Training Challenges

I’m so excited to be kicking off 2017 with some new training offerings for teachers. It also means I get to play around on Canva and create some awesome flyers. I’m seriously obsessed with that site; it’s so addictive!

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I’m continuing to work on getting more schools within our district using G-Suite to a higher level. It is a challenge to balance these offerings with other, non-Google trainings, since not every school in the district is a Google school (yet). That may be another blog post for another time…Consistency, people!

Here’s what I’m struggling with, and my situation may be unique to my particular district, but perhaps some of the challenges will resonate with you.

  1. The teachers in this district have vastly different technology skill levels and desires to learn more technology. For example, I worked with a teacher today who did not know how to attach a Word document to an email. I have had other teachers wanting me to show them ways to get their students podcasting. We’re all over the map here. How can you offer a training that is inclusive, meets the needs of the attendees, and is high quality? I know this is a challenge teachers struggle with in their classrooms, too.
  2. There is no time. Literally, there is no time. The teachers do not have a planning period. After school is often filled with clubs, meetings, interventions, etc. Often I am sitting with a teacher trying to plan, while he or she is managing a classroom. It’s certainly not ideal, and really not even functional. There must be other schools out there that have some time challenges. How do you address them?
  3. Unpreparedness. Now, this is not a knock on teachers personally. I used to be in the classroom, and I get it – you make hundreds of decisions every single hour. How can you be expected to remember usernames and passwords, too?! Right. Everything requires a username and password these days, so finding a system that works is crucial. (And by that I don’t mean a list of passwords taped to your desk next to your computer…) I continue to provide a “You will need _____” list with my training offerings so that teachers know. And yet…I still struggle with teachers being able to access their accounts or bring their devices to a technology training.

A  lot of this is cultural change and shifts in expectation. For a lot of teachers, they are used to low-quality, sit and get PD, presented by someone who doesn’t know them and isn’t invested in their role in the District. So many companies include PD when you purchase their products, but it is often a one-and-done kind of thing, and teachers have been conditioned to know that these types of trainings are not very engaging and often not all that useful. I continue to keep high standards for my teachers. While I cannot provide one-on-one support for all teachers in all 27 schools, I am doing my best to provide a comprehensive set of training sessions as well as continue to work on building relationships. Capacity building is huge, so I have worked to identify teachers who are tech leaders in their buildings and tap into their willingness to try new things.

How do you handle some of these challenges? 
Any suggestions you’d like to share? 

The System

I’ve been spending a lot of time in professional development – in book studies, Twitter chats, reading and engaging with blogs, and talking with other teachers and ed tech coaches at events – and I’m really confused.

It seems like so much has changed in education and yet nothing has changed. We know better how students learn. The skills and demands that students will be expected to have are far different than those that existed when I went to school. Our world is much more connected. Technology and access to information inundates and sometimes overwhelms us. It can feel impossible to process all that information sometimes. And yet… I still walk into classrooms and see teachers refusing to let students engage with the world. I hear teachers tell students not to touch anything until they are given explicit instruction. I watch students puzzle and problem-solve on their own, but then shut down when forced to follow along step by step with a teacher or trainer. The thing is, adults feel safe when someone tells them what to do step by step. Kids don’t! Think of a toddler. How does he or she learn? A little boy puzzles over how to get the block into a hole; he tries several holes until he finds the shape that matches the block.

We want students to be problem solvers. We want them to be critical thinkers. Students no longer need us to TELL them what they need to know, we need to show them how to find the answers. We need to teach them HOW to assess and analyze the information they’re given. Students need to apply the knowledge they have in ways that are meaningful, make sense, challenge them.

Nothing is going to change in education until we – the system – changes. We have to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. We have to be okay with giving up some control. We have to be alright with students exploring – and maybe stumbling upon something they shouldn’t. And when they do, we capitalize on that and use it as a teachable moment. If we only tell kids what NOT to do – and punish them when they make a mistake – how likely are they to actually try and innovate?

Sharing Stories

Last week I had the pleasure of working with one of my favorite people and her awesome students. She’s a reading specialist here in Lansing and last year I introduced her to the Global Read Aloud last year and she read Fish in a Tree with her students. This year, her kiddos are reading Pax, and, like me, they have all fallen in love with the story of a young boy and his pet fox.

One of the things we love about the GRA is that it allows students to make connections over a common story with people from all over the world. It’s so validating for students to be able to hear people commenting on their ideas and opinions, asking them questions, and making connections.

On Thursday, the students and I used the iPad app Shadow Puppet to create short videos about their favorite character in the book. Prior to my lesson with the students, Mrs. Jacobs had the kids draw a picture of a scene from the book that included their favorite character. They also had a script of what they wanted to say, since some students freeze up when they have to record themselves! After a quick lesson on how to use Shadow Puppet, the kids were off to the races. It was awesome to listen to their explanations about why they chose a particular character.

After everyone recorded their videos, we uploaded them to YouTube. Then I got to sit with the students and Mrs. Jacobs and talk about what they had read so far. I have read the whole book, so the students were anxious to pick my brain about what happens in the book. It was fun to hear their questions and to not really answer any of them, because no one REALLY wants to know how it ends before you get to it!

We are a bit behind the official reading schedule for the Global Read Aloud, but we are really enjoying the deep dive and discussing the book. We’d love to connect with you over Google Hangouts or Skype. Let me know!

 

Trying to Process…

Happy Friday, friends!

After Tuesday’s election and the early Wednesday morning results, I found myself deeply saddened by the outcome. Admittedly, I was going to be very sad when President Obama left office. I have been inspired by his leadership, vision, exemplars, and policies. Any person coming in to replace him was not going to make me happy. However, I cannot help but feel a profound sense of sadness and fear at the prospect of president-elect Trump. I do not tend to agree with most Republican policies, but I can appreciate that Republicans have differing views than my own, and mostly have reasoned and nuanced details on why they hold those positions. This feels different. I do not support hated, racism, intolerance, misogyny, or xenophobia.

On Wednesday I felt like I just needed to take a few minutes to process my thoughts and get some ideas off my chest. For what it’s worth, here is my reflection.

 

It’s Election Day!

Unless you’ve been living under a rock the last year, you’re probably pretty sick and tired of hearing about the U.S. Presidential Election. The good news is that it will all be over tomorrow! img_6350

Here at Sheridan Road, we have been harnessing the glut of information around the election to run a school-wide PBL unit. The driving question for the project has been “How can we use knowledge of the U.S. Presidential election to create a successful campaign for Sheridan Road STEM’s student council race?”

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Over the past two months, students have been engaged in researching and participating in how the election process works – fundraising to pay for commercials and campaign posters, interviewing “constituents” to see what issues are important, and working hard to make sure they lock up their votes. Additionally, students have learned about how the electoral college works, the popular vote, the issues that voters are working on, how and why we elect people to represent us, and what the civic responsibilities are in choosing a candidate.

There will be a president and vice president selected from each grade level – each 4th, 5th, and 6th grade have nominated a candidate. Those candidates have created posters, campaign videos, and have given speeches. Students have heard from local politicians about their own path to election and have had the opportunity to ask questions about the process.

One of the key components of a good PBL is that it is relevant and timely. Clearly capitalizing on the election has helped make this unit timely, but it is also relevant for the students because they are actually choosing candidates who will represent their grade level on the school’s student council. Sheridan Road has tried to model as much as possible the real election process. Once the nominees were chosen from each class, students divided into committees to help their candidate win the election. In order to air their commercials or hang their campaign posters, students had to fundraise and earn money to pay for their commercial slot. Candidates have had to give interviews about what their platform is. We have even had debates between the different candidates at each grade level. (Fourth Grade, Fifth Grade, and Sixth Grade)

Sixth grade students used the website I Side With to evaluate the issues that are important to them and what their positions are. Once they received their results and saw which of the 4 main candidates they sided with, they created a series of fake text messages between themselves and friend, telling their friend which candidate they sided the most with and why.

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Today is our election day since our schools are closed tomorrow for the election. On Wednesday, we will have the results and the losing candidates will give their concession speeches.

Top 10 in 10: Reality for Michigan or Just Empty Rhetoric?

Yesterday I attended the METS Fall 2016 Rally in Jackson, MI at a wonderfully creative and innovative space created by Consumer’s Energy. It is a true example of combining new and old with collaborative and non-traditional learning spaces. Classroom design and flexible learning spaces seem to be on my mind lately as I begin providing input to our District Bond Committee in charge of purchasing new equipment, furniture, and other learning materials for our re-designed schools. While it is important to remember that simply changing “X” isn’t going to result in [insert educational buzzword here], it is equally important to begin the conversation about what learning looks like.

For myself, I often struggle to be creative or even productive in my office building cubicle. I’m constantly distracted by the ringing phone, people coming in and out, sounds of the copy machine, etc., not to mention being surrounded by concrete blocks, beige cubicle dividers, and no access to flexible seating or alternative lighting. Alternatively, when I can curl up on a beanbag, sit outside, or enjoy some natural light, I feel much more energized and engaged with my work. The same is true for our students. I always hear the comments from teachers after a long day at a conference about how tired they are – from SITTING!

One of our discussions at the Rally yesterday centered around the State Superintendent’s missive to make Michigan a Top Ten state for education in ten years. To that end, he has laid out a plan of 10 strategic goals that we as a state need to pursue and get better at if we are to thrive and improve education in this state. You can read more about the plan here.

While on its surface, these ten strategic goals sound wonderful and certainly no one is going to disagree with things like, “Develop, support, and sustain a high-quality, prepared, and collaborative workforce”. However, we spent a fair amount of time digging in to these strategic goals, and a few things struck me. There are a variety of underlying issues that must be addressed in order to truly help Michigan schools become one of the top 10 in the nation.

We discussed these strategic goals in a really innovative format. There were several tables set up; at each table was either a high school student from an area school or a young professional from the area. Each guest had a strategic goal they discussed with the others at the table. It was a unique way to discuss a variety of issues with a diverse group of people.

As I listened to one particular guest discuss the importance of strategic goal 4 – “Reduce the impact of high-risk factors, including poverty, and provide equitable resources to meet the needs of all students to ensure they have access to quality educational opportunities” – I was struck by how little of this is within the control of schools and districts. Michigan schools are funded through property taxes, but how much of those taxes are allocated for schools are decided by the state legislature on a per-pupil allotment. Resources to support families – welfare, affordable child care, access to reliable transportation, access to healthy food – have been whittled away and so many students come to schools without their basic needs being met. We have so many more responsibilities and duties as schools, but have less money than ever with which to fulfill these.

Another factor that strikes me as puzzling is the goal of creating “a prepared and quality future workforce[.]” We as teachers know that teaching students to fill in bubbles, take tests online, and memorize facts and figures aren’t what’s best for students. We also know that those types of skills are not in demand in today’s workforce. Children need to learn how to interact appropriately in a digital space, students need practice and access to engaging with others around the globe. Students should be creating and curating, not consuming and engaging in “digital worksheets.” And yet…teachers are evaluated on how well their students achieve on an assessment. We measure all students’ learning via a standardized test. We are still checking boxes instead of using a holistic approach that evaluates multiple factors of a teacher’s “effectiveness.” In fact, the state superintendent released his recommendations recently for ANOTHER new state test. For the past two years, schools have used the online M-STEP test that is administered in the spring. Districts throughout the state spent countless hours ensuring their networks were ready to handle the influx of traffic, that computers were functional. Teachers helped their students navigate the testing environment so that the test would measure what students actually know rather than how well they can take a test online. In our district, because many of our schools are 4-6, the better part of two MONTHS were engaged in testing, taking away valuable computer time because those labs were tied up with testing. Now, the superintendent wants to do away with the M-STEP, create a new, different assessment, and have it be administered in both the fall AND the spring.

We know what’s best for kids. We want students to show us what they know. We want them to be prepared to engage with and in the workforce. We want them to have access to a variety of educational opportunities. And yet, we also still seem to want them to be really good test takers. Teachers simply do not have time – or the freedom – to take risks in their classrooms when they know they are being evaluated on a state test.

It’s imperative that we as a society look at our values and our priorities. We cannot continue to cut taxes for the wealthiest 1% and lessen the amount of dollars going into social welfare problems and expect change. Schools cannot do it all. Parents cannot do it all. Even together, parents and schools, cannot do it all. Without the support, skills, training, and resources that can be provided through state and federal agencies, we risk being able to truly make Michigan a Top 10 in 10.

Global Read Aloud

Okay so I have used Twitter a lot for professional connection and learning for the past few years. And I know its power. But I’ve never really witnessed firsthand how powerful it can be! I’ve tweeted out a question and gotten a few responses. I’ve never really had an overwhelming amount of responses to something – until yesterday.

I created a Padlet (basically an interactive corkboard) about the first 5 chapters of a book called Pax. Pax is one of the books chosen for this year’s Global Read Aloud, a collaborative project designed to engage students with reading. I tweeted out the link to the Padlet, inviting people to collaborate on it. In less than 24 hours, I’ve had more than 63 students view and add to my Padlet from all over the WORLD! That’s amazing! Not to mention that it’s incredibly fun (for lack of a better term) to have people comment on your stuff. I get so excited when I have a comment on my blog to moderate; it validates me so much more than just writing for myself. While I get pleasure in sharing my words just to share and get my thoughts out, I’m much more nuanced and thoughtful when writing a blog because of the potential for other people to read it.

This is my second year participating in the Global Read Aloud, and it is such an amazing and inspiring project. I don’t know how Pernille Ripp does it, but she chooses books that are beautiful, engaging, and resonates so much with a variety of students. Last year, we read Fish in a Tree to our 4-6 Reading Class. This is a group of students who are used to feeling the like the “dumb” kids because they struggle with reading. It was such a powerful experience to see them EXCITED about reading and giving them a voice to share how they were connecting with the book.

This year, Pax is also really impacting our students. Working in an urban district, students come to us with a lot of deficits, many with unstable home lives. Peter (one of the main characters) is relatable to them in a lot of ways because he too struggles with belonging, betrayal, and all the challenges of growing up. Pax is also relatable, even though he’s a fox, because he struggles with finding his way and who he is. I cannot wait to get deeper into this book with my students.

Are you participating in the GRA? We’d love to connect with you via Skype or Google Hangout!