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

#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

Be a sprinkler, not a firehose!

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I have always been a reflective person…maybe even to a fault. I know that I talk a lot. It is hard for me to keep my mouth shut and not offer an opinion or ask a question at meetings. I can be seen as pompous and overconfident at times. I genuinely like to help people. Troubleshooting is a strength of mine and, as a result, I tend to be a fixer. Ok…you get the idea, but the one aspect of me that I struggle with the most and want to change is that I know that I can be a firehose of ideas and thoughts.

To those who have experienced my soaking, I am passionate about what I believe is best for the kids in our schools. My passion can sometimes be a bit much for people. Add to that the animated nature of my personality and you have a full-blown firehose going on! Some colleagues joke around with me about this proclivity to push and throw out idea after idea, but I know that there is some element of truth to their kidding. I really do get it!

sprinklerMy goal moving forward is to work to be more of a sprinkler than a firehose. People will still have the opportunity to get soaked, but it will be at their pace. Watch kids who run through a sprinkler. Some go full bore through it, some stand right on top of it, some hang back to get a little wet. This last type almost always ends up getting soaked once they get used to the temperature of the water or they see others having fun playing. This will be a challenge, but I think it is important for me to make this a goal. One way that I can work on this is to make sure that I am fully listening to those who ask for my help or advice. Truly hearing what teachers have to say will help me to better sense whether they are the run through the sprinkler full bore type of person or one that needs to feel the sprinkles for a bit before they commit to run through it.

My goal for the school year…Be a Sprinkler…Not a Firehose!

Don Sturm

It is all about perspective!

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I was helping a new instructional coach come up with ideas for a video she is making describing her new role. She mentioned that when she described the role of an instructional coach to a classroom one student mentioned that she must know everything. Her response was something along the lines that she didn’t know everything, but she could see the classroom from a different perspective because she wasn’t the classroom teacher.

This exchange really got me thinking about the importance of perspective in education. Vocabulary.com defines perspective as, “the appearance of things relative to one another as determined by their distance from the viewer.” There are many examples of how we try to gain perspective. Players on a football team can only see the field through their helmet. Even the best players can only see so much of the field at one time. Teams counter this lack of perspective by placing coaches in elevated perches to gain a view of the whole playing field. This new perspective helps coaches make decisions based on the big picture. NASCAR teams employ spotters who sit on top of the viewing stands to help drivers “see” more than they can while in the car. Urban planners use aerial perspectives to make long term decisions about how cities should expand. From their perspective, the Thai soccer team trapped in a cave only had one way out and it was blocked. It took others outside of the cave to see the big picture and make decisions that lead to the happy ending of that story.

So what does all of this have to do with education? As educators, I think we need to ask one simple question, “How can I get a different perspective of my classroom?”. The answer could be asking an instructional coach to come in and provide that added point-of-view. It could be visiting classrooms to see how other teachers are working with students. Recording your lessons and reflecting could help you see your classroom in a different light. Social media can add a different perspective as well. Becoming active on Twitter helps you to gain perspective because you have contact with others and how they educate their students. You may not like or agree with some of what is shared, but the experience will force you to reflect on what you do in the classroom. In other words, you have gained a different perspective. The app Voxer has been a powerful force for me in gaining a different perspective of education. My #4OCFpln Voxer group challenges me everyday to look at the field of education with different lenses. I believe my social media presence helps me to do my job better because I am exposed to a variety of perspectives ranging from different grade levels to different regions of the country and other parts of the world.

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Simply put, today’s teachers have to gain perspective to be the best educators possible. Gone are the days of doing things the way that you think is right without considering other viewpoints and strategies. What will you do to gain perspective?

Don Sturm

Twitter @sturmdon

Voxer @dsturm823

It’s All Over but the Connections!

Buncee_CreationSo I am sitting here in Chicago’s Union Station waiting for the train to take me home from ISTE 2018. All I want to do is sleep, but I thought I would start the reflection process. Let me start by saying…WOW! As a first timer, ISTE was very overwhelming. Being someone who likes being in social situations and unfamiliar places, it is good for me to feel overwhelmed. It helps me to see how others view the world. I see why introverted personality types feel exhausted after being in social situations.

I have to admit that I was a little concerned after getting to McCormick Place on Saturday. There didn’t seem to be much open and things were crowded. Sunday wasn’t much better. The lines for sessions were over the top! People getting in line an hour and a half early for a one-hour session were common. There wasn’t much in the way of food. Complaining was common amongst participants.

Sound like a negative experience? Not at all! Prior to the conference, I got a lot of advice that connections at ISTE were the best part of the conference experience. That advice was SPOT on…my connections made ISTE amazing! Being able to see and talk with educators that I hadn’t met face to face was amazing. Hanging out with Dan Kreiness, Louis Soper, Sarah Fromholder, Jennifer Ledford, Christie Cate, Amy Storer, and SO many others was simply awesome. Those connections that we had forged over Voxer and Twitter transferred to the real world quite nicely. Many educators with whom I work say that they don’t like social media because of all the negativity or the time that it takes to make connections. ISTE made me further convinced that social media can be a positive, life-changing experience and it is well worth the time that I have put into it.

One other aspect that I was excited about was the opportunity to meet those educator “rock stars” who have written the books and blog posts that I spend much of my free time reading. Again, what a great experience. Every rock star that I met was a real, down to earth person who cares about education as a profession as much as I do. I have been BookSnapping since the beginning but had never met Tara Martin face to face. I don’t read the same since I started BookSnapping…my mind is awhirl with images and emojis! She was just as awesome and personable as she has been to me over social media. The energetic, thoughtful Jennifer Casa-Todd who has spoken my language in terms of the value of social media for students recognized me and gave me a big hug just like a regular person! What can I say about Dr. Sarah Thomas? Edumatch was my first experience on Voxer and my education life hasn’t been the same since. I had “met” her over a couple of Google Hangouts, but I got to meet her for real at the EduMatch Meetup. Such a great person. Sarah your passion for education and educators is much appreciated by many…I hope you realize the impact you have had on so many of us.

I do plan on attending other ISTE conferences, but what hit home about this one is the power of being a connected educator. My goal will continue to be to get my teachers involved in social media in some way. It is truly the connections that matter!

Don Sturm

One Week to #ISTE18

As a first timer, OVERWHELMED is the word going through my head right now. I have been to many conferences, but ISTE is by far the biggest. There is just so much to do and not enough time or human energy to be able to do it all in the Saturday to Wednesday time frame! I have read blog posts, followed hashtags, and joined the ISTE Voxer group all in the hopes of gaining some degree of comfort before stepping foot in Chicago next Saturday. The one thing I might have going for me is the fact that I have been to Chicago many times (I only live 2 1/2 hours away) so I don’t have the added stress of trying to figure out what I need to see outside of the conference.

What I am most looking forward to at ISTE is simply furthering the connections that I have fostered through social media. For me this is exciting! Many of the people that I have grown to know over the last two years will be there as well. Unless you have a strong PLN it might be hard to imagine what this group of people has given me professionally. They have been a sounding board, they have challenged my thinking, they have pushed back on ideas, but most of all, they have been there anytime that I have needed them. While social media has come under fire for its negative influence on society, my experiences have been the complete opposite!

I have one week left to put the “finishing” touches on my game plan to try to make the most of my time in Chicago. You can bet that I will be sharing photos (I’ll have my flat PLN ready to go) and Tweets about the experience.

Many thanks to my Voxer group peeps…#Edumatch, #Edumatch2, #4OCFPLN, #LetThemSpeak

I should also give a shout out to my roommate for the week Dan Kreiness.

I can’t wait to talk with you all in person.

Don

Goal for 2017: Encourage PLNs!

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Four simple words…I love my PLN! For those who are unfamiliar with the acronym, a PLN is a personal learning network where you decide what you want to learn and who will help you learn. It is an informal, organic type of learning where individuals engage with the goal of contributing to the overall base of knowledge. It typically starts online but may continue in person through attending conferences. One of my professional goals for this year will be to encourage others to build a robust PLN, using my experiences over the last year.

My online presence takes place on Twitter (@sturmdon), Voxer (@dsturm823), SnapChat (don.sturm) and Facebook (member of The Innovator’s Mindset and Teachers Throwing Out Grades groups). These four online resources have provided me with much inspiration as they are filled with educators who truly care about teaching and learning. Even if I don’t use specific strategies that are shared, the interactions inspire me to try new things.

Educators need to be encouraged to take risks and try new things. This is exactly what you can get from a PLN. It is very easy to bounce ideas off of others simply by posting it. The bigger your PLN, the more advice you will receive. People are more than willing to share their experiences, both positive and negative, so that the collective group can benefit. My philosophy is to follow as many educators as possible. As a result, I follow many more than follow me.

Online PLNs help to make collaboration more than just a buzzword. Working with others is easy if you are open to experiences. PLNs can be a one-way street, but if you are willing to share it becomes something more. There have been many times that a Twitter chat or Voxer chat has turned into work sessions with other educators. Most of these work sessions have taken place on Google Hangouts where your online colleagues are now “real” in the sense that you can see and interact with them. I have also had side conversations with individuals where we hash out issues that are important to us in our jobs. I have to give a shout out to Tara M. Martin for being a great PLN collaborator! We have had many conversations about teaching and learning. In the spirit of collaboration, I hope that I have given back…at least a little…to her. She is down to earth and has inspired me (and many others) to create and contribute to our PLNs so as to get the most out of the online experience. Her development of #booksnaps as a way to get students and educators interacting with text using emojis/Bitmojis and images is fantastic. I can honestly say that it has changed the way that I read. Her blog can be found at http://www.tarammartin.com. I have also included a few of the (from the MANY) #booksnaps that I have created. Search for #booksnaps on Twitter to find the hundreds of others who have added their own.

The chat capabilities of these online mediums are AWESOME! Twitter chats are probably the most well known, but I have also taken part in EdCamp Voxer, as well as regular groups that are part of the Voxer experience. My new interest is experimenting using SnapChat as part of my PLN. Recently, I started a SnapChat group chat that has been an interesting experience with the fifteen others who joined.  The point is that chats allow you to discuss real issues with real people and have real-time interactions versus the typical social media experience of posting something and waiting for a reaction. These chats sort of kill two birds with one stone. You get the professional discussion, but you also learn how to use the medium. The later is important with learning and understanding the social media lives of students. While many complain that this generation of kids always has their head buried in their phone, my experiences have led me to believe that kids are being much more social on their devices than we think!

The belief that we need to do things the way that they have always been done is one of the major ideas holding back schools from being even better. The sheer nature of online PLNs will help to combat this feeling. These PLNs surround you with people who do and want to try new things. It helps you to see that there are other ways of doing things. Teaching used to be a very independent endeavor, but it no longer has to be! Give an online PLN a try this year. Find someone in your district/school who can help or, better yet, get someone to join you on the new endeavor.

Don Sturm