Friday, August 25, 2017

#Summer Patio PD Book #4: Instant Relevance

      When I first heard of this book, I thought, "Hey...that's what pirate teachers do everyday."  Then, I realized that not every teacher is a pirate teacher, who looks for inspiration and capitalizes when it strikes. The Ask & Analyze part of the PIRATE acronym encourages educators to seek and use hooks to get their students more engaged. To create experiences.
      Why am I starting this post by talking about Dave Burgess's book, Teach Like a Pirate?  Because Denis Sheeran's book, Instant Relevance: Using Today's Experiences to Teach Tomorrow's Lessons, takes this idea of looking for creativity and being inspired by what's around us to another level.

I'm thankful to Denis for sending me a copy. As an instructional coach for 6-12 grade educators in all subject areas, I found instant relevance in its pages. (See what I did there, Denis?) When you read the book, which I hope you do, you'll understand my attempt at humor here. This book is filled with humorous anecdotes that add to the intended message and make for a very enjoyable read.

In order for our students to WANT to learn, we need to connect them to more than just what we teach. 

It's why handing them the textbook that was written for "everyone", printing off worksheets or lecturing about the content won't engage students in real learning. 

It's why expecting students to read and study the words on the page won't inspire inquisitive minds or extend beyond the summative assessment. 

It's why there's often little to no application of knowledge, let alone any enthusiasm or desire to further their learning outside the school day.

Like many fabulous DBC (Dave Burgess Consulting) books that have come before, this one's ideas are structured as an acronym. The acronym is INSTANT, which makes sense, due to the title. Denis sprinkles in a fair amount of personal stories that provide details about his A-HA moments. Those moments when, with eyes wide open, he noticed ways to connect the real world to engaging experiences for his students. Although Denis teaches math, these examples allow any educator to recognize the importance of taking advantage of opportunities to better connect students to their content. 

Here are the sections in this book, divided into an acronym like I mentioned, that highlight ideas for any educator to capitalize on instant relevance. Denis includes a couple of thinking questions at the end of each smaller segment. These are probably my favorite part, since they challenge me to examine my own practice in order to be better.

I: Infusing who you are in what you do
     *Use your hobbies and interests to connect students to the content. Share with colleagues.
       **My takeaway: Thinking question:"When you hear your colleagues talking about lessons and a connection comes to mind, do you share it?"
N: Natural Flow. Follow the question.
     *Don't be so focused on your lesson plan or covering curriculum that you lose momentum or miss out on opportunities to learn unexpectedly. These are often some of the best experiences.
     **My takeaway: "We must prepare ourselves to follow a question down an unexpected road at any point."
S: Sudden changes to your surroundings
     *Embrace changes as opportunities to create relevance, and not as barriers to covering content.
     **My takeaway: Thinking question: "When change is necessary, do you think about what is being lost by the change, or do you consider what is being gained?" Powerful words!
T: Television and pop culture
     *They can help connect with your students and spark curiosity in ways you can't imagine.
     **My takeaway: Always be prepared to abandon the lesson plan and "replace it with an experience you feel your students need."
A: Awareness of your surroundings
     *Become more aware of how surroundings can be inspiration for experiences that will connect to your students. Tuck them away or use the next day.
     **My takeaway: Don't miss opportunities to take moments from your life or your students' lives and connect them with learning your content. 
N: National Events and Crazes
     *Rather than brush current or national events aside for after class, use their attention to connect.
     **My takeaway: Thinking question: "In what ways can you create cross-curricular connections from lessons" based on current events/trends?
T: Two or more content areas 
     *Don't miss the opportunity to create connections with fellow teachers by planning cross-curricular experiences. Talk to colleagues and share ideas. It often multiplies the learning.
     **My takeaway: "connecting with our students in a relevant way often means going beyond our content area to effectively engage students in learning our content area"

Denis talks about meeting kids at their best: using their interests and questions to power our class. If we make this search for relevance part of our routine, we can move from "When will I ever use this?" to "Which part of your life did you get this from?"

One of my favorite messages is to "take time to view your teaching from your students' perspectives, through the lens of their learning." 

I'll close with Denis' connection between our ability to incorporate new ideas into our teaching and using Google Maps. He says we can take the easy route, the fastest route, or the scenic route. There's no one way. However, if we don't make learning more relevant to our students, then Denis says, "they will learn without us."

True words.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Summer Patio PD Book #3: Ditch That Homework

What an incredible book to dig into right before the start of another school year. Yep. It's Ditch That Homework, another resource from the publishing duo of Dave and Shelley Burgess.

So excited to share the wisdom and ideas from authors Matt Miller and Alice Keeler. You can read Matt's amazing overview on his blog by clicking here. You can also read Alice's overview on her blog by clicking here.

I'm an instructional coach (TOSA-Teacher on Special Assignment), but an English teacher at heart. I read this one as I reflected on my own homework practices as a classroom teacher. But I also read it, considering the current practices in my district and the staff I work with.

Before saying anything about what's in this incredible book, I want to reiterate what Matt and Alice advised about embarking on a ditching homework journey: take it a step at a time, keep everyone in the loop, and be open minded. They also said that change is a lot like pushing a huge boulder. It's not going to move right away and get rolling without lots of work, and without many people coming together for the benefit of our students.

I've known Matt Miller for 2 years now, first meeting at a conference in Milwaukee, WI called Summer Spark. He had just written the book, Ditch That Textbook: an acronym inspiring moving away from traditional lessons to experiences that are Different, Innovative, Tech-laden, Creative & Hands-on. A few educators and I started a Twitter book study that led to a weekly #Ditchbook chat which continues each Thursday at 9:00 CST. Stay tuned for an October book study of Ditch That Homework, in that same time slot.

Many have written about this amazing and timely book (including both authors in the links above), so I'll just add my takeaways.

I love the way this book is laid out, with chapters on ditching not only textbooks, but lectures, referrals, resistance, habits, remediation, compliance and the red pen. I appreciate the many visuals that highlight particular strategies, which simplify key talking points for use in discussions. I dog-eared the numerous practical ideas for how to actually move from assigning and correcting daily homework (or whatever your grade level/building/system does) to what educators can do instead.

Matt and Alice start out by defining what homework is (and isn't), why it is/has been traditionally given in schools, and who holds certain beliefs about homework. Then, they advocate for ditching homework by sharing ways to make every minute count in the classroom, where the teacher is there to offer immediate and helpful feedback and clarify questions.

They offer alternatives to uninspiring worksheets, and provide links to ways you can connect students to others (including experts) outside the walls of the classroom. The authors advocate for students owning their learning and for educators to support them and their often untapped skills and talents. In addition, they make a strong case for a more successful and timely feedback cycle that traditional paper homework can't provide, including the in-class flip (also known as blended learning).

Important partners in your students' learning are their parents. Improving relationships with parents, including sharing rationale and your purpose/vision can pave the way to better understanding and more supportive advocates for student choice and deeper, longer-lasting learning. Also, using parent communication tools like Remind, social media channels like Twitter and Instagram, and email newsletters or parent surveys using Google forms can further open those communication channels. Parents truly want to know and be involved in what's going on in their child's class/school. Homework should not be the default, or the only way they get a glimpse into their child's learning experiences.

I especially enjoyed the chapter on ditching habits. The way students learn and retain information best is not memorization, one and done lessons, or doing homework outside of class in isolation (with no immediate feedback). An understanding that spaced retrieval, physical activity/movement, working through the struggle, practicing elaboration and synthesizing, adding more discussion and increasing critical thinking (moving to Depth of Knowledge DOK 3 and 4 vs levels 1 and 2) all lead to student learning that lasts long after the assessment.

In the chapter on ditching compliance, Matt and Alice offer ways to encourage students to own their learning through increasing choice (knowing that they will end up making some bad choices along the way), transitioning responsibility from teacher to students, and teaching for mastery in the way that fits them best. Empowering students instead of belittling them.

Finally, in the chapter about ditching the red pen, the authors encourage useful and timely feedback to help avoid overwhelming students, which has often led to discouragement and possibly shutting down. They offer suggestions like using digital tools to automate grading whenever possible, going deeper with assignments instead of broader (less can be more), making the learning last (through repping, or spaced repetition, explained on pages 146-147), and sitting with students to provide feedback as much as possible.

If you aren't already sold that reading this book can improve classroom/building culture, help build stronger relationships, and lead to deeper, long-lasting learning, then telling you that Matt and Alice have placed links to examples and strategy explanations throughout its pages certainly will.

There are just so many resources to get your started and help guide you along the way.

I'm excited to share the messages and ideas about ditching homework with the educators I work with, and prepare for ways I'll ditch homework when I eventually return to my English classroom.

If you want, add your name to the Ditch That Homework crowdsourced spreadsheet on Alice Keeler's blog, and join the community.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

My Reading #TeacherTattoo

Yes. I got a tattoo! My first one.

And yes, I'm a teacher. An English teacher, who is enjoying a 3 year position as an instructional coach.

So naturally, I wanted my first tattoo to represent me and my passion...which is reading.

A tattoo is a chance to promote something publicly (depending on where it is) and permanently, because's a tattoo after all. :)

And what better message to promote to all who might see this tattoo than Carpe Librum, which means "Seize the book" or as I like to say...:Seize every opportunity to read."

And I don't care what you read. Fiction. Non-fiction. Young Adult. Picture books. Romance novels. Celebrity Memoirs.  Print books. E-books. Graphic Novels. Comics. Classics. Video Game Directions. Instruction Manuals. Magazines. Newspapers. Blogs. Advice Columns. Recipes. Anything.

Take every opportunity to read, for whatever your reason.

Read to get lost in a story.
Read to experience something through another's eyes.
Read to understand new perspectives.
Read to learn something.
Read to become smarter.
Read to expand your vocabulary.
Read to laugh.
Read to cry.
Read to bring others joy.
Read to connect and share in the larger community.
Read something- anything- not because you have to, but because you want to.

Find joy in that choice. Find joy in the simple act of reading.

So, I will proudly share my reading tattoo with everyone I meet. Spreading the message of seeking out reading opportunities. It's that important to me.

I've had this design in mind ever since I decided to get my first tattoo. One of my favorite movies is Dead Poets Society, and the words Carpe Diem have been prominently featured in my classroom for years. Of course, that means "Seize the Day," but I love this literary version better.

I'm already planning my next tattoo. Of course, it will have something to do with my passion as an educator. And it will be somewhere I can show others, because for me...that's the point.

If you're an educator and have gotten a tattoo to reflect your teaching passion, I'd love for you to add a comment and/or image of your tattoo on Twitter, using the hashtag #TeacherTattoo

If you don't yet have a tattoo (or don't plan to), then share your passion in other ways and help make the world a better place.


Friday, August 11, 2017

Why You Should Use Flipgrid to Amplify Student Voice

I just spent an amazing day at Flipgrid Headquarters here in Minneapolis, MN. It started with a Flipgrid "Summer Camp" for Ambassadors, where we toured the facility (including the rooftop), played around with the app to try out some ideas to use with students, and even got a sneak peek at new features before last night's launch.

Flipgrid is a video response tool for amplifying student voice. Teachers create an account (either a Flipgrid One free account, or the paid subscription which allows for a much more interactive experience...highly recommended), and then set up grids (classes) and topics (questions). It's so easy, and allows teachers (as administrators) to turn different features off and on, and make videos visible as necessary. According to the many thousands of educators who use it, and the 5,000,000 students who've amplified their voices so far, it's taking the world by storm.

Did I mention that it was created by innovators here at the University of Minnesota? :)

Flipgrid has been part of my classroom and my instruction for the past 3-4 years. First, with my 5th graders, and later with my 6th grade English students. They recorded themselves visually demonstrating WordMasters vocabulary. They used it to act out Lego representations of scenes from their stories. They recorded themselves sharing the growth of plants in their terrariums. They recorded interviews between them and characters from their choice books. They recorded stories they made up for creative writing. They recorded reflections of their work in collaborative Social Studies groups. They recorded persuasive speeches.

Many recorded at school, while others chose to record at home. Either was fine. The most important part was that they practiced their speaking skills. Because I taught them HOW to speak effectively FIRST. Even though we assign speaking opportunities and hand them a camera or other recording device, we fail our students if we don't first teach them how to communicate. How to use their voice to convey their meaning and ideas. I've used Erik Palmer's book Well Spoken (and his other books and resources) to do just that. Check out his website here. You'll thank me later. :)

Don't forget to teach them how to speak effectively. Teach them about PVLEGS (Poise, Voice, Life, Eye Contact, Gestures and Speed) BEFORE getting them in front of the camera. One of the best things you can do for your students.

Along with recording, we watched each others' Flipgrid videos. We enjoyed hearing different perspectives and celebrating which of the PVLEGS each of them could do well. Not every video was viewed. Not every video needs to be viewed by peers. As the administrator of the grids and topics, I can decide which ones to make visible. Sometimes I highlighted a specific speaking skill, sometimes I highlighted videos for their creativity, while other times (with student permission), I highlighted videos from those who were nervous to speak in front of the class-giving this alternative.

My goal was always to teach and model effective speaking skills, give students this tool and time to practice (meaning record and re-record until they were proud of their video), and then to share their voice.

Now, I'm done talking about me and my own experiences with Flipgrid as it has evolved into what it is today. This last section is about what's new and why you should run, not walk, to join the Flipgrid community.

  • We now have custom feedback rubrics, which include speaking skills.
  • We now have the ability to add topic attachments as links.
  • We can add an icon (spark) to a response to create a new topic, making the student the teacher.
  • Along with uploading YouTube and Vimeo, we can access the camera roll for photos as topics.
  • There is now a place for us to add our grid's purpose.
  • The new position of Head of Educator Innovation @savvy_educator is rolling out new ideas for connecting with the larger Twitter community: #FlipgridSpark, #FlipgridAppsmash, #FlipgridRockstar, #TopicThursday, #FlipgridFridays, and #FlipgridTips
  • We now have unique Flipgrid emojis to highlight videos for great ideas (lightbulb emoji), videos that go deep (thinking emoji), videos that blow us away (rocket emoji) and one that needs no explanation: the mic drop emoji.
  • We now have an enhanced QR code reader built right in for ease of accessing grids.
  • We have hashtags to link students, topics, content, ideas, skills, or whatever we choose.
  • We have fun "props" to add to student selfies to help tell their story or enhance their image. *As an aside, I love that they won't add Snapchat filters because authenticity of student's spoken voice is too important to alter. Thanks for that one. I agree.
  • We have "stickies", which are like post-it notes, that the students can add to their screen before recording to help guide them and offer added support.
  • We have, where students (along with celebrities) can share their voices for global goals.
  • We have Flipgrid Explorers, continuing each month. The next one is Jason Osborne, a paleontologist, launching on September 18th. What an amazing opportunity to connect in this way with experts out in the real world. 
  • And......we have the ability to send private video links to parents and family members, which can then be saved or linked to others, at the family members' discretion.


All this, because Flipgrid is the kind of company that listens to each and every member of its community. From what I gathered from Co-founder Charlie Miller last night, the process goes something like this:

Flipgrid Educator: "Here's what we need for our students. Can you do this?"
Flipgrid Team: "That's a great idea. can we do this? Let's find a way."
Next day (or week) Flipgrid Team: "Thanks for asking. Here's what we created so you can do this. Can't wait to hear about it."
Flipgrid Educator: "Wow, that was fast...and amazing! Take a look at how this helped amplify student voice. Thanks!"
All Flipgrid Users: "Thanks, Flipgrid!!!" 

I can't wait to see all of the amazing ways educators and students continue to use this amazing resource in the coming year. And, according to Charlie, I imagine there will be even more powerful ways that students will connect, share and grow in the next launch in 2018.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Summer Patio PD Book #2: Lead Like a Pirate

Lead Like a Pirate (#LeadLAP). What an incredible book to read on my patio this summer. I've known authors Shelley Burgess and Beth Houf for a few years now, but had the opportunity to meet them both in person in 2016. Shelley at the incredible Summer Spark last June in Milwaukee, WI, both of them at AMLE in Atlanta, GA last October, and Shelley again later in October at SMSU here in MN. Any time I can meet up with one or more members of the #tlap (Teach Like a Pirate) crew, I seize the opportunity. Every one of them, from captain Dave Burgess, to each educator who strives to create engaging experiences for their students, is doing the important work needed to inspire educational change.
In my opinion, this book: the fifth in the "Like a PIRATE" series*, has great potential to fire up and inspire anyone in a leadership role to make school more amazing for all staff. When we focus on lifting up and supporting staff, showing appreciation for what's going right, instead of the deficit model of reaching in to fix what's wrong, there's no limit to how far we and our students can go.

Right away, I was hooked by the introduction.

Now, I'll take a minute to explain my pirating background. I proudly #tlap every chance I get. Whether with my 5th graders in elementary, or my middle school English students, I openly lived the PIRATE way (passion, immersion, rapport, ask & analyze, transformation and enthusiasm). However, something felt different when I stepped out of the classroom to take a three year position as an instructional coach. A teacher on special assignment (TOSA). A leadership role.

Back to that #LeadLAP introduction. The one that hooked me because it spoke to my feelings of being treated differently. Of no longer feeling relevant. Of becoming "one of them."

Interestingly, the more I read of this book, I was reminded that the same attributes I brought to my classroom with students, I bring to my buildings with staff. Right there in that introduction, Shelley and Beth asserted that PIRATE leaders are courageous. That they inspire and influence others to follow them. And the treasure we seek? Amazing schools for students, staff, parents and the community- schools where they WANT to be.

These dynamic authors share a wealth of ideas for creating these types of schools, no matter your unique PIRATE style. They truly emulate what it means to focus on what's really important: "raising human potential in our students, in our staff, in our parents, and in ourselves."

I love that #LeadLAP starts out by offering insights on each character trait of PIRATE, like it's predecessor, Teach Like a Pirate. There are also Leadership Challenges for each one, as well as a Compass to guide you and Cannonballs to avoid. Yes, the PIRATE theme is in full swing. But, what would I expect from a book published by Dave and Shelley?

Here are a few connections I made from the original #tlap and my time in the classroom, to this book and my new role out of the classroom-as an instructional coach.

Passion: Where I once channeled my passion into creating engaging experiences for my students, I now focus on learning the passions of the staff so I can help channel them into engagement with their students.

Immersion: Before, I would immerse myself in my students' learning, always looking for ways to be the guide on the side/guide on the ride. Now, my goals include becoming more immersed in the school culture so I can have an even greater impact.

Rapport: This one's pretty obvious. My "class" is no longer students, but the adults who work with students. Building and sustaining relationships need to be part of everything I do.

Ask & Analyze: Before, I was always looking for ways to not just teach lessons, but create experiences. I'd look ahead at content and make it relevant and engaging for the students in front of me. As a coach/leader, I need to ask questions of staff members that might lead to engaging conversations- empowering them to take risks.

Transformation: Before, it was about transforming lessons and activities into meaningful experiences, or transforming my classroom into a space that enhances learning. In this leadership role, I shift to thinking about ways to transform meetings, conferences, and trainings into something more engaging and effective.

Enthusiasm: In my classroom, enthusiasm and positivity created a place where my students wanted to be every day. As a coach, I want the staff to be excited about their learning journey, which directly impacts their students- making our school a place that everyone wants to be.

Following the PIRATE character traits section, Shelley and Beth roll out strategies to help build leadership capacity in any organization. From determining your focus, avoiding blame and harnessing the power of highlighting the magic of people (not programs), assembling a tribe that strives for greatness, and making time to support the important work. They round out that section with ideas/rationale for using social media to tell your school's story, as well as ways to PIRATE up professional development.

My favorite section (which might seem obvious) is Coach Like a Pirate. These inspiring leaders lay out a plan for ANCHOR Conversations. (Yes, another acronym.) Leaders need to be invited into the real conversations about teaching and learning, and must move away from the judgmental "fix it" mentality toward one that seeks to build on strengths. That's the only way to move each individual, and the organization/system forward. There are three goals for these conversations: for staff to see that we value them for the work they do, that they believe leaders add value/we are a resource, and the for the conversation to push their practice forward.

Here's the gist of each letter of the ANCHOR Conversation acronym.
A- Give daily messages of Appreciation
N- Notice the Impact
C- Have Collaborative Conversations (not evaluative, unless it needs to be Captain-Directed)
H- Honor Voice and Choice
O- Offer Support
R- Reflect

Finally, Part Four includes tips and strategies to help you build a better captain and become a PIRATE leader.

Not surprisingly, Shelley and Beth don't just leave you high and dry. They are here to support you on your PIRATE leader journey. Both are available via tweet (Twitter), using @burgess_shelley and @BethHouf and the hashtag #LeadLAP, You can find them in conversation each Saturday morning on the #LeadLAP Twitter chat at 9:30 am CST (the chat formerly known as #satchatwc). In addition, you can find contact information and other #LeadLAP resources on their website

I'm more excited than ever to take on this challenge to Lead Like a Pirate! I hope that, whatever leadership role you're in, you'll find this book as amazingly inspiring as I do.

*The other books in the "Like a PIRATE" series are: Teach Like a Pirate, Learn Like a Pirate, Explore Like a Pirate, and Play Like a Pirate. I have read and used all of them in my teaching. All are highly recommended, no matter what subject or age group you work with.