Sometimes you just have to try it!

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I am probably dating myself with this image, but I think Mikey can teach us a lesson…Sometimes you just have to try it! When considering the Week 4 blog challenge, the graphic “5 Ways to Lay the Foundation for Innovation” by George Couros resonates with me in my role as a technology integration specialist. Attachment-1

I should mention that I am not a huge fan of that title because it seems to work against the first point in the graphic-Powerful learning first, technology second. I really see my role as more of an instructional coach, but I digress…point number four is my focus! The quest for educators who are in my position, no matter the title, is to get teachers to just try things. They may or may not like them, but they have to give new ideas and methods a try or they will never know. Sort of like trying brussel sprouts for the first time! With this in mind, I try to create learning situations where educators really have no choice but to try these new ideas. A couple of recent examples in my district come to mind.

The district administration team in my district was willing to let me run with an Edcamp style inservice in March. There were no administrators who were completely against the idea (at least I don’t think so), but there were some who were hesitant about trying this new idea. You can imagine the concerns:

  • What if there are no experts in the room?
  • What if  we don’t have enough ideas?
  • How do we ensure that everyone is where they are supposed to be?
  • Vote with your feet…ummm…what if teachers just leave?

I wish there were only four concerns, but the point…they said let’s do it, we did, and people liked it!  There was nervousness from teachers on the day of the event, but generally the above concerns did not come to fruition. We had more than enough ideas to fill forty-five session slots and administrators just trusted that teachers would be where they were supposed to be! Surveying the participants after the event allowed them to share the good and bad of the event, but what we found overall is that people liked the format. The response to the very last question (graphic below) almost brought a tear to my eye! The survey “required” some type of response on the positives and negatives, but in the end, teachers would do it again! I cannot tell you the number of teachers who have emailed and stopped me in the hallways to say that they were pleasantly surprised because they were not looking forward to it, but in the end enjoyed it. More specifically, a P.E. teacher stopped me and said that normal inservice topics don’t seem to apply to them, but the Edcamp style was different. Screen Shot 2017-03-25 at 11.00.36 AM

Another example of creating meaningful learning experiences involves conducting a Mystery Hangout for an elementary building in my district. The building principal (@kate_wyman ) asked me to conduct one with her staff. This principal is very open to new, innovative ideas and she wanted her staff to experience it. After finding a willing and experienced Mystery Hangout school (thanks to@MindySouthin Farmington, Missouri, we conducted one at the March faculty meeting. The teachers seemed to enjoy it at the time, but the best part was the video message I received the next day from a 6th grade teacher (@theresescifres ) and class who had just set one up. That teacher went to school, put out a call on the Google+ Community (Connected Classroom Workshop) that I had suggested, and set one up the day after that faculty meeting! The principal also sent me an email saying that one other teacher had scheduled one, and two other teachers were interested. Again, that almost brings a tear to my eye.

Specifically, these two experiences make me see the power of creating meaningful experiences rather than just telling teachers about them. I can honestly say that too often time constraints have caused me to rely on just telling teachers about the innovative “stuff” that they can be doing rather than actually creating those opportunities that allow them to experience the possibilities. My next goal is to create an experience that proves the power of connecting on social media. If I can get teachers and administrators to experience the benefits of Twitter or Voxer (my new favorite…look me up @dsturm823), I think they will find that they do like it and that those experiences can lead to richer classroom experiences for their students or staff.

Don Sturm

Lessons from a motorcyclist!

 

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Tail of the Dragon- Tennessee/North Carolina
When given the option of going from Point A to Point B, a true motorcycle enthusiast will always pick the route that has the curviest roads. We might be able to get to Point B faster by taking the straight road (sometimes we ride 200 miles to go 60), but it isn’t as exciting and memorable as those roads that are scenic and challenging. You gain a greater skill set and appreciation for life when you take these curvy roads!

What if this was the philosophy that dominated the field of education? Many teachers feel that the best way to get information across to students is the linear model…the straight road. The kids will still learn this way, but it isn’t as exciting as learning the random and non-linear way. Learning in this way can be challenging and messy, but what you learn sticks with you longer. The curvy road way of learning is just a more exciting and eye-opening experience. Honestly, I think it is higher quality of learning.

We deserve to give kids the most exciting and memorable education that we can..let’s start taking the curvy roads and not the straight ones!

 

Ever get stuck on an escalator?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA If you have never seen this video, it is worth watching!

Do you know any educators who are stuck on their own escalator? Are you stuck? While this image and video might make us laugh, there are those in education (and to be fair every profession) who are literally stuck in what they do. They are the ones who wait for someone else to set an agenda and make forward progress. They wait for “official” PD opportunities, avoid social media, etc. The sad part is that this has an impact on kids!

How do we help people who are stuck? How do we get them to take ownership for their own learning and not wait for someone to train them on a new teaching strategy? We could throw up our hands and say that there will always be educators like this, but what about those students in the classroom? Don’t all students deserve a rich classroom experience?

Schools can start by creating a culture where self motivated PD is not only encouraged but expected! The big question…What is the best way to foster this culture? I would love your thoughts!

Don Sturm

The kids just trust us!

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This view over the weekend from the driver’s seat of a small white bus (the kids call it the white rhino) while taking my scholastic bowl team to a competition caused me to have a deep thought. The kids just trust us! As I looked in the mirror, every kid was asleep on that REALLY  long ride. This may not sound like a huge surprise, but it got me thinking that they trusted me enough to not give a thought to me driving them. They have never questioned my ability to drive it or my safety record. I thought really hard about this to the point that I was more aware than normal. I looked a little more closely when I had to cross traffic or go through a busy intersection. Teachers and administrators should not take this trust for granted. Plain and simple, we have to keep in mind that students trust us to do what is right!

It is all about taking risks!

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The biggest risk is not taking any risk… In a world that changing really quickly, the only strategy that is guaranteed to fail is not taking risks.

Mark Zuckerberg

I think we hear the mantra “take risks” all the time in the field of education, but the nature of our schools makes it difficult to go too far out on a limb. Personally, I think this is one of the issues holding schools back from getting better! There are always those who are working against teachers and educators taking risks because it will upset the way that things have always been done.

Having this risk taking characteristic is something that I have prided myself on from the time I started my teaching career in 1991. Obviously, the degree of risk taking varies from year to year, but I have always held the belief that you have to step out of your comfort zone to truly grow. Moving from the classroom to technology integration specialist has given me the opportunity to encourage others to take risks. So much of my current position involves getting educators to try new ways of doing things, which instantly takes them out out of their comfort zone. It takes a nuanced approach on my end because not all teachers and administrators are as comfortable as I am with taking risks. My style is to try to get teachers to think about what they want from their students in the classroom, which many times involves expecting students to step out of their comfort zone. If they expect this from students they should be more open to risk taking in their classroom/school. My philosophy is that no one should expect something of another person that they would not expect of themselves.

The fear and trepidation that comes from risk taking is what makes it such a valuable experience. If the risk results in a successful outcome, the confidence gained from that experience is invaluable! Conversely, if the risk doesn’t turn out successful, that experience also provides a teachable moment. We have to start looking at risk taking as a win-win situation. Risk requires a growth mindset toward the idea of failure. Failure should be a learning experience, not an excuse to quit innovating. If we expect our students to be resilient and learn from failure, we have to be prepared to do the same thing!

Don Sturm

 

The process is important!

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Imagine…students working diligently on a project. They are interacting with each other. Their interest levels are peaked. They are seeking out new information. The teacher is happy, the students are happy, everything is right with the world. Then…the final product is turned in…and it is not very good. What happened? What grade do you as a teacher give to the finished product? You have a rubric that you live and die by, you really have no choice but to give a low grade. The final grade is not what the students expected.

As a former high school history teacher, I can speak first hand about how easy it is to forget the importance of the process of learning. High school teachers especially seem to focus more on the final product than the steps that students followed to produce that product. I am not sure if it is the content heavy nature of high school or the idea that students at this level are ready to be set out into the dog-eat-dog world, but there is a huge focus on final products. Educators, no matter the grade level, need to be sure to place an emphasis on the process rather than the final product.

Don’t get me wrong, at some point the final product needs to count for something. The key for those involved in educating kids is to find a balance of process and product. My biggest issue is that many teachers (myself included) give many one and done type of assignments. Students work for a set amount of time (days to weeks), turn in it in, and wait for a grade. The grade is given and the something new is assigned. The problem…many times the new project involves new skills that haven’t been honed through previous work. This process is repeated over and over throughout a semester or school year.

Wouldn’t it be better to incorporate a set of skills/standards that students would work to master throughout the course or year? In theory, every assignment or long term project would incorporate these skills/standards. This would allow students to use what they learn from each project to hone these skills over a longer period of time. Projects turned in at the end of the course or year would presumably be better than those turned in during the beginning of the year. This is true growth!

Probably one of the biggest hurdles to this type of thinking is the nature of grades in our education system. The belief that everything that students complete has to be graded and then recorded is pervasive in our society. Parents have to have something to see in the gradebook…don’t they?? This expectation is then carried over to assignments. If students complete and turn in an assignment, it is easy for a teacher to just look at that final piece of work and, in turn, the learning process is almost completely discounted. And…if the work is all done at home, there is really no effective way to assess the learning process. Thus, the push by some educators to do away with homework. While I am not suggesting that there is no place for homework, I do think that this makes a final grade almost always reliant on the final product and not the process.

How to implement this is the million dollar question! One thought gaining traction is to use more of a standards based grading system. This type of grading system allows students to work on standards that will be mastered over time. In this type of classroom, students are always assessed based upon their best work. I am currently working with a high school ELA teacher on this type of grading system. It is worth noting that this is being done within a traditional grading system, but grades do not appear until midterm and final report cards. This is what George Couros might describe as innovating within the box. As students work to meet standards, their best attempt is recorded. This is direct attempt to balance process and final product. Final products are always being assessed, but there is a focus on continual growth. The focus is on process.

The challenge for teachers is to at least be aware that the learning process is important. This awareness will hopefully lead to some discussions about how to assess the process and not just the product. It is also important to stress this idea to all involved in the education process: students, parents, administrators, and school board members. When showcasing work…focus on the process that was followed and the learning that resulted. Don’t always feel like you have to showcase the final video or presentation to others. In fact, don’t lead with the finished product, lead with process!

Don Sturm

Don’t be a Goob!

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What’s a goob? We all probably know at least one! You might even have another name for them. They are the negative ones who can and do ruin the possibility of something good just by their comments and reactions. They are the elephant in the room. If you aren’t a goob, you might get trapped in their web of negativity. You start to become goob like! If you are a goob, please stop because you are ruining it for others. Hmmm…the more I think about it, there probably aren’t many goobs reading this blog post 🙂

I write this post with the thought that we can’t just ignore this elephant in the room. Change is needed in schools and we can’t afford to let a small group (hopefully) of people distract us from sharing and implementing these necessary improvements. Please don’t misunderstand me, I am not talking about the teachers or administrators who have legitimate disagreements with specific improvements. We need a variety of research based opinions on our quest for a better education system! Goobs are those who will fight anything that is different just simply because…not because of any research.

It is uncomfortable to face the goob and, as a result, many times we just simply try to ignore them. I want to suggest a different approach. Why not talk about the goob, not as an individual, but as a group? What if we acknowledge the elephant in the room? The best outcome would see the goob change and be an open and a willing participant in the improvement process.  The worst case scenario would be that they do not change their minds and start to grumble to themselves, but at least they won’t poison the proverbial watering hole! What if school districts used a hashtag like #dontbeagoob as a way of putting them on notice that we won’t allow the goobs to bring others down? Planning a different kind of professional development activity? Use this new hashtag along with the “legitimate” ones to silence the goobs. Would this acknowledgment of the elephant in the room help to change the culture of a school? I don’t know, but I am willing to try it and see what happens.

Don Sturm

There is no time!

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Time is on my side.

Rolling Stones

Don’t you wish these song lyrics were true? Wouldn’t (fill in the blank) be better if I just had more time! Personally I could generate a LONG list of words to fill in that blank. The problem with this way of thinking is that you will NEVER have more time. Time will never been on our side. There needs to be more focus on what we do with our time rather than thinking about what would be possible with more time.

From a professional standpoint, time is what is needed to read about new research and ways of teaching, observe other teachers, reflect on your teaching practices, and on and on and on. I would argue that you need to step back and figure out how you can build in time for those professional aspects that are important. If you aren’t happy with how your students are responding to how you grade and/or teach, you NEED to take time to figure out what can be done differently. Think about the cycle if you don’t. You teach a unit…your students don’t seem to be enjoying it…you get frustrated…they test over the unit…the grades aren’t great…the students take 2 seconds to look over comments that you took hours making…you start the next unit upset… and the cycle continues. Imagine doing this for years! You must find the time to change things up.

But how? I wish I had an easy answer to this question, but it boils down to what many have told me, “you will make time for things that are important.” I say this not trying to offend or upset anyone, but it is true. It has been true for me, and I think it is true for everyone. If you want to lose weight, you’ll find the time. If you want to spend more time with your family, you’ll find the time. If you want to reconnect with your significant other, you’ll find the time. The same goes for your professional life. If it is important you MUST find the time or you will burnout and get frustrated. Neither of these are good for you, your students, your district, or your family!

Look at what/how you teach and ask yourself what you would most want to change. Pick up a book that helps offer alternatives and take the time to read it. Jump on Twitter and follow people who have fresh ideas. Search for blogs from teachers who have new ideas and are willing to share their experiences. Your first reaction will be that you don’t have time…make time! For years I have read every night before I go to bed. Most nights I was reading material that I could use to help make my classroom a better place. If you choose to read books, the reading list doesn’t have to be research heavy. In fact, I would recommend that your reading list include books that will help to inspire you to be a better teacher, not put you to sleep! This is my way of making a little time for professional growth.

Don Sturm

Recommended books:

Culture Shaming…it has to stop!

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I want you to stop and think back to when you were growing up. That time when your parents and society as a whole saw you as a contributing member of society. That time when you were respected for your thoughts. That time when your culture was praised for having a beneficial contribution to the world. Are you seeing my point? I am assuming that most were thinking…yeah I wish that’s how it was. Instead we were told that our music, magazines, video games, friends, activities just weren’t what they were in the good ol’ days. I am fairly certain this has happened since the dawn of time, but it has never been productive to the current generation. It makes the current generation defensive and isn’t very productive. Think back again, when your parents told you your music was stupid, you instantly stopped listening to it, right? Not me (nor most of you I suspect),  I played it even louder to try to prove a point.  I like to call this nostalgia for the “better” times as culture shaming, and it really needs to stop.

If we truly want to help this generation of young people navigate the world, we need to at least try to understand the world in which they are living. Notice I didn’t say we need to completely embrace it, but we owe them the respect of at least trying to get it. Those in education like to throw out quotes like the cup is half-full, but we do that on our terms. We need to look at our students’ lives and see the cup as half-full. I hear so many teachers and parents say that the hyper connected lives of students is problematic. They never play outside, they are lazy, they are hooked to their phone, they don’t know how to have face-to-face conversations. I would bet that this connectedness actually allows them to have more “social” experiences than we ever did. Growing up, my friends were those people on my block who led basically the same type of life as that of my family. Many youth today have “friends” all over the U.S. and maybe the world. We can argue about the nature of the word friend, but there is a much broader social interaction available to the younger generation than ever before. Many use social media as a way to get out of the bubble that is their family and community.  Yes…social media can be used for nefarious things, but  let’s not just assume that is how students are using it. I would highly recommend that you read It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens by Danah Boyd. This will make you look at teens and social media in a different light!

So as educators and parents what is the opposite of culture shaming? I like the term culture curiosity. Curiosity doesn’t mean 100% acceptance, but it does mean a willingness to try to understand. I think that is what young people crave, a willingness for adults to understand and respect them. I have tried to gain a better understanding of SnapChat to get a sense of what students see in the platform.  Maybe trying SnapChat will help you as a teacher to understand what makes your students tick. How can you leverage this platform (or others like it) to help students learn (see below)? You may think it is weird and useless, but just remember how you felt when you were culture shamed. The best option is for teachers to try to figure out how to incorporate those aspects of student culture and use them as a hook for student engagement and empowerment. Isn’t having a deep impact on students why you got involved in education?

Don Sturm

**I need to give a shout out to Tara M Martin (@TaraMartinEDU) for her “invention” of the #BookSnaps. These #BookSnaps are one of the reasons that I used SnapChat in this blog post. Obviously there are other aspects of student culture that can be explored, but SnapChat is one of the “in” things right now! #BookSnaps allow the user to interact with a text by using a photo of a page as well as images/emojis/drawings. It is a great way to make learning visible. I have included a couple of examples in case you aren’t familiar. As a side note, SnapChat does not have to be used to create #BookSnaps. Take a look at Tara’s Youtube playlist for other ideas.  

How do I change what I do??

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Innovation is not about the stuff; it is a way of thinking.

George Couros

In my role as a technology integration specialist, I hear many teachers complain that they don’t know how to plan innovative lessons or that they don’t have the time to plan new lessons. One of the most common requests is for specific examples of lessons that “qualify” as innovative. It would be virtually impossible for me to provide specific examples for all of the grade levels and subjects. The classroom teacher really needs to be the one taking the concept of change and innovation (whether with technology or not) and apply ideas to either the grade level or subject matter. I think the most effective change is change that is intrinsically motivated. If you want to change the way that you teach, it is much easier to find the time that will be needed to make these changes. The steps below will hopefully help to solidify the process that can be used to design engaging and innovative lessons. By the way, I don’t think these steps need to happen in any particular order. Use any of them as a starting point for making your classroom an exciting learning space!



1. Take a look at what you teach and ask..

  • What lessons bore me?
  • What do I get excited about that doesn’t seem to transfer to students?
  • What lessons don’t seem to engage students anymore?
  • What lessons do students consistently say doesn’t apply to them?

These questions should help you to identify those lessons that are a perfect starting point for change. This is how I methodically set out changing what I did when I was in the classroom. Don’t try to tackle everything at once or there is no doubt that you will be overwhelmed. I found that once I started to get into the mindset of change, it got easier. Planning the first few new lessons was way harder than lesson 20+.


2. Decide what type(s) of changes are necessary to make the lesson better. 

Here is where your subject specific skills come into play. What do students really need to be able to do in terms of both content and skills? Be honest and reflective here. Think outside the box. Remember the saying, “if you always do what you’ve always done, you will always get what you have always gotten.”

  • What do students really need to know?
  • Do they have to memorize a set of facts or would they be better off researching and finding those facts on their own?
  • Do those facts really need to be committed to memory?
  • Is a lecture or whole group instruction absolutely necessary?

I want to stress again, you have to answer these questions honestly. This honesty will cause you to think about everything that you do and why you do it.  Just a warning…it may be hard to change your thinking, but it will be worth it! Don’t be afraid to challenge the long held beliefs about how school is supposed to look.


3. Look for specific ways to make the changes that you have decided are necessary. 

This is the part of lesson planning that I really enjoyed. Once you know the big picture changes you would like to make, you have to decide what help is needed to actually put your ideas into practice. You have a few options here. While you can rely on professional organizations for your subject and grade level, this is where I think social media can be extremely helpful. Twitter, Facebook, Voxer, and Pinterest are awesome places to help you get specific ideas. Finding and following the right people will give you a plethora of ideas to implement into your lessons.

The other option (if available) is to contact your instructional coach/technology integration specialist/innovation coach for help. Forget technology for a moment, you should be focused on what is needed to make for an engaging experience. If it does involve technology, your comfort level will dictate the help you need. You might think back to a conference you attended and/or professional development experiences for a list of specific apps and programs that will help make the new lessons engaging and rich. You might go to your technology person and share the overall lesson idea and ask for 1:1 help with how to best accomplish your goals. I want to stress that the technology, if any, should not be at the forefront of your thought process at this point; it is about the pedagogy. Technology might play a big role in your new lesson, but I would caution that you not start with an app and figure out what to do with it. This is especially true for those who are just starting to make big changes to their classroom environment. Once you have decided the big picture, it might be a new app and/or service that sparks some ideas, but don’t put the proverbial cart before the horse. Even an app like Explain Everything, while awesome, should be considered only after deciding that students need to take on more of a role in presenting and sharing what they know. The app then becomes the vehicle by which the students show their mastery.


4. Talk, read, and share with others.

This might be the most important step! Teaching is no longer that solitary profession where you enter your classroom, shut the door,  and do your own thing. Let me rephrase that…teaching should NO LONGER be a solitary, lonely profession. When you want to make changes, “talk” with people. Talk with other same grade level teachers, talk with different grade level teachers, talk with teachers who teach a different subject matter, get onto social media…see the pattern here, talk with others. Teaching isn’t just about content anymore! Read whatever you can get your hands on whether it is blogs, articles, or books. All of this talking and reading will lead to ideas. These ideas will lead to more ideas, which will hopefully cause you to want to make more changes. Some will shrug and ask where will they get the time. If you want to truly make changes, you will find the time. It doesn’t have to be a lot of time, but dedicating even 10-15 minutes a day will help generate ideas.


5. Look around for great ideas!

When I was in the classroom, one of the methods I employed was to think about how everything I saw that was “cool” could be replicated by my students. The important part here is that my students would create! I remember watching a Common Craft video and thinking about how my students could create one…hence History on Paper was born. A language arts colleague shared with me the idea of animated Powerpoint presentations for poems…my students designed a presentation that might play in the lobby of the National Civil Rights Museum. Are you a Tasty fan? Just think about how your students could do something like that with the content that you teach! Everything I experienced became a possibility in the classroom. Did everything work? Nope, but that didn’t stop me from trying new things. The good ones stuck, while the “bad” ones were either dropped or reworked.



There is no question that making changes in the classroom will take time. It will be much more enjoyable to change what you do when it is something that you want and need. You don’t have to change overnight; instead, work to find a few areas where you want to see changes and focus on those. The more that you invest in a new classroom experience for your students, the easier it will get. Hopefully you will find that you enjoy teaching and may even make you remember why you got into profession in the first place. Changes to your classroom will hopefully pay dividends in terms of time. For example, looking at homework differently might lighten your grading load.  Allowing students to choose how they show mastery will no longer mean grading one hundred plus of the same paper! You will still assess, but it might look different than taking home a stack of papers. As the old saying goes, “work smarter not harder.”