Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Hottest Posts Everyone's Reading this Fall #ICYMI

I can't believe it's Thanksgiving break! This fall has absolutely flown by. It's been an exciting few months, and I was thrilled to be named a 2017 NASSP Digital Principal of the Year, along with Darren Ellwein (@DEllwein) and Nicholas Indeglio (@DrIndeglio). I look forward to working with these awesome educators over the next year. It's an honor and privilege to promote the role of technology in learning with the ultimate goal of empowering learners!

Thank you for supporting my work on Twitter and here on my blog. I share my ideas on a variety of topics in hopes that my experience will be supportive and helpful to you. If you ideas for me and or any kind of feedback, I would love to hear from you. Leave a comment below or reach out on Twitter or Facebook.

Here is a look back at a few of the most popular posts from the past couple of months.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

The Ultimate 80's Countdown for Educators

Since VH1 never produced this important countdown (surprising I know), I am stepping up to the plate. For some reason, teachers and schools are often overlooked in rock music. I guess there was Hot for Teacher and Smokin' in the Boys Room. But that's not exactly what I had in mind. I'm looking for songs that actually have some educational/inspirational value related to learning. And for this list, they have to be from the 80's.

I'll share my list and you can leave a comment to let me know what you would add. Enjoy!

10. Rock Me Amadeus by Falco (1985)

The movie Amadeus was a huge hit that sparked an interest in classical music and the life of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. It's always great when pop culture leads to learning, even if the song is really weird. The Broadway show Hamilton is having a similar impact today. 

9. One Moment in Time by Whitney Houston (1988)

This Emmy Award winning song was the anthem of the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul, South Korea. It's a song about reaching higher and striving to be the best you can be. It's really connected to the mission of educators, to help students see their potential and dream big dreams.

8. Don't Worry Be Happy by Bobby McFarren 

If everyone in your school came to school every day with this attitude, what kind of place would it be? We need classrooms and schools filled with positive and supportive people.

7. Chariots of Fire by Vangelis (1981)

This instrumental theme from the movie by the same name was included on my list for a couple of reasons. It's an inspirational piece of music for sure, but it's also from a film that I find very compelling. It's a fact-based story of Olympians who find great meaning and purpose in their running. Educators should also run their race with this type of commitment and purpose. 

6. We Didn't Start the Fire by Billy Joel (1989)

This song has been used in history classes over and again. In fact, there is a webpage that details the historical events listed in the song.

5. Highway to the Danger Zone by Kenny Loggins (1986)

You probably recognize this song from the hit movie Top Gun, starring Tom Cruise. For teachers, the danger zone might be the day after Halloween in an elementary school or after school parking lot duty in a high school. There are plenty of "dangerous" parts of the job.

4. I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For by U2 (1987)

This is one of my favorite songs. As an educator, you want to have success with every student and every lesson. But this is tough work and failure is inevitable. And there is always work to do. Until school works for every kid, I still haven't found what I'm looking for.

3. Man in the Mirror by Michael Jackson (1987)

The lyrics of this song are powerful. Great educators must concern themselves with social good. Be the change.

2. Don't You Forget About Me by Simple Minds (1985)

The Breakfast Club is one of the most iconic movies of the 80's. The themes are really important ones for educators to understand. The need to be understood, to feel a sense of belonging, etc. No one wants to be forgotten.

1. Don't Stop Believin' by Journey (1981)

Not a song about school. But it is a song about taking a chance, going places, and reaching for dreams. The best educators are dream builders and give hope to their students. Don't stop believin'!!! 

Question: What 80's tunes would you add to my list? How do they inspire you as an educator? Leave a comment below or respond on Twitter or Facebook.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Adaptable Learners Will Own the Future

When I was kid, my Grandpa Geurin bought me a pony. I know that sounds like the type of gift a spoiled rich kid might get. But we were definitely not rich. Grandpa owned a small farm in West Kentucky where he and my grandma worked tirelessly to make a living. And just a few miles from the family farm was Kenlake State Park. They were auctioning off some surplus items, and the pony happened to be one of the items they were selling. 

We named the pony Snowball for obvious reasons (see pic below). But Snowball had some bad habits. The reason the state park had her to begin with was because she was part of the pony rides. Any time she had a saddle and a rider, she was conditioned to walk in circles. She knew how to do her job very well. Simply walk in a circle all day long. I guess you could say she was literally a "one trick pony." No doubt my grandpa got a great deal on this majestic steed!

Dad, little sister, and me with Snowball. We look thrilled don't we!
Snowball didn't respond well being led in a straight line, and she certainly wasn't used to having a rider take the reins. One time when I was in the saddle, a loud truck drove by and she was startled. As I remember it, she reared up and bucked me right off. In my imagination, I was certain I could hang on like the Lone Ranger. In reality, even this little pony was more than I could handle.

As I was reflecting on Snowball's limitations, I thought about how the world is changing for our students. In the past, it was possible to learn a skill or trade and remain in the same career for a lifetime. Those opportunities have mostly disappeared. Even more of these jobs will be gone in the coming years. It's not possible to be a "one-trick pony" anymore. Snowball was able to do one thing well, and that was all she needed to do.

Of students entering primary schools today, 65% will someday work in jobs that don't yet exist. That is staggering to contemplate. We can't even begin to imagine what they will need. To further explore this likelihood, you can even use this handy calculator to find out the chance your job could be automated in coming years.

In today's world, information is abundant and automation is accelerating. To possess a variety of skills that cross a multitude of disciplines is critical for success. Things are changing so quickly that it is impossible to keep up. And that is why, adaptable learners will own the future.

Author and thought leader A.J. Juliani created the visual below. It illustrates the idea that we cannot predict with certainty all of the skills our students will need. Preparing students for a test, or college, or even a trade isn't enough to be future ready.

Even though the job market has improved slightly for college grads in the last couple of years, 1 in 5 college graduates will find themselves unemployed or underemployed—working in low wage fields that don't require a degree.

That is why we must develop skills that are transferable to unknown situations. To quote Alvin Toffler, the ultimate 21st Century skill is the ability to "learn, unlearn, and relearn." It is a tremendous advantage to be creative, innovative, and adaptable. I listed 15 skills students need to be future ready in a previous post.

Question: How should educators be changing to help students develop the skills of adaptable learners? What can we do differently? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Technology PD with the Digital Decathlon

This themed activity would have been the perfect professional learning event to implement during the recent Olympic games. We actually did it just a couple of weeks ago with a group of our teachers. If you find it useful, you could use it now or wait until 2020 when the next summer Olympics will happen in Tokyo. 

The Digital Decathlon is a self-directed learning activity to help teachers sharpen their tech skills. We built this thing from scratch and think you could probably make it even better. Feel free to use what we've created or adapt it to fit your needs.

Several teachers in our building contributed to the final product. I will give them a personal "shout out" a little later in the post.

Here are the basic rules:
-Work in pairs or small groups to accomplish the tasks.
-Choose 10 'events' to complete the Decathlon. We had 15 challenges to choose from.
-Create a visual representation of each challenge to include in a Google Slides presentation. Since we pushed this out as an assignment on Google Classroom, every teacher automatically had a copy of the Slides presentation to work with.

We allowed a couple of hours to complete the activities, and we had a couple of our most tech savvy teachers on hand to provide support as it was needed. 

We felt this was a better way to learn than simply having someone do a step-by-step training on a particular topic. There are more choices in this approach, so it has the potential to meet more needs. And it relies on an inquiry-based approach. Learners have to point and click and figure some things out on their own. 

It's been my experience that people who learn tech most effectively are willing to take risks and just try different things to solve problems and figure out the tool. This activity encourages this type of learning.

If you decide to do something like this with your team, it's a good idea to spend some time on the front end explaining the process and maybe even modeling one of the tasks. At the end, have a time of sharing and reflecting on what was learned.

Thanks to Gina Green (@BHSBizDept), Ashley Clift (@MRS_CLIFT), Tania Driskill (@TaniaDriskill), and Ashley DeVore (@AshleyDeVoreFCS) for contributing to the tech challenges included in the Digital Decathlon. These teachers are some of our tech mavens at Bolivar High School.

Question: What ideas do you have for creating your own Digital Decathlon? How could this be even better? I want to hear from you. Share a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Five Critical #EdTech Conversations For Your School

Developing a shared vision for technology in your school should include lots of conversations. These conversations should occur among teachers, students, parents, and other stakeholders. It's important to think through the pros and cons of technology use and how technology can play an valuable role in learning.

Sometimes I think people hold ideas about technology that only consider one side of the issue. Forward thinking educators and parents want to race ahead with technology implementation without considering some of the drawbacks.

On the other hand, status quo defenders quickly point out the drawbacks of technology use in the classroom without considering how important technology will be to student success in a rapidly changing world. 

To bridge the divide, we need to have more honest conversations and seek to understand the various issues. Whichever way we lean, we need to consider various perspectives and use good thinking to arrive at common ground.

Here are 5 conversations to have about education technology in your classroom or school.

1. Why is technology use important?

Even if you don't really like the prominent role of technology in our society, it is indisputable that more and more opportunities are tied to the effective use of technology for learning and productivity. In our modern world, digital technology is how stuff gets done. And clearly the internet is not going away. And mobile technology is not just a fad. 

So if we are going to truly prepare students for their future, we must include technology as an essential part of the learning process. Technology needs to be implemented in authentic ways that reflect the way it is used by people across a wide variety of professions. 

We should also invite students to use their imaginations to consider how technology might be used in the future. Opportunities for innovation abound. The ability to adapt and create might allow students to 'create' a job for themselves even when the traditional way of 'finding' a job might prove more difficult. All the rules are changing.

2. What are things technology won't do for your classroom or school?

Technology should not be viewed as something that will automatically result in better learning for students. In fact, technology can actually hurt learning if it is not implemented properly. It's important to start with a strong learning culture and a teacher who inspires and guides learning. Effective technology use requires effective leadership.

So let's talk openly about the limitations of technology. 
  • Adding technology won't make a poor lesson suddenly great.
  • It won't fix a learning culture that is sluggish or disengaged.
  • It won't necessarily result in higher standardized test scores.
  • Technology isn't appropriate for every learning task.
  • Technology can be a distraction. 
  • It can also bring new concerns for student wellness and safety.

3. How can we overcome challenges that come with technology use?

Too many educators focus on the drawbacks or challenges to technology use and never even consider how these obstacles can be overcome. There are significant challenges when using technology for learning. However, there are plenty of schools that are doing a great job of addressing and overcoming every one of the challenges. But it takes a concerted effort to address these concerns.
  • Educators must model safe and appropriate use of technology.
  • Schools must teach digital citizenship and activate students as digital leaders.
  • Schools must support professional learning for teachers on technology use.
  • Effective pedagogy must be prioritized over using technology for the sake of technology.
  • Schools must develop strong relationships with students, parents, etc. so that there is a cooperative effort to make technology work for learning. 
4. What are the most valuable ways we can use technology for learning?

Not all uses of technology are created equal. Some ways of using technology are more valuable than others. We need to use technology in ways that are high leverage for learning. 

When used effectively, technology can be powerful. In fact, it can transform learning. In an earlier post I listed 7 Ways Technology Transforms Learning. Most importantly, technology can empower learning. It can give learners greater voice, more opportunities, and provide the platform to create new knowledge in a very personal and customized way.

Some ways of using technology are not as effective for learning. They don't result in greater student agency, deeper thinking, or more opportunities to connect with others.
  • Drill and kill on a device is still low leverage.
  • Activities that are simply "busy work" are still mindless even on a device.
  • Test prep programs are not my idea of authentic technology use.
  • Worksheets are not more engaging just because they are pushed out on a device.
Effective learning with technology should involve students in making decisions about their learning. There should be opportunities for students to make learning choices about time, place, path, or pace. 

5. How are you growing in your use of technology as an educator?

One of the most important parts of successful use of technology in schools is that educators are growing in their use of technology, too. It's critical for leaders to model learning with digital tools. In fact, anyone who wants to be a leader needs to be a digital leader, too. It's not something reserved for the technology department or techie teachers only. Everyone needs to model learning in this area.

I think some teachers still think technology is reserved for students who are going into IT or some other computer related field. But that's just not the case. Nearly every profession will be impacted by technology advances. Moreover, every person needs skills for how to use technology for learning and creating. It's not about knowing specific tech tools. It's about knowing how to be an effective learner in a modern digital world. Using the tools just flows from the needs of being a learner.

Everyone is at a different place on their personal learning journey. Educators should understand and embrace this. Not every teacher has to be at a certain level. But the point is to continuously grow. Keep learning and taking risks with technology. Always.

Question: How are these technology conversations going for you? What other conversations should educators be having related to technology? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Twitter or Facebook.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Are You Showing Up Well For Your Students?

I wrote a post recently with ideas for creating school environments that are supportive and help students "show up well" and ready to learn. A positive school and classroom culture can help overcome some of the negatives in a student's life that may be impacting their emotional and educational well-being.

In the post, I also mentioned that adults who work in schools must also work at "showing up well." We have to take care of ourselves and each other to have the type of supportive environment that we all need.

Teaching is stressful. In fact, teaching seems to be among the most stressful professions in America. A 2014 Gallup Poll found that nearly half of all teachers reported high levels of stress from the previous day. It was the most stressful profession in the study, slightly ahead of doctors and nurses in terms of reported stress.
Stress takes a significant toll on the individual, but it certainly impacts our effectiveness as educators, too. If teachers are feeling high levels of stress or are otherwise emotionally drained, it is not possible to show up well and meet the needs of students.

So why are teachers feeling so stressed? There are a variety of factors. Heavy workloads, challenging student behaviors, lack of autonomy and voice, and high stakes assessments might be a few reasons. Some of the factors are completely out of the control of educators. And some of the factors are just inherent in working with kids. It's awesome to work with kids, but stressful at the same time.

There is an important truth in this quote from Salome Thomas-El. We can't always control the weight of our load. We have to look for ways to find the strength we need to show up well and be our very best. Our #KidsDeserveIt!!!

If you are struggling to show up well in your classroom, it can result in anger, resentment, frustration, depression, and other hurtful emotions. Actually, these emotions will probably show up from your students, too. As educators, what we model is typically what we get. 

Here are some ideas on resilience for teachers and taking care of your own mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being. I'm not great at all of these, that's for sure. But I recognize their importance and how they help me to be my best when I do have success in these areas.

1. Focus on your purpose and the meaning in your work.

A recent Edutopia article explained how stress in itself is not necessarily bad. Stress tends to be negative when it doesn't seem like it is meaningful. I'm reminded of the pain mothers endure in child birth, and yet it is worth it (so I am told) because of the miraculous value of bringing a child into the world and being a mother. In fact, moms often willingly do it all over again. The deep meaning of the experience must make it worth the pain.

2. Recognize you are making a difference.

This letter posted by Danny Steele on his blog really captures the commitment and dedication of teachers. You are making a difference. 

3. Build a support system at work.

We need people at work who believe in us and who inspire us. Surround yourself with people who energize you. Stay away from energy vampires, who might suck the life out of your day.

4. Develop a support system away from work.

Beyond work, we also need healthy relationships that strengthen us. It's tough to do life alone, and we all need to rely on others. If you are struggling to find your support system, try to be that person for someone else. Giving to others is a great way to find people who can also lift you up.

5. Learn to say no.

Focus on the things that are most essential to your mission and purpose. Being busy isn't a happiness killer in itself. But when you are too busy doing things that you aren't even passionate about, that's a sure recipe for burnout.

6. Make spiritual wellness a top priority.

My spiritual life is important to me. I need to nurture my relationship with God and rely on him for guidance if I'm going to show up well and be my best for my students. 

7. Relieve stress by exercising.

When I feel stress or anxiety building throughout the week, a long run does wonders to help me relax. There are so many bad habits we can turn to as a stress reliever. But exercise is good for you and helps ease the stress.

8. Eat well.

I really struggle to eat well. I love fast food, pizza, and ice cream. But when I am eating too much of the wrong stuff, I can tell it impacts my ability to be my best overall.

9. Set boundaries.

Healthy people don't let others run over them. They set boundaries and they communicate their thoughts and feelings to others. A lack of boundaries will eventually lead to simmering resentment or angry outbursts. Ask for what you want. But also listen to others and respect their boundaries. 

10. Practice being grateful.

Gratitude is one of the most powerful things you can do for your emotional health. Be honest with yourself about your struggles, but also be always grateful. There are blessings in each day and even our difficult circumstances have the power to make us better if we choose to grow.

11. Forgive yourself and others.

Let go of things that are in the past. Sometimes the hardest person to forgive is ourselves. As educators, we have to be willing to forgive. Bitterness is a heavy burden to carry.

12. Remain always hopeful.

If you're like me, you don't want anything to feel like it's out of your control. You desire a sense of security and predictability. But life doesn't work that way, and the only way to have peace is to give up on worry and live in the present moment. Our worries tend to live in the past or in the future. Hope is believing good things are possible and headed our way. In the mean time, we must live in the current moment.

13. Have fun!!! Enjoy the journey.

Last Friday, I had a lip sync battle at lunch with one of our other teachers. It was for a good cause. We were raising money for Care to Learn, a charity that helps students in need. But it also helps me to not take myself too seriously. I like to joke around and make laughter a part of each day.

14. Keep learning and growing.

Whatever problem you may be facing, you have the power to do something if you are willing to learn and keep growing. I don't feel as stressed when I feel like I can learn from my difficulties. I view challenges as opportunities for growth, instead of stress inducing burdens.

15. Take risks.

One of the biggest regrets people have is playing it too safe. If you really want to get the most out of life you have to be bold and take risks. 

Question: How are you working to "show up well" for your students? How are you managing stress as an educator? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.
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