From Facepainting to Feedback: An Approach to Digital Citizenship

While serving as an “ambassador” for the North Carolina Digital Learning Competencies, I had the opportunity to listen to educators exchange thoughts, dreams, and yes, fears about the use of technology in our schools.  Many of these conversations centered on the topic of Digital Citizenship, the second Focus Area of the NC Digital Learning Competencies for Classroom Teachers.  So let’s chat a little bit about the role of educators and social media.  One of the competencies in this Focus Area asks teachers to, “Engage in responsible and professional digital social interaction.”  Hmmm…not quite ready to take on social media with students?  No worries!  There are plenty of things that teachers and teacher leaders can do to both meet this competency and to prepare our students to be good citizens!

Susan Bearden, a leader in Instructional Technology, is quoted as saying, “What if, instead of avoiding social media in school altogether or focusing solely on the negative aspects, we teach students how to leverage it to connect in positive ways and build a digital footprint that reflects their best selves…”.  This creates a powerful opportunity for educators!  But how do we begin?

Let’s start with the concept of a “Digital Footprint”.  Recently, I’ve been hearing this referred to more and more as a “Digital Tattoo”.  This shift represents the notion that the decision an individual makes to share something to a global audience (like social media), is a permanent decision – like getting a tattoo.  A reaction to this may be one of protection.  If you don’t want to make a mistake, just don’t put anything out there!  However, the reality is, we each do have a digital footprint or tattoo now, and with this reality, it is important to teach our students how to create a positive mark on the world.

My own children don’t have tattoos.  But they have certainly seen them, and they’ve each expressed their interest in them.  As a parent, I did not rush them out to secure one immediately.  But I also did not forbid them to look at them or think about them.  Rather, I agreed to first face-painting, and later temporary tattoos.  Through these moves, my kids have had the chance to “express themselves”, and we have engaged in conversations about which designs might represent them well, and which ones might make either them or others less comfortable.

Educators can use this same approach when considering how to “engage in responsible and professional digital social interaction”.  This process can occur in three phases:

  1. Educator participation in a digital PLN
  2. Intentional use of instructional tools that replicate important aspects of social media
  3. Purposeful responses to student use of these tools that include feedback on both academic content and behavior (citizenship)

Educator participation in a digital PLN

It is going to be nearly impossible to guide students, without engaging in the experiences we are preparing them for.  This is one of many reasons why it is so important for educators to create their own professional learning network (PLN).  Professional Twitter accounts, educational Facebook Groups, and/or Google+ Communities are all excellent ways to build and grow a PLN.  Once active, teachers and teacher leaders can discover the value of sharing stories of success, exchanging tricks of the trade, and of LEARNING in this ever-changing environment.  Simultaneously, teachers learn “norms” – the do’s and don’ts, likes and dislikes, feel-goods and feel-not-so-goods that one encounters through digital social interaction.  These experiences can then contribute to a teacher’s strategic instructional plan for digital citizenship.

Intentional Use of Instructional Tools

The phrase, “digital social interaction” makes our minds fly right to Twitter and other

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Cumberland County principals interact through Flipgrid during a training session for the NC Digital Learning Competencies.

social media outlets that we either don’t want to engage in with our students or that policy dictates not participating in with students.  There are, however, classroom friendly instructional tools that allow us to safely model how to responsibly interact using technology.  Google Slides, Tackk, and Flipgrid are examples of tools that allow students to create and share content with their teachers and classmates.  When modeling with these tools, teachers can emphasize the importance of crediting the ideas and words of others, of the importance of attention to details, and of the appeal of originality.  As students practice these skills within a safe classroom environment, they are truly learning skills that can transfer directly to any situation they encounter with digital social interactions.

 

Purposeful Responses to Students’ Use of Digital Social Interaction Tools

Feedback is an integral component of any learning process, and the feedback that a teacher can provide to a student around his/her digital social interactions is critical!  This feedback should reference both the content that students contribute and their behaviors as evidenced through the interactive tool.  

When using Google Slides, teachers can use the Comment feature to provide this important guidance.  Since Google Slides are collaborative, all students can learn from a teacher’s feedback on any individual slide.  Also, the teacher’s feedback can serve as a model for students to replicate as they begin to consider peer’s responses and utilize the Comment feature themselves for peer review.  Tackk offers a Comment Stream where teachers and students can post thoughts and reply to the ideas of others.  Similarly, Flipgrid provides an option for viewers to react to each video reflection. Teachers have editing rights to any instructional experience they create for students using these tools, so if inappropriate content is shared, students can experience the real-world consequence of having their content removed from the platform.

Teachers have always played an important role in the shaping lives, and today this includes introducing students to appropriate and responsible ways to interact with others in our digital world.  Through personal experience, modeling, and feedback, teachers can truly help students “leverage” their social interactions “to connect in positive ways and build a digital footprint that reflects their best selves”.

The Initiative to Inform Practice

I am totally excited to be winding down (ha!) my summer as an “ambassador” for the North Carolina Digital Learning Competencies!  For eight days across two weeks, approximately twenty-five NC educators are touring the state to provide opportunities for teachers and teacher leaders to familiarize themselves with the competencies and the instructional resources and practices that accompany their implementation.NCDLC Tweet

As we move into the “full implementation” phase of this initiative in 2017-2018, it will be imperative for teachers and administrators to understand all that these competencies encompass.  They go so much further than just asking students and/or teachers to “use a device”!  They are comprehensive, and if used as intended, they hold the power to truly “change how we do business” for the benefit of our learners.

So, as I “live” these competencies for the next few weeks (and months…and years…), it makes sense for me to address them through my monthly blog, as well.  Therefore, consider this to be the first in a series of four posts – one devoted to each of the “Focus Areas” of the NC Digital Learning Competencies for Classroom Teachers.

The first Focus Area described in the NC Digital Learning Competencies for Classroom Teachers is called, “Leadership in Digital Learning”.  While there are several indicators listed for this Focus Area, I will be sharing my thoughts around the indicator that states, “Take initiative with own professional growth to inform practice”.  This statement is so important, and clearly not as obvious as I may have thought at one point.  Teachers are busy – in both their personal and professional lives – and when they are able to work outside of school hours, it tends to be on tasks needed for the next school day or school week – not on long-term growth plans.  Although educators earn a college degree and often seek additional degrees and licenses, there is no program that could possibly teach a teacher everything he/she needs to know about content, pedagogy, and digital resources.  When I have spoken with teachers in my district about what learning opportunities they have engaged in as educators, they usually can only name the initiatives that their individual schools or that our district have undertaken.  Sometimes they do not seem to have even considered that they can or that they are expected to “take initiative with their own professional growth”!  So here are a few steps that a teacher can take to work towards implementation of the “Leadership in Digital Learning” Focus Area of the NC Digital Learning Competencies for Classroom Teachers:

  • Step 1: Seek
  • Step 2: Collaborate
  • Step 3: Plan
  • Step 4: Implement

Step 1: Seek

The first step teachers must take to grow professionally is to seek information.  This information may be about a specific content area, instructional practice, and/or digital tool.  Blogs and books are tools for “information seekers”.  These sources allow teachers to begin their learning process by identifying an area of need or interest, and then giving them the freedom to read independently, considering the new idea(s), processing unfamiliar lines of thought, and imagining what implementation could look like.

Step 2: Collaborate

Once a teacher has had an opportunity to independently process the new learning, it is time to collaborate! I believe Twitter and EdCamp are two great “locations” for this collaboration to occur!  Twitter allows educators to reach out to other teachers and quickly find some who are engaged in the same learning “journey”.  Ideas can be exchanged, examples provided, and questions answered quickly and easily through the anytime, anyplace environment.  EdCamps are designed for teacher learners, as participants arrive and set the agenda for the day based on their current interests and needs.  Collaboration is so important during this phase of the learning, as the teacher is clarifying his/her understanding, considering how to overcome potential challenges and maximize benefits, and, in some cases, working up the courage to step out of a comfort zone to try something new.

Step 3: Plan

Once a teacher has learned something new and collaborated around that learning, it is time to begin creating a solid plan of action!  I believe the following questions can be useful at this stage of the process:

 

  • What have I learned that will address a need that I/my students have?
  • What have I learned that I have the tools/resources to implement?
  • How will I make this idea work for me/my learners?
  • What resources (human/material) will I need?
  • What will success look like?

 

Notice that these questions force the focus to remain on student learning.  Sometimes teachers get really excited about a new tool or activity or idea and lose the most important driver for change – improved student learning!  The planning questions provided above can serve as a reminder that the teacher is seeking results that will appear through his/her students.

Step 4: Implement

Once a teacher has sought new information, collaborated around the information, and planned how to use the information, it is time for implementation!  Although Nike’s “Just Do It” slogan may come to mind, there are some guiding questions for this stage of the process as well:

 

  • What evidence of success do I have?
  • How will I get feedback for reflection/evaluation/revision?
  • What tweaks are necessary?
  • When/with what content can I try this again?
  • How/when/with whom will I share my learning?

 

The final question is especially important.  Remember that we are seeking ways for teachers to demonstrate “Leadership in Digital Learning”.  Each teacher has the power to serve as a catalyst for other teachers to begin their growth process.  Sharing new learning (and the process that accompanied it) with other teachers is a necessary and fulfilling practice!

Any teacher who has sought information about teaching and learning, reached out to other educators to engage in collaboration, refined a purposeful plan for implementation, and engaged in reflection and revision has truly met the call to “take initiative with own professional growth to inform practice”!  Celebrate these accomplishments – for yourself and for those with whom you work!

Yes, I Am Really Going To Write About the H-Word…

As a relative newcomer to educational blogging, I keep a list of topics that I would like to write about at some point in time.  The list is a positive one, including things like “celebrating teachers’ successes”.  I’m afraid when I hear the H-word, I don’t feel positive at all – but I do feel passionate about this topic, so I’m going to do it…I’m really going to write about homework.

I was never a big fan of assigning homework when I was a classroom teacher.  There always seemed to be too many inequities for it to serve any real instructional purpose.  Some of my students did not go home to an environment that fostered learning.  Some of my students were involved in valuable extracurricular activities in the evenings.  Some of my students had parents that contributed just a little bit too much, so I was never able to ascertain the child’s true understanding of the concepts.  Admittedly, I was also a bit of control freak.  If I was teaching the students one multiplication strategy, I did not want other well-meaning adults to muddy the instructional waters with algorithms that were beyond the students’ conceptual understandings.  So, for me, homework was usually to read a self-selected book, and perhaps review a few basic math facts.  On rare occasions, it might be a scavenger hunt, such as to find as many examples of inclined planes or three-dimensional figures as they could within their home.

Now that I am the parent of school-age children, I have discovered that not all teachers Kelly Homeworkfeel the same about homework as I do.  I have also discovered that these teachers do not at all wish to be enlightened by my views.  They truly seem to believe that their homework assignments are meaningful and appropriate, and that they will teach my children not only the prescribed curriculum, but also life skills such as responsibility.

Despite the fact that there is little evidence to support these long-standing practices, and despite plenty of research to the contrary, homework is still a reality for students today.  So for those teachers who must persist in this nightly ritual, please at least adhere to a few guidelines.

    1. Please ensure that assignments are aligned to at least some content-area standard.  Some teachers like to assign homework to support daily instruction and some teachers like to use homework to review previously taught concepts.  I can accept either of these approaches, but I insist that assignments be specifically linked to learning goals.  I know my state’s standards well, and I know that there are NO standards that ask students to write words backwards or draw perfect square boxes for crossword puzzles.  If an adult were ever asked to do either of these tasks, he/she would laugh out loud and refuse, but for some reason these activities are deemed valuable for our students by some teachers.  
    2. Homework must be at the correct level of difficulty.  This means a given assignment may not be appropriate for every student (hmmm…isn’t that already true during the school day?).  If a teacher does not have evidence that a student can accurately complete an assignment independently, that assignment should not be sent home.  There is clear research that incorrect rehearsal is counterproductive to the learning process.  
    3. Every homework assignment should not be graded.  As a teacher, can you imagine being evaluated every time you practiced a new teaching technique?  Homework was designed to be independent practice.  Peer conferencing, feedback, and opportunities for revision (also known as learning) are perfect matches for completed (or even attempted) homework assignments.
    4. Students should be given the opportunity and flexibility to schedule their homework completion.  Many teachers (and administrators and parents) argue that homework is necessary to teach skills such as responsibility.  To a very small extent, I don’t disagree, but if that is to be the case, let’s actually Carson homeworkteach them something.  Time/project management is a skill that can be modeled and taught.  When I go to work on a Monday, in general, I know that certain tasks will need to be completed by the end of the week.  If I know I have several meetings on one day, I plan to work on my projects more another day.  If I am going to be out of town for a day, I know I will need to do extra work another day to keep up. Students and families do have lives outside of school.  When students never know what assignments will be issued for any given day, what do they do if they have doctors’ appointments, extracurricular activities, and/or other family obligations on a day when every one of their teachers’ has assigned an hour (or more) of homework?  If students have at least a weekly schedule for assignments, they can learn how to prioritize and manage work around the busy lives that we all lead.
    5. Homework should be designed to encourage further learning, or cultivate curiosity.  Carefully crafted assignments can lead students to research without being asked.  They can raise questions in students’ minds that can spark meaningful class discussion.  They can help students and teachers identify and nurture individual talents.  Too often, our students’ homework assignments are dull, repetitive, and require very low levels of thinking.  Homework assignments need to be considered deeply and planned purposefully.

I don’t think homework will disappear completely before my children have completed school.  Perhaps considering the points I have described above, there is one question  that can allow a homework assignment to meet all of my criteria.  “What might my students learn as a result of this assignment?”  If there is a chance the assignment could reinforce a content standard and lead a student to want to learn more, this teacher mom might smile a little more when she hears the H- word.

Unrecognizable Professional Development

I’ve been on one end or the other (receiving or delivering PD) for all of my years in education.  Some of these sessions feel like they just happened yesterday, and some were so forgettable, they simply cannot be retrieved.  I began delivering professional development at the school and district level pretty early on in my teaching career.  I had great mentors, and would typically receive positive feedback from my participants.

So, in all honesty, I was a little defensive when I began hearing that professional development in education is largely ineffective and dreaded by teachers!  Surely they did not mean my sessions!  I added humor…engagement…collaboration…I provided take-aways that could be implemented in classrooms soon after the course ended.  I prepared carefully and managed time well.  Clearly, they were referring to other professional development sessions!  Then two experiences rocked my little PD world: @EdCampBeach and @CCSTechCamp!

I was introduced to the idea of EdCamp through my participation in the North CarolinaEdCampBeach17 Digital Leaders Coaching Network (#NCDLCN), the genius product of the brains of @FridayInstitute.  I was grouped with @jeannietimken, and she invited me to attend her district’s first EdCamp, located near the beautiful beaches of Wilmington, North Carolina.  I attended with a few other newbies from my district, and I fell in love!  I could create a conference session that I wanted to talk about?  I could leave a conversation whenever I wanted?  I could exchange ideas with passionate educators from across the state?  I could dress up in silly costumes for selfies and make things in a traveling Makerspace?  This PD was unrecognizably awesome!

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Fresh out of this experience, I got to be part of a planning team for our district’s first technology camp for teachers.  We picked a camping theme for CCSTechCamp16 and we went wild!  We had photo booths, silly snacks, tech giveaways, and engaging and relevant sessions shared by teachers for teachers.  We had so much fun as organizers, and our participants were shocked!  Teachers are still talking about this learning experience, and as registration opened for CCSTechCamp17 (“Tech a Vacation!”), we surpassed last year’s total registration in mere hours! 

My picture of effective PD is changed forever!  My monthly “training” sessions with K-5 Digital Learning Showcase 17Instructional Coaches are now filled with “unconference” conversations, PLEARN sessions (play and learn), Breakout EDU tasks, and our culminating accomplishment, a Digital Learning Showcase, where coaches, teachers, students, parents, principals and district leaders freely collaborated to celebrate and expand our digital teaching and learning! Our professional development is unrecognizable, and I am on a quest to keep it this way!

Building Teacher Capacity: The True Role of Instructional Coaches

I believe that I work with some of “the industry’s” best instructional coaches!  They are hard-working, positive and focused on improving learning experiences for children.  But they are also often pulled in many directions, and I listened carefully as they began describing what “a day in the life” really looked like.  After several of these conversations, I realized that their daily tasks were falling into three categories:

  • Coaching tasks that build teacher capacity
  • Tasks by coaches that make the lives of teachers easier
  • Tasks that are administrative in nature or otherwise unconnected to coaching

This realization led to a natural conversation to help the coaches prioritize their many tasks.

Defining “building teacher capacity”

It is always helpful to come to a shared understanding of terms that are frequently used in the world of teaching and coaching.  Many of the coaches would quickly respond, “My job is to build teacher capacity”, if asked.  But what does that mean, and what does that look like in practice?  

At our next coach gathering, I reiterated that the job of an instructional coach is to build teacher capacity.  Heads nodded.   I continued, stating that “building teacher capacity” does not necessarily mean making the lives of teachers easier.  Leaving the last statement hanging, the coaches were asked to think about all of the tasks that they work on during the course of a typical school day.  They were to write each task on a separate sticky note.  After several minutes of furious scribbling, the coaches were then asked to individually sort their sticky notes into the three categories previously mentioned: tasks that build teacher capacity; tasks that make teachers’ lives easier; and tasks that are administrative and/or unrelated to coaching.  The coaches were then invited to share their discoveries with each other.  The discussion was powerful!  One coach exclaimed in dismay, “Oh, no!  I am an enabler!”  Others talked about how they form initial relationships with teachers.  We concluded that sometimes “making the lives of teachers easier” is an appropriate strategy to demonstrate servant leadership and to establish positive relationships with new and/or resistant teachers.  We agreed, however, that this approach must be followed by a “gradual release of responsibility” so that we are soon returned to a focus on developing instructional strategies in teachers that will allow them to independently foster student success.

Role of coach 2

Establishing priorities

With their daily tasks still in front of them on the sticky notes, coaches were offered an opportunity to establish priorities.  They collaborated to brainstorm ways to empower other teacher leaders in their buildings as they considered the tasks that fell into the third category; tasks that were either administrative in nature and/or unrelated to coaching.  Some tasks in the “making lives easier” category were determined to be simply unnecessary, and others were carefully analyzed to consider whether they may still be necessary with some teachers, and if so, which teachers and for how long.  As coaches either shifted or eliminated tasks, their energy around the work of truly building teacher capacity soared!

Team effort

Our coaches left this meeting with a fresh outlook on their role and with many ideas of how they could return to their schools and empower other teacher leaders, while narrowing the focus of their own work.  An instructional coach, however, is just one member of a site-based instructional leadership team.  Recognizing this, building administrators were given the opportunity to engage in the same reflective experience.  Role of coach 1This served several purposes.  First, it allowed for informal review of our district’s expectations for instructional coaching.  Second, it highlighted the  somewhat untapped potential of other great teacher leaders in the buildings.  Third, it opened the door for the instructional coaches and principals to engage in conversation about what coaching actions really need to be the focus to build teacher capacity in each school.

Instructional coaches are dedicated to creating opportunities for others to experience success.  When a shared understanding of “building teacher capacity” exists, focused coaching can lead to teacher and student growth!

Excitement from an Exploding Educator

Like so many other educators, work is much more than an eight-hour shift for me.  A natural planner, I delight in the satisfaction of a well-crafted lesson, unit, or pd, defining details with the precision of a skilled travel agent.  This careful consideration is a must for me, for after all, my clients aren’t  just preparing for a four-night stay at Disney World, my clients are preparing their students for the Real World!

Having determined my career path at the age of six, I graduated from a renowned education program in upstate New York, and was launched into life after college with little hope for a job.  Facing years as a sub, I changed my life’s path when a friend called and asked me to interview for a teaching position in North Carolina.  Thinking that I would “gift” the South with a year of my presence while I gained the necessary experience to score a New York interview, I drove down and walked into a better opportunity than I ever could have imagined.

The principal who hired me had recently been challenged by a visionary superintendent to open a public school, fill the classrooms with the best teachers from the district, and do things differently to meet the needs of students.  As a beginning teacher, I was mentored by greats like @LauraCandler, and I was given opportunities to assist with professional development by my second year in the field.  Our school became a National Blue Ribbon School and we were awarded The North Carolina Governor’s Entrepreneurial School Award.  What this meant is that I learned my craft in an environment that had @gcouros’ “Innovator’s Mindset” long before its time!

A lot of years and a lot of amazing opportunities later, I find myself in a position of teacher leadership as a District Instructional Coach (in the same North Carolina District, by the way).  While I consider myself to be a life-long learner, and while I have always surrounded myself with educators of similar drive, some remarkable things have happened in my career this past year, and I feel “called” to try to articulate what has occurred.

Role Evolution

Approximately two years ago, our district realized that we were (and more importantly our students were) being left behind in the Digital Age, so I was charged with preparing our instructional coaches to help their teachers transform their classrooms into “student-centered environments in the Digital Age”.  We were essentially going to take strong reading teacher-leaders and rename them as building tech facilitators.  Oh, and…ummm…I had no skills or useful knowledge in this area.  In fact, when an expert was brought in to help district administrators learn about digital tools, I ended the session in tears (true confession @lisahervey).  Oh, boy!

A Lifeline

Luckily, help was not too far away!  Our district’s new Director of Professional Development sent me a link to an application for the North Carolina Digital Leaders Coaching Network.  Knowing how desperate I was feeling, I spent an inordinate amount of time completing the form.  Along the way, I might have been heard muttering things like, “What is my handle?  CAN ANYONE HERE TELL ME WHAT MY HANDLE IS?!?!?”  

As you have probably guessed, this story does have a happy ending, and I was accepted into the second cohort of The Friday Institute’s NCDLCN.  I went into this experience both determined and terrified.  I left elated, confident, knowledgeable, and most importantly, CONNECTED.

A Newly Connected Educator

I had heard the term “Connected Educator”, but I had no understanding prior to the NCDLCN of how important it is to have a professional learning network (PLN).  Yes, I grew more familiar with digital tools and with the language associated with digital integration efforts, but it was the networking aspect of the cohort that transformed me as an educator.  I got to hear what teachers, coaches, and media specialists were doing around the state and around the nation.  I got to hear what “speed bumps” they had experienced, and how they were working around them.  I got to hear what books, articles, and blogs they were reading and why.  Best of all, I learned not only my own “handle”, but the handles and hashtags and chats that would keep me connected to the people, the conversations, and the learning that I couldn’t get enough of (shameless promotion for #ncdlcn inserted here).

Excitement for an Exploding Educator

In the words of @RLGMike, I had experienced an educational epiphany, and I have literally felt like I am exploding with the excitement of my learning!  I can’t wait to meet with coaches and teachers, and when I do, I no longer feel a responsibility to have all of the answers or to be the “expert”.  There is a whole world out there that we can learn from and with, and my mission is to help the people that I encounter professionally connect to a network that can inform, inspire, and ignite their love for teaching.  

I am now a proud member (and mentor) for the NCDLCN’s Cohort 3.  I have a local PLN comprised of my Director of Professional Development and the five coaches from my district that have joined the NCDLCN movement this year.  I have a handle and I know how to use it.  Our coaching program has a hashtag (#icccs) and it is used daily by a growing number of instructional coaches.  I am a connected educator and I love every minute of it!