Last week I was working with teachers in a middle school and were were loosely discussing the potential for schools to close (maybe for a week) with the coronavirus heading into the US. I spent our 45 minute lunch break creating a crash course of strategies for these educators "just in case" they found themselves having to transition to distance learning in a hurry.... Three days later, no one is surprised by the increased discussion around planning for the use of distance learning as a continuity plan for most universities and schools. Distance learning is very different: you can’t just digitize yourself/lessons or mail a packet home and expect it to work.
So, if you find yourself suddenly in need of taking your classes to a fully virtual environment or distance learning situation and are not sure where to start, the team I work with, the Friday Institute’s Professional Learning and Leading Collaborative is here to help! We turned around that 45 minute crash course and it became these 7 strategies (based on research and the realities of the times we are currently facing). I hope it helps!
1 | Be proactive and realistic
How will your students connect with you? What if the internet is an issue? No computer in the home? Disrupted schedules? Accomodations and IEPs? Consider collecting information that will help you communicate and confirm contact information. If you already use communication tools with students and/or an LMS, keep using them. Otherwise, consider alternatives with your students that are both equitable and can enhance communication and collaboration.
2 | Consider your needs and the needs of your students
What physical materials would be beneficial to your students while you are apart? What will support learning and teaching? Resources such as textbooks, workbooks, manipulatives, content magazines, and additional reading materials apply. This should be a collaborative experience, so don’t forget to let the students choose some reading for enjoyment too. If you are looking for digital alternatives, now is a good time to start collecting and/or creating resource repositories.
NOTE: It is important to limit the number of new tools and methods being introduced, distance learning is a big enough lift itself. Be strategic in choosing and using digital tools that you may not have used before, and while tech tools are offering free services for now, it does not mean you have to use them.
3 | Keep fostering relationships and building empathy – even online
We make connections by seeing the faces of those we know, not just hearing their voice! Video is a powerful way to continue to build relationships and connections with and between your students in a distance learning situation. Research tells us your students want to see and hear you (and each other), not be taught by a clip you found online. Consider making your own videos and asking students to make their own too. And don’t forget to create office hours for yourself and/or open class hours so synchronous connections and conversations can still be made.
4 | Create communities of inquiry
Creating spaces for discussion to keep students connected is essential. If you are already using something with your students, such as a Learning Management System from your district – be consistent and keep using it. You also want to create robust discussions and require students to leave critical feedback on at least 2 to 3 peers in order to spark deeper learning and collaboration. Be transparent about your expectations for feedback. Model your expectations as often as possible. Remember, students need to be educated on how to give feedback to one another, especially in a virtual space.
5 | Avoid Isolation
“Reluctant” participants will be difficult to connect to in your new distance learning community. When asked about their greatest concerns about learning, some students shared they would be stuck watching videos and reading articles for every class — leaving them bored and isolated. Be creative in how you are sharing and teaching information to kids and build in synchronous activities as much as possible to increase engagement. Try to utilize the pedagogical strategies that work in your regular classroom in the virtual environment.They will still be impactful.
6 | Provide timely feedback and encouragement
When learning online, students are more likely to get discouraged when they can’t ask you or a peer for help as easily as in the regular classroom. Set reminders for yourself to send out encouraging messages both to the full group and to individual students. When students submit work or engage in activities, be responsive and supportive. Personalize the feedback as much as is realistic. If they feel you care about their involvement, and see you are involved yourself, they are more likely to continue to engage and absorb what you are sharing and learning.
Studies of effective teaching and learning have shown that learners want to know where they stand in regards to their work. Providing answers to the following questions to help provide quality student feedback.
7 | Check for understanding regularly
Students need to be held accountable more often in a distance learning situation than in the regular classroom, as you can’t see them actively learning as easily. Check for understanding regularly with short, small formative and summative assessments. For more complex tasks and problems, ask students to record or write out their thinking.
Additionally, prepare to schedule one-on-one conferences with your students to check-in and discuss the assessment(s) together to foster continued relationship building and to create goals and expectations collaboratively.
KEY THINGS TO REMEMBER
This is a lot -and we must remember to be flexible and adaptable. We base these recommendations on the iNACOL standards, in collaboration with blended/online learning strategies and research.
Due to the outcry for support, the team I work with is orchestrating regular check-ins and synchronous support during this trying time: We call it FI Connects – a community of educators supporting one another.
During these virtual discussions, we will share best practices and resources, but we will also spend time facilitating role-alike discussions for you to collaborate, share, and ask questions of your colleagues from around our nation in an effort for us to lift the load together.
For more information, go to go.ncsu.edu/ficonnects.
I recently came across this quote and it got me thinking: what ARE our rules for describing our reactions to technology? Douglas Adams, author, scriptwriter, essayist, humorist, satirist and dramatist put it this way - " Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works; Anything that's invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it.; and, Anything invented after you're thirty-five is against the natural order of things.”
This makes sense to me and has been my experience working with all ages around the US.
But that I have to laugh, is not our taste in music the same? Any music we hear that existed before we are born is "classic" and always has been, any music created during our early years is innovative, new and exciting, and anything we hear after the age of 35 is just, well, you know.... My husband and I recently watched a music awards show and we honestly did not know ANYONE nominated. We were Googling names and trying to figure out who is who: we officially felt a little old.
Technology is like that and living in a digital-age, supporting students, I need to get over my reactions and consider theirs. It is not about me. It is about them.
The Universal Design for Learning Guidelines, created by CAST, directly correlate with what it takes to create the mind shift to the “Learner-Center”, where learner agency is key and we are all natural learners, together, engaged, represented, expressed, and get all learners to the same place but on their own unique pathways. Looking at these models together reinforces how educators can access, build, internalize and thus create expert learners who are purposeful and motivated, resourceful and knowledgeable, and strategic and goal directed.
The concept of learner agency has been integral to educational thinking and practice since the beginning: the idea that education is the process through which learners become capable of independent thought which, in turn, forms the basis for autonomous action, has had a profound impact on modern educational theory and practice. Another way of thinking of learner agency is when learners have “the power to act” - when learning involves activity and initiative on the part of the learner themselves, and not just the teacher, curriculum, and/or resources, etc. Consider concepts such as personalization and learn-centric or learner-centered education: these are aspects of what we might mean by learner agency, but it goes even deeper than that.
The UDL Guideline structure supports and elevates these ideas. The three categories: Engagement, Representation, and Action and Expression are subtitled down to the “WHY” the “What” and the “How” of learning. In the learner-centered mindset educators and leaders must consider their answers to the following:
Connecting the UDL model and correlating it with that of the Learner-Center mindset leads to strategic and job-embedded practices that support both the learner and the teacher. A plan that is both competency based, personalized, contextual and relevant, and supporting the learner to develop a master of learning itself - not just a specific set of skills: in short, becoming expert learners.
What holds us back? The fear factor. The fear factor for educators to do this is very real: giving up the control that once seemed their role to become the guide and facilitator. Involving the learners in the decision-making is a must. These decisions will place more ownership and empowerment on the part of students. Teachers must become comfortable with changing their leadership style from directive to consultative -- from "Do as I say" to "Based on your needs, let's co-develop and implement a plan of action together." Marry this with the UDL guidelines for a recipe for success.
Today education is all about talking the talk of advocacy, choice, and voice that should occur in the classroom as well as in any learning environment, but they don’t do a great job of walking the walk and providing educators with a place to start, to think, to act. Relevance and value on the part of our learners are central elements to success and the learner-centered mindset directly works with UDL fundamentals, placing students at the center of their own learning, requiring collaboration and deep thought.
Educators and learners alike need a voice in why, what, and how learning experiences take shape.Letting student interests drive the content that teaches skills and concepts, as well as offering a variety of product options based on what you know about your students is a big leap for some educators and they need strategies and knowledge to inform their own “why” and practice, while also having faith in students’ ability to lead. Educators need to be open to what universal design for learning can offer and that, when the WHY, the HOW, and the WHAT are considered with students at the center, the best of learning and teaching follows.
As coaches and educators we want to model instructional technology use to support curriculum and instruction while sharing what we are learning and teaching in our classrooms. Recently at the Friday Institute’s Summer Boot Camp, the Professional Leading and Learning team came up with the idea of modeling the current Augmented Reality trend with ways to further build the capacity of the hundred K-12 educators were were supporting in our one day, intense and content filled training -- it is called Boot Camp, after all.
We invited educators from across the local education agencies we support to create a two minute video highlighting a tool, resource or instructional strategy they used in their own classrooms. Their collective talent and expertise was then shared as professional development - and in two minutes captured the depth and breadth of their pedagogical, content and technology knowledge.
What is Two Minute PD?
Give PD back to educators. The collective talent and expertise you can share is the best PD there is. Each two minute PD reveals the depth and breadth of that reservoir of talent YOU CHOOSE, giving educators an opportunity to share and learn efficiently and often.
What makes a good Two Minute PD?
Here are the key components of a strong Two Minute PD. Everything else is up to you.
And that’s it! You can be as simple (talking head) or as complicated (animation, music, etc.) as you would like — be as creative as you want!
The concept of learner agency has been integral to educational thinking and practice since the beginning: the idea that “education is the process through which learners become capable of independent thought which, in turn, forms the basis for autonomous action”, has had a profound impact on modern educational theory and practice (Trend 1: core-ed.org). Yet, lately, when I have been using the term ‘Learner Agency’ in professional development sessions and in my conversations with educators and leaders, I get the sense that they are not quite sure about how to move from talking about it to actual action.
What is it... really?
“The notion of agency as contributing to cognitive processes involved in learning comes primarily from the Piagetian notion of constructivism where knowledge is seen as “constructed” through a process of taking actions in one’s environment and making adjustments to existing knowledge structures based on the outcome of those actions. The implication is that the most transformative learning experiences will be those that are directed by the learner’s own endeavors and curiosities.” (Lindgren & McDaniel, 2012)
Another way of thinking of learner agency is when learners have “the power to act” - when learning involves activity and initiative on the part of the learner themselves, and not just the teacher, curriculum, and/or resources, etc. Consider concepts such as personalization and learn-centric or learner-centered education: these are aspects of what we might mean by learner agency, but it even goes deeper than that!
Overall there is a sense of independence and responsibility on the part of the learner: the opportunity to have choice and voice in planning, implementation, and assessment.
Making Learner Agency a Reality for our Students
Involving the learners in the decision-making is a must. These decisions will place more ownership and empowerment on the part of students. Teachers must become comfortable with changing their leadership style from directive to consultative -- from "Do as I say" to "Based on your needs, let's co-develop and implement a plan of action together."
Meaningful change must begin with active student involvement. Advocacy, choice, and voice should occur in the classroom as well as in any learning environment. Relevance and value on the part of our learners are central elements to success.
It has been sometime since I have posted to this blog, but it is for good reason. I have been out on Maternity leave and now, more then ever before, I have a new perspective on the future, the work I do with educators has never been more important.
I look at my son and try to image what education will look like when he begins school - in just five years, what technology will we have, what expectations will we have for learning, what will engage my son when it comes to learning.
Expect new posts and insights now that I am starting back up with my work and jumping in to continue to support and coach those responsible for our greatest commodity, the most important product we can produce -- our children.
“When professionals share their talents and skills, they help the whole school develop a collective wisdom.” ~ Robert Marzano
And now that the devices are in the hands of students in all of their 32 schools, the Alamance-Burlington Schools district has turned to a researched practice that not only makes a tremendous impact on the culture of our public schools, but expounds upon collaboration, increases rigor, and propels the capacity of all stakeholders at twice the expected rate of return: they have begun implementing instructional rounds, or Learning Walks.
This collaborative practice is based on the medical model or rounds. The practice has been further developed for school administrators to observe and discuss best practices in the classroom, and modified to enable educators to conduct their own instructional rounds focused on self reflection and growth designed to begin discussions of instruction directly into the process of school improvement. In other words, this simple process creates a common language, common discipline, common focus, common purpose, and common problems.
You can talk about Learning Walks, but to truly understand this experience and it’s associated benefits, you have to experience it – you have to ‘walk the walk’. It is important that all involved understand the purpose of the walks and that they are introduced in a non-threatening way. Although schools and districts will initiate learning walks in various ways, several strategies are critical to gain buy-in: In this case, Alamance Burlington committed all it’s leadership to experience a full day of learning walks spanning schools across their district. Leaders had the opportunity to sign up for one of four days of instructional rounds, each with their own area of focus aligned with district expectations for digital learning and teaching – Management of a Digital Learning Classroom, Content & Instruction, Using Technology to Differentiate Learning, and The 4 C’s.
Along with these focus areas, each with criteria and questions, Leadership was also asked to observe student engagement, learning goals and progress tracking, student understanding of new knowledge practices and /or deepened, and how expectations are communicated to all students, etc..
During instructional rounds, small groups of three to five people make relatively brief observations of educators in action. These observations are longer than a typical “walkthrough” (i.e., longer than a few minutes), but usually shorter than an entire class period. When engaged in rounds, groups conduct as many substantive observations of classrooms as possible within part of a day or the entire day.
These rounds are a non-evaluative, structured approach to get educators into each other’s classrooms to see the teaching and learning that is taking place. Cultivating a meaningful professional learning process for improving teaching and learning, and promoting a truly collaborative learning community, requires ongoing effort from all stakeholders involved.
The primary purpose is for those making the observations to compare their practices with those observed in the classrooms they visit, and it is the discussion at the end of a set of instructional rounds and the subsequent self‐reflection by observers that is their chief benefit.
PROTOCOL | How it works
Remember, during an instructional round rotation you are only going to get a snapshot of teachers and students in action, the goal is focusing on what you observe during a specific interval of time. Consider the context of the environment, content, pedagogical practices, and the decision to use digital tools and resources to enhance student-centered learning.
Before Entering: Briefly check in as a group and redress the key focus of the Instructional round observation and purpose. Knock at the door and then quietly move to an area of the room that does not disrupt the flow of instruction.
In the Classroom: Observe. Participants actively observe both the educator(s) and students in action: noting not only the focus of the learning walks that day, but also engagement, progress tracking, collaboration, how expectations are communicated, etc. Participants are not just a fly on the wall, however, and are encouraged to ask students questions and clarify understanding.
Exiting Classroom: IMMEDIATELY take a moment in the hallway to synthesise your observation into learning notes.
Debrief: As a group we will convene to reflect, synthesize on our experiences through collaborative activities to answer the following: what did you see? What could this mean for your schools? How will you bring it back to your schools? What are key components you gained insights on based on the day’s specific focus area?
Below is a sampling of principals’ comments made during post-walk conversations:
With adequate professional capacity building in instructional rounds and proper implementation, this process can positively impact collaboration and team decision making concerning instructional design, classroom management, the implementation of digital tools and resources to support curriculum and instruction, as well as support data-driven decision making. The reaction and energy shared in Alamance-Burlington in these first few instructional round experiences was one of overwhelming success with plans to make learning walks an expectational norm in every school!
Kachur, D., Stout, J., & Edwards, C. (2013). Engaging teachers in classroom walkthroughs. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
Feeney, E. (2014). Design Principles for Learning to Guide Teacher Walk Throughs. Clearing House, 87(1), 21-29.
Allen, A. S., & Topolka-Jorissen, K. (2014). Using teacher learning walks to build capacity in a rural elementary school: repurposing a supervisory tool. Professional Development In Education, 40(5), 822-837
Back by an overwhelming popular demand, the Coaching Digital Learning: Cultivating a Culture of Change Massive Open Online Course for Educators is back! I am spending my time tweaking and updating our course for educators and coaches alike...
Coaching educators to create digital learning environments is a challenging, important, and highly collaborative role. Individuals who play this role are instrumental in cultivating a digital, personalized blended learning culture within their school, district and/or state. This course allows you to learn along with your colleagues from other schools and districts to enhance your digital learning content knowledge and further develop coaching strategies.
Registration is open now!!
The eighth annual Coaching Digital Learning Institute (CDLI), organized by the Professional Learning and Leading Collaborative (PLLC) team, in partnership with the Golden LEAF Foundation, was unique: the facilitators leading the capacity building sessions and hands on learning activities were all volunteers who have previously attended past CDLI events or other Friday Institute capacity building trainings and cohorts. This year, the students truly became the teachers.
“It’s absolutely, 110 times different… These are people that work with children, they work every day with elementary, middle school, high school students. They work with the teachers that are working with the kids. So you know they’re not going to encourage you to use something that’s not effective,” said Beth Davis, an academic coach at Graham High School in the Alamance-Burlington School System.
The CDLI is designed to support K-12 instructional technology facilitators, those taking the lead in implementing digital transitions in their schools and districts. CDLI builds capacity and enhances professional development, practice, and adds mobile and digital tools and resources to expand learning and teaching environments.
This year’s theme centered on a quote by Sir Arthur Charles Clarke: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” As the ones charged with assisting the growth of digital learning and teaching in North Carolina schools and districts, these educators aren’t just coaching and supporting technology, they are coaching and supporting magic. This doesn’t mean pretending to saw students in half; educational technology provides and supports “magical” experiences to all stakeholders in schools undergoing digital transitions.
“I often have people come into my office, or I’m in their classroom when they’ve called for help... and they say, ‘Oh my gosh, you’re magic’,” said Tracey Patterson, a librarian at Graham. “They literally say things like that to those of us that work with [tech tools] all the time.”
Watch the video below to see what participating teachers had to say when we asked them about this year’s theme.
Not every attendee this year was a North Carolinian. Because of a previous partnership between the Friday Institute for Educational Innovation and Ohio’s Trailblazer Teachers program, sponsored in partnership with Battelle, five coaches traveled from Ohio to participate in the training so they could give back and share their work with others.
“Honestly, the Trailblazer program really ignited something in me to push forward and to really just try and get the word out on how to integrate technology and blended learning. We all feel the same way, that’s why we’re all here,” said Casey Clark, English teacher at North Canton Hoover High School in Canton, Ohio.
This annual professional capacity building opportunity is designed for instructional technology facilitators, media coordinators, instructional specialists, and technology-driven educators and mentoring staff, positions that are often overlooked in traditional professional development offerings.
“It seems like all the [professional development] is tools, there’s not a lot about coaching,” said Clark. “No one really talks about coaching technology. It just doesn’t exist. It’s kind of a shame.”
Clark noted that, in a district of 300 teachers, he is the only person learning how to coach others to implement blended and digital learning practices. He said training, like that offered by the CDLI, helps coaches learn not only how to use technology in the classroom, but also how to get tech tools to teachers and students effectively and with purpose.
“I don’t know why [coaching professional development isn’t available], and that’s a problem,” said Clark. “It’s a need that needs to be filled, right now.”
Through providing professional learning programs, developing educational resources, conducting research, and advocacy, the PLLC team and the Friday Institute are working to address this immediate need.
Jaclyn coaches and assists K-12 educators, ITFs, and Administrators to adapt, not adopt – fostering digital initiatives to transform professional learning through changes in pedagogical shifts and meeting the needs of all learners to champion creativity and innovation. @jaclynbstevens