The first time I heard about ClassDojo was at a Teachmeet – a unique opportunity to share and contribute the most creative and innovative ideas unfolding in our classrooms today. Since so many of us Ambassadors and Community Leads are hoping to engage in Teachmeets in our own countries, I thought it might be helpful for us to outline exactly what is involved in a Teachmeet.
A few weeks ago someone came up to me and told me how he just accepted his first speaking gig. He was a bit overwhelmed by it all, and knowing I do a lot of presenting, asked me for a few tips. I gave him a few and have since been thinking about things I’ve learned in my first couple years of presenting at conferences.
1. Invest in a remote and a quality dongle. The only thing more frustrating than being in a conference session with someone who doesn’t have proper equipment, is being the presenter without the proper equipment. Most rooms come set up with a VGA cable, but most non-Windows computers will need a dongle adapter. Don’t pinch pennies here and buy the cheapest one. I speak from experience when I say it’s embarrassing when they stop working in the middle of a session. I also recommend a presenter remote so that you’re not bound to your computer. They’re relatively inexpensive and add a lot of fluidity to your presentation.
2. Act like you own the place! One of the many lessons my dad has taught me is to “act like you own the place, and no one will say anything.” When I present I have to believe in my ability and my authority. When I believe in it, everyone else does too. Because, as Taylor Mali reminds us, “it’s not enough to question authority; you must speak with it too.”
3. Use less words and more pictures. Resources like Haiku Deck make it easy for people to create beautiful presentations. Although it’s important to speak compelling things, it’s ineffective to put these long, beautiful sentences on a slide deck. Stick to photos that illustrate the power of what you’re speaking.
4. Manage your time wisely. Plan out how much time you’ll spend on each point. When you’re just starting out, practice your presentation. It’s always frustrating for conference attendees (who have paid for the conference) to attend sessions that are way over or under the allotted time or are filled with unnecessary information.
5. Don’t rely on the internet. I have yet to be to a tech conference where the internet works perfectly all the time. Be prepared to give your presentation without internet. Download your presentation and any necessary videos. Present like it’s 1995.
Teachers are not known for having a lot of free time, and finding time to collaborate with colleagues can be even more challenging than finding time to plan alone! So how can teachers collaborate effectively with limited time? Here are a few tips:
1. Set measurable, actionable goals
It is very easy to get caught up in business or housekeeping in collaboration meetings, but when you come together to collaborate about curriculum, it’s a good idea to start with some goals. What would you like to see your students improve in? What unit would you like to plan? Your goals should be measurable, so if you decide your students need to improve in a certain area, you should start with how you are going to assess where they are, and where they are going. Be as specific as possible, don’t just say you want your students to improve their writing, pick a specific trait to focus on, and assess only that trait.
2. Start small
By choosing a specific area to focus on, you are not biting off more than you can chew. It may seem like a waste of time to spend all of your collaboration meetings talking about one thing, but by doing this for one trait, you will refine and improve your practice overall. Just look at this Japanese model of lesson study, they spend months, sometimes years refining the same lesson, and it pays off.
3. Use collaboration tools like Mindmeister and Google Docs
When you can’t meet in person, use asynchronous collaboration tools. I love MindMeister, but Google Docs works really well too. You can add thoughts and ideas as they arise, even if you don’t have time to meet.
So why should teachers collaborate when time is so limited? It may end up saving you time down the road. Why reinvent the wheel all the time, when someone has probably been where you are before? At the very least, you will have double the brain power to work on an issue, and at best it will improve student learning in your class, and improve your practice.
Trying to jump into a PLN (Professional Learning Network) can be daunting. There are a bunch of excellent resources out there, but it’s easy to fall down an Internet rabbit hole and emerge without a lot to show for it. Here are some tips you can use as you start your networking.
1. Start with what you know.
Are you already on LinkedIn? Facebook? Twitter? Pinterest? Begin with groups you’re already comfortable with, and use those to help you find new resources. Join a few extra teaching groups on LinkedIn, follow a few more people your teacher-friends follow on Twitter or Facebook. Have a favorite piece of software or hardware? Find the company that makes it and follow them to get tips and tricks about using it.
2. Let someone else vet blogs for you.
There are a bunch of blogs that focus on teaching and edtech. But it’s hard to know which have useful information or come from reliable groups or individuals. There are a number of sites out there, such as Teach 100, that rate the content or authority (number of social media shares, etc.) for each blog. This is also a good place to look to find niche blogs. It’s great to get a wide variety of information from Edutopia, but sometimes you just want to hear what another 7th grade Math teacher has to say.
3. Follow sources from posts/Tweets you like.
Pretend you’re one of your students, and you’re finding sources for a bibliography. A good place to start is always with the sources/footnotes of the book you’re currently reading. The same thing holds with building your PLN. Follow the source links that are embedded in a post or Tweet you liked. If that source seems useful, follow them too. Gradually your PLN ‘bibliography’ will grow.
4. Set a reasonable goal for yourself.
If you want to flesh out your PLN, set a weekly goal—something reasonable, like reading one new blog post or following one new person on Twitter. There is absolutely no need to jump in all at once. There’s a great chance you’ll burn out, if you do.
I often get asked how I got started presenting, especially at such a young age. And as much I’d like to pretend it was this long and beautifully thought-out process, it wasn’t. I just went for it.
My first awakening to all things ed tech came in the summer of 2011, after my first full year of teaching. A few of my coworkers and I attended one of the Ed Tech Team’s summits featuring Google Apps for Education. I was blown away by the possibilities. Our school made the transition the next week, and I was young and naive enough to try anything. At the end of the year one of my colleagues and I decided to submit our first session proposal about the things we’d done with Google in our classrooms that year.
At first, I was mortified. Teaching people older (and in some cases way older) than me was intimidating. I get middle schoolers, but adults… scary. It helped going into it with a partner. I had someone to plan and practice with and to reassure me by standing alongside me.
But if you’re looking to present, this is all you need to do: find something you’re passionate about and share it. I believe that passion is contagious, and I can’t help but gush about the cool things my students do in my class. Choose something you love that’s worked for you and find an avenue to share it.
I want to know what you do in your class, and I want to steal it. My favorite thing about educational technology is that it tears down the walls of isolation. I need you and your ideas. They help me be better. So whether it’s in a blog or on Twitter or signing up to share your ideas face-to-face, just do it. Your ideas are so worth sharing.
The one thing I hear most from teachers during the school year when I talk to them about tech integration goes something like this: “That whiteboard/iPad lesson looks great, but I just don’t have time to create something like the on my own.”
My response to them is generally something like: “Me neither! That’s why I searched for a lesson somebody else made, then I made a few minor changes to it, and I was ready to go!”
That’s because I put a lot of faith in the PLN (Personal Learning Network). I’m on Facebook or Pinterest all the time anyway, so I take note (or favorite, share, or just take a screenshot) of great resources I see other people posting so I can use them myself. Sometimes I’ll post a resource of my own, but I freely admit to being a social media lurker.
A good way to think about your PLN: You get the great ideas and resources that you would get from a summer EdCamp or a PD week, but by leveraging your PLN, you get the resources all year long, when you need them, and you don’t have to give up any time during your summer to get them. Win-Win!
Here are a few examples of some of my favorite places to find quality ideas resources that I can lightly modify to suit my own needs.
Green Light Learning Tools (shameless plug: this is me!)
Other online communities:
I was speaking with my new team of teachers about collaboration and what it looked like for them at previous schools. The responses shared were not at all what I had hoped. I’m not sure what it is about the teacher mindset, but we sometimes forget how much power comes from conversation with others. Why is it that doors are closed and ideas are “secret”? Are we all not working towards the same goal to “Better OUR students for the future”? Notice I capitalized ‘our’ because yes, they are all ours. No one can change the world on their own. We have to come together, unite and work as one. Here are a few things my team tries to do to improve collaboration:
Schedule Meetings Accordingly
When your team prepares for planning dates, be sure to have a calendar out and an idea in mind. Make sure that everyone is on the same page with time, location, and some possible agenda items you plan to discuss. If it is a meeting where a decision needs to be made, share that information prior to the meeting time. People feel less intimidated when they can see where things are going and be somewhat prepared for that journey.
Understand that life happens. Yes, you just sat with your team and scheduled these meetings and sometimes, they do not go exactly as you planned. Be flexible and willing to adapt. Make room for “just in time” planning and “just in time” rescheduling when things don’t work out. At your collaboration meetings, go with the goal in mind and if you don’t get there, know that this is where you would like to start for your next meeting.
Be Honest With Each Other
Vocalize your concerns with your team. If there is something you are unclear about, share it out. If there is a decision that needs to be made and you are not on board, ask for a vote. “Fist to Five” is a great strategy and so is a thumbs up, down, or sideways. Create a way to show how everyone is feeling about the issue that is nonverbal and nonthreatening. Teachers are the most creative people, come up with something that works for you and your teammates.
Laugh often. It does not have to be a serious moment of deeply rooted planning every time you meet. When planning your meetings, plan for a social gathering as well. Step out of the classroom and meet at a restaurant for happy hour or in another part of the school. If you can’t have fun doing what you love, do you really have a love for it? Make time for “getting to know you betters” and find ways to connect with your team. These are the people you will see on a daily basis. The people you want to trust to share students (Check out ClassDojo’s new share feature if you haven’t already!), ideas, and values with. Take some time to create a professional relationship with them.
The value of relationships is priceless. Working together as a team allows teachers the endless opportunity for growth. This 21st Century school rings loudly in the lessons we teach to our students daily and yet we do not model what that actually looks like. In an effort to reach our common goal, the success for ALL students, let us stand by the words of Helen Keller, “Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much.”
Professional development sessions are great, but often happen only once a month or once a quarter. How can you keep improving your use of technology in the classroom between sessions? For constant professional development, try harnessing the power of social media.
If that opening paragraph scared you, you’re not alone. The idea of social media for professional learning can be intimidating for some people. But take a step back and examine your computer use in your free time. Do you spend your time reading conversations on Reddit? Finding recipes on Pinterest? Sharing photos and status updates on Facebook? All those sites have active teacher communities. So start where you are!
While you’re on Facebook looking at your friend’s baby photos, spend 5 minutes searching for a group of teachers in your city, subject area, or grade level. Don’t be afraid to be a lurker at first. Follow the conversations and see how people interact. Then when you get more comfortable, join the conversation. You’ll find you’ll get a richer experience when you interact.
Another great option you may already use is Edmodo. In addition to communicating with students, Edmodo also is a great space for interacting with other teachers. Think about it, with all those educators in one place, of course they all start talking to each other!
To get started, check out Edmodo’s list of Teacher PD groups. Search the list to find one that interests you and request to join. If you’re looking for advice on a specific device or program, such as ClassDojo, search for the company’s publisher page. Many of them cultivate good communities, or at the very least provide a space to discuss with other teachers.
If you really want to expand your PD prowess, then it’s time to join Twitter. An executive at Twitter recently said that educators are an essential part of the network’s base. Anyone who hangs with teachers on Twitter already knew that! Twitter can be a busy place—let hashtags help you sort through all the information. (For those who don’t know, a hashtag is simply a keyword or phrase, no spaces, preceded by the # symbol.) Use hashtags to find educator chats and find people worth following.
Once you find a network of teachers, you’ll soon find that the information shared is invaluable to your teaching!
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 Burgess’ Teach 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.
Picture this: You’ve built a great PLN (Professional Learning Network) using social media. You have lots of ideas about how you can use technology in your classroom. You’ve tried some new activities and want to share them with other teachers in your school… but they aren’t interested. What can you do to create a school culture that embraces technology?
This may seem obvious, but using technology is the single most important way to foster a culture of technology in your school. Lead by example! When other teachers see you successfully using the interactive whiteboard, the iPad, or online tools, they start to understand both the power and the pedagogical benefits of the technology. Then when they have questions or issues, they know there is someone who has gone through this before.
Talk to Each Other
This is related to the “Use Technology” bit. If you’re a big tech user, talk to your fellow teachers about what you use in the classroom and why. And not just about successes—be vocal about your failures and how you plan to work around those issues. Talk to teachers who don’t use technology in their classrooms. Why don’t they use the technology that’s available to them? Is it a solvable issue that could be fixed with more training or more support? Or is it an endemic issue, such as not enough bandwidth or devices to go around? Then take these conversations to the administration. They are the ones who invested in the technology for the school. They want you to use it!
Set Dedicated Technology PD Time
I’m not talking about a brief mention of a technology tool in a PD session about other school or teaching issues. I’m talking about a dedicated edtech day over the summer or afternoon on an institute day that is 100% devoted to integrating technology in class. This session needs to be specific to your school’s technology and how that technology can be an integral part of your curriculum goals. A broad overview without usable applications doesn’t help anyone. Then follow up! Create technology PLCs—professional learning communities. A PLC can provide teachers with an ongoing support group, a go-to group for technology questions, and a higher level of accountability.