Sunday, March 5, 2017

Modeling Digital Citizenship

As we begin using more digital tools in our classrooms, it is important to remember the regulations put into place to protect young learners. While we may get excited about a new tool or app, we must abide by laws such as COPPA (Children's Online Privacy Protection Act) and CIPA (Children's Internet Protection Act) that are meant to protect our students. As outdated as they may seem at this time, they are the laws that guide our instructional use of digital tools in the classroom. 

I've created the graphic above to guide our teachers in using various social media platforms with students. Even if we might know students are using these, we will want to be mindful of these age requirements and not encourage the use of social media platforms that fall above the age of the students we teach. By doing this, we are modeling good digital citizenship for our students. 

On a related note, have you found the perfect digital tool or app for your class, only to realize you can't use it due to student information being requested? Although it might be tempting to find a "fix around" to use it, it is recommended that you model digital citizenship by going through the proper process to ensure student safety. Most districts have a process in place, so check with your Technology department or Curriculum & Instruction department if you are unsure of the process.

In our district, our Technology Department works with the Curriculum & Instruction department to determine appropriate digital tools and when to obtain parent permission.  

When a tool is requested for use in the classroom, teachers complete a form with pertinent information. The Technology Department first analyzes the digital tool to see if it complies with COPPA & CIPA. If the instructional purpose is in question, the request is sent to Curriculum & Instruction for additional vetting. Regardless of the tool, it will be important to get parent permission before using programs that require any type of student information such as NAME, AGE, GRADE, SCHOOL, etc. for your students who are younger than 13. 

Modeling digital citizenship will require open conversations with our students and their families and more than just a one time lesson. Using the ISTE Student Standards as a guide, we know that Digital Citizen is a life skill. We must teach our students to be aware of data collection and digital privacy, and modeling this with the tools we use is one way we can do that. 

In Weatherford ISD, we have access to Atomic Learning, which has modules on digital citizenship such as "What Do Students Need to Know About Internet Safety and Digital Citizenship?" These modules can be accessed by both teachers and students and will help reinforce the conversations that are taking place throughout the year on being good digital citizens. 

We will be talking more about Digital Citizenship and using digital tools in our classroom instruction in the future. A site I will be visiting more is my friend Nancy Watson's site CLICK which focuses on Digital Literacy through student created tech tips. There is a section devoted to Digital Citizenship, which student created videos & screencasts.

What tips do you have to ensure your students become good digital citizens?

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Asking the Right Questions

Innovation... what is it? What does it look like in a classroom? In a district? And how do we become brave enough to innovate? To take a chance on doing things differently?
By definition, innovation is a new method, idea, product, etc.

So in an educational setting, innovation requires people to change their thinking about students and learning, to try new ideas. Yet, this seems more difficult in education and we get caught up in the way things have always been done. 

 I'm reading two books right now and they are both pushing my thinking about innovation. 

One of the books I am reading is A Beautiful Constraint by Adam Morgan & Mark Barden. Although it is not education specific, the thoughts & ideas presented are certainly applicable. The model is based on "constraint-led innovation" and constraints are something the education system and educators know all too well. Whether it is not having enough time, people, resources, etc, teachers are well versed in constraints. But are we looking at those constraints and saying, "yes, but"? In the book, we learn about asking propelling questions and the "Can-If" problem solving method.

 Our world is full of can'ts, but what if we instead approached these issues with a different mindset? "We can if" allows us to look at those constraints in a much more positive light, which opens the door to innovative ideas. This is a great approach as we look at how to create a more relevant learning experience for our students. There will never be enough time in the day, we will always be short of staff and resources, but WE CAN if... What is the "if" that we need? The solution is up to the individual situation and the brainstorming that must take place to come up with it. We just have to be willing to think differently and come up with innovative solutions.

The other book I am (re)reading is The Innovator's Mindset by George Couros. I'm participating in the #IMMOOC online through blogs & Twitter and am finding this is the perfect time to revisit this book. One of the things that I am glad to be reminded of is that innovation can come from something new or an iteration (a new version) of something. As with many districts, we have our "pockets of innovation" that we would love to spread. One of these areas is student-led learning environments. Several teachers do an exceptional job of turning the learning environment over to the students, and we are looking for ways to increase that mindset.

This past week our district participated in Digital Learning Day, with many classrooms & student groups engaging in digital learning which for some was just a normal day. We had classrooms participate last year, but this was the first year we had a student-led digital learning experience. Our high school student advocates created a "Lunch & Learn" for the high school teachers to share with them a digital tool and classroom application. 

These students were empowered to be teachers & learners through this experience. They planned, advertised, and created a presentation to share Canva with teachers on their campus. On the day of, several teachers came in to the computer lab in the library to learn the tool, even asking the students how they could use it in their classroom. It was inspiring to hear the students respond with ways the teacher could effectively use Canva "instead of all the worksheets you give us." :)

In talking with the students,  there might have been a little disappointment in the number of people that attended the session, but overall they were proud of this experience and, through the iteration process, will be able to make their next session even better! The plan right now is to offer the Lunch & Learn once a month, with a new tool being presented each month.

So how does this tie in with the purpose of education and why did I connect these two books? I believe that we are often caught up in constraints and fail to see the opportunities to innovate. That not recognizing what students are interested in creates a passive learning environment and does not instill a love of learning. The teacher (high school librarian, Katy Smith) who worked with these students recognized their desire to help teachers integrate technology and provided an opportunity for them to do this. These students gave up personal time and were motivated to learn a tool and prepare for a presentation for teachers because they feel that teachers need help integrating technology into classroom instruction. 

It all goes back to questioning what we are doing and why? Our why must include our students and "What is best for THIS learner?" (p.21, The Innovator's Mindset) Students must be given the opportunity to take control of their learning and, even the teaching at times, because if they are passively involved in the education process, we are surely failing them. Including our students in conversations & planning help to ensure that they are active participants in their learning. Including them in projects and initiatives help to promote ownership in the learning environment. Asking our students for feedback shows that we value their opinion and what they have to offer. 

I will be reading and participating in The Innovator's Mindset #IMMOOC for the next few weeks and hope to blog more about our focus on seeking innovative approaches to education. 

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Change- Where Do You Start?

I recently blogged about staying on course even when things seem uncertain(read about that HERE). Even when politicians seem to penalize schools and districts for embracing change. Even when teachers are wanting students to be prepared for more than just a one day test, but the one day test is how you are measured. That post and conversations recently made me think more about change.

According to Merriam -Webster, one definition of change is to undergo transformation, transition, or substitution. Our district spent the better part of last school year on our Strategic Plan. During this process, we used the Visioning Document to guide our focus. The Visioning Document is a collaborative effort of 35 public school superintendents who recognized that we needed a different vision for public education in Texas. They knew we needed to change. They created a document describing this change.

And yet, today, almost 10 years after this document was published, very little has changed. So the question is WHY? Is it because the way we measure students, as determined by lawmakers, hasn't changed much? Or is it because we aren't quite sure where the "change" has to start? At what point do we make a change that will create this transformation that we know is best for education? Do we have to change the whole system or can we start small?

Around this time last year, I was able to hear Sir Ken Robinson at an event called EdShift. I first learned of his work through my principal at the time, Racheal Rife, who shared with us "Changing Education Paradigms" which received many head nods while our campus watched it.

Ken Robinson's Ted Talk "Do Schools Kill Creativity?", is the most watched TedTalk of all time. If you haven't seen it, I highly recommend it.

Hearing Robinson in person was very inspiring. One of my main takeaways from that day is that we might not be able to change the national education system/policy, or even our state education system/policy, but to our students, WE are the system and we have control over our classrooms and how we interact with our students. We can change what happens inside our classrooms. That was very powerful to hear and made "change" seem more manageable. Even writing this now, it lessens my stress of trying to change ALL of education and helps me focus just on what is in front of me... teachers & students in my district. That is manageable. An informative article with an excerpt from his book, Creative Schools reminded me of this day. In this article Robinson says, "But revolutions don’t wait for legislation. They emerge from what people do at the ground level."

So for this week, I will focus on and celebrate the innovation that is happening in our classrooms, and build upon that. I will focus on and celebrate the teachers who are taking risks to learn new skills and implementing those in their classrooms with and for their students, and build upon that. I will focus on leading a revolution of change within our district and finding those who are ready to join in. Our students deserve this effort and focus.

And I will be comfortable in losing sight of one shore as I focus on the horizon, knowing that change is scary, uncomfortable and oftentimes comes with unchartered territory. But I'm pushing off...

How are you changing things that are within your control? Do you have some ideas for encouraging and supporting change within a district or campus? I would love to hear ideas from those who are at the "ground level" and not in "committee rooms."

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Being Future Ready in an A-F World

This week, Texas public school districts were notified of "preliminary" results of the new A-F rating system that was created by the 84th Legislature. Although these results have been labeled a "work in progress" and ratings will not become effective until August 2018, it was required by the Legislature that they be presented in January 2017. These ratings take pages and pages of explanation to understand and rate campuses on four different domains at this time (there will be five in the final system) - Student Achievement, Student Progress, Closing Performance Gap and Post Secondary Readiness. There is information available on TEA's Webpage and on TASA's Webpage if you would like to read more about it. 

I will not try to explain this rating system, as it certainly seems like it has flaws and that it is far from easy to understand. My question though, is where does "preparing students for their future" fit in here? Where do the 4 C's (Communication, Collaboration, Critical Thinking, & Creativity) fit in? Where do global connections fit in? Where does innovation & student-centered learning fit in? How can we move forward in the 21st century when our legislature keeps pulling us back into the 20th century? 

In our district, we are preparing for a 1:1 roll out at the 7th grade, a grade level that is responsible for preparing students for Reading, Math & Writing STAAR tests. During this school year, we have been working on integrating technology into classroom instruction, working through becoming proficient with our LMS (Canvas) and understanding how the 4 C's, SAMR & personalized learning all fit in. Every 7th grader will be issued a Chromebook for the 2017-2018 school year and learning should look different in these classrooms. Unfortunately, the new rating system will not take into account any of this. Much of the rating consists of how students perform on their standardized tests. So I wonder, will we lose momentum with this "preliminary" rating? Will educators and administrators become more focused on test prep and less focused on personalized learning for their students? As I read blogposts and letters from administrators all over Texas, I have come across people talking about "getting back to the basics" and "structured learning" for 4 year-olds.  Is this truly what is best for our students? Might this just be what is wrong and why we don't seem to be making the strides we should be making? We are 17 years into the 21st century... when will our education system catch up? 

I don't have answers to this right now, but I truly feel that it is TIME FOR CHANGE. I have not heard people in education arguing against accountability. That is not the change that we need, but should we be looking at different measures? Measures that ensure our students leave us with the skills that will help them be prepared for whatever their future holds? Can standardized tests be just ONE way that we look at our schools instead of the bulk of how we measure our schools? Can our Texas Legislators visit classrooms and talk to educators before they add another 50-60 pages to our already overloaded Texas Education Code (it has over 3,000 pages right now) this Legislative session?

Thankfully for the students of Texas and beyond, groups are working to make and support a shift in education. The Office of Educational Technology created Future Ready Schools. Here superintendents pledge to focus on digital learning, empowering educators, and supporting other district leaders as they embark on this journey. Hopefully the new administration will continue the forward progress made by this organization. In addition, Digital Promise is another group working to promote and support innovation in education. In Texas, we have Raise Your Hand Texas, an organization that "focuses on identifying breakthrough ideas to improve education, piloting them in our public schools and supporting the conditions and public policies that allow them to scale to reach all Texas students." Our district has used the Texas Visioning Document to create our belief statements and to focus our journey. There is certainly support for transformation in education, if educators are open to it and not penalized for moving in that direction.

Thinking about all of this, what comes to mind is that we must stay the course. The journey is sure to be rough, and we will want to turn back to safer shores, but we must continue to focus on transforming education. The Texas Legislature could focus on helping to bring our public education system into the 21st century and not slowing progress with 20th century accountability ratings. We owe it to our students, our families and our communities. 

Stay strong educators!

Sunday, January 1, 2017

My One Word for 2017- CHOOSE (Wisely & Purposefully)

Last week, while I was still in my holiday fog, I noticed that others were already thinking about 2017 and their focus for the year. Today, I am ready to join in! After much thought & reflection, I have decided my #oneword for 2017 will be CHOOSE. Each day we are faced with so many choices, from how to respond to someone or something to where to focus our energy. All of these choices can be overwhelming. This year I vow to look at each choice more wisely and purposefully. 

In 2017 I vow 
  • To CHOOSE to focus on what is important
  • To CHOOSE to be an advocate for students and public education
  • To CHOOSE not to be distracted by the noise, but to truly listen
  • To CHOOSE to encourage and support positive change in our district

As 2017 begins, we are looking at changes and uncertainties on the horizon, some that will certainly have an impact on students and public education. It is my choice how I approach this time of uncertainty, and I CHOOSE to approach it with wisdom & purpose. 

What is your #oneword2017?

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Edcamp PCTX 2016

This past Saturday, learners from all over North Texas gathered at Weatherford High School to participate in the 3rd Annual Edcamp Parker County. What was new about this edcamp was that we invited students to attend. Adding student voice and perspective to the conversation was an enlightening experience for educators and empowering for our students.

It was amazing to see the number of people willing to come together on a beautiful Saturday morning to learn & connect. You could tell it was going to be a great day, when at 8:15 someone asked if we had any more name tags because we were out! That meant that over 100 people were already here! The library filled up and there was definitely a buzz of energy in the room as sessions were suggested and the schedule was completed.

Our district librarians set up a makerspace area that was an instant hit! Attendees were able to try out different gadgets that they might want to add to their own makerspaces. Our student attendees definitely enjoyed this area!

A green screen was set up for people to use and discussions centered around how easy it would be to add something like this to a classroom, whether it be a set up with fabric & lights or just green paper on the wall. Great resources were shared for using green screens in the classroom.

As you moved from room to room, session to session, you could hear great ideas being shared. In the virtual reality session, learners of all ages enjoyed trying out the viewers. 

One of the best parts of an edcamp is the connections made with other passionate educators. Some attendees were new to Twitter and others are well-connected, but all were able to find people to add to their PLN.

Edcamps are made possible thanks to community support and generous donations. Our door prize table was overflowing with t-shirts, books, gadgets & gift certificates! The Edcamp Foundation helps support local edcamps with a box of supplies and $200 through their Impact Grant. We used the $200 to purchase a GoPro for a door prize.

Thankfully, the learning doesn't stop with just a one day edcamp. Resources were collected in a collaborative document, which allows attendees to keep learning after they leave. And there is always an edcamp within driving distance! Check out the calendar for an edcamp near you!

A closing note... Edcamps are a TEAM EFFORT and Edcamp PCTX was no different! A special thanks to Natalie Simmons for getting our t-shirts, Jacqueline Rose & Erin Griffith for arranging breakfast, Katy Smith & Pam Conover for all of the little details that made the edcamp run smoothly, Brett Murrey for gathering door prizes, and all of the other people who worked to make this year's edcamp a success!

Saturday, July 16, 2016

What Happens When We Empower Teachers?

There is nothing better than talking with an excited teacher, one who has just learned of an idea or has had a revelation or a shift in mindset. And when you can also give them a "YES" go ahead and try that great idea, then you are setting them on a path to share that excitement with other educators and their students. It is a win-win for everyone and an opportunity to positively impact the culture of that district. As I read this article, When School Leaders Empower Teachers, Better Ideas Emerge, I realized that just as we want teachers to empower student learners, district leaders should empower our educators. When this happens, it would seem that progress would happen more quickly and leadership capacity is being built.

Having someone listen to you and be willing to say yes to your idea is very empowering for students, teachers, or anyone else for that matter. Recently, this idea was brought to my attention during a webinar where Dr. Pam Moran, Superintendent in Albemarle County Public Schools in Virginia, where she talks about getting past the "yeah, but and getting to what if can be pretty difficult." You can watch her TedX Talk called Getting Ourselves to Yes where she describes this situation.

Leaders in school districts are often faced with this. An excited teachers come to you with an idea they want to try, and your brain goes through a list of "buts" that tend to deflate the excited teacher fairly quickly. But it doesn't have to be that way, and the results of saying yes can be huge. Here are just a few examples from this year where I have seen "Yes" turn into amazing opportunities for all learners.

Several teachers around our district wanted to re-design their classroom space. These teachers felt like creating a learning space that was kid friendly, comfortable and flexible would allow for collaborative learning opportunities that would become a natural part of their classroom culture. The teachers were able to verbalize their "Why" which is an important part of getting to "Yes"! Since most of what we know about classroom space is desks in rows, it would be natural for principals to say "yeah, but..." Instead, we watched as teachers created these spaces uses their own funds, Donor's Choose and any other donations they could find. Here are just a few of the Innovative Spaces that were created around our district.

During the school year, we had "early adopters" excited about Canvas, our new LMS. Without training or professional development, they were creating a blended learning environment for their students. These teachers expressed a desire to learn more and to offer a true blended learning course at the secondary level. This is not something our district had tried before, so our Executive Director of Secondary Education, Dr. Lance Campbell arranged for them to visit districts who had successfully implemented blended learning. Not only did he support their efforts with training, but also helped them as they redesigned the physical space. It used to be that our campuses were very "institutional" looking with colorless walls and 25-30 desks in a classroom. Through conversations and research, these teachers created plans for their new spaces, based on research and looking at current trends in collaborative workspaces. James Gibbens, middle school teacher, had many conversations with his campus administrator about developing a learning environment for his students. Through these conversation, support was received for a blended learning class, as well as a redesign of classroom space and repurposing space around the entire campus to create collaborative work areas.

One of our blended learning teachers, Macie Thompson has started blogging about her experience. She created a floor plan & a Pinterest board with the items she would need to create the type of learning space she felt would benefit the collaborative culture she wanted to have for her students. With her careful planning and knowing her WHY, she was able to get a "Yes" from Dr. Campbell. 

Another example is a personalized professional development pilot that two teachers proposed just a few days ago. These two teachers, Amanda Rogers & Amanda Mask are "out of the box" thinkers and self-directed learners. They can often be found attending edcamps and presenting at conferences, both near and far. During a Google Summit in May, they learned of a personalized GAFE PD program that would involve a self-assessment and a menor/mentee relationship that would help teachers move from Level 1 to Level 2 or Level 2 to Level 3. Level 2 & 3 teachers would mentor Level 1 teachers, with the hope that everyone would move up to at least the next level within 1-2 years. The teachers worked on their proposal, knew their WHY and were easily able to share this with Racheal Rife, our Executive Director of Elementary Education (and, unexpectedly, our Superintendent, Dr. Jeffrey Hanks.) With their plan, they would pilot it with volunteers on their campus and hopefully a "sister" campus within our district. The teachers accepted ideas, such as allowing it to be voluntary, and adding a digital portfolio and digital badges to their program, and were given a YES by Rife. By building leadership capacity and empowering these teachers, the reach will be much farther than what any one person could do alone. 

Our district is moving to more YES's than NO's, and is making progress in the "yeah, but" area, but it is a work in progress. Where is your district? How often do you say "yes" as a leader?