Saturday, August 29, 2015

I Serve Children Differently Now

For the past 11 years, my first day of school has been full of nervous anticipation, the kind that comes with any event that has a mix of the known and unknown. My room would be prepped, lessons planned, introductory activities ready, and I'd be standing at my door ready to greet a group of students shaking off the grogginess of their summer break.

But I serve children differently now.

To kick off year 12, I welcomed students outside one of our elementary schools (which I loved) while wearing a suit in 93% humidity (which I did not love), then headed to our technology building. I spent the next three days running the cables for chargers in 15 Spectrum Cloud32 Chromebook Carts.

I serve children differently now.

As a follow up, I worked with my partner to enroll almost 400 Chromebooks, then created a timeline of the next month to get all our 1:1 devices out on time. We had committee meetings about what paperwork is necessary to comply with the legalities of COPPA and FERPA, took a conference call with the folks at Amplified IT to make sure we'll have all our GAFE accounts and OUs created by September 8th, then stopped by a few classrooms to install drivers and software for our new Dell S520 interactive projectors.

I serve children differently now.

It's been strange not having my own students anymore, and there's a part of me that misses it. But I'm realizing that even though my name may not be on their schedule, I'm still making an imprint on their future.

If I can provide devices, coach teachers, model lessons, lead engaging PD, be a sounding board for my pilot program pioneers, offer creative ideas for integration, and quickly fix minor tech issues so there's no instructional downtime, then I'm providing a layer of support that will directly impact our students.

So I serve children differently now. And I'm becoming okay with that.

But I'm also okay with the fact that I'll be on campuses this week. Because honestly, that's where all the action really is...

Friday, August 21, 2015

An Open Apology to Teacher Trainers

To anyone who ever came to my campus, building, or district to train me in something, I apologize.

I was probably a jerk.

In my defense, I didn't realize it. But things look very different when you're standing in front of a room full of teachers than it does when you're sitting at a table in the midst of them. When everything flips and there's only one of you facing a bunch of them, you realize how overwhelming the little things can become.

So as my public penance for what I realize now was exceptionally rude behavior, I offer these five apologies.

  1. I apologize for constantly checking my phone during your presentation.
    I thought I could multi-task. And maybe I could. But in reality, I was engaged in behavior that I would never have accepted from my students. I let myself be distracted by the constant stream of information from "out there" and ignored what was happening right in front of me.

    You were nice enough to pretend you didn't notice, but I know you did. And it probably made you roll your eyes (on the inside, of course) and wonder if anything you were trying to teach was sinking in.

  2. I apologize for never looking up from my computer.
    Even if it was a technology training, you're human too. I could have encouraged you, nodded my head, maybe even smiled a bit. It would have let you know that what you were saying wasn't just bouncing off the top of my head. But I didn't. I just stared at my screen like a comatose zombie and never looked up. My mother would have been disappointed in me and my complete lack of manners.

  3. I apologize for carrying on "quiet" side conversations.
    I really thought I wasn't disturbing anyone. After all, I only made the occasional small comment to the people I was sitting with. Only it wasn't small. It was disruptive, especially when it co-mingled with the other "quiet" side conversations of my colleagues. From where you were standing, it quickly became a swelling tidal wave of noise that you had to almost shout over in order to be heard.

  4. I apologize for interrupting your presentation with a question that could have waited.
    My impulsivity got the best of me. I could have jotted my question down or made a note to myself. But for some reason, I felt the need to make you stop your train of thought, sometimes even mid-sentence, to answer. Sometimes what I asked wasn't even directly related to what you were talking about at that moment.

    You were very gracious and took the time to answer, but what I did was more an act of narcissism than of knowledge. My bad, it won't happen again.

  5. I apologize for refusing to do anything I was even mildly uncomfortable with.
    I'm not a big risk-taker, especially if I think I might look stupid. I'm working on that now. But at the time you were presenting, I wasn't in the mood to try something new. I wouldn't get up when you asked. I excused myself from the room. I even pretended I had an urgent phone call.

    But by doing that, I missed a chance to learn something new, explore a novel idea, or just remember what it feels like to be a student. I should have taken that opportunity. But I didn't, and I'm poorer for it.

So to anyone who has ever tried to teach me something, I realize how unbecoming the way I acted was. I'm not saying that I'm going to be perfect from here on out, but I'm going to start doing the grown-up thing and think about my behavior from a viewpoint other than my own. It's the professional thing to do.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Small Bytes: Google Slides Basics

In the third installment of Small Bytes, we'll focus on the GAFE tool that moves presentations from your local drive to the cloud, allowing collaboration and presentation from anywhere in the world.

Also, if you haven't seen it yet, Slides now supports Ctrl + Shift + > (increase font size) and Ctrl + Shift + < (decrease font size), making us keyboard shortcut addicts delirious with joy over this much needed update.

Other Small Bytes playlists:
Google Drive Basics
Google Docs Basics

Friday, August 14, 2015

The Results of Teacher Choice in #Edtech Trainings

Teachers are professionals. Their professional learning needs to reflect that.

Earlier this summer, as I started to think about what treating teachers as professionals actually looks like, I began toying with the idea of teacher-driven trainings. What if, instead of telling teachers what they were going to learn about, I presented them with a set of digital tools that would work in their content area, and let them choose what they learned? Are teachers capable of making such a decision for themselves?

I decided they were, so I developed a structure that worked quite well for my four 3.5 hour sessions. I certainly don't have everything ironed out yet, but I'm pleased with the initial results. Here's the flow of each session, and at the bottom are links to the sites that I built to keep everything organized and on track.

  1. Teachers start by posting to Padlet how they're already using (or not using) technology to teach their content.

  2. Briefly (and informally) have a conversation about their posts and the tools they're using, validate the work they're doing with technology, and start making connections between what they already do and some of the tools they would see during the session.

  3. Introduce the agenda, and be prepared for people not to believe that they're actually going to get to choose what they learn.

  4. Using Nearpod, present brief summaries of the digital tools they can choose from. This also included some poll questions about people's technological comfort level and the occasional quiz question to get the engagement up.

  5. Teachers come back to the training site and vote for their top 4 tools. (It was actually funny how long it took some folks to choose...)

  6. Start with the tool that got the most votes. Model and walk through its main features (10-15 minutes), clarify any confusion, then give 15-20 minutes of "sandbox time" for teachers to explore, talk, and start brainstorming ideas of how they can use it for instruction.

  7. Lather, rinse, repeat with the next two or three tools.

  8. Send everyone to a Google Slides presentation and give them 15 minutes to fill out their grade level, content, TEKS (state standard) and a tool they could use to enhance how they teach that concept.

  9. Everyone gets 40 seconds to share their idea as their slide is shown on the screen.

  10. Fill out a Forms survey for feedback.

That's it. Nothing terribly earth-shattering, just a training based on the fact that since teachers are the gatekeepers of their classroom, they should have a say in what tools they are going to use.

The best part of the whole thing was during sandbox time when I got to walk around and just talk to people. One anatomy and physiology teacher mentioned that they didn't have many online resources, so I was able to introduce her to BioDigital Human. My Friday afternoon group liked Nearpod so much that they asked if I could train them on that before we got into the science tools. Absolutely!

The main issue I'm still facing is how to engage the intentionally disengaged. If you're going to walk across the room to start planning schedules and lessons with your grade level partner (yes, I saw you...), there's really not much I can do to stop you. You're a grown person. Maybe it should be a reflection piece for me that I didn't have something that you felt you could use. I'm still thinking through it.

The only other problem was that our district network went down before my Thursday afternoon session. We stitched together a hodgepodge of smartphone hot spots to get most people online. Ah, Plan B...

But even with the occasional rudeness and network complications, I'm motivated by the feedback* from the exit surveys. It's especially flattering when teachers who don't even teach a content area come back for another session because they felt they learned so much in their first one. To me, that speaks volumes.

I'm just pleased that my teachers didn't let me down when I decided to treat them like the professionals they are and give them a choice in what they learned.


*If you want to see teachers' feedback, here's the link to their unedited survey responses, even the part about how I need to slow down a bit. They're right, I do. I just get so excited...

Training Websites

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Small Bytes: Google Docs Basics

In a previous post, I wrote about how teachers need resources that 1) respect their time and 2) help them build technical chops with digital tools. If you're interested in more on that, you can read it here.

Otherwise, enjoy the next installment of Small Bytes as we focus on that collaborative writing game-changer, Google Docs.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Planning #edtech trainings? Do some of what I did...(and also don't...)

How do you get 19 teachers up to speed on the digital tools they will need in their new 1:1 classrooms? You have an Institute! The brave educators in our district who are piloting GAFE and Chromebooks recently spent 4 days together adding to their toolbox and hammering out what 1:1 will look like at their grade level and in their content area.

This was my first time working with a team to plan any sort of extended professional development. We got some things right from the beginning, made extensive adjustments in the middle, and have many notes that we'll improve on for next year. Everything worked out well in the end, and here are 12 reflections from how we ran our Institute that you can learn from as you plan your own PD.

  1. It's not about the tool. But...
    Our teachers had never used Chromebooks before and very few had used GAFE. So what were they apprehensive about? Chromebooks and GAFE. What did we start with? Vision, inspiration, discussion, expectations, ISTE standards, 21st century teaching and learning...anything but what they really wanted to hear about.

    Those other things are completely necessary, but I think everyone would have been much more attentive to the more philosophical aspects of the pilot if we had started with a concrete introduction to the basics. When teachers have questions like "When will I actually get my devices?" and "How will my students turn in their work on this thing?" floating around in their heads, it's really hard to focus on the intangibles.

    So next time, we will start with a brief overview of our district's vision for 1:1, a quick conversation about how coaches and teachers will work together, and then we will dive straight into what teachers really want to know about: the tools. 

  2. Train with the tools teachers will use.
    We did this well. We used Google Classroom to distribute assignments and ideas during the training, collaborated in Docs, and created Slides presentations to share out lesson plans and ideas. By the end, teachers were planning how they could set up collaborative folders in Drive and talking about using Hangouts for ongoing PD throughout the year.

    Not only did this method give the participants more comfort with the tools, it let them see 1:1 from a student perspective. This helped them identify speed bumps their students might face and got them planning for how they would address them before they ever came up.

  3. Have clear short-term goals.
    Early on in the first day, one teacher who was apprehensive about the program put up her hands and said "Just tell me what you want me to do!" She wasn't being confrontational, she was being honest. She wanted to know exactly what "extra" responsibilities this was going to involve.

    We have long-term goals for the pilot, but we hadn't turned those into any meaningful short-term benchmarks. So I spent the evening of day 2 talking to a friend of mine who's in a similar position, and his solution for his team was to develop goals for every six weeks, stated in terms of what both teachers and students will be expected to do.

    With his permission, I stole his structure, and on our final day we walked our teachers through exactly how many digital citizenship lessons (which we were providing) they needed to teach, the minimum number of assignments students needed to submit through Google Classroom every six weeks, and the precise strategies we would use to work on research and information fluency.

    It was definitely a win when that same teacher smiled, thanked us, and said "That's all I've been asking for."

  4. Develop a mutual coach-teacher agreement.
    In groups, teachers and coaches read two excellent articles on what a coach-teacher relationship looks like and what good coaches do. We then recorded our own takeaways from the articles, and in groups came up with our top 3 requirements for how coaches and teachers should work together during the pilot.

    Voice, choice, control, partnership and confidentiality were recurring themes, and the discussions we had about those areas helped us develop a framework for each person's role in the pilot. As a coach, I needed to hear what was important to my teachers so I could support them in the way they need, not the way I think they need.

    Placemat activity on coach-teacher relationships
    These hang in my office now.

  5. It could have been 3 days.
    We took 4 days, with each day going from 8:00-4:00, but looking back at our pacing and structure, we could have done the same work in 3 days from 8:30-3:30. A one day difference may not seem like a huge deal, but when you're a teacher who is coming in on your summer break, the difference is massive. 

  6. Team-building is NOT a waste of time.
    I'm intensely focused on efficiency, tasks and production. This is a useful bent in a lot of situations, but it can get in the way of developing relationships. Each day, my much more relationally-oriented partner in blended learning led the team in activities that built camaraderie as well as gave them some usable ideas for their classrooms.

    Since these teachers are the only ones in the entire district who are in this pilot, they need to get to know the other people who are going to be facing the same challenges as them. So even though I tend to jump right into the learning when I lead a training, I see the value in taking a time to let teachers connect over a safe, shared task.

  7. Mix up the seating.
    We're all creatures of habit, gravitating toward the people we know and staking our claim to a seat like we do with the pews at church. In response to this aspect of human nature, we used protocols like Clock Buddies to mix teachers up and get them sharing. This worked great and let them connect across campuses and grade levels to share ideas and get feedback on their lessons.

  8. Teachers need "sandbox time" with new tools.
    We preach discovery learning, inquiry and constructivist philosophy with regard to our students, and I've come to discover that the needs of teachers are no different. Once a tool is presented and they have the basic idea of how it functions, they need time to explore and play (hence, "sandbox time") to really understand how it could fit in their classroom. Don't cut that time short, it's the most important thing there is.

  9. Planning time needs clear deliverables.
    On day 2, we gave teachers about 2 hours of planning time in the afternoon to work with some of the GAFE tools they had learned that day. It was a good idea, but it wasn't structured enough with a clear objective, so teachers weren't able to focus their efforts toward a specific product.

    So on day 3, we only took an hour for planning and called it "TEKS, Tool, Activity" (if you're not a Texan, the TEKS are our state standards). Teachers chose one standard, one digital tool, and created one activity they could use in their classroom. Then they contributed to a collaborative Slides presentation and shared their activity in triads at the end, receiving feedback from other group members. Knowing that there was a deliverable involved brought a sense of urgency and focus to the planning time, and the clear objective helped them not to feel overwhelmed. They accomplished more in one hour than they had in two the previous day.

    The final day they took that activity and turned it into a complete lesson, with both traditional and technological elements. This chunking and scaffolding was much more effective and our teachers came up with same fantastic ideas for their students.

  10. Listen to the content of the chaos.
    When teachers get loud, they're either bored or engaged. Confusing. What I learned this week was to listen for the content of the chaos going on around me. If I'm conducting a training and teachers are so excited about something that they're having an in-depth conversation at their table about it, who am I to pull them out of it? That's when I need to take a step back and let them share.

    But if the conversation is off-topic, then I need to reconsider if my presentation is really relevant to their needs. Those situations are a good time to check in, take a break for a few minutes, or poll the group on how they're feeling about what we're working on. That can be wounding to my pride, but in the long run it creates a much more effective training.

  11. Provide lunch.
    We didn't, and we should have. As we were debriefing at the end, one teacher said that she really wished that there had been lunch simply so they could all keep working. What?!? They were disappointed that they had to leave to get lunch and break the flow of what they were, I really love working with teachers. I don't think you get that kind of attitude in many other professions. So in this case, it wasn't as much about the food as it was about the networking, something teachers in this traditionally isolated profession don't typically get time to do.

  12. "If you can't fail, it doesn't count."
    This pilot is a huge undertaking, the first of its kind in our district. It has the potential, like any project, to fail, which I realized that at the Institute as our vision collided with reality. But at the same time, I was reminded of the title of this book by Dave Guymon. The only way to do something great is to take a risk.

    We have incredible teachers who are buying in to the vision and are willing to change the way they teach for the sake of our students. We have committed coaches in place to be with them every step of the way, and incredible district administrators who believe this is the right thing to do for our kids. So sure, while it could fail, it could also be an incredible success (and of course, I think it will be). 

Adjusting and adapting mid-stream is part of any project that breaks new ground, and this Institute was a small snapshot of what this entire year will be like: plan, adjust, change, revamp, implement, evaluate, celebrate and reflect. I'm grateful to the teachers who let us experiment on them, and hopefully you can learn from these reflections on what ended up being a very rewarding, very productive week of training.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Small Bytes: Google Drive Basics

All summer long, teachers have gone to edtech trainings, planned new learning experiences, and embraced the potential of technology. In my district, we just finished our 4-day, one-to-one teacher institute (more about that in a later post), and everyone's enthusiasm and willingness to learn showed me what an incredible group of people I get to work with this school year.

But as I asked teachers for their feedback as we wrapped up the institute, one question kept coming up: how were they going to remember everything they had learned?

After all, for nearly a week they had Doc'd, Drove and Formed; EdPuzzled, Nearpodded, Kahooted!, Classroomed and Chromed. Add to an abundance of tools the fact that they're headed back to their classrooms, and the daily pressure of being an educator can quickly erase the finer details of a budding digital fluency.

I know it's not about the tool. But for a teacher, developing a digital toolbox is like a jazz pianist developing automaticity with blues scales and modes: neither can be fully creative in their work without the prerequisite technical mastery.

So to help develop (or refresh) those technical chops, I'm putting together a series of playlists called "Small Bytes." Each one is made up of videos between 30-45 seconds long, stripped down to only focus on the essentials. Teachers don't have enough time in their lives, so the goal is to be practical and to the point. I'll be posting them here over the next couple weeks so folks can brush up on their skills as they're getting back to work.

Today, we'll start with the cloud storage/sharing wunderkind that is Google Drive.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Why I'm not becoming a Google Certified Trainer. Yet.

I recently spent 3 days surrounded by 30 very nice ed-techie Texans, all of whom were focused on the same goal: passing 5 tests to earn the Google Trainer Essentials Certificate. If you had asked me at the beginning of the week what my end game was, my answer would have been "becoming a Google Certified Trainer." But now, I'm not so sure.

Just to be clear, you'd be hard pressed to find a bigger evangelist of Google Apps for Education than me. It streamlines teacher workflow, enhances collaboration, and gives student a safe, creative place to explore what it means to be a digital citizen. Marry it with a Chromebook and it takes less time to power up than it does to turn to page 128 in a social studies textbook. It's a game-changer.

But the more I think about it, the less convinced I am that becoming a GCT is the path I need to be on right now. The first step was passing the 4 core tests (Docs/Drive, Sites, Gmail, Calendar) and 1 elective (in my case, Chrome), which proved to me that I know what I'm talking about (and I got a fancy certificate to show people when I corner them at dinner parties). Step 2 to becoming a fully certified trainer would only require a resume, 3 references and a screencast, none of which are difficult things to do.

But here's my hangup: annual recertification requires conducting 12 Google trainings every year.

Practically speaking, that would probably happen without even trying. My job is to train teachers, we're piloting Chromebooks, and we're rolling out GAFE. Opportunities abound. The issue is more philosophical: would I be exclusively focused on the needs of my teachers when one of my considerations in planning professional development is making sure I get my GCT hours in?

I'm just wondering if any trainer certification in the education realm that's conferred by a vendor carries with it a certain conflict of interest. It seems to especially be the case when the recertification process requires prioritizing the vendor's product.

While a Google app may often be the best tool for a given situation, equally as often it won't be. I want to make sure I keep the freedom to train teachers using whatever works best, which means evaluating a variety of tools from diverse sources, then picking the one that meets the need without stopping to consider if it meets my recertification requirement.

So for my first year, I'm going to make sure I'm focused on who I'm serving, not on reaching a training number. Maybe once I get some experience under my belt, I'll realize that there are plenty of hours to go around. We'll see. But for now, that's why I'm not becoming a Google Certified Trainer...yet.