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

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

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

Forging New Paths

PathIt has been awhile since my last blog post, but now that the 2016-2017 school year is over it is time to think about next year. Summer is the time that teachers relax and regroup from the previous school year, but for many it is also the time to reflect on their teaching practice. I would argue that many times this is the only time when true reflection occurs. During the year we are often pulled in so many directions that is challenging to have meaningful and deep reflection. This post is meant to get you thinking about next year!

Think about the times that you have walked through the woods. Most of the time is probably spent walking the worn path. While this might be done because of posted rules, many times it is done out of sheer convenience. Why wouldn’t you take a path that has already been forged? Think of all the difficulties of going off of that path. There are sticker bushes waiting to grab you. There is poison ivy all over. How will I know where I am going? People will think I am weird. Yes, all of those things could happen, but think about the possibilities waiting to be experienced off that path. When you take the worn path you are seeing and experiencing what others want you to see and experience. It is probable that the path offers the least resistance around an obstacle that lies ahead. Maybe the obstacle is worth admiring, not skirting around. Going off path might be challenging, but that is what makes it fun. You will see things that others have not.

Education is similar to that worn path in the woods. We do things the way that they have always been done because that is what is easiest or most convenient. Does this sound familiar…The way that I teach (fill in the blank) has to be done that way because that’s just how it is done. Economists use a term called path dependency to describe why people do what they do. Path dependency is simply the idea that past practice (history) dictates what we continue to do even if there might be new and better alternatives available. It is the worn path in the woods.  There are advantages of that worn path in education. We know where we are going. We know how long it will take us. We know the obstacles that will be encountered. But…what are you and your students missing out on by being path dependent? There will be no way of knowing until you try.

My challenge to you is to try to walk off the path next school year. How can this be done? Read…there are all types of books written about ways that you can step out of the normal routine. These books don’t have to be purely subject specific. Jump onto social media and follow others who are stepping, or have stepped, off of the path. Pick their brains about what works and what doesn’t work. If you are one who wants to remain on the path, don’t stop others from going off course. This will be challenging for those schools that are departmentalized by subject or grade level because there is THE WAY that curriculum has to be taught. If you have someone who wants to try something new…LET THEM. If that teacher won’t be able to give the quiz on the same day as every other teacher because of this new way, the world will not come to an end. An even better alternative…agree to follow them as they step off the path. This type of action will be the only way that you will know if there is something better out there.

The transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau wrote Walden because he was tired of living life according to habit. He went into the woods to “live deliberately.” This is probably the familiar part of the story. What is important to know is that he left the woods, at least partly, because he saw himself falling into the same rut day after day. Don’t fall into a rut where all you do is take the path that has been forged for you.

“It is remarkable how easily and insensibly we fall into a particular route, and make a beaten track for ourselves. I had not lived there a week before my feet wore a path from my door to the pond-side; and though it is five or six years since I trod it, it is still quite distinct. It is true, I fear, that others may have fallen into it, and so helped keep it open. The surface of the earth is soft and impressible by the feet of men; and so, with the paths which the mind travels. How worn and dusty, then, must be the highways of the world, how deep the ruts of tradition and conformity.”

Henry David Thoreau

Walden

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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