Summer 2020. Not exactly the summer we were anticipating when we first envisioned final exams, caps and gowns, and end-of-year celebrations. Most of us have made it through the remote learning process and rounded out one more year, but not with the same sense of finality. The grading deadlines came – the communication all via text, email or Zoom – and then it was done. There was no sitting in a cafeteria with laughter and that end-of-year feeling of accomplishment. There was no talk of summer plans and upcoming travels. So, I don’t know about you, but when the deadline for grades was over, it felt like there should have been more, but there was simply nothing left to do.
If you had to do remote learning all over again, what would you do differently?
These past few months have lent plenty of time for self-reflection. I am a silver lining type of person and am fascinated by how not only education, but also businesses and organizations everywhere have adjusted this spring. I am not promoting all online, all remote learning, but embracing that we have had to confront, adapt, and constantly pivot, inevitably leading us to a new normal. I think that the human element and relationships formed in the classroom are far too important to ever exclude. I cannot help but wonder, though, if we have to repeat distance learning, what would we do differently?
I began the remote learning process with a six-week-old baby and a two year-old. I would say “if you only knew during those Zoom calls,” but now everyone knows because we have all been there. Hopefully there have been more laughs than frustrations and a great story or two to tell later.
If this steep learning curve of an experience has taught us anything before another potential wave, it is to be more prepared for the future. I polled numerous teachers to gauge their comfort level with remote learning and technology, understandably finding all ranges from novice to advanced. Even those adept at organizing their classes with EdTech practices still breathed a heavy sigh of relief on the last day of school. The common denominator among all teachers? “I wish I’d had more training to be prepared for something like this.”
The amount of teachers fearlessly navigating new waters and asking for help was received by an abundance of support. Teachers willingly gave their resources via every platform. Teachers unfamiliar with EdTech practices developed some of the most creative ideas I have ever seen. In essence, the circumstances pushed the educational community to their greater potential, a silver lining, if I say so.
But for now, let’s decompress…
When this all began, I took long runs down the middle of the road just because I knew I could. I had more time at home with my children, even if some days’ saving grace was a humorous meme to which I could relate. The balance of toddler, baby, bottle, and thankfulness for muting audio and video are over. It’s time to unwind. Teachers, take some time for yourselves and regroup before thinking about what learning will look like upon when we return.
In the fall, most of us will reunite with our students in our physical spaces. Teachers are naturals at establishing relationships but have been on overdrive lately to maintain connections with their students. How refreshing will it be to smile, to (air!) high five or fist bump our students once again? Perhaps we should charge our students with the new handshake. What creative ways will they develop to greet each other during this social distance era?
Félicitations, teachers, on a job well done. You not only kept the learning going, but more importantly, you were there for your students. This experience has pushed us to be teachers we may not have realized we were capable of being. How can we apply this in the future? But for now, relax…
COVID-19, corona virus, global pandemic. The year 2020 will be marked by these words when we look back. This event that swept the world disrupted much: our lives, our work, our economic system, and there was no exception made to our educational system.
In a matter of days, schools were forced to consider how to support their students within the possibility of shelter in place circumstances. Online learning became a reality. Even schools in the most ideal situation regarding resources were still overwhelmed with acclimating to virtual classrooms outside of their brick and mortar. Each school or district had their specific challenges. Some that normally provided a safe space and meals could only hand out curbside lunches to those fortunate enough with the transportation means. Others had to determine the number of devices to temporarily loan and how students (and teachers) would obtain them. But everyone affected dealt with the challenge of launching full-time remote learning that would best serve their learners, and in a quick turnaround.
Where we are now.
The response has encompassed a gamut of emotions, and understandably so. Administrators and teachers are needing to make fast, heavy decisions. Parents are suddenly educators. Students who relied on school for food are now less concerned with their academics when they have become full-time babysitters to younger siblings whose parents still work during this crisis.
While uncertainty and anxiety still loom, positivity has been in abundance. Humor to lighten the circumstances is starting to surface. Hop on Twitter and you will see the generous support of teachers reaching out to their students and colleagues. I beamed when seeing a Tweet, “Trying this for the first time!” and wished I could be a fly on the wall to see how schools rolled out their remote learning plan. Digital Innovation Specialists (or your district’s equivalent title) have worked around the clock to answer emails, phone calls, and texts. We are trying to support our learners in this difficult time, but let’s not forget how massive of a transition this is for teachers and families…and well, everyone.
“When faced with a problem, I reframe it as an opportunity.” -Richard Branson
It seems unrealistic to think that the educational system will remain unaffected by the recent massive modifications. I anticipate that the 2020-21 academic school year will look differently for some, but not yet for all. With the start of a school year less than six months away and no clear end in sight of the pandemic, we all may just need to step back, regroup, and take a breath before doing an overhaul of the next academic year.
Considerations for the (near and distant) future
We are all in the same boat.
Many parents and students are worried that their academics will fall behind, that regression should be their biggest concern. Similar asynchronous learning techniques are being practiced across the nation. While the academic situation anywhere may not be the most ideal, we are all in the same boat. Fall 2020 will be a reset for everyone everywhere. Until then, let’s talk about grace for a moment.
“Whatever the platform to keep learning moving forward, we also cannot lose sight of the importance of connecting people.” -Kellie Lauth, CEO of mindSpark Learning
Grace over grades.
There has been no shortage of anxiety in the early launches of nationwide remote learning. Administrators may not have the answers for their teachers. Grading systems are still yet to be determined. Best efforts of delivering devices or even simple workbook packets have been unsuccessful, thus leaving some students unaccounted for and begging even more questions that also remain unanswered. Much is unknown.
Furthermore, teacher, some of your best laid lessons may have had a glitch. Perhaps there have been unforeseen troubles on your end or for the student. Perhaps you did not anticipate certain factors when you bravely launched your new online remote learning tool. But you tried something new, which is honestly a step in the right direction.
Or maybe your students are now full-time babysitters for their younger siblings. Maybe they took a job at the local grocery store – one of the few businesses currently hiring – because their parents are no longer bringing in an income. Your math or history or Spanish lesson is not at the top of their priorities.
Regardless of the situation, much grace should be given across the board to everyone. Use this time as an opportunity to connect in a different way with your students instead of focusing solely on the importance of grades.
It’s time for some deep reflection.
Teachers and administrators should take advantage of this overhaul to reflect on the state of their school and educational philosophies. Are the current measures in place truly supporting students and preparing them for 2030 and beyond? Did your pre-pandemic school structure graduate global citizens who are connected to their community and the world beyond?
Ask yourself: Were your learners making an impact outside of the walls of your classrooms?
The emphasis on global connections across learning is still not completely widespread in schools across the nation. Each year has come with exciting changes in the last decade through the works of educators who saw a stagnant system, realizing that change is inevitable with how the world has evolved. Many schools discuss developing a well-rounded learner, but what does that look like in this era?
Trailblazers among schools encourage their students to not only think outside of the box but to also analyze and evaluate with an empathetic perspective. Pear Deck, Design Thinking, and countless other tools and models encourage creative engagement without ignoring the social-emotional factors always at play. Discussions and chats can be held to include all voices. Flipgrid videos embolden even the shyest learners and build confidence. ePals connects K-12 classrooms across the world. There is an abundance of resources available now to educators than even a mere ten years ago. The stagnant culture of textbooks and worksheets have slowly been making their way out the door. It is still easy, however, to fall into the routine of fulfilling the requisite content and standardized testing preparation, among other duties.
Are we too lost in the standards?
Before I continue, I believe in the value of curriculum standards. I have written and re-written curriculum maps and applied them to my teaching. But I have also seen teachers become so caught up in the minutiae that the standards become overwhelming, sacrificing potential student outcomes.
What if we took a moment to identify our end goal?
Understanding by Design (UbD) is one example of a backwards design approach to lesson planning. Identify the desired results and acceptable evidence that supports this, and avoid aimless activities simply for the sake of covering material. Forego checking all the boxes and instead produce a more well-rounded individual who understands and engages instead of sits and regurgitates. Work backwards and create reasonable, attainable standards that truly assess the students’ skills with rigor and value. The process will have an enormous amount of trial and error on the teacher’s part, but should we not push ourselves to be life-long learners, like we ask of our students?
Most importantly, let’s consider empathy. If a global pandemic doesn’t evoke empathy, then what will? I have always been a huge proponent of project-based learning (PBL) and Design Thinking. I believe every school should have a class devoted to marrying these two concepts to better serve their community. What issues can be addressed within your community and how can they be addressed? The young, innovative minds that sit in our classrooms have answers and ideas that will take you off guard, in a good way. Let them take ownership of their learning. Let them engage. Let them choose. Change your lesson plan model and embrace innovation and creativity that go beyond the pages of the textbook.
My most interesting conversations with teachers from coast to coast have been about school culture, particularly surrounding EdTech and more progressive pedagogical practices. The comfort and acceptance levels vary greatly, ranging from resistant to all-in, not just among teachers but within their leadership team, as well. I was shocked to hear of some schools whose administrators did not see the value in incorporating technology. How could that still be in this era when people often reach for their technology before their toothbrush?
Online learning is here now, but does not mean that it will become the permanent standard. Nothing can replace the interpersonal relationships that develop among students, students and teachers, and contribute to classroom culture. I cannot imagine my world without the intangible reward of teaching students and the connections made on a daily basis. This temporary model is not going to replace our traditional schools but it has certainly upended how many think education should be.
We all have our strengths when it comes to the classroom. You receive students from other teachers and realize that there must have been a heavy writing emphasis when you see the students’ beautifully written paragraphs. Perhaps those students speak very well but are lacking in their written sentence structure. My weakest link? Listening. Except I did not realize this for too many years because I was not inheriting students from other teachers.
French teachers: Yes, I’m talking to you.
This post is intended for every (World Language) teacher, but yes, French teachers tend to be “on an island,” as I have so often referred to myself, typically the only French teacher in the department. I would not trade it for the world. The autonomy is liberating and I develop a deeper relationship with my students because I have them for minimum two years and potentially up to four. The pitfall of this scenario is that when you do not have outside perspectives to acknowledge student and teacher progress based on the content, you cannot see what you lack. I did not truly address my weakness in the classroom until I was faced with preparing my students for Le Grand Concours, the National French Content, when I moved to a new school.
The audio played and the panicked looks appeared faster on the students’ faces than you can say “Bonjour.” The results were no better. I realize that students tend to freeze at the sound of authentic audio because 1) it tends to be spoken more quickly, and 2) they are not accustomed to hearing French outside of their teacher’s voice. I thought discussion would prove that they had heard more than they thought, that they just had to pull out key words and we could piece it together as a class.
At this point, I felt like a complete failure of a teacher. Yes, my students were skilled writers, but were they going to walk the streets of France with a pen and paper at all times? Certainly not. Something had to change.
In the last four years, I have incorporated at least one formal listening exercise each week, confronting the reality that listening to my French and overhearing other students in French was not nearly enough. I also start every class, regardless of level, with 1 jour, 1 question, short enjoyable videos (less than two minutes) that address questions of almost any topic. I did not think that these short videos would make much of an impact on their listening skills, but I have been presently surprised. They are engaging and most students look forward to them at the beginning of class, missing them when I’m out with a substitute. (They are now a regular part of sub plans.)
Over time, my intentional plan started to make small chips in the boulder that was blocking the road toward better listening skills. While I had not realized it at the time, I was implementing my now favorite 1% rule – that several small changes would make a difference.
My call to you in this post? Stop and acknowledge your weakest link. While classroom management is important, look at the skills you want students to acquire when leaving your classroom. When I confronted my lack of listening reinforcement, it also forced me to address creating a more balanced skills-based class. Are your tests framed for ease of grading or a true reflection of the students’ knowledge? Thursdays are now intended for speaking assessments based on student-created questions. Writing is constant but does not overshadow other skills. Students read a weekly story on Flipgrid from a short stories packet I created in addition to regular short cultural passages from the textbook.
Do not feel like a failure, as I did. Be realistic with yourself and truly confront what needs to change in your classroom. Take steps to improve then embrace your wins. The truth of the matter is sometimes we do not practice what we preach. Teachers want their students to grow but what are we doing to improve our teaching? Constant self-reflection and taking action upon those lacks will help you grow and not remain stagnant. Little changes lead to huge accomplishments. So, I ask you…
Whether it’s Edcamp, Camp Nanowrimo, or choose the camp of your interest, camp is no longer just for kids. Edcamp is a participant-driven professional learning experience that is held around the world. Not sure what to expect? Read on for a breakdown.
Edcamp, first organized in 2010, began with a group of Philadelphia teachers who gathered for an “un-conference.” Their structure was inspired by BarCamp, a user-generated technology and web conference, where participants drove the direction of the conference. There was no single presenter, no slideshow, no set agenda. The Philadelphia educators decided that BarCamp was exactly the platform teachers needed. They exchanged information and began spreading the word.
How does it work?
The day runs from 8 am – 3:30 pm and is typically held at a local school. Enthusiastic greeters help you check in and you will receive a bag for any swag you might collect throughout the day. The process was seamless and in small chunks, with clear stations of where to go next to complete the process of the interest cards.
All participants are encouraged to write down at least three topics of interest to them. You may get lucky that there is someone else with the same niche as you, but it is recommended to keep your categories in broad sweeping categories with perhaps a little specificity. For example, Design Thinking, EdTech, or Social Emotional Learning were among the popular topics. EdTech had so much interest, though, that there were plenty of subcategories, such as gamification, organizing your classroom with Google, and a beginner’s guide of how to integrate tech into the classroom.
All participants then proceeded to the main room to enjoy a Chic-Fil-A breakfast while they perused the day’s agenda, accessible via QR codes posted around the room. The live Google Doc (an agenda with access to session notes) was updated with the schedule while Edcamp organizers set the tone for the day with introductions, explanations, and yes, some giveaways.
Sessions and the “Rule of Two Feet”
I chose my first session of interest from the Google Doc and planned on staying there for the next hour. Edcamp stresses, though, the “Rule of Two Feet,” of which I personally took advantage. This rule is a no-pressure encouragement to leave a session and join another if that session is not satisfying your needs. I had wavered between two sessions and could actively follow the notes of both via the live Google Doc. I chose to switch, intrigued by what I was seeing in the notes. The environment immediately feels open-minded and judgement-free so yes, get up and move if you need to!
My sessions varied throughout the day. The first two had designated leaders, recognizable in their bright green Edcamp volunteer shirts, who simply kick started the discussion. Neither “leader” ever controlled the conversation but simply launched the topic. A designated note taker is decided, although anyone is free to add to the document (accessible on the day’s agenda). Conversation naturally flowed from one topic to another, but always staying on point with the overarching theme of that hour.
When I showed up to the third session, we were all newbies waiting for a person in charge to walk in the room. That’s when you need to step up. No one was there to organize that hour and that may be the case in some sessions. Pre-session discussions in the room naturally chose a leader and a designated note taker and that’s the idea: participant-driven professional development. You get out of it what you put into it.
Oh…and did I mention there are prizes?
Throughout the day, you will see the Prize Squad dressed to the nines, (I wish I had taken their picture), entering rooms and occasionally engaging in the discussion. T-shirts and cards for free bowling rounds were sprinkled throughout the day. Nearpod subscriptions were given away before lunch. The longer you stay, the better the prizes!
At the end of the day, you return to the main room to scan another QR code to access a Google Form. This is where you submit an email address and complete a short survey in order to receive your certificate. Fact: Edcamp data shows that 80% of administrators exposed to the Edcamp model not only approved it for teacher training credit, but also included it as an approved professional development within their district. The day concluded with a wrap-up, rock climbing memberships, awesome tech toys for the classroom, and enthusiasm.
What is the number one universal complaint of teachers? Time. If we had more time to collaborate with our peers, can you imagine what else could happen in our classrooms? Even when I go to a conference and ideas are furiously written down in my notebook to catch them all, I still need the time to decompress and process them later. Edcamp lets you bring these ideas to the table and work them out. There is an immediate sense of comfort and no shame, no wrong questions during the discussion. Everyone was incredibly respectful to not commandeer the conversation and shut out others. Ideas flowed and naturally led from one point to another. Don’t forget that you have the notes to look back on later, too!
I connected with other educators in my area and thanks to email and social media, can continue to feel inspired by the amazing works happening in their school. This free un-conference experience reinforced the sentiment that I have always believed in: We are collaborators, not competitors.Thank you, Edcamp, for a wonderful experience!
Interested in finding a local Edcamp? Check out the Edcamp website for more information. empowering educators worldwide.
Many of us are about to kick off another school year. We’re recharged, fresh full of ideas, some made into a final product while others are still mulling around in our heads. And then…
…it’s February. The shortest yet longest month of the year.
Maybe not all of you feel this way but February has always been the month where all things come to a slump. My toolbox is empty and I start to fall into rote patterns of teaching that make me feel ashamed. Where has my creativity and energy gone and how do I get it back?
What’s your why?
I recently read Simon Sinek’s Start with Why and the question constantly haunts me…in a good way. “What’s your why?” has made me continually reassess why I do an activity, how I teach a lesson, and most importantly, to always remember by audience. I believe in teaching with tech in moderation, with intentionality, and not simply using it to check off a box on an evaluation. Choice boards provide differentiation and a number of mediums students can explore. Edpuzzle provides accountability. GSuite tools can put the responsibility and ownership into students’ hands…and the list goes on.
How, among the thousands of resources out there, do you navigate what is the most effective? Know thy audience. Let’s talk Gen Z, shall we?
“Our goal is not to prepare them for our future, but for their future.” -Holly Clark
I could not agree more with Holly Clark’s ultimate takeaway from this poignant video describing Gen Z. Gone are the days where worksheets and repetitious drills rule the learning. Yes, we all made it out alive and graduated after being subjected to piles of worksheets and hours of lectures, but the fact is that the world has changed. (There is arguable room if these were ever the best practices but let’s stay on one topic.)
Gen Z learners, those born after 1995, were born into a world of all things technology. They consume on five screens and technology is as much a part of their world as breathing. While their attention spans are admittedly short, this generation considers themselves entrepreneurial, innovative, and wanting to make a difference in the world. How do teachers fit into this equation?
Digital Responsibility and Engaged Learning
Regardless of how tech savvy this generation may be because it is second nature, digital citizenship is a component we cannot ignore. Fact-checking and valid resources, professionalism in communication – these only scrape the surface of how we can raise our students to be digitally responsible. In this day and age, these lessons need to be consistently and continually embedded into our lessons.
How do we reach them? Back to Holly Clark’s point, we are teaching their generation and not ours. A variety of teaching tools and methods need to be employed to keep constant student engagement. Put the lesson in their hands! Let them be the creators and take hold of their learning. Give them choices and different platforms to work with (Nearpod, Google Sites, Slides, and Docs, etc.), any of which can be collaborative and touch on the Four C’s (creativity, communication, collaboration, and critical thinking). Let them explore and engage, coming to their own conclusions, developing outside-the-box ideas. Nurture their inquisitive spirit but also guide them to be responsible and professional learners.
Students need ownership. Students need to create and collaborate and develop communication skills that are even more crucial in this ever-connected global world than any generation before. If students graduate high school with little or no exposure to the tools around us, we are to blame, teachers. While it sounds like Gen Z is entrepreneurial enough to educate themselves, we would still be doing our learners a disservice by not exposing them to the mediums they will one day use when they are in the working world. The more exposure, the more experience can only lead to a well-rounded and adaptable individual who will be ready for most anything that comes his or her way.
In closing, I want you to continually ask yourself three questions over the course of the school year:
What is my why?
Am I teaching with intentionality or is [insert activity] just for the sake of checking a box?
EdTech…EdWhat? If you haven’t already heard the term “EdTech” around your school, it’s only a matter of time before you do. Some teachers fear it, some embrace it, and some pretend to ignore it. The truth is, though, we just can’t seem to escape that ever so popular buzzword in our educational community.
One of my mantras has always been moderation (except for chocolate, of course). I have been to tech conferences where it was a cardinal sin to not incorporate tech into my every move. I am not that person. I think education has gone through an enormous amount of growing pains in the last 15 years – from incorporating it into our classrooms and then justifying it as more than a fancy notepad. We’ve had good practices and bad practices for years, so I don’t believe in tossing out our foundation. I do, however, believe in evolving, progressing, and being flexible.
Tech has its place in the classroom and in the workplace. We would be doing a disservice to our students if we did not at least expose them to what is out there and test their creativity. One day, they’ll be professionals with job titles we have not yet even envisioned. I can’t avoid that the present tense verb conjugations of French -er verbs will always be -e, -es, -e, -ons, -ez, -ent. Once we’ve moved on from these basics, though, it’s time for my students to creatively put them into action.
So, give it a shot. My students know that something new is always on the horizon, even if it’s a twist on an old classic. My number one asset as a teacher? I’m willing to try. I challenge you to do the same.