Now that we’re back in school, I’ve had the chance to engage in some great conversations with some really strong teachers, observe some wonderful classes, and even do a little teaching (still a blast!). These experiences have served once again to remind me that powerful learning is not the product of thousands of dollars of laptops, or ipads, or robots, or textbooks, or online curricula, or any of this stuff. What makes a great educator and remarkable classroom so exciting and motivating, and the learning super-sticky begins with things we can’t submit a PO for:
Creativity – great teachers do fantastic, engaging things that meet kids where they are and take them where they haven’t even imagined they could be. These experiences can’t come from exclusively following a textbook or a prescribed curriculum (both can be valuable resources, though).
Humor – the ability to smile and laugh is almost universal among great educators (my junior high math teacher excluded). Laughing is good for the soul and the mind, releasing chemicals that actually help us learn. Teachers who “don’t smile until Christmas” probably have learners who learn nada until Christmas.
Humility – related to the above, this sometimes involves the ability to laugh at one’s self. It definitely involves being able to admit mistakes, to embrace that we don’t have ALL of the answers, and to allow kids to know more about things than even we do sometimes.
Flexibility – teach in the moment and be willing to shift gears are make a radical 180-degree turn if the situation calls. If the learners aren’t responding, it is easy to blame them or their cell phones or the full moon. Be willing to scrap the plans and go in another direction as students’ responses or interests dictate.
Grit – the teacher who never gives up, no matter the arguments for such a path, is the one who changes everything. It is about believing that kid can learn that skill or concept and going to any length to get them there.
Trust – amazing ideas won’t come in an environment of fear or mistrust. Students (and teachers) should be willing to try crazy ideas and, potentially, fall on their faces as a result. This mandates a teacher who won’t pounce on every mistake .
Love – the belief that the kid is the most important person in the room, and you will do anything to help them be happy and successful. It is protective, it is nurturing, it disciplines, it serves. It may sound cliche, but it is the thing that makes the best teachers who they are.
Here is to you, my fellow educator–thank you for all you do for all of our kids. May you have an amazing, impactful year filled with students’ wonder, marvel, surprise, and joy!
Just uploaded a new episode of the Moss Free Show entitled 6 Skills You Should Have. That’s have, as in already. These are baseline, starter-level skills that all educators (administrators included) should possess by this time. I was inspired after reading about 10 different such articles and blog posts this week, some with as many as 33 skills teachers need (You see–I’m actually much more concise than you gave me credit for!). These kinds of posts are extremely abundant the past few months. I found examples from Discovery, Edudemic, THE Journal, Edutopia, just to name a few. As I read, I started to see that the vast, diverse skills were connected by just a few, broader categories, and this podcast/blog post was born. In summary, the 6 skills are:
Find information–Use a variety of tools and strategies to find exactly the thing or information that is needed, when it is needed.
Communicate–Use the right tool for the message and the audience; be able to use a variety of means and media, whether written, images, sound, video, etc.
Connect–Use technology’s networking capabilities to build relationships with other educators so that you can share ideas, questions, answers, frustrations, victories, etc.
Learn–Know how to develop your professional knowledge and skills using online resources.
Wisdom–Be able to avoid behaviors and practices that would endanger you or your students safety or privacy, your professional reputation, or your hardware/network.
Fit–Understand how technology fits into the flow of instruction in ways that make learning more relevant, exciting, and powerful. This should become as natural as blinking.
I explore these 6 to a little greater depth in the podcast below. Give it a listen and let me know–did I leave anything out? Am I way off or getting close?
I shared this on Facebook first, but I thought I’d go a little off-topic and post it here, too. I have very few requirements for my kids’ teachers, but here are the biggies.
1. Smile. You should act like you want to be there and are happy to see your kids. Your attitude makes their attitudes. Whoever first said, “Don’t smile until after Christmas” was an idiot.
2. Expect the world from my kids. They are fully capable of hitting the targets you set, whether high or low.
3. Connect. Your relationship with my kids is MUCH more important to their learning than how well you know the TEKS or the latest pedagogy.
4. Be fair. If my kids do the crime, they should do the time, and I will support you 100% of those times. Communal punishments (e.g. No one gets recess because 2 kids were talking out of turn.), however, are a pathetic excuse for discipline, and they’re lazy. How would you like it if the police wrote you a ticket because the guy passing you is speeding? I was guilty of this a time or two myself, but we learn from our mistakes.
5. (You had to know this was coming!) Mix in opportunities for them to use high-level, relevant skills often. Creativity, critical thinking, communication, collaboration, technology. These will have a much greater impact than knowing who the 17th president was (Andrew Johnson, by the way–isn’t that some valuable knowledge?).
That’s it. Do those things, and my kids will continue to love school and grow as students and people. Don’t do those things, and I’ll be setting up a conference shortly. Actually, if you do these things, I’ll come see you, too–to thank you in person.
tight, district PD days are reserved for other training, after school works for some, but not for many, etc. Probably the biggest challenge is the size of my staff…one. I believe it is absolutely necessary, therefore, to focus not on the traditional model of professional development, but instead to squeeze as many learning opportunities into as many times and formats as possible. Realizing that not every staff member is going to attend the in-person workshop or watch the webinar, I’ve taken a sort of scatter-shooting approach, where I’m utilizing a range of tools to get the information to those that need it. I wanted to share what I’m using in hopes it might help others in similar circumstances (most of us). The following resources are among those I’ve been using:
Traditional, in-person training. These sessions are led by me or by some fantastically talented teachers and campus technologists. They are in the summer or after school throughout the year, and they are 3- or 6-hours in length. I’ve tried to include a focus on how each technology will be applied in the actual classroom or campus, although I am not 100% satisfied with that process just yet.
Newletters (November’s newsletter). I’ve been putting out a monthly newsletter, the Matador Digital Learning Digest. It basically consists of a focus article on some trend or technology, app recommendations, technology research/statistics, news, and a variety of web-based tools. I send this out via the district’s email system and share it on the department website and social networks.
Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/SeguinDigitalLearning). I probably share more information through FB than any other tool at this point. I share informative articles, useful resources, events, distance learning opportunities, contests, and anything else that I believe can benefit teaching and learning here. This one is slowly gathering followers, and I’m hopeful that it will become a go-to resource while simultaneously demonstrating the great possibilites of social media sites as tools for learning. I’ve got some convincing to do there.
Twitter (https://twitter.com/matadoredtech). I use Twitter very much in the same way as I use Facebook, to share resources, learning opportunities, announcements, etc. I’ve been a little surprised at the lack of Twitter users in the district, but my brainwashing has only been happening for a few months, so that will change. I like the idea of using a resource that can be checked in a few seconds on a smart phone, making PD quick, painless, and portable.
Blogging. The real purpose of this blog is to teach and share through my rambling reflections. I’ve returned to a previously successful strategy this year by re-inventing the tech challenge that I used a couple of years ago. These are short, narrowly-focused technology lessons accompanied by a simple task to get our folks familiar with the resource and its possibilities. I’m even bribing them, as I’ll be offering prizes through a drawing for participants in the spring.
YouTube. Screencasts and other short, instructional videos are a great way to share a concept or start a discussion. I’ll share the link via email, our department web page, in newsletters, on our social media sites, etc.
Online courses. At this point we are offering 2 tech courses online, a 3-hour course on Challenge Based Learning/Digital Storytelling and a 6-hour course on iMovie. I’m developing a Google Docs course, as well. We use Moodle for our learning management system. Participation has been pretty limited, but I see signs that more folks might be interested in giving it a try.
Podcasts (http://www.spreaker.com/show/mossfreeshow). I’ve just started doing the regular podcasts, and am only up to 4 episodes. I am focusing on a specific topic, such as the most recent episode’s focus on communication. I’m also hoping to include interviews with teachers in the district as often as possible, and to use this as an opportunity to put the spotlight on our folks who are doing powerful, innovative things with technology. I’ll also include interviews with great educators from outside of the district whenever possible, such as a recent interview with Diana Laufenberg.
PLCs. This one is in the soon to be implemented state, but it needs to be included. As we move towards a spring implementation of BYOD, I’ve started talking to my BYOD committee about using less formal, after school sessions with groups of interested teachers. I envision that these sessions would take on the form of collegial conversations, discussing and sharing over coffee and snacks. They might occur during planning periods or after school, depending upon participants’ needs and schedules.
Webinars. This is one that is in the developmental state. I have used webinars a few times in the past, and participation was pretty good. They are beneficial because of the facts that they can be scheduled at any time, viewed from any place with an Internet-connected computer, and archived for later viewing. I plan to start offering some of these opportunities during the spring.
I’d be curious to hear what other methods and resources are being used for PD in other schools or districts. What have I not listed that has been particularly effective for you?
For those who don’t wan’t to invest the full 9 minutes or so involved in listening to my latest podcast, here is my 5-step plan to growing a PLN using Twitter.
Get started. Sign up and get set up to use Twitter with whatever tool you like best. That might be using the Twitter website, a mobile app (I use Echofon at this time.), or a desktop app (e.g. Tweetdeck, Echofon, Hootsuite, Janetter, etc.). Use whatever you find best suits you and enables you to read or post quickly when you have a few minutes.
Learn those hashtags. Some great, general education related tags include #edchat, #education, #edtech, and #txed (particularly aimed at Texas educators).
Read. Search for posts with the specific tags you’re looking for, then read a few. You’ll quickly find someone talking about something that will interest you.
Respond. Talk back to them, and when you do, include their @username and the #hashtag for the conversation.
Follow. Click that button and start receiving regular tweets from folks talking about the things that matter to you. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at how many immediately follow you back, especially if you post good questions and are willing to share.
If you will do these simple things, you will quickly have a burgeoning, online network of educators ready to engage in important conversations.
As an afterthought, a few other little tips came to mind. First, be sure to create a reasonably detailed description when you set up your account. That helps convince profile viewers that you are a professional worthy of following. Secondly, don’t “protect” your tweets. If other educators are window shopping for their own network, they need to see what types of information or questions you share in order to make an informed decision. If you’re primarily talking about teaching and learning, why would you not want someone reading it, anyway? Finally, reply. Unless you are Shaq, you will likely never have more followers than you can reasonably expect to respond to. If they’ve taken the time to address a tweet to you, it is discourteous not to respond. It’s not a conversation until more than one are talking, is it?
We probably take more pictures and record more video during the summer than at any other time of year. Vacations or time spent outdoors in the warm summer sun offer many opportunities for gathering the raw materials of some fantastic multimedia projects. For teachers, it is also a rare opportunity to explore some great tools in a more relaxed atmosphere, free from the demands of lesson planning, grading papers, etc. Below are listed 5 projects, with a couple of examples, that you might consider trying for yourself or using with your own children. This is a great way to encourage writing, storytelling, and creativity, as well as a fantastic way to preserve memories. My 8-year old daughter completed her first summer project just today, and her VoiceThread is shown below.
Animoto. One of the easiest ways to create professional-looking slideshows, complete with dramatic animations/transitions, audio, and text. Simply upload your images, add any desired text, and select your music. Animoto does the rest. 30 second videos (12-15 images) are free, and educators can sign up for full-length videos. An example of a 30-second video can be seen below.
Glogster. Glogster enables users to create online, virtual “posters.” They can include images, text, audio, video, and hyperlinks. There is a little more to the site, so a slightly greater learning curve does exist, but I have seen Glogster used very effectively with elementary kids, so don’t hesitate to try this for a summer project for your children. Again, educator accounts are available.
VoiceThread. Possibly the easiest digital storytelling tool out there, VoiceThread simply requires images be uploaded and comments added, either through text, audio, or webcam. The interface is simple to learn (My daughter took control shortly after we began.), and, perhaps most exciting, comments can take the form of text, scribbles, audio, or video. Here is Reagan’s first try (We wrote out her comments before recording and practiced reading each one.):
Tikatok. As a way to encourage young writers, why not have them actually publish (and even sell!) their works. Tikatok has a number of publishing tools for children. They can upload their own images or photographs, use a selection of graphics from the site, write original books, or utilize story starters on the site. When books are finished, they can be purchased fairly reasonably, shared with the world, and even sold to other buyers. A very engaging and motivating site!
Photopeach. New to me, this site acts very much like Microsoft PhotoStory. Simply upload images, add any desired text, select from a variety of background music, and publish. There is even a feature which allows users to include quiz questions in their shows. This is a very suitable and easy-to-learn tool that is worth a look.
Father-Daughter Dance on PhotoPeach
These are just a few suggestions. Another idea would be to create a family YouTube channel and have kids create and share videos of the family adventures. There are endless possibilites for combining the fun and adventure of summer with some powerful vehicles for creativity and self-expression. I’ll be posting more as the summer progresses and my children complete new projects. If you have others that need sharing, please do so!
Edit: Another idea that I’m trying with my own daughter, who just finished the 2nd grade, is to use email and a blog to encourage her to write. I’m using Gaggle for both, which allows me to have editorial and administrator rights over what she posts or receives, which is valuable with a new, young user. She is extremely excited about the possibilities of both, and has notified her Nana to be expecting correspondance.
You will need to create a Google account, if you don’t already have one (and you really should). The video below shows you how it works. You could create a student or parent survey, an online test/quiz, or whatever. Be sure to share the link to the survey in your comment. (I will give you 2 credits for this if you actually administer it!)
Thank you guys for trying so many new tools! I will announce the winners of the big prizes next Wednesday!