Fun with Adobe’s Spark Page platform as a reflection on Deeper Learning 2017 in San Diego last week:
ISTE has established itself as the go-to place for all things tech-related, and its guidance on leveraging technology for learning is as robust as its many other resources. It outlines fourteen different elements that are critical to success with tech integration–two of which our school does well:
Equitable Access and Empowered Leaders
Equitable Access: All students, teachers, staff and school leaders have robust and reliable connectivity and access to current and emerging technologies and digital resources.
As part of our Lancer One program, every student in our school is issued an iPad. Indeed, one of the original goals of the Lancer One program was equity: all learners were to have equal access to technology. In a rural school district, where diversity comes in the form of socio-economic separation, the importance of this belief cannot be overstated. We wanted our students to be able to access learning opportunities anytime and anywhere, and having devices in hand was imperative. With a supportive community who were able to recognize a budget surplus as an opportunity, we were able to make it happen, and with a lot of work on infrastructure, we were able to build the internal supports to uphold it.
Empowered Leaders: Stakeholders at every level are empowered to be leaders in effecting change.
I appreciate how ISTE recognizes that “leaders” can be any stakeholders. This is why I think we succeed in this element. Our teachers are empowered through a culture of opportunity and celebration–that is, we encourage teachers to share their successes and we celebrate them. (Check out #LamoilleLearns for a few examples!) Our students lead the way in groups like YATST, Environmental Club, and A World of Difference–effecting change in the realm of technology and beyond.
While every school has bright spots, there are also some that could use some shining. I think Implementation Planning is ours. ISTE describes this as, “All stakeholders follow a systematic plan aligned with a shared vision for school effectiveness and student learning through the infusion of information and communication technology (ICT) and digital learning resources.” We have some incredibly bright spots–teachers who are lighting it up daily with innovative use of technology to meet the needs of our learners–but there need to be more. As George Couros so often reminds us, it’s about relationships, and building those with reluctant teachers is a step in the right direction. As the tech integrationist, I’ve started with that and have continued to encourage those who risk. It’s about helping teachers keep what’s working and update what’s not–without judgement.
One of the things I noticed in ISTE’s Lead & Transform Diagnostic Tool was the number of times they referenced some kind of incentive for teachers. While I spend most of my time trying to bribe teachers with lunch in order to show them a tool, this survey started me thinking more seriously about compensation. Food is great; badges are better, but money? Now you’re talking. Maybe that’s where the magic incentive lies, and perhaps it’s where more school districts should begin planning their PD budgets. If funds were budgeted to compensate teachers for taking the time to learn these new tools on their own, perhaps more teachers would do it.
Or, what if we banded together (speaking for smaller school districts) and offered up a partnership with some of the big leagues to host PD? Beekmantown School District had great success with their recent Explore EDU event that paired classroom visits with panel discussions. While traveling to far off places for conferences isn’t always possible, perhaps we ought to start considering bringing more to us.
Big ideas…thanks to ISTE for providing the inspiration to begin dreaming about a school that meets all of the essential elements!
As I’ve made the switch from a focus on students to a focus on teachers this year, I’ve been reminded that there are a lot of similarities between teaching students and teaching teachers.
First and foremost, it’s about relationships.
In The Innovator’s Mindset, George Couros referenced a New Yorker article that explained why “one-on-one interactions increase people’s willingness to try something new.” In essence, the article explores the idea of seven “touches–” that is, interactions with people with whom you want to build a relationship. Yes, this takes time, but if you are committed to change, you have to commit to connecting with the people who will make it happen.
While I admit I have an inclination toward risk in the classroom and in school, I recognize that this isn’t the case with everyone. Still, I have an intense desire to help teachers try new things in the classroom, so I’ve been working diligently to develop relationships. Below, I’ve included six things I regularly do to help build these connections. I hope these may be of some use to you!
Couros, George. The Innovator’s Mindset: Empower Learning, Unleash Talent, and Lead a Culture of Creativity. San Diego, CA: Dave Burgess Consulting, 2015. Print.
Gawande, Atul. “Spreading Slow Ideas.” The New Yorker. The New Yorker, 19 June 2015. Web. 19 Mar. 2017.
Think about the last time you committed to changing something and it paid off–a time when you had to change habits, and although it was difficult, you did it because you believed in your end goal. The struggle was hard, but it was worth it, right? Now think about how much time you spend on social media–scrolling through recipes, fake news, and kids’ sports photos on Facebook or naming the filters on your Instagram feed. How do these two connect? Because committing to a new social media platform–namely Twitter–takes some commitment, but the end result is incredibly useful, and you’re much less likely to be subject to recipes or kids’ sports photos in your feed. (I can’t say the same for fake news, but that’s another post altogether.)
I joined Twitter in 2009, and like most new Twitter users, was immediately flabbergasted. My uncle told me I should check it out, and because I respected his tech savvy eye, I did. My Twitteracy was elementary, to be sure. I had no idea what a hashtag was, why there were so many @ symbols, or what on earth people were trying to say because everything was abbreviated. I scrolled, wondering how this could ever be useful to anyone. I spent some time lurking, following other Twitterers here and there, but feeling like I had really missed something. Instead of feeling connected, I felt left out. And stupid. I left it unattended for a few years. Yes, years.
And then one day, inspired by a desire to establish a better online presence and find other like-minded educators, I hopped back on and I found this:
posted by @Stephen_H, and I thought, well, maybe it IS useful. I was inspired, and that’s what it took to hook me. I retweeted his graphic, because that’s an easy way to get your first tweet out there, and Twitter began to reveal its brilliance to me.
Inspiration junkie by definition, Twitter is where I now go for my fix. I didn’t realize it then, but in order for Twitter to work well for you, you have to work at it a bit. After searching for and following people you already know, you have to dig around to find people who might inspire you, and reading through whatever pops up on your feed won’t necessarily help you in your first few weeks. Instead, spend time searching for hashtags to find people who interest you. You’ll know you’ve found someone worthwhile when you read their brief bio and it spurs you to read some of their tweets, which then inspire you. When you find someone of interest, check out who they follow. This can increase your network exponentially, where ten minutes of searching can suddenly fill your feed with the collective brilliance of a hundred more educators.
You’ve heard of the six degrees of separation? One of my favorite things about Twitter is that it becomes one degree so easily. I’ve exchanged tweets with @MsMagiera, @gcouros, and @Sugatam –all people for whom I have great respect in the world of education. I would never have directly communicated with them–and so easily–without Twitter.
With so many options to choose from in the world social media, it can be challenging to put in the time to learn another platform. The way I think of Twitter, however, is as my professional social media platform. The others have a bit of crossover, but I use Twitter to grow my PLN, garner inspiration from other educators, create connections for classroom games or lessons, and to learn. It’s worth the time. Do it.
My favorite hashtags:
Fitzgerald, Kelly. “Using Twitter to Become a Strong Educator.” Using Twitter to Become a Strong Educator. N.p., 4 Sept. 2014. Web. 19 Feb. 2017.
Just a quick share of my slides for our VITA-Learn workshop last Friday…
If any of you have ideas about how best to share your successes around technology and its impact in the classroom, I’d love to hear from you! Our designers discussed a Tech Hub, a plan for creating time for staff innovation every school week, and some potential additions to two dynamite VT-based learning platforms: LiFT and Launch Pad (currently in beta in with limited availability). Feel free to share your successes on Twitter with #VTedtech. Let’s share all of the incredible tech happenings in our schools!
I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about school change and how best to make it happen: hours in meetings talking about how to inspire, talking others down from the ledge as they became so easily mired in pessimism, sometimes finding myself marveling at the problem as opposed to seeking out solutions. It’s easier to say you can’t do anything because of X, Y, Z than to actually take steps to make change. And it’s true that sometimes even when you spend countless hours trying to make systemic change, it fails.
Michael Fullan, the Heath brothers, and Dan Pink have all written at length about change and its one primary, deciding factor: motivation. In “Change Theory: A force for school improvement,” Fullan writes, “If one’s theory of action does not motivate people to put in the effort–individually and collectively–that is necessary to get results, improvement is not possible” (8). Interesting that he draws attention to the fact that change cannot beget results if only accomplished individually. I have learned this lesson time and again as I carefully constructed the isolated island of a classroom teacher, head down, wading through the bull in an effort to create the best experiences for my students. By the time I met with my colleagues at the end of the day to talk about standards, common assessments, or whatever other initiative was coming down the pike, I was spent and ready to watch some ridiculous Jib Jabs, not so much do heavy thinking on how best to align ourselves for the betterment of our students.
This idea of a culture shift–noted by both the Heath brothers and Fullan–is one that the Rowland foundation has likewise esteemed, and I recognize that shift as the ultimate goal. So let’s talk about some small steps to get there, taking my call for empathy as the impetus. I will attempt to build capacity through students first–Fullan’s second premise of the change theory. Check out my Powtoon for my plan of action–one I hope will result in a move toward better understanding the world in which we live.
I will report out (share widely!) what our students propose, and how their ideas play out at our school. I’d love to hear your ideas as well, and if you’d like to partner with us in this venture. Authentic audiences, global connections around issues important to our students, and a lasting understanding of what technology can do to build empathy are all worthy goals for this venture. Please join us!
Fullan, Michael. Change Theory: A Force for School Improvement. Jolimont, Vic.: CSE Centre for Strategic Education, 2006. Web. 7 Feb. 2017.
Heath, Chip, and Dan Heath. Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard. London: Random House Business, 2011. Print.
Pink, Daniel H. Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us. Edinburgh: Canongate, 2010. Print.
“Rowland Foundation Vermont Secondary School Teacher’s Fellowship Philosophy.” Rowland Foundation Vermont Secondary School Teacher’s Fellowship Philosophy. The Rowland Foundation, n.d. Web. 7 Feb. 2017.
When I first encountered Skype over ten years ago, I thought about its practical uses on a micro-level: I could reach out to my grandmother in Florida, my colleague in Texas, or my college buddy in Chicago. We could see each other and spend a different sort of time together. And then I realized its implications for the classroom. How enlightening would it be to connect with classrooms around the world? For the students in my small, rural Vermont school, Skype had the potential to build cultural understanding of places they’d likely never visit. The headlines in the last few days remind me of the most important purpose behind flattening the classroom walls and reaching out beyond our small corner of the United States: empathy.
Webster begins the definition of “empathy” with: the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another… Because we have 1:1 iPads in our school, we have the power to reach out, and I believe it’s more important than ever to make that happen. It seems that others are feeling the call as well.
Rachel Mark, a PD Coordinator for the Tarrant Institute, reported on one such teacher. In a lesson designed to help students understand more about the refugees who were slated to relocate to our state, Charlie Herzog looked to virtual reality as a vehicle for empathy. Without the ability to physically visit countries in need, the next best option might be to access our nearest VR headset and visit one of them virtually. As demonstrated in Sophia’s response, her previous superficial understanding was replaced with a deeper awareness of the refugees’ plight: “I knew that they had it bad, but I didn’t know how it actually worked and how they would experience everyday life, so I thought that [VR] was a big help in understanding that.”
Even if we want to avoid bringing politics into school, empathy can be built around shared cultural tenets. Take the example of the hero’s journey–a global story structure familiar despite cultural differences. Tie that together with a love of games and a few video chats, and we have the makings of this multi-place Breakout Edu. Two of my colleagues teaching overseas and I used game-based learning to inspire connections across cultures, and in so doing, taught students not only about the hero’s journey, but also about its cross-cultural appeal.
Some teachers have used our 1:1 capacity to talk with authors and some have dabbled in Mystery Skype. This is a solid beginning, and I plan to build upon that capacity by culling student feedback about how best to reach out beyond our walls during a lunch series, by encouraging use of video chat tools and providing links to inspiration and possible classroom partners in my weekly Tech Update email, and by taking the simple step of committing my time to talking with teachers and providing individual support around building empathy. I have to believe we can change our world for the better, and starting with empathy feels like the best way forward.