Change requires connectivity

The innovatorsLast summer, I read the book The Innovators by Walter Isaacson. As a brief description, the book was about the work of the many different people who played a role in the development of the computer and internet. For most of us, when we think of innovation, we think of people like Franklin, Edison, Bell, Morse, Jobs, or Gates, but in the case of the digital revolution, most of the work was not the creation of any one person. Instead it was the work of many who connected, collaborated, and iterated. Someone like Steve Jobs is seen as the creator of the iPhone, but really he took several technologies that already existed and combined them into a form factor that connected with a market.

Creativity IncThis past spring, I read the book Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull. Catmull is the co-founder of Pixar Animation Studios, and wrote a book about the steps that they take in order to build a highly functioning, creative environment that is able to churn out movies that people love (think Toy Story, Monsters, Inc. Finding Nemo, and more). One of my big takeaways from this book is that the amazing work that occurs at Pixar happens because of 2 things: teamwork; and a willingness to accept feedback from those around you, whether positive or negative, and understand that it’s being shared in the hopes of creating something better.

Now, as many of you know, this blog is geared toward education. You may be wondering what the creation of the digital revolution or the work that occurs at Pixar have to do with what happens in our schools on a daily basis. I’m hoping to make that connection here today!

The connection that I can make between The Innovators and Creativity, Inc. has to do with the collaborative networks that existed between the creators. As an educator, each of you is a creator EVERY DAY. You create the experiences that happen in your classroom. You decide on what the room looks like, you decide if the lights are on or off, you decide if there is music or not, you decide how the desks are arranged when kids walk in. Each of these little decisions plays a role on the learning environment, and those are just the decisions you make BEFORE the students walk in. Think about all the decisions you make during the lesson! None of you are ever allowed to tell me that you “aren’t creative” because you create EVERY SINGLE DAY!!!

Think for a moment about your existence as an educator. You work close to several other amazing teachers every day, but there’s one thing I know about teaching because sometimes I did it when I was still in my classroom: it’s easy to shut the door, do your own thing, and not worry about what’s happening around you. Education is one of the careers where we often live in silos – our classrooms, our content area, our team, our grade level, or our campus.

But there’s one thing that books like The Innovators and Creativity, Inc. hopefully remind us: innovation doesn’t happen inside of a vacuum, it happens with collaboration, teamwork, and connections.  With all the amazing educators and schools, we still at times fail to create those critical connections for collaboration that lead to real innovation in education.

This is why I see such value in what happens during our Professional Learning Community (PLC) time. It’s an opportunity for you to come together with your colleagues, to analyze the data your seeing, to talk about what’s working in classrooms, and then to be able to test out whether or not that works in your own room. It’s a chance for you as a team to take risks, to walk out on a ledge as a team, and try something new because as a team you feel it will benefit the students in your room. We all know there’s safety in numbers! We need to see PLC time not as something that’s done to us, but as a form of self and team-directed professional development with regular opportunities to collaborate and communicate.

But if we want to create the amazing innovative environments that our students need in order to learn and grow, we have to be ready and willing to connect on an even grander scale. If you are looking for other ways to learn and grow, there are lots of informal options out there. Things like Twitter chats, EdCamps, and blogs are free and easy way to seek out like-minded educators who are doing amazing things in their classroom. Or there are more formal ways to learn about innovation in the classroom. I recently learned of the Deeper Learning Network (click here to check out their website) that shares tons of resources for innovative ideas in you classroom. Some of the things you can find information about include: Project-Based Learning, Blended Learning, Inquiry-Based Learning, Authentic Assessment, and so much more!

Now, some of you may be wondering why we need to change. Well, the reality is that thanks to the work of the innovative people that are discussed in Isaacson’s book, many of our students are used to on demand learning, are used to making choices in what they want to learn, and how they learn. The digital revolution has changed the game for learners, which means we have to find ways to change the game as teachers to meet their needs. I think we all would agree that our students today are different than the students that were in our schools just 5 years ago. They are digital natives, and many know how to find what they want to know when they want to know it.

If we as educators don’t adapt to the new style of learning, our learners are going to leave us behind. If they don’t see the relevance of what they are doing, if they don’t get choice and voice in their learning, they will not engage. I continue to believe that the HSE21 Best Practice Model is our North Star that gets us to the learning environments that will work for our students. And the best way for each of us to learn and grow towards those best practices is through meaningful collaboration. As one of my favorite professors at IU repeated almost every day “Learning is social” and we are all learners too!

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Continue to seek out ways to collaborate. Take a moment to be vulnerable and ask a PLC team member to come observe one of your lessons to give you feedback. If someone asks you for feedback, be willing to give it. We ask our students to be vulnerable and a little uncomfortable every day because that’s where the learning and growth takes place. Why can’t we expect the same of ourselves?

What are some of the things you do to continue to grow? Is there a preferred method for learning from others that works best for you? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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#RSIpln – The Riverside Intermediate Personal Learning Network

I know that around our school, or any school, there are a variety of ways that members of the staff go about expanding their knowledge base. For some it may be through conversations with colleagues within the building, some might go beyond the building and reach out to friends around their school district, others may be less social and look for ideas on their own with tools like Google, Pinterest, Teachers Pay Teachers, or other similar resources, and some might just look towards books as resources. Each of these methods have their benefits, but there are also drawbacks – the biggest of which is that we are limited to a relatively small number of resources.

Almost nine years ago, I joined Twitter. At that time, I mostly followed my favorite athletes, some actors, tv personalities, authors, and other pop-culture icons. It wasn’t until quite some time later that I realized that Twitter could be a learning tool that could help me grow as an educator. At that time, I began to see that I could follow other educators, learn from them about what they were doing in their classrooms, and schools, and grow in my own craft. Hence, the PLN – Professional/Personal Learning Network.

Around the 300th person I began to follow is a guy named Brad Currie, who along with Scott Rocco founded #SatChat as a way to connect with other emerging school leaders. By hearing about his journey on Twitter, I realized that my phone could connect me with educators all over the world. Many of my best ideas have been based on things that I have learned while on Twitter.

Today in our building, we are rolling out a way for all the teachers in our school to expand their own PLN, and find ways to grow as an educator, and as an added benefit, share the amazing things that are happening within our building. We can share with one another, with our local community, and ultimately with the world!

The plan, that I must admit I got from a conversation with John Hochstetler (Teacher Librarian at Sand Creek Intermediate), is to play a massive game of bingo, built around the idea of growing the PLN of each and every person who participates!

Why Twitter? Well, as Matt Miller has shared:

Congrats!

In the keynote at #DitchCon2017, Miller shared that as the lone Spanish teacher in a small rural school in western Indiana, he was struggling with whether or not he was actually able to create meaningful learning opportunities for his students. He then found a PLN through Twitter, and realized there were so many more possibilities for his students. His learning on Twitter led him to begin presenting to countless educators, and eventually writing 2 books for educators. Without the connections he created through Twitter, he feels he would have burnt out, and eventually left education.

It is my hope that through our game of bingo all the people who participate will have an opportunity to expand their own learning, and see that there are ways to get awesome ideas from others (and also have a little fun!). And the best part? By working with my PTO, I was able to get some prizes donated for those who are able to earn bingos! Each Friday of our Twitter Bingo we will do a drawing for a gift card to local restaurants for the teachers who have reached a bingo. At the end of October, we will do a Grand Prize drawing for a really spectacular prize (the details are yet to come, but it’s going to be HUGE!).

So without further ado, check out our Twitter Bingo board! Follow along with the hashtags #RSIpln and #RSIbingo. That way, you’ll see the awesome learning happening at Riverside Intermediate, and hopefully be able to further grow your PLN.

Twitter Bingo

And – for those of you who are already on Twitter, share in the comments below about your own experiences! I know that we have some pretty prolific Tweeters in our building already. Why do you choose to use this as a tool in your classroom? Share your thoughts in the comments below. Maybe you’ll convince a colleague that they should join in!

If you’re interested in seeing the actual bingo board, and the directions on page 2, check it out here: #RSIpln School Year Twitter Bingo

Running through the sprinkler

As I sit writing this, it’s Sunday afternoon. Sunday’s in my family are often about getting work done – chores around the house, prepping for school, groceries, etc. To fit with that norm for our family, today was no different. This morning my wife Diane, an amazing kindergarten teacher, needed to go over to school to do some prep for her week. I needed to mow the lawn and then get to the grocery store. The kids had no real responsibilities, so they were going to stay home with me. I knew that if I left them inside, even though they said they were going to read, it would turn into a Netflix binge of Dinotrux, or Glitter Force, or something of that nature. I wanted them to be active, so I convinced them to come outside and play while I was mowing.

As I did the front yard, they had out their big wheels, their stilts, and their pogo stick. They were working on creating an obstacle course in the driveway when I finished the front lawn and grabbed the sprinkler to try to deal with a couple of brown spots. As I starting working on the side yard, Lainey came running up to me and asked “Can we run through the sprinkler?”

I started to say no, I mean they had just gotten dressed, we had to run to the grocery store after I mowed, and Lainey was going to a birthday party for the afternoon. But then I looked at the excitement in her face – how could I say no?

IMG_5242.JPGFor the next thirty minutes, while I mowed the rest of the lawn, Lainey and Brody were in heaven with that childhood joy that goes with running through a sprinkler. I may have even let myself get sprayed because I was jealous of the obvious fun they were having.

Seeing the joy on their faces as they played in the sprinkler got me thinking about classroom conditions. How often, when you scan your room, do you see the look of joy that would accompany a kid running through the sprinkler? When I reflect on my own teaching practices, it probably happened far less than I would have wanted it to.

Last week I participated in an online, free, open to anyone PD called Hive Summit. It was put on by Michael Matera, the author of Explore Like a Pirate, and the front man for the #XPlap community. The gist of the Hive Summit was to bring together amazing educators to share little tidbits of knowledge in short, easily digestible conversations between Michael and various guests to provide ideas to help us start the school year off with a bang!

The last session of the Hive Summit brought in Dave Burgess, author of Teach Like a Pirate, and easily one of the most engaging presenters I have ever seen. Towards the end of the conversation, Michael asked Dave for some practical things that we can do right away. Dave started talking about the beginning of the school year. He suggested that we should “Invest time in the front end to build a community, to build rapport, and to create a place that kids are desperate to come back to the next day.” We don’t accomplish what Dave is suggesting by spending lots of time on procedures. Those can come later. We need to hook them, get them excited, get them wanting to be in your classroom, get them banging down the doors to come to school!

Dave went on to share a couple of his favorite activities to accomplish those goals. The first is the Play-Doh lesson. Students walk in to a container of Play-Doh on a paper plate in the center of their desk, and when ready, they are asked to create something out of the Play-Doh. The goal is to create something that is in some way representative of them. Let them know up front that when time is up, you are going to come around, show the class their object, ask a couple of questions about it, and then have them share their name. Let them know in advance that they will not have to stand up or come to the front of the room, and the process will take less than 30 seconds. Letting kids know what to expect will alleviate some stress that comes with any type of getting to know you activity. Give students 10 minutes of work time, and while they are working, walk around and chat with them in an informal way.

This is great because it gets your students creating right away. We live in a world where information is at our fingertips, and knowing things doesn’t make you successful. In today’s world, it’s about what people can do or make. When we show kids that’s what we value right off the bat, they will be more likely to continue to do and make things when asked.

Another activity that Dave loves is the plane crash on a deserted island lesson. 10 people are stranded on an island, and when a rescue helicopter shows up, it only has room for 5 people. Students are given a list of the different people, split into small groups, and asked to work together to come to a consensus on who should be rescued, and who has to be left behind (click here for a shared google doc with the instructions and list of people). Again, this activity immediately gets kids to collaborate, connect, and create to solve the problem.

Activities like this allow kids to engage right away, and think about how much more excited your kids will be about tasks like this instead of a more traditional lesson. All of us bring our own special skill set to the classroom, and we all have the ability to create learning environments that kids will be excited to return to day after day. You get to decide if the lights are on or off when students enter. You get to decide what shows up on your screen or board. You get to decide what is sitting on your students’ desks when they come in. When we pause in our lesson planning to think about those hooks at the start of our lesson, we’re able to create more of those “Running Through Sprinkler” kind of moments for our kids.

If you are looking for more ideas for amazing engagement strategies, check out Teach Like a Pirate (I linked to it on Amazon above), or if you’d like, I’ll loan you my copy (as long as you don’t mind my highlights and notes in the margins). If you feel overwhelmed by a book, look for Dave Burgess on YouTube or Twitter, or check out the #tlap Twitter chat on Mondays at 9:00 pm eastern. There are lots of small resources that will help you create lessons that engage students on the sprinkler level!

Let me know if you’re planning to try something new to create a sprinkler moment in your class! I’d love to see it, or talk to your students about it. I think we all want joyful classrooms! How will you bring that joy to your room?

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The Global Read Aloud

This summer, my Twitter feed was blowing up with pictures and quotes from a couple of books that sounded really interesting – Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed and Refugee by Alan Gratz. Each post also had the hashtag #GRA18. For me, when the same hashtag or same topic keeps showing up in my Twitter feed, it’s time to do some research. I quickly learned that #GRA18 was the hashtag for the 2018 version of the Global Read Aloud.

I recall hearing something about the Global Read Aloud in the past, but I always thought it was based on picture books and related more to younger students. However this year I noticed that the titles I was seeing were books that I knew our students would be interested in.

Basically, the Global Read Aloud was a project created by Pernille Ripp, a 7th grade teacher and author who lives in Wisconsin. On the Global Read Aloud website, she explains why she started a project like this:

Global collaboration is necessary to show students that they are part of something bigger than them. That the world needs to be protected and that we need to care for all people. You can show them pictures of kids in other countries but why not have them speak to each other? Then the caring can begin.

I’m assuming we have all participated in a book study of some sort or another. You might have read a professional book with some colleagues, you might have a neighborhood reading group, or connect in some other way. What I love about reading a book as part of a group is the opportunity to hear the perspective of people with a wide variety of experiences. Each person’s perspective may allow them to connect to the story in a different way. Through learning about their impressions from the story, we learn about how others may be similar, or different than us. In a recent interview of Matt Miller, he shared that he feels part of the power of global conversations is that “we want our students to understand that though it may seem like we don’t have a lot in common with people across the world, we actually do.”

Hopefully, some of you are interested in participating in this great experience, and you might be wondering how you go about getting started.  First, you have to sign up. You can do that at the Global Read Aloud website – you can sign up by clicking here!

Amal Unbound

Next, you have to choose your book.  There are two books that I think would be age appropriate for our students.  The first book, Amal Unbound, is the story of a girl named Amal, a typical Pakistani girl pursuing her dream of becoming a teacher one day. The other book that some of you might consider is Refugee, a story of three children – Josef is a Jewish boy living in 1930s Nazi Germany, Isabel is a Cuban girl in 1994, and Mahmoud is a Syrian boy in 2015. All three go through amazing journeys in search of refuge from their homeland. RefugeeBoth of these books are available on Amazon, although you can probably find them at any bookstore!

Once you have chosen your novel, you would then decide what level of connection you’d like to have. On the most basic level, you might choose to connect with another class in our school that is participating. If you’d like to connect with classes outside of our school, there are lots of ways you could do that. Searching the hashtag #GRA18 on Twitter will connect you with tons of others who are participating. If you’d prefer, there is also a Facebook connection through The Global Read Aloud Main Group, as well as groups that are specific to each of the books. Here I’ve seen posts of people seeking connections, sharing resources they have created, and communicating about their ideas.

If you are considering participating, and would like a ton of information about the Global Read Aloud, click here.

If you are looking for the schedule for the Global Read Aloud, you can click here.

If you do choose to participate, let me know! I read both of the books, and would love to talk with your students about their thoughts!