Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Why Wordle?

Quick post for a quick game: Wordle

In the middle of a worldwide pandemic, this strange phenomenon has captured our attention.  If you're among the last to learn what the yellow and green graphic is all about, then you may just be in for a treat.  Wordle is a simple, quick, but complex little puzzle.  I think its popularity and success is due to exactly that: the blend of simplicity, speed, and complexity.

It takes a minute to learn, a few minutes to play, and you get only one!  At its simplest, it's hangman + Mastermind.  You have to solve a five letter mystery word by guessing letter, and your only help is instant feedback indicating correct letter or correct letter and place.

If you've read my blog, you already know my affinity for classic logic/strategy board games in the classroom, particularly those the employ computational thinking strategies. Games that require sequence, strategy, logical reasoning, or algorithmic thinking add context for students’ understanding of computational thinking beyond coding tasks.  Exploring and identifying how parts of a system, game, or program, relate, connect, and combine build foundational concepts for later computational thinking construction. The thinking skills that make Wordle challenging and fun intersect with CT in the same way as solitaire puzzles, Mastermind, or peg-board games.  Worlde is a funny combination of logic, pattern strategy with a vocab twist!

It's a curious strategy to only provide one puzzle per day, and perhaps some paid platform will emerge, but it's refreshing to complete (or not) one short puzzle and carry on with the rest of the day. There's no rabbit hole.

In terms of its popularity, I can't remember a simpler and more contagious digital game.  I'm not sure where I land on everyone sharing their results.  Is it obnoxious? I don't think so.  It's informative and  impermanent, and if I solved a puzzle in 2 or three steps, I'd probably shout about it, too. It's a fun and fleeting phenomenon, but I will admit to being impressed and curious at seeing how well others across social media tackled a particular puzzle.

The shared results are also interesting, as anyone who has played the game can instantly decode each others' game-play in a simple, single icon.  If you see their chart, you know their process.  In fact, I've found myself looking at others' early attempts at guessing the word to try to figure out their guesses.  Anyone else?  Maybe this is a clever classroom idea to try...

As an educator, I see immediate applications, and I imagine kicking off lessons with today's Wordle, designing Wordle races, or creating lessons for students to design their own wordle challenges for each other.  

What will you come up with? 

Monday, October 25, 2021

4 C's for Post-Pandemic Learning

There has been a lot of talk about learning loss and "catching up" in the news and media.  However, during these first few months of our new school year, the topics of conversations I'm hearing across schools are very different. Educators are far less concerned about specific content skills, chapters, or material, and more focused on students, their social-emotion health, and their ability to focus, take turns, or "do school."

For the past 20 years, we've been talking about the 4 Cs of 21st century learning: Communication, Collaboration, Critical Thinking and Creativity.  This lens has reshaped the way instruction has looked across many classrooms, including my own practice.  I adjusted much of my instructional practice when thinking about designing activities and experiences that promote these 4 C's for a more engaged classroom and authentic teaching and learning environment.  Thinking about designing instruction, experiences, and spaces, with a focus on communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity fundamentally changed who I was as an educator in and out of the classroom.

4 C's of Post-Pandemic Learning

As we return to something far less than normal,  I'd suggest we need to look toward a new set of C's for a post-pandemic landscape.  We need to nurture Connection, Compassion, Culture and Climate.  While the "first 4 C's" provide a framework for looking closer at instructional practice, these "new 4 C's" address how well and ready our students feel to put these practices into action.  Together, both sets of C's can work collaboratively from an instructional viewpoint as well as a social-emotional perspective to strengthen Agency, Empathy, and Empowerment in our students.  These are emotional competencies all educators want to help their students develop.  Fostering a learning environment where educators can design and deliver instruction through a lens of connection, compassion, culture, and climate will help promote and strengthen these competencies.  

My universe is elementary, but if the upper grades are anything like our K-5 experience, words like agency, empathy, and empowerment are not at the top of our lists when describing students' current experience.

Student agency is a buzzword that has been hard to define in terms of what it looks like, but seems easier to identify when missing.  I'd suggest that’s exactly what we find our students missing when the rituals and routines of daily classroom activities become problematic.  I have heard countless descriptions of executive-functioning breakdown, short-fused refusals, or constant challenges with things like waiting turns, navigating the cafeteria, or working together. The social-emotional opportunity loss far outweighs any measurable (but equally educational) content, and deserves equally deliberate and focused attention if we are serous about "catching up" the whole child.

Social-emotional learning and executive functioning are two clear examples of focus areas and buzzwords in our business.  For all of the SEL focus and available professional development, there almost has to be a back-to-basics foundational focus in order to take those next-level SEL steps.  How can we have a conversation about students' ability to employ effective executive functioning strategies when their environment, routines, and instructional environment has been continually adapting to changing guidelines, initiatives, and expectations? Can our climate handle the culture shifts we are demanding?


Now more than ever, it's all about relationships.  Relationships develop trust, encourage risk-taking through partnership and support, and create pathways to communicate for (and about) learning.  It's no surprise that connection was the first and fastest loss when shifting to remote, then hybrid, and even still in our modified environments.  It's not just about masks and spacing, it's about the play, the small group or 1:1 closeness, and especially the cafeteria, snack, and recess where students work out the social dynamics of childhood.


It's easy to say (and easy to see) that students are struggling, but so are classroom teachers, support staff, and specialists.  Just being in our buildings is no return to normal, and I think we all underestimated the lagging toll this past two years has taken, and will continue to take, on the social emotional health of our learning community.  For every student we see pop on the surface, it's safe to assume there are a handful with less visible struggles that we need to attune to before we can ratchet up the content demands, or we will only enhance the struggle.


Culture is often described as the values and norms of a school or system.  It's the structure that determines how values and beliefs transfer toward an environment of learning. This is the staff, the tone, the sights, and the sounds of a school. It's the hallways, playgrounds and staff rooms.  It's the messaging on the walls and cafeteria.  When we look at the challenge of deploying initiatives at a district or building level, whether it's new content-curriculum or the work of diversity/equity/inclusion, it's the culture that can impact how well any initiative will succeed, and the expression of how well stakeholders feel about their culture (and efforts to shape it) creates the climate. 


Climate is the temperature of a shared space.  Where culture focuses on the way things have always been done; climate is actions and behaviors that demonstrates feelings among students and staff.  The frequent comparison is that climate refers to the way people feel about school, while culture is defined by the way people act in a school.

There’s a relationship among these 4 C's. Connection is a byproduct of compassion. Building relationships and employing empathy throughout our buildings develops an environment that cultivates relationships and builds connections. Similarly, climate is a reflection and expression of culture. If we want to shift the perceptions, feelings, and emotional temperature that reflect the climate of our community, we need to examine the values, routines, and rituals that identify its culture. 

While the line between culture and climate can be blurry, it's clear to see that our sets of values and norms, as well as our behaviors and feelings about teaching and learning in the past two years, have been put to the test.  Just like we preach, we need to analyze the data, adjust our approach, and leverage what we've learned if we're serious about learning and growth.

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Back to School '21: Lessons Learned

My annual back to school post has been an interesting mile-marker these last few years. Between diving into a new district and watching our working world turn upside down from COVID, these posts have been as much about looking (and thinking) back as much as they’ve been about the excitement and anticipation that September always brings. In that spirit, the theme to this year’s back to School post is Lessons Learned

☝Let’s Not Get Back to Normal
Back to normal has an ominous ring to it. Back to normal can also mean back to easy or familiar, and there was plenty of normal that was problematic.  For boundary pushers, disrupters, and those thinking outside the box, the runway is beginning to clear to make sure that some habits and practices of the past aren’t reintroduced after laying dormant for a year and a half.  This return is a huge opportunity for schools that are willing to reflect, and educators who are willing to redesign their mindset of what “back to normal” needs to look like. 

🔎Reflection Required
Out return is also rich with coaching opportunities, but not for new tech tools and toys. As always, we need the time and space for a truer and deeper dive into how and why particular learning opportunists can be delivered with intent and engagement.  As an educator and a coach, I think our professional community is raw but ready. The most effective and engaging coaching opportunities that I’ve been a part of have happened in-time and in-context, meaning there’s an immediacy and authenticity to our work that starts and ends with improved student learning and increased engagement. It also requires reflection, which requires time, which requires admin support and staff buy-in. My very informal, but very serious, primary goal for this upcoming year is to help reshape some of the perceptions and prescriptions surrounding the coaching role in my district to better support this effort. 

💻Blended? Personalized?
Remote learning, hybrid learning, and even our return to in-person did not automatically individualize instruction or personalize learning.  Without warning, training, supplies, or design, we relied upon technology to survive, to deliver content, to stay connected, and to attempt to maintain a continuity of learning as well as community.  To paraphrase the movie Argo, remote and hybrid learning were the "best bad idea" we had, but let's not pretend it was either authentic or effective blended or personalized learning.  Blended learning has been talked about for a decade or more at this point, but instances of true blended learning through designed, deliberate integration plans and practices are still hard to come by. Digital learning, tech integration, or whatever districts want to call it begins and ends with active and engaged teaching and learning. One thing we learned for sure was that more tech didn’t equal more learning, and that being in-person sometimes felt no-less remote. 

A question I’ve seen a few times across Twitter is “what should we start, stop, or keep doing as we move forward?"  When thinking about effective leadership by principals and administrators, this is a question that would be a powerful way to start our new year together. If we fail to recognize any bright spots or discoveries brought about by our new (and otherwise rotten) distance/remote/hybrid/returned landscape, it’s a failed opportunity to continue to grow up as professionals.

😠Learning Loss is a Loaded Term
Learning loss is abstract and immeasurable. We will feel the impact of our shared experience and professional avalanche for a long time, and we will undoubtedly encounter students with varying gaps across all domains, but trying to quantify the scope and sequence of “missed skills” only furthers to reinforce the social/emotional impact and leads away from the necessary recovery work ahead. 
To tweak a popular Twitter quote, we may not have been in the same boat, but we’ve been in the same storm, and how we emerge from it can be as impactful as how we weather it.  As schools and districts, we need to broaden our focus from response to recovery, without returning to systems and structures that have long created cracks where challenges expand, equity is ignored, and real students suffer. 

😏Suspicions Confirmed
When our schools came back to full-in learning, many of our edtech worries came true. Many chromebooks were stashed away and digital learning dropped significantly. This wasn’t a bad thing. In fact, I think it was critical to the community-building that was yanked away from classes through hybrid instruction. What has yet to be determined though is whether we will be seeing more of a backswing or backslide.  A backswing mirrors the natural pendulum of our teaching profession, where the gaze may drift, but the focus ultimately remains. My backslide fear is that the gaze may drift so far that teachers may dig their heels into old-school habits. Community-building experiences and face-to-face (even masked) instruction will always be the very best of best practices, but let’s not reject the tech tools and teaching strategies we’ve relied upon for the past few years just because their reminders of  a rotten period. 

👫Masters Matter
Veteran teachers carry a deep toolkit. I’ve often said that there’s an unfair assumption that new teachers (digital natives) should be somehow expected to be highly skilled practitioners because they may be more skilled or comfortable with tech integration. The pandemic (and remote teaching/learning) were a massive equalizer in many ways across our profession, but one doesn’t need to look far to find veteran educators, who may have otherwise been tech-resistant, reluctant, or simply uncomfortable, more swiftly pivot to deliver high quality instruction in a completely new format. Was it an awful, artificial, and ineffective process at times? Undoubtedly, but veteran teachers who know how to do what they do best deep in their bones found ways to deliver. They taught their student before content, they connected to learners before laptops, and they empowered and acquired their own professional development to show up for kids, not for credits. 
I've said it before and I’ll say it again: Teach-savvy beats Tech-savvy every time. Now is the time to bridge these educators and leverage their expertise and experience to learn from and support each other. Look to those who survived and thrived!

👑Leaders Can Let Go 
In the past year, some of the most  effective leadership instances I’ve seen have been from administrators acknowledging and adapting to the reality of the circumstance rather than trying to control or reframe the narrative. Those who could pivot with transparency and support their staff were able to gain trust and provide more authentic leadership. That’s all educators truly needed through the pandemic and beyond. Empathy, trust, and support went a long way in keeping a community of skilled practitioners “in the game,” even when the rules seemed to be changing week by week. 

🧠Cognitive Overload
For most educators I know, the shared cognitive overload hasn’t allowed for specific or targeted PD, other than a the critical re-envisioning of how to do what good teachers have always done well to begin with, just in a new context. There just hasn’t been brain space or bandwidth to accommodate traditional PD, while the need for constant learning and tracing was clear. The result was a more flexible, authentic and intentional self-directed cycle of professional development to respond to the needs and moment. 

😱😭😷😌Validation Helps
Midway through our last pandemic school year, favorite Twitter follow Matt Miller  tweeted that he was turning into the teacher that he didn't want to be.  At some point last year, I think everyone in our profession shared that same feeling.  There's an affirmation in hearing it from someone else, as there is also an affirmation in this optimistic quote from Jeremy Miller shifting into a tech integrator role for the first time,  "I hope I can help empower Teachers to empower their Students to create and innovate using tech to accelerate and accommodate learning." My hope is that the road ahead leads teachers back to the teachers they want to be and know how to be. 

👏Teamwork Makes the Dream Work, Even if it’s a Bad Dream 
When it came to weathering the storm and all of its surprises, colleagues relied on each other personally and professionally to make the best of bad ideas without spiraling into negativity. As we return with  continues questions and uncertainty, let’s continue to lean on the things that have always sustained us: relationships, inspiration, discovery, and the choreography of a classroom full of engaged and active learners.  


Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Take AIM

The phrase says that hindsight is 2020, but I’m ready to flip that and put 2020 in my hindsight and train my focus forward. 
This blog post is also the transition to a new name: Take Aim

There’s no better time than the beginning of  a new year in the middle of a pandemic to reflect, refocus, and take aim toward best-steps forward. When thinking about making a new logo for my Take Aim blog, the natural idea was a bullseye or arrow, but when aiming on what my goal for my blog actually is, I didn’t want to conceptualize a target or single-shot themed bullseye. Taking aim isn’t about output, perfection or prize. Instead I chose a camera theme to emphasis focus. 

Taking aim suggests a process or journey that begins with a need for focus, and things sure have felt blurry for the better part of the last year.  This aim on focus for my blog is about revealing and capturing thoughts on teaching and learning with clarity, which comes from the act of taking aim- knowing where to look, listen and learn. 

Sometimes an extra pair of hands or fresh eyes can help direct our focus and sharpen our aim. In a recent podcast, Bill Gates talks about being a continual student surrounded by experts he calls lifelines. How many of us are reaching out to our colleagues- our expert lifelines? This lead-learner stance is a powerful opportunity for reflection, model of a growth mindset, and personal practice toward professional development. Let's collectively aim toward collecting, spreading, and archiving the good practices that are happening. 

Take Aim: Activate - Innovate - Motivate

Activate content.  Bringing learning to life has always been my goal.  Readers of this blog will recognize the theme of creating moments and designing experiences that engage learners through access, interactive and adaptive Ed tech.  Remote learning has certainly put this goal to the test, and while some favorite experiences have had to be back-burnered in the name of safety or face-to-face time, others have been born from necessity.  Think about Breakout Rooms or Jamboards.  Educators have gone from instantly learning meet/zoom from a survival standpoint of access to promoting deeper learning through intentional and designed instruction that leverages breakout rooms to promote communication and collaboration.  Teacher are doing what they do best- connecting with kids, and facilitating further connections to support student-learning.  Even with backs against the wall and in a remote models, it's still not about the tool- it's how the tool enables and empowers teaching and learning.

Innovate practices of teaching and learning.  Let's build on the pre-pandemic momentum that focused on instruction that is not transactional but relational. With minutes and hours more precious than ever, letting go of the transactional aspects of "completing work" and correcting, returning, etc for the purpose of engaging meaningful learning is crucial. Even if Google Classroom can manage the hand-in hand-out, there still seems to be little return on the time investment in chasing paper, even digitally. There just isn't time or brainspace to reinvent content delivery and engagement while clinging to traditional worksheets, etc that consume our focus.  

Motivate learners.  There is more access than ever before to digital learning tools, tutorials, and training to engage learners (and educators). We’ve always known that all learners benefit, connect and thrive from effective edtech integration, not just certain kids. When we aim our focus, we can better look, listen and learn.  And when we shift the ways we engage across the digital divide of remote learning, we can see kids in new contexts, hear voices that may not be shared in our in-person classrooms, and promote deeper learning.  Before COVID, many practices that we are now seeing as everyday instruction would have more likely be more of the “extension” type lessons, pilot classrooms, or in use by some of the more presumably "tech-savvy" teachers. 

Make no mistake, even in a pandemic, tech-savvy always takes a back seat to teach-savvy.  Good teaching and engaged learning are enhanced by (not created by) the integration of engaging academic technology. As a digital learning coach, I have had to adapt my focus as well to meet the demands of each day, but every month that passes draws further opportunities away form the tech support to focus on instructional design and student learning opportunities.  Just look at the amount of personal pd in the last nine months. Everyone has had to learn more (and faster) than ever before to meet their learners, with minimal preparation, explanation, or reflection.  Imagine having the time to focus, direct, aim that energy rather than react, respond and restore. It’s a change of flow from managing the demands coming toward you to navigating a path forward. 

Let's pause to look, listen, and learn from our families, friends, colleagues, and kids.  Let's focus. 
Let's Take Aim!

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Hybrid Learning: We’re Gonna Need a Bigger Boat

🧭This school year’s return to learning in a hybrid format launched our collective journey- our great Voyage of Discovery. What have we discovered so far? Some tools work better than others, nothing about our business is well-suited to a sudden remote shift and, while teaching is exhausting and depleting in a normal year, teachers have found another gear to meet the ever-evolving needs of their districts, schools, and learners. But to make it last... “We’re gonna need a bigger boat.“ Hoist the sails and batten down the hatches for a metaphor-rich adventure!

🛶⛵️ All in the Same Boat?
I’m not sure where I saw it first on Twitter, but my go-to quite for our circumstance is that “we’re not all in the same boat, but we are in the same storm.” Whoever hatched this idea nailed it. We have a shared storm but all with our unique strengths, skills, constraints, and tools at hand. Issues of equity and opportunity have been thrust into the light for districts to address in order to meet the needs of its learners. 

🎒Passenger List
We are eight to ten weeks into hybrid learning and so far it’s been been a personal and professional rollercoaster for every educator I know. We’ve shifted and cycled our thinking from impossible to imperfect and back again as expectations and objectives have continued to ever end as well.  We are in different boats to be sure, with or without experience, equipment, or even an adequate crew, but we all have a responsibility to our passengers. Our students still require our best, and their itinerary is clear. Our job is to deliver them safely. Unfortunately, it feels like so much progress and emphasis on things like SEL, executive functioning, and even innovative instructional strategies have been stowed away on this particular nation-wide journey. 
For the most part, students have been amazing (remember my world is elementary), but I do wonder about the aftermath. When all the dust settles, and we somehow return to something like normal, how much damage-control will be necessary, and how much re-learning and recovery will be required? Pediatricians and researchers are already finding anxiety and stress surrounding pandemic hybrid-learning, seeing more patients with symptoms related to these more than patients will the illness itself. Our learners’ mental health should be our largest recovery effort when we begin to emerge from distance/remote/hybrid instruction. 

📜Uncharted Waters
We’ve heard this one a lot! That’s true, but the idea of uncharted waters or an unfamiliar landscape shouldn’t be used as a cop-out. We have highly skilled colleagues who know their jobs in their bones, even if the methods for doing them aren’t quite evident. Clear and accessible navigation tools are needed now more than ever to calibrate, communicate and celebrate student learning. Leadership requires both recognizing and responding to this evolving situation with equally evolving and adapting instructional methods and structures, staffing, assessment measures, schedules, and budgets. 

🌌Guide by Stars
We need to rely on the constants of education, whether it’s professional networks, mentors, resources, or teammates.  Good teachers always find and follow their guides.  Look for the beacons to lighten the dark, chart the path, and have weathered storms before. Here’s a hint, they provide just as much support in fair weather and daylight as they will in the storm. 

🗺Check the Maps
The maps and curriculum guides may not have changed, but the ways we meet the guideposts have turned upside down.  Whether it’s a revision of benchmarks or shifting of those guideposts, flexibility and creativity in how we capture learning and assess progress will keep us all on course. 

🌅Light on the Horizon?
Not sure we’re there yet. I think it would be more accurate to say that the fog is clearing very gradually and educators are beginning to find their horizon and chart their course. 
Frustration and exhaustion have begun to mix with anticipation and inspiration.  As digital learning skills and strategies become more routine, teachers are adapting their practice and student learning experiences to our circumstance, and amazing things are happening deep in the fog of our current storm.   

I’ve observed teachers who may have been most fearful or even paralyzed by the overnight overhaul developing or returning to routines and familiar landmarks that have always decorated the landscape of the school year. A return to “normal” is not in the cards anytime soon, but moments of familiarity and return of effective practices through a new lens will always provide a brighter sky. 

🔭Use Your Spyglass
It can be easy to feel overwhelmed, overburdened, or overworked. Looking (and thinking) forward is important to maintaining momentum and remembering that our business (even in a non-pandemic year) is a journey, however many dips and swells we go through. I bring up the idea of a spyglass as a reminder that the landmarks and guides we look for may be out of reach or out of sight, but they are still out there. 

🙋🏻🙋‍♂️🙋🏽‍♀️All Hands on Deck
Last spring saw a lot of treading water and skillfully managing to “stay afloat,” but we are all in a better place than we were then. That being said, it can be fair to feel like we are still taking on plenty of water. I’ve seen every staff member constantly scrambling and responding to every call to fill leaks and plug gaps. Some are small leaks that can be filled through schedules and supplies with others are wider gaps, like the remote gap that teachers and districts are working to fill with creative and engaging synchonous learning lessons. 

⭕️Man Overboard!
Keep the life-rings handy and keep an eye on your crew mates. Look for signs of fatigue and help with the heavy lifting, whether it’s connecting cables, co-teaching a lesson, or carving out 20 minutes to reimagine a favorite lesson or activity to be redesigned for hybrid instruction. Similarly, don’t wait to ask for help. Reach out to teammates, admin, or coaches. Nobody is expected or able to navigate this journey well, much less independently. For the more isolated or reserved educator, feeling lost at sea is a very real possibility at times!

👑⚜️⚱️Collect Treasures
An important part of any journey (and this is certainly a voyage of discovery) is the joy in sightseeing, and collection of souvenirs or treasures to celebrate moments. Educators always benefit from shining the spotlight toward surprises and discoveries, and learners certainly shine in the moment. Keeping a journal, noting small successes, and reflecting on both personal and professional growth would be a helpful record of extraordinary measures in response to extraordinary times.
🍾Bon Voyage!

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

New Top-10 Tech Tips & Tools

I love to create content as much as the next digital learning coach, but for every tip or tutorial to address a need I see or request I receive, a quick search finds that there are several better ones that already exist!  I often share them with my staff as Tuesday Tips, but many are too good not to share beyond our walls, so that's what this post is about.  That’s right, in no particular order, it’s a top-10/next-10 curated, collected, shared resources to rock your world (or make your day a little brighter). 

1.  Jamboard Templates 
Here is a collection of Jamboard templates.  Jamboard is a powerful collaboration tool from Google that has come to existence and popularity at just the right time.  It's still new to many, and this collection can be a great entry point for new users to find content to engage in-person and remote learners. There are tons of useful ideas compiled here, including morning meeting routines, word-work boards, and check in templates.

2. Mathigon
Check out Mathigon's Polypad- This is a part of their super resource site, and has a really simple whiteboard with highly interactive and intuitive manipulatives, everything from polygons and tangrams to hundred blocks and fraction bars.
3. Staff/Student GoogleTutorials
This impressive collection of tutorials for all things Google is a great one-stop shop for teachers and students/families.  It is constantly updated to provide specific links to topics and tools.  Notice how you can toggle between staff and student versions from the top of either doc.
4. Share YouTube videos without ads, pop-ups, or comments.
This is a no-brainer if you share links to videos, but are always afraid of the other content that often accompanies YouTube videos in Google Classroom or Seesaw. This quick video tutorial give you the trick to promote student safety when sharing digital resources.

5. Posts in Seesaw- With this brand new feature, you can pin a post in the journal to keep it from pushing down.  You will find this feature under the 3 dots of a post, or learn more hereIt may be a small feature, but it’s also a biggie if you are a Seesaw user who is looking to lock pieces in place! 

6. Flipgrid Text Comments
Flipgrid is a powerful way to capture student learning and make thinking visible, particularly asynchronously.  However, not every reply requires an additional video post, and may in fact keep some students from engaging. This brand new feature allows for text responses to Flipgrid posts. Another small feature with big impact opportunity...

7. Seesaw Tutorial Tool
Part of individualizing your own pd is knowing what you don’t know, and this handy Tutorial Tool help deliver the right seesaw help where it’s needed. Click through to identify how seesaw can support you best. 

8. Shapegrams
Shapegrams are Tony Vincent's resource for students to recreate pictures with Google Draw in order to "practice visual observation, spatial awareness, logical reasoning, and critical thinking."  While it is paid, the first handful are awesome and free!

9. Screen-Sharing Solutions in Google Meet
Here is a great resource from there always-informative Jenn Judkins (Teaching Forward). As teachers in my own district have shifted toward the reliability and convenience of Google Meet, particularly its integration though google classroom, this tutorial gives a great walk through of the various types (and purposes) of screen-sharing methods. 

10. Management and Routines from Sean Jenkins
This post from a collection of excellent visuals from Sean Jenkins serves to help set tone, guide norms, and clarify expectations for our “new normal” in a hybrid/remote landscape. Learn more from Sean here.

Friday, August 28, 2020

Start SMART: Student Centered Considerations for Return-to-Learning with Intention & Empathy

It’s back-to-school time, sort of. We are on the eve of returning to learning, whether we are in person, remote, or in a hybrid model. The playing field has been leveled among recent and veteran educators who are all learning to build and fly their planes- underwater!  This blog post is optimistic and hopeful to remind us how and why we do what we do, regardless of space, pace or face-to-face. 

Disclaimer 1 
This Is a no-judgement zone. Whether or not you think it’s smart to be together, apart, or somewhere in between, these suggestions and strategies are meant to support whichever model your deciders have decided for you. That leads us to our first item, which has a disclaimer of its own.

Stay Student-Centered
This post and SMART model is built upon a Student-Centered foundation and pedagogical/philosophical cornerstone. Disclaimer 2: It has become easy to become self-centered during this pandemic, and I don’t mean that negatively, because we can’t help our students if we aren’t in a position to offer help to begin with. It’s the “place the mask on yourself before your children” philosophy that makes sense in order to make sure we are safe and healthy enough to help those around us. Being student-centered is about intentional, constructive, and optimistic practices that always start and end with student-learning and emotional well-being. 

Whether remote, hybrid, or face-to-face, the following elements set the stage for effective teaching and meaningful learning. Support is more critical than ever. Meeting the needs of all learners (and educators) by identifying and addressing needs only gets harder as the landscape changes, and district administrators should focus pd toward improving what we have and where we are before determining where we are going. 
Service is what we are all in this business for, but with challenging times comes a reminder that service should extend beyond students to support our selves as well as our staff and school
Finally, Safety sits atop the model as a priority that all other elements need to point to in order to maintain both physical social-emotional well being of us all. 

Keep Creating Moments
Any regular reader of this blog will definite my oldest and favorite graphic designed to illustrate the magic of moments. Whether we are together physically or virtually, it’s always about the student experience. We can design lessons that are meaningful, memorable or measurable, but when these three components intersect, we find the sweet spot of our business. It may be harder than ever to conceive how to create these moments, but they are the moments that we remember from our own education, the energy we wish we could bottle, and the activities we wish wouldn’t end when the “bell rings.”

Disclaimer 3: I'm plagiarizing my own previous blog post for the next 2 sections, because it's all about supporting remote learners, not just remote learning.

Give Straight A's in Class
How can we be separated in classrooms without feeling just as remote as if we were separated by screens?  These considerations look at reimagining the space and pace of in-person learning. We need to Address individual needs and issues of equity so that all student have access and opportunity to learn.  Teachers, schools and districts need to Adapt instructional space and pace to respond to limitations as well as capitalize on opportunities that smaller cohorts may provide. It will be a critical and fluid exercise to Adjust practice and expectations based on a magic blend of content, the delivery mechanism, wifi availability, learning objectives, and district demands. Finally, teachers and teams should constantly and Assess student learning, their own learning and the continued impact of continually changing circumstances. 
Support Remote Learners AND Remote Learning
React- We have been doing this to the best of our ability as the environment, the needs, and the expectations change, but when we are back with kids, reaction also means capturing and meeting their broad mix of energyenthusiasm, and anxiety.
Respond- We must build on reaction to establish response.  This is where districts need to continuously plan, establish goals, and adjust with as much information and consideration for all parties as possible.
Restore- We will be living in the wake of COVID for a very long time, and when we return, the work of restoring culture and focus will take a highly concerted effort and plan as well.  Even in a hybrid return, all models point to teaching practices that are distant and isolating.  Are separated cohorts, desks, students, and teachers any less remote?  
Reflect-  We are bad at this in normal times, but reflection, self-assessment, and critical evaluation of our experience is always essential for growth and progress, and we shouldn't wait for the dust to settle! These steps of reacting/responding/restoring/reflecting should be ongoing by everyone involved.

Lean on Coaches and Model Learning
Even though every educator I know is overwhelmed by the landscape we find ourselves in, now is the time to lean on your supports.  Whether it's your room neighbor, admin or friendly neighborhood digital learning coach, I designed this cycle to model dialogue, sample lessons, or the integration of new tools to support familiar teaching.  It's intended to create the time and space to identify an idea, craft it into a learning experience for students with goals and objectives, accessible via innovative edtech, and an evaluative component to assess students learning and how well it met it's objective.  In looking at this cycle-model, the first 2 steps (time and talk) and last 2 (think and tweak) are the parts we too-often skip, or get shaved off, but are included to build intention before and reflection after, all in the service of impacting learning for all students. 

Now and going forward, let's get SMART and support ourselves, each other, and our students!

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Back to School? Prepare to Pivot

At the time of writing this blog post, there is no decision on exactly how we will go “back to school” in just over a month or less (or more).  Most educators and administrators consider it inevitable that we need to shift between hybrid or remote models.  Whichever model it takes, let's shift the conversation from thinking and planning for back to school toward back to learning. Whether buildings are open, partially utilized, or locked up tight, school will be open and we need to be preparing and restructuring our virtual instructional environments as buildings prepare to adapt the physical learning spaces. 
In mid-March we had just abruptly left school, not knowing if and when we’d return, and I wrote in my blog, “It’s time to think differently about the way things have always been done.”  That holds true more than ever as we plan for any return, and we can't adopt a mindset of eventually returning to normal. Since we left school, the amount of unknowns has only overshadowed the amount of knowns when it comes to a return to learning and doing what we do. 
The worst thing we can do is to think about getting “back to normal.”  What puts us on edge is that whatever version of teaching and learning that is prescribed or designed yields an endless list of unanswerable questions. 
Many planning/advisory groups struggle with selecting a starting point to reimagine the unimaginable task of eventually returning students to our buildings. The issue comes when these committees can’t get past the logistics of in-person instruction to examine what the actual learning can look like. The essential health and safety questions, issues, and obstacles that are identified only push the equally critical questions of reimagining teaching and learning further down the road. This Edweek article does a great job speaking to that specific split, especially its impact on those at greater academic risk. 

Every return-to-learning option has significant limitations and concerns. Every concerned parent or educator can punch reasonable holes in any model, but neither option necessarily solves the issues of the other. I don't know what's right, but I do believe that the cost of keeping kids out of school isn’t repaid by returning too soon.

🎸You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to do what's right, but maybe being a rock star helps!  If you haven't seen Dave Grohl's article in the Atlantic, the Foo Fighters/Nirvana artist tells it like it is.

Reinvent the Wheel...
Do we need to reinvent the wheel?  No, thank you! To roll with the metaphor (ha), this past spring saw our educational community pull out the spare, keep us on the road, and transport learners safely, but we all know better than to drive too far on the donut!  We weren’t deploying a designed and prepared remote-learning in the spring. We were responding to the need of a crisis and employing the best practices possible without time or training, all in service of a continuity of learning, but that wasn't (asnd shouldn't be) a sustained model.
What's needed is a complete realignment. Among the many unknowns, this much is known for sure: A broad-scale growth mindset will be required from every stakeholder in order to exercise the flexibility, risk-taking, and collaborative effort it will take to live and work ell beyond our comfort zones.  
Let's Face Some Hard Truths  
• We know nothing can replace in-person learning, but it may just not be the safe or right things to do. 
• There is no perfect option, but our responsibility to children is to meet the needs and limitations of whatever is selected.
• We may not be together but virtual meetings can still bring us face-to-face, and the effective use of tools like Google Classroom, Seesaw, screencasts or daily slides serve to bring classes and learners "together."
• Our service is to students- their health, safety, growth, and development. We need to listen to our gut when it tells us that coming together puts any of these elements at risk.
• The first and last months of the school year get gross in a normal year! Non-AC buildings are full or classrooms loaded with stagnant air, damp papers, sweaty desks, to begin with and that’s not even approaching flu season.
• Good teaching is good teaching, and lame lessons are still lame lessons- even if they use tech (a digital worksheet is still a worksheet!)
• Learners need synchronous and asynchronous opportunities to learn whether they are face-to-face or remote.
• Like it or not, school is free childcare for much of our nation.
• In-person arrival/dismissal, hallways, bathrooms, and recess will be big problems
• Some kids love and thrive outside the confines and inhibitions of a classroom environment, while others virtually vanish.
• Engagement and classroom management is every bit as challenging in a virtual space.
• The elements and requirements of a hybrid design are a significant step back from the innovative, inclusive, and cooperative model of learning that we all know is nest for kids.

Let's also 
balance and address the unintended consequences of this experience as they arise, but let's also leverage the unexpected benefits that also arise. We have all redefined and redesigned our own professional development.  Whether or not they wanted it (or thought they needed it), I'd wager that school staff and faculty have added more to their toolkit in the past 6 months than the past 6 years!

The educational world strives to provide students the "least restrictive environment but sometimes the environment is the restriction.  This Boston Globe article provides guidance from Harvard about reopening concerns. Dr. Ashish Jha, the director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, said in a statement, "School districts have neither the resources nor the know-how to get their buildings ready to open safely."  While this is a broad generalization, I don't it's unfair to say that district resources lack the resources to do this as well as any of us would wish for. 

Whether remote or hybrid, the thoughtful and intentional use of digital learning tools can provide opportunity for more student-centered instruction.  Learning can return, and school can continue, but how?  A key factor will be the communication and collaboration of wide spread of stakeholders (including parents) in the service of addressing the following steps:

React: We have been doing this to the best of our ability as the environment, the needs, and the expectations change, but when we are back with kids, reaction also means capturing and meeting their broad mix of energy, enthusiasm, and anxiety.
Respond: We must build on reaction to establish response.  This is where districts need to continuously plan, establish goals, and adjust with as much information and consideration for all parties as possible.
Restore: We will be living in the wake of COVID for a very long time, and when we return, the work of restoring culture and focus will take a highly concerted effort and plan as well.  Even in a hybrid return, all models point to teaching practices that are distant and isolating.  Are separated cohorts, desks, students, and teachers any less remote?  
Reflect:  We are bad at this in normal times, but reflection, self-assessment, and critical evaluation of our experience is always essential for growth and progress, and we shouldn't wait for the dust to settle! These steps of reacting/responding/restoring/reflecting should be ongoing by everyone involved.

The last R is resources, and for better or for worse, there is a flood of awesome resources for both educators and families.  Here are some of my recent favorites:

Pear deck templates for back to school-

Bitmoji classroom tutorial: