. As a school community we decided to tackle our grading philosophy last winter. We were guided by the work of Wormeli, Reeves, Gusskey, and O'Connor. An emphasis was placed on no zeros, multiple forms of assessment, establishment of a failure floor, 7 intervention steps to ensure student success, and retests/re-do's. I think my entire staff can attest that the process was initially difficult, but as you can see from Jeff's post that positive change has resulted. This change is being embraced and it has been a total team effort. I could not be more proud of my staff.
36 Things Every 21st Century Teacher Should Be Able To Do
1. Select the right platform to communicate.
Whether you choose a text message, email, social media message, Skype session, or a Google+ Hangouts depends on who you need to communicate with and why—purpose and audience. So whether you’re sending an email to a parent when a phone call is necessary, or responding in a closed Google+ circle,choosing the right platform is everything.
2. Send large files.
Email won’t always work. You can use Evernote or dropbox; yousendit or SugarSync; a blog or a YouTube channel. Whatever you’re sending, a teacher in 2013 should be able to get it there quickly, and with minimal hassle from the recipient.
3. Take a screenshot on PC, Mac, and mobile devices.
Hit the Print Screen button near your number pad on a keyboard on Windows. Push down volume rocker and power buttons simultaneously on iOS and Android devices. Command-Shift-3 on Mac OSX.
4. Appreciate memes.
Know what it means to be Rick Roll’d, the difference between a fail and an epic fail, why Steve is a scumbag, and who sad Keannu is. You may not care, but your students do. Even if you choose not to speak their language and instead prefer the king’s tongue, you can at least understand what they’re saying, lol.
5. Explain how and why to use technology to those who don’t use it.
Not everyone loves technology. Not only is it not necessary for learning, it’s not even the most important part of learning (how did Socrates every get along without twitter?) That being said, it can indeed transform learning given the right instructional design and learning model. Communicating this to others that may not use it is increasingly important as a network building strategy and as a tool to be used locally to change culture.
An RT as an olive branch.
6. Use digital media in light of privacy, copyright, and other legal issues.
7. Communicate clearly.
Tone is lost when you type. Know this and pre-emptively address is with clarity, choosing the right platform to communicate, and even smiley faces if you have to.
8. Search for, install, organize, use, and delete apps.
This is dead-simple, but you never know.
9. How to create, open, use, and share a variety of filetypes.
10. Help students share files.
Students need help “turning in” digital work. Digital portfolios help, as can blogs and social media platforms. Learning management systems can too. Whatever you use, help them figure it out.
11. Subscribe to and manage YouTube channels, podcasts, learnist and pinterest boards, and other dynamic sources of digital media.
Self explanatory, yes?
12. Create and maintain digital portfolios.
Of your own work, and for your students. The tools, habits, and strategies to do it well are accessible to anyone in the 21st century. You know, especially if you follow any blogs that cover this kind of thing.
That doesn’t mean you have to blog, but blogging is the among the best ways for students to survey, combine, and share digital media. You may not have the energy—or desire—to blog, but to effectively teach your students, you should know the basics.
14. Share learning data with students.
Sharing is easy. Sharing visual and digestible data not so much. More on this one below on #34.
15. Support students in managing their online “brand.”
And this starts with what you model–your visible social media profiles, Google search results for your name. That means a professional image, and no cliché quote from Ghandi in 24 point yellow font.
16. Manage your own social media and internet use.
It’s a tool, not an end. Self-manage accordingly.
17. Plan around a lack of technology elegantly.
Not all students have access. Do all that you can to give students that lack it a similar experience.
18. Delineate the difference between academics and entrepreneurial learning for students.
And in a way that doesn’t completely undercut academic learning, but rather contextualizes it.
19. Troubleshoot stuff that breaks.
Be MacGyver with a keyboard. If the Wi-Fi signal drops, the app freezes, or the password just won’t take, have a plan.
20. Skim and process large quantities of information.
Otherwise you’ll drown in the very thinking and resource stream you’re trying to benefit from. A powerful combination to use here? An RSS reader like Google Reader connected to GetPocket.
21. Use the cloud to your advantage.
Offline access. Automatic syncing. Push notifications on apps. Writing and composition. Use the cloud.
22. Model digital citizenship.
To model it, we have to agree on what it means. We’ll talk more about this one soon, but for now, these resources should help.
23. Casually name-drop reddit.
Reddit is a downright cultish community of active and intelligent forum users that are addicted to socializing everything. And it’s awesome. If you don’t use it, try to mention it here and there as if you do (#streetcred), and when students ask just smile and nod your head a lot.
24. Support students in finding their own voice.
It’s not as simple as “band, books, or cheerleading” anymore. With visibility comes nuance. Now we have facebook groups of cheerleaders who are left-handed and prefer Fiji water over Dasani 50,000 members strong. Luckily, technology can step in and help–drawing, music, acting, writing, a charismatic YouTube channel; it’s now unnecessary for any student to be anonymous and isolated.
25. Research effectively.
And then model that effective research for students constantly in highly visible ways.
25. Use formal or informal learning management systems.
Whether you use a formal LMS, or just setup a Google+ Circle or community, either can help frame your curriculum for students and parents.
26. Leverage the relationship between physical and digital media.
What is the relationship between the app, the YouTube channel, the podcast, the play, and the poem? This is something you need to figure out–especially the English-Language Arts/Literature teachers among you.
27. Highlight the limits of technology.
If we don’t understand both the micro and macro impact of technology–the good and the bad–we’re doomed as a species to be completely overran by it. Sounds dramatic, but it just might be true.
28. Connect students with communities using project-based learning.
This can be one of the most powerful things you do, as it moves the learning from sterile classrooms to authentic audiences.
29. Model the value of questions over answers.
30. Understand how play leads to learning.
Play is not a whimsical recreation, but a zen-like cognitive resonance that rips learning out of the hands of well-meaning adults and seeks to self-direct children through experiment, fail, and try again.
31. Use Game-Based Learning effectively.
That doesn’t mean to just play video games, or make students play them then ask them awkward questions about their experience, but to understand how video games support both academic and authentic learning.
32. Curate functionally.
What to save and how to save it? Great questions. And what kind of process do you have to keep from hoarding digital resources and actually use all the crap you save? An even better one.
33. Record, process, mash, publish, and distribute digital media.
Digital media is likely the future of learning. So, begin the transition.
34. Visualize learning data for students.
This is different than just sharing an alphanumeric digit–this is about knowledge, progress, and the right data and the right time that is packaged in a highly-digestible way.
35. Connect with other educators both in person and online.
Don’t be a twitter diva; don’t be a Luddite. Find a blend.
36. Personalize learning.
To genuinely and fully personalize learning for all of your students in a typical K-20 public school or university is impossible (unless we have different definitions of personalized learning).
And that’s why this is last.
A study conducted by Kaiser Permanente Southern California Medical Group in Pasadena, reveals that ADHD diagnoses have jumped 25% in the past 10 years. This study is being reported by news outlets around the country today. What is missing from these reports, however, it a critical analysis of the ADHD diagnosis itself. The phenomena of ADHD, in fact, represents a fascinating window into a wide range of cultural and social issues that have emerged over the past quarter century, but that typically get swept under the rug in reports such as this one. Here are just a few of these issues: 1) the increasing pressure on children to succeed academically at earlier and earlier ages has made the normal developmental behaviors of young children ”stick out like a sore thumb” and be perceived as ADHD behaviors; 2) the increase in mass media involvement (video games, TV, internet, software etc.) has created a culture of ”short attention span kids” who in fact display ADHD behaviors as a response to sitting in front of high stimulation screens that activate and ultimate exhaust dopaminergic pathways in the brain leading to an increase in the prevalence of ADHD diagnoses; 3) the concomitant decrease in the amount of rough-and-tumble play experiences (particularly among boys) as a result of mass media involvement has resulted in the frontal lobes failing to be properly stimulated through these play experiences, thus resulting in frontal lobe dysfunction said to be a major feature of the ADHD diagnosis; 4) high stress families have created negative environmentals impacts upon the brains of stress-sensitive kids creating adversity-factors believed to be correlated to ADHD diagnoses.
These are just a few of the issues that fail to be mentioned, let alone thoroughly explored, in news stories such as this one. That ADHD remains a ”medical” issue, unfortunately, makes it even more difficult for there to be a thoughtful dialogue about the deeper reasons that make children hyperactive, impulsive, and/or distractible. This, in turn, makes the potential solutions to the ADHD phenomenon more elusive. For a list of 50 non-drug alternatives to ADHD, click here. For a discussion of the above issues, and a more thorough discussion of non-drug alternatives to ADHD, see my books The Myth of the ADD Child: 50 Ways to Improve Your Child’s Behavior and Attention Span without Drugs, Labels, or Coercion, and ADD/ADHD Alternatives in the Classroom.
No matter how much of an effort an instructor makes to deliver a quality assessment to a student, the feedback is of no use if the student does not read it. This is one of the more problematic issues in the feedback process to students, actually bringing learning to a complete stop for the individual because of a poor study habit. To address the issue, instructors can go one-to-one with students, but this can be time-consuming and exhaust resources. More to the point, the student may never make any progress simply because he or she has not taken the time to review the feedback the instructor has presented.
In teaching writing to students I have sometimes seen them toss evaluations into the trash rather than read them. Although not often has it happened, thank goodness, I have at times seen the essays and the accompanying feedback in the trash can nearest to my office, delivered just a few minutes back to the student in a conference. Once, a frustrated student threw a tantrum in front of me and then threw the essay into my own office trash can. Obviously, we did not see much improvement in the next essay assignment. I do what I can to help students not lose face, but sometimes a moment can be too overwhelming for them. By the way, if I see the assessment in the trash, I will pull it out, hoping the student will return for it once the moment fades.
While we can always improve our people skills with our students, I want here to offer one possible way to avoid the temper tantrums and perhaps even help those students who fail to read the assessments take the time to study the teacher’s comments. Perhaps too the students will realize the teacher is trying to help, not hinder, them. What can be useful, I think, is a pre-conference set of notes to the student. That is, signaling to the student that it is a good idea to make an appointment with the instructor over issues listed in the evaluation ahead of the actual conference seems a good idea.
A few years ago I saw a story where Purdue University had created what I call a “Stoplight Project” with color-coded messages to help lead students to success. The Purdue Signals Project mines data and includes color within the messages, using the metaphor of the stoplight – green to go, yellow for caution, and red to stop. The red stop sign also signals to students they need to schedule an appointment with the instructor. One of the elements I like very much about this system is that onus is placed upon the student to make the appointment, to take action. In addition, the student is already coming to the instructor for help with clarity about what will be discussed, and the “shock” of realizing an assignment or test is not up to standards is not delivered for the first time in the teacher-student conference.
Although the algorithms that Purdue University uses is not readily available to all educators, we non-Boilermaker faculty do have a few options. Taking my cues from the Signals Project (pun intended), I have included a variation upon the theme. Having seen value in the Purdue system, I have downloaded free clip art from the Microsoft collection. I actually discovered a green go sign and now include this in the assessment report to students for those essays I have evaluated as an A- or better. I also have downloaded a red stop sign and a yellow caution sign. Red is reserved for grades of D and F while yellow signals a grade of a B or C. If a student receives a red stop sign, a note to immediately make an appointment with the instructor is included, along with the reason for the conference request.
Other options are available at the free clip art service through Microsoft, as well as other online websites. The examples provided are what I use and are presented for consideration. In addition, I recommend not printing each color-coded assessment as this can become expensive. This should not be a problem, though, if delivered online to students.
While the color-coded system started as a way to signal to those students who need help, I also soon realized it was also helpful in moving students who do not need the help more quickly through the courses. I now allow the advanced students more options to work at their own pace. Some students have thus finished the course earlier than the final deadline, allowing me as an instructor more time to work with those students who need additional help.
In addition to delivering to students issues that need to be addressed, the color-coded signals also have helped me to improve my courses. For example, I recently have created a review unit that is not scored. This review unit highlights aspects of the essay where some of my writing students need more than others. It is focused mainly on the structure of the essay, including such topics as the introduction, thesis, conclusion, main body paragraph development, transition placement, and so on. The course discusses these elements as the units move forward. Now what I realized was missing in the past was one place where all of the basic elements of the essay could be housed. Thus, I can now send students to one unit where all of the basic issues of the essay are addressed. For example, many of the students have problems writing paragraphs. Now it is much easier to instruct them about the paragraph and also offer how this element fits into the essay as a part of the whole.
Given the success of the color-coded signals, I also have begun to include the colors on the rubrics I use to evaluate student work. For the essay rubrics, I start with green already highlighted as part of the scoring to save a few keyboard clicks. Yes, I am also an optimist. When necessary I then remove the green and use the corresponding yellow or red colors. I have only just started using the color codes on the rubrics, so I do not have much data to review in order to relate the effectiveness of the practice. I am here assuming that bringing into alignment the rubrics with the colors of the traffic signs sets up a mental reminder, nudging students to read the assessment more in-depth, keeping them out of the trash can, including the digital ones. In addition, the colors may perhaps at least flash before the students’ eyes even if they are in the process of tossing the evaluations, or in the case of online students merely only opening the assessment for a moment. I am doing what I can to grab the attention of the student who will only give moments to the feedback effort. Perhaps using color will help students to make better connections for improvement.
by Terry Heick, TeachThought.com
With instructional strategies, data collection, curricular planning, personal communication, and classroom management to consider, where technology fits in to a teacher’s workday isn’t obvious—especially a new teacher. But if you can consider technology as a macro tool rather than a micro task, this simple paradigm shift can make all the difference.
A Means and an End
Technology is as much an end as a means.
While it can act as a powerful tool to actuate thinking, curate performance, and connect learners, technology can create its own need to know, and even obscure the reasons for learning in the first place.
On a simple level, there is the matter of function. While hardware (iPads) and software (programs and apps) are designed to be accessible, there are inevitably problems. Passwords can fail, broadband access can be problematic, and even the simplest act—such as copying a file from one drive to another—can take up more time than they save, and suggest a point of diminishing return.
On a murkier, more complex level is the idea of workflow.
Technology workflow refers to the role of technology in learning facilitation—specifically what is used when for what reason.
If a student is taking notes using an iPad, then needs to share those notes with a partner, the technology workflow is simple. The student internalizes materials, interfaces with the technology to capture thinking, then uses an app or function of an app to share the file. At this point, all is well.
But if ten lab partners need to access unique databases, return to a shared physical (or digital) space to share ideas, communicate priorities, then re-disperse, the workflow is more complicated and recursive. This matters less with individuals (though it matters then, still), and more when large groups like classes or entire schools access similar hardware, software, and even content.
Workflow can make or break technology use.
Luckily, there are some ideas to keep in mind as you plan.
1. Think Function First
As you approach technology, think first of what it is doing. What exactly it is doing.
To do this, you’ll need to observe some barrier to learning—otherwise the technology use is, at best, gratuitous, and at worst, leading students away from what you’re wanting them to come to understand.
Rather than think “What’s a cool way to use twitter?”, you might notice that students are missing out on real-world access to content experts. Then you might notice that blogging, twitter, and RSS feeds are all three powerful ways to connect students to said experts.
Technology use here becomes strategic, intentional, and more likely to result in additional capacity for learning with technology.
2. Let Students Lead
Students may or may not know technology better than you. This is difficult to judge because their knowledge here can be so uneven.
Regardless, they likely know it differently than you do. So let them lead.
Let them choose new applications for existing technology—a new way to use Evernote, or a smarter way to use hyperlinking in Microsoft Word.
Let them corral emerging trends in social media use and work them into the learning process.
Let them figure out the logistics of turning work in, sharing feedback, and maintaining a digital portfolio. While this is necessary in a BYOD environment, it is possible anywhere.
3. Start With What You Know
While you’ll gradually need to push yourself out of your comfort zone, start where you’re comfortable—and not comfortable as a teacher, but as a technology user yourself.
If you’re an avid user of facebook or pinterest, figure out a compelling way to integrate it into the learning process. Same with your Android smartphone or the new digital multi-meter you just picked up on Amazon.
This will help you learn how technology actually works in the learning process while not having to juggle mastering a new technology while you’re at it. As a new teacher, you’ve got enough to keep you up at night.
4. Experiment Constantly
Whatever you do as you grow as a teacher, do not become complacent. Step out of your comfort zone, seek out better ways to complete the mundane tasks that sabotage your free time, and try new things with technology.
This experimentation can come as the result of collaboration with your professional learning network, business leaders in the community, or the students themselves. Make sure that in your daily use of social media, physical print, or in-person observation you have access to powerful uses of technology, or your “idea well” will be self-contained and likely unsustainable.
5. Be Mindful Of Your Own Biases
Both new and experienced teachers will need to prioritize what’s most important in their classroom. There’s only so much time and so many resources. This is understandable.
For new teachers, before you know it your first year becomes your fourth, and built-in habits that were formed during the storm of your first classroom experience can be difficult to even see, much less break.
For experienced teachers, constantly seeing education technology with fresh eyes can help you see function first while also staying ahead of emerging trends. If you hold fast to this app or that operating system you risk creating your own personal learning environment rather than one for your students.
Resisting this requires a solid framework for technology integration from the beginning that is catalyzed by your own interests and passion, but is also interdependent with students, experts, and your global learning network.
Don’t be afraid to fail; everyone fails. Just be sure that failure comes in pursuit of better technology integration that is dynamic and evolving, rather than a stunted system of tried-and-true that will eventually catch up to you in your career.
Image attribution flickr users tanyaalittle and cliff1066
Bena Kallick, Eduplanet21
Are you having trouble listening with understanding and empathy (one of the Habits of Mind) when you are not face to face with the other person–on facebook, Google+, twitter, or other social networks? As an educator, staying in touch with your professional learning network digitally is a boon to the quantity of communication, but without the proper habits, you may not be reaping the quality you might. Inspired by the thinking from my work with Art Costa at the Institute for the Habits of Mind, here are some tips:
Do you find it hard to manage your impulsivity? Do you want to just respond, like, or share and get it done to move on to the next task? This diminishes the quality and substance of your interactions. As you pause, prioritize the messages that you value most and send them in an order that allows you to invest the appropriate focus on each one.
We are all captive to this experience so when you find yourself engaged in an important issue with someone else–on another network, or in person, minimize the browser window, or even get up from the computer altogether to help shift cognitive “maps,” then return to the computer when you have some time. This would be equivalent to the pause button that we use when we are engaged with someone face to face.
It is often the case that we think we understand what another person is saying and we jump to conclusions without checking to see if we truly understand. Paraphrasing is a very useful tool when in a web based conference. For example, when there are many people communicating at once–in- person, on a conference call, or even on a social media platform--it helps to paraphrase what you understand are the key points.
At the same time, you are helping to summarize and make sense out of the multiple perspectives, an important thinking and communication skill. This also reduces the temptation to simply get your .02 in without respecting the topic or purpose of others involved in the communication.
Good questions serve to clarify as well as extend the communication and the thinking. Especially with social learning, good questions are the start for good feedback. Probing what the other is saying shows respect for the other person’s thinking and a curiosity about how that thinking might influence yours.
Most people are living at least one half of their professional life in social learning or communication of one sort or another. How do you use–or fail to use–thinking and communication habits (Habits of Mind, for example) as a guide for making your work in education meaningful?
You might want to learn more about the Habits of Mind from our book, Learning and Leading with Habits of Mind
SKYPE is an application that allows your image to be broadcast to another computer anywhere in the world. It is great for Skyping authors, experts, or even NASA scientists into a classroom. An entire class can “Skype” with another class anywhere a computer has a feed. The potential for lecture, collaboration and learning is unlimited. I thought it might be interesting to share the Skype experience from the point of view of the presenter.
I was fortunate and honored to be asked by the organizers of Edcamp Atlanta to Skype into their Edcamp for a Q & A session. I know many people have been in a room when someone skypes in, but I thought I could share the experience from the other side of the camera. Skyping in as a speaker is not the same experience as a Skype call with a friend.
The first consideration on the call is the Time Zone. Proximity plays a big part in the need to Skype in the first place. Obviously, if you could be in a place in person, there would be no need to Skype. Time differences can be a big part of the planning for the call. I prefer Skyping west as opposed to Skyping east. California calls are always easier than those early hour Skypes to England.
The next consideration is what to wear. A big plus with Skype is that the only concern needed is for what shirt to wear. Theoretically, a Skype call could be done trouserless, because the camera only gets the upper part of your body. That narrows the decision to shirt and hair. The shirt decision is easy, but to wear a tie or not to wear a tie is always a question. My answer is consistently to not wear a tie. Hair is another story altogether. You don’t want to resemble Clint Eastwood as he addressed an empty chair in his now infamous YouTube video from the RNC. Come to think of it, he might have been better off Skyping that presentation.
Once you are settled with the final decisions, it is time to place your fate in the hands of others. They will make the call to connect, and then the fun begins. If you are Skyping to a room of people, the sound and picture coming from the simple computer alone will not be enough for them to see and hear. A large screen and a sound amplifying system will need to be brought in. Along with that comes the IT guy who must hook it all up. Of course you need to be connected for all of this to happen, so the setup is taking place on the screen before your eyes as well as the audience. Sound Check! Sound Check! 1, 2, 3, 4, 5……
Once the picture and sound are up and running and the audience has a perfect view of you the IT guy goes back to his office. What IT guys usually fail to do however is position the computer that you are feeding into, so that you can see the audience that you are addressing. With luck you might have a partial view of the group, but invariably it is always askew. If you are really not lucky, it may be facing the wrong direction altogether.
Now it is time to address the audience. Again with luck on your side, there might be a few people visible, but they are at a distance. Many of the cues that you would get from an in-person presentation are not visible on a Skype call. The worst part however is the Question and Answer portion. People do not interact with the TV version of a presenter as they do with a live presenter. Again, the cues from a live back-and-forth interaction are just not there. The sound system can also be a killer. If the moderator is using a microphone that echoes in the venue, then you have less of a chance of clearly hearing the questions being posed. There is a great possibility that you are answering a question that was never asked.
The very worst thing though is when you use a line in your Skype presentation that always elicits a certain response in a live presentation, but here, in the world of Skype, nothing happens. Of course it can’t be the fault of the line that you used, because it always worked live, so the only answer is that the audience can’t hear you.
The question: Can you hear me?
The answer: Yeah, we can hear you fine!
So much for my career in standup comedy.
I am most thankful however that in my Skype presentation to the Atlanta Edcamp, as I sat in my neatly ironed Hawaiian shirt and pajama pants, shoeless, and sockless, none of these things happened. It was a flawless presentation on connectedness for educators followed by an active exchange of questions and answers.
I am most grateful and honored to have been asked by the good folks of Atlanta Edcamp to participate with them in this wonderful professional development endeavor. I truly hope I didn’t disappoint.
Recently, I was told by a teacher that she doesn’t have time to teach digital citizenship because she has to cover too many other content-specific standards. I get it... the Common Core-state tests-AP/IB/SAT/ACT Madness eats up so much of our time. Still, there is no excuse for allowing students to enter into the digital world without a toolkit for not only safety but also success. Beyond that, there is such a wide range of options for truly integrating digital citizenship objectives that the argument given by teachers who claim a lack of time is simply unfounded. Here are a few ways we all can bring digital citizenship to our classrooms seamlessly.
There are only a few explanations that many educators offer up as reasons not to learn and use any technology as tools for learning. One of the most popular excuses, frequently cited by educators, is that there is not enough time to learn all of the stuff that is out there. It certainly is true that there are a huge number of things to learn out there that are linked to technology. When thought about as a complete package, it most definitely can be overwhelming, and I wholeheartedly agree with that. Where I disagree however, is in thinking about all of this technology stuff as a complete unit that must be learned all at once. There are logical and necessary ways to break things down to learn smaller snippets of things on a need-to-know basis in order to build into a larger framework of information.
In sales people are taught that if you can answer a customer’s objection to a product, you are more likely to make the sale. The problem is that the customer more often than not cannot articulate what the real objection is. They will say that they object to one thing, while the real reason is that they can’t afford it. If money is not the problem, they might choose color, or, size, or, complexity, or simplicity as an excuse not to buy something, when all along the reason for the objection is that they don’t understand how to use the product. The product is too complicated and they fear that they will fail at learning how to use it effectively, as well as looking foolish for all to see. That is not an objection that the customer will publicly admit to, or even privately to himself. Of course a good salesperson will discover the objection allay the fears and make the sale. The customer, after making the purchase, will then take home the product, place it in a closet, and never visit it again until the eventual possibility of its placement in some future yard sale becomes a reality.
As educators, we deal with information, and once that was a limited commodity. Theoretically, at one time all of the available information in the world could have been contained within a very large publication. With each passing day however, the amount of information available to us grew in drips and drabs. It really began to increase exponentially with the advent of technology from pens, to printing press, to computer, to the internet. No publication could house all of the information available in the world today. I have been a classroom teacher for 40 years. There is way more stuff to teach today compared to when I started out.
As educators, do we throw up our hands and say that this is all too much, and there is not enough time for our students to learn all of the stuff that is out there? I think not! We actually break things down for our learners into teachable bites of information to be assembled and digested as ideas and concepts as our learners are able to take these things in. As educators the volume of information of what we teach will continually increase. That should never be a deterrent to educators preventing teachers from teaching, or learners from learning. We also now teach the skills for learners to critically analyze information so that they continue learning on their own beyond the limitations of their teachers. There is however one exception to this picture that I have just drawn out. The idea that educators are prevented from learning about technology tools for learning because there is just too much information.
Why don’t educators learn from their own teaching? Break things down into small bites of information. Learn what needs to be learned first, rather than all that can be learned, which is an unattainable goal that will overwhelm. Do not be daunted by the amount of information available, but inspired by that which is attainable. As a teacher’s knowledge of technology increases, so do the skills of learning more, as well as the ability to teach more. Technology doesn’t make a bad teacher good, but it can make a good teacher great. Educators should not be defined by their limitations, but rather by their ability to learn as well as teach. To be better educators, we must first be better learners.
I was visiting a school recently and taking the instructional leaders on classroom walkthroughs as a part of the leadership training we were doing in the district. The purpose of the walkthrough was to help the leaders learn how to distinguish rigorous instruction and provide teachers with effective feedback that would significantly improve their practice. At the beginning of the day, I started by explaining the purpose of the walkthrough and outlining the Mindsteps rules for the walkthrough process which are a little different from traditional walkthroughs.
First, the leaders were not allowed to take notes in the classroom. They were only allowed to jot down notes once they were safely down the hall. Second, as they observed, they were to look for information that would help them answer three questions:
1. What was the teacher trying to do?
2. Was the teacher successful?
3. What was the ONE thing that either made the teacher successful or could make the teacher successful?
The third rule was that we could not stay for longer than 5-7 minutes.
At first the team bristled at the idea that they couldn’t write anything down. They were used to using their iPads and district-provided checklists during walkthroughs. They worried that they wouldn’t remember everything or would miss something by not being able to write their observations down.
But I insisted. I wanted them to sit in the classroom and pay attention. I didn’t want them so consumed with checking off behaviors on a checklist that they failed to absorb what was happening in the classroom. I wanted them to focus on what was happening. I wanted them to sit in the classroom and absorb whatever they saw. They should pay attention to what the teacher is doing, what the students are doing, what is written on the board, whatever catches their attention.
They were also concerned that they wouldn’t be able to answer my three questions with only a five-minute observation. But again, I insisted. We have found at Mindsteps that observing what we call a “micro-slice” of instruction actually helps leaders hone their observations. Longer observations have their place, but they can tend to muddy observer’s lenses. By observing a short slice of instruction, you can tell much of what you need to know about a teacher through a five minute observation.
As we began the walkthrough, I could tell that the team was uncomfortable. We walked into the first classroom and stayed for about five minutes. They fidgeted nervously as they tried to take the entire classroom in and remember what they saw. At the end of five minutes, we left the classroom and took two to three minutes in the hall to jot down notes that captured our observations. Then I took them to an empty classroom to discuss what we’d just observed.
During the discussion, I asked the team to focus on the three questions:
1. What was the teacher trying to do?
2. Was the teacher successful?
3. What was the ONE thing that either made the teacher successful or could make the teacher successful?
It’s that ONE THING question that always stumps the observers at first. If the lesson is unsuccessful, they want to try to suggest alternate strategies or rewrite the teacher’s lesson plans. If the lesson was successful it gets even harder. They offer nebulous explanations for why the lesson work and fail to get at the ONE THING that the teacher is doing that made the entire lesson hang together.
But it is the discipline of the ONE THING is what makes the discussion so rich. So we spent our time there, really trying to get down to the ONE THING in the lesson we just observed. Together, the team and I dug deeper in our discussion. Suddenly, things that we dismissed during our observation achieved more significance. And, as we reached for that ONE THING, we started to notice patterns among the information we collected. It’s a highly rigorous way to observe because the value isn’t in the information we collected but in how we interpret it. We ended up having a 20-minute discussions from that one 5 minute slice of instruction. But, that one discussion helped the leadership team closely examine their beliefs about teaching and learning, upgrade the quality of their feedback to teachers, and develop more internal consistency in the kind of feedback teachers receive from the team.
At the end of the discussion, we agreed as a team what the ONE THING is. From there, we crafted that feedback into the appropriate strategic conversation that will help the teacher act on it given the teacher’s will and skill. It was a powerful learning experience for both the teacher and the team of observers.
If you conduct walk-throughs in your school, I urge you to try using micro-slicing as a way to help you get to the root of a teacher’s practice, deepen your own leadership practice, and provide more targeted and useful support. If you’d like to learn more about how to conduct effective walkthroughs in general, check out our book The Instructional Leader’s Guide to Strategic Conversations with Teachers. And, if you’d like to learn more about how you can schedule this kind of coaching for your leadership team, contact us here.