Teaching Blog

The Connected Educator Back-to-School Blues

Most teachers lament returning to work. While parents are ready for their little darlings to stop harassing them every hour of every day about going to the pool or theme parks or bowling or anything but sitting on the couch so we can work, teachers have the opposite. Our summer break is over, we have to go back to work after two months off.

For me, and I believe for connected educators across the board, going back to work presents a different set of challenges.

Summer, for me, is all about learning opportunities, interactions, connections. It's twitter chats, conferences, Voxer groups, podcast interviews. It's constant professional development, new ideas, planning out changes, and running those plans by other connected educators.

All of this combined creates a kind of bubble around me. By the end of the summer, I fully believe that my ideas are going to be met with excitement by the teachers on my campus. That isn't to say that I'm oblivious to resistance. Possible resistance is built into my plans, but it's planned for. I know how it is going to go. All the people I've talked to for the last two months agree: This is going to be awesome!

Helmuth von Moltke once said "No battle plan survives contact with the enemy" (and yes, I Googled that). In my case, no excitement survives first contact with teachers.

Coming back to school is like bursting a positivity bubble by hitting me in the face with it. Hard.

What it comes down to is the summer is a vacuum in which it is easy to forget that not all educators are as excited about making real change as I am, or as my PLN is. Teachers, and not all teachers but some, can be really negative. They don't think their classroom instruction needs to change, so they don't care how the PD is presented, they don't want it. They don't all agree that grading is flawed or homework isn't effective. They don't buy-in to standards-based grading, flexible seating, digital curriculum, technology integration, or flipped instruction like I do.

They are annoyed because learning a new testing platform is a pain. They're miserable because course progressions have changed. They're pissed that the principal wants more data from them. And it isn't just the ones you expect. It can be your friends, it can be your co-teacher, it can be people you've worked with for years or weeks. And in none of these things are they wrong or unjustified.

It comes in drips and drabs, and it comes in waves. It builds and builds, and it is suffocating and overwhelming. It takes the wind out of my excitement sails.

Here I sit with the connected educator back-to-school blues.

What We Can Learn as Teachers from Challenging Administrators

We all have said the words that relationships with students, especially relationships based on mutual respect, are critical to getting the best performance out of our students. Still, a great student will excel no matter what, right?

Let me tell you a story of two school years, and the parts of the Venn Diagram of those years that most wouldn't want to talk about.

Last year was the best year of my career. We launched a 1:1 initiative with Windows laptops for a 4200 student, 200+ teacher school. On any given day, I was pulled in 15 different directions, solving problems, developing plans, implementing training, supporting staff, and building and running a student tech support group to teach students important job skills and keep the whole program up and running. It was stressful, and not without moments of minor-frustration at students and teachers, but I left work everyday proud of what I had done and what had been accomplished. I was supported by an Assistant Principal who, while she didn't always agree with me, considered my expertise and treated me like...if not an equal than at least someone who was close to and was worth listening to.

This year, I continued in my position, but between June and August, there were major shifts in admin. My principal and two assistant principals were either transferred or left, and they were replaced with another veteran principal, and two fresh-faced assistant principals. In addition, we have a relief school opening up next year, so we had the looming threat all year that some percentage of our staff would be released, with no real guarantee that they would be rehired at the new school.

It has genuinely been one of the most demoralizing and painful school-years of my career, and while partly it is because of the huge pendulum-swing from last year, it is also because of the constant battles I have with the assistant principal over the digital initiative. My job as Digital Coach should, in my eyes, be evidence of my expertise, and yet I regularly have to argue that I know what I'm talking about and I should be listened to, and even then, I am often ignored still.

My own plans and solutions for how to move forward are not really the point of this post, instead, I want to try to take what I have learned this year and extrapolate meaning as a teacher.

I have been tremendously unproductive this year. I've gotten the things done that I needed to get done, but there has been no creativity, no new ideas, no pushing the envelope of digital integration. This week, as we collect laptops and am again met with arguments and roadblocks from someone who thinks they know better, I realized that this same feeling is what many of my students deal with everyday.

If I were to grade my performance, I was an A employee last year. I was in an environment that pushed me, lead by someone who supported and encouraged me to be my best. I did great work and thrived. This year, with a new leader, my performance is sub-par at best, at least below what I'm capable of. I'm a solid C employee.

And so it hit me that the leader makes all the difference, and by extension, the teacher does as well. A student who thrives in my class because they respect me and I in turn respect them, will do just enough to pass in another class if they don't respect the teacher. They will comply, because that's necessary to reduce the adversity on themselves, but they won't really learn, won't interact with knowledge in the way for true acquisition to occur.

These are things I already knew to be true, could have said the words before now, but it was this year that it truly hit home. I always thought, in the back of my head, that a "good student" would struggle through the problems and perform to their best effort, but how can I expect that of my kids when I haven't done that myself? I've let a leader drive me down, and a student is less well-equipped emotionally and mentally to overcome that.

So, my call to you is to consider this when you are interacting with your students. They don't need you to be their friend, don't need to like you. They need you to respect them as individuals, to provide them with an environment that encourages learning, not challenges their self worth. And if you find that students who you "think" could be better aren't producing that effort, maybe you're the problem.

Future of EdTech Coaches

Last night I participated in the #EdTechChat on Twitter, in which the topic was Ed Tech Coaches. As a full-time Digital Instructional Coach, the topic obviously intrigued me.

Given the content of the chats, I thought it would be a good idea to talk about it a little on here. Huge thanks to Susan Bearden for moderating and asking the questions.

My role has changed significantly in the last two years of this process. When I started out, it was entirely about running in a thousand directions at once, trying to get a one-to-one program off the ground. In any given day, I was fixing dead access points, troubleshooting student account issues, explaining where the power button was, training students to do tech support, handing out 4000 laptops, one-on-one training with teachers, training teacher groups, recording voice-over presentations to send out, sending and answering hundreds of emails a day on any or all of these. And then the next day I would do it again. This made perfect sense, because it was essential to be everywhere and make sure my staff got whatever support it was they needed.

This year though, as we are finishing year two, my model has completely changed. I now work on an appointment basis, where teachers request for me to come to them for whatever they need. I can then spend an entire period walking them through their issues and what they need. It personalizes the experience for all our teachers, and makes my day significantly more predictable.

My first response to this was that twitter chats like #edtechchat and #edchat are a great way to interact and build a PLN. Last night was my first time participating in #edtechchat, and I was surprised by how many people were Instructional Technology Coaches or Technology Integration Coaches, etc. (we really need a more universal title, but then again, this is education, so why would we do that?).

I, of course, also felt compelled to include that podcasts are a great way to build ideas. I recommended @mrnesi House of #EdTech to the group. As a heads up, episode 3 of my podcast will also be very EdTech centric.

Overwhelmingly, the answer to this question seemed to be trust. I said basically that we need admin to get out of our way as tech coaches and let us do our thing. Sometimes I am amazed that they put us in these positions, presumably because we are experts in technology instruction, and then we are questioned at every step. Give us the space and trust it took to hire us to actually let us do our job.

The other thing I suggested is that it would be nice if administrators had a little more teeth in enforcing expectations, especially with heavy resistors. I will say, this could easily be a double-edged sword, but it would be nice if those who completely, and stubbornly, refuse to even try technology integration had some kind of administrative follow-up.

This is one space where I feel like I'm doing a pretty good job. I have created a Google Appointment Calendar, with available slots by period. All my teachers have to do is go to the link, and click the period they want me. They add their room number and what they want to talk to me about and I come to them at that time. I then built a Google Sheet and VBScript combo that imports the calendar each day, and after each appointment, emails them a follow-up email to say "Thanks, please take this survey and tell me how I did." It even goes further, and since the feedback survey is a Google Form, it imports those results and checks those against those that have been sent the survey. If they haven't filled out the survey in 4 days, it sends a follow-up email reminding them. In the future, I will probably share a tutorial on how to make this happen for yourself too.

As change agents. I like to believe that having an Ed Tech coach gives teachers the confidence to try something new, knowing they have the support to make it work. I'm not 100% sure I accomplish this goal every time, but a boy can dream, no?

This one has been on my mind for a while. What I honestly believe is that we should be actively working ourselves out of a job. Early on, we can make it possible to try new things and teach tech. As a one-to-one initiative reaches maturity though, we need to stop focusing on tools, and instead focus on instruction. For me, this means transitioning into a CRT role, in which instructional support and PD always assumes everyone is using and knows how to use technology. In order to fully immerse our students, this is the essential next step.

Creating an Open Source Curriculum Instead of Textbooks #EdChat

A few weeks ago, I participated in #EdChat to discuss Open Source Curriculum (more specifically, the question posed was "Is it possible to create a modern, relevant curriculum using open sources from the Internet instead of textbooks?" I enjoyed the discussion, as I regularly encourage my teachers and students to look for outside sources to supplement their curriculum, so the idea of making that the only curriculum was intriguing.

As a result of this talk, Nancy Blair invited me to join her and Tom Whitby on their EdChat Podcast. It's about 17 minutes long and we go into a little bit of our thoughts on the discussion from the EdChat. If interested, you can checkout the podcast here:


As a result of this, I thought it might be a good idea to discuss some of my thoughts on the topic a little further.

First, I understand that Tom wanted to move the conversation on to things we could actually affect, but I think there is an important point to be made here about the real feasibility in terms of publishing companies. As it stands, and I've discussed here before, the publishing companies make the standardized tests and the curriculum (in many parts of the country). They are unlikely to release this death-grip on education any time soon. Tom is correct that there is little we can do about this on an individual level, but I think the point needs to be made. It is one of the biggest problems with education right (in my opinion), and we need to continue to talk about it if it will ever change. "The people" need to know that this is the reality of our profession.

Moving past this block, the other big barrier I see is time. We know this is the constant battle in education, to find the time to do anything "extra", so it won't surprise anyone that here again, it is a barrier. The issue is that building a curriculum from open sources requires collecting open sources. Many of them. It requires planning what needs to be covered, how you want to cover it, and then finding the various sources you will use to do so. There is a significant investment of time to add supplemental materials as is, so starting from scratch is daunting. This barrier will hit newer teachers the hardest, as they haven't built up the sources over time as many veteran teachers already have, and beginning teachers are already inundated with extra responsibilities for certification and new teacher training.

However, it is important to consider the benefits. As we discussed in the podcast, the information we teach changes. Sure, Romeo and Juliet is more-or-less timeless, but does any student have the a textbook that includes the name of the current president? How many students study the election process based on how it worked 4, 8, or 24 years ago? Using open sources would allow us to give students the most current information without a lengthy textbook adoption committee process.

An open source curriculum also does a better job of reaching students in a real way. As an adult, I don't have one book I go to every time I want to improve my pedagogy. I use many sources, and those sources change regularly. An open source curriculum would match this learning style. Further, with the addition of student centered learning, students can find the resources themselves based on a set of standards and goals, thus putting the onus of learning on the students and reducing the time burden on the teachers.

In the end, I have to say that currently, I don't see it as feasible. There are a lot of barriers. That doesn't mean we shouldn't try. We need to encourage teachers and students alike to supplement their existing curriculum with open sources, and over time, we can shift the percentages of textbook and open source to slowly introduce this change. The benefits are there to make it worth the effort.

Lastly, thanks to Tom and Nancy for having me on your show. It was a lot of fun talking with you both about this.

ISTE2016 Summary - Closing Keynote with Michelle Cordy

Michelle opened with the title slide: "Show Up and Refuse to Leave."

She explained the story of how she started a 1:1 pilot program, and being that she was the only teacher at her school doing so, she reached to books for support and ideas. She wrote a blog post about one of the books she read, tweeted to the author, and he responded. That excitement she felt was palpable.

She then moved on to talk about the connections between groups, and their power. She explained that graphite and diamond are chemically the same, but the organization of the units in the structure, the carbon, change the properties of the products. She says this is a metaphor for how some groups of people can accomplish more than other groups. She continued to explain that ISTE is a large network, and because of the connections of all the members of the group, we accomplish great things. But we can go further, we can engage more.

Her next point was that this community has taught her through the years that we should Engage and Empower. She went on to explain how engagement drives our students, and we are great at empowering them. But we should be more, should be encouraging Mindfulness, for ourselves and our students.

Her last point is the power of Disruption, but she says we need to move from Disruption to Stewardship. "Education isn't broken, and I'm not here to fix it. Education is an ecosystem, and ecosystems don't break." She explains that by moving away from disruption, we can take away some of the aggressiveness that we may be projecting, and ultimately be more inclusive of other teachers. She goes on to say that the problem with disruption is that we risk taking away a students' now for their then.

Something that Michelle does that I really like is use a GoPro camera, attached to a student with a chest harness, to record various lessons her students work on. She then edits them together, and it gives a very powerful view into her room. Through these videos, we see her students truly engaged, and more powerfully, we get to see them truly enjoying learning. She showed us a handful of clips of her 3rd graders, and they were excellent.

After how thoroughly inspiring and eyeopening Ruha Benjamin's talk was, Michelle Cordy's is a striking contrast. Her style is more relaxed, more informal, more personal. A great programming choice by the people at ISTE, as the fun style lets us leave the conference in a great mood.

She ended her speech by saying goodbye to each of her students (today is her last day of school), showing each of their pictures on the screen and saying goodbye to them by name, one at a time. With each one she gave her own promise to each, summarizing the points of her speech.

Overall, an excellent presentation, and an excellent week. Stay tuned for something new coming in the next couple days...


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