Saturday, October 1, 2022

Unpacking RISK

 Unpacking RISK

As a digital learning coach, my goal is to encourage educators to reach outside their comfort zone and innovate their instruction through the use of educational technology. it sounds good, but it’s a very tall order, particularly in our post-pandemic learning landscapes where “back to normal” has become a priority among families and administrators.

Let’s reframe the notion of risk vs. reward to instead consider risk creating reward. This shift requires a special set of circumstances if we are serious about asking teachers to reach beyond their current capacity, interest, or understanding.

Let’s unpack RISK as the intersection of Readiness, Intrinsic Motivation, Safety, and Knowledge.


Just like anyone else, teachers require a particular comfort-level in order to reach beyond their comfort zone. A current challenge is that most educators have been well outside of their comfort zone for the past fews years, reporting that last year was the most challenging yet. Risk taking only works when educators feel prepared, motivated, supported, and ready to try something new. They can be made to deploy new approaches, or cover new curriculum, but that separates risk-taking from rule-following.

Intrinsic Motivation

When it matters to a teacher, the most amazing things can happen. Risk-taking increases when the goals, topics, or initiatives carry personal meaning or interest for a teacher. A teacher’s passion or personal motivation raises the stakes for instructional success, and carries emotional investment.


Educators will not take risks, make themselves vulnerable, or challenge the status quo if there isn’t a psychological safety net to support them, or if they feel as though it will jeopardize their job. The culture of the teaching and learning environment, and the support of leadership, set the tone that either encourages or discourages risk-taking. It’s not that complex, and it shouldn’t be surprising, and yet culture-driven initiatives or innovative messaging are often overshadowed by curriculum demands, ongoing assessment, and instructional time-constraints.  


Educators are used to being the experts, content-masters, and the disseminators of knowledge, but taking risks requires flexibility and adaptability if things don’t go as planned. Teachers need to rely upon their knowledge and craft as educators to maintain instructional objectives and keep their focus on student-learning without getting distracted by the application of innovative tools or products.

Now let’s unpack the Reward of RISK as Resilience, Investment, Support, and Know-how


Educators who find success through risk-taking increase their likelihood of continued risk taking and innovation, while modeling a pathway to inspire colleagues. Even those who may not achieve all of their objectives strengthen their resilience through reflection and evaluation of their process.


Risk-taking yields personal investment when interest or passion projects turn from ideas to action. Where the intrinsic motivation helps teachers take the plunge with zeal, the payoff is in the developing product that carries emotional attachment. 


Success yields repetition, and a district that recognizes instructional innovation or success automatically builds a support system that will encourage further risk-taking. 


Aspiring teachers aren’t necessarily trained to take risks, embark on innovation, or “think outside the box.” When an educator takes a successful risk, and their efforts are recognized, they create a pathway for others to follow, clearing a runway for increased risk-taking as a priority within their instructional culture. 


Teachers can get caught in some deep ruts, but we need to acknowledge that while these ruts may sometimes work well, they can also reinforce inefficiency or even bad habits. Integrating new initiatives or innovation can threaten carefully crafted structures or long-standing traditions, and feel isolating enough that many choose not to drift outside the lines. There can be a vulnerability when straying from a prescribed lesson plan or unit of study to extend thinking, capitalize on an unexpected opportunity, or just try an innovative strategy discovered on Twitter, but successful risk-takers don't let that risk outweigh the reward.

When teachers combine readiness, intrinsic motivation, safety, and knowledge to embark upon meaningful risk, they build (in themselves and in their buildings) resilience, investment, support, and know-how.

Risk Creates Reward!

Friday, September 30, 2022

Domains of Digital Learning



As a digital learning coach, my primary goal has always been to support and enhance the instructional capacity of educators. As we begin the 2022-2023 school year, I’ve expanded my goal in context of our continued post-pandemic recovery. My role is most effective as a collaborative partner embedding digital learning practices to help educators reclaim their classrooms, reignite their passions, and reaffirm their purpose.


If we remember to stick to the ABCs- Always Build Capacity (thanks @jeantower), we can do a bit of reflective practice to flip that acronym and find out why. That brings us to CBA- Capacity Builds Agency. Yes, capacity builds agency, and that’s the struggle I see facing many classrooms as we look for restorative practices to “get back to normal.” 


Learning loss can be a toxic and triggering phrase, but the loss that the folks inside the school walls care most about is that loss of agency, both student and teacher agency, where leadership, autonomy, resilience, and flexibility are prioritized. My view of agency through the lens of digital learning is the intersection and application of three domains of digital learning: Wellness, Competency, and Creativity. 



Wellness describes who students are and will become through a digital citizenship and social-emotional lens. Competency describes what digital skills and behaviors students acquire to become empowered learners. Creativity describes how students acquire knowledge and demonstrate learning through integrated technology. Educators, schools, and districts working to advance digital learning at scale can usually compartmentalize their products, practices, goals and objectives within these three domains. Using the three domains to begin a branched framework, there are components within each domain that leaders can identify as areas for focus, goals, or growth. These sub-components are described in the following sections, and are categorized to help school teams or leaders identify lanes to work toward change, rather than trying to elevate all aspects of digital learning at once.



Wellness in digital learning is more complex and comprehensive than an outdated coverage of digital citizenship. In fact, digital citizenship is often viewed by classroom teachers and families within a framework of internet safety and behavior. Wellness builds upon and expands digital citizenship while encompassing and including families, society, social emotional learning and mental health in a more holistic view of digital literacy. See the links at the end of this post to dig deeper into digital wellness components (physical, cognitive, emotional, community) through Kerry Gallagher’s Connect Safely blog. 


Schools looking to broaden their scope of wellness support for their learning community can begin by expanding from a limited digital citizenship perspective to incorporate technology that supports social-emotional learning and engages families and communities.



This domain spans the skills learners acquire and the opportunities we provide to measure their capacity and growth. In a competency approach, learning shifts to the application of concepts in intentional and meaningful modes. Competency in digital learning measures learners’ ability to accomplish tasks and apply authentic skills across content areas, rather than navigating a scope and sequence of technology-based tasks surrounding the operation of products and devices. 

Reminding ourselves to keep our instructional focus on student processes rather than vendors’ products, the competency domain addresses capacity building, skill development, and digital literacy as the priorities for effective digital learning, rather than limited technology operation.  



If we want to empower a generation of content-creators, we need to prioritize digital design and creativity as critical classroom competencies. We need to update what it means for students to publish their work through methods like digital media, blogs, podcasts, and presentations. Shifting students from consuming to creating is a gradual process that has suffered a backslide returning from the pandemic. It is more important than ever to re engage all learners with effective tech integration. 

Future-ready learners require options and opportunities to ignite higher-order thinking. Creativity and flexibility promote engaged learning, collaborative problem-solving, and empowered learning.  The creative process requires an approach and an educator who believes that innovation is a culture shift, not a climate act, and that empowered student voice and choice through authentic digital literacy is an essential classroom competency.


When it comes to professional learning, it can be too much to expect every classroom teacher to manage the necessary work of rebuilding students’ connection to school and learning while reclaiming their own. Teachers have identified this past year as their hardest yet, and that leaves little room for professional growth beyond essentials. Conceptualizing digital learning across domains can lighten the load. Focusing individually on digital wellness, competency, or creativity domains reduces the cognitive load on educators and shifts the expectation to more targeted capacity-building efforts. 


Considering these three domains of wellness, competency, and creativity is also a way for administrators to focus their assessment on ways in which teachers engage students with technology. Let’s move past ideas for entry level tech-integration. We are integrated, whether through 1:1 devices, LMS platforms, or tech-enhanced lesson plans. Let’s broaden our interpretation of digital learning to have a richer and more meaningful understanding of technology integration that addresses student wellness, competency, and creativity.


Kerry Gallagher’s ConnectSafelyBlog Posts

Tuesday, February 1, 2022

Feedback and Loops

In a recent virtual meeting about the importance of instructional feedback, I noted how we often overlook the importance of timely, structured, and contextual feedback in the interest of professional development. Feedback can be powerful.  Feedback can’t be a receipt or takeaway note if the goal is collaboration, dialogue, or any sort of coaching, mentoring, or even observational communication. Feedback can also be problematic when it’s unsolicited or even unwelcome.  In our edusphere, and in my coaching role, it’s important to have a clear vision on effective feedback methods, and the concept of a feedback loop is powerful for meaningful collaboration and communication.

Feedback is often one-directional.  In-game coaching, course feedback forms, or even rubrics are examples of a one-directional feedback source.  A rubric isn’t feedback, at least if it’s delivered as an end-of-project receipt or scorecard.  I’ve never really seen a student pour over the squares in which their work has been scored in order to collect any new information.

A feedback loop is a different story.  A loop isn’t directional; it implies dialogue or conversation.  There’s input and output.  Interestingly, as a musician, it’s critical to avoid feedback loops at all costs, in which inputs and outputs become imbalanced.  That’s the danger zone where one source overwhelms the other.  There’s a clear lesson to be found for administrators, team-members, and instructional coaches!  A balanced, ongoing, and monitored exchange can create a meaningful model for learning and growth.

A loop is cyclical, which can be a good or a bad thing.  A positive loop spirals and strengthens, where a negative loop can reinforce bad habits and damage relationships. If you’ve been teaching long enough, you’ve likely seen or experienced either of these types of feedback loop. 

Whether it’s directional or in a loop, feedback should carry context for if the goal is growth.  Observations shouldn’t be able to be easily misinterpreted, and information and data should be actionable.  Feedback shouldn’t feel transactional.  It should feel informative, whether the news is good or bad.  Sometimes feedback is automatic.  In fact, some of the most immediate changes occur in response to negative feedback, whether it’s a microphone squeal, a dog’s snarl, or a spiraling student.

It’s our job to turn that information into action.  Coders take unsuccessful attempts in stride to debug their programs, musicians move their microphones or shift their levels, and skilled educators adjust their practice to respond and react to the formative feedback in front of them. Mechanisms like forms and surveys collect data or work as a dipstick to capture a moment for a classroom teacher or building administrator. In these instances, real-time feedback can provide real-time adjustment in the form of formative feedback.

Feedback in the form of performance assessments, reviews, or even course grades have big strings attached and are quite different from the types of feedback in formative meetings, brainstorming sessions, or peer observations.  Each type of feedback serves it’s specific purpose, but it’s critical that all parties understand the types of language, criteria, and evaluative measures in place if the feedback has any hope of being effectively applied to practice. 

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.  


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.