Flipping Back to School Night

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Flipping BTSN

 

No, I’m not trying swear about Back to School Night… we actually “flipped” it! Thanks to the idea from the famous Scott Bedley who has been flipping back to school night for several years now.

WHY did we flipped BTSN at Quantum Academy?

We are all crunched for time. Parents are. Teachers are. And there just isn’t enough time to really get to know each other. So one of the first times parents are invited into our classrooms, traditionally we inundate them with information “sit and get” style. In the past, I have looked out at my parents during BTSN events and have seen their tired faces, after having worked all day long, trying to focus, write notes, and learn about what their child will be doing all year. And yes, we all know parents use this time to gauge their child’s teacher. To see if their child’s teacher has passion, commitment, and knows their stuff. But is this traditional method of BTSN the best way to do this?

I say no. Parents can learn all the nitty gritty stuff like behavior expectations, curriculum guidelines, and contact information in a better way. This is when flipping comes in. Why not create videos parents can watch BEFORE BTSN so they can watch and learn about your classroom in the comfort of their own home and maybe even while wearing their pajamas? Why not give them an opportunity to gather their questions BEFORE they come to BTSN so they can ask you in a more personal manner? Why not open the doors of your classroom on BTSN for both parents and students and let the students do the talking about their classroom? All of these questions led us to decide that at our school we are Flipping Back to School Night.

HOW did we flipped BTSN?

We took advice from Scott Bedley and created about 15 1-2 minute videos by screencasting on our computers. We simply used Quicktime on our laptops. We co-created slides using Google Slides. We divided up the number of videos between our principal, Ted Kirkbride, and I. We created almost all of the videos that covered all the “school-wide” details. The teachers then created an introduction video where they introduce themselves and describe what makes them passionate about teaching. They were also welcome to add any other videos as well. What is great about making many short videos rather than one long video, is that it allows parents to watch in small chunks, rewatch parts they need refreshing about, and next year they can skip the videos they already have watched to save some of their valuable time. Also, from the perspective of making the videos, by creating smaller videos we could easily share the responsibility of creating them.

Once we had all of our videos created we posted them online in two ways. First, we posted them on our school website. Then we also created a Youtube playlist so all the videos could be watched easily at once. About a week before BTSN night we sent a link out to all parents and explained how BTSN will work at Quantum Academy.

I know some of you are thinking… what about equal access? What about parents who do not have access to technology to watch the videos? Here is how we solved that problem. We opened up our computer lab on the evening of BTSN and allowed those parents to come early to see the videos.

HOW was time spent during BTSN?

This is the best part… we had great one on one conversations with parents and students allowing us to make better connections with them. Students had tour guide sheets to help show their parents around. Students got to pitch their first Genius Hour project to their parents and parents had an opportunity to give feedback by using a rubric to help their child with their idea. I believe everyone had a great time during the event. There were far more smiles and stronger family connections were made. Perhaps this is something you may want to consider trying at next year’s Back to School Night Event.

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For the love of reading…

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Love ReadingI wasn’t a reader of books as a child. In fact I despised reading. I only remember reading Ramona Quimby Age 8 and a book about Mary Lou Retton. I never participated in the reading competitions where you had to fly your rocket to each planet for every hour you read. Only once did I participate. It was because my teacher made me. And I wasn’t happy. I wandered library shelves looking at covers, wasting the time until our teacher told us to line up. Then I’d grab something last minute then shove it in my desk until the day it had to be returned. I just didn’t have time to read. I needed to run, ride by bike, and do cartwheels. But that wasn’t the problem…

If you knew me now you’d laugh at that story of my childhood. I now love books. They are shoved into every nook of our home and my classroom. I talk about books like they are my friends, saying things like, “This book will change your life forever.” I can’t walk into a bookstore without walking out with a new adventure in my hand. I scavenge thrift stores and the Friends of the Library store for new books to add to my collection. I’m embarrassed to admit that once, my husband found me in a thrift store with a stack of books in my arms that I was preventing from falling by holding my chin down on them. My husband laughed at me and said, “No way… we are on a road trip and there just isn’t room in the car!”

My daughters’ rooms are littered with books as well. Just two days ago my youngest daughter cried when we weren’t going to have enough time to get to the library for her to get the next book in her series. My oldest soaks up books and is left craving for more at all times. In fact, I might even say she has read more books than me and she is only 11 years old!

Why is it so different for my daughters?
Why do they love to read?
Why didn’t I have that as a child?
And more importantly, how can we as educators continue to inspire my daughters’ love of books?

Please read this post by Pernille Ripp, titled The Five Truths of Reading.

Let’s help children find a love of reading and nurture that.

This week for Share #YourEdustory, we were challenged with sharing a book that has inspired us as our summer reading. I constantly refer to The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller. Her book justified my philosophy of keeping the element of choice alive in your reading program. Nothing kills motivation more than being told you MUST read this book. In addition, Donalyn speaks to the journey of finding books that inspire children. We must actively get to know our students so that we can find the books that hook the readers in our classroom. Because sometimes it just takes one book or one genre that will hook that reluctant reader in your classroom. It may be just one book that sparks a love for reading.

Share #YourEdustory.

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How to Be a Coach to an Already Awesome Staff

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IMG_7243This is my new job title. Coach. Yet my new staff, who I am privileged to work with, is already absolutely amazing!  As a new school we had the opportunity to build a solid creative, innovative, and inspiring teaching staff. I mean really… they are going to be teaching me so much!

So here is my dilemma… how do I coach an already awesome staff?

First of all, in a perfect world I’d change my job title to “Collaborator.” Because that feels right. Rather than “coaching” my colleagues, I’d rather sit alongside and plan, collaborate, create, and innovate with them. I think we would both benefit from this type of scenario. I believe we are better when we work together.

So here is how I plan on approaching my new position:

  1. I’ll be a listener.
  2. I’ll work alongside and inside the classroom.
  3. I’ll work directly with students.
  4. I’ll collaborate.
  5. I’ll do research.
  6. I’ll document and share my learning.

Anything else I should add?

How do you I suggest I “coach” an already amazing staff?

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Inspiration Comes From Struggle

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Inspiration often comes from struggle. There I was at the end of the first trimester in my third year of teaching when I heard the news. The news that my kindergarten class would be dispersed because my class was under enrolled. Then I got another blast. I would be moving to second grade! Here it was mid-year, I had formed bonds with my kinders and their families, and I had to say goodbye to all of them. Then move my classroom AND begin the bonding of an entirely new class at an entirely new grade level that I had never taught before.

Then I started hearing “stories” about my new class. It was no wonder the teacher of this class volunteered to be transferred to another school as a result of our school being over-staffed. There were so many stories about this class already and none of them good. People described to me all of the behavior problems, the talking back, and the disrespect.

Needless to say I was a bit nervous about all the change mid-year.

But when I walked in the “that” second grade classroom on the first day of the second trimester, I saw the class that needed me the most. I didn’t see “troublemakers” and “disrespect.” I saw a group of students who needed to be loved, encouraged, and respected as learners. I saw students who came from extraordinarily difficult backgrounds and students who had experienced more sadness in their short lifetimes than me.

It was this class where I learned the most. It was this class where I was inspired to be more than “just a teacher.” My classroom became a place where parents could come and feel safe from their abusive husbands for the day. My classroom became a place where students who just lost a parent had a shoulder to cry on. My classroom became a place where students were challenged to rise above what other people thought of them. I even became a bus driver to a student who was scared of coming to school. I cried with my students when one of our classmates was abducted. I made phone call after phone call advocating for neglected and abused children.

This class didn’t need a teacher who would put their fist down on the desk and demand attention. This class needed love, patience, and someone who believed in them. It was this year of teaching and this class where I was inspired to not only be the best teacher for my students, but also a dedicated advocate for children.

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How to Rock a Blog

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In the famous words of Les Brown, “You don’t have to be great to get started, but you have to get started to be great!” This quote was the inspiration for this post, as was Alex Kajitani and his Teacher of the Year Leadership Summit. I am honored to have been asked to lead two “Spark Sessions” at the #TOYSummit about “How to Rock a Blog.”

Here are my five tips about how you can Rock YOUR blog:

1. Start with the why. Why should you, a teacher leader, start a blog? Reflection makes us stronger, wiser, and more precise. In our journey to understand ourselves as educators, we should continually reflect about what we believe in, what has worked well, and also what has failed miserably in our classrooms. Blogging is a great platform for reflection. The process of writing and sharing your work with others can guide you as you move forward in your journey as an educator. We need to not only reflect for own journey as an educator, but also to show the community what teaching and learning is all about. After all, if we don’t tell our stories, somebody else will.

2. Just get started! You don’t have to go out and purchase your own domain. There are plenty of free platforms for you to get started today! There might be a learning curve, but that is what is so amazing about Youtube. Youtube will have an instructional video to help you with most anything. Here are a few FREE blogging platforms for you to try:

3. Blog about what you love. Begin by blogging about what you love. My blog started out as a place to share what I was doing with iPod Touches in my classroom. At the time, I wasn’t finding very many teachers blogging about interesting ways to use apps in the classroom, so I started AppEducation.com. However, I must admit, I grew tired of just blogging about how I was using apps in the classroom. This year I began to widen my “blogosphere” and began to blog about my philosophies about education and broaching bigger topics. I find a lot of joy in writing about all aspects of education. So here is my advice, learn from my failures. Keep your blog open to write about any topic in education. Don’t limit your blog to only one topic. After all, we have SO many stories to tell about our journey as educators.

4. Blog often. I will admit, this is the toughest part about blogging. But it isn’t impossible. You just need to carve some time into your schedule for writing. It could be Sunday mornings while sipping a cup of coffee. It could be that little bit of time while you are waiting to pick up your child from soccer practice. You can blog anywhere, too! You don’t have to be on your computer. You can write notes on your phone or even record yourself while you are driving. The idea is that you just write. Don’t pressure yourself to make the perfect post, either. And don’t think your post has to be long. Sometimes a paragraph is all you need. My last piece of advice, is don’t let blogging become something else to worry about. If life gets busy, it’s okay to take a break.

5. Build a PLN or a community of “edu bloggers” to share and learn from. Blogging, reflecting, and sharing the story of your journey as an educator is only half of being a blogger. The other half comes from developing a network of bloggers from whom you love to learn. There are quite literally thousands of bloggers out there writing about their classrooms. However, how do you find these amazing people? I have dedicated the last several years connecting with educators on Twitter (if you are interested about doing this too read this blog post). If you haven’t yet spent time developing a Personal Learning Network (PLN) on Twitter then worry no longer. This year, I began a blogging community called Share #YourEdustory. This community of bloggers all come together each week to blog about the same topic. Then we post our blogs on Twitter using the hashtag #YourEdustory. I have met some amazing educators, both administrators and teachers, who  began the journey of reflecting about their practice through blogs. If you want to learn more about the Share #YourEdustory bloggers group, follow this link.

Bloggers who make me think:

Karl Lingren Stricher:

Bjorn Paige:

Andrew Thomasson:

Jen Wagner:

David Theriault:

Scott Bedley:

Pernille Ripp:

And…

all the amazing bloggers of Share #YourEdustory. Find them all here.

 

 

 

 

 

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Let’s Stop Pretending and Let’s Start to #MakeSchoolDifferent

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I have been challenged by Jen Roberts and Alice Chen to write a blog post about 5 things that we need to “stop pretending” when it comes to education. But I’m not a complaining type of person, so while I will not only share with you what we need to “stop pretending,” I will also share ways we can start to #makeschooldifferent.

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 Here it goes:

1. Let’s stop pretending that standardization works. Let’s start personalizing learning and begin collaborating with students to design lessons and PBL experiences that connect to the real world.

2. Let’s stop pretending teacher centered classrooms works. Let’s start designing student centered classrooms where students’ interests are honored.

3. Let’s stop pretending worksheets are good pedagogy. Let’s start demonstrating how technology can be used to transform learning and promote creativity, collaboration, communication skills, and critical thinking.

4. Let’s stop pretending that memorizing is learning. Instead, let’s start to make learning meaningful through project based learning. And not the “let’s all make a cute project” kind of PBL, but the kind of PBL that makes a real impact on the community. Let’s start inspiring students to master life long skills like creative confidence, communication, collaboration, and critical thinking.

5. Let’s stop pretending that teachers can do the job alone. Instead, let’s embrace collaboration of all stakeholders to #makeschooldifferent→ parents, teachers, administrators, support staff, students, and the local community should work together, not against each other, to impact student learning. After all, we are not designing schools but rather learning environments and learning can happen anywhere!

As these types of challenges go, I must now pass the challenge on to 5 people. I challenge my Share #YourEdustory friends: Christy Fennewald ‏@christyfenne, Bjorn Paige ‏@BjornPaige, Jessica Vannasdall ‏@mrsvannasdall, Andrew Thomasson ‏@thomasson_engl, and Steve Brophy ‏@SteveBrophy3. I can’t wait to read what you all have to say about how you will #makeschooldifferent. Please tag me on your posts!

I’m adding Holly Clark @HollyClarkEdu to the challenge, too!

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