Category Archives: EdTech

EDTC 6105 : Maintaining Balance While Teaching and Supporting Others

Anyone who’s ever worked in a school, knows that the school day for teachers does not end when the bell rings.  The question many then ask is, what are teachers still doing at school 2 hours after the bell, or why was there car parked there all day Saturday?  Looking at this week’s coaching standards for my Masters program (see below), led me to question how teacher’s find balance in their lives to avoid wearing too many hats or living the life of the spinster teacher of a hundred years ago who dedicated her entire life to the children and the community?

This school year has taken my career in a new direction, owed to pursuing my Masters in Digital Education Leadership. Teaching full-time and trying to find time to support others with tech integration has proven to be a challenge.  Staying at school late is not an option for me or my family. Working on weekends in the classroom would only be possible if my 5 year old came with me.  

So then, how can I effectively model tech integration for others with the responsibilities of a classroom teacher?

Through reflection, I kept getting drawn back to three main factors: common traits of teachers, resources, and understanding personal boundaries.  Our mentor text this quarter, Peer Coaching, frequently refers to relationships and resources. In hindsight, I wish I had thought about all of this in August, but as I prepare for Winter Break, it gives me time to rejuvenate and set new goals for the second half of the school year. I also need to remind myself, this time I am the student, learning how to better support colleagues.

Common Traits of Teachers

Having established that relationships are vital to a coaching partnership, has led me to think about teachers in general. What common traits can be found amongst teachers?  According to Teach.com, there are five common personality traits found amongst great teachers:

  • Empathy
  • Enthusiasm
  • Creativity
  • Dedication
  • Discipline

Focusing on understanding the common traits lends itself to generating enthusiasm for collaboration and recognising colleagues strengths.  Part of coaching is helping others recognise their strengths and how to use them to intentionally support student growth goals. In addition to recognising teacher strengths, it’s important to survey teachers to know how they might be interested in supporting colleagues.  For example, those teachers that are extremely creative, let them share some lessons that they’ve had great success with.  For the teacher’s who struggle with getting specific students engaged, seek out those who’ve had a positive connection with that student. Coaching is not just about supporting all staff, but also about how to manage a supportive collaborative environment.

Understanding Limitations with Resources

Resources is a broad term, yet extremely impactful with tech integration.  Resources can bring the best intentions to a halt.  As a classroom teacher, I am not fully aware of resources available or the politics about how they are distributed in the district. What I do know however, is that without support from administration, access to technology, and time to collaborate, my mentoring/coaching efforts are doomed to fail.  

Integrating any new curriculum or tool requires thoughtful planning in order to be sustainable.  As a classroom teacher, and not a coach, I struggle with time to ask and find answers to questions before trying to jump in and support my colleagues. This means that planning in isolation, even with the best intentions, is likely to end in frustration. In regards to technology, coaches and mentors must first consult administrators, tech specialists from the district, and possibly content coaches before simply supporting a teacher’s vision with digital tools. This again, requires time, which may turn some teachers away from implementation.

Juggling Multiple Roles

As mentioned before, teachers work well beyond the bell.  Emails abound offering or requesting teachers to be part of a PLC, lead after school tutoring, coach an after school activity for students, or participate in Professional Development. How can teacher mentors and coaches then find time to collaborate with others?

Teacher mentors and coaches can easily fall into a trap of taking on too much. Despite their enthusiasm and dedication, teachers can take on more than they can handle.  Pedro Diaz, the CEO of Workplace Mental Health Institute, offers some great advice in his post How to Avoid Taking on Too Much Work. First, he identifies the common traps when asked to take on another task at work. Three common problems, which I know I’m guilty of: we want to please others, our lack of self-awareness, and we don’t think we have a choice.

Moreover, Diaz offers strategies on how to approach multiple responsibilities.  He emphasizes learning how to wait.  It’s okay to think about something without committing right away. While contemplating, ask yourself what specific role you’re being asked to support, will you need further training to complete the task, and does it fit into your schedule?

Next Steps

As I prepare for Winter Break, I want to be realistic, proactive, and fully engaged in what I’m doing.  In order to to achieve these personal goals, I’m looking at the school calendar for next term.  Along with teaching, I am responsible for state testing for 4 grade levels.  I want to continue mentoring colleagues with tech integration and encourage others who are showing interest.

Knowing that I will be asked to participate in other areas as well, or fill in, I’ve realised I need to give myself time to reflect before committing. Wanting to adhere to Diaz’s advice, I’ve created The Juggling Act criteria (see above). Before taking on anything else this year, it’s important to ask: what is the specific task, time commitment, skills required, and if anyone else is similarly qualified to complete the task.  Then before saying, yes, consider workload so that I don’t jeopardize my current commitments.

Resources

Diaz, P. (2017, June 8). How to Avoid Taking on Too Much Work. Retrieved December 08, 2017, from https://www.wmhi.com.au/mental-health/how-to-avoid-taking-on-too-much-work/

Foltos, L. (2013). Peer Coaching: Unlocking the power of collaboration. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Hertz, M. B. (2011, November 14). Mentoring and Coaching for Effective Tech Integration. Retrieved December 08, 2017, from https://www.edutopia.org/blog/mentoring-coaching-tech-integration-mary-beth-hertz

Mormando, S. (2017, May 04). 5 Tips for Preparing Teachers for New Classroom Tech Tools. Retrieved December 08, 2017, from https://edtechmagazine.com/k12/article/2017/05/5-tips-preparing-teachers-new-classroom-tech-tools

EDTC 6105: Peer Coaching Without Overwhelming

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How can peer coaches support colleagues without overwhelming them?

This quarter, at SPU, we’re being asked to practice peer coaching, and of course, I’m beginning to realise how daunting of a task that can truly be. Approaching colleagues with good intentions is not enough to ensure a productive outcome.  We are all busy, new hurdles arise almost daily, and without an intentional plan and willingness from both parties, the energy begins to fizzle and gets lost like so many other inspiring ideas we’ve had along the way.

Working with a new colleague, I’ve recently pondered “How can I offer support without overwhelming them”? Below are 9 tips that I feel apply to novice coaches, like myself, who want to help others integrate technology to boost the learning of students.

Establish Trust

As I mentioned in a previous post, Establishing Trust Before Technology in the Classroom, establishing trust is critical, especially when both participants are new in their roles. This takes time!  So before jumping in and sharing your expertise… Make time to hear their story, respect their experiences, and understand their needs. Reaffirm your role is to help, not evaluate.

A colleague recently shared he doesn’t understand the role or value of coaches based on two experiences he’s had. Both broke the level of trust early on in the coaching relationship which has led him to see coaches as being inadequately trained or qualified to support his needs. His concerns led to questions he presented to me, such as who evaluates coaches, what standards are they held accountable for, and why would I want a stranger coming in and telling me what to do?

Make Time To Collaborate

My colleague’s last concern, segues into collaboration time.  I asked him if coaches met with him prior to observing and he answered, no.  They would observe then meet after.  This continued to create a barrier of trust.

One of the biggest challenges I’ve found this quarter, has to do with time to collaborate.  Granted I am not an actual coach with a flexible schedule, so trying to find time where two educators who work on different grade level teams is challenging.  Add to that the reality that most teachers have after school programs, conferences, planning, or professional development, and you are left with maybe 5 minutes in passing in the hallway. Both teachers need to be willing to collaborate and commit to scheduling time (or rescheduling if needed), but setting aside time to meet in person, or if needed via phone or technology.

Ask Supportive Questions

When colleagues collaborate, the time is valuable, and should be designed to support the needs of the coachee.  This is where intentional planning comes into play for the coach, through the means of asking supporting questions that help guide the coachee in a positive and productive direction. In Jessica Hagy’s article, 6 Leading Questions You Must Ask, she offers leaders tips on how to avoid just telling others what to do, but using questioning to guide their work and offer support when needed. Although these were designed for the business world, I feel they can be applied to meet the needs of educators also.

  1. How can I help?
  2. What problem are we solving? (What standards are we addressing, how are you differentiating, how do you see technology helping?)
  3. Who’s going to be there? (Who are your students?)
  4. Does this make sense?
  5. Can we break this down?
  6. Do you have what you need?

Create a Shared Vision

The questioning, lends itself to a shared vision between coach and coachee. This should also include administrative support. The purpose of tech integration needs to be centered around student production and accessibility, not just about using a new tool. This shared vision should also align to grade level standards and shared grade level of school goals.  By focusing on shared goals, some of the hard work is already being implemented, and helps to reduce stress of adding to the coachee’s workload.

Set a SMART Goal

Once this shared vision is established, it’s time to develop a SMART Goal.  This is an important step in again, supporting the coachee without overwhelming them.  The purpose of the SMART Goal remains specific, measurable, agreed upon, realistic, and time-based.  Keeping the focus on a specific standard helps drive collaboration and feedback.

Face Hurdles Together

Reality is, every plan will face hurdles.   Coaches need to be accessible and responsive when coachee’s ask for feedback. It is imperative for coachee’s to feel supported and there is someone on their side who can guide them through challenges.  The most important role of the coach during this phase is to simply listen and ask supportive questions.

Adjust Plan When Needed

When facing challenges, coachee’s also need to know they are still the one driving instruction and meeting their students needs.  Although coaches are there to offer support, when issues arise, it is the coachee that needs to be in control of modifying lessons. Although coaches may offer support, the decision making needs to come from the coachee and remain aligned to student outcomes. To avoid feeling overwhelmed, this is the time to revisit the SMART Goal.  Coaches should again use questioning to help the coachee talk through how things are going and how they can still successfully assess students.

Share Tech Integration with Others

Once coachees have successfully navigated tech integration, it’s time to encourage them to share with their colleagues.  To help facilitate a school culture around collaboration and tech integration, encourage staff collaborate and share with each other. This can be achieved through Professional Development or better yet, through Learning Walks where teachers have the opportunity to see technology in action.  Utilizing students can help reach out to more staff by allowing students to visit other classrooms and share what they are learning.  Sharing with others can help teachers feel less isolated and create opportunities for teachers to co-teach or model for their peers. I’ve seen this done particularly well when there are new units introduced at my school.  One teacher who might have more training becomes the expert and models the lesson for the entire grade level. The teachers take turns becoming experts for various lessons, so it evens out the workload in the end.

Expand PLN

Once coachee’s agree to continue with tech integration, the next step is to connect them with more like-minded people.  Encouraging coachee’s to expand their Personal Learning Network, fosters a collaborative team they can collaborate with rather than relying on just their coach.  This can be achieved through communicating with colleagues in the building, elsewhere in the district, state, or through social media. Social media is a great tool today for discussing and troubleshooting technology.  It creates opportunities to share successes, challenges, and ask for help and receive quick feedback from their PLN.

Concluding Thoughts…

These 9 tips are simply a guide on how to help colleagues avoid feeling overwhelmed.  However, one other critical element, is that coachee’s must be willing participants.  Without their buy-in, everything will be a struggle.

References

Conley, Laurie. “Overcoming Obstacles – The Digital Librarian.” The Digital Librarian, 2010, https://sites.google.com/site/thedigitallibrarian/

Hagy, Jessica. “6 Leading Questions You Must Ask.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 28 Sept. 2017, www.forbes.com/sites/jessicahagy/2017/09/28/6-leading-questions-you-must-ask/#7d676d8b25e9.

Marcinek, Andrew. “Tech Integration and School Culture.” Edutopia, 20 May 2014, www.edutopia.org/blog/tech-integration-and-school-culture-andrew-marcinek

EDTC 6105: What Defines a 21st-Century Classroom?

Continuing in my Digital Education Leadership program, I’ve been asked to consider the role of three ISTE Coaching Standards and how they can be utilized to support others.

These standards led me to question what traits define a 21st-century classroom. How could I share these traits with others? If I walk into a classroom to observe a lesson, what evidence would I look for? Two images of classrooms came to mind, the past and the present.

Classroom Design

Thinking of a traditional classroom, the desks were in rows, the students worked independently at their seats, and the teacher typically remained in the front of the room. Mary Wade’s infographic (click to enlarge) shares what many classrooms resemble today. Immediately, her infographic reminded me of several classrooms in my building.  Students sit in table groups, have a common meeting place on the carpet/rug, comfortable seating options for independent reading, a semi-circle table for small groups, and utilizes wall space.

What stood out to me though was the fact many of the teachers would not describe themselves as tech savvy, innovative, or 21st-century teachers. If we want to support more tech integration in our schools that foster 21st-century learning, then we must first give teachers credit for the amazing things they already do. For example, a peer coach could photograph a teacher’s classroom then ask the teacher to use the above graphic to identify their own 21st-century practices.

Student Learning Opportunities

Once teachers understand conducive classroom configurations, the next step is to set goals for student learning. Defining 21st-century learning varies depending on the source.  In 2010, Elizabeth Rich asked eleven educational experts from around the country, “How Do You Define 21st-Century Learning?” and she received eleven different answers.  Reading various perspectives, a few important facts kept reappearing.  In particular, the need to teach history and literature from the past that can help shape students views on the current world they live in. A big shift from previous generations entails preparing students for multiple careers in their lifetime, not just becoming an expert in one field.  Therefore, both content and skills come into play and that is where technology can be a tool to help meet the needs of diverse learners. Perhaps one of the biggest shifts in learning has been to make student learning more personalized, global, and collaborative. 

A 21st-Century Teacher

What traits then define a 21st-century teacher? How do we guide teachers to see themselves as providing 21st-century learning? Tsisana Palmer’s post 15 Characteristics of a 21st Century Teacher  suggests a list of characteristics that can both elevate the teacher’s expertise as well as student learning.

Palmer gives great evidence to support these characteristics.  However, if there is one thing I’ve learned this quarter so far, it is to start small with goal setting. As a “coach-in-training”, my advice to teachers wanting to create a 21st-century classroom, is to first recognize what is already happening, then set SMART goals to gradually strive for the environment you desire. For example, this year my district adopted a new literacy curriculum.  Looking at the list above, collaboration is built-in to the curriculum.  Therefore, teachers can check that off their list and choose something else they’d like to focus on.  Perhaps they are studying erosion in Science and visit a local watershed.  What if they are able to then connect with another classroom in another region.  Teachers can collaborate online to provide students opportunities to share and compare their findings.

Coaching Support

So how can peer coaches support teachers in this process? First, identify what is already happening in the classroom and what the teacher feels is working well. Then question what shifts the teacher is hoping to make. Providing options that may exist in other classrooms in the building or nearby schools can provide observational opportunities and collaboration with someone not traditionally connected to the teacher. Coaches can provide suggestions based on the teachers questions, but should not simply hand over resources. In addition, remember to start small. The goal is not for teachers to demonstrate everything on the list, but to begin looking at how to implement 21st-century learning opportunities to enhance student learning.  Once teachers determine the characteristics they’d like to implement and feel supported, it’s time to collaborate on how to make it a reality.

References

Foltos, L. (2013). Peer Coaching: Unlocking the power of collaboration. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Palmer, T. (2015, June 20). 15 Characteristics of a 21st-Century Teacher. Retrieved November 11, 2017, from https://www.edutopia.org/discussion/15-characteristics-21st-century-teacher

Rich, E. (2010, October 11). How Do You Define 21st-Century Learning? Retrieved November 11, 2017, from https://www.edweek.org/tsb/articles/2010/10/12/01panel.h04.html

Wade, M. (2016, March 29). Visualizing 21st-Century Classroom Design. Retrieved November 11, 2017, from https://www.edutopia.org/blog/visualizing-21st-century-classroom-design-mary-wade

EDTC 6105: Visionary Leadership and Peer Coaching

Beginning my second year of Grad School has me shifting from learning about digital education as a teacher and into the role of coaching supporting other educators. This year I’ll be exploring more of the ISTE coaching standards, beginning with Standard 1: Visionary Leadership. B. Contribute to the planning, development, communication, implementation, and evaluation of technology-infused strategic plans at the district and school levels. For my first post I’ll be exploring how coaches can successfully inspire and assist peers with planning, implementing, and evaluating technology integration.

What is a coach?

When I hear the word “coach”, I immediately envision my dad.  My dad has played and coached sports since before I was born. Having limited coaching experience myself, my memories are as a spectator and what I’ve observed over the years.  As I thought more deeply about the label “coach”, I realised there are a lot of parallels between what I saw in my dad and what I’ve seen in education.

Take basketball for example.  My dad would spend hours watching teams play at various levels, always with a notebook in hand.  He’d write down plays, ideas, and enjoyed talking to our family about what he looked forward to sharing with his team. He started each season hoping to help his players develop new skills and be better athletes both on and off the court by the end of the season. During practice he’d explain, model, select players to carry them out, and modify based on the outcome.  Nothing was ever set in stone.  He guided them, but never did things for them. A coach can’t run on the court to help a player when they get nervous and players learn to work together, communicate, and actively be in the moment if they want to win. No matter the outcome of each game, there was always discussion about what went well, what they can try to improve before the next game, and praise about what the players achieved, not praise of the coach.

I feel these strategies also apply to peer coaching in education. Gaining insight into coaching through Les Foltos’ book, Peer Coaching, I’m beginning to see coaching as an extension of working with students. We want to inspire others to challenge what they know and continuously explore new skills.  We also want teachers to have a toolkit of resources that they can recommend to students so that students can explore which tools help them succeed. So what qualities are needed to establish a positive coaching relationship? After looking at sources from multiple countries, a few key principles keep re-surfacing.

  • Willingness
  • Personal Relationship
  • Trust and Support vs Judgement
  • Understanding of the Education System
  • Time
  • Reciprocal Communication

Willingness

In peer coaching, both educators need to be willing participants. In addition, they need to feel supported by others (colleagues, administrators, district). Both educators also need to see the value in collaboration and establish a realistic goal that they are trying to achieve to increase student achievement. The teacher needs to be willing to take risks, explore, and understand that the partnership is fluid .

Personal Relationship

If the participants do not already know each other on a personal or professional level, then the next step is to take time and understand the needs of the teacher and the students.  Les Foltos recommends that coaches spend the first meeting getting to know the teacher and allowing the teacher’s needs to guide the direction of their time together. What is also implied with establishing a relationship is that the coach’s role begins as a listener, not someone offering advice. As a listener, coach’s can paraphrase their understanding of the teacher’s needs and begin to understand the teacher’s perceptions and experiences with technology before discussing integration.

Trust and Support vs Judgement

Teachers need to feel they can trust their coach as a friend, not someone who’s coming into their classroom to judge them.  Establishing trust takes time. For the partnership to be effective, the coach needs to enter without power, judgement, or evaluative mindset.  The coach should appear knowledgeable but not assume the role as expert, creating a hierarchy in the relationship. Trust is also important for when challenges arise in order for the partnership to remain intact.

Understanding of the Education System

I’m sure most teachers can relate, but when I think of Professional Development trainings that were a waste of time, a few reasons immediately come to mind: 1. mandatory attendance, 2. the presenter has no idea what my student population is, 3. the presenter knows nothing about the resources available in our district, 4. this has nothing to do with my content area.  The worst trainings combine all four!  

For example, I teach ELL offering language support during reading and writing.  A few years ago, our district adopted a new Math curriculum with mandatory trainings for all certificated staff.  So I sat there for three days, frustrated at my use of time. I quickly learned all the teachers who teach Math were also frustrated and do not see how this curriculum would work in their classroom, it added fuel to the fire and a mob mentality.  Our speaker promoted using the curriculum on computers and tablets during the lessons on a regular basis and talked about great tech features.  The problem was we did not have a computer lab and averaged 1 device to 5 students.  His lack of knowledge about our district led to a group of educators leaving the training frustrated rather than excited to try what he’d presented.

Point being, coaches need to do some research, and ask questions to better understand the building they’re serving and the teacher needs. Even within the same building, peer coaches need to look at the specific grade level and content area they wish to support. Coaches need to see the teacher’s classroom environment before offering any recommendations. In regards to technology, what already exists in the building or district, who else might be available to observe in action, and what options are available to help the teacher successfully integrate technology in the classroom? What concerns does the teacher have about technology integration?

Time

Time is a big factor for teachers.  It feels like there is never enough!  In a peer coaching partnership, both participants need to establish a timeline for the long-term as well as protocols to follow with each meeting in order to respect each other’s time.  In addition, realistic goals and timelines need to be discussed and adjusted as needed.  This ties back to willing participants.  If teachers feel pressured or that something will be lost versus something will be enhanced they will begin to resist, and coaches have to work much harder to bring them back on board. Meetings should typically have an agenda, protocol, allow time for the teacher to feel their time is validated and end with an action plan.  This ties into communication.

Reciprocal Communication

With time being valuable, to respect all involved, communication preferences should also be discussed in the early stages of collaboration. Today there are so many ways for teachers to collaborate beyond the classroom.  Once communication methods are in place, these can be used as reminders for upcoming collaboration.  For example, if email is the chosen form of communication outside of scheduled in-person meetings, then the emails should serve as reminders for both participants responsibilities for how to come prepared. This may also require communication with other staff in the building, administration, or outside. Teachers need to feel they can reach their coach and receive feedback in a timely manner.  

Connection to Technology Integration

Technology can be daunting for teachers.  There are so many unknowns, and for teachers who are used to be in control, adding digital devices into the classroom can create anxiety.  So how can peer coaches then use the above guiding principles to support their colleagues? Coaches need to do research after each meeting so explore what tools are available that could meet the teacher’s needs to enhance student achievement.  With that, coaches need to share technology as an approach to help students meet grade level standards and develop 21st century skills.  This needs to be done carefully to avoid teachers feeling pressured to add more to their day.

Conclusion

In conclusion, like sports, peer coaches need to recognise that teachers come in with a wide range of abilities and strengths.  The coach needs to support teachers in recognising their long term goal and create opportunities for them to work towards successfully meeting that goal.  The coach’s role should guide the teacher to independence and self-discovery for what works best for them and their students, while providing access, not direct instruction.  Although this is simply the tip of the iceberg, I feel it’s a starting point for me as I look into peer coaching opportunities within my own building this year.

Cited by Queensland Government

References

Brown, L. (2014, February 28). The Importance of Trust. Retrieved October 14, 2017, from http://teachforall.org/en/network-learning/importance-trust

Cavanagh, M., Grant, A., & Kemp, T. (2015). Evidence-Based Coaching Volume 1 : Theory, Research and Practice from the Behavioural Sciences. Australian Academic Press.

Foltos, L. (2013). Peer coaching: Unlocking the power of collaboration. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

“Role of Coaching in an Educational Setting.” Queensland Government, Department of Education and Training, 29 Jan. 2015, from education.qld.gov.au/staff/development/performance/resources/readings/role-coaching-educational-settings.pdf

Empowering Computational Thinkers with Troubleshooting Tips for Technology – EDTC 6014 Module 3

As I continue my Masters in Digital Education Leadership through Seattle Pacific University, I continue to challenge my understanding of teaching, technology, and how to successfully integrate technology in a high poverty school. Part of my task this week was to continue looking at ISTE Coaching Standard 3e and 3g. Which led me to ask two questions:

  1. What strategies do schools use to troubleshoot and resolve tech-related issues?
  2. What does a tech toolkit look like for teachers and students?

Tech-Integration and the Digital Divide

Encouraged by my professors, I began looking for teacher resources offered by local school districts. There are so many resources out there for digital citizenship, but beyond that, how to school districts support teachers and students?  I struck out finding support on my own district’s website. According to research, I am not alone in lacking professional development and resources for digital learning. The digital divide extends beyond student access and also reaches professional development offered to teachers in high poverty schools versus the more affluent schools. A study conducted by Education Week Research Center in 2015, found that technology integration training has not increased since 2009 for 4th grade teachers surveyed (Herold, 2017).  The graph below provides visual representation of what I believe is also accurate for my region. Teaching 4th grade for the past three years, the only tech training I’ve received has been for mandatory testing, not integration of skills in the classroom.

Ed Week Graphic

Training Teachers to Support Students with Technology

My quest led me to a neighbouring district’s site, Renton School District . In contrast to the Back to School PD offered in my district (nothing tech related), they have a day to support teachers with tech integration and opportunities for teachers to share and learn from each other.

Searching for resources under “Digital Learning”, I was able to find two tabs that truly support teachers: “Digital Learning Best Practices” and “DLC Support for Schools”. In particular, under best practices, the first two points.

  • Provide Supports and Foster Independence (Encourage students to support each other)
  • Ask Supporting Questions ( Use open-ended questions to guide problem solving)

These points stood out to me as they connected with an article we read this week on Avoiding “Learned Helplessness”. As educators, we need to take advantage of teachable moments, allow students to support each other, fail, and learn from their experiences. How do we do this?  Ask open-ended questions!  Encourage students to think, reflect, and articulate their understanding.  Most importantly, encourage students to problem solve before simply doing it for them.  Having questions easily visible in the room to support learners can alleviate students sense of helplessness. If we want students to be “Computational Thinkers”, then we need to model problem-solving, perseverance, collaboration, predicting and analysing, identifying patterns, and synthesizing what we’ve learned.

Modeling Troubleshooting For Students

I was inspired by a former SPU grad, Annie Tremonte, and her infographic “Student Guide to Troubleshooting Technology”. However, Annie’s work targets middle school learners, and I want a toolkit for elementary classrooms. This led me to seek out resources for tech integration in  grades 3-5.  One such resource, Tech Happens…What To Do When You Have Technical Difficulties? offers a great self-help poster for 5th grade students. This tool supports learners with troubleshooting before seeking help from the teacher.  In particular, this teacher created a tool that students could use at home, since they’re part of a 1:1 iPad school, where students take the devices home.

This poster is great, but how else can students be taught to troubleshoot?  My building is not 1:1, which means when we have devices, we’ll be using a rotation model.  The last thing a teacher wants during rotation is to be working intensively with a small group, and see other students just sitting there helplessly.  How else can I support students working at a station with devices?

Wanting to foster Computational Thinking, I’ve developed a student friendly poster with “I Can” statements.  To help students overcome helplessness, I want them to try problem solving on their own or with their peers before seeking my support.

Computational Thinker Graphic

In addition to the poster, I want to provide tools with common tech problems and solutions.  How could this be done?  Susan Clark, a computer teacher for K-8 students in Illinois, created a PowerPoint with useful tips for her students (available for free on Teachers Pay Teachers).  Her rationale, “I made this Power Point because I kept getting the same questions from students about problems they were having with their computers”. These slides are a great tool that I’d like to build upon.  More than just having a PowerPoint, I’d like to create troubleshooting tips on index cards on a ring.  The index cards would include images of common problems with solutions for students to attempt to solve first independently before seeking peer support.

Preparing for the New School Year

Now that I have some ideas for how to support students in their troubleshooting, I’d like to conclude with some tips on classroom management. Again, without any professional development being offered this summer at the district level, I need to be prepared for integrating my new devices in the new school year.  Although slightly dated, Education World published Managing Technology: Tips from the Experts. The first tip that truly stood out to me was the index card idea.  Having laminated cards with common questions answered (ideally with some bilingual support for my student population), will put ownership on the student and lessen repetitive questions, much like Susan Clark’s philosophy. The article mentions 33 tips, mostly geared towards a computer lab set-up, but there are several tips that I can easily adapt into my classroom. I’ve compiled a list of 10 tips that I can modify and adapt for my needs this Fall.  

Perhaps the most important thing I’ve learned about troubleshooting is to continue expanding my network of educators. Understanding there will always be situations arising that I know nothing about, I want to build up a support tech team from outside my district.  My initial list include my colleagues in this program and the professors we’ve had along the way.  Although I may not be attending any technology professional development this Summer, I feel I now have a few strategies in place to help me get started. My new toolkit includes: tech savvy colleagues, posters, classroom management plan when using devices, and work on creating laminated troubleshooting cards.

References

Digital Learning. (n.d.). Retrieved August 06, 2017, from https://www.rentonschools.us/Page/309

Herold, B. (2017, June 16). Poor Students Face Digital Divide in How Teachers Learn to Use Tech. Retrieved August 06, 2017, from http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2017/06/14/poor-students-face-digital-divide-in-teacher-technology-training.html?r=1707448939&intc=EW-TC17-TOC

Miller, A. (2015, May 11). Avoiding “Learned Helplessness”. Retrieved August 06, 2017, from https://www.edutopia.org/blog/avoiding-learned-helplessness-andrew-miller

Nording, C. (2016, August 06). Tech Happens…What to do when you have technical difficulties? Retrieved August 06, 2017, from http://www.ourelementarylives.com/2016/08/tech-happenswhat-to-do-when-you-have.html

Starr, L. (2004). Managing Technology: Tips from the Experts. Retrieved August 06, 2017, from http://www.educationworld.com/a_tech/tech/tech116.shtml

Tremonte, A. (2015, March 16). ISTE Student 6: Guiding Students to Troubleshoot More Autonomously. Retrieved from http://annietremonte.com/tag/troubleshooting/

Selecting Digital Tools that Fit our Needs – EDTC 6104 Module 2

This week we continued to explore ISTE Coaching Standard 3. In particular, looking at how digital tools are selected and evaluated, followed by maintenance and management of technology-rich learning environments. So how do we evaluate, select, and manage digital tools and resources for teachers and students that meet accessibility guidelines and fit within our institution’s technology infrastructure?

Immediately my mind reflects on several experiences from this past year.  For the first time, I’ve really begun to advocate not just for my students, but for my school and community.  This has led to lots of unanswered questions, but also led to me slowly unpack the hierarchy for decision making in my district and begin to understand who I need to connect with to make a positive impact. Although teachers may have good intentions with adding technology in the classroom, without proper planning, collaboration, and support, it’s difficult to execute any program effectively.

Accessibility

Although accessibility generally applies to providing access to students with disabilities, I also see accessibility pertaining to access and the digital divide. During the International TESOL Convention this Spring, I attended a workshop on Speak Agent, a new program that targets academic vocabulary for ELL students. What I initially appreciated about this product, was that it was designed by former ELL teachers. I was so excited to see a resource designed by people who understand my student population! As they walked through their program, a question arose about video options. Why don’t they have videos for students to watch?  Their response reminded me of a sad reality, the digital divide.  The speaker responded us that they wanted all students to be able to access content on their site, regardless of bandwidth, citing too many communities still lack high speed internet. Working in a school with old computers without built-in cameras, this served as a reminder that not all public school children have access to the same programs in schools due to devices or internet speed.  

Stepping out of the classroom, we have a huge discrepancy nationally between access in rural vs urban communities.  Living in the city, I can recommend to families to take advantage of the library for free wi-fi or computer access.  Rural families may not have that option. The US Dept of Commerce found that only 52% of rural adults without a high school diploma use the internet. This is great contrast to national average of 75% (US Dept of Commerce, 2016). In 2016, the first national survey looking at low-income connectivity found that 41% of immigrant hispanic families solely rely on mobile phone internet access, with an additional 10% not even having that (Rideout & Katz, 2016).

Selecting Digital Tools

Therefore, as educators, we must be intentional with the tools we select, time allocation, and student needs. So as a teacher who is trying to add more devices and tools to my classroom, where do I even begin?  Luckily, one of our readings this week helps guide me to get started.  In Molly Zielezinski’s article,

What 7 Factors Should Educators Consider When Choosing Digital Tools for Underserved Students? she highlights what every educator should consider before jumping in (see below).

Coming from a district with over 90 schools serving 53,000 students, I understand it’s hard to find a set list of digital tools that will work for all classrooms. So in addition to the 7 factors above, how can I become more involved in decisions made in my building or at the district level?

Earlier this Spring, I was asked for advice on Summer School curriculum for reading.  Last year my school opted into a reading intervention program that was great for small group, but did not fit our student needs and became more of a hinderance than a valuable resource. This year, I wanted to ensure my team that we would not make the same mistake. One day after school I received an email from my principal about a 60 day free-trial to an online reading program.  Sounds great, right?  The timeline would fit and we wouldn’t have to spend anything!  However, within minutes of playing around as mock students, we found flaws in the loading speed, and a few other glitches.  Rather than spend more time looking into it, we quickly dismissed the program and continued to look for other options. There are so many digital tools out there, it can seem overwhelming.  Most have free trials to get you hooked.  But no one wants to spend hours/weeks on various trials before selecting a tool for their classroom.  So how can we screen the tools to find what we need?

Evaluation Rubrics

We use rubrics to assess students so why wouldn’t we use rubrics to assess digital tools? Just like my students who sometime struggle to name what they are doing, yet can point it out on a rubric, I feel I need rubrics to help me identify what tools can/can’t do to weigh out the pros and cons. As a teacher new to EdTech, I struggle to think of all the vocabulary that express my needs.  Fortunately rubrics do exist! In 2015,  A Comprehensive Evaluation Rubric for Assessing Instructional Apps published a comprehensive rubric that can definitely eliminate time spent wondering about whether or not to adopt new programs. The rubric includes 24 dimensions broken into 3 domains: Instruction, Design, and Engagement. The entire set of rubrics is daunting for one teacher to use, however, for a team deciding on tools to invest in, these rubrics offer a clear vetting process. Individual teachers can use the rubrics to pinpoint specific factors. For example, three areas that I often question are feedback to teacher, media integration and cultural sensitivity.  These are included on the rubric as:

What’s Next?

As I begin to prepare for the upcoming school year, adding technology into my instruction is what I’m most excited about.  That being said, we’re adopting a new reading/writing curriculum which I have yet to preview.  Understanding that all lessons need to be intentional, this means I have a lot of collaboration ahead of me.  First I need to know which grade levels I’ll be supporting, meet with the Gen. Ed teachers and administrators to clearly define my role. Now instead of trying to justify based on my own experience, I have a toolkit to share. I look forward to using the 7 factors and rubrics to vet tools with my colleagues as we plan for the year ahead.

Resources

Lee, C-Y. & Cherner, T. S. (2015). A comprehensive evaluation rubric for assessing instructional apps. Journal of Information Technology Education: Research, 14, 21-53. Retrieved from http://www.jite.org/documents/Vol14/JITEV14ResearchP021-053Yuan0700.pdf

The State of the Urban/Rural Digital Divide. (2016, August 10). Retrieved July 23, 2017, from https://www.commerce.gov/news/blog/2016/08/state-urbanrural-digital-divide

Rideout, V. J. & Katz, V.S. (2016). Opportunity for all? Technology and learning in lower-income families. A report of the Families and Media Project. New York: The Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop.

Zielezinski, M. B. (2016, July 10). What 7 Factors Should Educators Consider When Choosing Digital Tools for Underserved Students? – EdSurge News. Retrieved July 23, 2017, from https://www.edsurge.com/news/2016-06-25-what-7-factors-should-educators-consider-when-choosing-digital-tools-for-underserved-students

EDTC 6103 Module 5 – Professional Growth and Leadership

Engaging in Professional Growth and Leadership

Being an ELL teacher can feel isolating at times. I can’t count the times I’ve been excited about PD days only to look through available workshops and feel none of them really apply to my needs or objectives. We are a minority group of educators.  Our students come from diverse backgrounds, with the majority in the United States attending urban high poverty schools. As specialists, it’s rare to have more than one ELL teacher per building.  So how can we collaborate?

For our final blogpost this quarter, we’ve been asked to reflect on ISTE Teaching Standard #5.  The timing for this seems in sync with end of year reflections at school as well as multiple articles that are advocating for schools to revamp their delivery of professional development.  Looking closely at ISTE Standard 5a, this prompted me to question “How can teachers actively participate in local and global learning communities to explore creative applications of technology to improve student learning?

With technology rapidly changing the way we teach, it’s no surprise that it’s also changing the way we communicate professionally. Take for example, Miriam Clifford’s post “20 Tips for Creating a Professional Learning Network”. Clifford highlights the advantages of joining PLNs (Professional Learning Networks).  The post written in 2013, shares great examples on how to join and use technology to our advantage as tool to connect and share with others.  Prior to starting this Masters Program at SPU, I would have felt lost in the jargon used in this article and simply moved on to other resources that seemed more relevant or consistent with what I experience in my district.

With these changes however, a PLN can now also refer to Personalized Learning Networks.  Moving beyond localized collaboration in my building and district, Personalized Learning Networks prompt me to expand globally.  Beginning to look more into PLNs, I began to question, how has my understanding of professional development and collaboration changed in the past 5 years?

Five years ago, I’d say 90% of the PD I attended took place in a library, possibly with a video to watch, and time for round table discussions. Lots of poster making, sharing out, but all contributors were physically present in the room.  Then 4 years ago I participated in my first MOOC.  I remember the excitement of connecting with ELL teachers in other states and countries.  We would email responses back and forth. Presently at the building level, we still remain primarily in the library. At the district level, it’s hard to get together in person due to the sheer size of our district, distance people have to commute, method of transportation, varying school hours, and personal lives. Our district has thousands of talented educators, yet I feel limited in my knowledge of how any of them successfully integrate technology in the classroom.

Personalizing Professional Development

This year has been transformational for me in numerous ways.  I cannot overlook the power of networking and global connections.  I had considered blogging before, but didn’t know where or how to start.  This program has helped to take a leap with blogging, using Google HangOut and Twitter.  Reading Mike Patterson’s post “Tips for Transforming Educational Technology through Professional Development and Training” , I realised the problem of inadequate training and understanding is preventing amazing collaboration from occurring in my district.  He sites that 60% of teachers surveyed feel inadequate about implementing technology in the classroom.  Reading this statistic reinforces my realization that my district needs to model how to use technology and this can begin with how they deliver professional development. We need to move beyond the library and offer basic training in how to implement so many of the great strategies in Clifford’s post: Meetups, practice using online communities, tools already available through the district as well as tools popular with experts in our district.

This led to me questioning, how much input do teachers have in the delivery and content of professional development in my district?  After posing this question to several other educators in my building, the general consensus is “not much”.  So how can we change this?  Desiree Alexander recommends surveying staff with a needs assessment, similar to how we evaluate the needs of our students.  In her post, “From Blah to Aha!  Your Guide for Personalizing Professional Development”, Alexander discusses how personalized PDs can showcase educators strengths and interests.

How can schools offer personalized PD? Through technology there are so many options now available for delivery.  For example, MOOCs, webinars, Google HangOuts, creating online videos that teachers can interact with at various times, using folders like Google Drive to store PD resources.  With free online tools, I’m hopeful that my district will begin to offer a range of PD formats in future.  The slides below are examples of how personalized PD can begin with a simple survey.

Finding Learning Communities

Local Communities are perhaps the easiest to define.  It’s the grade level team, content, extra-curricular, region, or even district.  Local communities traditionally met in-person.  So how do we move beyond local and expand our community network globally?  

As I reflect on my global community partners, I’ve used Edmodo, Twitter, Facebook, Schoology, Google+, Podcasts, and joined memberships for online publications. As the only ELL teacher in my region teaching a specific curriculum, it can be daunting at times.  However, with my expanded community of educators, I feel like part of a Tribe with common goals, one of which is support student learning with access to technology.  Every week I feel I have something to contribute to my colleagues, whether it’s something I’ve witnessed first hand in the classroom, or I’ve accessed through social media or video.  Learning online helps reduce my stress and previous notions that I don’t have time for professional development.

Personal Impact from Educational Technology

Now instead of only listening to music while walking my dog, I also listen to EdTech podcasts. When I couldn’t bring an expert to my classroom, we used Google HangOut to allow my students to meet with him virtually, motivated by my new found confidence gained from this year. I find myself scrolling through my Twitter feed in the evening looking for inspirational classroom ideas. I have a new found confidence in promoting alternatives to learning, even if they’re not acted upon at this time.  I know there are great things happening out there and feel like I’m beginning to tap into a new way to both educate and learn. Perhaps the best part of this journey is that I no longer feel alone.  

Resources:

Alexander, D. (2017, May 19). ​From Blah to Aha! Your Guide for Personalizing Professional Development – EdSurge News. Retrieved May 28, 2017, from https://www.edsurge.com/news/2017-05-19-from-blah-to-aha-your-guide-for-personalizing-professional-development

Clifford, M. (2013). 20 tips for creating a professional learning network. Retrieved fromhttp://gettingsmart.com/2013/01/20-tips-for-creating-a-professional-learning-network/

Currie, B. (2015, September 24). What New Teachers Need to Know About PD. Retrieved May 28, 2017, from https://www.edutopia.org/blog/new-teachers-need-to-know-pd-brad-currie

EdTech K-12 Magazine. (2016, April 26). Tips for Transforming Educational Technology through Professional Development and Training. Retrieved from http://www.edtechmagazine.com/k12/article/2016/04/tips-transforming-educational-technology-through-professional-development-and

Zakhareuski, A. (2016, August 22). 10 Modern Ways to Use Technology in ESL Instruction. Retrieved May 28, 2017, from http://busyteacher.org/13732-using-technology-esl-instruction-10-modern-ways.html

EDTC 6103 – How do we promote and model digital citizenship and responsibility?

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This week we were asked to look at ISTE Teaching Standard 4, “Teachers understand local and global societal issues and responsibilities in an evolving digital culture and exhibit legal and ethical behavior in their professional practices.  

Encouraged by Jason Ohler’s article on Digital Citizenship, I set out to see how I could support my school to be more proactive rather than reactive to internet safety. Ohler made several points that resonated with me. His explanation of “character education” allowed me to reflect on my current school, previous school, personal education, and stories I’ve heard from friends.  We can’t wait for our students to navigate the digital world and ask questions, we need to provide guidance to our students as well as their families. In a world that inundates us with media, we need to guide our students through intentional thought processes rather than let them develop their own moral compass over time.  We need to create opportunities for digital education and invest in ethical inventory resources not just tech resources.

Immediately several questions came to mind about my own school district.

  • How does my district support teachers and students to be responsible digital citizens?
  • What training and education is provided for staff and parents?
  • What curriculum / resources are commonly used in the district and at what grade levels?
  • Who are the decision makers?

I first contacted someone from our district IT department who serves schools in my region. Then I reached out to my librarian, who is only at our school part time. I posed these four questions (see above).  The responses were similar on each question.  Our district is so large and digital devices vary greatly both in brand and quantity depending on the school.  With 99 schools, we do not have a unified approach other than librarians infusing some Common Sense Media lessons into their library time. Some schools have been able to fund Technology Instructors in K-5 schools who teach Digital Citizenship, but it varies depending on the school. Our decision makers appear to be our school board, staff at the district level, and admin.  In regards to technology and digital citizenship, it appears that our community, families, and students have little to no input. We do have links on our district website, but only in English.

Finding Resources

My biggest challenge is finding online resources available in other languages.  Common Sense Media has Spanish option, but how do schools such as mine support the other families in understanding internet usage and digital citizenship? We have ¼ of our families that need translation support.  My quest led me to Michael Gorman’s blog, sharing 10 resources for teaching Digital Citizenship.  Gorman provided great resources, with an abundance from Common Sense Media, yet most only appeared to be offered in English.  I can only imagine showing a video to the families at my school and having to pause constantly to allow translation to be shared in 6 or more languages.  There has to be something more efficient!

The one resource Gorman shared that truly came through for me was from Australia. Navigating a few quick clicks I discovered  The Parent’s Guide to Online Safety. The Australian Government provides online safety for parents in 15 different languages.  Although the guide provides contacts in Australia, the bulk of the information applies to strategies to support families with issues such as cyberbullying, sexting, inappropriate content, unwanted contact, social networking, and having children who spend too much time online.  If resources exist like this in other languages in the US, I’ve had a hard time finding them.  Which leads me to believe a lot of the families I serve would also struggle with finding this information.

Supporting Families in Digital Education

Technology is constantly changing, students catch on to trends, explore new websites and share apps way before we catch on.  According to David Andrade’s article earlier this month, more than 75% of teens now own cell phones and more than 90% communicate online.  These facts alone are reason to ensure parents are aware of support systems that exist, parental controls, ways to report abuse, etc.  Take for example a story from Connecticut three years ago.  A new social media app, YikYak, allowed users to post messages anonymously.  Anyone active on the site within a mile and half radius could see the message.  A high school in Westport, CT. became inundated with hateful speech, citing racist, Islamophobic, sexist, and homophobic comments.  By the end of the first day, most of the students with access to cell phones had downloaded the app.  The school staff were in shock.  It is because of the unknown that we need to explicitly teach Digital Citizenship.  We need to be able to educate parents on how to monitor what their children are doing and provide tools for them to have meaningful conversations at home.

With 6,000 ELL students, and nearly 14,000 students from non-English speaking homes, we should provide similar resources to Australia’s Online Safety Guide in the 8 languages we offer translation for.  These should be on our website accessible for families, students, and staff.  At present, schools in my district tend to approach most incidents on a case by case basis. A large percentage of our families do not have internet at home and many parents may be unaware what their children are exposed to.  This does not prevent their children from being protected from cyber bullying, exposure to inappropriate content, or understanding the consequences of sharing on social media.

Reflection

I want to continue advocating for our ELL families and in this particular case, that means helping develop resources that are shared in the top 8 languages.  Having these resources available on our district website accessible for parents and staff is the first step.  Sharing these resources with parents and staff will be the next step.  How can we truly expect parents to model expected behaviour without giving clear expectations, support, and guidelines?  With 55,000 students in our district, I think we can do better.  As educators it’s time we model responsible internet use and promote digital education for families in addition to students.

Resources

  • Andrade, D. (2017, May 15). Teaching Students Digital Civility Goes Hand-in-Hand with Tech Rollouts. Retrieved May 22, 2017, from http://www.edtechmagazine.com/k12/article/2017/05/teaching-students-digital-civility-goes-hand-hand-tech-rollouts
  • Ernst, A., & Harmoush, V. (2014, June 20). Teaching digital citizenship in a ‘yakking’ world. Retrieved May 22, 2017, from http://america.aljazeera.com/watch/shows/america-tonight/articles/2014/6/20/teaching-digitalcitizenshipinaayyakkingaworld.html
  •  Gorman, M. (2017, February 27). 10 Digital Citizenship Resources – Web in the Classroom Part 3. Retrieved May 22, 2017, from https://www.k12blueprint.com/blog/michael-gorman/10-digital-citizenship-resources-web-classroom-part-3
  • Ohler, J. (2012). Digital citizenship means character education for the digital age. Education Digest. 77(8). pp. 14-17. Digital Citizenship Means Character Education for the Digital Age

EDTC 6103 Module 3: Modeling Digital Age Work and Learning

For my reflection this week, I’ve been asked to look closely at ISTE Teaching Standard 3.  Unlike my previous focus of incorporating digital tools in the classroom, this standard has me searching for ways to improve communication with parents. The particular pull out students I serve all have primary languages translatable by other support staff in my building.  The challenge is knowing how best to communicate and collaborate with parents to truly help integrate them into the American education system.

Spring is an extremely busy at my school with multiple events, testing, field trips, and summer opportunities.  In a school where the majority of parents speak a language other than English at home, we provide translation in 7 languages.  Although this does not meet all the language needs of our families, it covers the majority.  Our bilingual assistants are working extra hours providing translation to families in person, over the phone, or simply transcribing information for teachers to send home.  

ISTE Standard 3 has me questioning what I can do to improve both communication and collaboration between parents and staff in my building.
  • Collaborate with students, peers, parents, and community members using digital tools and resources to support student success and innovation.
  • Communicate relevant information and ideas effectively to students, parents, and peers using a variety of digital age media and formats.

Barriers

Nicole Krueger’s article “3 barriers to innovation education leaders must address” sparked my interest in looking for innovative ways to enhance communication.  She mentions barriers such as community resistance, access, and policies.  My district is definitely impacted by access and policies.  Working in SE Seattle, our public schools all have a high ELL population. We have  great families, yet they do not have to same background with the American education system and connections to openly advocate for equitable access to learning and technology.  I work with a dedicated staff who value culture, provide opportunities for parents to be involved, yet I feel it is the same parents I see at most events or volunteering in the classrooms.  Our Caucasian population are the minority in the building, yet their parents make up the majority of our PTSA. This led me to question how can we increase our parent involvement and communication when there is an obvious language barrier?

After reading a thorough article about the challenges of ELL parent involvement in Arizona, I began to categorise my reading into what we already do and what we can discuss as future implementations to increase involvement.  In their research, Arias and Morillo-Campbell, noted that 10% of the schools in the USA hold almost 70% of the K-5 ELL students.  Of those schools, similar to my building, nearly half the students receive ELL services.  This is the demographic of parents we need to truly support.

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Getting To Know The Community

Having only been at my current school for less than 3 years, I still feel relatively new to the community.  With that, I am not sure what has been tried in the past, what has been successful that may have been forgotten about, and who might be able to best bridge the culture gap to promote further collaboration between parents and staff. Regardless of cultural background and education, these parents need to be understood, have their wishes for their children heard, be included in decision-making, and given multiple opportunities to integrated into our school communities.  What are we doing beyond annual conferences, newsletters, and emails to truly support these families?

Just like our students who learn in different ways, we need to provide our families with communication options, training, and support.  Knowing not all of our parents are literate in their primary languages, there are families who benefit most from face-to-face or phone communication.  Then we have the parents who are working more than one job, unable to come to school who appreciate emails or letters home.  But how do we know those parents are truly receiving all the information we send?

Tech Tools to Connect with Parents

Using an after school program as my pilot group, this week I started using Remind. Instantly I felt excited at the possibilities of having tool that keeps phone numbers private, works in a text like format, and allows me to include images with the text.  The true selling point though was reading that they support 70 languages. To further explain why I love Remind as a tool, it allows me to send a quick message to parents without all of our phone numbers appearing.  I can also change the language, create the message in advance, and receive feedback from parents.  

This week we only had 2 parents who could attend our soccer game.  I already had 5 parents join Remind.  I was able to send a reminder about the game, take a team photo to send out, and let parents know the ETA for the team returning to school. Two parents responded within minutes after I posted.  Prior to Remind, I’ve had little communication with parents other than sending letters home to sign and return.  Frequently our organisation has last minute changes to scheduling which I always regret not being able to notify families in a more timely manner.  I’m hoping that Remind can be used to overcome these challenges for at least some of the families. The photo feature is also great, as I can share photos of the games and events for those parents who are unable to attend.

In addition to using apps like Remind, Common Sense Media shared a blog titled 6 Tech Tools That Boost Teacher-Parent Communication. I love the idea of having blogs linked to our website that feature student voices in primary languages and student work for parents to connect with outside of the classroom.  These tools are great, however, many create barriers with our ELL families due to lack of internet access, non-translatable data, lack of understanding to make sense of the data, and cultural differences. Although the school could lead workshops and trainings on how to use these tools, they require additional supports in order to be successfully implemented into a high poverty school.

Non-Tech Strategies

So how can we still increase communication and collaboration without tech tools?  We need more opportunities such as focus groups to get a better understanding of the cultural understanding of our parents regarding education at school versus at home, homework, what a classroom looks like, American expectations of parent involvement, etc.  We should be encouraged to do home visits.  Without truly understanding the families we serve, how can we truly serve their children?  Schools should also find ways to participate in community meetings for various ethnic / language groups and work on collaborative strategies to break down cultural barriers.  Without leaving the school, our ELL families deserve more than one parent-teacher conference per year.  I know that if I moved to a new country right now, I would hope I could meet with my son’s teacher multiple times to ensure he is actively engaged, showing academic and social growth as well as meeting other criteria.  When schools have a large group from the same culture, we could also give leadership opportunities to families to instill some of their educational best practices into our school.

Next Steps

This standard has given me a lot to think about.  Having never visited schools in China, Vietnam or Somalia for example, I have limited understanding in how our education systems differ.  This gives me room to grow as an educator, to learn more about where our families are from and how to work together to successfully bridge the gap between school and home. My first step will be collaborating with our bilingual staff to learn more about what they’re hearing from families.  

I have several ideas I’d love to discuss with my colleagues and administration as we start planning for next year. In particular, I feel our school website definitely has room for improvement.  Not wanting to reinvent the wheel, I look forward to exploring what other high poverty schools with large ELL populations have successfully implemented to integrate ELL parents as valued members of the school community.

Resources

Visual Literacy: Analyzing Infographics with Students

In my last post, I wrote about the use of infographics in the classroom. Their creation can be a powerful exercise in both visual literacy and graphic design. A far cry from the poster projects of my youth, infographics call on students to synthesize information and think thematically. Just because you present students with a great online infographic creation tool (Piktochart, Visme, etc.) doesn’t mean they are ready to create one. Many students are not even familiar with the term infographic (informative graphic). I start any lesson on the topic by asking students to analyze the work of others. This extra step yields far better results in students’ final work.

Questions to Ask Students

  • How do you read this image? From left to right?

  • How does the organization of information/text structure help an author and a reader establish important themes?

  • What do you see first? Why?

  • What stands out to you at second glance? Why?

  • Where does your eye travel?

  • What relationship is shown in this infographic? How do you know? What choices did the designer make to ensure this was clear, even from afar? How does this help you to read this information?

  • How is color used? What is bright and what is dull in color? Why do you think the creator chose to do this?

Students are amazed to realize that these design decisions are not haphazard, but purposefully considered by the author. 

"Bringing the Farm to School: Growing Healthy Children & Communities" by USDA is licensed under CC by 2.0.

“Bringing the Farm to School: Growing Healthy Children & Communities” by USDA is licensed under CC by 2.0.

For example, consider the infographic above. A quick “read” yields some clear key aspects of this infographic’s design. Thematic imagery is used to convey the larger message (farm-to table practices are present in some U.S. schools). Even a cursory glance suggests that numbers and statistics are a focus. Color and font size also draw attention to these statistics. This infographic is designed to highlight the successes of current farm-to-table eating in schools, rather than challenges. One may even notice that the sizes of the grocery bags decrease to coincide with the percentages represented on them. While this is far from a complex infographic, it is successful in presenting synthesized information about the topic. It is  also clear that graphic design elements are purposeful and on-message. You may think these simple elements are innately obvious, but it is useful to model your thinking and work with students to unpack these design choices as they relate to theme and message. Finally, I encourage teachers to survey students for topics of interest before choosing an infographic to study together. This will create further engagement and interest with students.