Summer is Here! It’s Time For Some #SPF20

I’ve been in education for about 30 years, but today happens to be the last day of school of my 20th year working in my district. I’ve done a lot in 20 years here. I taught special education resource room and in-class support. I taught every elementary grade level. I was an elementary computer teacher, and I’ve been a district Technology Integration Specialist for the past three years. I ran a STEM Club called STEAMMakers. I’ve brought in new programs, secured grants, and started district-wide initiatives. I even went back to college and got certified as a school administrator three years ago.

I couldn’t have done all of this if I didn’t fully embrace a perpetual love of learning. I am ridiculously addicted to learning new things – to keeping my mind active, staying cutting edge, and continually working toward self-improvement. It really is an obsession. But there’s more – I have a second “affliction”. I am insatiably passionate about teaching it all to others.

The teachers throughout my district depend on me to be an edtech expert. I serve as a team mentor and bring new resources, skills, ideas, and learning to the other Technology Integration Specialists in my district. I now own my own edtech consulting business, Integration Innovation, LLC. I do presentations for thousands of attendees nationally and even internationally. I owe it to all of these people to stay current and really be a powerhouse resource for edtech learning.

So on this first day of summer of my 20th year in my district, I’m kicking off this summer by setting a goal called #SPF20. It stands for summer professional fun! The fun part is obvious, and the 20 means that I intend to learn or deepen my learning of 20 edtech things by the time I go back to school. Some of these things are brand new to me, and have just been things ‘on my radar’ that I knew I wanted to learn when I could find the time. Many of these goals are platforms or tools with which I’m already familiar, but I really want to dive deeper and become more of an expert. I also want to curate dynamic presentations based on what I learn.

Why 20? Well, it is originally inspired by the celebration of my 20th year in one district, but it’s also based on the fact that I have just about 10 weeks of summer vacation. That means that I can pointedly learn two new things each week. I first I thought that number sounded too low, but the more I thought about it the more I realize that it’s a really good balance. If I had made it #SPF50, I’d dabble in a lot, but not really become an expert at anything…and I’m craving expertise this summer. Balance is something I’m working on in my life, so 20 it is! If I learn something new on a Monday, and something else on Thursday, I have all those other days of the week to:

    Just spread out the learning – go deeper into my inquiry, or just wake up the next day and explore things I wondered about after reflecting
    Reach out to other friends and folks on Twitter who use these sites or tools and ask questions, and maybe even schedule in-person or virtual meetups to explore and learn together! (I would really love this!)
    Contact the vendors with any questions I have, request demos, or just build good relationships with them
    Curate presentations and resources to share with colleagues
    Take a day or two off when I just want to! I need some pool days in the sunshine, fishing trips, beach days, and down time with my family, too!

How am I going about this #SPF20 thing? Well, I have a list. I REALLY like my #SPF20 list – it is ambitious but inspired! To be honest, it’s not quite finished yet, but I have about 15 things on there so far. I’m saving some open spots until after ISTE in late June, where I’ll meet all kinds of people who will undoubtedly inspire me to learn things I haven’t yet even considered. I was going to schedule the items from my list on the calendar, but I realized I want the flexibility and freedom to decide what I’m going to learn week by week…it IS summer, after all! So the list and the learning will remain fluid.

So I’ll be using #SPF20 liberally this summer. I’m always up for having learning buddies – so if you want to teach me cool new stuff, learn with me, or just suggest something I should put on my list, I would love it! I don’t yet know if I’ll blog as I go along, or post to Twitter using the hashtag #SPF20, but I’m open to your ideas and input about that, too. And hey, if anyone else wants to hop on this hashtag and create your own list (or share mine), let’s rock some #SPF20 together!

Oh, and I’m reserving the right to up that #SPF level… extra coverage, ya’ know?

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Celebrate & Elevate The Experts Within

🔵 Universal truth in education #1: There is never enough time for professional development.

I connect with educators and leaders all over the world and this is one of the most widely-known conundrums we face in every country, district, and school.

🔵 Universal truth in education #2: Educators want to be able to choose PD that is meaningful and appropriate for them. Yes, they actually want the autonomy to select their own learning.

So many districts insist on bringing in gurus and paying thousands of dollars for each “show” in which these experts spray their enlightened methods upon an audience of teachers. We pull teachers from classrooms, sometimes for several days, and we pay even MORE thousands of dollars to substitutes to cover these classes. Teachers then dutifully sit and get anointed with the topic that has administrators have deemed appropriate for the masses. No choice and no voice equals disengagement, lack of relevance, and resentment over time lost.

🔵 Universal truth in education #3: There are qualified expert teachers in every single school who do creative, research-based, tried and true, pedagogically sound amazing things every single day.

Schools can save thousands upon thousands of dollars every single year if administration recognizes that there is plenty of know-how, expertise, and ambition right within its own school walls. When it comes to PD, there needs to be significantly more reliance on home-grown over nationally-known.

🔴 Herein lies the opportunity for a perfectly symbiotic solution. Celebrate and elevate the leaders within.

I’d like to share two ideas that I was recently able to introduce into two of our district’s elementary schools. Neither idea is mine, and I’ll attach credit for the inspiration for each of these ideas in the descriptions below.

Last year, the schools in our district each actively pursued a certification known as Future Ready NJ. Each school had a truly dynamic site-based team that met regularly to collaboratively and reflectively evaluate their school on a series of indicators. During this process, a few of the teams realized and discussed the universal truths that I outlined above. They lamented about how there is never enough time, they shared their cravings for continuous learning and growth, and they desperately hoped that someone would listen to their yearning to choose individually-relevant PD. Coupled with the fact that these teams were comprised of teachers who clearly have the capability and the drive to be leaders, I suggested a couple of ideas:

1️⃣ One Small Thing

This idea was born out of the TeachMeet model. Originally created in the United Kingdom, a TeachMeet is an informal but structured gathering of educators willing to share clever ideas. The idea is for participants to volunteer to share an idea in their choice of time increments – 2, 5, or 7 minutes. I’ve attended one of these in England, and I’ve also attended several in the US, and I suppose they’re all similar but take on their own “rules”. My favorite has been the huge TeachMeet that is run by my friends Kyle and Liz Calderwood, William King and Allen Martin at ISTE each year. They always reserve quite a large room, have a podium & projector set up, and just welcome any attendees who pop in throughout the day to fill out a card indicating their presentation length and topic. As the day goes on, they just call these volunteers to the front one by one, setting a timer and just letting the presentations happen! This is one of my favorite things at ISTE every year because I absolutely love learning this way – quick little rapid-fire snippets of great ideas one after the other from all sorts of creative people who just have one small thing to share!

It’s this notion of One Small Thing that I shared with a Future Ready NJ team at Wedgwood Elementary School. I told them the story of TeachMeet and suggested that it could easily be replicated at their school by setting aside time at the beginning of any faculty meeting and giving voice to any staff member who might volunteer “One Small Thing.”

The team loved the idea and added it to their Future Ready Wish List of things they’d like to see happen during this school year. For the November meeting, the principal supported this request by advertising it as a voluntary pre-faculty meeting option. Teachers were invited to come 25 minutes before the official start of the faculty meeting, and I was pleased to see about 15 people take advantage of the opportunity!

One teacher got the ball rolling by sharing One Small Thing that she had gotten from Pinterest. It’s called an “I Need” Box. She keeps it in her room along with some colorful note cards, and students know that they can write private communications to their teacher about anything they need, and that she will privately respond to them in due time. This teacher shared that she has had students ask for extra help when everyone else seems to be understanding the lesson, ask to have a seat moved, ask for school supplies that their parents can’t afford, and even just ask to have some private time to talk to the teacher about how to handle various issues at home.

Needlessly to say, the rest of the room was glad to know of this One Small Thing, and then the ideas started flowing. We heard from about 7 different teachers by the end, and I have a feeling that this will gain more and more momentum now that teachers know that:

  • their voices are respected and valued
  • they can serve as thought leaders
  • they can learn a lot each other in very little time
  • there are all kinds of different experts on faculty with tried and tested, powerful ideas to share
  • presentations don’t have to involve prep work or be a big deal – just 1, 2, or 5 minutes is all it takes to inspire colleagues and spark ideas

(Click HERE for my favorite blog post about TeachMeets – by Naomi Ward, 2014.)

Teachers became inspired to share and to respectfully learn from each other

The “I Need” Box, which gives students a private way to communicate things that they don’t feel comfortable saying out loud or in front of classmates

2️⃣ The Pineapple Chart

Again, this idea is not mine – it’s just something I shared with a Future Ready NJ team at another one of our schools, Bells Elementary School. They were another ambitious group looking for solutions to the same problem….fitting in PD and giving informal leadership opportunities to the talented folks in the building. I mentioned something called The Pineapple Chart, and nobody had ever heard of it.

I first learned of The Pineapple Chart from a blog called Cult of Pedagogy by Jennifer Gonzales. Click HERE to read the article that explains the origin and premise of The Pineapple Chart. It’s also an idea that is widely and positively shared on Twitter. I’ve been following success stories about Pineapple Charts for years, and I am excited that we have a school with teachers brave enough to put their ideas out there and learn from one another! Last week, I stayed late one day to create the Pineapple Chart that is pictured below. Again, this idea is supported by the building principal, who is an advocate for celebrating the strengths of her staff. She is planning to present this model to the teachers at the next faculty meeting, and I can’t wait to write future follow-up posts about the fantastic things that result from this new-to-us PD model!

This is truly the idea of “celebrating and elevating the experts within.” Putting one’s name on a Pineapple Chart requires a certain amount of vulnerability by welcoming anyone into the classroom to see an idea. More importantly, it relies on a high degree of excitement and pride about the experiences one’s students are having – and hoping others find inspiration in those ideas!

Teachers write their name in the day/time block and also write the topic, skill, tool, or ideas that they welcome others to come in and observe.

Thoughts on Collaborative Peer Coaching

I was recently asked to consider some advantages and disadvantages of the practice of peer coaching.  This is different from the subject-specific edu-coach model we hear so much about these days.  This isn’t a Literacy Coach, a Math Coach or a Tech Coach.  This is old-style, tried-and-true, perhaps forgotten, real, collaborative PEER coaching.  It has been said that peer coaching can become the heart of professional development. 

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Peer coaching is a professional development model in which pairs of teachers work together through initial discussions, classroom observations, and coaching meetings to refine specific areas of their teaching.  It is a model that has received much recognition over the past few decades, and is often celebrated in research.  All systems, however, have pros and cons, and teachers may or may not find peer coaching beneficial.  There are many factors to consider in order to determine if a coaching model is truly an effective means to change and enhance classroom teachings and practices of teachers for development of students.

Ultimately, the human component needs to be considered first.  The peer coaching model will presumably be most effective with teachers who are willing or at least semi-willing to engage in collegial pairings with the intention of improving their instruction.  In other words, choosing teachers who are receptive to change is paramount. Similarly, the way in which teachers are paired for these relationships is critical.  There needs to be such an extreme level of trust that allows for vulnerability, freedom from judgement, openness, and a sincere intent to improve instructional practices.  If these factors are in place and a well-constructed peer coaching pair has been established, I believe there is a tremendous opportunity for professional growth.

Joyce and Showers (1980) specified the process as :”two or more teachers who meet regularly for problem solving using planning, observation, feedback, and creative thinking for the development of a specific skill.”  Leadership authors Sullivan and Glanz state, “Through ongoing discussion of teaching and learning, curriculum development, and implementation, peer coaching can become the heart of professional development.”   In my opinion, all four of these authors paint an obvious picture which would result from the ideal peer coaching set-up.  Given the right teachers who have a choice in whether or not to participate and perhaps choice of their peer coaching partners, it seems to be the absolute epitome of what teaching should be.  I am an optimist, and I embrace models like this.  I strive for continuous self-improvement and want to keep learning, and I strive to surround myself with educators who share that mindset.  However, even I can imagine some of the pitfalls.

Given human nature, hurt feelings and jealousy can arise.  Insecurities may surface.  Competition can become an issue, and perhaps not in a healthy way.  As a matter of fact, most of the downfalls of a system like this have to do with negative human emotions.  I can’t think of any instructional down side, nor can I think of any negative impact on students.  The issue of finding time, sometimes professional release time, can be an issue, as it often is in education.

With robust administrative support, this is a model that could work beautifully in schools.  First, administrators would need to commit to establishing time and resources to make peer coaching possible.  They would need to guarantee teachers release time for peer and even larger group reflective discussion.    A good administrator would allow for some choice in the way the model is implemented and how the pairings take place.  A good administrator would initially present this is the most positive way, with assurance that it is not ‘observation’ and a celebration and accolades for those willing to try it.  A good administrator would be a cheerleader for this type of model.

Teachers helping teachers improve their craft through collegial reflective practice?  Isn’t that how it always should be?

Why Digital Badges?

I am excited out of my MIND!!!  I’m so proud to say that my school district is getting very progressive about the way it offers professional development.  We’re moving away from the “Sit & Get” workshop format and starting to explore options that involve choice!  Our first HUGE foray into this world involves something powerful and amazing called Digital Badges.

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If you happen to Google the term Digital Badges, or even follow the hashtag on Twitter, you’ll see that there are all kinds of platforms for creating, issuing, and using Digital Badges.  You’ll also see that it is becoming an increasingly popular way to motivate people for all kinds of things.  Businesses, colleges, leagues, clubs, MOOCs, and more are using these.  Heck, even my Fitbit uses Digital Badges to do its best to keep me motivated!

In our district, we’re using a badging site called Credly.  It’s free!  It allowed for our district to set up an account and create a set of digital badges.  Each badge represents some skill to be learned involved the learning AND APPLICATION of an ed tech tool. For instance, there is a badge for the site Wordle, which teaches badge applicants how to create cool word clouds with their students at the website wordle.net.  There’s another badge for a cool web tool called Thinglink, which teaches badge applicants to create an interactive image with hyperlinks to all sorts of unit activities.  There’s even a Digital Badge that teaches folks how to use that PRNT SCRN button on the keyboard!

There are about 20 starter badges there now, but the site is designed to grow – get this – by CROWDSOURCING THE GENIUS OF THE USERS!  This is undoubtedly the best part!  The second to the last badge on the page is a Screencasting Digital Badge.  It teaches users how to create their own screencast to explain a new web tool to others.  To claim this badge (or any badge), users must submit specified evidence.  In the case of the Screencasting Digital Badge, an applicant must submit the link the actual video that they have created.

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These are just a few of a growing list of badges that may be earned in our district!

Wait…this is where this whole thing EXPLODES WITH AWESOMENESS!  After the screencast is submitted, approved, and the Screencast Digital Badge is issued, the district uses it to create a new badge which is then added to the site!  The person who was generous enough to submit it gets credit on the Digital Badge site, and they also earn a bonus:  The Digital Leader Badge!  (The highest honor in all the land!  See the credit given in the photo below!)

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As you can see from the image above, each badge on our district’s website has a cute little picture of the badge itself, a link to the website, a brief description of what the site is or does, and a link to claim the badge at Credly.  That Credly link gives more information about what specific evidence is required for each individual badge.  For the most part, evidence involves actual proof of the tool having been used by a class in some way.  Photos, videos, links to student-created work, screenshots of class dashboards with online scores/results, Word documents or actual student samples – these are all indicators of true application.  These are the real credentials – the ‘metadata’ – that back up a Digital Badge and make it so much more than just a cute graphic.  Digital Badges MEAN something!

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As part of the roll-out of this new system, I created a “Why Digital Badges?” slideshow using a cool presentation tool called Haiku Deck (more on that in an upcoming post).  Before you close out this post so you can dash away and start exploring Digital Badges, do yourself a favor and click through this slideshow.  I’ll bet it makes a Digital Badge lover out of you, too!

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Please click on the hyperlink below to view this slideshow.

https://www.haikudeck.com/p/dixvM2WBsM

Note: WTPS just rolled out this system two days ago to a beta-testing group of 30 teachers.  Within two days, over a dozen badge applications were submitted…..and it’s summer break!

Note 2: Beta-testing is a very good idea.  The initial group found some kinks in the system that needed to be corrected.  Additionally, our district is ONLY implementing this for the elementary staff at this point for very much the same reason.  Test small scale first.

As always, I welcome your comments, thoughts, questions, and suggestions.  You can still always reach me by commenting here at WordPress, on Twitter at @kerszi , or by following My Primary Techspiration on Facebook.