#ISTE19 - Virtual Reality Activities that Engage, Enhance, and Extend Student Learning

My next session for the conference is by former podcast guest, and friend, Jon Spike presenting on VR.

He started with an intro activity where he had 3 volunteers join him for a game of Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes, where Jon is wearing the headset and looking at a bomb he has to defuse. The three volunteers have paper directions for how to defuse the bomb, but cannot see the bomb. They have to explain the directions for defusing and hope not to explode. Jon exploded. Made for a short presentation.

The rest of the session, Jon went through a series of app categories, and then examples of apps that would work for various levels of headsets/VR devices.

An interesting one in the storytelling category is Mindshow. It lets you make videos with digital characters, simply by wearing the headset and acting out what you want the characters to do. It creates great videos without having to know how to do computer animation. It would be a really powerful tool for students.

Jon gave tons of resources and ideas for ways to use VR in classrooms. I am absolutely looking into getting the new Oculus Quest now and am hoping to convince my leadership to purchase me a bunch of them for next year. I highly recommend looking over Jon's slide deck here.

#ISTE19 - Schools Often Perpetuate Inequity by Cheyenne Batista

Monday is here, my own presentation is done, so I can really enjoy and learn now!

Cheyenne Batista is the founder of Firefly Worldwide, a global consulting firm focused on helping schools and organizations with improving equity within their organization.

She opened the session by specifying that schools perpetuate inequity unintentionally. This is not the session to say that anyone is evil or doing things with bad intentions. She also pointed out that we will not "save the world from all inequities."

She said, "This is a conversation that will end with no closure, and that is the work." That is a fascinating idea and definitely makes me think back to my talk with Jennifer Binnis. We had hard conversations, and it felt like work for sure, I left tired. But I also think that I learned a lot and while we did not solve anything, it felt like I at least made personal improvements.

Another interesting discussion was the question "Why start with racism?" According to Cheyenne, racism is certainly not the only form of inequity, but unlike sexual orientation, gender identity, socio-economic status, and others, a student cannot walk into a classroom and hide their race. "A girl cannot walk into a classroom and decide 'I'm not going to be black today'". This seems obvious, but I had never considered it that way. When I think of inequity, I know the racial issues, but they seem so much larger than I can tackle, and so I will often go to other issues as examples and goals. But now, that seems inadequate of me, and I should be continuing the conversation about race instead of shying away from it.

She left us with 5 Strategies for Running Equitable Schools

  • Build the Right Mindset
  • Hiring & Onboarding Practices
  • Building & Supporting Infrastructure
  • Center Student Achievement
  • Reflection & Adaptation

It must start with the mindset of yourself, your peers, your school. There must be an ongoing conversation, and people must be willing to accept that they are not "color-blind", are not lacking in biases. Then, we must be asking questions in our interview process about equity, about beliefs about students and parents. You also must include your school beliefs on equity in ongoing professional development (infrastructure). It can, and sometimes should, be a training specifically on equity topics. In other cases it should be embedded in other traingings as well.

She also pushed back directly against those that would say "This is all great, but we need to work on test scores and learning." This work, according to Cheyenne, is student achievement. When students are not recognized in a school, are kept with lower expectations than their peers, are limited in their potential learning, the students are not achieving, are not capable of achieving. We often look at our data and celebrate high test scores or school grades, because in aggregate, things are good. But when we do not worry about the sub-groups that are well below the goals and grades of the school because they are not the majority.

Overall, a truly thought-provoking presentation. I am really glad that I was able to make it to this one and get some ideas to sit with as I head off to lunch. As she said, with this work, we will not solve the problems. We need to work through them, think about them.

#ISTE19 - IGNITE Round 1

IGNITE sessions are always my favorite part of ISTE. Seeing these typically polished, organized, and fast presentations are perfect for my general lack of focus.

Dr. Virginia Duncan presented on The Edge of Epiphany. She spoke about how flawed the term "think outside the box" is in professional learning. In her terms, there is no box for professional learning, and when we use or hear this phrase, our brain immediately creates the image of that box. Instead, we need to build professional learning that accepts ideas from inside and outside of education, where we come up with new experiences with our peers, or where we define a problem and then ask for and build solutions to those problems. Find Dr. Duncan on Twitter, @DrGinnyD.

Another great session came from Josh Feinsilber, talking about Gamification That Works. He really talked about his experience creating Gimkit, a quizzing and gaming like Kahoot! or Quizlet Live. The fascinating thing about Gimkit is that he wrote this in his project learning school and graduated from high school a few weeks ago. Gimkit is now used by over 3 million teachers and students, and started as a school project. It is one of those student stories that gives you hope as a teacher that there can be value in what we do. And, a reminder that we need to keep trying to develop our classrooms in a way that is real. Find Josh on Twitter, @JoshGimkit.

Douglas Konopelko presented on considering the quality of screen time for students instead of the quantity. He believes that we should not vilify the screen, but instead ask what is the content and behavior while on the device. I could not agree more with him here. If students are creating content, demonstrating learning, learning new skills or knowledge, that can't be bad. "Education technology is almost all gray area. There isn't a right answer." So true! Great presentation. Find Douglas on Twitter, @dkonopelko.

Jennifer Casa Todd presented on mentoring in the digital world, specifically mentoring students in the use of social media. Jennifer, along with others, started a student twitter chat, #ONEdSsChat. It is a once a month chat run by students, with questions generated by students, with teachers and adults mentoring them in appropriate use. You should definitely checkout the chat at the hashtag, and Jennifer @JCasaTodd.

As always, loved the IGNITE sessions. I'm presenting during the second round tomorrow, but will be back for the Young Educators IGNITE session on Wednesday.

#ISTE19 - Digital Differentiation with Learning Menus with Kasey Bell

It’s #ISTE19 time, and that means I get to start learning from amazing educators back-to-back. I’m starting my learning journey this year with the amazing Kasey Bell presenting on Learning Menus.

As usual, Kasey owns the stage with her soothing southern accent and TONS of shared resources, mixed with hidden Google tips and tricks.

Link to her slide deck so you can look through it if you would like.

I really enjoy the use of learning menus. The idea is to incorporate student choice directly into assignments, but her incorporation of basic kids games are an engaging twist. Imagine a tic-tac-toe board where each of the nine squares is a different assignment showing evidence of learning. Then, students pick three assignments of the nine to connect three and prove their learning.

The beauty of this is that it easily gives students choice. in the kinds of assignments they get to use to learn or prove their learning.

Kasey also shared some interesting tips to consider when using learning menus:

  • Give students a solid deadline (number of minutes) to choose their activities from the menu.
  • Make sure you are not using the activitiy just because you found it online. Make sure it matches your learning!
  • Use a non-negotiable activity to ensure all students meet specific requirements.
  • Start small. Do not give students a Bingo Board the first time where they need to make five choices. Do a choice board that has them make two choices (like a tic-tac-toe board with the center square required).
  • Your high achieving students are likely to struggle because they are used to the game of school and this goes against it.

That last point seems most critical to me. Any time we can disrupt the game of school, we are probably doing the right thing. Even if it fails in your classroom, they are getting the game of school in their other classrooms, so something different is good for their life and future.

Kasey also talked a little about rubrics, and made a great point. She said that rubrics are not for the teacher to use for grading, they are for the students to understand the expectations. If you are using rubrics with grading in mind first, then you are missing the point. Rubrics should be for students, so they understand what you are expecting, how they are expected to learn.

Overall, great session and an excellent way to start my #ISTE19 experience! I'll definitely be trying to checkout her live podcast recording on Tuesday.

Master's Program Paper - My Leadership Philosophy

Application Assignment

To try to articulate exactly what makes a great leader is a complicated, if not an impossible task. From my experience, the job of a leader, and especially of a principal, consists of countless priorities, fires to put out, and an endless juggling act of various stakeholders. Even with that in mind, thinking back on my previous leaders, both effective and ineffective, I believe that a few primary skills can be focused on to separate the best from the worst. An effective leader focuses on improving staff morale, modeling comfortable failure, and ensuring the leadership team is coherent.

The most important role of a principal is to ensure that the school is a community working together. Our current model is crushing our teachers. Cox, Chambers, Parmer, Jackson, Dial, Strizek, Wang, and Kaiser (2017) found that 17% of teachers leave the profession in the first five years (p. A-7). Between social pressures against Common Core Standards (CCS), Value Added Model (VAM), and contention of districts and teacher unions, the stress on teachers is almost palpable. As a principal, it is critical that we make every effort to ensure our teachers feel appreciated (Senchel, Sober, & Hope, 2016) for the hours they put into the essential work of teaching students. I spent two years at a school where the principal did not have this priority, who believed that teachers were satisfied despite what they shared with me and others on leadership. During that time, the school saw increased turnover, including veteran teachers leaving for other opportunities or retiring earlier than planned. In my current role, I work with a principal who prioritizes staff morale. Our leadership team is encouraged to thank our staff for their hard work regularly. In addition, the leadership team does staff events whenever possible, including Pancake Fridays. The first Friday of each month, a group of the leadership team cooks pancakes for the school staff. As a result of these various efforts, the staff morale has greatly increased in the school. During the previous two years, we started the year with 40 or more new teachers, filling the positions of those teachers who left voluntarily. Based on our recently received intent to return forms, we are only anticipating four teachers leaving voluntarily.

After staff morale has improved, a leader can focus on the second most important job of increasing the instructional capacity of the teachers. According to Fullen (2014), a principal can’t sustainably be the instructional leader for the staff. A great leader can model the necessary mindset to allow for innovation and experimentation in the classroom. To accomplish this, a leader must be willing to make decisions and more importantly, willing to admit when that decision was not the right one. People learn from failure, by making mistakes and not making them again. As a leader, we can be the example of comfortable failure in our schools. This is accomplished through trying new ideas, reflecting on the results, and admitting when the results are not what we hoped. When you model this for teachers, they feel more comfortable to do the same in their classroom, which in-turn makes students more comfortable to make mistakes as well. In this way, we can indirectly impact student learning.

A principal cannot be everywhere at once, and so they need to build and cultivate a team that can carry out the work of supporting teachers and their priorities. The most important part of this process, Lencioni explains (2002), is building your team up to be comfortable with conflict. At my previous school, the principal was unwilling to address members of the leadership team when they did not meet goals or complete assigned tasks. As a result, productivity of the leadership team decreased, staff stress increased, and dissatisfaction of many of the leadership team members increased. This was the biggest reason that I left that school and came to work for my current principal. He tasked the leadership team with reading The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, and has since used that book as a basis for leading the team in tough conversations. As a result of his modeling, team members are more comfortable addressing each other when work goes uncompleted, or when team norms are not followed. The result has been increased productivity and accomplishment of goals.

My greatest strength as a leader is building trust and improving staff morale on a campus. I am well practiced at planning and launching community building activities and programs at a school. At my last school, I created a series of staff shout-outs that could be completed by anyone for anyone and encouraged the leadership team to fill them out for teachers on campus. Most teachers who received them hung them up in their classrooms on display and viewed them with pride. I also managed a monthly after school team building meetup that consisted of a random selection of teachers in order to get teachers who did not normally interact with each other to build relationships.

I am also an expert in integrating instructional technology into the classroom. I have launched Digital Curriculum at two different schools successfully. I this role, I focus specifically on dynamic Professional Development and blended learning. This maximizes the impact of the development while minimizing the time constraints on our staff. These strategies apply to all initiatives and rollouts as well.

I know that my biggest struggle as a leader will be follow-through of my ideas. I have ideas that I am confident will be successful and lead to student learning improvements, and I will often delegate parts of the tasks to others. Where I fall short is making sure that I complete the ideas to fruition and completion, not just until I lose interest or the task is forgotten. An example of this is working with my Student Tech Support students. I created an engaging project centered around Minecraft that required peer communication, use of online discussion board, and digital citizenship skills. It was to culminate in students creating a screen capture video of their creation and sharing it via social media. We ran into an issue with the screen capture software, and so the project never got completed. This is clearly an area of need of improvement for me. One way in which I will help support this weakness is in building a team of leaders around me that are empowered to call me to task when necessary. In addition, I will continue to research this specific area of leadership and use other experts leaders to provide mentorship in completing the tasks I set for myself.




Cox, S., Chambers, L., Parmer, R., Jackson, B., Dial, S., Strizek, G., Wang, Y., and Kaiser, A. (2017). Documentation for the First Through Fifth Waves of the 2007–08 Beginning Teacher Longitudinal Study (NCES 2017-355). U.S. Department of Education. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics, Retrieved [2/9/2019] from

Fullan, M. (2014). The Principal: Three Keys to Maximizing Impact. (1st ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Lencioni, P. (2002). The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Senechal, J., Sober, T., & Hope, S. (2016). Understanding Teacher Morale (Rep.). Richmond, VA: VCU MERC Publications.

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