Sunday, August 20, 2017

11 Ways to Build Capacity and Never Stop Growing

I am passionate about growth. So when Julie Woodard (@woodard_julie) asked me about collaborating on the visual featured in this post, I was all in. She's the amazing artist, folks. I'm just glad to think about a topic that matters to me. So here goes. 

It's so important to always continue to grow and build capacity, both in yourself and in others. Of course, as educators, we want our students to always be growing. I'll be curious to know your thoughts. I rattled off this list in a very short time. Ask Julie. So it probably could use some further thinking. Your thinking is one thing that makes me stronger and keeps me growing. So thanks!

Here's the list: 11 Ways to Build Capacity and Never Stop Growing

1. Take Risks

You can only grow if you step forward into the unknown. It requires a leap of faith. Sure, you must establish a secure foundation, but you must be willing to go out on a limb to be able to truly grow. Okay, so maybe I just mixed my metaphors terribly. That's a risk I'm willing to take.

2. Ask Questions

Questions are essential to learning and growth. Physicist and Laureate Richard Feynman said, "There is no learning without having to pose a question." We must constantly ask questions if we want to learn. We must question ourselves and question others. We should strive to consistently have the perspective of a curious learner. 

3. Help Others

When you help others, you will grow. If there are two things that go together like peanut butter and jelly, it's giving and growing. When you give, you grow. And when you are growing, you are better able to give. Helping others is a wonderful reason to never stop growing.

4. Learn From Mistakes

You should never be afraid to make a mistake. We learn by making mistakes. You should just strive to not repeat them. You should always strive to learn from them. Everything worthwhile is challenging. There will be mistakes. There will be difficulties. There will be impossible situations. But these are incredible opportunities to grow.

5. Embrace Change

To grow, you have to willing to grow. You have to be willing to change. You have to want to be better tomorrow than you are today. You have to be willing to challenge your assumptions and be open to another way. 

6. Be Future Driven

We cannot grow by clinging to the past. In fact, many people are stuck where they are because of things that happened yesterday. The choices you make today will shape your future. Being future driven is having a vision for a better tomorrow and then growing into that vision. Of course, this one is also a nod to my soon-to-be-released book, Future Driven.

7. Generate Positive Energy

Growth can be difficult. There will be obstacles and doubters. There are people who will try to bring you down. The only way to press forward is to choose a positive attitude. It gives you the energy to never give up.

8. Practice Reflective Thinking

Reflective thinking is how we learn from the experiences of our life. We test our thinking. We consider what went well and what didn't go well. The ability to honestly and accurately reflect is critical to your growth. We need feedback to grow. But we will only learn from the feedback if we reflect on it and act on it. Feedback is dust in the wind without reflection.

9. Get Out of Your Comfort Zone

If you want to grow, you have to get comfortable being uncomfortable. This week in meetings with students I showed the video below. I let them know we are going to push them. We are going to have very high expectations. Sometimes, it might make them uncomfortable. But know we are doing it because we care. We want you to grow. You will only grow with some discomfort. Sometimes it feels hard. Sometimes it feels a little frightening. Watch the video and you'll see what I mean. But in the end, when we push through the discomfort, we will accomplish great things.



10. Feel Affirmed and Supported

These last two are related to how you feel about growing. It's great to have someone in your life who is speaking words of affirmation and support into your efforts to grow. But even if you don't have those positive voices from the outside, you can be your own source of encouragement. You choose the conversation going on in your head. You choose your thoughts. If you discipline yourself to choose the words that build you up and keep you moving forward, you can overcome even the negative voices in your environment. What are you going to listen to?

11. Be Challenged to Grow

Again, it's great if you have someone in your life who is challenging you to grow. It's great to have someone who believes in you, pushing you, leading you, and helping you along the way. So try to bring those people into your life. But even if you don't, you can challenge yourself. You can choose thoughts that are challenging. You can push yourself. Just keep in mind, you won't be great by small thinking. You will only be great when you go after the big challenges. Be bold. 

So what are your thoughts? How could this list be improved? How are you challenging yourself and others to grow? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

9 Elements of Effective Communication



Communication is one of the toughest things about leading. You work constantly to improve your verbal, written, and interpersonal skills. You strive to communicate strategically, systematically, and with empathy. You recognize the importance of effective communication with your team, your parents, your community. And yet, the effectiveness of your communication falls flat. It happens to everyone.

One thing that can always be better in just about every organization is communication. I know I need to continue to grow in this area. Clear communication is essential in personal relationships, in classroom settings, and across the entire school community. 

Regardless of whether you are a principal, a teacher, or have another leadership role in your school. You can become a better communicator. It's something we should always strive to improve. When we are clear with our message and more understanding as listeners, it builds positive culture and improves the learning environment.

One of the most important things for effective communication is situational awareness. Our message is really not about us. It's about meeting the needs and expectations of others. We have to communicate with the audience in mind, if it's 1 or 100. It's important to adapt to the situation and communicate in a way that will meet others in a productive and positive manner.

Let's be clear, our communication is one way we influence others. Our communication should seek to lift up others, help them be stronger, and ultimately help them exhibit leadership qualities that are helpful to the mission. Sometimes this involves delivering hard truths, setting boundaries, and standing firm. 

As I write this post, I am reminded how much I need to review these principles. I often fall short in communicating effectively and want to continuously strive to improve these skills.

1. Listen more, talk less

Effective communication is not just broadcasting a message. It's not saying more and saying it louder. Great communicators are great listeners. They really try to understand the perspective of others. They initiate dialogue. Dialogue involves sharing meaning in the conversation. It doesn't necessarily mean there is full agreement. It just means that both parties are listening with empathy and really trying to understand each other and find areas of common ground.

2. Reach out.

Even though I try to be visible throughout our school, sometimes I find I'm talking to the same people over and over. I need to make sure that I'm communicating regularly with everyone. The same thing can happen in the classroom. It's easy to engage outgoing students or teachers who are talkative. But it's important to connect with as many people as possible. 

3. Never miss a chance to share the message

Look for opportunities to share your key message. What is the vision of your classroom or school? What is the focus? Too often we only focus on the 'why' behind our work at the start of the school year. We emphasize the mission and the vision. But if we don't revisit that on a regular basis, the mission will veer off course. One of my #1 goals for next year is to fine-tune our vision, communicate our vision, rinse and repeat. Whatever you think is the right amount of communication to get your message across, triple it.

4. Invite two way communication

Don't just wait for feedback to come to you. Ask for it. Check in with your students, your parents, your colleagues, everyone. Be curious about how people are experiencing your classroom or school. Ask interesting questions. What's running smoothly? What could be improved? What skills are you improving? What skills would you like to improve? What have you achieved that makes you proud? What do you need from me to reach your goals? How can I help you?

5. Show acceptance and encouragement

Make your communications more personal. Invite people in. Make them feel like they belong. When people feel accepted, they are more willing to listen. Empathy establishes trust. It says "I accept you." And empathy provides the foundation for encouragement. Encouragement leads to growth. Encouragement says, "I believe in you." Encouraging leaders help people take next steps to grow and contribute in more powerful ways. 

6. Activate others to spread the message

Who else can help clarify or repeat the message? If you are the only one sharing a message, you are greatly limiting your reach. As you build your team, give them a nudge about the things that need to be communicated. Model for them the type of communication that is needed. I always encourage our teachers to never miss a chance to say something good about our school. When we activate others to help share the message, it builds bridges between our school and community.

7. Evoke emotion

The most powerful communication is tied to emotion. It's personal. We feel something. Great leaders don't just communicate a clear message, they offer a compelling message. They speak not only to the mind, but to the heart. We can have all the information in the world that we should do something, and yet we won't take action. We are only moved to action when we are moved. We need inspiration. Leaders evoke emotion when they show how much they care, when they reveal their own emotions, and when they help others feel they are part of something important that is making a difference. We all want to be part of something bigger than ourselves.

8. Read Between the Lines

Leaders must have awareness of what's being communicated even if it's not being said. The communication through body language, tone of voice, and behavior is telling. Leaders should always work at building awareness and seeking to bring forward meaning that might be hidden or unknown. There are too many times I picked up on signals but brushed them aside, only to find out later that the problem was much bigger than I realized. I want to improve my ability to pick up on underlying concerns before they become serious issues. It's always best to be proactive rather than reactive.

9. Stay calm and be positive

Anyone who aspires to be a leader will face challenges and be expected to rise to the occasion. Strong leaders are able to face difficult circumstances while remaining calm and positive. No matter what happens, we have a choice how we will respond. We can respond with fear, anxiety, and anger. Or, we can respond with diligence, duty, and action. It doesn't help to fret the problem. It helps when we rally together to overcome the problem. 

This post was also shared at LeadUpNow.com.

Question: What aspects of communication are most challenging for you? What frustrates you about communication? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Schools Should Be Places Where the Present and Future Collide



Educators should be futurists. Now you're probably thinking, "What the heck, one more thing I have to be. It always feels like teachers are being asked to do more and more, with less and less. One more thing!" But hang on, I'm not asking you to do more. I'm asking you to shift your perspective.

Futurists are scientists or social scientists who look ahead to the future of what might be possible. They don't necessarily try to predict the future. No one can do that. But they do explore the possibilities of how current realities might lead to future developments in any and all areas of life.

Futurists believe in progress. They believe there is more to be done, that we can expand our capacity, that we can solve some of the most pressing problems of today. Of course, they also warn of what might happen if we don't address some of the potential problems of the future.

Years ago, Harvard Professor Edward Banfield described a study in his book Unheavenly Cities related to factors that best predicted individual's upward social mobility and economic prosperity. He expected factors like family background, intelligence, connections, race, or some other fixed characteristic to be most influential.

But what he found surprised him. The greatest factor related to future productivity and success was what he termed "long-term perspective." Writer Brian Tracy describes Banfield's findings:
He said that men and women who were the most successful in life and the most likely to move up economically were those who took the future into consideration with every decision they made in the present. He found that the longer the period of time a person took into consideration while planning and acting, the more likely it was that he would achieve greatly during his career.
The importance of long-term thinking makes sense to me. We are faced on a daily basis with decisions to do what is easiest in the short-term or do what's best in the long-term. Wisdom is knowing the right thing to do and having the courage to do it.

But it's more than delayed gratification and self-discipline. It is also having a vision for what the future will demand. It's thinking like a futurist. It's being forward-thinking and reflecting on how a changing world will impact my world, the way I live, and work, and interact.

It's also important for educators and schools to have a long-term perspective. In my upcoming book, Future Driven: Will Your Students Thrive In An Unpredictable World? I challenge educators to reflect on their own perspective. 

Schools should be less like time capsules and more like time machines. The time capsule approach only protects the status quo. It assumes the way we have taught in the past is good enough for today's students too. The time capsule teacher wants to remind us of everything in the past and wants to filter everything in the future through that. To be blunt, the time capsule teacher is stuck in the past.

But the time machine teacher wants to transcend the current reality. When you think about stories involving time machines, they typically involve using time travel to solve a problem or impact a destiny. They involve a hero's journey. 

In this case, I am suggesting that time machine teachers want to create a better future. They have a long term perspective. Even though they can't literally visit the future, they are future driven. They are pushing forward and living in the emerging future.

We are living in a rapidly changing, complex world. Our students will need a future driven education to be ready for the challenges they will face.

Educators make the biggest impact in a place where the future and the present collide. A future focus, combined with action today, has the greatest potential to produce positive change. We need to have a long-term perspective and so do our students. We have to model that for them and cause them to think in those terms. 

The place where today meets tomorrow is where you can make the greatest difference as an educator. Your impact will depend on your perspective and your actions.

I expect Future Driven to be released in a matter of weeks. It will challenge your perspective. It will help you increase your capacity for positive change. It describes how to become a time machine teacher and how to create a future driven school.

I don't want to jump through hoops. I don't want to go through the motions. I never want to waste precious time. I want to do my part to create a brighter future. I believe most educators want the same. You are building futures every day. 

Question: What are ways our schools are time capsules, stuck in the past? What are you doing to move forward and have a long-term perspective? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter. 

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

7 Resources for Designing Innovative Learning Spaces

Retrieved from http://sdaarchitects.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/Joplin-IrvingElementary-Int-SouthWing2-01.jpg

With back to school right around the corner, I know many educators are thinking about how to make upgrades to their learning spaces for the new school year. The design of our classrooms can have a significant impact on learning. 

The choices you make in setting up your classroom will send a message to your students from the first day of school. Students will instantly draw conclusions: Is this a welcoming place? Will I work with others? Am I valued? What kind of learning will I be doing here? 

I believe it's important to create an environment that values students, gives them in a voice in the classroom, and creates a space that is forward-thinking and modern. 

Although your school may not be able to purchase expensive furnishings, there are things you can do to design on a dime. I know several teachers in our building found ways to do inexpensive upgrades to their classrooms. 

Here are seven articles that I found helpful in thinking about design upgrades for our school.

6 Must-Have Classroom Spaces for Project-Based Learning

By: Danish Kurani. These six spaces facilitate learning that goes beyond the realm of the traditional classroom and can be created in almost any type of building. Whether you're planning a new building or updating the one you're in, these are possible for you.

Designing Learner-Centered Spaces -- THE Journal

Learning Spaces Learning spaces must become learner-centered. Editor's note: The following is excerpted from a chapter of the book, " Learning Transformed: 8 Keys to Designing Tomorrow's Schools," published by ASCD in June. The authors and publisher have given their permission to republish portions of chapter 4, "Designing Learner-Centered Spaces."

Tips for Creating Wow-Worthy Learning Spaces

"Look at your learning space with 21st-century eyes: Does it work for what we know about learning today, or just for what we knew about learning in the past?" -The Third Teacher Does your classroom mirror the rectilinear seating arrangement popular in Sumerian classrooms, circa 2000 BCE?

6 ways to personalize learning with flexible seating

Putting students at the center of learning takes a double commitment. One to ensure that instruction and learning address distinct student needs, interests and aspirations, and one to provide spaces that support a student-centered program. It also requires educators to consider the various teaching formats they use and creating learning environments to support them.

Flexible Seating and Student-Centered Classroom Redesign

I'm a firm believer in keeping the focus on what's really important: the students. If student motivation and higher engagement is truly the desired end game, then we as teachers must adapt right along with our students in our classrooms.

Three Ways to Design Better Classrooms and Learning Spaces

The problems that plague education around the world aren't the result of a lack of attention or care. Parents, business leaders, political leaders and educators in countries everywhere are dedicated to improving how they educate their people. Every year, billions of dollars are spent on education initiatives in curriculum and teaching practices.

6 Ideas for Classroom Design

As the new school year nears or begins for you, consider how the design of your classroom can have a huge impact on you and your students. Try these ideas to design your classroom this year. To learn more, check out one of our previous posts: Purposeful Learning Spaces.

What are you plans for upgrading your classroom for back to school? How will you use your space to inspire learning? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

How To Have Killer Meetings That Get Results



I recently read Death by Meeting by Patrick Lencioni. This book is a must read for any leader who wants to improve the quality of meetings in his or her organization. Every team could benefit from the insights shared in this leadership fable. 

The problem with meetings is that they are often boring, and they don't usually get the desired results. There are a couple of reasons this happens. I'd like to share some of what I learned from Lencioni's book and encourage you to read it if you would like to have killer meetings instead of death by meetings.

Two Problems With Meetings

Major Problem #1 is Lack of Conflict. But not the bad kind of conflict. NOT personal conflict. It’s the kind we have in the plot of a movie or novel. There is a problem to be solved. It drives the meeting forward in a narrative fashion. There is a story. There will be conflict between the ‘characters’ in the meeting, but we want it to be constructive conflict around important issues directly related to the problem. Conflict will result in better decisions. There will be ideological differences. Leaders have to help to create some of the urgency needed for a plot to be interesting. If meetings lack conflict, they are boring. And they basically result in people ‘hanging out’ together instead of solving problems together. Lencioni suggests three ideas leaders can use to help get meaningful dialogue started.

Hook Example - “We have a real problem with apathy. 50% of our students failed at least one class last year. We are all dealing with bored, disengaged students. We don’t want to see students coast through school and pay the price later. We aim for excellence here, and we aren’t getting excellence out of all our students.”

Mining for Conflict - Confront issues that need to be addressed. Don’t avoid them.

Real-time Permission - Let others know the conflict is good. “I’m glad we are having this discussion, even though it may be a little uncomfortable and force us to rethink our work.”

Major Problem #2 is Lack of Contextual Structure. When different types/purposes for the meeting are all lumped together in “meeting stew” with no distinction, the meeting goes all over the place. People talk to fill up the time but not toward a goal or purpose. The dialogue isn’t leading to a decision.

Lencioni presents several types of meetings, but I found two of these to be particularly useful in our school setting.


Type #1 Tactical Meetings - Issues of immediate concern. Most routine meetings should be tactical. They are very structured and includes the following elements:

Lightning Round - A quick, around-the-table reporting session in which everyone indicates two or three priorities for the week. It should take each team member no more than one minute to quickly describe what is on their respective plates. It sets the tone for the meeting.

Progress Review - Reporting of critical information or metrics. What are the key areas of progress either ongoing or established at the previous meeting? Limit metrics to just 2 or 3. Limit discussion of underlying issues here.

Real-time agenda - Once the lightning round and progress review are complete, the agenda is set by what everyone is working on and how the group is performing against its goals, not based on the leader’s best guess 48 hours before the meeting. There must be disciplined spontaneity here. What are the next steps? “Should we develop a more effective question for the common assessment?” “What are we going to do this week about the increasing Ds and Fs in our classes?” Stay focused on tactical issues that must be addressed to ensure short-term objectives are not jeopardized. Any obstacles to tactical issues must be removed.
Possible Obstacles: 1. Temptation to set an agenda. 2. Spending too much time on the lightning round. 3. Discussion about long-term strategic issues. Team member will raise strategic issues that will take the focus off the short-term topics (aka - doing real work together). There is a different meeting for the strategic issues. Any strategic issues brought up are added to the list of topics for the next type of meeting.
Type #2 The Monthly Strategic - The most important and most fun type of meeting. The team debates, analyzes, and decides critical issues that will affect the school/team in fundamental ways. The hardest thing will be having enough time. Issues will have to be limited to only the most important. In this type of meeting, members need to know in advance what will be discussed. Members must come prepared. Decisions must be made with good information, data, research, etc. Decisions are not made on anecdotal information alone. This meeting decides the team’s larger strategic plan and where the team is headed next. Again, fear of conflict can cause these meetings to be ineffective.

Closing

Meetings don’t have to be a waste of time. They can actually save time, because our results are better when our meetings are better. We can be proactive. Alignment saves time because we pull together instead of pulling in a multitude of directions.

A few other notes…

The meeting should always focus on the people in the room. What are we (these people) going to do about the problem? If there is a need to partner with others in addressing the problem, invite them to the next meeting.

Meetings generate energy when…

1. Teams brag about wins
2. Relationships are strengthened
3. The path forward is clear
4. Accountability focuses on the people around the table

Question: What other ideas would you share to have killer meetings? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or share your thoughts on Facebook or Twitter.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Schools Aren't Businesses, and Students Aren't Customers



I've been guilty of looking at business as a metaphor for education many times. I think there are some ways it works okay. We can learn from the business community and certainly need to work closely with business partners. We have some shared interests in good education outcomes. I enjoy reading books from business and a whole variety of areas and applying principles I learn to my work as an educator, where appropriate.

But we have to be very careful with comparing education to the business model. Our mission should be to advance the human condition. Our measure of success as educators is changing lives and creating opportunities. And making our democracy stronger. In business, the bottom line is ultimately measured in dollars and cents. But you can't reduce a child's education to increased profits.

The business metaphor is especially dangerous considering the current political and policy landscape. There are many who would like to privatize education. Better schools, goes the thinking, would result from competition and the marketplace. Capitalism would do it's thing and education would be stronger for it. But that model has proven failed over and again. Learning is not a commodity.

I've also been guilty of referring to students as customers. When I've done this, it is making the point that we should provide good customer service. Our students are the end users of what we do, and we should carefully consider their experience and how school is working for them. 

But this comparison only works to a degree. The relationship between a business and a customer is transactional. The customer doesn't own much responsibility in the relationship. The customer pays for goods or services and expects the business to do the rest. 

But schools need to go beyond treating students like customers. We must make students partners in learning. We are not just delivering learning to students like a product. We must co-create learning with students if it is to be most effective. It requires a degree of pulling together and helping students to contribute to their own learning. 

Metaphors are generally helpful to try to understand the world in deeper and more meaningful ways. But as educators, we have to be careful about comparing what we do to what businesses do. Can we learn from business? Yes! But should schools entirely operate as a business model? I think not.

Question: What are your thoughts on schools as businesses? And students as customers? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

3 Classroom Tips for Stronger Digital Learning


More and more classrooms are gaining access to digital technology. And that’s a good thing. In a world that is increasingly reliant on digital tools, students need to have opportunities to learn with access to technology. Schools are adding Chromebooks, iPads, and other devices more than ever. Some are simply inviting students to bring their own devices (BYOD). But either way, access to devices is only growing in schools.

But the availability to devices doesn’t automatically result in more learning or better experiences for students or teachers. In fact, the addition of devices presents new challenges for educators to consider. When our school added Chromebooks for every student, we quickly learned we would need to address some new challenges. These obstacles can derail learning in classrooms where the potential pitfalls aren’t addressed or avoided.

If you are an educator who is fortunate enough to have access to digital devices for all your students to use, be ready to take steps to teach the procedures and routines that will help create success for using these tools in learning. It’s important to establish and maintain boundaries. And it’s also important to never make assumptions about what your students may or may not know about using the devices.

1. You can’t assume students are tech savvy just because they are digital natives.

It’s true that students in today’s classrooms are digital natives. They’ve grown up around technology and tend to have some skills that are helpful in navigating the digital world. However, it’s a mistake to think they are proficient in using any tool you might throw at them. For the most part, kids have used technology for social media or entertainment. Using technology for learning, productivity, or creativity might be new to them. So, when you plan for using a new tool in class, plan to spend some time orienting students to how it works.

Or, if you prefer for students learn the tool on their own, provide time for them to experiment with the tool and share out their learning to others in the class. It can be a good idea for students to “teach themselves” a digital tool. New tools and apps are being developed all the time. It’s great practice for students to be able to adapt to new tools and work on the intuitive thinking and problem solving required for “clicking around” and figuring it out. You might want to provide them with a list of tasks they should be able to do with the new tool. And it’s great for the teacher to model what to do when getting stuck. The ability to research solutions via Google or YouTube search can be very helpful.

2. Don’t just teach digital citizenship, embed digital citizenship.
It’s never a good idea to hand students devices without also supporting safe, responsible use. Many schools create their own digital citizenship curriculum or buy one to use with their students. There are also some excellent digital citizenship resources available for free online, from Google or from Common Sense Media for instance. Try to anticipate the problems your students might encounter in using the digital devices in your classroom. Be proactive and have discussions up front with your students about what is appropriate to share, how to judge validity of resources, how to respect content ownership and fair use, and how to report something that is threatening.

While it is important to teach digital citizenship up front, it’s also very important for teachers to monitor student use of technology and use teachable moments to address situations that may arise as students utilize tech. Often the most valuable lessons occur as opportunities arise to discuss relevant issues in authentic context. Digital citizenship should not just be a scheduled lesson. It should be part of everything we do related to the use of technology in the classroom. It’s something educators must model and discuss regularly. Moreover, it’s part of the bigger issue of developing good citizenship in the broadest sense. How are we helping students contribute as positive, productive members of communities online and in physical space?

3. Plan to manage distractions.

One of the most common challenges of implementing devices in the classroom is dealing with the potential distraction technology can present. While technology open up a whole new world of possibilities for learning, it also opens a world of possibilities for diversion away from classroom learning priorities. This prospect is very frightening for many teachers. How will I make sure my students aren’t wasting class time? How can I make sure students are watching content that is not appropriate for school? Will the presence of a screen take away from learning instead of accelerating learning?

Keep in mind distractions are nothing new in the classroom. Keeping students attention has always been a chief concern for teachers. Even in a class without devices, students can find a plethora of things to occupy their attention besides learning. The key to alleviate boredom is to stimulate curiosity and plan engaging lessons. Device distractions are no match for an amazing lesson! At least I think it pays to think like that.

Some schools also choose to purchase classroom monitoring software that allows teachers to view and even take control of student devices. This type of system typically allows teachers to monitor an entire classroom from the teacher’s computer. You may not have this type of software available, and I actually prefer not to utilize it. It’s better for the teacher to be able to move around the room and interact with students rather than being tethered to a computer monitoring students like Big Brother.

Here are some solid tips for managing distractions with no software required.

-Clearly communicate times when students should and should not be on devices.

-Clarify when it is okay to use earbuds and when earbuds should not be used.

-Set up the classroom so you can easily move around and behind students using devices. You need to be able to easily view student screens.

-Require students to only have one browser tab open at a time. This prevents switching tabs when the teacher is not watching to games or media that might be distracting.

-When transitioning from devices to whole group instruction or another activity, wait until you have everyone’s attention before you move on.

-Give specific instructions about which apps or sites should be used during a particular activity. Hold students accountable to use these tools only unless they ask permission to access another site.

These considerations are an essential part of establishing a strong culture of learning in the digital classroom. Other issues will also arise like caring for devices, dealing with tech questions, managing battery life, etc. The most important thing is to work with students to establish classroom expectations and revisit them consistently. It works best when teachers can develop a shared responsibility with students for using devices responsibly and productively. Just like any other classroom behavior, it’s not enough to proclaim a rule and never discuss it again. Students will need reminders and guidance to be successful.

Ultimately, the opportunity to develop digital learning skills is invaluable to students. Students will need to be able to successfully use devices for learning and productivity for the rest of their lives. Although there are challenges with implementing technology in the classroom, with the right approach, teachers can help students become strong digital learners.


Question: What other tips would you share about creating a safe, positive, and productive culture for digital learning? Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter. I can't wait to see what you've got to add. Together we are stronger!
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