5 Things We Have to Stop Pretending (in education)

Source: http://goo.gl/Id9HMe

This weekend as I was on Twitter, I ran across a blogging challenge called “5 Things We Have to Stop Pretending” in education to #makeschooldifferent. It was passed along by educator Jay Greenlinger (@JayGreenlinger) to five teachers in his PLN. After publishing their posts, they were asked to pass the challenge to five other educators. Here are two other educators I follow on Twitter who took the challenge of responding to the prompt: Nancy Minicozzi (@CoffeeNancy) (read blog post) & Alice Chen (@WonderTechEdu) (read blog post).

How can we #MakeSchoolDifferent? Here are five beliefs I think we should change:

  1. If we give students access to technology, they will use it well as a tool in their academic and personal lives. They don’t need instruction on technology skills.
  2. If we give teachers access to interactive technology tools (hardware, Learning Management Systems, Google Apps for Education, etc.), they will transform their pedagogy to a more student-centered approach.
  3. The focus of literacy is learning how to read and analyze informational text.
  4. Teachers focusing on Professional Learning that centers on their content areas will make the connection with technology in teaching and learning.
  5. We can prepare our students well for success in college/careers using PowerPoint slides, lectures, and videos.

Like Alice Chen, I’m going to go beyond the challenge by responding to each item.

  1. Educators often make the mistake of thinking because students can navigate around the web as consumers, that they are knowledgeable about how to research, evaluate information, curate and share sources, and synthesize information into various products. This mistaken belief also leads to thinking students are aware of the effects of their social media use (digital footprint/tattoo) on their present and future.
  2. My experience is that most teachers, without modeling and instruction, will NOT change their instructional approaches when given digital tools. Some teachers are more naturally lifelong learners who push themselves to grow in their use of technology. They allow their own learning to be messy in front of their peers and students. Having shiny tools does not necessarily lead to competent use.
  3. Some think that literacy in the CCSS emphasize students being able to read and analyze informational text. However, that is a tiny piece of literacy. The question needs to be asked, “What is literacy?” and more importantly, what is “information literacy” and “digital literacy”. Alice Chen summarized these in a poster that I think is very helpful (see below #5). Check out also, the “Model School Library Standards for California Public Schools” to see what information literacy looks like. The reality is that unless we intentionalize information/digital literacies, it will be hit or miss across the curriculum.
  4. Teachers are so used to focusing on content, they don’t think, “What approaches and digital tools would help my students access content, collaborate with other students in the learning process, and demonstrate learning?” Administrators sometimes make the mistake in not asking teachers to go to trainings that actually focus on the application of technology in their subject area (Ex. CUE, Edcamps, etc.). I would guess that most don’t know what the SAMR Model is and how it relates to teaching and learning. Teachers need to see how digital tools can be used and have hands-on practice doing so. Otherwise, most will continue to focus on the content of the CCSS and doing what they’ve always done, without taking into account how the Depths of Knowledge apply to the integration of technology across the curriculum.
  5. The basic problem with constantly relying on Powerpoints, lecture, and videos for instruction is that it relies on students passively taking in the information the teacher/video provides. It’s teacher-centered and the teacher-voice. Just because students take notes, take tests, and write essays doesn’t mean they are learning how to learn. Neither are they learning to research, present, argue, and defend what they know. Giving students guided instruction in research and collaborative activities (including online discussions) using a Learning Management System (Haiku LMS, Google Classroom, Edmodo, etc.) provide a platform for teachers and students to connect with each other and content in ways not previously possible.

So, what do you think are five things we need to stop pretending in education to make school different?

9 C's of Digital Literacy

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How a District Performance Task Drove us to Deeper Questions about Learning

It's More than a Perf. Task2

This past week, two of our district’s high schools administered a District-created Performance Task. The task consisted of a classroom activity one day, and the following day, a self-guided time of research, curating/synthesizing information, and writing a position paper on a topic that was relevant to our local community. After finishing the task, students were given the opportunity to give feedback about the Performance Task. Later in the week, teachers at one high school had the chance to give feedback about their experience and that of their students at a staff meeting. I was pleasantly surprised by some things that come out in the discussion.

A couple of teachers caught my attention by sharing that after the Performance Task was over, they observed some students talking to each other about positions they took in their papers, using evidence from the research they had been given and read. It was an “Aha” moment for me because what those students were doing is what we should be looking to see OFTEN across the curriculum. They weren’t just “unloading” the facts that had been covered in lectures, readings, and videos or showing they could defend a proposition in an essay assignment. They had “uncovered” meaningful information and made real-world connections about a topic that was relevant to them and their community. They were, in fact, engaged in authentic dialogue with THEIR voice.

With the digital tools available to us today, there are many ways we can provide students fertile ground for dialogue and the integration of various perspectives. Students can learn in an abundance of perspective, of information, and of connection with others. Their learning process and thinking are changed as they are given room to explore, problem-solve, and synthesize and share their perspective. And whether or not that was intended, something spontaneously occurred.

Not a series of remembered ideas, reproduced for testing, and quickly forgotten. But something flexible that is already integrated with the other things a learner knows.” (Dave Cormier, 2011)

At one point, the discussion took another unexpected turn. It was pointed out that students need to begin learning what they will face in today/tomorrow’s job market. And part of that is being able to adapt and learn in uncertainty. The question was raised,  “Is all we want from experiences like this is for students to demonstrate learning through a graphic organizer and essay, or are there other long-term objectives we should be targeting in the process? And are we scaffolding this learning along the way to prepare them for real world performance tasks, where they have to demonstrate the ability to research, curate, reflect on, and create/share/demonstrate learning?”

Christina Hendricks (@clhendricksbca), a member of my PLN (professional learning network) wrote, “…the “best learning” has to do with helping people deal with uncertainty, to figure out how to make decisions and choose the paths they should take when faced with situations in which the outcomes are uncertain. Education is tricky because we don’t know exactly what sorts of knowledge will be needed in the future, the changes different fields will undergo, the changes new technologies will bring, etc. So encouraging good decision-making and creative problem-solving skills, as well as the ability to continually guide one’s own learning to gain new knowledge as needed, are critical. (ETMOOC: Rhizomatic Learning in Philosophy Courses, 2013)

8 Things to Look for in Today's Classroom -

8 Things to Look for in Today’s Classroom – a Sketchnotes created by @sylviaduckworth http://georgecouros.ca/blog/archives/5027

We need to be serious about helping students learn relevant life skills – Habits of Mind (as well as subject matter and other applied skill sets). Our district is grappling with how to connect our curriculum to Career Technical Education pathways and STEM education. This curriculum moves beyond preparing students for college to the job market and daily life. As one teacher stated, “Employers aren’t asking if you can write a good essay.”

Although the Performance Task was originally designed to assess students’ skill at being able to demonstrate a variety of academic skills, it became obvious that we need to think more broadly when creating District/State Assessments.  I’m looking forward to seeing how our thinking and practice across the district reflects continuing transformation in our pedagogy and practice.

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It’s My Pleasure – A Habit of Mind (and Heart) Brought to You by Chick Fil-A


Used with permission from This Tasty Blog (http://food.theplainjane.com/) (Creative Commons License)

This summer while traveling to Castle Rock, CO, and Tyler, TX, my wife and daughter introduced me to Chick Fil-A, a restaurant chain that specializes in chicken sandwiches and such. Not only do they serve good food, but they are also known for providing great service. My daughter told me that one thing I’d hear from Chick Fil-A employees after I say “thank you” is “It’s my pleasure.” The first Chick Fil-A restaurant I went into, I wanted to put Chick Fil-A to the test.  As I watched how the Chick Fil-A employees interacted with their guests, I found a culture of honoring others through acts of service and words that said, “It’s my pleasure.” They really seemed conscious of serving with their guests’ pleasure in mind. And my guess is that I’m sure it didn’t happen overnight, but was a deliberate practice over time. I’m sure that those managing taught, modeled, and encouraged the culture of honoring others. And for every employee, practicing that and using the words “It’s my pleasure,” reinforced for them a habit of mind and heart. Because serving isn’t always easy.

And so the past two weeks, one thing I’ve really been focusing on is to serve others as a pleasure – not because it is necessarily gratifying for me (although it usually is), but because I want to show honor to others through acts of service. It’s a core value for me. You might have heard me recently say, “It’s my pleasure.” And it has been. When I practice that habit of mind, it helps me remember why I’m doing what I’m doing. Because there are those times when we have to deal with the demands/expectations of others and our own disappointments and failures. A natural response is to want to complain, get angry, and perhaps withdraw from others or situations when things don’t go well or others mistreat us. It can put a strain on our commitment to learn and serve with others.

We all know that there are always going to be situations when we are teaching, learning, serving, or leading, things are going to go awry. And people are going to disappoint us in one way or the other.  All of us are going have a variety of reactions, some which are not very pleasant. Let’s face it, when we’re under pressure, it’s natural to want to be selfish and put our own needs first. When I’m feeling like others are unappreciative or demanding, it seems easy to want to complain or get angry and feel justified. Instead, I’m hoping this habit of mind will help respond differently.  I don’t want to allow my circumstances to take over my thinking and behavior. So it means being deliberate about thinking about serving well and looking past circumstances. And it makes me hopeful that I can influence the atmosphere and culture around me, and the quality of my relationships. If we join together in this habit of mind (and heart), we can all say, “It’s my pleasure,” in word and deed, and feel good knowing we’re giving honor to others and holding to one thing we value most – relationships.

It’s my Pleasure….to learn and serve with you!

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My First Glance at the Common Core


As an educational technology coordinator for a high school district, having an awareness of how instruction is delivered and student learning is assessed and made visible is important.  I enjoy reading about and watching videos/webinars on current pedagogical thinking and instructional methodology. I enjoy the conversations I have with administrators and teachers and informally observing what goes on in classrooms. During my eight years of teaching in the classroom and my subsequent work as a technology consultant/coordinator, I have actively used technology in teaching and learning and enjoyed sharing that passion with others.

About five years ago, a shift took place for me.  I discovered RSS feeds and Twitter. Those conversations, along with online webinars, became my source of professional development and growth as an educator.  I began to learn the power of shared learning and collaboration. Through my connections with digital learning, I also uncovered the growing Web 2.0/21st Century Learning paradigm in education. I began to understand that the growing access to new technologies and online tools needed to make its way into classrooms. I saw some embrace it, while others ignored or put off leveraging it in teaching and learning.  In spite of how standardized testing had affected teaching and learning in schools, I had hope that this new paradigm would help teachers engage students in new ways that would encourage more engaging, student-centered learning.  Now, with the advent of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) initiative, there is an additional impetus to implement digital learning in classrooms. (For a basic introduction, see this short 3 minute video:  “Explaining the Common Core Standards”).

Okay, I know…just because a new initiative is being thrust upon us doesn’t mean teachers are going to engage it. They weren’t involved in the conversation as the new standards were developed or when the state quickly adopted them without piloting them and sharing the results. It also means another learning curve for yet another initiative that raises questions like, “How long will this one be around?”, “Will this really help students be better learners or better prepared for college and careers?”, “How much time and energy is this going to take?”, “Is this going to be driven by the administration, or will be have some voice in the planning, professional development, implementation, and assessment of teaching/learning using these standards?”

With this transition to an initiative that looks like it will be here for some time to come, I would encourage school admins. to take the time to engage teachers in an ongoing conversation about the structure/process and provide meaningful professional development and structures for ALL teachers to be involved in supportive, collaborative environments (Ex. PLC groups). Otherwise, I predict that implementation and growth will be inconsistent. Teachers who have resisted the 21st Century paradigm and engaging students with instructional methods like Project-Based Learning (PBL) and utilizing online apps will resist this, as well.

A few weeks ago, I had a chance to attend a training called,  “Systems of Instructional Design – Developing College and Career Ready Students” presented by Jay Westover, an education consultant with Innovate Ed., This training targeted building an understanding of instructional design in the context of the CCS, which I found to be helpful.  I became familiar with some areas the Common Core emphasizes and was introduced to some key terms/concepts like Literacy, Depth of Knowledge, Instructional Rounds, Literacies across Disciplines, Text Complexity (the Staircase of Complexity), Text-based Answers, etc. In addition, the Areas of Emphasis were illustrated through the day. There were several things that stood out for me.

One of the first points made in the training was that the standards are NOT the curriculum or instruction. “A Standard is an outcome, not a claim about how to achieve an outcome.” (McTighe and Wiggins, 2012). In their article, “From Common Core Standards to Curriculum: Five Big Ideas”, McTighe and Wiggins state that, “ It is imperative that educators understand the intent and structure of the Standards in order to work with them most effectively. Accordingly, we recommend that schools set the expectation and schedule the time for staff to read and discuss the Standards, beginning with the “front matter,” not the grade-level Standards. We also recommend that staff reading and discussion be guided by an essential question: What are the new distinctions in these Standards and what do they mean for our practice?

“To invoke a construction analogy: Think of the grade level standards as building materials. As a construction supervisor, we wouldn’t simply drop off materials and tools at a worksite and have the workers “go at it.” Instead, we would begin with a blueprint – an overall vision of the desired building to guide its construction. Without an overall end in mind, teachers can create wonderful individual rooms that won’t necessarily fit together within and across floors or achieve the intended results.”


One thing I appreciate about the CCS is the attempt to replace the “mile wide, one inch deep” approach to outcomes that emphasize greater “depth of knowledge” (D.O.K.). To get students to learn beyond the first level of D.O.K. (recall of information) which was the outcome emphasized in the previous standards and testing regime, teachers will have to make six shifts in their Instructional Design (see illustration below). Many teachers are doing some of these “shifts” to various degrees, but now they will have to make these shifts with greater intentionality and make them more visible to others. Fortunately, because the CCS are a nationwide initiative, there are lots of available resources being developed and shared online. But even with that, what kinds of digital textbooks and other reading material will have to draw from is still up in the air.


Click for full-size image (Infographic from Crabtree Publishing via Pinterest)

How are teachers feeling about their being prepared to implement the new standards? Below is an infographic from a small sample of teachers that provides a snapshot of what I suspect teachers are thinking around the country (our county would probably show lower numbers that feel “somewhat” prepared). The concerns listed, I think, could be a foundation for conversations that administrators and teachers need to be engaging in.


Click image for original blog post, “What Teachers Really Think About the Common Core” on Weareteachers.com

One last thought for my first glance at the CCS. One interesting thing about the training I went to on Instructional Design was that there was almost no mention of technology use. No mention of how teachers could leverage the Internet and digital tools as part of their instructional design research, planning, or delivery. No mention of how students could collaborate using digital tools. No mention of the skills students will need to take the Smarter Balanced assessments. I just found that very odd. Technology integration is a key piece that every school has to consider. Schools will need a robust infrastructure and bandwidth, hardware for teachers and students to access, digital content resources, an idea of the digital literacies teachers and students will need, professional development, and the finances to support the school’s educational technology.

That’s my first glance at the Common Core Standards. I’m trying to read something each week to help develop a greater understanding of where we are going with them. In this post, I haven’t tried to delve into issues of equity for all students, the Smarter Balanced assessments, how corporate America has been involved in driving the Common Core Standards Initiative, or other issues that will impact our efforts to provide great teaching and learning in our schools. I’m sure I’ll have something more to say about those issues, but for now, my focus will be on how I can assist our district in the planning and implementation of what we have right now. I hope you will guard your focus, as well.

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Some Reflections on Digital Identity


On Youth Advisory blog: “Social Networking: The Digital Identity

With our continuing discussions about Digital Identities,@ChezVivian has written a wonderful blog post (Perfecting My Footprint in Life) exhorting us toward being authentic people online – full of character and integrity – as an extension of who we are in our daily lives. Do we spend our days trying to impress people? If so, then we will probably get caught up in “Digitally Branding” ourselves, putting ourselves out there as a commodity – selling ourselves. Instead, if our core values include servanthood – mentoring, teaching, coming alongside others, etc., it will reveal itself in selfless acts that demonstrate our character. If our online self is congruent with our offline self, then people will see that and that presence will connect us to people in a natural way. In working with students, certainly we want to point out that what they do and say online is a reflection of who they are. Being good citizens online should be congruent with who they are as citizens in all the other areas of their lives. Perhaps we should take her advice:

“It seems it would be ideal if we could show our students the power they have to exact and affect remarkable help, care, and education through the Internet; such that they would find the risky & riské activities boring and unappealing in comparison.”

Perhaps that is a good reason our collaborative activities focus on supporting others as members of a community. If only that became fashionable. Perhaps I’ll write more about this….

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At the Crossroads


Permission to use granted by Anton Shevchenko, photographer

As I read, “I am a teacher and I am tired,” by a young teacher, I found myself remembering times when I was at the end of myself as a teacher and having to evaluate if I wanted to continue in education.  These were crossroads. We all come to them at one time or another. How do you respond when you hear/see someone in that place? As I reflected on her words and my own journey, I found myself wanting to reach out to her with words of encouragement. Words that reflected empathy for her, having heard the words of a broken heart. Words that would help her find the way back to memories of what brought the passion of teaching to her.  And if she decided not to continue, to not endure the realities of education, I would understand.  But not without first saying, take a look back and then take a look forward.

Most of us have to make a decision at some point regarding our work in education. What it is that makes it worth continuing in the struggle is different for each of us. We have to find that and hold tightly to it.  Vicki Davis (@coolcatteacher) encourages us to remember our calling when times are tough in her post, “You may be walking wounded, but teacher, but stay in the game.” Our calling, our sense of purpose has to sustain us regardless of the politics we have no control over, the shifting sands of standards and testing, decreasing finances to support education, difficult parents and students, the fatigue and times of discouragement, etc. These things can press into us and if we’re not careful, can overwhelm us and our purpose/identity as educators.

“Keep at it. It is work worth doing. It would be nice if all the kids were nice and the parents were nice and the workload was manageable but that isn’t the reality of teaching – it never has been and never will be.”(Vicki Davis)  

Working in education isn’t easy, so it’s important to remember why we got involved in it. Before I decide to retreat to the sidelines and leave the game, like Vicki, I want to know that I’ve left it all on the field.

Stephen Covey (Author of Seven Habits of Highly Effective People) has been an inspiration to me over the years. He challenges us to look at our thinking when we face difficulties. Our tendency is to focus on circumstances that are out of our control (Circle of Concern) and expend a lot of energy doing so. Instead, Covey encourages us to focus on the things we can influence or do something about.  Our behavior becomes a function of our decisions, not our conditions/circumstances.  I don’t have to rely on the circumstances to change to go on. This shrinks the “Circle of Concern” that can dominate our thoughts, feelings, and behavior, reducing our effectiveness and ability to function.

Okay, I know that on any given day or week, the outside voices can get really loud and wear us down.  It’s during those times that even as I work to put things in perspective, that I really appreciate some words of encouragement from those who I work with or are part of my PLN (Professional Learning Network). Just yesterday, a fellow teacher and I helped each other check our thinking and refocus our efforts to choose how we were going to respond to some negative circumstances.  And we decided not to focus on what we couldn’t change. When we have that support, it’s much easier to restore the vision and passion for our work and stay in the game.

Another member of my PLN directed me to a post George Couros (@gcouros), The Principal of Change, wrote called, “I’m tired.” Boy, can I relate. He describes his own struggles with fatigue and the choices he makes to move to a healthier place. And what followed in the comments by those who read the post were stories of how they battled the same things and they offered words of encouragement. Doesn’t it feel good to know we’re not in it alone and that others have traveled the same road in some fashion? Hopefully, we’ll remember that we are in this together (we’re a learning community).

Regardless of the outside voices and pressures we face inside our profession, we have a tremendous opportunity to not only reach students and families, but also help each other as we walk down the path that we have chosen as educators. When you come to a crossroads, remember to consider your calling. Check out your Circle of Concern/Influence. Find the encouragement of a fellow educator who can help you find your way.  Let’s persevere together and give our very best to what we’ve been called to do as educators. It’s a great calling, don’t you think?

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Sisqitman’s ETMOOC Takeaways

As I come to the end of the ETMOOC, I feel a sense of sadness, but also that it’s time to continue the work that was started as a result of my partnership with my fellow ETMOOCers. We dared to connect, create, collaborate, communicate, and share with each other. We’ve built relationships and strengthened our PLN’s (Professional Learning Networks).  One result is that it has re-energized my work and I hope to share that enthusiasm and renewed vision with those in my immediate, local sphere of influence, including educators in my county.  There are many important ideas that I’ve been exposed to and thought about, and learning experiences that I know I need to pass on to others.  Some of those reflections are in blogposts yet to come. But for now, here are a few key takeaways for you from my time in ETMOOC.  Without further ado, here is my Vodcast, made in iMovie.

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