Whatever it takes: 6 strategies for student success!

Recently I had the pleasure of taking part in a I&RS (Intervention and Referral Services) meeting for a struggling student. Basically a team of teachers, parents, administrators, guidance counselors, child study team members, and others convened to problem solve student deficiencies. Many ideas were shared and an action plan was developed. The passion in the room was truly remarkable, especially the professional manner in which our staff conducted themselves. Each member of the committee took the “whatever it takes” approach in order to put this child in a position to succeed. In fact, throughout the school year other technology based strategies were utilized for other students as well.

Below you will find a sampling of strategies that were recommended for various students throughout the school year in order for them to be in a position to succeed with the help of technology…..

  • Teachers can leverage the power of ClassDojo to track student performance and behavior. This great tool can be very beneficial for students and parents in terms of communication, transparency, and buy-in.
  • Encourage student to utilize their personal computer in the school setting for organization and curation purposes. Often students feel more comfortable using their own device as they make sense of their learning.
  • Utilized the Dragon Dictation App so that the student can highlight their oral abilities on paper and/or computer screen.
  • Increase mental agility at home while at the same time providing breaks with the Pomodoro Timer App.
  • Focus on increasing typing speed using a program called EduTyping. This program can be utilized at home and in school.
  • Provide student with alternative assessment opportunities to show what they know on a given topic. For example, use the Audioboo podcasting app for a project in language arts.

Leveraging the power of technology and available web applications to promote the success of students is critical in the year 2014. Identifying student strengths in order to overcome weaknesses is important if schools are to put students in a position to be successful. As I said before, the strategies above are just a sampling of what was recommended. It’s truly amazing to see passionate school stakeholders collaborate and problem solve together. There is no doubt that struggling students will do a complete turn around and begin enjoying school once again.

Engage and learn with podcasts!

Over the past few years podcasting has changed the way educators share and learn from one another. With a few clicks of the mouse pad or taps on the screen people can create content and share with great ease. I love driving to work and listening to my fellow educators from around the world share their insight on best practices. It keeps me motivated and inspired to try new things. Reading someone’s tweet or blog is one thing, but to actually hear them talk shop is another. Here are some tips, tools, and resources on how to make listening and learning a part of your routine:

Apple Podcast App: Download this app onto your iPhone and listen to your favorite educational voices as you work out or drive into work.

BamRadio Network: Access tremendous Twitter chat recap shows such as #Satchat, #Edchat, #BrandEd, and #EdtechChat to name a few.

TeacherCast Podcast: Stay current with educational technology trends and thought leaders from around the world.

SoundCloud: An audio platform that enables sound creators to upload, record, promote and share their originally-created sounds. Great way to create a school or classroom based podcast channel.

Audacity: Free audio editor and recorder.

audioBoom: Give students a voice and a world audience. Use this tool for assessment purposes so that students can show what they know.

Voxer: This push to talk app is great for group discussions on various educational topics. Listen to people in real time or while you are on the road. Discuss your favorite book or a best practice technique. There are so many neat things you can do with this tool.

Listen to Video Clips: Sometimes while driving in my car or working in my office I will play a YouTube video or Ted Talk that is education related. I don’t actually watch it while driving, just listen.

As you can see there are many great ways to stay current or at least begin to start thinking about how you can improve your craft through listening to or creating  podcasts. Reflection, collaboration, and the art of storytelling still remain an important process in the 21st century. All school stakeholders can benefit from the various conversations that take place on the airwaves.

Online Book Talks! Connecting educators around the globe.

Online books talks are making an impact on how educators learn and connect with each other on a global basis. In 2013, I was fortunate enough to lead a district wide Edmodo book talk on Dave BurgessTeach Like a Pirate. Staff members signed up for an Edmodo account and over a two month period, responded and commented on a plethora of questions related to passion based teaching. You are probably wondering what Edmodo is, right? It’s a web based resource that enables teachers and students to hold a virtual classroom of sorts. Assignments, links, videos, and other materials can be posted and commented on in a secure setting. So to model its effective use in the educational setting, we used Edmodo for the book talk. Even more exciting was Dave’s involvement in the actual discussion. It’s not too often that you get to have the author of a book share insight. The entire experience allowed everyone to reflect on their experiences and learn how to use a resource that could be helpful in the classroom.

This year I was again put in the fortunate position to help run another Edmodo Book Talk focusing on Eric Sheninger’s Digital Leadership. In this particular instance over 175 educators from around the world shared their insight on best practices as it related to leading and learning in the digital era. Participants would comment on questions that were posted in the Edmodo group. As an added bonus, Eric Sheninger himself participated in the chat and shed light on his journey as a digital leader. The comments and resources posted during this online discussion gave me, as well as others, an opportunity to reflect and gain insight on what is possible in education.

Online book talks can have an impact with adults and children alike. Think of how inspiring it would be if students in a language arts or social studies class could share their thoughts on a book in real time. Simply set up a class or group on Edmodo or other online forum and post daily questions that encourage authentic reflection. Providing an opportunity for students and staff to share their voice about a topic or book is critical, especially for those who are reluctant to speak in public. It’s a win-win for everyone and promotes a learning environment that is collaborative and innovative. So what do you say? Take a risk and hold an online book talk or discussion with various school stakeholder groups. It’s a wonderful way to keep moving the education conversation forward.

Stay on top of “new best practices” for teachers!

I often hear and believe in the saying “We are in the improvement business, not the perfection business” as it relates to our role as educators and the impact we have on students. But what about us as lead learners? Educators must live by this saying as well. Each and every day we should be learning something new, staying connected online, trying out a new strategy or tool, sharing best practices, and collaborating cross grade level/subject area. It’s the only way to improve our craft and have a legitimate impact on student success. Here are five ways to develop yourself professionally in and outside of the classroom setting:

1. Smackdowns: Don’t know what one is? Read more here. Smackdowns should be held at every faculty meeting, subject area meeting, grade level meeting, and curriculum day throughout the school year. Sharing becomes contagious especially when you give a flashy name i.e. Smackdown. Just because you work with someone in the same building does not mean you actually know all the great things going on in their classroom. Conducting a Smackdown at a faculty meeting will shed light on how your colleagues are using technology to engage and innovate.

2. Weekly Email Digests: School leaders and/or curriculum specialists should create or subscribe to weekly email digests that can be disseminated to staff in a timely fashion. Here is an example of how I use Educlipper to share best practice resources with staff members district wide. Educlipper is education’s answer to Pinterest. Simply find a great resource on the web, clip it, and disseminate to your audience.

3. School Hashtag: Create a school wide or district wide Twitter hashtag. This can prove to be a tremendous help for staff as the look to improve their craft and find information easily via social media. Instead of scouring various social media sites for information, people can go to Tagboard and type in their school hashtag. This will then direct them to posts that were made on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Google+ to name a few.

4. Edcamps: Attend a local Edcamp for free and be exposed to some of the most innovative ideas in education. They are happening all over the place and the model can be replicated in your own school or district. Giving people the autonomy to learn what they want where they want is incredibly powerful. No longer is it an option for staff to stay on top of best practices by sitting them in a room and force feeding them information. Chances are they will take the same approach with students in the classroom. EdCamps provide an alternative way of sharing and learning. People show up at a location, have the freedom to hold a conversation on an educational topic, attend sessions that are applicable to their field of study, or get up and leave if they aren’t interested in what’s being presented.

5. 80/20 Principle: Eric Sheninger, Principal at New Milford HS in New Jersey, incorporates Google’s 80/20 philosophy. Why not find more time for staff to improve who they are as educators during the school day? It is probably better time served than monitoring student’s behavior in the hallway or cafeteria. For this type of initiative to flourish schools must be creative in how the schedule staff members during their periods off. Teachers need time to research, collaborate, and try out new tools of the trade. If it can be done during the actual school day and it will benefit students progress in the long run.

The number of ways educators, including myself, can grow in this day in age is truly incredible. What is written in this blog post is only a sample of the great resources that can make us all better in meeting the needs of diverse learners. Opening a magazine and reading about a best practice teaching technique just doesn’t cut it anymore. Educators must be able to share, collaborate, discuss, and reflect on how they will push the envelope in order to promote the success of students. So take a few moments and really think how you could incorporate one of these ideas into your own professional life or within the school setting. There is no doubt that it will have a positive impact on your growth as an educator.

The evolution of EdCamps

Have you ever attended an EdCamp? If the answer is no, you are missing out. On what you might ask? An innovative, sharing-based day of learning that will forever change your view on professional development. Typically held on Saturdays, educators meet up at a particular location and either present or attend sessions that focus on best practices in education. My first experience with this new type of professional development was in the summer of 2012 at EdCamp Leadership. It forever changed my view on how educators, including myself, should learn and share.

The first EdCamp ever held was in Philadelphia about five years ago. Fast forward to 2014 and there are hundreds taking place around the globe. The great thing about EdCamps is that they are free. Most EdCamps require participants to sign up in advance on their website just so they can get an accurate head count. After that, you simply show up, sign in, fill out your name badge, and make your way to the session board. What is the session board you might ask? It is a “living document” of sorts where attendees can take a peek at what sessions they could possibly attend. It’s important to remember that participants do not pre register for sessions at an EdCamp. You can attend any session you want. Also, if you have a sudden urge to hold a discussion on something you are passionate about, simply put your name and topic on a sticky note and place it on the session board.

Attending an EdCamp is a phenomenal experience. After the opening remarks and a bite to eat for breakfast, attendees can participate in sessions that spark their interest. What happens when you are sitting in a session that is not applicable to you as an educator? Simply stand up, walk out, and attend a session that is more suitable to your needs. I know, it seems awkward, it is actually something that makes the EdCamp experience special. For years educators, including myself, have attended educational conference sessions that are boring or irrelevant. And what do we do? We sit there for hours and leave the conference unfulfilled. As a response to this issue, EdCamps encourage participants to vote with their feet.

Typically, after attending 4 or 5 sessions and networking with many wonderful educators, participants get to experience a smack-down session. For about 30 minutes participants get up in front of the audience and share a best practice web tool that can be integrated in the school setting. Each person has about 90 seconds to present their resource and quickly explain it’s usefulness. As this is going on, one of the EdCamp organizers archives the resources shared on a spreadsheet that will ultimately be shared for all to enjoy. Door prizes and other educational goodies are also given out to bring the experience to a close.

The EdCamp experience is changing the educational landscape for the better — enabling teachers to collaborate by quickly sharing ideas across schools and districts.  EdCamps are happening everywhere and provide educators with an experience that will last a lifetime. The people you meet, the resources shared, and the collaboration that takes place is memorable. I encourage other educators to find an EdCamp located near them and get involved!

The power of #hashtags in education

The word “hashtag” was recently added to the dictionary. It has revolutionized the way people share, organize, and archive information on social media sites.

One hashtag in particular, #satchat, is near and dear to my heart. It has given me an opportunity to connect with current and emerging school leaders in the wonderful world of Twitter. Each and every Saturday at 7:30am EST educators use the #satchat hashtag in their tweets to share ideas and resources on specific discussion topics. Throughout the week when the actual discussion is not taking place, educators use the #satchat to gain access to timely information and best practice ideas. Hashtags have enabled educators to customize their learning. So let’s take a look at the power of hashtags in education.

There are so many hashtags to follow. Are you a school leader? Try out #satchat. Parent? Check out #ptchat (Parent-Teacher). Educational junkie? No doubt you will love #edchat. Addicted to educational technology? Follow #edtechchat. I could go on and on. Whether it’s a state oriented hashtag, like #iaedchat (Iowa), #njed (New Jersey), or #arkedchat (Arkansas), or a subject specific hashtag such as #sschat (Social Studies) you have so many options at your fingertips.

The great thing about hashtags is that they are applicable to a number of social media sites. Utilizing your search box feature will help with finding resources related to a particular hashtag. A very popular Instagram hashtag educators use is #teachersfollowteachers. Whether you are looking for a classroom decoration idea or want to see what a particular learning experience looks like, Instagram provides educators with an opportunity to grow in ways once thought unimaginable. Educators can actually see what other teachers are doing in their classrooms.

Hashtags are sometimes overwhelming, especially across multiple social media sites. That’s why it’s imperative to use a tool like Tagboard to stay on top of things. Tagboard is a collection of social media posts that share a common hashtag, helping you stay connected and organized. Hashtags can also have a profound effect on stakeholder engagement. Classrooms, schools, and districts should strongly consider utilizing hashtags to activate stakeholder interest in school happenings. For example, Joe Sanfelipopo, Superintendent of Falls Creek School District in Wisconsin, encourages the school community to stay connected and promote initiatives through the #gocrickets hashtag.

So what do you say? Take a chance and start a hashtag to tell your school’s story and promote all that’s right with education.