Complex Problems Require Complex Solutions

I have become fixated on the phrase, “complex problems require complex solutions.” It has become my mantra. Many in our society have difficulty recognizing that the world is not a simple system. In turn, this binary thinking and looking for simple answers create our current dysfunctional state of being. 

For those who do not know me, I used to be this type of thinker. Why are people poor? To me, it was apparent, they didn’t work hard, or they were lazy. I realize now that my whole worldview was one of simple right or wrong. My thinking changed about a decade ago for reasons that require much more elaboration than I have space for in this blog post. I now focus my thoughts on trying to figure out all of the complexities of a given problem. I could stop there and say, “thanks for reading,” but it was a conversation with a friend and colleague that has me refining my view of this idea of needing complex solutions. 

I work with Jaclyn Hoskins (@JaclynSmith21), and many of our interactions take place through Voxer. She is a reflective educator, and she makes me think. People who make me think cause me to reflect on my own beliefs and attitudes. We all need these people in our lives. Last week, we discussed a recent education Facebook post. Jaclyn commented that the problem with the phrase (complex problems require complex solutions) is that it might make some people feel that there are issues that are too hard to solve and, in the end, might make people throw their hands up and surrender. I started to wonder if I was doing more harm than good by focusing on this mantra. 

I continue to wholeheartedly believe that problems are complex, and they do require complex solutions, but here is my new thinking. We need to make the complexities visible by breaking them apart before seeking solutions. Offered solutions need to be broken down into manageable tasks to make changes that will positively impact the big problem. 

How can we do this? For starters, we have to have some common agreement as to the nature of the problem. This requires that we talk with others about how they see the problem. We can’t be quick to jump to solutions until we understand the true nature and the impact of the problem. My matra assumes that everyone understands that issues are complex, which is a big assumption to make. Jacyln was getting me to rethink the emphasis that I was placing on the solution rather than the problem. Once you have an “agreement” on the issue, people can devise solutions that focus on the unique complexities. These individual solutions would then work in tandem to solve the overall big problem. Several smaller solutions seem much more manageable than one big complex solution. The goal is to solve that difficult problem, not overwhelm people into thinking that they can’t do anything about it because it is too complicated to grasp. 

The million-dollar question is how we get people to see the problem as complex. The current division of our society makes this recognition of complexity difficult. Still, we have to continue engaging and encouraging people to dig deeper into the problems we are facing. Arrived at solutions will not be successful unless we truly know the nature of the problem. The best way to recognize this complexity is to get out of your bubble. Identifying and acknowledging complexity requires us to see the world from a variety of perspectives. I fight against this parochialism by following a variety of educators on Twitter and reading as much as possible.

This blog post was hard to write, and I am still not sure that I clearly outlined my thinking, but it has helped me solidify my new focus of understanding the complexity of the problem before coming up with solutions. Maybe my new mantra needs to be, “Effective solutions are only possible by understanding the complexity of problems.”

Don Sturm

Let’s Connect!

Voxer- @dsturm823

KathiSue Summers and the Case for Robust Online Communities

It has been a long time since I sat down to write a blog post. I could give a million excuses, but frankly, I just haven’t felt like writing one. The death of a friend has prompted me to write a new post. KathiSue Summers passed away from COVID on Saturday, August 28. It was heartbreaking news for everyone who knew and loved her. I never had the chance to meet her IRL (in real life). Wait… you never met her? How could her death have an impact on you? The answer is in the relationship we had built as members of an online PLN community through Voxer. Voxer is a platform that allows for voice and text communication. This community has been together for roughly four years, and we connect daily about topics ranging from education, our kids, favorite foods, etc. I know many of these people better than I know some teachers I have worked with for 30 years. We have had some great times and some rough times. We don’t always agree. Sometimes I get angry at them, and I am sure the reverse is true. Ok…I know the reverse is true. But, in the end, we are a community that cares for each other. 

Some colleagues I work with “make fun” (in a joking sort of way) of these connections, but they are real friendships. My charge to you is to find your group and start connecting. How do you get started? Make your Twitter connections more than just a Twitter relationship. Take the leap and invite followers to join an app that allows you to share your thoughts using your voice. Voice brings so much more to the table than texts. You can hear passion, excitement, and sadness through voice. While Voxer is the app that #4OCFpln uses, others like Synth and Skilled Space allow for the same types of interactions. I have recently become friends with Sara Candela. We use both of these apps to stay in touch. Sara lives 2,000 miles from me; we have never met IRL, but I consider her a friend. 

Even though I never met KathiSue Summers IRL, I am thankful for the online community that allowed me to get to know KathiSue and feel the loss over her death. 

Don Sturm

Let’s Connect!

Voxer- @dsturm823

GoSynth

The Frontline of Education Reform

I finally have some time to sit down and get several thoughts out into a blog post. I know I am not alone, but the last five months have been crazy, and writing a blog post has not been my priority. I’ll start by setting the scene. My district started back on August 10th with full five-day attendance for all students. We have no special schedules; it is all kids, every day. I was concerned that the required mask-wearing would be a huge issue, but students are wearing masks for the most part. There are currently four categories of students in the district. 

Home-Schooled Students: These are the students/families who have chosen not to attend school. Our certified staff has no contact or responsibility for these students. I am not sure if there are any services provided for this group, but families are essentially responsible for their children’s learning.

Remote Learning Students: These students have chosen not to be at school but have the district provide them with their learning experiences for the first semester. Our school district has chosen to contract with two 3rd party vendors. One vendor is for K-4th grade and the other for 5th-12th grade. These students use our iPads to learn on these platforms. We provide technical support for these devices. While this support has been challenging, we are muddling through it. There is a certified teacher who students are assigned that act as a guide through the curriculum. These teachers are not responsible for the actual teaching of the material. Ideally, these teachers are a point of contact for these remote students.  

Quarantined Students: This group of students is fluid. They are waiting on COVID 19 tests to come back and might only be out for a few days while some were in close contact with a student who had tested positive. These students could be out for up to fourteen days. Quarantined students are learning right along with those students who are attending school in person. They also have a district-issued iPad.

In-Person Students: Think traditional school setting, except with masks and one-way hallways and stairs. The district encourages a three-foot social distance, though that is difficult for some classrooms. Students who are in school are issued an iPad. Both quarantined and in-person students are using Schoology as the LMS, which is new to all of us. 

Enough about the background of my district…I want to turn to the blog’s title, “Frontline of Reform,” because one hope that I have for our collective experience since March is that education will change for the better. I hope that teachers, administrators, and even parents will self-reflect and see that there might be a better way of “doing” school. The schedule rolled out by my district gets students back into school, but at what costs? I want to skip over the overall health concerns and get to the pedagogical concerns. Over time many teachers have worked on implementing new strategies that involve collaboration and student voice and choice. Like any district, not all teachers embrace these new strategies, but I can see that we are making strides in thinking about what it means to educate our youth effectively. Social distancing rules are making classrooms look a lot like they did when I started teaching in 1991. Desks are back to straight rows with students facing the front of the room. Gone are the creative classroom layouts that promote more student interaction. There are fewer opportunities to do group work, and, as a result, collaborative activities are harder to plan and implement. I am worried that these changes will set us back in terms of pedagogy.

As more and more in-person students quarantine, it is evident to me that this is the group that might drive education reform. I think these quarantined students, and the teachers trying to teach these students, are on the front lines of education reform. The fluidity is problematic because teachers don’t know who will quarantine on any given day. More importantly, these students have been stressful because teachers don’t know what/how to provide for them. Do they record lessons and send them to students? Do they make them a part of the class by having them join a Google Meet? When and how do they take tests and quizzes? The answer to each of these questions depends on the teacher. These types of questions are common. When do I have time to record lessons when I am also teaching a classroom of students? Is there a privacy issue with having a live class meeting? Can I require a student to attend my Meet at the time of my class? How can I guarantee the integrity of my tests if they are at home? Is it fair to give the same test to students who might be able to use Google to find the answers? Can I just wait until they return to school to make up the assessments? 

I could go on and on with the questions that teachers have about this group of students. Here is the thing, I think teachers working through these problems and the answers they come up with can make school better. Our district is lucky to have coaches that teachers can turn to to help navigate these questions. For the teacher who can’t imagine giving the same test to at-home students as in-person students, they might start to think about the purpose of assessments. If a student can look up answers on Google, is that the most effective type of assessment? A self-reflective teacher might start to think about ways of designing assessments that focus more on application rather than knowledge. A teacher engaged in self reflection might begin to ask if a recorded lesson is effective for students who are home, maybe it would be just as effective for in-person students. That same teacher could explore different possibilities of what class time looks like. Perhaps it is less direct instruction and more student conference-based. Ultimately, I think if we do it right, we can make some significant strides toward making schools more relevant than they have been for some students. 

For this period to not be a lost opportunity, teachers have to be given time and be willing to self-reflect. If teachers are always just putting out fires and working one day at a time, they will not be able to leverage this new experience for their students’ betterment. Administrators and Board members have to be creative by figuring out ways of giving teachers time to start to be proactive rather than reactive. The onus isn’t just on the official school leaders; educators need to take a hard look at what and how we have been running our classrooms and make changes that will benefit students moving forward. One of my fears is that when all this is “over,” we will wipe the sweat from our brows and go back to the way that we were. I don’t want all of the work of teachers to be in vain. 

Don Sturm

Have you read the terms of use??

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There is nothing better than walking into my local grocery store, or better yet, an Apple Store and getting the “Welcome Don” greeting on my phone. I get the newest specials and deals right as I walk in the door. I think most realize that this type of personalization comes with a price…a lack of privacy. As an adult, I have consciously decided to allow certain stores and apps to track my movements so I can get this personalized service. Privacy is a different monster all together for the students in our schools. There are both state and federal regulations that govern when we can provide and how we use student data. As a technology integration specialist, I work with both the technology and curriculum departments. I love having a foot in both because I can be that bridge between the back end of the tech side and what teachers need to do their jobs. One of my roles is to help monitor all of the privacy policies for the numerous apps that are requested and eventually pushed out to all of the 3,000+ student iPads.

When I first started in this role, I had to dig into the Terms of Service as well as the privacy policies for each app developer. It was overwhelming! I would try to catch all the nuances of the various policies, but we eventually decided to go with a company that would do the details work. We chose Education Framework. This company does a wonderful job, but I find myself not actually reading the privacy policies anymore because someone else does. As I work to complete my ISTE Certification, one of the assignments is to explore the policies of some of the apps that we use. 

My district uses Buncee, Seesaw, Flipgrid, and Edpuzzle quite heavily. What did I find as I explored the user agreements and privacy policies? It was not surprising that all four of these services take privacy and data sharing seriously. All four of them are signatories of the Student Privacy Pledge (the pledge). In a nutshell, the signers of the pledge agree not to collect student information beyond what is needed for the service to work. They also agree to not sell or disclose information to outside sources for the purpose of advertising. Those of us entrusted to judge educational services should be happy to see the companies with whom we work willing to sign this type of commitment. The Internet Keep Safe Coalition (iKeepSafe) is another certification that checks for compliance to state and federal regulations. My research shows that Buncee and Edpuzzle have that certification. After this research, I am confident that these products are keeping student data safe and private.

Teachers sometimes ask for access to services that are not set up to deal with educational institutions. I want to make it clear…I am not saying these are bad companies, they just don’t have the focus on education. One of those products is Bitmoji. Who doesn’t love to be able to share their likeness in the form of these cartoon-type characters? Their user agreement clearly states that the service should not be used by children 13 years of age…period. In addition, my district does not allow access to it at school for those older than 13 because the privacy policy states that information is shared with several entities, many of whom aren’t specified. Adults can decide to create an account with Bitmoji, but students can’t, nor should they, be allowed to create accounts that could potentially provide personal data to other entities. A parent might allow it, but the school can’t be a part of that agreement because of the risk of the violation of student privacy laws.

So what’s the point of all of this. Mostly it is awareness. If you are an educator who has had an app/service denied that you would like to use with your students, there might be a good reason for that denial. On the other hand, before submitting an app/service for approval, do some homework on the privacy and terms of service policies. If you find that they have signed the Student Privacy Pledge and/or are certified by iKeepSafe, include that in your request. 

#OneWord2020

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2020 makes the 3rd year that I have taken part in the #OneWord movement. I have found that condensing my goals for the year into one specific word is a great way to self-reflect on where I have been and where I want to go. It is one word…no mantra or goal statement to remember. It is a more natural way to always keep my word on my mind. I continue to come up with a guiding word because it has worked! 2018 my word was CREATE and create I did. 2019 was DISSONANCE. My whole goal with PD was to get people thinking about what they believed versus how they ran their classrooms.

My #OneWord2020 is EMPOWER. In my position as a technology integration specialist, it is easy to get into a rut of putting out fires related to tech problems. I will continue to do that, but my goal is to also be sure to work closely with teachers and administrators to make them feel like they can start to make empowered instructional decisions. The issue with starting a conversation with the other party having a problem that has to be solved is that there is a problem that has to be solved! Usually, that problem has to be solved pretty quickly so that a lesson or unit can run smoothly. Many times, I solved the problem, and the other party is grateful beyond belief. It is a good feeling, but it doesn’t do much to empower the person with whom I was working. In fact, sometimes the other person feels deflated because of the feeling that they couldn’t solve the problem.

Empowerment is a feeling that comes from a place where you feel confident to try new things. I don’t think I have been a force of empowerment for many of the teachers with whom I work. The feeling of relief and/or gratefulness are not the same as empowerment. The empowered educator feels confident in trying new things and asks for someone to offer feedback and suggestions. Don’t get me wrong, I do have that relationship with some teachers, but my goal is for that number to grow. The “trick” will be to not only be there to help solve the problem but to follow up regularly about how things went. These follow up meetings are where the best learning takes place because I can help walk them through some self-reflection about the lesson. The more we self-reflect, the more that we can feel empowered to make tweaks and improvements to what we are doing.

Here’s to a great 2020!

 

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Thanks to Heather Lippert for this reminder of my #OneWord2020! #4OCFpln 

 

The Domino Effect

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I know that I can be persistent. Some might even call me annoying. My goal over the last five years as a Technology Integration Specialist has been to get educators out of their bubble by making contact with educators outside of the city/state/region where they teach. While some educators took me up on my offer to help them connect, most of the times my pushing was met with quite a bit of resistance.

“I don’t have time for it.”

“How do I know the people I make contact with are good teachers?”

“Social media is stupid.”

“What I have been doing has worked so far.”

Thankfully, I have continued to be persistent/annoying because this year has been different. More teachers and administrators in my district have been taking to Twitter and Voxer to get outside of their bubble. I beam with pride (sort of like a proud poppa) when I see these new interactions on a variety of social media platforms. Consider these examples…

  • The 7th-grade math teacher who wants to flip his classroom began Voxing with the author of Tech with Heart, Stacey Roshan (@buddyxo) about her nine years of experience with flipping her math classes. There are no other “experts” on flipping a math classroom in my district, so Stacey has provided reflective, just-in-time answers to his questions. I sense his increased confidence level with every interaction.
  • The 3rd-grade teacher, Kelley Friedrich (@KelleyFriedric1), who wants to change up what and how she does things is getting involved in Twitter and making connections in order to learn more about topics like #geniushour. Kelley also wondered if there was a better way than charts and points to handle discipline in the classroom. I helped her make connections with Elizabeth Merce (@EMercedLearning), founder of #DitchtheClips, to discuss her experiences and expertise in social-emotional learning (#SEL) with early primary students. These conversations have taken place on Twitter and Voxer.
  • The high school social studies teacher, Jaclyn Smith (@JaclynSmith21), who wants to rework her classes to better meet the needs of her students is jumping into Twitter and Voxer to make connections with others who are on the same journey. I have had more contact with her on Voxer and Twitter this summer than I was able to have most of the last school year! That goes to show you that social media can connect people who aren’t all that far apart.
  • The elementary administrator, Michelle Peterson (@mbpeterson719), who was on Twitter but didn’t do much with it (she didn’t even have a profile picture) is now becoming an active contributor. She has also jumped into Voxer to have discussions with Jacyln Smith about the recent Strobel Summit sessions (@strobeled, #StrobelSummit). Imagine that…a high school teacher and elementary administrator having a discussion about teaching and learning!
  • The high school counselor( now elementary principal), Stephanie Brown (@brownfamoffive), who has gone from an inactive to active Twitter contributor also made the leap to Voxer. She is now an actively contributing member of the #4OCFpln on Voxer. This group has been a game-changer for me professionally! She jumped right into the new platform and is not only active in that group but brings her #SEL and trauma-informed instruction expertise to the group members. She even joined forces with two other #4OCFpln members (@jchandlerteach and @jmartinez727) to offer a Voxer book study on The Boy Who was Raised as a Dog.
  • The kindergarten teacher, Haley Veldhuizen (@HaleyVeldhuizen) who is new to Twitter but is jumping in with both feet! She has used this new medium to share her learning as well as finding resources for incorporating Seesaw (@Seesaw) into her classroom next school year. I can only imagine how she will use Twitter to share out about her class next school year!

Social media may have its faults, but it can and is used for good. If you are reading this and don’t consider yourself very connected, find something for which you are passionate and connect with others who share that same passion. If you are a connected educator, reach out to others (be persistent/annoying) and help them experience the power that connecting with others through social media can have on your classroom, students, and you as a professional. This is the domino effect…you push others, they get involved, and they push others to do the same. The end result is the positive impact that all of these professional connections will have on students!

Don Sturm

@sturmdon on Twitter

@dsturm823 on Voxer

When an app is more than an app and a company more than a company!

 

Let me start by saying that I am all about teaching technology skills rather than a particular platform. With that being said, I want to talk a bit about an app/service that makes it so easy for students to create rather than just consume content. Buncee allows students to be in the driver’s seat to show what they know in a variety of creative ways. The push in schools today is to find ways to increase student voice/choice/engagement. Buncee easily gives students the ability to create what they want the way that they want to create it! The learning curve for Buncee is not steep at all. Let your students explore, and it won’t take them long to realize the power they have to be as creative as their minds will let them. The more they use it to show what they know, the better the Buncees will become. I can attest to this.

I started creating a quote of the day about 1 1/2 years ago using Buncee and Tweeting it out. One of my first ones is below…

And…one of my favorites from a year later…

Using Buncee has allowed me to go from taking a quote and putting it on top of a background (literally took 3 minutes from start to finish) that is searchable in Buncee to starting from a blank canvas and building the quote visually using the available tools and images. I have trained my brain to think differently. I never viewed myself as a creative person, but Buncee has helped me to build my confidence level when it comes to creativity. Now I am not afraid to put what I create out to the world. In fact, at #ISTE19 I am going to present Buncee Chopped at the Buncee booth. This will involve me starting with a Buncee that has random “stuff” (not by my choosing) on the canvas and showing how easy it is to create something that is meaningful (hopefully)! This is a confidence that I did not have in the past! You can check out all of the quotes that I have created on this Buncee Board.

I also want to take some time to talk about Buncee as a company. Look…I know…they are a company and their goal is to try to make money, but they do it in a responsible and caring way. I feel valued as an educator by everyone with whom I have interacted. Look…I love tech, but I have never felt a sense of belonging to a company as I do with Buncee. If I have a question, I message them on Twitter and never know whether I will be talking with Cesca, Annie, Bryan, Claire, or possibly the CEO and founder of Buncee, Marie. I cannot say enough about the Buncee team! They have included me in discussions on how to make their product better as well as just connecting on a personal level. I have met all of them and consider them friends. Buncee also encourages relationships through their ambassador program. There are some creative educators that are part of this ambassador program and I value their thoughts on a range of educational topics. Here is a link to my Twitter list of top-notch Buncee users!

Long story short, if you want to explore allowing your students to create on their terms, give Buncee a try!

I Like…

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My #OneWord2019 is dissonance. That word is especially important to me because I think we all could do more to delve deeper into what we believe and whether those beliefs transfer into our actions. The act of self-reflection is vital to becoming a better educator. Let’s take a look for a moment at a simple and often used statement…”I like.”

I like pizza.

I like to vacation in Hawaii.

I like dogs.

I like…

You get the point. However, let’s think about what that phrase means when used in our classrooms and schools.

I like the feel of the paper in a real book.

I like to use a pencil/pen and paper.

I like a classroom that is quiet and organized.

Here is where I may make some educators uncomfortable (maybe even angry). When educators make these types of statements, they are really verbalizing their likes, not the likes of their students. There is nothing wrong with stating your likes and how you learn best, but the danger is when your preferences are mistaken to be the preferences of others.

I think what is important is to give learners, no matter their age, some variety in how learning can take place. Let them find their preferences through a variety of activities and experiences. I am someone who reads almost exclusively on an electronic device. For me, it is much easier to have reading material always at my fingertips. I don’t need to have access to a pen or highlighter with which to mark essential passages and ideas. Often overlooked is the fact that I don’t carry a purse; there is no place to carry a book and pen! I can read at night without the awkwardness of finding the right lighting. I read more than ever because of the ease at which I can access the printed word. When I have mentioned my preference to teachers, many respond by saying that they could never do that and that kids need to touch and feel the pages. I have no problem with the personal preference they express; my issue is with assuming that kids have that same preference and need to handle paper to make reading a meaningful task.

My challenge to you is simple. Try to be more aware of how your personal preferences impact your classroom. Give students the ability to experiment with different modalities. Let them find out what they are comfortable with and will help them learn best. Try to resist forcing your way of learning onto them.

Don Sturm

Personalized Hashtags

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In my position, I spend a lot of time trying to convince educators to get connected by using Twitter and/or other social media platforms. Most of the time I tout the connections that can be made and how those newly formed connections can help to transform classrooms and schools. This blog post isn’t about all of those critical reasons but how to use hashtags as a way to document and retrieve what you are doing in the classroom.  I recently attended an EdCamp in Central Illinois and was in a session discussing the need for and importance of connecting with others on social media. I didn’t need to be convinced, but when I mentioned the beauty of a service called Wakelet in being able to gather Tweets to help others see the power of connections, the light bulb starting going off. Simply put, Wakelet is a curation tool that allows you to add PDFs, links, images, Youtube videos, and Tweets all in a visually striking way. Here is an example of a Wakelet I made to show others the benefits of Seesaw. I started thinking about how teachers could leverage the power of hashtags to demonstrate their professional growth. I also need to give some credit to Carrie Bauchcum for helping me think through my ideas.

Hashtags are a way of categorizing information on social media sites like Twitter. While some users craft hashtags that are funny and sometimes only for one time use, consistent hashtags are a powerful way of being able to find information. Going to Twitter and searching #GrowthMindset will provide you with a plethora of information about the topic. Results might include GIFs, blog posts, images, etc. and can serve as a starting point for an exploration into this topic. My thought…what if we used personalized hashtags (#personalizedHT) to share information that we want to show others about what we are doing in our classroom and/or school?

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There is probably a familiarity with the Danielson Framework as many districts use this model for teacher evaluations. Teachers are asked to provide specific evidence under each of the domains to help evaluators rate their overall efficacy. I think it is a common practice to leave this evidence gathering process to the last moment and then frantically try to gather what is needed for the summative evaluation. Imagine for a moment teachers working throughout the year to capture this evidence and sharing out the story of their classroom and pedagogy using Twitter. Each post could have a school hashtag as well as a personalized hashtag (#PersonalizedHT). I might post an image of a group of students effectively using the flexible seating in my room. Adding a hashtag like #sturm2e would record this as a piece of evidence for Domain 2e- Organizing Physical Space. This process would continue throughout the year and might include personal reflections, uploaded videos, self-reflections posts using an app like Periscope. The important part is that each Tweet is “coded” with at least one domain based on a specific personalized hashtag. Just a quick note on hashtags–No one owns them so if you come up with something really catchy, others can use it. Bland and boring might be a good rule of thumb for these hashtags.

Enter Wakelet. I love it because you can link your Twitter account to the service and pull in Tweets by account or hashtag. The person viewing the shared Wakelet does not have to have a Twitter account to be able to see the Tweets you have added. You see where I am going with this?? Create a Wakelet for each domain and every week or so (Twitter only allows Tweets to be searched 2 weeks back on Wakelet, though you can search for and add individual Tweets at any time while in Twitter) and do a search for the hashtags that corresponds to the relevant domain. This evidence is not limited to Tweets. You can add other items to the Wakelet to help present an accurate, real-world portrayal of you as a professional.  Each Wakelet can be shared using a link with anyone needing to see the information.

I am excited to start using #PersonalizedHTs to document my learning and growth as an educator. How do you see them being used for yourself?

Don Sturm (@sturmdon)

The Complete Guide to Twitter Hashtags

Wakelet: A how-to guide for the skeptical educator

The Educator’s Guide to Wakelet

The Box

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When I read The Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros three and a half years ago, I remember the change that happened within me. This guy was speaking to me about ideas that I had been thinking about for a number of years but couldn’t articulate nearly as well. The concept of innovating within the box was particularly intriguing. It became my overarching philosophy as I worked with teachers and administrators to make school a more relevant place for students. Innovating within the box made sense and was an easier sell. Common sense says that we cannot change ingrained systems overnight, but we can make changes within the box of school as it now exists. I would work with teachers to try to make their lessons a bit more innovative but still inside the box. This was my role…little changes that might start the ball rolling to bigger, more impactful changes.

I am in no way bad mouthing the idea of innovating within the box, but I do think that we need to start to think more about that pesky box. Since reading The Innovator’s Mindset, I have encouraged others to tip the box on end, turn it around, turn it upside down, etc. This has caused some teachers to think about changing their practices, but ultimately after all these changes, we are still left with a box. The eyes of some teachers have been opened to the oppressiveness of this box. For example, changes to age-old grading practices have been attempted but, ultimately, grades still have to be given. The hope of getting students to see that grades are not everything might work for that semester, but they will move on to the next grade level and/or subject matter and back come traditional grading practices. The students are still in that box!

 

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So what do we do? I have spent a lot of time this year thinking about that box which is school. I even picked dissonance as my #OneWord2019 to match with this idea of genuinely starting to question what schools and education should look like in the future. The goal of creating dissonance within teachers, administrators, students, and community members is that we can start to experiment with truly outside the box ideas. Ultimately, I think we need to start making the box look less like a box. Maybe start by cutting a hole in the box so that outside the box thinking can enter. Remove one side of the box so it looks less like a box. One way that I try to help others deconstruct the box is by running deep dive professional development opportunities where the goal is to force participants to think about what it looks like outside of that comfortable box in which we have been functioning for so many years. Topics include taking a hard look at issues like grading and assessment practices, student compliance, and the role of student voice and choice. How do you encourage outside the box thinking?

Don Sturm @sturmdon