Friday, April 1, 2016

The Story & Takeaways of Personalized PD #RedbirdPLS

Having just spent a couple days engaged in stimulating conversations and explorations at the Redbird Personalized Learning Symposium, I’m exhausted... but also incredibly excited! Experiencing the mash up of innovative voices from the field, Stanford research, EdCamp PD, and design thinking @ Google is a little like dancing through an all-night learning rave. It’s a lot of learning action! Now that I’ve sat still for a total of two hours, I’m reflecting on the takeaways and trying to put my finger on what made this style of PD so powerful. And more importantly, how can I create this for teachers and students at my school?

There were a lot of sound bytes, videos, snaps, and tweets generating the in-action buzz. Along the way, I heard several that resonated with me. But, taking a look at the whole story via Storify helped me to reflect on the whole experience and pull out what some keys could be to recreating this style of highly engaged learning. Here’s what the story told me...

  1. It starts with excitement & connectivity. People were already pumped to see each other, connect with others and collaborate. The prequel to the learning mattered, and mostly it was excitement about the human connection and collaboration potential.

  1. A relevant, unconventional, and inspirational message can help engage everyone. Who can’t relate to loving kids and Tribe Called Quest? We need to take time to galvanize the whole. Not everyone was with us on Twitter pre-PLS, so having Jason and Matt sharing out the message was essential. But, keeping it brief also respected the goal of engagement and personalization so we could get moving.

  1. Learning involves partnering with amazing folks. In his work with school districts, Jason Green has a wealth of information around personalized and blended learning to share, but he and the Redbird team recognized the importance of passing the mic. Beyond some prominent trailblazers like Catlin Tucker, Dr. Arnetha Ball, Jaime Casap, Kerry Gallagher, and Hadley Ferguson, we heard from each other...everyone had a voice. As I’m thinking about this in my school, I’m left asking, what partners can I engage to take PD to the next level? What partnerships can help us take student learning to the next level. Part of teacher and leader burnout comes from this longstanding notion that we have to create everything. What if we created nothing but experiences through partnerships both within our schools and outside of them?

  1. It’s personalized. There was nothing on that EdCamp board at 9 AM, and as there were many people experiencing EdCamp style PD for the first time, there were some nerves around how it would work...or if it would work. But the magic of letting go of control and trusting in the personalization process was hard to deny as that board filled up and important conversations took place. As we head into PD experiences, how can we create this type of agency and choice for teachers?

  1. It’s creative and inspires even more creativity. At Google, we had some heavy creativity hitting to accomplish on a timer as we traveled through the design thinking process to yield models of the future classrooms. It was about 30 minutes of intense thinking, pushing boundaries, sharing, and trying to somehow develop a model or symbol of the concept. As my team at Table 1 (woot!) discussed an idea to open up courses and learning experiences to students in partner schools and around the world via a learning share, I had the thought...when is the last time I saw such an outcome in a 30 minute learning session in a classroom? We’re talking about #transforminglearning in 30 minutes. And there were so many other examples too, my favorite being the wonderfully creative learning doodles by Kato Nims (@KatoNims129) shared throughout the whole experience.

  1. It’s fun. I’ll admit, I have no idea how I will use my Snapchat account created in the last EdCamp breakout session, but I had a great time bonding with everyone and learning from some Snapchat Jedis. And whether I use it or not, I want to understand it, so the knowledge was so valuable to were the silly pictures. We had fun throughout the experience, whether hopping on bikes at Google, tinkering with playdough, or just goofing off. All this fun and serious learning too.

  1. The outcomes are the start, not the end. When I walked away today, I had a lot of ideas, some in doodles and others scratched out as challenge statements with fragments of a plan. I had a fuzzy vision of what I wanted to do next to continue iterating. When we engage in truly meaningful learning, our outcomes are the most exciting start to a new segment of our journey, not the conclusion. Further, when we start with connectivity, great learning is the start of new, empowering friendships.

For the full story, check out the #redbirdpls storify.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

4 Key Personalization Practices to Spot in a Rotation Station Classroom

In my work with schools, I am often asked the question, How can I tell if the teacher PD around blended learning is working? What can I see in the classroom? These questions speak to the recognized nuance of effective blended practice. Kids on devices does not mean learning is taking place.

As the goal of blended practice is to personalize the learning for students, there should be evidence of this personalization in play when we walk into a classroom. In a classroom rotation model, where students move from station to station in small groups, the following indicators provide such evidence.

1. Different Paths at the Digital Station
Students should be engaged with digital curriculum that offers at least a few different learning paths. For example, if students are on IXL practicing grammar, teachers or students should have selected lessons aligned to individual or at least small group needs.

2. Choice
A personalized environment allows for students to participate as drivers of their own learning. In a rotation classroom, there are many opportunities to provide choice to students.
o   Project-based learning station with project options catered to different learning modes
o   Digital curriculum which allows students to choose a skill or starting point
o   The use of choice boards or personalized learning logs which empower students to choose their path and reflect on it

3. Voice
The best blended classrooms do not rely solely on digital curriculum to engage learners. Students need to share their learning with each other and learn from peers. Rotations designed to include student voice may offer

o   Discussion threads
o   Sharing via tools like Padlet
o   Student blogging
o   Face-to-face presentations of learning

4. Strategic Grouping and Different Lessons
A common feature of the classroom rotation model is the teacher station where small groups rotate into a mini lesson by the teacher. If designed with differentiation in mind, these mini lessons should be catered to the different groups and the groups should be formed strategically considering the following:
o   Different skills (finding textual evidence v. developing topics sentences in writing)
o   Learning modes (more visuals, tinkering, auditory, discussion)
o   Preferred learning flow (ex: are some students better at learning when they can tinker first then watch then discuss, while others are more suited to a traditional flow of discuss – watch – tinker)

A sign that teachers may be missing the mark in a rotation station model is when all students are doing essentially the same thing but in small groups and in a different order. However, this is also a very natural stage through which teachers pass as they hone their blended practice. It is therefore important to recognize the growth in implementing some important component of a classroom rotation model (e.g. using digital curriculum, setting up different stations, monitoring transitions via routine) while providing feedback targeting deep personalization.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

How to Keep Teacher PD Blooming Through Spring

By spring, the flowers blooming outside our windows have far more life than many of our PD initiatives. Teachers are tired and have eyes set on real-time classroom goals before summer. It’s a tricky time to get teams motivated to learn and implement new practices. However, spring is naturally a more social time of the year. Creating time and space for teachers to share learning with colleagues can capitalize on this sharing buzz in the air. Consider the following:

Make it Social:
  • Create a Pinterest Board or Facebook Group for teachers to post resources they love.
  • Set up a coffee chat book or article share, or establish a reading nook for teachers in the teachers’ lounge or library.
  • Dedicate a physical space where teachers can post what’s on their shelves for professional reading.
  • Find social PD opportunities in your local community. For example, where I am in NYC, the NY Historical Society hosts a regular professional learning series with pizza and wine for teachers, either free or significantly reduced. EdCamps are also fun, social “unconference”-style PD events.

Engage Trailblazers
  • As you make observations and classroom visits, make note of innovative practices in action. Ask these teachers to share a noteworthy practice in faculty meetings or the Facebook/Pinterest space.
  • Focus the spring on teachers observing teachers, taking the focus of observations from evaluative to inspirational. Create a list of teacher trailbrazers to observe matched with PD outcomes and a place for observers to share what they most valued or noticed from their observations. This can be done in the social space created or a Padlet board where teachers can offer shout-outs and tips they gained.
Catch & Share
  • Take the time to share the innovative practices you spot by capturing them in action. If your school has a social media feed, send pictures or video to the social media manager to post innovative, engaging teaching practices.
  • Consider a positive “Caught in the Act” share space in the teachers’ lounge or the online social space where you can share innovative practices you spot.
Focus on Engagement & Personalization
  •  As the school year winds down, offer more engaging PD experiences by focusing on hands-on, collaborative, or personalized PD.
  • Allow for teacher to choose their focus as much as possible, providing resources that enable such choice such as an online PD platform with a variety of experiences.
  • Use the school’s LMS or a PD platform to allow for learning to continue into the summer at a self-selected pace. Some tools, such as the Redbird Professional Learning Platform we use at my school, offer a social component which engages teachers in conversation and motivates users through a point incentive system.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Engaging Parents as Partners in Supporting Our Digital Explorers

An important component of leading in a blended learning environment is engaging parents as partners in the digital citizenship journey. As students get older and begin to explore social media and the vast digital world, I often hear from parents anxious to understand how to support digital exploration in a safe and balanced manner. At my school, we put together a parent tip sheet and digital home contract to support parents in this home-school partnership.

  • Set clear digital boundaries for when, what, where and with whom. Allow these to grow with your child just as you would expand their radius for navigating the neighborhood.
  • Rely on age requirements. If your child asks to have an account on an application, prompt him or her to look at the usage policy with you. If there is a minimum age requirement, ask if he or she is comfortable misrepresenting him or herself and guide them to alternatives:
    • Wait until you are age appropriate.
    • Have a family account to use together and learn together.
  • Set up a digital home contract (see the attached template). Use the time to learn about what interests your child and to set appropriate guidelines.
  • Engage with your children in their use of technology. Share accounts before creating one for your child to practice together. A family Instagram can be a great way to teach responsible use before your child reaches the minimum age requirement of 13 for that app.
  • Keep safety in mind first, and have open communication about how to handle any stranger situations.
  • Set and stick to a power-down time, and after this time, store any devices with you instead of inside your child’s room.  

It is important to have open communication with your child, setting clear expectations and boundaries regarding their online presence. Here is a list of additional resources we have compiled to help you. Additionally, we encourage you to use an age-appropriate version of the attached digital home contract.

16 Apps and Websites Kids Are Heading to After Facebook

Digital Home Contract

Family Members:


Child’s Preference
Parent’s Preference
Mutual Agreement
(ex: my phone, your phone, family computer, personal computer, desktop, laptop, iPad)

(ex: texting, group chat, email, games, blogging, video)

(ex: weekday hours, weekend hours, device storage & usage location)

Apps & Sites
(ex: Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, iMovie, Youtube, WattPad)

(ex: password sharing, family accounts v. personal accounts)

(ex: information on profiles, networking with others, gaming with others, friending, etc.)

We will review and revise this family agreement every ________ months/years through childhood. We also agree we will communicate openly and honestly about technology.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Mindful in the Middle

If walking the middle school hallways of our school at precisely 8:06, you will see the following: students in chairs or standing, eyes closed, quiet. This is the daily mindfulness practice we have implemented to bring a sense of calm and focus to the day ahead. We began the practice earlier in the year after teachers collaborated on a way to incorporate quiet time as a means of reducing the stress of middle school.

We launched the initiative in Mandell Meeting, our biweekly community assembly, by asking students to share privately what stresses they feel. Students responded with a variety of stressors, ranging from academic to social pressure, societal expectations, family dynamics or illnesses. We then had them place the items in a “worry box” for the day and led them through a visualization exercise in which they were cued to draw the emotion they wanted to feel most often throughout their day. We discussed mindfulness as a practice which can take various forms and shared a video documenting how one school used mindfulness as a way of reducing the life stresses students faced in an underserved, crime-ridden neighborhood. Students built empathy and  shared similar obstacles despite very different environments.

Since that Mandell Meeting in October, we have practice daily quiet time in morning homerooms and throughout the day as needed or appropriate to each class’s activities. For example, Drama begins with a breathing exercise in which students center their focus and energy on the creative output required in the class. We also continue to incorporate whole-division mindfulness at the opening of each Upper School Mandell Meeting. This practice can take the form of quiet time, a “sound bath” of singing bowls, mindful listening in partners, or movement oriented practice such as chair yoga. Teachers have incorporated tools such as to expand their classroom approaches, and teachers have participated in two workshops on mindfulness this year including one on classroom management, one on classroom mindfulness, and another on mindfulness in writing.

Like other schools incorporating Mindfulness into the day, we have seen a positive impact at both the individual and group level. Gianna in Fifth Grade shared her thoughts on mindfulness practice stating, “I like it because it helps me think about my day and get calm. Like today, we have a quiz and it is helping me not get stressed.” This sentiment was echoed by Elaine in Eighth Grade who said, “I love the mindfulness practice in the morning because it is a nice time for me to relax before I begin my hectic day. It puts me in the right mode for school so that I don’t start off the day stressed.”

At one teacher workshop, a quote by Viktor Frankl was shared, “Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” As students mature into older childhood and gain heightened awareness of their world, they are inundated with stimuli. We are committed to providing them the tools through which they can create space to respond to these mindfully rather than to react impulsively. Through Mandell’s tight-knit community of trust, we have found a way to build this capacity through mindfulness. To read more about how this practice is making its way into the classroom, take a look at the following links.

Image Credit: