Wonder Wednesdays:  Teachers Leading Teachers

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This past year I kicked an idea around where teachers would lead other teachers in learning about topics that interested them. I ran it past a couple of other teachers to test the waters. They liked it, and so we began. Here’s the good, the bad, and the ugly (well, maybe not ugly) of our first year.

I decided on the name Wonder Wednesdays because I liked the ring of it. We met on, you guessed it, Wednesdays. We met to discuss what we were wondering about and what we wanted to learn more about at our own pace. It was purely voluntary, topics were teacher driven, and we moved on when the group decided. Anyone could propose and lead a topic. And like EdCamps, no hurt feelings if you left because it wasn’t what you needed.   That was the good…

The bad part? Low attendance. We’re a Title One building and it seems like every day of the week there was a meeting to attend or a club that was meeting. Well, maybe not Mondays, but come on, no one wanted to meet about anything on a Monday morning at 8am. There seemed to be no good day.

What about the ugly? While not truly ugly,  it’s the comments or complaints you’d hear about how the district wasn’t training us on this or that (I’ve been guilty of this myself which is one of the reasons for starting Wonder Wednesdays). Or, people asking you how you learned something and wanting you to take your personal plan or other time to show them. Umm…that’s what we were doing on Wednesdays.  Really, I’m not mad or making judgments, but just don’t complain when you don’t or can’t take advantage of something when it’s offered. Please no hateful replies in the comment section. I get that meeting doesn’t always fit into everyone’s schedule. I’m just saying you can’t have it both ways.

So what do you do? Give up and chalk it up to experience? Nope. No one ever said leading was easy. While attendance was low, we learned a lot when even just a few of us were able to attend. Not just one teacher led. We had several teachers who brought something new for the group to investigate. At times, our administrators were also able to attend and learned right along with us.  Will I suggest changes for next year? You bet. Here’s what I’m thinking.

Moving Forward with Wonder Wednesdays 

  • Ask my administration what days are already planned for mandatory meetings and see if Wonder Wednesdays could be put on the schedule but still have it be voluntary. 
  • Together, choose a topic each quarter so that the group has longer to really explore the topic. 
  • Continue to have a basic agenda for the meetings and post it.  This helped us stay on track when we met.
  • Advertise our meetings better. 
  • Invite everyone at the beginning of the year to join our Wonder Wednesdays Google Classroom. This way they can be a part of the group virtually if unable to physically attend. 
  • Film the meetings and post to Google Classroom and possibly consider a YouTube channel. 
  • Don’t give up and keep extending the invitation.

Trying Wonder Wednesdays was a bit of risk for me.  I like helping people and learning from them, but I’m not the kind of person who usually organizes a group to start something new.  If I were in a comic book series, you’d see me cast as the trusty sidekick.  I usually play the supportive role.  I worried that no one would come.  This is where I had to check my ego at the door.  It’s not about number of attendees or if other people question your motives. You need to do what you believe in, no matter what.  Eventually, if it’s important enough to others, or they find value in what you have to offer, they will come.

If you are already doing something like this in your building, I’d love to hear about it and get ideas from you as well. 

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3 Ways to Attend a Professional Conferences When Money and Location Are a Factor

Ok, so you can’t attend the conferences for your dreams due to money, time, or the location. Don’t let that stop you. Here are a few ways to attend conferences for free without leaving home.

One way to attend a conference is to see if your conference has a virtual component.  Blackboard World is a conference I attended last year. And by attend, I mean from my couch. You can sign up to watch their sessions live.  They even make it possible to send in your questions.  With it being in real time, it’s like you are there.  If you area BlackBoard user, or interested in blended learning, consider “attending” this conference.

Another is to follow the conference hashtag.  Last year I stumbled upon #notatiste.  This is where all of us who couldn’t attend the ISTE (International Society for Technology  in Education) conference could learn from those who were there.  The conference has an official hashtag where many of the speakers/presenters will share their material or conference attendees will share what they are learning.  Follow along on Twitter @isteconnects and #iste2017.

Are you on Periscope?  Periscope is another great way to attend a conference virtually.  Last year I really did feel as if I were at ISTE2016.  I follow @TonyVincent on both Twitter and by using the Periscope app.  Last year he went through the poster sessions and interviewed those presenting.  He even zoomed in on their name tags so that we at home could get their name, school district, and Twitter contact information.  Even better, the app allows you to post questions to the person broadcasting, they read them, and then answer you verbally in the broadcast.  It really was amazing and I learned about so many new technologies and the amazing things that schools around the world were doing.

These are just a few of the ways I have found to be able to attend conferences.  How do you do it?

Flipping The Back-To-School Night Experience 

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Don’t let the title fool you. Flipping the Back-to-School Night or Parent Information Night doesn’t mean you won’t be meeting with parents and students.  Think about it, though. You are often required to share things from your school that eat up precious time, and that could have easily been shared differently. Or, you have your own agenda items that don’t really  require a face-to-face meeting. Here’s what I propose.  Flip these events.

First, think about all those things you share that are more procedural in nature and create videos for them. A couple of years ago, as a project for a class I was taking, I created a video showing the components of, and how to use the homework folder. Parents loved it!

Video Ideas

  1. Homework Folder 
  2. Planner or agenda
  3. Explaining class website/learning management system
  4. Reading/math calendar
  5. How to order books on http://www.scholastic.com
  6. Modeling how to send in money
  7. Picking up kids in the car loop
  8. Walk parents through how your newsletter is set up and what information they will find
  9. Tour of the classroom 

What video ideas would you include?

The car loop and homework folders would be actual video creations. The car loop would be more of an iMovie.  Wouldn’t it be fun to get staff and students involved in this one?  For the homework folder I used the Explain Everything app and then uploaded to YouTube. The rest could be made using a screen capturing tool. I’ve used Screencastify in the past. My current favorite is the Chrome extension, Snag It.  You could still upload all these to YouTube to make them easily accessible to everyone.  IF you really wan to go all out, embed a quiz for their understanding using the Zaption or Edupuzzle apps. The key is to use what you like, or maybe use this as a way to try out a new program or app.

Now, once the videos are made, you need to think about how you will share them. I already use SMORE as my newsletter, so I plan to use it to send home the links they may need to refer to over the year. This would be my back-to-school edition. In addition, I’d post on my website or LMS as well. Now if I need to remind parents or students of a procedure, I can easily send out the video.

Go a step further by creating QR codes and print them on card stock. I actually put the QR code for the homework folder video on the folder itself.  Again, I had lots of positive feedback from doing this.  If you print them on  cards they are then available to scan for home use. You can even have a page of QR codes or have each on a ring for families to take home that night.

You may still be asking how this is really flipping these events at all.  Well, what if you send these links or QR codes out at your Back-to-School or Meet Your Teacher Night?   If parents are unable to attend, send them out in your first few newsletters. Then, ask parents to look at them before returning to school for your formal information night.  This way, parents can view and digest the information leaving more time for them to ask the specific questions they may have.  Too often parents are given so much information in one night that they really don’t know what questions they have until they’ve left.  By asking them to view the videos and come armed with questions, the night can be so much more productive.  Parents can actually get the information they are really wanting.  It may even set the stage for a more collaborative relationship.  And, yes, not all parents will view the videos or even attend information night.  Don’t let that stop you.  If you want to do this, just go for it.  This will be my first year to try this.  I’m going to make mistakes.  I’ll learn from them and make it better for the next time.  I just want to provide my families with as much information as I can in a format that works for them.

I’ll be posting my resources as I make them in order to provide you with some examples and even get some constructive feedback.  I’d love to hear from you if you’ve already tried this or after you try it yourself.  Technology is all around us.  Let’s use it to improve communication and connections with our school families.

Collaboration, What Does It Mean To You?

Collaboration is the buzz word in my building and district right now.  On the surface it sounds like a great idea.  However, there is what I will refer to later as the dark side of collaboration.  First, let’s talk about what it means to me.  As you read, think about what it means to you.

Collaborate with people you can learn from.  Pharrell

To me, collaboration is working with and learning from others.  It’s where teachers come together to learn more about their craft, find solutions to help students, and work together to improve their school.  Collaboration is not restricted to co-teaching, your grade level team, building, or district.  Just this weekend I collaborated with a second grade teacher in my building to help with a math project she was working on. I will not be teaching this with her, rather I offered her ideas and feedback.  I’ve also collaborated with teachers on the internet through Twitter chats.

Team-A group of people with complimentary skills required to do complete a task, job, or project.–Businessdictionary.com

Collaboration works best for me when I work with people who have the same vision.  To be creative I need to be surrounded by other creative people.  These are not people who work exactly the same way as I do, or have the same strengths, they compliment me.

I really do appreciate people who stimulate my creativity and make me think on a deeper level.–Quote found on Pinterest

However, there is a dark side to collaboration.  Or at least, I see an unintended dark side.  That dark side is forced collaboration.  While we can’t all pick the teams we work on, and sometimes that is indeed a good thing, I don’t feel collaboration means that all teachers on the team are teaching the content in the exact same way.  If that happens to work for all individuals involved, then by all means go for it.  Collaboration on grade level teams to me is making sure we have a plan for the year, and then quarter by quarter. All of us would be teaching the same standards, and I’m even willing to use the same assessment. We share ideas and approaches with each other as the units are planned, but teacher creativity and the needs of the students in that classroom should always trump the need to do everything the same way.  We teach our students to be individuals and out-of-the box thinkers, but often teachers are asked or told to be the opposite.

Forced collaboration also hides teachers who quite frankly are just skating by.  If we’re all being honest here, we’ve probably worked with the teacher who really is just putting in their time, doesn’t or doesn’t care to try anything new, and is just a negative Nelly or Nelson. Yet, they are too happy to let you do all the work and then expect to copy it all.  Or, you have the teacher who you have a philosophical difference with, or who doesn’t require as much out of students as you do, but since they are more forceful, it looks like you aren’t the team player.  This isn’t fair to the team or to the students.  Please don’t flame me.  We’re being honest here and those teachers do exist.

I have been very fortunate to collaborate with many amazing teachers and administrators.  I have a school improvement specialist and principal that I am able to routinely bounce ideas off of.  There are teachers who I collaborate regularly with who are not in my grade level, and I appreciate their input so much.  I have an amazing group of teachers on Twitter that have helped me with technology, projects, and a new way of approaching things.  I co-teach with an incredibly knowledgeable and creative math teacher.  Finally, I have a grade level team to whom I can collaborate with, yet we all respect each other’s differences, interests, time constraints, and comfort levels. I’m sure how I view collaboration will continue to evolve as I evolve as an educator.  An excellent resource is www.teachingchannel.org where you can view videos and blogs to learn more about collaboration.

So, what can be done so that collaboration benefits our students and yes, the teachers?  Begin by building teams that want to be together, if possible.  Building needs and hiring practices will always take precedence, but think about it.  What if, over time, grade level teams were created where the teachers wanted to be together, shared the same vision for their grade level and even school, were not clones of one another, but complemented one another, trusted one another, and held the same level of standards for students?  I believe the results would be nothing short of amazing.  Students would benefit from high levels of accountability and highly engaging units of study.  They would see, modeled in teacher collaboration, what we are asking them to do in cooperative groups.  Collaboration should always have what’s best for our students at the forefront, but teacher growth needs to be taken into account as well.  Happy teachers lead to happy students.

I’ll leave you with a few questions and a quote.  What does collaboration look like in your building?  What does collaboration mean to you?

collaborate by Krissy.Venosdale, via Flickr