Lately I have been really into podcasts of all different genres ranging from true crime, to politics, to leadership. A few weeks ago, I listened to a podcast on The Learning Leader Show entitled "How to Build a Dream Team" which featured Shane Snow, the author of Dream Teams.
I was drawn to this episode because at the time, I was in the middle of training to begin a new job with a team of 18 other people. My county hired 19 Digital Learning Coordinators to serve 187 schools, but before we went out to the schools, we had training on district tools and initiatives, work defining our roles, and time to build the capacity of the team.
I'd encourage you to listen to the podcast on your own, but below are some of my reflections, especially as they relate to taking on a new role with a new dream team this year. Consider your own "Dream Team" and how you can support each other this year.
Good leaders can be skeptical and optimistic
I thought this was interesting because these two ideas are often seen as near opposites of each other; however, the podcast suggested that this willingness to believe that the world can be better, but being willing to question, were characteristics of effective leaders. As Digital Learning Coordinators, we will work with approximately 20 schools in an area. We will need to maintain our optimism that we can make a difference, although we may not see our impact everyday. We will also need to ask questions and wonder. Good coaches don't tell teachers what to do, instead they help them figure out for themselves what's next. Use willingness to question to help move your team forward and always consider what could be different.
"Silence is the Enemy of Innovation"
This idea was an interesting one because in our group, we have lots of strong personalities, which can sometimes cause introverts to become active listeners instead of participants in the conversation. Sometimes the loud voices overshadow the powerful ideas of the quiet. In order to move a group forward, leaders should advocate to make sure that all voices are heard. This also requires me to reflect on the idea that my voice could be too loud, causing others to be silent.
"Empathy makes Competition Nontoxic"
In the podcast, they mention how the Wright Brothers used to argue. They said that they would argue their point, take a break for lunch, and then come back and argue the other side. To be on a team, you must be able to consider the other side, having empathy for the other people involved. The way we talk to each other is so important, sometimes just the tone of a statement can change the entire meaning or interpretation of the words that are said. Run strong after what you believe, but be empathetic to others along the way. "Competition breeds excellence" as long as empathy is in tow.
"Two heads are better than one, only if they think differently"
The podcast discussed an idea they called Cognitive Diversity. They stated that if you have a room full of people who all think the same way, the group is only as smart as the smartest person in the room. On the other hand, if people in the group think differently, the group, as a whole, is smarter. Sometimes working with people who think differently than you can be a challenge, but other times, people compliment your weaknesses with their strengths and vice versa. As teams, using our strengths to enhance each other and the group as a whole, helps to build the dream team.
All of these ideas were powerful in different ways. They helped me to reflect on my practice in a group setting and to make sure that in a group, others are listening to the quiet voices that may hold the most power. This goes not only for educators, but also for students. Consider your class as your own "Dream Team". How can you shape that team this year?
This week, I had the opportunity to present at a Google Apps event. During this conference, I had the chance to network with some old friends and meet some new ones.
During a session presented by @techfrye, he shared this video by Will Smith about skydiving. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
I reflected back to those who have metaphorically nudged or pushed me out of the plane in my career. I considered my reaction to them as they were pushing me and my response to being pushed. Often, when people are pushing us, we get defensive, instead of opening up to what might be possible; considering bliss being on the other side of fear. Sometimes people can see better in us than we can see in ourselves, which causes them to nudge us in a certain direction. As a coach, I often try to nudge people to grow and try new things, that may be outside of their comfort zone, hoping they can find the satisfaction on the other side.
Who are you encouraging and who's encouraging you? How can we all take more risks in order to push through the fear? How can we turn off the negative chatter that happens before an event in order to fly?
As I have mentioned before, my school has been working this year on increasing student engagement. One of the methods for increasing student engagement is providing student choice. We have talked about what this could look like in many grade levels, including:
These books were popular when I was a kid, and are still popular with kids today. Students love the possibility of feeling in control of their choices, so choose your own adventure books often give reluctant readers the option of reading only a portion of the book, in which they have a say in the outcome.
In fourth grade, at my school, we decided to use Choose your own Adventure to review math concepts. Depending on which link you choose, you can answer different questions, following different paths through the review. The first one I built is below.
The kids loved it and asked to do the other questions. How often do students ask to do more math? The teacher decided to tie the next one into social studies content. I think it helps to make it visually appealing enough to draw students in. Also, threat of death, stranded on an island, is apparently intriguing for fourth graders.
To Choose your own Adventure, you can use Google slides. All you have to do to create the path is add links in your slides.
So, Choose your own Adventure, tie it to your content, incorporate student choice; then, let the students create and build their own.
I bet by now, you have heard of BreakoutEDU, the game based learning activity where students attempt to breakout of a box using clues that tie to the curriculum. The idea for BreakoutEDU began based on the popularity of the Escape rooms. However, since it is frowned upon to lock kids in a room, the idea of the Breakout box began.
The part you may not have heard of is the digital version. This was a Google Innovator project from Justin Birkbichler with help from Mari Venturino. They decided to use Google Forms and clues embedded in a website to create BreakoutEDU Digital.
This is one of my favorite presentations to do at Google conferences because the teachers in the room get to play a Digital Breakout. Watching teachers struggle through finding clues, getting excited when the locks open, and creating their own digital Breakout is always exciting.
The reason I chose the digital version as a favorite was simple, money. As an instructional coach, Instructional Coaches usually don't get a budged from the school during the year. Therefore, I am always looking for ways to do more with less. This is a perfect fit because it's free.
The other great part about Digital BreakoutEdu is that it can easily be tied to any content. One of the teachers in a recent session started working on a Pi Day Breakout and has since taken off in creating them and using them in her sixth grade math class. Go Jennifer McGlothlin!
To create a digital BreakoutEDU, isn't hard. They are a great way to review content.
1. Create a form that uses data validation.
2. Type the code into the data validation as a number or a word. It is best to set words to be all capital letters.
3. Use Google sites to build a simple webpage. Trust me, it isn't as scary as it seems. It all integrates with Google Drive.
3. Add the form you created with the data validated answers to the site.
5. This site gives you a list of ways you could include clues for your digital breakout, as well as additional tutorials.
So give it a try, get on to the BreakoutEDU Digital site and play a few games for yourself and experience how game based learning can look. Then, it's up to you to tie it into your content. Be sure to check the digital sandbox and submit yours when you are done.
Okay, I'm going to warn you now, this post is going to be pretty geeky. I think using autoCrat in general, is a certain level of geeky, this will take it to a whole new level.
In case you don't know, autoCrat is a mail merge system that is an add-on for Google Sheets. It integrates with Google Docs, Forms, and Sheets to produce auto-filled Docs or PDFs. It is a great way to give feedback to teachers, show students completed work from forms, auto-fill certificates, the possibilities are endless.
I have been using autoCrat a lot lately for walk-through forms and giving feedback to teachers. I even presented a session at a Google Summit on autoCrat. However, I have been fighting with a feature of autoCrat for about a week, the Dynamic Folder Reference feature. This feature would force copies of a Doc or PDF into specific folders, based on some information populated into the spreadsheet by the form.
I had watched videos (most of which showed an older version of autoCrat), read tutorials, and done some research about it in order to try to get it to work for a project. Every time I though I had it, it failed to populate the documents into the destination folder. But yesterday, I finally got it. With a combination of tutorials and instructions, I hope to put together what I learned for you, step by step.
The first few steps will be basic autoCrat directions, but will then move into specifics. The video will also show you step-by-step how to use the Dynamic Reference Folders. Here is what I've learned:
Hopefully the video below will also help clarify any questions you may have.
I've thought of a few uses for this including, but not limited to, separating form responses for each student or teacher, specific classes or other times where you want to share the specific folder with the person, but not everyone else.
Hopefully you can find a use for the Dynamic folders as well.
Recently I was asked to compile my learning from a semester's worth of instruction into a presentation. I began by writing a 8ish page document about what I had learned. Then, I took the document and paired it with a series of pictures that matched my thoughts. They changed about every few seconds to create a visual representation of my words. I felt good about what I had to say about my learning and the images I had found to pair with it.
My next step was to record it, so I used Screencastify and began to record. Screencastify is a Google extension that allows you to record your screen, highlight specific parts of the screen, write with a marker tool as you go, and embed a webcam. It's a great tool for making instructional videos. One of the limitations of Screencastify (the free version) is that it only allows you to record 10 minutes at a time. So, I started recording. At 10 minutes, I hadn't finished reading what I wrote, the video cut off, and I was exhausted listening to myself. I didn't want to finish reading it or force anyone to listen to it. I felt like this:
With a deadline looming, I knew I had to make a change. The product I had attempted to create wasn't engaging and wasn't cohesive. I had droned on for 10 minutes and could care less what I had to say.
I started looking for tools, to create a more engaging product. I landed on PowToon. Below is the video I created.
I was pretty pleased with the product I created. Using PowToon, I was able to create a professional-looking, succinct presentation that was more engaging. It was a bit of a struggle to learn the platform; some things that are easy in Slides and other platforms, aren't as easy in PowToon.
Below are some of the things I found to be pros and cons of PowToons.
Give it a try, let your students give it a try. Be creators of content, not just a consumer. I am sure you will have your own pros and cons as well.
Take a look at the grid above. Four numbers, seemingly unrelated. Try to see if you can figure out which one doesn't belong? Much like the old Sesame Street song -
So, which did you choose:
Communication is crucial in classrooms
Getting students to talk in a classroom, usually isn't a problem. We often spend our days trying to figure out how to get students to talk less. What if, instead, we channeled their conversations into productive talk about their learning? What if they used academic vocabulary to explain precisely what they were learning and doing? In order for some students to process learning, they need to vocalize. Sometimes students learn more from conversations with their peers than with adults. Communication is a way for students to engage with other learners and the material being taught. It isn't enough though, just to talk, conversation needs to be targeted to learning and purposeful, where all students have the ability to respond and the inability to hide.
Communication must often be taught
Students today spend much of their time communicating online and through other media outlets, but rarely are taught how to communicate appropriately. Giving students stems to begin conversations also teachers them to respond or ask questions. Holding an expectation that students answer questions in complete sentences also increases the classroom discourse.
Communication can only be tested in the real world
No, there won't be a multiple choice or fill in the blank test that will see how well you taught your students to communicate, but for their future success, they deserve it. Most employers are looking for effective communicators; whether it be verbal or written communication.
Taking time to teach communication and incorporate it in your classroom could be a game changer for your students. Post those questions that invite critical thinking and discussion.
Today I went to a Professional Development session that was about Cultural Responsiveness. I expected to learn about differences in cultures, religions, races, sexes, or other things that have the potential to divide and separate people. However, that wasn't really how the day unfolded.
The PD started off with the speaker asking us to think of a student who was failed by the system. We were asked to keep that student in mind and stand if they fell into each of these three categories:
Next, we watched the video "Take a seat, Make a Friend. We were given the opportunity to recreate our own "Strangers in a Ball Pit Moment", where we were asked to answer three deep questions with our peers:
The speaker went on to explain that using this protocol of "Strangers in a Ball Pit" is a way to get to know our students, in order to meet them where they are. If you know that someones dad inspires them, how might that affect the way you teach them? Forming relationships based on deep knowledge of our students is one research-based strategy of overcoming the achievement gap. We all have heard the saying:
"No one cares how much you know, until they know how much you care"
The speaker shared with us, "the best way to end racism is to get to know one another". So climb into that ball pit, ask the hard questions, find out what makes them who they are, and grow from there.
My favorite kind of conference to attend are educational technology conferences, especially the EdTechTeam Google Summits. I attended my first conference about 3 years ago and I've been hooked ever since. Most of them are a couple days of intense learning about tools and strategies you could use in your classroom. You always walk away with too many great ideas to process, but yet so excited about all the possibilities of what could be. I find that in almost every sessions I attend, I can find a nugget of information I can use.
Last year, I presented at my first EdTechTeam Google Summit. I had a supervisor once tell me, when you leave a conference with the thought, "I could do that", it is then your responsibility to do it. So, after my third Google Conference and obtaining several Google Certifications, I decided I was ready.
As I prepare to go present at my fourth Google conference, I get excited every time. I want to bring something new to teachers, who in turn, will bring something new to students. I convinced a friend recently to present at a Google Conference. He has some of the same reservations I did the first time I presented, fear of not being relevant enough. He has crafted an informative session about Google Classroom and is ready to present next week. I am looking forward to hearing how his session goes. I know he will do a great job teaching those who are new to Google Classroom how to get started.
If you are doing something great, keep working. Get the certifications and background you need and be brave. Put yourself out there for the good of students. It will be a lot of work, but it will be worth it.
Engagement is such an interesting thing. When it is happening in a classroom, it is apparent; but sometimes when it isn't happening, you wonder what is missing. At my school, we have been reading this article. This article states that there are 8 main aspects to an engaged classroom:
What small tweaks can you make to incorporate 3 of these 8 things into instruction? It can't be all 8 all the time, but which ones could you enhance in your classroom?
Instructional specialist/coach, Google Certified Trainer, Level 1 and 2 Google Certified educator, Ed Tech Team Teacher Leader Certified, growing and learning