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

2018…Professionally the Best Year Yet!

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As I take some time to reflect on 2018, it is apparent to me that this was the best year of my career. Other than a couple of years where I struggled to get a hold on the stresses of being a teacher, my career really has been a positive one, but this year was a particularly good one!

One reason is that I am finally comfortable with my position as a technology integration specialist after five years. When I was hired to be a tech integration specialist, I was thrown into a new 1:1 iPad initiative that meant learning on the job… every day! I always felt like I was behind the curve and was reacting to situations rather than looking ahead as I was used to doing in my classroom. As my district has become more comfortable with iPads, my position has turned into more of an instructional technology coaching position. This is where my passion lies, helping teachers to provide students a relevant education. Teachers view me as more than just a tech resource and contact me for instructional advice, rather than just a technology issue.

One huge impact on my 2018 has been the #4OCFpln of which I am an active member. This is a Voxer group that I was introduced to by Louie Soper (@mr_middle_2 ). I was in a direct message conversation with Louie and another social studies teacher about the idea of standards-based grading. During this conversation, Louie messaged me and said he had this “think tank” that I should consider joining. It has honestly been the best professional decision of my career. This group of passionate educators who I talk (yes, Voxer is a walkie-talkie app) with everyday challenges my beliefs and make me strive to be a better, more informed educator. I have had more rich educational discussions since I joined in May than I have had throughout my whole teaching career.  This group is truly a family. Many of us are going to present at ISTE19 on the power of Voxer and social media connections, and we are all staying together in Philadelphia!

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I have read more this year than I ever have. In fact, I think as I write this, I am on target to read 54 books. This surpasses my goal of completing 50 books in 2018. Most of these books have been non-fiction books focused on instructional strategies and education related topics. While I have always been a reader, it has been the Voxer book studies that have upped my reading game. This online, asynchronous book study group was started by the founder of #4OCFpln Matt Larson (@mlarson_nj ) and Ricardo Garcia (@rokstar19). We conduct an in-depth study of one book a month. Invariably, each of the discussions brings up other books that “need” to be read. I am much more knowledgeable about the profession of teaching as a result of this book study group and my reading habit. 

Lastly, my #OneWord2018 was CREATE, and create I did. One of my goals is to get teachers and students to realize the importance of creation using technology, not just consumption. As has been part of my position from the start, I continue to create tutorial videos for both students and teachers to help navigate the ever-changing world of technology. I create graphics with a quote of the day every day using Buncee (@Buncee ). This year also saw the creation of new professional development options that I call deep dives. These deep dives posit teachers into situations and discussions where they hopefully start to think deeply and reflectively about education topics. These deep dives have covered topics like assessment, grades, student engagement, creativity, and student voice and choice. I am also in the midst of writing a chapter and vignette for a member of #4OCFpln (@Rdene915 ) who is publishing a couple of books in the near future. While I am hoping they are good enough to be included, the process of writing down my thoughts about the changing nature of education over my career has been a valuable self-reflection exercise. In the wings is a podcast series with a 4th-grade student discussing books that she will choose. I am excited about this new endeavor because it does involve working directly with a student and sharing our joy of reading.

I am looking forward to starting 2019 with all of the positive habits of 2018. My new #OneWord2019 is dissonance. Getting educators to consider what education should look like for students in 2019 versus the current reality is an important step in making our schools better and more relevant for students. Here is to a great 2019!

Don Sturm

It Takes Time

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As I talk and work with those in positions to influence others, I am struck by the concern expressed that the change they are promoting isn’t happening fast enough. I get it…I have felt that way many times in the past. Honestly, I feel that way on a weekly basis. I think it is human nature to want to see the fruits of our labor as quickly as possible; however, it is also important for those wanting change to keep in mind that it does take time!

One way of looking at the issue of impact is to consider the simple graphic above. I am a space race fanatic and often think about those mathematicians and engineers in mission control during the lunar missions. If the mathematical calculations were off by one degree we would have missed the moon. One degree doesn’t seem like much but it is a big deal when amplified over 250,000 miles. A more relatable example of this would be if you have ever done a home improvement project. A “minor” eighth of an inch mistake at the beginning of a project will end twenty foot later as a giant mistake that might not be easily fixed.  What if we think about educational change in this way but with a positive spin? It may not seem like the ideas and suggestions you are promoting are having an instant impact but consider what your school/classroom might look like after some period time has passed. That change you promoted gets implemented in a few classrooms, those students move to the next classroom, more teachers are indirectly impacted, those teachers decide to make a change and,  before you know it, real change has happened.

There is some educational change that is much needed right now. I am not suggesting that we throw our hands up and wait for time to pass for each and every change, but it is also wise to remember the idea of change growing exponentially. A few strategic, small changes now might start the ball rolling for real, lasting, and necessary change to our educational system in the future.

 

There’s an Emoji/GIF for That!

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If you have been in the classroom any length of time you have probably noticed that this generation of young people is very visual. They like memes, YouTube, Instagram, emojis, and GIFs. I think it is important for educators to make learning not only relevant but fun. One way to do that is to let students bring those visuals that they enjoy so much into the classroom. I know that some of you might be turned off by this suggestion and make comments about how students won’t be using their emoji or GIF skills on standardized tests or in their future employment. Let me start by saying that I am not suggesting that teachers stop requiring writing, only that we try to incorporate the 🌎 of our students into the classroom.

There is a skill involved with trying to find the right visual to match an emotion; it isn’t a thoughtless act. Ask students to add pick an emoji (or series of them) that best matches their reaction to something and you might be surprised at the level of thinking that goes on. Add the concept of #BookSnaps (Two of my many #BookSnaps are below) that involves students taking a picture of a page from a book they are reading and creating a visual representation of how that passage/page makes them feel and you can get awesome products that require just as much thought, if not more, than you would get from a piece of writing. Speaking from experience, #BookSnaps have made me read differently. I can look back at #BookSnaps I have created and memories will come flooding back about what I was thinking at the time I created the image. Take a look at @TaraMartin and #BookSnaps on Twitter for more information and examples.

I am a self-admitted GIF fanatic. Ask my wife…I have carried on many conversations without so much as a typed word. You might roll your eyes, but I will tell you it would have been faster to type than it was to search for the right GIF to match the emotion I was feeling. Teach students to search Google for animated images (GIF) as a way to get across emotions that characters or historical figures might have felt. If you have ever used a Google Form (click here) as a daily check in to see how students are feeling or their reaction to something, try adding GIFs instead of words to get them to thinking differently about their thoughts. You might even get a little laugh to lighten things up

Do you Bitmoji? If not, give it a try. These personalized images can be added to emails to express all types of feelings and emotions. Not every email has to be formal! Adding your Bitmoji in your comments in a Google Doc will make your thoughts pop and not be just another comment. Creating Bitmojis for children under 13 is problematic, but older students might already have their own. Using a service like @Buncee could allow students to make their own lookalike character to use in other ways.

One important result of incorporating emojis and GIFs might be how your students view you as a person. Hopefully students will see that you are willing to dabble in their world to try to make connections to your content.

Don Sturm

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