Celebrate the Good

The world seems so much smaller these days because of social media and the ability to contact people anytime anywhere. But walking in schools, I still get the feeling sometimes that classrooms are each in their own silo. Reaching out within a school does not often seem to happen as much as reaching out on Twitter or Facebook. Maybe it is because we are more concerned with having our teaching styles judged by those we see daily? But to build a cohesive culture within our schools we need to reach out to each other for support, encouragement and celebrations.

With this goal in mind, I started adding a new piece in my weekly emails toa school I consult with. I now include a celebration segment. This could be a photo or video or just a description of something that was great or a lesson that went better than expected, or small measure of joyfulness in a classroom during the past week. I am hoping to generate a culture that sees the process and the excitement of learning as a reason to celebrate.

In my former role as Principal in my daily emails to faculty, I would often thank teachers for programs they put on with their students. I felt it that just like students, hearing appreciation out loud should happen frequently. Real praise that states what is being appreciated resonates beyond the moment into those times that we need to remember that we are capable and accomplished.

I have learned that the small successes are what life is built upon. I also tried to encourage the teachers to visit other classrooms to see how certain things were being accomplished. This way I was not the only “coach/expert” in the school. Encouraging teachers to talk about their classrooms with each other made the walls disappear and cultivated not just a feeling of congeniality among the teachers but substantial support for teachers who needed a lift, idea or just a smile.

How do you celebrate achievements or ‘good tries?’ Leave a comment or join the conversation on Twitter or Instagram, @edtechease. 

Orginally posted on Thursday, 13 September 2018.

Percolating Time

So, when I decided to write a blog, I envisioned myself sitting down at my kitchen table and spending an hour here, an afternoon there, writing. Well, I was wrong. Well mostly wrong. Often I start a blog that way. Maybe a paragraph or just a sentence. But I have learned from writing letters to parents or articles for school newsletters, that I need to think through an idea in my head and then let it flow. So it is with my blog posts. I often find myself getting out of bed and heading to the kitchen and standing at my counter and letting my thoughts push out of my fingers onto my keyboard. Why am I telling you all this? Because I think sometimes we expect our students to be given assignments and expect them to get right down to it, particularly with our writing assignments.

As we get ready to start a new school year, I think we need to take this idea into consideration. How do we include percolating time into our school day? How can we let students create connections to new ideas, concepts, math procedures before they are expected to construct an assignment?

Could you add a minute or two the lesson at the end, just to think about what was just taught, discussed, introduced? Now, you may be saying that the students may not actually think about the lesson. You may be right but giving them a “brain break” may actually give them time to process the information. Eric Jensen suggests “do what you can to give students a way to let the content settle. Ideas include taking time for breaks…” (Teaching with the Brain in Mind, 2005).

What about a “brain dump?” Letting the students write down everything they remember about the lesson.

When it comes to writing, give the topic or the writing genre ahead of time. Maybe include the writing assignment in a Morning Message (for all of you Responsive Classroom teachers). This way the students have time to think about what they want to write about for the assignment. Thinking maps are a great way to get the ideas out there before actually writing. Maybe that could be the homework for the night, just writing down ideas. You have then given them time to process the assignment and time to think of ideas in the privacy of their home. For those who get frustrated with classmates who can get right to work, this eliminates one element of frustration.

When I taught Kindergarten, I soon learned which students needed me to do a mental 3-5 count before I prompted their answer. They truly need to process their responses and when rushed to answer immediately when I called on them meant I received no answer or a poor one. This was not an accurate measure of what they knew nor the quality answer they were capable of giving. We need to remember that a “3-5 count” is needed at other times as well.

So after several starts and stops, this blog post is done. How do you let ideas or lessons percolate for students? Share your thoughts (@edtechease on Twitter and on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/edtechease/ or on Instagram (edtechease). 

Originally posted on  Thursday, 16 August 2018.

Freedom

This week is July 4th week. Freedom is the idea running around in mind this week. What is freedom? So I posted the following on Twitter: 

Been writing a new blog post & July 4th has been on my mind. So I started to write a list of what FREEDOM is then I realized, I would like to ask others what FREEDOM is. So I am asking… some of the answers will be in my next post. 

Here are some of the answers:

FREEDOM to write what you think.

FREEDOM to fail and try, try again.

FREEDOM to disagree.

FREEDOM to be more similar than different.

FREEDOM to be what you are.

FREEDOM to carve out your place.

FREEDOM to impress ourselves.

FREEDOM to educate our kids in ways that suit them.

Here are a few more: 

I finished gathering quotes for this post while watching the Macy’s 4th of July program. So some of the answers came from people interviewed. Thoughts on freedom were chosen with positive in mind. Thanks to all those who helped me write this blog! Share your thoughts on the idea of freedom (@edtechease on Twitter and on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/edtechease/). 

Originally posted on Friday, 06 July 2018.

Let the Creativity Flow

These days as a consultant, my students are the teachers and administrators in my client schools. So when I have the opportunity to meet with students and model some of the ideas that I am discussing with the faculty, I jump at the chance.

This occurred recently on a consultation in North Carolina. I was demonstrating the ease of use of a fun little robot called Evo by Ozobot (https://ozobot.com/products). I had brought Evo with me to demonstrate how even our littlest learners could code with colors but also how older learners can get really creative with their coding. So, as two administrators and I were “playing,” two middle school girls wandered in the room and instantly became fascinated with the Evo. 

We put a parameter on the tracks that each end had to go to the edge of the paper so that we could connect the tracks.

Listening to the collaboration of each group was a great way for the teacher to get some insight into their problem solving strategies. But the best part for me was the conversations that erupted when we put the tracks together. What their thoughts were when Evo had trouble maneuvering the tracks and when it went smoothly. The ideas for revamping the tracks and of course the pleas for the teacher/admin to buy these for the school so they could do this more.

When students are given the opportunity to let their creativity flow, the learning is not something that can be found in a textbook.

Share your thoughts. (@edtechease on Twitter and on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/edtechease/)

Originally posted on Thursday, 21 June 2018.

Voices

As schools are ending or have ended, that brings graduations and moving up ceremonies. With this in mind, I am sharing a modified version of the 5th grade graduation talk I gave last year.

I am a country music person. Several months ago I was walking, listening to my walking playlist and the song Voices by Chris Young came on. Now normally hearing voices in your head is not considered a good thing. But this song takes another path about hearing voices. It is about hearing… really listening… to important family members. Listening to the advice they have spouted to you now and will continue to spout over and over to you as you move through your teenage years, college and beyond.

I am not talking about your parents reminding you to put away your laundry or to do your homework. But the life lessons that your parents (and teachers) have and will try to impart. The lessons about conducting yourself in difficult situations and just in everyday circumstances. It is the lessons about consequences and knowing what they are before making a decision. Lessons about the kind of person you wan to be.

Through the next few years and beyond, you are going to roll your eyes at many things that adults in your life will say. It is those very things that you will “hear” later.

So if you can do just one thing, the next time you want to roll your eyes, just listen a bit. Take a breath and focus on what your parents, grandparents, or teachers are trying to express.

Each of you will have an envelope with your Certificate that is from your parents. Inside are some words that your parents want you to really hear. Don’t open it right now, wait till you decide that you want to hear their words. Next week is too soon, in fact the first time you think of opening the envelope is too soon. Maybe the fifth time.

Finally, as you go through life, maybe you will hear my voice. I hope you hear me say: Mistakes are opportunities, Opportunities to learn, Opportunities to know it is ok to change your mind.

To quote another country song, may you also hear these words… stay Humble and Kind. Congratulations to our rising 6th graders and your parents!

Shari Wladis
Voices
by, Chris Young

You could say I'm a little bit crazy
You could call me insane
Walkin' 'round with all these whisper
Runnin' 'round here in my brain
I just can't help but hear ‘em
Man, I can't avoid it
I hear voices
I hear voices like

My dad sayin', "Work that job
But don't work your life away”
And mama tellin' me to drop some cash
In the offerin' plate on Sunday
And granddad sayin', "You can have a few
But don't ever cross that line”

Yeah, I hear voices all the time
Turns out I'm pretty dang lucky
For all that good advice
Those hard-to-find words of wisdom
Holed up here in my mind
And just when I've lost my way
Or I've got too many choices


I hear voices
I hear voices like
My dad sayin', "Quit that team
And you'd be a quitter for the rest of your life”
And mama tellin' me to say a prayer
Every time I lay down at night
And grandma sayin', "If you find the one
You better treat her right”

Yeah, I hear voices all the time
Sometimes I try to ignore ‘em
But I thank God for ‘em
Cause they made me who I am

My dad sayin', "Work that job
But don't work your life away”
And mama tellin' me to drop some cash
In the offerin' plate on Sunday
And granddad sayin', "You can have a few
But don't ever cross that line”

Yeah, I hear voices all the time
Yeah, I hear voices all the time
All the time

Originally posted on  Thursday, 07 June 2018.

Happy Endings?

Over Mother’s Day weekend, I went to see Avengers -Infinity War. For many Mother’s Days, my family takes me to see the new superhero movie. I like superhero movies, to the joy of my three sons. So even though my youngest son was home from college and had seen the movie, and my older two were not home, I asked my husband to take me. As we left, we discussed the ending of the movie (so if you have not seen Avengers -Infinity War and plan to, STOP reading and come back after seeing the movie).

We enjoyed he humor in the movie and I thought the multiple storylines was interesting. But as I texted my oldest son:

“Not sure how I feel about the movie. I like happier endings.”

My husband is not sure he wants to see the next one (he will). He was upset that some of his favorite heroes were disintegrated (told you to stop reading). Let’s be honest, we don’t go to see superhero movies because they will lose. For me, I like that at the end of a superhero movie, the good guys win and the bad guys don’t. It is nice to suspend everyday life in favor of a comic book life. At least the comic books I read. My youngest is a comic book aficionado and has informed me that comic books are not always happy worlds. And I do know this from watching the Netflix series, Daredevil, as well as others. But to be honest, I still go to superhero movies expecting a happy ending.

Well, that has not been the case lately. Superman died in a recent one, but came back in the next one. In a previous Avengers, the heroes fought each other.

So where is this post going? Well, while I like a typical superhero happy ending, we know life is not that way. Yet, too may of our parents are trying to take out the “difficult” or fix any obstacles for them. So maybe we need less perfect happy endings and more realistic happy endings as models for today’s students.

Our plans for lessons, events, life in general for the most part go well. But they rarely go like planned. So maybe if in the Avengers -Infinity War, the world is saved but some heroes do not make it (again, told you to see the movie then read this), maybe that is a better reflection of life. Things work out, but not always as we planned or hoped. Is this something we should repeat (consistently or constantly)? Should we be setting the example that we try to do our best, fix what we can, and learn that the world is not perfect?

I will go and see the next Avengers movie, my son says it will be out in 2019. I will hope that there is a way for the lost heroes to miraculously return (it is a fantasy movie after all). But I will also keep in mind that maybe my definition of a happy ending needs to be a bit revised.

Share your thoughts. (@edtechease on Twitter and on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/edtechease/).

Originally posted on  Thursday, 24 May 2018.

Other Teachers’ Classroom

 The fascination of walking into another teacher’s classroom. We have all felt it. The “Ooh, did not think to set up my bookshelves like that.” Or the “That works well for a learning center.” Now, I am not talking about Pinterest classroom jealousy, rather the ideas that pop up when you enter another teacher’s room and wonder if yours could work that way too. That’s professional reflection.

Kids feel that fascination too, especially when entering a classroom that is designed for older students. Each week I volunteer at a local elementary school doing book clubs with students. This year I have primarily led groups with Kindergarten through 2nd grade students. Last week, when I met with the kindergarteners, our normal room (the music classroom) was occupied. So we were asked to use a 5th grade classroom. Well, those kindergartners walked into that room with wide eyes and open mouths. They walked around the higher desks and the taller chairs but the biggest excitement was the snake! I asked them to wait till the end of our activity/reading session and then I promised we would check out the snake up close. With a few reminders, we did wait and the close up viewing was worth the wait. They pondered if it could get out (cage top has a lock on it) and if it had enough air (yes, the cage top was a screened top).

The funny thing is I also walked into this room with wide eyes. My eyes went to the collaborative table set low to the ground in one section of the room with cute crates and seat cushions. Made me think of another teacher’s room I had seen earlier in the school year. She also had a low table for collaboration but also a table that was set to counter height for standing around. This teacher had noticed in the last few years that some kids need to stand when working. She says it has worked well for learning space choice this school year.

Back to the 5th grade classroom. I noticed the section of her board with the learning targets displayed and the poster that set up the behavior expectations. I saw that the supplies were well positioned for independent student access. I considered if I would have left a little more “empty” space on the walls (something I am investigating through reading studies and how it affects students ability to focus and remain engaged).

When I do school visits for accreditations or consulting, I take lots of pictures of classrooms so that I remember all the great and unique configurations that teachers design. I also note the posters, anchor charts, and how students’ work is displayed. When talking with the teachers, I often ask why certain things on their walls were used or placed in a particular way. Their answers lead to great discussions on pedagogy and just what they think will get their students thinking.

As this school year winds down, take a trip. Take a walk to a classroom in your school, one that you rarely go to. Maybe it is in a different grade level or maybe it is the art room. See how that teacher has designed the learning space. Start a Design Thinking Cycle of how you will re-create learning spaces in your classroom for next year (http://edtechease.com/index.php/blog/teachers-use-design-thinking-all-the-time). Maybe re-arrange your current classroom design to try it out for a bit. Elicit the ideas of those most affected by your learning space, your students. Invite next year’s students to visit and ask their opinions as to how they would like to see the classroom look. Ask them if they want more or less “white” space on the walls.

Don’t stop there. Keep taking in-school classroom walks next year. Ask why a teacher chose to use bookshelves as space dividers or got rid of book shelves for book buckets. Notice if the posters change throughout the school year and does a lamp help set the mood for reading time.

Share your observations and your pictures! (@edtechease on Twitter and on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/edtechease/).

Originally posted on Thursday, 10 May 2018.

Accountability – What does it mean to be accountable?

Accountability. A word that is thrown around schools, discussed with parents, and expected of students. But what is it? The New Oxford American Dictionary on my computer defines accountability as: the fact or condition of being accountable; responsibility. So when we say students need to be accountable, we are saying we want students to be responsible? When we tell students’ parents to partner with us to ‘make their child responsible,’ are we talking about teaching accountability? Sounds easy. Just telling students to be responsible or be accountable for their learning, should just make it happen. Yea right…

If it was that easy, we would not see college students expecting chance after chance to turn in work that was assigned the first day of class. These young adults would not cry foul when expected to turn in an assignment when it is due or take a hit on their grade when it is late. Or have their parent or coach contact the teacher to explain the situation and resolve it for the college student. But this should not be surprising, because this same student’s parents talked to his/her teachers form preschool through high school to fix issues.

Please don’t get upset and think I am against parents advocating for their children. In fact, I endorse that and have done so myself. I am not talking about the parent who emails a teacher to explain that her child was frustrated doing homework and after a reasonable time period and her trying to guide him, she is letting the teacher know that she told her child to stop and move on to another subject. Let’s applaud that parent for knowing that frustration will impede any review or benefit from that homework.

But what do we really want the students to be accountable for and how do we teach them to be accountable. So, in my opinion, docking them in the behavior system for forgetting their pencil does not teach responsibility. I know the last time I forgot a writing tool in a meeting, there were some on the conference table or someone let me borrow one of theirs. Please just give out the pencil. Did they forget their homework? Ask why, then decide if the student’s current organization system is working. Is the student remembering to take the necessary materials home? Is there a time period for homework at home? Working with the student (and the parents) to create a plan may be the path to teaching the student to be accountable, rather than giving a negative consequence.

Sticking to given deadlines will teach students more about being accountable and give them the experiences they will need in higher education and ultimately their jobs. Expect students to follow the outlined assignment plan. Teaching a student how to plan for a deadline and break large assignments into manageable chunks, will guide them towards being responsible. Understand why your students are not demonstrating accountability and then help them create strategies.

So, what does it mean to be accountable? How do you teach your students to be accountable? Share your thoughts and ideas, @edtechease. 

Originally posted on  Thursday, 26 April 2018.

Parent Engagement

A blog post I wrote in the fall was about creating a classroom community with your students. Creating a safe place for respectful discussion to occur, for students to take risks their with education, not “play it safe” for the grades. But what about the others who have also been part of your classroom this year? What about your students’ parents? Another blog post I wrote in November addressed these important stakeholders in your classroom or school. I suggested ways to communicate information to parents, http://edtechease.com/index.php/blog/a-team-approach. Have you included them to be partners in their children’s education this school year?

This year as I stepped out of working in a school on a day-to-day basis, I thought my interactions and interest in parental concerns would end. I was wrong. Our students are first and foremost someone’s children. We can not forget this as we plan lessons, events, & design curriculum. Our students’ parents were their first teachers and will remain their guides throughout life. I have seen my own parental role change as my sons reach adulthood. Just this morning, one son texted to ask me a question because he was faced with a new situation and wanted to talk through his decision. Our students also spend most of their young lives with their parents not us, educators. So, let’s include them in the classroom community.

I moderated a Twitter Chat for #isedchat last week that focused on Parent Involvement. I was thrilled that a parent was an active participant in the discussion. He suggested we use the term ‘Parent Engagement’ instead and I thought that was a much better way to conceptualize what I am encouraging here. If we engage parents as co-learners, then they can reinforce topics at home in authentic ways. Point out use of fractions as they cook, note science topics in the news or talk to their children about collaboration they did at their workplaces.

So how do you engage parents to be partners in their children’s education? Bring parents into the classroom regularly, both physically and digitally. The parent I mentioned earlier, suggested joint Twitter Chats. Might work well for Middle and High School students and their parents. Administration or teachers survey for topics and hold Twitter Chats, once a month or once a semester. Great way to model positive social media discussions. For elementary families, using programs like Seesaw to showcase photos and videos from classroom lessons. Or even classroom Twitter or Instagram posts gives parents insights into what their children are experiencing in class.

How about inviting parents in for a morning of co-learning? When parents see the way their students learn, and even struggle to learn, then a conversation about supporting and encouraging can begin. School becomes an authentic experience for parents rather than an ideal. Students can take the lead an act as tour guides for the classroom, or teach a lesson to their parents on a digital device. Family Nights are a way to showcase the curriculum or special areas. A Read Aloud Night can provide guidance to families in connecting through literature.

This idea of Parent Engagement may be a great conversation to have at your next faculty meeting or a post – planning. Maybe the best people to ask would be parents. Survey your parents as to how they want to engage with their children’s classes. Or ask the students how they want their parents to be involved in their education.

Share how you are engaging parents in your classroom community. Share on Twitter, @edtechease or Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/edtechease/

Originally posted on Thursday, 12 April 2018.

Brainstorming!

My mind is currently a mess! Ideas for this blog start to percolate and then fizzle out. I have a list of ideas but none seem to develop into a full blog. So, today you are reading my list. Maybe jotting down these thoughts will help the ideas to grow and become clear expressions.

  1. Positivity – how to reframe thoughts into positive actions
  2. What background does a teacher need to be qualified to teach?
  3. Telling classroom and school stories
  4. Why reading aloud is so important!
  5. Picturebooks inspire creativity and how to use this in your classroom
  6. Intentionally integrating technology in your classroom is a best practice 
  7. Creating a Culture of Innovation
  8. Multi-age classrooms
  9. How to create a collaborative classroom 
  10. Digital Citizenship is a must teach for all students
  11. Parents as co-learners
  12. The importance of reading to children 
  13. Authentic Arguments 
  14. Conduct Codes

So in brainstorming this list, I realized that there is a different purpose to this blog post. It is a reminder to me that brain dumping, my students like this term better than brainstorming, is a vital part of a creative process. In fact, the imagining of possible solutions/ideas is an integral part of a Design Thinking process.

I have now started my next blog with one of these ideas (check back for my next post). So when you get stuck, try a brain dump. Remind your students the benefits of imagining ideas and solutions.

Thanks for letting me brainstorm! Feel free to add a few more ideas on Twitter (@edtechease) or Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/edtechease/) or in the comments.