Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Teacher Concerns About 1:1 Learning

So...the school system I work in is going to be giving every middle school student a Chromebook this fall. What's really interesting about this whole thing is that the adults working with these students aren't being given Chromebooks too. As an administrator, I was lucky enough to get one to play with for two weeks. The teachers got to play with them in a "petting zoo" environment hosted by our technology integrator. I made it a point to make sure I did a LOT of classroom observations on it (we currently use Observation 360) and showcased it to the teachers during each post-observation conference. Thankfully, our school system has been very proactive in providing teachers with several experiences to learn more about how Google Drive works.

Since I've found out that students are getting Chromebooks, I've been asking the following question during post-observation conferences:

"How will this lesson look different when every student in your class has a Chromebook in front of them?"

This one question sparked a LOT of conversation. Language arts teachers talked about using Google docs for peer editing. Social studies teachers brought up the ability to research current events, attend virtual field trips, and create presentations without having to book lab time. Virtual labs were the center of conversation among science teachers, and math teachers were excited about using videos like Kahn academy as part of the spiral review process. Teachers have even started administering student assessments through Edmodo and Google Forms.

There were also some very genuine concerns:

  • Will I receive additional training to teach in this new way? 
  • Will students be able to take their state assessments on a Chromebook? (while laptops are OK for testing purposes, Chromebooks are still being decided upon.)
  • What happens when a student breaks/misplaces their Chromebook? 
  • Will there be a schoolwide procedure for keeping students' Google Drive folders organized? 
  • How much "hacking" can be done to a Chromebook? 
  • Will I be expected to teach everything using the Chromebook? 

Two things help ease these concerns:

  1. Keep the Lines of Communication Open - Having conversations with teachers regarding their anticipations and concerns over this initiative helps in a couple of different ways. First, acknowledging an individual's concern can greatly help decrease the anxiety that person may be feeling in any situation. Also these conversations are wonderful opportunities to find out what any common fears may be. That qualitative data can then be used to put together professional development sessions that are relevant to the needs of your staff members. 
  2. Understand that it's OK to say "I Don't Know" - Depending on how your school division manages its resources and implements its programs, you may not necessarily know how everything is going to work. If someone asks you a question, and you don't know the answer, say "I don't know. Can you give me some time to find out the answer for you?" Your staff members will appreciate your honesty for doing that. Just make sure you do get that answer for them!
This is going to be an exciting time for both our teachers and students. I think it will be a year during which the teachers will learn as much as our students do, and I'm glad to be part of the process! 

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Don't Forget Where You Come From

On Monday night, one of my favorite Twitter chats #vachat was cancelled, so I went through my followers to see what else they were jumping in on that night. One of the people I follow, Jayme Linton, hosts a chat called #edteach. #Edteach is a site primarily for new and aspiring teachers, but I decided to jump on. The topic for the evening was all about the importance of relationships; and being new to a school this year, it's been a topic at the forefront of many conversations I've had this year.

I really appreciated this chat for several reasons: The questions were posted ahead of time, the facilitator provided guidance to those who were new to "Tweeting as a professional", and the questions and answers were extremely thoughtful.

What I appreciated most was the extreme positive vibe I was getting from being a participant. Though it has been over 15 years since I watched my very first set of students walk in my classroom door, I remember that day like it was yesterday. I also remember the extreme feeling of completely untarnished optimism I had. While I remain optimistic of the profession I have chosen, I've had to become adept at navigating those obstacles which can prevent us as educators from making the impact we desire.

These new and aspiring teachers (and some veterans) were also able to offer one another some sage advice that we can sometimes forget in our day-to-day pursuits of educational excellence.

  • @mj_maher - Be genuinely interested in all of your students. Especially those who seem out of place. 
  • @ruralteacher - Be careful of the negative view some people have of others. Form your own opinions, especially with students. You may be their shining light!
  • @lfarnsworth12 - Show them that you care about them inside and outside of the classroom. 

My mother, who is a retired educator, has always told me to make sure that your professional development experiences are not strictly centered around being an educational leader. Participate in some of the same PD sessions teachers participate in. It's profound advice. Not only will you learn something new, your educational foundation will strengthen. If you participate in some of the same PD sessions as YOUR OWN teachers, you will strengthen your relationship with them as well.

Remember, as long as you are an educator, never get so far from the classroom that you are unable to make your way back.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Increasing Teacher Comfort With Google Drive

Since every middle school student in the division that employs me is getting a Chromebook next year, I am doing my absolute best job to embrace everything that is Chrome; especially since there is currently no plan to give Chromebooks to the adults who work directly with these middle school students.

Thankfully, anything that can be done on a Chromebook can be done on a computer with the Chrome browser installed. I can still completely understand why teachers would like to have their own Chromebook on hand, though. It's all about increasing the comfort level. While our school system has done a fairly good job of providing opportunities for teachers to learn how to use Google Drive, (through workshops and online modules) it's really up to administrators to make sure they have plenty of opportunities to practice. Of course, we all know that the best way to practice any newly acquired skill is being able to apply that skill to real-life situations.

Here are some things people in our building have put in place which basically ensure teachers get to use Google Drive on a regular basis.

Lab Schedules - We have an amazing technology integrator who visits us a couple of days a week to share with teachers all that is cool and fabulous with technology. He worked with our library staff to create a Google Spreadsheet teachers could access to sign up for computer lab time. The revision history makes sure someone doesn't go in and erase someone's time and puts their own name in their place.

PLC Meetings - PLC Agendas are drafted in Google Docs. The link to the agenda is shared 24 hours before the meeting, and teachers are able to add items to the agenda. On the day of the meeting, one person types notes directly into the agenda creating instant minutes. The minutes are then stored on a Google site created just for the grade level so teachers don't have to go searching through their email if they were unable to make a meeting. The site also stores other important bits of information like meeting schedules, bus duty rosters, and links to state and division resources. In addition, I used tinyurl.com to create a shortened link that is easy for teachers to remember.

The School Calendar - Our office staff are responsible for keeping the calendar up to date. Now they put all events on a School-Use Google Calendar that is share with all staff members. I have gone a step beyond to place that very same calendar on the home page of the PLC site I mentioned above for easy reference.

Lesson Plans - I teach a class every other day for a small group of students who are in danger of failing the grade level. My plans for the class are stored as a Google spreadsheet that teachers can access to see what I'm doing. I've given editing rights so they can also list any missing or make-up work Some teachers in my building have started using Google docs to store their own lesson plans. One teacher recently commented to me that it is actually easier to store plans on Google Drive because she can simply share the plans with other members of her PLC.

I could go on and on with examples, but the purpose of sharing these is to get your own mind thinking about things you can do in your own building if you end up in a similar circumstance. It is my ultimate hope that teachers will be able to take the skills they learned and use them to assist their students when they get their Chromebooks next fall!

Friday, February 7, 2014

Uplifting Thoughts for the Second Semester

This past week marked the beginning of the second semester in my school system. It was actually delayed a week because we have had quite a few snow days. Now when I talk snow, its nothing like the weather I experienced growing up in Massachusetts; but I also have to remember they just aren't as equipped to handle the winter down here in Virginia.

With the week delay, and the promise of more winter on the way, came the realization that there is now even less time to do everything that we need to do to help our students. In addition, the release of mid-year assessment results (not great) caused feelings of depression, panic, and uncertainty among our staff members. It was a wake up call that we needed to reexamine what we were doing and make adjustments accordingly. While I appreciate the sense of urgency among many of our staff members to make these adjustments, I worry about two groups:

  • Those who are not doing a good job and are not particularly worried about it, and
  • Those who are doing a good job and are getting so stressed out that I fear for their health.
From someecards.com
As a school leader, I feel accountable for both groups of teachers. Ironically, I feel that its easier to work with the first group. I can sit down with them, show them the data, and start conversations to help them shift the conversation from blaming the students to helping the students. 

For the other group, I feel the need to lift their spirits. I write thank you notes on gold star cutouts and place them in their mailboxes, include them in shout-outs during PLC meetings, bake cookies, surprise them with pizza, and most importantly, listen to their frustrations and concerns. I also keep a bank of quotes, pictures, and websites to share with them. Here are a few that I use:

For quotes:
For Pictures: (By the way - I typically use pictures for humor. I may throw one into the middle of a presentation or email a random picture to a teacher who is having a bad day. I'm also into memes right now, but they are mostly of funny cats...)
It doesn't really matter what you do to provide your teachers with uplifting experiences. After all, we all have different personalities, and share humor in different ways. What's important is that you share humor in a way that is comfortable to you, and appropriate for the occasion. What may be acceptable for some people and venues, may not be acceptable for others. A good rule of thumb is to keep it G-Rated! 

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Best PLC Meeting Ever!

Image From - www.bn.com
I am a firm believer that the Professional Learning Community (PLC) model is one of the best tools we canpublications provide strategies that are easy to implement and can produce results quickly.
utilize to support teaching and learning for our students, and for one another. This purpose of this post is not to describe what a PLC is, or how to establish one in your building. If you want to start using PLCs with fidelity start by reading up on the Dufour's work on the subject. Their

The purpose of this post will hopefully paint a picture of why PLCs can ROCK!

Our grade level PLC meets every other week to discuss student performance, upcoming events, and discuss any issues among the grade level or the building. A couple of days before, our admin team meets to draw up a broad agenda, and I send it out to the grade level so that they know what to expect. I send it out as a Google doc so that they can add items if they need to. The really nice thing about using a Google doc is that the agenda transforms into the meeting minutes when our note taker types notes under each agenda item. I also have all agendas stored under a single shared folder.

On this past agenda, I added a line titled academics, and put this underneath:

  • Language Arts
  • Math
  • Science
  • Social Studies
I asked teachers to share with one another what was going on within their content area. The results were pure magic! The language arts teachers shared that they were working on the concept of comparing and contrasting. While they were discussing their strategies, the math teachers jumped in and said they easily integrate the vocabulary and strategies when they talk about graphing. Social studies and science teachers began to ask questions about reading strategies and non-fiction passages, and wanted to learn how they could help. I was soooo proud of my teachers! The teachers left feeling energized and ready to work. I really thought it was one of our best meetings so far. 

I've said before that I am new to this building this year, and the first thing I did was implement PLC procedures and protocols. I've also made the commitment to never miss a meeting unless I'm out of the building. Though these norms are revisited often, we still get off track from time to time, but bringing the team back to task gets easier; and when they are on task, there is nothing they can't accomplish!