Category Archives: EdTechChat

Inquiry-Based Learning…not just a buzzword

Inquiry learning may have become somewhat of a an educational buzzword. However, I am here to tell you that the student learning benefits from this type of learning is real. Back in the fall, I had the opportunity to give a professional development workshop in my school district about Genius Hour (perhaps another buzzword, but a method of inquiry-based learning if you haven’t heard of it). Having experimented with successful implementation the previous school year, I have thought about this quite a bit. In fact, I have became so interested that I developed a graduate course on inquiry-based learning through Seattle Pacific University.

You can also watch my EdSurge Ignite Talk outlining my work with inquiry-based learning in my classroom here:

The following is a list of what I’ve learned about implementing inquiry-based learning in a middle school classroom, which can be adapted to any grade level.

1. Let your students pick!

Interest-driven and student-directed goes hand-in-hand with inquiry-based learning. When you’re asking students to deep dive into a topic, it only makes sense that they care about it. True interest can only be guaranteed if they’ve chosen the topic. That’s not to say there should be parameters. In my first round of inquiry-based learning, I asked students to investiagte a topic they didn’t feel they learned enough about in their social studies class. In our second round, they were asked to solve a problem in their local community. While broad, these umbrella topics allowed me to provide students with focus questions to drive their work.

2. Be flexible.

If one student is researching renewable energy legislation and another is trying to recreate a turn of the century washing machine, processes, deadlines and grading practices might need to flex to accommodate their work. If students see only one path to an A, they will be less apt to take a risk.

3. Failure is to be expected. Prepare your students for this and don’t allow it to hurt their grade.

Contacting a U.S. Representative may not happen for your students. The underwater submarine model they are building may not work. They need to know that this is okay and that the trial and error process is valuable. The confines of earning an A often limit our students. This is where we should start to revaluate how we set up projects.

4. Allow technology to support, but not dominate student learning.

If a students wants to film a commercial and you don’t have the slightest idea how to do this, that’s okay. Your students (depending on their age) have the prowess to figure this out too. It is okay to say, “Create a plan for how you’d like to do this and I’ll be here to support you.” What sounds like an edeavor far larger than you have time for might be as simple as a student recording on their phone and turning to a peer for help in learning a simple mobile editing tool. You never know until you open up this door. You might find you learn a lot yourself!

5. Praise students for their tenacity; this type of learning is not easy.

It is true. Learning in this way has many similarities to how adults work in the real world: creating a plan, learning along the way, utilizing experts around you, being flexible, etc. This may be the first time a student hasn’t been told, “This is how you earn an A” and for some this will be extremely frustrating.


You still need assignments, check-ins, deadlines, and lessons. While most of what I wrote above may sound like you will send your little chickens loose on the farm to scrounge for feed, this isn’t true. Modeling how to do online research, tools for project management, check-in deadlines and support meetings with you, as well as project proposals are all necessary and important to student success. This type of learning is ripe for direct instruction lessons and teacher modeling on all types of topics.

Contact me if you have questions or are interested in brainstorming together!


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.

Using Infographics in the Classroom

Click to view slideshow.


In my own classroom, the use of infographics has been a valuable tool to teach not only visual literacy, but graphic design. Our society is a visual one and students need to be prepared to not only interpret the meaning of visuals presented to them but to present their own visual stories back to others. Many already do this in some capacity on sites like Instagram, YouTube and Snapchat. Of course, creating an infographic does go beyond taking a selfie, requiring students to think very critically. Above are some infographics of mine that I’ve shared with students.

What is an infographic?

I tell my students that infographics (informative graphics) are a way to convey information to an audience in a simple, engaging way. I tell them that it is a way of storytelling. I tell them that it counters the notion, often seen in writing, that longer is better. I tell them that synthesis is truly the challenge here. The key to a successful infographic is a finished product that looks deceptively simple.

How do you use them in your teaching?

Each time I’ve presented this idea, I’ve been surprised by how many student haven’t heard the term infographic. They are, however, familiar with similar images in nonfiction books from their childhood. Students are often surprised by how much they can “read” from a visual image, as well as how quickly they can identify the  relationships present, such as in flowcharts and cycles, etc. I often begin by showing students some examples and asking them to identify key elements. This is an important first step to pave the way for students to create their own. Infographics can be used as a creative alternative to a typical project or even writing assignment. Students can share them in a printed form or with each other online. In the examples below, my students use infographics to share elements of symbolism from novels they had recently read.

Click to view slideshow.

How do you make an infographic and not just a poster?

  • Get out of the habit of “go find and stick up” (Images are not stickers to place without thorough consideration.)

  • Viewer should be able to understand relationships at first glance (cross language barriers perhaps)

  • Overall imagery should be thematic or symbolic

  • Not just be content, but an analysis of this information

  • Does your infographic…tell a story? persuade? present an argument?

  • Consider the overall text structure (compare & contrast, sequence, cause & effect, etc.)


What tools do you use to create infographic?


There are many, many online tools available that can make this process easy and fun for students. Some examples are shown above. Please note that some of these tools have both free and paid versions with varying customization options. Be warned that “go find and stick up” is tempting with these tools. Additionally, by no means is a fancy tool necessary to create such a visual image. A simple tool like Google Slides, Powerpoint or even pen and paper can work just as well!

How Can Administrators Best Support Professional Development in Education Technology?

At the heart of my current studies with the Digital Education Leadership program at Seattle Pacific University is ISTE Coaching Standard 4, which focuses on how professional learning can be best support teacher practice and, ultimately, student learning. Professional development is often associated with the administrators who orchestrate it. As a result, recognizing how paramount administrators are to the implementation of good professional learning is the key to its success.

My exploration on this topic began by examining an additional set of ISTE standards, the standards for administrators. An excellent resource, these standards explore everything from modes of establishing a learning culture at one’s school to the development of school improvement plans. Most relevant to this post is ISTE Administrator Standard 3, which specifically calls for, “Educational administrators [t0] promote an environment of professional learning and innovation that empowers educators to enhance student learning through the infusion of contemporary technologies and digital resources.” How is this achieved? 

How can administrators best support professional development in education technology?

Vision for Student Learning

Administrators should know where the school is headed, and more than anyone else in the school, they should promote this vision (Creighton, 2003). Additionally, student learning should be the preliminary focus for all technology pursuits, whether this comes in the form of integration modeling or the procurement of resources that directly impact students (Creighton, 2003). In his book,  The Principal as Technology Leader, Creighton (2003) emphasized that administrators should focus on this goal first and any tools second. Another major theme is that technology training needs to be tailored to meet the goals of the school and the current skill level of the teachers (Crompton, 2015). While many often seek to bring in outside consultants and speakers, this type of learning can sometimes lose relevance if it is too general or intended for too diverse of an audience. 

Professional Learning Components – Modeling, Time and Opportunity, and Specificity 

Administrators should integrate the use of technology in the same manner that teachers are expected to use it (Starr, 2009). Rather than simply holding the expectation that teachers should already possess any needed skills, time and opportunities must be provided for teachers to learn not only the technology itself, but how the technology is to be used within their own curriculum (Starr, 2009).  Professional learning needs to also be grade level, content area, curriculum, teacher, and student specific in order to succeed (Creighton, 2003). Sharing technology tools with teachers is far less valuable than modeling how to effectively utilize them within a specific curriculum (Crompton, 2015). Further  time is also needed for teachers to plan and collaborate on integration methods within their specific departments, teams and professional learning communities (Starr, 2009). Since, educators, themselves, regularly confirm that they too often they are taught how to use a tool rather than how to integrate it into instruction, Burns (2010) shared what are referred to as the 5 J’s, established by, as a means for administrators to address this.

Professional Learning needs to be

Job-related: Tailored to specific content and curriculum areas.
Just enough: Designed to be appropriate in scope for noted skill levels, in an effort to avoid overwhelming anyone or dissuading use. Expertise is not as important as developing a willingness to experiment.
Just in time: Relevant now and into the future.
Just in case: Plans for the likely failure of technology.
Just try it: Emphasizes that willingness to experiment is more important than expertise.

Continuous and Cyclical Approach

Technology integration techniques and resources will only lead to increased comfort and understanding when it is presented in all relevant circumstances and on a regular basis (Creighton, 2003).


Funding needs to be allocated to ensure technology is up to date and supported. Otherwise, even the best laid plans can have unfortunate setbacks (Starr, 2009).

Encouragement of Teachers Leaders

Encouraging educators to be peer coaches and teacher leaders will best influence and guide other teachers (Creighton, 2003).

PD for Administrators

Administrators should make their own professional development in education technology a priority, as current knowledge in emerging technology methods and research will only serve to mentor the rest of the school’s teachers (Creighton, 2003). Additionally, administrator knowledge, commitment and modeling can influence ambivalent or skeptical teachers, while teachers can also be dissuaded by those administrators who place little value on technology (Starr, 2009).


While these are all great ideas in theory, they do require a potential shift on the part of administrators. This is not something that a singular teacher can directly influence necessarily. That being said, some of these ideas can be shared with administrators in isolation, including: requesting professional learning that is curriculum specific, offering to be a teacher leader in the building, or requesting to know what the educational technology vision for the school is. 

While change can’t be forced, more learning opportunities that meet some of the needs above can be sought. And, usually requesting more professional learning is met with praise and support by administrators, not resistance. As educators, we can continue to ask these important questions within in our schools. It is also possible to garner support from our colleagues, as remaining an island certainly benefits no one.


Creighton, T. (2003). The principal as technology leader. Corwin Press.

Crompton, H. (2015, January 7). Know the ISTE standards for administrators: what does the research say? Retrieved from

Starr, L. (2009, September 23). The administrator’s role in technology integration. Education World. Retrieved from

Burns, M. (2010, September). How to help teachers use technology in the classroom: the 5J approach. eLearn Magazine. Retrieved from



Ed Tech Professional Learning Considerations

For the past few weeks I have explored ISTE Coaching Standard 4b to try to understand how professional learning specifically impacts the use of education technology. School districts continue to take major steps, both in effort and resources, to provide professional development opportunities in the hopes of improving student learning. Unfortunately, the results continue to indicate that most professional development is unsuccessful (Jacob & McGovern, 2015). What are some potential options?

1. Teaching Tech Integration, Rather Than Tech Tools Alone

In my own experience as a teacher, PD in edtech is often focused on the technology itself, without consideration for how the tool or device can be integrated to meet curriculum needs (Daccord, 2015). The result is that many view technology as one more thing to learn, rather than a resource to meet pre-existing instructional needs (Plair, 2008).

Why does this happen?

Often “little emphasis is placed on content or grade level because the professional development event is open to all teachers” (Plair, 2008, p. 71). While large scale approaches reach many teachers at one time, most teachers go back to their daily instructional routines, too busy to figure out how to implement the technology on their own (Plair, 2008).

What are some solutions?

The misconception is that teachers need to only learn the technology itself; the actual need is to establish ongoing “pedagogical vision[s] of what’s possible” with technology (Daccord, 2015, para. 3). According to Daccord (2015), successful professional development in education technology is…

  1. immediately achievable
  2. focused on teaching and learning

Ultimately, teachers are in need of technology fluency, or “the ease with which teachers and students decide what form of technology is best suited for the current educational objectives” (Plair, 2008, p. 71).

Broker by GotCredit is license under CC BY 2.0

Broker by GotCredit is license under CC BY 2.0

The Knowledge Broker

Plair (2008) suggested implementing what she called the knowledge broker, or a channel of knowledge, capable of investigating and sorting through the vast, overwhelming amounts of resources to determine relevancy to one’s classroom and demonstrating application. These brokers serve as a bridge between the tech knowledge and the comprehension of curriculum, pedagogy, and student need (Plair, 2008).

Additionally, knowledge brokers have what teachers often don’t…time to learn about technologies, vet their use and prepare resources (Plair, 2008). They also are accessible on campus, rather than in a district office, where knowledge of specific needs by content and grade-level might diminish (Plair, 2008).

2. Planning PD: Backwards Design to Ensure Focus on Student Learning and Achievement


Professional development is sometimes a result of top down initiatives, recently published professional literature or even current trends. These catalysts aren’t negative, but they don’t account for the whole picture. Arbitrary or unsystematic activities have rarely resulted in improvements in student learning (Sanborn, 2002). Guskey (2014) asserted that in classroom lesson planning, the focus is sometimes misdirected on the activities and the resources. Educators are regularly taught to begin with the standards by asking, “what do we want our students to know?” This idea, referred to as backwards design, did not begin with McTighe and Wiggins (1998), but they are credited with implementing it into curriculum theory with their book, Understanding by Design. Their work highlights three stages of backwards design:

  • Stage 1-Determine what students should know.
  • Stage 2-Create the assessment or performance tasks that will properly show if student learning has occurred.
  • Stage 3-Determine the activities that will reach this end (McTighe & Wiggins, 1998).

Why shouldn’t this practice be applied to adult learning opportunities as well? Guskey (2014) outlined a five piece plan for using backwards design to develop professional development.

#1 What do we want students to learn?

Assessment data should not be the only method relied upon for understanding student learning. While administrators more often rely on high-stakes assessment data, teachers are more inclined to reference classroom observations, such as student work completion and quality, as well as student behavior and engagement (Guskey, 2014). Giving credence to teacher observations results in teachers who are more involved in the process and likely to buy-in (Sanborn, 2002).

Generation Ready’s “Raising Student Achievement Through Professional Development,” reiterates the significant impact of teachers on student achievement (“Generation Ready,” n.d.).

#2 What new practices need to be implemented? Are they based in research or opinion?

#3 What support is needed? Time? Funding? Tech considerations?

#4 What do educators need to know in order to implement the new practices and achieve student learning outcomes?

Is it feasible? Is it relevant? Guskey (2014) asserted that planners need to identify the needs beyond the session. Are the ideas shared only good in theory? Do time, resources, additional knowledge, or technical expertise need to be supplied?

#5 How can the professional learning experience be optimized?

What methods of delivery yield best results? Research by Kubitsky, Fishman and Marx (2003) highlighted that PD should:

  • Create opportunities for teachers to do activities as students would in real lessons
  • Prioritize hands-on opportunities for teachers
  • Create opportunities for peer exchange
  • Limit direct instruction

Additionally, ongoing and continuous support is also needed after a professional development session has concluded (“Generation Ready,” n.d.). Unfortunately, in the age of “one and done” professional development models, this is type of support is largely absent.

3. Tapping into Informal Learning Practices

Formal professional development infrastructures (i.e., administrative approval, compensation, and recertification needs) do not prevent teachers from continuing to spend countless hours of personal time engaging in informal means of continuous learning. Whether collaborating with colleagues after school, reading of educational blogs, researching of innovative teaching practices online, or participating in Twitter conversations, informal methods speak to the nature of educators, who view professional learning as a career-long practice, and not a required checklist. As Czyz stated, “Providing professional development for the sake of meeting PD requirements is simply counterintuitive to the professional learning process. The needs and wants of teachers have changed. It is imperative to adjust our PD programs to accommodate these wants and needs” (2015, para. 2).  Additionally, if the goal is for teachers to be “engaged, curious, and dynamic,” our professional learning opportunities should support this (Czyz, 2015, para. 2).

Can schools can create formal structures to support, pay for and acknowledge the vast amount of time and learning spent by teachers on informal learning every day? Knowles andragogical (adult learning) approaches identify the power of informal learning methods (Knowles, 1973).

  • Self-Concept  -Adult learners need to be active participants in the creation of their own learning.
  • Role of Experience -Adult learners need to take an individualized and hands-on approach to their own learning, to include.
  • Readiness to Learn – Adult learners are more willing and ready to learn when actual applications for relevant learning is present.
  • Orientation to Learning  – Adult learners need to see how a strategy or idea will work to solve a known problem or scenario.

A teacher who scours professional educational blogs for an innovative method to teach the Civil War, after her students struggled with the concept previously, is involved in her own learning (Self-Concept), will be experiencing the learning (mistakes and all) upon trying new ideas in the classroom (Role of Experience), is learning about a topic of high relevance to both her field and student needs (Readiness to Learn), and is learning about a potential solution to a past problem-centered (Orientation to Learning). Yet, this practice is not typically viewed as “real” professional development.

Czyz (2015) suggested models such as Edcamps, the utilization of lost time such as lunch and after school, as well as the integration of online methods such as Twitter and Voxer to connect with colleagues in expanded ways. A common theme of Czyz’s (2015) included the capitalization of time already present in the day. Additionally, the emergence of technology means that professional development does not have to be “limited by time and space“ any longer (Cyzy, 2015, para 13). We should be encouraging teachers to “take advantage of every opportunity to continue their professional learning, using nontraditional timeframes to develop their craft and practice” (Czyz, 2015, para 14).

“25 April” Bridge by Pedro Ribeiro Simões is licensed under CC BY 2.0

The Bridge

Davis (2015) suggested that finding a common ground between the widely accepted PLCs or professional learning communities and PLNs or professional learning networks might be one solution to bridge formal and informal professional learning. PLCs are a widely accepted practice, based in backwards design, for collaboration among colleagues. Typically, this is achieved via face-to-face meetings with team members and can yield very positive results. A PLN is the creation of a diverse network of resources to support informal learning. The accountability and follow-through with PLNs can less successful, but the benefit is a personalized, open, and growing network, as opposed to the limited, contained network in the school-based PLC. Davis (2015) suggested bridging the divide by engaging in both face-to-face and online spheres. She stated that it does not have to be one or the other (Davis, 2015).

Institutional Shift

It is true that accountability and tracking is much more difficult with personalized, informal methods. Perhaps the need to track and hold professionals accountable needs to be loosened in order to allow for expanded trust and, ultimately, learning alone to take center stage. What does “real” professional learning looks like? If educational objectives or evaluation criterion are being met and are impacting students positively, aren’t the means to this end valuable?


Czyz, R. (2015). Creating Innovative PD Models in Your District. ISTE. Retreived from

Daccord, T. (2015). Why your tech PD might be all wrong. eSchool news: Daily Tech News and Integration. Retrieved from

Davis, V. (2015). Modern Professional Learning: Connecting PLCs With PLNs. Edutopia. Retreived from

Generation Ready. (n.d.). Raising student achievement through professional development. Retrieved January 27, 2016, from

Guskey, T. R. (2014). Planning professional learning. Learning, 71(8). Retrieved from

Jacob, A., McGovern, K., & TNTP. (2015). The Mirage: Confronting the Hard Truth about Our Quest for Teacher Development. Tntp,

Knowles, M. (1973). The adult learner: a neglected species.

Kubitskey, B., Fishman, B., & Marx, R. (2003). The relationship between professional development and student learning: Exploring the link through design research. In annual meeting of AERA (Vol. 3).

Plair, Sandra Kay. (2008). Revamping professional development. The Clearing House, 82(2), 70-74.

Sanborn, J. (2002). Targeted training. School Administrator, 59(11), 16-19.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. (2014). Teachers know best: Teachers’ Views on Professional Development. Retrieved from

Wiggins, G. P., McTighe, J., Kiernan, L. J., & Frost, F. (1998). Understanding by design (pp. 0-87120). Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Reflections on Peer Coaching: Experiences and Essentials

As part of my studies with the Digital Education Leadership program at Seattle Pacific University, I recently engaged in and completed an exercise in peer coaching with a new teacher. I considered the additional challenges that face new teachers in the first few months of school and transitioned from an advocate to a collaborative partner, capable of leading and guiding inquiry. I practiced communication skills, including active listening and questioning strategies as my collaborating partner and I worked to build lessons together. Much of my work in this course centered around the study of Peer Coaching: Unlocking the Power of Communication by Les Foltos

How can a school without a peer coaching program still benefit from the peer coaching method?

As part of my reflection, I am considering how I can continue to engage in peer coaching practices without a defined structure already at my school. While an official program would be beneficial, I have come to see that it is not critical. Perhaps the label of peer coach is not the most meaningful piece. Rather, the tools I’ve learned from studying peer coaching can really be transferred to any collaborative practice.

What is essential to support and sustain your success as a coach? What support do you need from your school to support success in your coaching work?

Research by Jewett and MacPhee (2012) suggested that collaboration and peer coaching is most successful when communities are focused on similar goals and are willing to share experiences. My colleague Marsha Scott was insightful to wonder why this is often such a difficult task. This would certainly be a place to focus my energies in future practice.

Foltos (2015) wrote that schools who only dip their toes into the peer coaching world don’t often see lasting impact. In order for coaching to be most successful, coaches and principals have to engage in an ongoing relationship, establishing plans that consider school or district initiatives and engage the willing (Foltos, 2015). How does this process begin? Often teachers don’t know how to approach colleagues about peer coaching, fearing that colleagues might find it “at best uncomfortable and at worse presumptuous”  (Jewett & MacPhee, 2012, p. 106). While I have noticed that via my work, a few teachers have brought along inquiries or an interest in feedback, administrative support to identify interested parties for might be useful. Sharing out our experience to others could also open the door to others. Even without widespread implementation, the success of one partnership shared with the larger school community can engage both interested and disinterested parties (Foltos, 2015).

Another idea to establish a culture of peer coaching practices came from The Harvard Business Review. Ferazzi (2015) highlights that staff meetings can be used to practice collaborative strategies. Such a practice would shift the intention of meetings from information dissemination to a forum for collective problem solving (Ferazzi, 2015). This leaves everyone in the room positioned as a resource of expertise (Ferazzi, 2015).

Once a coaching relationship is established, establishing equal partnerships is critical (Jewett & MacPhee, 2012). It is important that the needs and interests of the collaborating partner are at the forefront of the work. Otherwise, the practice can become inauthentic (Jewett & MacPhee, 2012). My current peer coaching relationship developed out of a mentorship with a new teacher. While our initial work primarily focused on daily needs, it has purposefully transitioned into a collaborative partnership centered on my collaborating partner’s needs and interests.

What worked well? What needs to change?

Together, my collaborating partner and I designed lessons that addressed differentiation within our secondary social studies curriculum, a topic of interest for her. We utilized online differentiation tools, like NewsELA, to teach current events driven by student interest and choice. We crafted lessons that utilized homogenous and heterogeneous groupings to jigsaw textbook content into mini-projects, designed for students to analyze and synthesize information into creative content.  21st century skills were addressed, essential questions were defined …and redefined, a focus on differentiation was maintained, and technology was organically implemented. We set SMART goals to address students’ ability to analyze evidence in support of claim and scaffolded lessons towards this goal. Of particular note was also our ability to move beyond “just in time” meetings. Finally, the collaboration left both of us with useful ideas for the future. If we were to follow-up on this lesson design, the goal would be to get even further along in the lesson design process, and to incorporate problem-based tasks, discuss assessment practices tied to standards, and craft student directions.

What do you see as your strengths and weaknesses as a coach?

"Communication is the key" by Sebastien Wiertz is licensed under CC 2.0.

“Communication is the key” by Sebastien Wiertz is licensed under CC 2.0.

One of my most significant personal goals was to develop communication skills, to include active listening, paraphrasing, clarifying questions, and probing questions (Foltos, 2013). I believe my participation in peer coaching was a successful exercise in raising my comfort level with these skills. I did a lot more active listening, restraining myself from advocacy in sharing past experiences and suggesting tools. My active listening and paraphrasing also created opportunities for recognition of my partner’s successes in the classroom. In the future, I would seek regular feedback from my collaborating partner as well by asking questions like, “Is this approach to collaboration working for you?”

What additional professional learning do you need to become a more effective coach?

While I feel that I have a baseline understanding of what being a peer coach looks like, seeking out additional online or face-to-face training could be beneficial. Engaging in professional learning communities, like those on Twitter can be a useful starting place. One example is the ISTE EdTechCoachesNetwork, or the hashtag #etcoaches to find engage in useful professional conversations.


Ferazzi, Keith (2015). Use your staff meeting for peer-to-peer coaching. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from

Foltos, L. (2013). Peer Coaching: Unlocking the Power of Collaboration. Thousand Oaks: Corwin.

Foltos, L. (2015). Principals boost coaching’s impact: school leaders’ support is critical to collaboration. Journal Of Staff Development, 36(1), 48-51,.

Jewett, P., & MacPhee, D. (2012). Adding collaborative peer coaching to our teaching identities. The Reading Teacher, 66(2), 105-110.

Using Universal Design to Differentiate Instruction

"Universal Design for Learning" by Giulia Forsythe CC 2.0

“Universal Design for Learning” by Giulia Forsythe CC 2.0

As part of my recent exploration of peer coaching, I have recently explored what it means to peer coach and what 21st century learning looks like in the classroom. Now, my attention has progressed to think about lesson improvement within the peer coaching process. As previously discussed, effective learning challenges students to shift from simple consumers of information, to producers of knowledge in the real-world (Foltos, 2013). For many, this type of learning is not easily integrated into daily teaching (Foltos, 2013). What steps are necessary to co-plan an effective lesson plan?

Creating a Task

Foltos (2013) wrote that first you need to create a task that is complex and real-world. It shouldn’t be too simple or too easily solved (Foltos, 2013). While this concept sounds good, it can be difficult to translate into a learning activity that is both relatable and digestible for students. Foltos (2013) suggested that real-world problems presented are aligned with student interest and that requirements can be easily defined and understood by students.

Defining Standards

Next, it is important to define the standards being focused on. There can be multiple categories of standards to consider: curriculum standards like those found in the Common Core, 21st century standards such as those with the Partnership for 21st Century Learning, and technology standards like the ISTE Student Standards.

Crafting Student Directions & Assessments

From here, the learning context can be defined. This might be more easily understood as a “series of carefully sequenced learning activities” (Foltos, 2013, p. 125). It is, of course, important to determine how the learning activities correlate with the standards (Foltos, 2013). Finally, student directions can be crafted, assessments can be created, and resources can be identified, all through a process of receiving and sharing feedback.


One of my collaborating partner’s current focuses is differentiation. As such, I thought it relevant to align this week’s guiding questions about co-planning lessons to questions of differentiation. Differentiation is easily discussed but not as readily implemented into the classroom. It remains a great theoretical concept that is difficult to implement on a daily basis, given time constraints and curricular demands.

What protocols can be used to collaboratively design differentiated instruction effectively?

The Importance of Peer Coaching

Latz et al. (2008) reaffirmed that one way to become better at planning with differentiation is to engage in peer coaching. Their study, “Peer coaching to improve classroom differentiation: Perspectives from Project CLUE,” sought to determine if engaging in peer coaching relationships had an affect on the ability to differentiate instruction effectively (Latz et al., 2008). The result was that it is an important aspect of implementing differentiation, specifically because it is collaborative, not evaluative (Latz et al, 2008). Foltos (2013) echoed this sentiment by writing that peer coaching’s focus on feedback, allows collaborators to improve student learning. 

What is it?

Our students face many different daily challenges. Varied reading levels, learning disabilities, and background knowledge are some of the many obstacles students work through (Meo, 2008). Meo (2008) assessed that the expectation and desire to meet the needs of all of these individual students is daunting and, sometimes, not entirely possible. It is often assumed that the teacher’s role in practicing differentiation is to both adapt current curriculum and to also add to it to meet the individual needs of students (Meo, 2008). She asserted that “Educators do not seem to question whether the burden of adaptation should fall on the curriculum itself—that the curriculum, and not the students labeled “special,” is what needs fixing” (Meo, 2008, p. 21). We might want to consider the fact that intrinsic issues with the curriculum design itself may be to inhibiting differentiation. Alternatively, curriculum designed for diverse learning opportunities creates opportunities for it (Meo, 2008). As part of the 2nd edition of her book, The Differentiated Classroom: Responding to the Needs of All Learners, Tomlinson (2015) created a helpful infographic to depict what differentiation IS and IS NOT below.

Screen Shot 2015-11-22 at 5.17.36 PM

Used with permission from Carol Tomlinson, author of The Differentiated Classroom, 2nd Edition. Retrieved from

Screen Shot 2015-11-22 at 5.17.43 PM

Used with permission from Carol Tomlinson, author of The Differentiated Classroom, 2nd Edition. Retrieved from

Universal Design

Meo (2008) looked at how the universal design for learning framework can allow all students from all levels and backgrounds to succeed, as opposed to targeting only certain students for additive or adaptive support. She continued that placing students in categories based upon accommodation needs (general education, IEP, 504, ELL, etc.) can inaccurately and unfairly depict the wider diversity of student learners in a classroom (Meo, 2008). As a result, if curriculum is designed to foster access for all learners, all students can benefit (Meo, 2008).

So, what is universal design? The term didn’t get its start in education in fact. King-Sears (2009) explained that the term was coined to define non-discriminatory architectural and product design. As a result of these design principles, buildings and homes would not require adaptations or adjustments for those with special needs. Rather, the building would be originally designed to function for all, often including ramps or wide doorways (King-Sears, 2008). King-Sears (2008) related this to education by stating that when instruction is designed for all students, special accommodations required for certain targeted students can simply occur more organically.

What does this look like? There are seven principles of universal design originally crafted for building and product design (Connell et al., 1997).

King-Sears (2008) identified how these universal design principles align with education.

Flexibility in use…

is achieved through learning activities that allow for a spectrum of interest and ability.

Equitable use…

recognizes pedagogical practice allows all students to access the learning.

Perceptible information…

means that curriculum in presented in a variety of methods and styles.

Tolerance for error…

is the practice of guiding students to make multiple attempts in their learning while providing feedback along the way.

Simple and intuitive…

instruction recognizes content delivery that isn’t confusing or lacking audience consideration.

Low physical effort…

means that materials of all kinds are easy to use.

Size and Space for approach and use…

recognizes that content is accessible and visual to all those in room no matter where they are seated.

While rooted in a different field, these universal principles provide a system in which access and flexibility benefits everyone on a spectrum, not only specific individuals (Meo, 2008). Before implementing these principles, it is important to set goals by identifying what one wants students to learn and keeping this consistent to ensure that high quality instruction is available to all learners (Meo, 2008). Then, it is important to understand the current state of one’s classroom, and recognize that the entire classroom has diverse needs (Meo, 2008). While this might be a shift in thinking, it prevents too much of a focus on only specific student needs. What barriers might exist in the classroom? What background knowledge are students arriving with? Finally, the principles of universal design can be considered and implemented. It is important to remember that there is never one way to teach all students effectively (Meo, 2008). So, what is the solution? According to Meo (2008) it is helpful in any differentiated classroom to “provide multiple representations and multiple formats for learning new ideas and concepts” (Meo, 2008, p. 26). The more student choice that is offered in activities, in assessments, and in the opportunity to learn and demonstrate understanding, the better (Meo, 2008). Finally, part of increased student choice is increased student involvement. Latz et al. (2008) argued that student involvement is one of the most important aspects of differentiated instruction. Active, rather than passive, learners are better able to learn at higher levels, no matter the starting point (Latz et al, 2008).



Connell. B. R., Jones. M., Mace, R., Mueller,J., Mullick, A., Ostroff, E., Sanford, J., Steinfeld, E., Story, M., & Vanderheiden, G. (1997). Principles of universal design. Raleigh: North Carolina Stale University, Center for Universal Design. Retrieved November 18, 2015, from

Foltos, L. (2013). Peer Coaching: Unlocking the Power of Collaboration. Thousand Oaks: Corwin.

King-Sears, M. (2009). Universal Design for Learning: Technology and Pedagogy. Learning Disability Quarterly, 32(4), 199-201.

Latz, A. O., Speirs Neumeister, K. L., Adams, C. M., & Pierce, R. L. (2008). Peer coaching to improve classroom differentiation: Perspectives from Project CLUE. Roeper Review, 31(1), 27-39.

Meo, G. (2008). Curriculum Planning for All Learners: Applying Universal Design for Learning (UDL) to a High School Reading Comprehension Program. Preventing School Failure, 52(2), 21-30. Retrieved from


Why Do We Need to Define What 21st Century Learning Looks Like?

“Shared Vision” by Annie Tremonte created using Piktochart is licensed under CC 2.0.

This week in my studies with the Digital Education Leadership program at Seattle Pacific University, I am continuing to explore ISTE Coaching Standards 1 and 2 by investigating what effective student learning looks like. Just as norms are an important part of a peer coaching relationship, so too is a shared vision for what effective 21st century learning looks like. This shared vision creates a starting place for any collaborative work.

The future of education is changing to respond to the internet’s information age. With an overwhelming amount of information accessible online, the role of teachers is less about possessing knowledge and more about facilitating learning driven by the students themselves. It is about preparing students for the emerging skills of tomorrow’s jobs. Resources like the Partnership for 21st Century Learning and the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) set out to define what effective students learning looks like to get there. Commonly referred to as the four C’s, communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity are referenced as the basic elements of 21st century learning. However, these skills can appear vague or nebulous compared to the daily needs of instruction. As a result, it is important for coaching teams to define which skills are most important to student success (Foltos, 2013). The work to define these characteristics becomes “a road map that describes what teachers need to do to improve their practice and specifics on how to shape teaching and learning activities to reach their goals” (Foltos, 2013, p. 105). Foltos (2013) provided a solid reminder that while it is easy to say that students need to learn 21st century skills, it is more challenging to transfer skills such as critical thinking to daily classroom practice.

How do we turn these frameworks, standards, visions and characteristics into realities? What does it looks like, specifically in an English language arts classroom?

How Teachers are Prepared to Implement Effective Learning

According to Perkins (2010), the first step might be to address the manner in which teachers are prepared to implement effective learning. Instructional shifts place lofty demands on teachers, and support in the form of professional development is crucial to build the capacity necessary to achieve this shift (Perkins, 2010). While it is common to ask teachers to attend professional development sessions, workshops or conferences, daily professional development is an important part of transforming teaching; peer coaching is one such daily professional development model (Perkins, 2010). Perkins stated that illustrating 21st century learning can start with the establishment of a personal learning network. A personal learning network provides teachers access to personalized points of information and support that empowers the teacher in their specific curriculum and begins to self-direct instructional transformations (Perkins, 2010).

What 21st Century Learning Looks Like

Kivunja (2014) works to unpack the Partnership for 21st Century Learning organization’s framework, among other resources. While the four c’s are certainly integral to future readiness, Kivunja focuses on three skills that are less often highlighted.

Flexibility and Adaptability

Jobs are emerging and shifting rapidly, which means that not only do few employees stay in the same jobs for thirty years, roles within certain fields shift regularly. Employers desire employees who are capable and enterprising in the face of change (Kivunja, 2014). Much like the finches studied by Charles Darwin on the Galapagos Islands, students need to be able to adapt to prosper in their environments.

"Galapagos finches studied by Darwin," Charley Harper  From a 1960s Biology textbook. Contributed by V. Boehm by  SU Professional and Technical Writing is licensed under CC BY 2.0
“Galapagos finches studied by Darwin,” Charley Harper Contributed by V. Boehm to SU Professional and Technical Writing is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

What does flexibility and adaptability look like in the classroom?

Kivunja (2014) stated that students should be able to adjust to change with ease and without emotional compromise. Therefore, they should be able to respond to positive or negative feedback, originating from various sources. and adjust as needed (Kivunja, 2014). Teachers can purposeful implement strategies for responding to feedback in the language arts classroom to flex this adaptability muscle (Kivunja, 2014). Engaging in regular feedback may require a focus on constructive comments over grades, and feedback might come in the form of probing questions that prompt further thinking (Kivunja, 2014). While it is a shift to ask students to feel satisfied with open-ended growth instead of summative grades, these approaches increasingly involve students in their own learning (Kivunja, 2014).

Student-Driven, Student-Directed Learning

Kivunja’s (2014) also worked to illustrate student-driven and student-directed learning. We may have become increasingly accustomed to these terms, but how do we teach students to take ownership in and have enthusiasm for their learning? Kivunja (2014) suggested teaching students to set goals independently, as well as manage their own time and ongoing tasks as part of larger projects. We want our students to be self-starting employees, who independently propose opportunities for work, rather than employees who stand by, waiting to be told what to do next by their supervisor (Kivunja, 2014).

What does student-drive, student-directed learning look like in the classroom?

This can start in the classroom by teaching students to create SMART goals, to plan for long-term projects involving actionable milestones, and to problem solve using strategies when technological issues or unfruitful research results prevent momentum. My colleague, Marsha Scott, astutely noted that we often ask students to create goals, only to never return to them. Our role as a teacher in the student goal setting process is important. Consistent feedback and the revisiting of goals set can be challenging to find time for, but is an important aspect of fostering project management skills.

Global Readiness

"Video Conference" by jencu is licensed under CC 2.0.
“Video Conference” by jencu is licensed under CC 2.0.

Finally, Kivunja (2014) identified the word global as integral to this conversation by defining how students’ ability to communicate and collaborate globally is an important aspect of the 21st century. As we know, technology has brought humanity together on a grand scale making the ability to connect with others around the planet easy and instantaneous. Recently, upon initiating a global collaborative project in my own classroom, I tried to set the scene by asking students if either one of their parents ever work with people in other countries. In every class period, three quarters of the classroom raised their hands, which may be due in part to the widespread tech industry in our area, but it is not farfetched to assume this will continue to be increase.  

What does global readiness look like in the classroom?

Kivunja (2014) wrote that students need to know “how to deal in such an international arena with an open mind that is receptive to different ideas and values” (p. 7). Additionally, students need to learn that the ideas and practices in which they are accustomed are not better than the ideas, practices and values of others (Kivunja, 2014). How do we practice this ? Well, it starts by providing opportunities to connect and communicate with students living in other cities, states, and countries around the world. Tools like Skype in the Classroom,  Twitter, ePals, LumenEd, and simply blogging can provide forums for students to make connections and practice these skills.

Illustrating 21st Century Skills in the English Language Arts

Since my triggering event question was specifically targeted to the language arts classroom, I actively sought out specific resources that might help identify exemplars in this content area. I returned to the Partnership for 21st Century Learning resource and found a set of skills maps focused on various content areas: Math, World Languages, Arts, Geography, Science, Social Studies, and English. These skills maps identify an outcome and an example of a learning activity in elementary, middle, and high school for all of the following 21st century skills.

  1. Creativity and Innovation
  2. Critical Thinking & Problem Solving
  3. Collaboration
  4. Information Literacy
  5. Media Literacy
  6. ICT Literacy
  7. Flexibility & Adaptability
  8. Initiative & Self-Direction
  9. Social & Cross-Cultural Skills
  10. Productivity & Accountability
  11. Leadership & Responsibility

Below is an example from the English Skills Map in the Social & Cross-Cultural Skills section:

As evidenced, they are not terribly specific, nor are there lessons plans attached. However, these exemplars are a great place to start a conversation about what effective 21st century learning looks like. One downside is that these documents can become quickly outdate, as specific digital tools are referenced that may no longer be relevant. Published from 2008 -2011, the digital tools referenced reflect this. Unfortunately, the 2008 English Skills Map is one of the oldest and it does feel, at times, out of date. However, I would still advocate that these resources are a solid place to begin defining models in a peer coaching relationship since the ideas remain grounded in skills.

Mind Map Reflection of Thought Process


Foltos, L. (2013). Peer Coaching: Unlocking the Power of Collaboration. Thousand Oaks: Corwin.

Kivunja, C. (2014). Teaching students to learn and to work well with 21st century skills: unpacking the career and life skills domain of the new learning paradigm. International Journal of Higher Education, 4(1), p1. Retrieved from

Partnership for 21st Century Learning (2008). 21st Century Skills Map English. [PDF file]. Tucson, AZ. Retrieved from

Perkins, J. (2010). Personalising teacher professional development: Strategies enabling effective learning for educators of 21st century students. Quick, (113), 15-19.

Coaching Relationships with New Teachers: Implementing Inquiry over Advocacy

Untitled Infographic (5)

This week in the Digital Educational Leadership program at Seattle Pacific University, I am exploring the roles of communication and collaboration in peer coaching as they align with ISTE Coaching Standards 1 & 2. Foltos (2013) asserted that effective communication and collaboration in a coaching relationship, “emphasize[s] inquiry over advocacy” (p. 87). He stated that reliance on advocacy can result in too much reliance on a coach’s expertise (Foltos, 2013). Instead, inquiry and feedback cycles between collaborating partners build capacity for autonomous problem solving, which serves to best meet student needs (Foltos, 2013). 

For better or for worse, new teachers have the same amount of responsibilities that veteran teachers do. Additionally, they have to learn these responsibilities in real time. While coaches desire to build a new teacher’s capacity, it is still all too easy to advocate when daily problems need solutions. Unfortunately, reliance on advocacy puts the coach in the role of perpetual expert (Foltos, 2013). While I am not an expert in all realms, I do have an expertise that could be useful to a new teacher. On the other hand, I don’t want to influence a teacher too heavily from my one set of experiences and perspectives. Where is the balance between inquiry and advocacy in a coaching relationship with a new teacher?

How do you promote inquiry over advocacy, given the vast amount of new information new teachers need to acquire daily? 

Building Capacity Through Questioning Strategies

Foltos (2013) analogized that coaching is like training someone to rock climb. Just like a rock climber needs to be able to take a risk to grab the next hold,  so too does a teacher need to be able to independently decision-make in the classroom (Foltos, 2013). Various communication strategies can be used to build this independent capacity.

Active Listening

-allows coaches to fully and clearly understand the teacher’s needs, rather than to see to immediately advocate for particular solutions (Foltos, 2013).


-focuses the communication on the teacher’s needs and perspectives (Foltos, 2013). -

Clarifying questions

-allow the coach to fully interpret the situation (Foltos, 2013).

Probing Questions 

-allow coaches to guide teachers to explore problems at a deeper level (Foltos, 2013). The use of probing questions not only replaces the need for a coach to hold all of the answers, but is really the root of the inquiry process. Probing questions incite brainstorming for how to solve problems independently. Foltos (2013) wrote, “Probing questions are the key to inquiry-based learning and are essential for Peer Coaches who want to avoid advocating for a solution based on their ideas and experience” (p. 87).

While these questioning techniques are clearly an important piece of building capacity, how do they fit into the daily, ongoing support of new teachers? New teachers may not have the time and energy to answer endless probing questions, or may be left frustrated by them in a time of need.

Focusing on the Student Over Self

Athanases (2013) asserted that new teachers must shift their professional development away from a focus on themselves and onto a focus on the students. He drew on research to show that inquiry focused on student learning can impact instruction and wrote that “Too often mentoring gets cast as expert teachers providing advice to novices” (Athaneses, 2013, p. 40). Like Foltos, Athanases (2013) suggested that questioning methods can guide new teacher’s analysis of student achievement, as well as frame how new teacher problem solve independently over time. Heavy demands placed on new teachers mean that they need help even identifying problems to solve, which is why mentors can help them to problem-frame,  which can also build capacity to see patterns (Athanases, 2013).

Teacher Preparation Can’t Do It All

Finally, Donnell and Harper (2005) examined how inquiry methods can prepare student teachers for the real world setting of their own classroom. Just as Foltos (2013) indicated that inquiry builds capacity, Donnell and Harper (2005) suggested that inquiry builds autonomy. Theoretical ideas learned in coursework do not necessarily prepare new teachers for daily practice. Asking questions and reflecting on practices allows new teachers to think like independent teachers do, and less like student teachers do (Donnell & Harper, 2005). Most would agree that professors, mentors and coaches can never fully prepare teachers for the classroom (Donnell & Harper, 2005). What can be taught is the ability to reflect about one’s own practice and decision-make responsively (Donnell & Harper, 2005). 

However, new teachers want to receive and experienced teachers want to provide, “practical and immediate solutions to day-to-day problems in the classroom” (Donnell & Harper, 2005, p. 158).  Unfortunately, this can prevent engaging in the practice of inquiry altogether. Donnell and Harper shared research findings that highlighted this struggle.

The daily realities of teaching also presented obstacles and disincentives to inquiry. Many student teachers wanted definitive, a-contextual solutions and were initially resistant to the cognitive engagement required for inquiry (Donnell & Harper, 2005, p.161).

Where is the balance between daily support and inquiry?

Despite all of this solid research supporting methods of inquiry and capacity building, I am still unsure how to negotiate the balance between inquiry and advocacy for a first year teacher. I am encouraged to know that coaches are not intended to champion for big instructional shifts (Foltos, 2013). Instead, inquiry-driven coaching relationships are intended to support ongoing, low approach change (Foltos, 2013). Inquiry is also not intended to be time-bound, but continuous. Therefore, perhaps the coaching of a new teacher can fall into two categories, with norms established to support each. On one hand, coaches can provide guidance on institutional knowledge, suggest curricular aids, and attend to drive-bys, check-ins or just-in-time support regularly. On the other hand, ongoing inquiry-based coaching can the focus of separate meetings. Separating these roles can create space for both, without shortchanging either.

Timelines and Teaching Phases

After sharing my initial resources and reflections, my graduate colleague Marsha Scott, directed me to another great resource. Carr, Herman and Harris (2005) wrote that “mentoring programs enable and encourage novice teachers to grow and change as they create their own questions and find their own answers in a supportive environment” (p. 17). After reading this, again I was left wondering- “How?”

Carr et al. (2005) identified six areas of critical focus for new teachers being mentored. Why are these important? Returning to my question about inquiry over advocacy, it became clear that some of these areas of focus are better met with droplets of advocacy, while others are better met with inquiry. My chart below depicts this progression.

Screen Shot 2015-10-25 at 4.50.43 PM

Additionally, Carr et al. (2005) referenced the five phases of a new teacher, originally identified by Moir (2011). My second chart shows the alignment of the phases with the school year.

Screen Shot 2015-10-25 at 5.40.22 PM

Moir wrote that new teachers progress through these phases over the course of their first year, with rejuvenation and reflection only arriving in January and May respectively (Moir, 2011). As such, survival and disillusionment blanket the first chunk of the school year and supporting new teachers by offering potential solutions can ease the transition. According to Carr et al. (2005), collaborative processes struggle to even find a place in a first year mentoring relationship. It is suggested that true peer coaching finds its place closer to January, as new teachers are less overwhelmed by systems and daily problem solving needs by this point (Carr et al, 2005). After the initial onslaught of information has had time to digest, more energy and time exists for independent reflection. Then, inquiry and collaboration can slowly be introduced. 

Coggle depicts thinking process as I progressed through my triggering event question, resource sharing, and eventual blog post.

Coggle depicts thinking process as I progressed through my triggering event question, resource sharing, and eventual blog post.


Athanases, S. Z. (2013). Questioning and Inquiry in Mentoring New Teachers of English: A Focus on Learners. English Journal, 102(3), 40-48.

Carr, J. F., Herman, N., & Harris, D. E. (2005). Creating Dynamic Schools Through Mentoring, Coaching, and Collaboration. Alexandria, VA, USA: Association for Supervision & Curriculum Development (ASCD). Retrieved from

Donnell, K., & Harper, K. (2005). Inquiry in teacher education: Competing agendas. Teacher Education Quarterly, 153-165.

Foltos, L. (2013). Peer Coaching: Unlocking the Power of Collaboration. Thousand Oaks: Corwin .

Moir, E. (2011, August 17). Phases of First-Year Teaching. [Web log post.] Retrieved from

Revising a BYOD Action Plan: Creating an Online PD Space

Action Plan Feedback

This quarter, I have been working to develop an action plan centered around how the policy of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) fits into my ideal learning environment. Recently, my class came together for a face-to-face session to review emerging plans. We engaged in a practice known as a Tuning Protocol to receive feedback. Just as student learning isn’t as powerful in a vacuum, neither is the ongoing learning and development of educators. Dearman and Alber (2005) address using collaborative practices to analyze and reflect on student work, and claimed that the involvement of educators in reflection and decision making not only creates commitment, but propels and sustains instructional shifts. After my participation in this process, I can see how this would work.

I was astounded by the high level of my peers’ action plans. Their thoughtful reflections on their school learning environments seamlessly merged into their envisioned growth opportunities. The feedback I received on my own plan left me poised to dig deeper, clarify confusions, and make decisions about how it will all come together. For example, @EllenJDorr prompted me to remember that I have to address the connection between BYOD and student-centered learning. Student independence requires teachers to loosen some control over the use of technology in the classroom. Additionally, @Ingersoll_Ryan reminded me that it is not just about rationalizing the positive impacts of BYOD, but owning the distractions personal devices do cause. Yes, students will be distracted at times, and this will be challenging. However, we can own our role to instruct students how to manage this distraction.

Professional development has continued to be the focus of my plan. While I have continued to focus on the unconference model, I have struggled to articulate the research-based evidence of this choice. Additional research has highlighted the power of working in cohorts, who focus on content and engage in active learning (Desimone et al., 2002). The professional development cycle I graphically outlined above centers on these fundamentals. The first step of my plan involves introducing this professional development plan to staff. Many in my cohort suggested that I showcase what successful BYOD in the classroom looks like, share school demographics about student online and device use, and present the rationale for why BYOD benefits student learning, all in the pursuit of inviting staff to participate in the larger conversation (@MrsBTodd gave me a great suggestion to develop a simple infographic to distribute).

Finally, the feedback I received also pushed me to realize that I need jump in and start designing this professional development process. My biggest struggle has been how to blend the unconference model, which fosters interest and participant-driven conversations, with the inquiry model, which supports instructional growth via experimentation and collegial feedback. Participating in both of these practices led to my own instructional shifts this past year, so their value is fresh in my mind. So how do these two ideas come together? I thought the only way to figure this out was to start to build it…

Online Space

@RMoeJo asked me during the Tuning Protocol was how I envisioned an online space supporting these monthly sessions. I wasn’t sure. I decided that a website encompassing all of the moving parts might work. So, I started building one. Using Weebly, I concluded the elements below were crucial to this online professional development space.

  • No Log-Ins: With no passwords to remember or forget, both current and potential participants don’t have barriers to engaging online or just investigating
  • Everything in One Place: Once bookmarked, participants don’t need to check email separately for updates, remember a separate collaboration sites, or find files saved. It is all managed here.
  • Simplicity: Not too much to read or discern. Click and go.
  • Democracy: Three out of the five site pages are devoted to input by participants.

How This Works

The home page explains the process.


Session Schedule

A monthly calendar keeps the cycle aligned with real dates.


Suggestion Space

The embedded Padlet allows participants to suggest topics throughout the month and in real time. Ideas not chosen one month are kept here as potential topics for future sessions.

Screen Shot 2015-07-26 at 1.28.08 PM



If participants need to ask for guidance as they experiment with a new ideas or tools, inquire about something said at the last session, or just solicit help…this is the forum for it.

Screen Shot 2015-07-26 at 1.32.35 PM


Resource Sharing

A term taken from my graduate coursework, the embedded Google Doc on this page is designed for collaboratively logging, storing, and referencing ideas and tools discussed.

Screen Shot 2015-07-26 at 1.32.55 PM

Created using Weebly, the site is also formatted for iOS and Android mobile devices…staying true to BYOD of course.

Screen Shot 2015-07-26 at 1.33.49 PM

What is my end goal?

I was asked during the Tuning Protocol about my end goal. This is an ambitious undertaking and I cannot begin to assume that my colleagues will be as excited about it as I am. That is okay. If I can start a conversation within my school and influence participants to engage in the conversation at all, I will count it as a success.


Dearman, C. C., & Alber, S. A. (2005). The changing face of education: teachers cope with challenges through collaboration and reflective study. The Reading Teacher, 58(7), 634-640.

Desimone, L., Porter, A., Garet, M., Yoon, K., & Birman, B. (2002) Effects of professional development on teachers’ instruction: results from a three-year longitudinal study. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, Vol. 24, No. 2 (Summer, 2002), pp. 81-112.