Thursday, October 27, 2016

One More Reason to Use Social Media in Your School

In an earlier post, I shared 7 Reasons To Use Social Media In Your School. The post outlines some of the biggest reasons to use social media as an educator. Never before have people been able to connect, share, and learn from one another the way we do now. Email is becoming less prevalent while social media platforms are becoming stronger even for professional communications. I've been thinking about one other reason to use social media, but before I get to that, I want to share 8 ideas your might want to try to incorporate social media into the life of your school. I included links to lots of examples and resources in this post. I hope you find them helpful.

1. Tell your story

More and more schools are using Twitter or Facebook, and even Instagram and SnapChat to share positive moments and student successes. Social media is a great way to connect with your community and showcase the great things happening in your school.

2. Share information

Social media can be a great way to share your monthly newsletter or an upcoming event, like parent open house or the school musical. Canva is a great tool to create social media images to use to promote different events.

3. Student takes over the school Twitter for a day or even a week

We've done this a handful of times, and it's been a fun thing to do. We just ask a responsible student if they would like to tweet out their day through the school account. We make some announcements leading up to it and give them some ideas of things to tweet about. It's a good way to encourage student voice and build trust with students. 

4. Snow day chat

Last year we didn't have many snow days at all. In fact, it was an extremely mild winter. But two years ago, we had a really fun snow day chat with lots of students and teachers participating. We joked around some, but we also discussed some important topics like helping friends overcome challenges. Just because we're not at school doesn't mean we can't connect and learn. And students joined in just for the experience. Of course, it probably didn't hurt that I said school would be canceled again the next day if we had 100 participants. :)

5. Teachers tweet out from other teachers' classrooms

We did instructional rounds using Twitter to share out the great stuff happening in classrooms. Teachers were invited to visit other classrooms on their conference period. The idea was to tweet out the great things happening and really lift each other up and make learning visible. If a teacher preferred not to have visitors, they just posted a note outside of their classroom. 

6. Social media kindness campaign

Last year our Character Council partnered with several other CharacterPlus schools to do a social media campaign to promote kindness and acceptance. The students in the group wrote positive messages on sticky notes and placed them on every desk in the school. When students arrived at school, everyone had a positive message. Students were asked to tweet out the messages using #StartsWithUs.

7.Twitter scavenger hunt

We had a couple of Twitter scavenger hunts, one for faculty and one for incoming freshmen. They are great team builders, but you can also use them to accomplish tasks in a fun way. For instance, one of the faculty challenges involved learning about different Twitter chats.

8. Play games

Sometimes we use Twitter to give away prizes or play games during Spirit Week or any other time we want to spice things up. We had a mystery teacher game where we tweeted out clues about a teacher and students had to guess who it was.

9. Host a Twitter party

We haven't done this...yet. But we are planning something similar. Jennifer Hogan shared this idea on her blog. It's a great way to introduce newbies to Twitter and encourage teachers to use social media. It really looks like a lot of fun. For all the details, check out Jennifer's post: Kickstart your school's social media use with a Twitter party.

The opportunities for using Twitter or other social media platforms are really endless. It's a great way to build community, generate school spirit, and promote creativity and whimsy.

But I also wanted to share one more important reason to use social media with your students. I've been thinking about this a lot lately. I believe in sharing what students are learning on social media for this reason: I believe what students are learning is important enough to share with the world. It matters. 

Students deserve to have their learning celebrated. Tell your students the quality work they produce deserves to be shared beyond the school walls. It's a great message to emphasize that learning isn't just for the classroom. It should be shared widely.

Question: What ways are you using social media in your classroom or school? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

9 Ways to Help Your Students Show Up Well

Every teacher wants students to "show up well" to their classroom. It means students are mentally, physically, emotionally, and otherwise ready to learn. We know that doesn't always happen, because life happens. Kids are dealing with real issues and problems and brokenness just like every other person on the planet. Some students have most of their needs met and rarely struggle to show up well. For others, it's a constant battle.

No matter if the challenges are big or small, every student who walks through our doors has a unique story. It's a story that may impact their ability to learn. And if we don't seek to understand what's going on in their lives, we are missing an important part of the profession. We aren't just teaching curriculum. We are teaching kids first, and we have to understand their needs.


We also have to create environments that help students to show up well, even when all of their basic needs might not be met. A positive school culture can help overcome the challenges a student may face. A positive classroom culture can do the same. If we want to build stronger, more respectful learning communities, invest in the lives of students and never miss a chance to brighten their day. That's helping them show up well!

Every student in your school needs to feel physically and emotionally safe. They need to feel a sense of belonging. They need to feel people care about them as individuals, that they matter, that they have dignity. Every student needs to feel respected and supported. When a school or classroom has a positive culture, it creates a secure feeling so students can be fully present and ready to learn, even when stuff outside of school might be really tough.

Here are some ideas everyone can use to help students in your school show up well:

1. Greet students, learn names, give high fives and fist bumps. Say hello to each person you meet in the hallway.

2. Get to know your students as people. Ask them about their hobbies, their weekend, or just about anything. Eat lunch with them.

3. Always protect each student's dignity. Show great care and concern. Give respect even when it's not returned.

4. Notice how your students are feeling. Make it safe for them to express their feelings to you without judgment. Ask them if they are okay? Check on them.

5. Smile. Joke around. Use humor to lighten another person's load. Laughter makes life better and even more bearable.

6. Meet a need. Provide a snack or a jacket or a pencil. If you can't meet the need, find someone who can.

7. Encourage and praise. Use your words to inspire and lift up. See the spark of genius in each student.

8. Have high expectations. You can do it. I believe in you. I've seen you overcome this before. You can do it again.

9. Listen with empathy and try to understand. Approach that hurtful comment, behavior, or action with curiosity to understand the child better.

We all want our students to show up well, and together we can create environments to help them do just that. But we also need to work at showing up well ourselves. Educators are human too, and life can be rough on us as well. Never neglect your own self-care. The teachers I've met throughout the years are some of the most selfless people I've ever known. But if you aren't taking care of you, it will result in resentment, fatigue, and poor emotional health. Our students need us to show up well, too. So take the time to care for yourself and develop a strong support system for your own well-being.

How will you help your students show up well in your classroom and school? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

11 Reasons Educators Should Empower Students

I had a conversation not too long ago with an educator who pushed back a little on the topic of student empowerment. The teacher asserted that he went to school to be trained as a professional, is an expert in his discipline, and knows the best methods and strategies for teaching the students in his classes. The line of thinking seemed to indicate that students are not equipped to take a more active role in directing their own learning.

In another conversation with a different educator, I suggested that students and teachers should partner in the learning process and that students' voices should be heard. But there was some push back. The person shared that some teachers would not like the term partner with students. It seems too much like students and teachers are on the same level.  

Of course, I realize teachers assume a position of authority inherent in their role. And while teachers should seek to share power with students, they should also maintain a leadership role. When necessary, they can direct, guide, or even say no. But when teachers truly honor student voices and really listen, it's often amazing to see the initiative, wisdom, and commitment students will display.

I guess you can see I'm a big believe in student empowerment. Actually, I'm a believer in student and teacher empowerment, and empowerment in general.

I believe empowerment is one of the essential purposes of pursuing education. The more you know, the better you are equipped to make good decisions, by your own choice. Empowerment is increasing the ability to act on one's own behalf or on the behalf of the community to accomplish a goal or create an outcome. It is an essential part of our freedom and liberty in this country. In fact, it is wrong to keep capable people controlled or limited when they can do it on their own.

When students are empowered learners, we equip them to make positive choices, to take control of their circumstances, and to go forward with their learning and goals. It's empowering!

9 Reasons Educators Should Empower Students

1. To develop more independent learners.

The best learning is not dependent learning. It is learning that is self-directed and intrinsically motivated. School should be a place where students are expected to take greater ownership of learning.

2. To create life long learners.

As I reflect on my school days, very little I experienced led me to be the life long learner I am today. That's not to say I didn't learn quite a bit in school, but I didn't learn how to pursue learning for life. I learned that outside of school. I don't think it has to be that way.

3. To help students learn to make good decisions.

Students need practice making decisions about their own learning. They need to learn about their own strengths and weakness and how their decisions affect self and others. When there are few choices in learning, students are being robbed of the opportunity to grow as a decision-maker.

4. To foster more relevance in learning.

When students are empowered, learning becomes more relevant. Instead of just doing something as I'm told, I am able to learn things that are of interest and value to me. Teachers can help provide the context to expand and challenge the interests of students but not to make all the decisions for them. I believe students would take a harder look at what is really valuable if they were given more opportunities to be empowered.

5. To help students find their passions.

I believe this is one of the most important parts of a well-rounded education. Students need to find things they are passionate about. Learning is lifeless for the most part unless there is passion. When students discover passions, they care will care more and do more. If I'm passionate about something, I will invest in that passion even when it's hard. Students will be more likely to find passions when they are empowered as learners.

6. To learn resilience.

Resilience develops from suffering a failure but caring enough to press on in the face of difficulty. School that is mostly compliance-driven results in students who want to do just enough to get by, or they want to take shortcuts or work the system to get a certain result (a good grade or a diploma for instance). Learning that is empowered results in students who will strive to overcome obstacles and do more than is expected. Resilience is closely tied to sense of purpose, support from others, and a positive outlook.


7. To develop empathy.

I believe empowered learners are more likely to understand and exhibit empathy. Empowered learners see how they can make a difference in the world. They see how their learning can impact others. How it can help a friend, or solve a problem, or challenge someone's thinking. If we want to create students who are world-changers we have to give them opportunities to make a difference now. Students need to have opportunities, as part of their education, to recognize injustice and then do something about it.

8. To promote leadership.

When I talk with students about leadership, I can see that many view it as having and wielding power. I think much of this thinking comes from the experience they've had in school where most all of the power is consolidated with teachers and administration. When we empower learners, we share power with them to help them develop the skills to own power and also share it with others. It's not about telling someone else what to do. It's about working with others to accomplish a greater good. At its best, it starts with humility and service. Students need to see this modeled, and they need to have the opportunity to practice it as well.

9. To develop better global citizens. 

Young people want to make a difference in the world, but they are often immobilized by a system that tells them every move to make. Empowerment allows students to make a difference now. Empowerment asks students, "What problem will you solve? How can you make the world a better place?" But there is a choice. Students will learn to be better citizens when they have the chance to lead and speak up on causes that are important to them.
10. To practice creativity.

Creativity requires unconventional thinking and will not thrive in a compliance based culture. Empowerment promotes creative thinking. It's not about finding right answers. It's about looking at problems in novel ways.

11. To cultivate curiosity.

Curiosity is also supported through decisions that empower others. We aren't likely to be curious about things that aren't personally meaningful. But when we are empowered to pursue our own questions, to investigate, to explore ideas, then our curiosity becomes an incredible pathway to learning.

Question: What are your thoughts on student empowerment? Why does this seem scary for so many educators? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Twitter or Facebook.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Why Your High School Should Teach Computer Science {Guest Post}

Guest Post by Gina Green

Why is computer science important?

Students are required to take history, math, English, and science classes so that they have a general knowledge of the world around them. Notice anything missing? I do. It’s computer science.

For most high school students, their phone is integrated into every part of their lives. It’s how they socialize, complete school work, and find answers to their questions. I believe that students should at least have the option to learn how the digital world works.

According to Techprep by Facebook, there will be one million unfilled computer science jobs in the United States by 2020. and Gallup point out that only 1 in 10 schools offer computer science, even though:

At a time when young adults are living with their parents at the highest rate since 1880,  it just makes sense to give students exposure to a career field for which they could be passionate about, make an above-average wage, and have unlimited possibilities. Computer science related jobs are in every field, every industry, and behind every entrepreneurial endeavor.  

Our high school’s computer science journey began four years ago when the computer science department chair of our local university contacted Dr. Geurin to ask what computer science classes we were offering. The answer was none. So, the following year, we offered one semester of Introduction to Programming. Three years later, we are offering six semesters of various computer science courses. It’s amazing growth, but we’re not done yet. We hope to expand our course offerings even more in the next two years.  

Action Steps

If your school is ready to look into starting a computer science program, I would highly recommend partnering with a nearby university or community college that has computer science programs.  They’ll be able to help you figure out where to begin.

You’ll also need a teacher who is willing to teach CS and devote time to training.  If you are that teacher, prepare for CS to level up your passion for teaching. It’s the most rewarding, challenging, best-thing-ever for students that I’ve done in my career.  I’ve been approached by several teachers from other districts about starting a CS program at their high school and my response is generally received with two types of attitudes.

Sometimes the teachers are so eager to get started that they take notes as I’m talking. Other times they start telling me that they’ve taught for too many years, have just a few years until retirement, have paid their “dues,” are done with furthering their knowledge base, and their principal is really the one who’s wanting to know. Well, okay. Be the teacher with the 'can do' attitude.  A new CS program will never work if the teacher is not excited about teaching the courses.

Get support from the district leadership. Everyone should be on the same page about what training and equipment the district is willing and able to provide. Be sure to include the counselors in this discussion. This year, I’m going to make a computer science course guide on a laminated card for the counselors to keep by their desks. This information will help them guide students to the proper classes.

Resources to help you get started

What is computer science?  -- I love this video. It can be used to explain what computer science is to staff, students, and parents.

Project Lead the Way -- PLTW is a fantastic way to kickstart your CS program. PLTW offers hands-on training to teachers. The teachers actually go through the curriculum they’ll be teaching to the students with the help of a PLTW Master Teacher. It was, by far, the best professional development I’ve ever had. The high school course offerings are expanding each year.

Computer Science Teachers Association -- See if there’s a CSTA in your state or area. Right now, it’s free to join CSTA. Your local chapter will have a website that has forums, resources, and, most importantly, a network of support.

Advanced Placement Summer Institute -- Even if your school is not going to offer CS as an Advanced Placement course, attending a summer training will be beneficial. An APSI will give the teacher aligned objectives, essential questions, prompts, projects, and rubrics, not to mention a network of support. I walk away from APSI every summer with the curriculum of a certified AP instructor that has many more years of experience teaching CS than I do.  

It’s often said that we are preparing students for careers that haven’t even been invented yet.  I believe that the majority of those future careers will involve students being creators of technological content, not just consumers of it.  As educators, we are in the business of doing what’s best for students.  Unquestionably, exposing students to computer science is what is best for them. Now, go start a computer science program at your school!

Connect with me!
Gina Green
Bolivar High School
Bolivar, MO

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