How to Find the Right Space to Create and Engage

At the start of every school year and often at the start of the new calendar year, it is a good opportunity to focus on setting new goals and implementing some new ideas. Earlier this school year, I thought about how I could be more consistent in my classroom. When I say classroom, I mean all aspects of where I engage in my work and not simply my physical classroom space. Some areas that I wanted to focus on were the building of relationships, making better and more consistent connections with families, and designing a comfortable and welcoming classroom space for my students.

As I think about each of these, I see them as “spaces” where we interact and exist together. I recognize that as educators, there are a lot of different spaces that we need to create and stay connected within. Being able to find the best ways to stay engaged in each of these spaces is important, especially with busy schedules and demands of the work that we do. Having the benefit of digital tools that can assist us also makes it easier to provide more for our students and their families, both in and out of our classroom space. So what are the spaces that educators need to create and engage in?

A Professional Learning Space

For educators, it is important that we really look at our professional learning space differently today than we may have in the past. For myself, having been an educator for many years, I did spend the first 15 years of my career mostly in isolation. While I engaged in opportunities for professional development within my school or attended a local conference periodically, those were the only types of professional learning spaces that existed for me—because I limited myself. What is worse, is that I also placed limits on my students by not putting myself out there to connect, to learn new ideas and methods to bring back to my classroom. Years ago, finding learning spaces and making time to engage in them was more time consuming with fewer choices available. Today, we have access to so many different and more accessible professional learning spaces. We can find something that meets our interests and our needs especially when it comes to time and place. What are some options?

ISTE offers Professional Learning Networks (PLNs) focused on specific topics related to technology and roles in education. It is a great space to become connected and to share ideas and connect classrooms.

LinkedIn is a social media platform for professional connections and professional learning. Educators are using LinkedIn to connect, gather resources and even help students develop their professional identities in this space.

Twitter offers many ways for educators to connect and learn via Twitter chats happening on a daily basis, and by following specific hashtags related to education. It is a great space to ask questions, to crowdsource ideas and to build a PLN.

Voxer is a walkie-talkie messaging app that promotes instant conversation with people from all around the world. Educators use Voxer for creating small groups for a PLC, having a space to share ideas and collaborate with educators from around the world, and even for participating in book studies and virtual learning events.

A Classroom Space, Both Physical and Virtual

The look of classrooms and learning today is so different from what it was when I was a student and quite different than even five years ago. We have the potential to learn from anywhere around the world and at a time that meets our needs. We truly have the capability to provide more for our students than we’ve ever been able to before. Through the use of digital tools and purposefully leveraging technology, we can provide the support our students need exactly when they need it. The world becomes our classroom when we include some of these tools and ideas in our practice.

The physical space can look quite different when we use station rotations in our classrooms, provide more flexible learning spaces for students to learn in, and also connect our students with learning that happens in our school community. We redefine the “space” of the classroom and can provide something to meet every student’s interests and needs. We can also explore different digital tools that help us create a more accessible connection with our students and provide ongoing support when they need it. Here are some of the tools that we have used to stay connected in our learning space.

Edmodo is a digital space for students and teachers to interact in a safe learning network. It provides access to resources, has helped us facilitate global collaboration and build digital citizenship skills.

Padlet allows us to create a wall of discussion and share audio, video, music, photos and text. It has helped us to connect with classrooms from around the world in real-time interactions.

Flipgrid is great for extending classroom discussions and providing students with a comfortable way to express their thoughts through video responses. Students build comfort that transfers into the physical classroom space by being able to connect with their peers in the digital space.

Kidblog provides many ways for students to build literacy and digital citizenship skills, as well as create their online presence. It promotes class discussion and collaboration and gives students a space to share their ideas and track their personal growth in the process.

A Space for Promoting Student and Family Engagement

Being able to connect with the families of our students is critically important. In order to provide the best for our students, we need to make sure that we are building and fostering true family engagement. To do so, we must rely on the traditional methods we have used such as exchanging emails, making phone calls home or holding meetings in the school, but now we have access to doing even more. Being able to bring families in to see and experience what learning looks like for their students, to share in the learning that happens in the classroom or to participate in a student’s in-class presentation is possible through digital spaces we set up. Events held at schools such as Open Houses, or STEAM showcase events, for example, are great for showing families the amazing things happening in our schools. However, not all families can participate due to time constraints which is why having digital tools available that enable us to share these events can make a difference.

Remind is helpful for messaging and sharing photos and files with families to include them in the school events.

ParentSquare facilitates better communication and collaboration and helps to build a solid connection between the home and the school community.

Buncee is a multimedia presentation tool that can be used to design a class newsletter with audio and video, or for students to share their work with families and include it in a Buncee presentation. Using a tool like this is helpful for families that cannot attend events such as Open House.

Seesaw is a platform that enables teachers to share what is happening in the classroom with parents. Teachers can record and directly share each child’s progress.

These are just some of the spaces that we need to consider as educators today. There are many options available for creating these spaces and the best part is that we can find something to meet the needs of our students, their families and ourselves.

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4 Ways to Get Teachers More Comfortable with Classroom Technology

By: Christa Glembocki

Here’s how we took a very traditional middle school into the 21st century by getting our teachers onboard with technology.

Like most incoming principals, I was facing a host of challenges and opportunities when I joined Ethel Dwyer Middle School three years ago. Founded in the 1930s, the school had a rich history of success but was also dealing with some new obstacles in the modern educational world.

Being in one of the lowest-funded districts in California presented some interesting challenges, of course, followed by a lack of teamwork across our staff and teachers. Also, our community viewed our middle school more as something to “survive” versus a place where students could thrive and succeed.

Within the school itself there were pockets of learning that looked and felt very traditional. For example, in some classrooms we had rows of desks where students worked silently, answering questions from their textbooks. The teacher called on those students one at a time, and everyone else just sat there.

Four Steps to Success

Having used the framework developed by P21—a national nonprofit organization that advocates for 21st century readiness for every student—in my past roles, I knew there was a better way to prepare our kids for success in high school, in careers and in life in general. I also knew that teachers were the critical key to making this happen and that it was in our students’ best interest to get those instructors onboard with and comfortable using technology in their learning spaces.

Here are four steps we took to make that happen:

  1. Give them versatile technology tools. Look for technology that can be used in different capacities by both students and teachers. For example, we installed Boxlight interactive flat-panel displays that teachers use to project classroom information, mirror student work and allow students to come up and write on. Teachers are using the flat panels in many different innovative ways, and students can pull up to them with a table, plug in their Chromebooks and collaborate with one another. The displays also help reinforce positive behavior in the classroom, where the school’s G.R.I.T. positive behavior intervention support system awards students with GRITcoin. Using the flat-panel displays, students can independently check themselves in and out of the classroom without interrupting the class.
  2. Tell them it’s okay to make mistakes. Infusing technology into the 21st century classroom isn’t a perfect science, and teachers need to understand that it’s okay to fail or make mistakes as they move down this path. This is especially critical in a world where digital natives come in with hands-on experience using technology that many adults have never even used. That’s an intimidating factor for many people in that they’re afraid of messing up or failing at something. During our staff meetings, for example, I try to model the technology myself and am not always successful at it. When they see me goof up every once in a while, it helps teachers understand that it’s okay not to be perfect in our digital world. The same lessons spill over into the classroom, where seeing a teacher face challenges—and then figuring out ways to overcome those issues—also teaches students how to deal with their own mistakes and failures.
  3. Make sure they’re only comparing themselves to themselves (not others). During our professional development sessions, we take a classroom-like approach to the process that addresses varying levels of ease with the use of technology. In other words, we expect our teachers to grow, but we also expect them to only compare themselves to themselves (versus everyone around them). This is important because we have some educators who have been using tech since they started teaching and others who are just beginning to infuse it into their classrooms—plus everyone in between. Educators at all points on that spectrum need to understand that we’re not holding them to an impossible standard; their own progress is what matters most.
  4. Make the learning experience fun and engaging. Our educators love the ‘choice sessions’ presented by teacher-leaders from our school (or from the district as a whole). These individuals are all experts in 21st century skills and technology, and they come in on special assignment to present anywhere from three to six sessions at our staff meetings. Teachers attend their sessions of choice, and select from topics like “Beginning Google Classroom,” “How to Use Flipgrid,” and “Advanced Google Classroom.” Other sessions focus on how to teach kids to collaborate in the classroom—a skillset focused less on the technology itself and more on how to apply it in the learning environment—and one that is of increasing demand in the workforce.

Using these strategies, we’ve been able to get everyone from the younger, tech-savvy teacher to the veteran educator who is just learning how to infuse advanced tools in the classroom onboard with using tech in their instruction. Knowing that the core art and craft of teaching will always be valued, we’re building a culture where both students and teachers feel like they’re part of a bigger, forward-thinking community. You can do that without technology, of course, but it’s even easier with technology.

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Christa Glembocki is the principal of Ethel Dwyer Middle School in Huntington Beach, Calif.

The Argument for Automation & Classroom Creativity

By: Donn Smith

In a world where educators talk about the power of creativity in the classroom, it may seem counterintuitive to suggest that automation—the very definition of which is meant to remove thought from the process—may do the most for freeing up the mind to find time to create. The American Psychological Association notes that the more time you have, the higher the chance of being creative.

But we’re busy people, right? According to the Brookings Institute, teachers work up to 55 hours per week. Activities range from curriculum planning, grading, attending staff meetings, convening with students before or after class hours, plus continuing education courses and more. In essence, there’s not enough time in any given day, or week, to get it all done.

In addition to these activities, teachers must ensure they are meeting state, federal and district curriculum guidelines and achieving test goals. A recent survey by Hanover Research found educators reported emotional exhaustion and burnout, with 41% of teachers leaving the profession within five years. Engagement levels among teachers were reported at their lowest levels since 1989, with only 44% of all teachers indicating they were very satisfied with their job as a teacher.

While teachers may crave time-saving solutions that help curb burnout, many also desire creative control over their curriculum—customization that allows for creative lesson plans rather than an off-the-shelf solution, which may be easier but may be less captivating for both teacher and pupil. Many teachers simply want more time in the day to think.

On the flip side, principals want assurances that their staff is maximizing their time and resources, while still meeting achievement goals and curriculum guidelines and helping students achieve their optimal performance.

How can everyone accomplish these goals? Automation makes it possible. Many edtech platforms claim to be the entire solution. But where does creativity come into the equation? Can automation and creativity co-exist?

The answer is yes, if your resource planning and management tools offer an integrated, singular system that provides not only an automated experience, but one that can be customized while retrieving lost time for educators.

What Makes a Flexible, Integrated System Maximized for Creativity?

So, what does it mean to have a flexible, integrated system? A flexible system allows educators to pull from a fully vetted resource library of thousands of educational resources that also happen to align with district, state and federal standards. Because standards can and do change, the system also must be adaptable and responsive to those periodic changes.

At the same time, a flexible, integrated system enables teachers to import personalized custom content, retaining the ability to be creative with their curriculum while ensuring that the curriculum meets those changing standards. This content can be mapped for the entire school year limiting the need to continually make updates to those lesson plans. In simplest terms: another time saver.

But beyond these advantages, such technology allows teachers to easily and seamlessly collaborate to ensure consistency across grade levels. Best practice sharing helps to maximize the student experience.

Most importantly, when it comes to ensuring student success, a system that includes automation can also show teachers how to close the gaps in MAP Growth assessments, with educational resources aligned within RIT ranges. This could lead to positive student outcomes and further help educators meet school and district goals.

What does this mean for creative teaching? Ultimately, many tedious activities can be automated, leaving more time to think, create and engage students. Greater engagement with creative work, in theory, leads to increased job satisfaction. And hopefully, that means those high burnout numbers start to decrease, leading to higher retention levels among our most creative educators.

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Donn Smith is the CEO of Curriculum Works, a first-of-its-kind cloud-based Educational Resource Planning and Management (ERPM) platform that integrates the processes of developing, deploying, accessing and managing vetted and standards-aligned curriculum within a single platform.  

Getting Clearer: Educator Movements

Welcome to the first #GettingClearer blog! Throughout this series, we’ll go deep into topics in a way that allows for shared meaning-making, access to multiple approaches, and opportunities to build capacity through network connections and resources. We will publish #GettingClearer blogs twice a month and look forward to multiple blogs on complex subjects to deepen the well of understanding and resources.

Educator Movements

Educators are connecting their efforts across the nation. It is an exciting time for educator movements that are engaging in relationship building, advocacy and utilizing each other to improve and design the future of learning. Current educator movements are driven by communities of people uniting for a cause, sharing ideas and resources, and sharing their stories. With the help of social media, events and web forums, educators are building relationships with each other and their work in ways that matter. We call these educator movements.

In 2018 we ran a series and published a book, Better Together because education work is hard, you need to find your tribe, and do the work together. Being part of the movement of innovation, especially innovation for liberation, can be isolating. In this #GettingClearer post, we wanted to continue to amplify the need for networks and share examples of how educators are building community and moving education work forward.

Below are a few influential movement organizations that are empowering educators across the country:

Educators for Excellence (@Ed4Excellence) is building a movement of teacher leader advocates to improve outcomes for students. They have chapters across the country, teacher leadership training and advocacy campaigns.

#ShareYourLearning (@ShareYourLearn) is building a movement of five million students publicly sharing their learning and creating an adult learning community centered on student learning. Educators joining #shareyourlearning are establishing practices and amplifying learning that showcases student growth and development.

#HipHopEd (@TheRealHipHopEd) is a movement remixing education by bringing together educators “who challenge traditional education systems to value the power of youth culture and voice.”  This movement began with a Twitter chat #HipHopEd on Tuesdays from 9-10 pm EST and has expanded to a blog, resource library, and two expansion threads: HipHopEd STEM and HipHopEd Therapy.

#ClearTheAir (@ClearTheAirEdu) is a newer educator Twitter chat movement that has grown exponentially in a short amount of time. Centering on beliefs and activism, #ClearTheAir participants are engaging in important growth and discourse. This community is an inviting movement, reflecting on their learning and seeking ways to create a needed impact in education.

#EduColor (@EduColorMVMT) is a collective “dedicated to the constant, beautiful struggle for liberation, including an equitable, just education for everyone.” Facilitating intersectional discussions of race and education, EduColor is a movement model connecting people with a newsletter and by hosting a monthly Twitter chat every last Thursday, 7:30-8:30 pm EST

Teachers for Social Justice (@T4SJ) has a mission “to provide opportunities for self-transformation, leadership, and community building to educators in order to affect meaningful change in the classroom, school, community and society.” This robust community has a website full of resources and community access. Subscribe to the newsletter to keep up to date on events, resources, jobs and activism with this t4sj movement community.

Teacher-Powered Schools (@teacherpowered) are paving the way to expand more opportunities for teacher autonomy and decision making. They are mobilizing teachers and communities to support and create teacher-powered schools because, “in teacher-powered schools, teachers have greater ability to make the dramatic changes that they determine are needed to truly improve student learning and the teaching profession.”

As #Educolor says; this is our moment. The movement is now. Find your community and join the work in progressing education work towards an improved future.

We are #GettingClearer. Do you have any educator movements you recommend teachers know more about? Want to share your experience in an education movement? Comment below or tweet us @Getting_Smart and use our hashtag #GettingClearer.

Other Twitter communities to check out:







This blog is part of an ongoing Getting Smart series called Getting Clearer. The nature of this series and of our blog is to have a diverse set of voices and ideas to help us and our audience get clearer. Are there topics that you’re interested in #GettingClearer about?  Email [email protected] with “Getting Clearer” in the subject line.  

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Curating Content for Classrooms, Families and Students

Educators today have a lot of responsibilities when it comes to teaching. We have lessons to plan, curriculum to write, assessments to create, and information to share. Because there is so much information being exchanged between home and school, there can be a lack of consistency or it can become confusing with knowing where to access everything that is needed. Technology provides many options for facilitating these tasks and has served to streamline a lot of the workflow in our classrooms and schools.

Teachers now can use a variety of apps and web services for sharing information, delivering content, providing resources, and connecting with families. Teachers may choose to use their own resources or a personal Google Drive to store documents and for managing these tasks, but it can become a challenge to balance between the different platforms. Sometimes the choice is made when teachers are part of a school that uses Microsoft or Google. Having a way to streamline the workflow when it comes to sharing information, providing resources, accessing student projects, and providing students with options for showing evidence of learning, would definitely be a benefit, especially with time being a challenge.

While there are different tools that we can use, there are some that educators continue to find new ways to implement them into the classroom and also into daily life as well. Many of the digital tools that we use in our classrooms can be used by our students and their families for purposes beyond education, which is something that I try to stress in my classroom and when I have time with parents. Finding a tool that serves multiple purposes is highly beneficial in education today.

One tool that has continued to be used more in my own practice and that has educators creating new and innovative ways to use it is Wakelet. This versatile tool can be used for more than just content curation. It can be used to create a flipped classroom, provide access to different activities and resources for students to use when completing a lesson and much more. It is a great tool for curating content for students or to collaborate with colleagues.  We can also have students create their own Wakelet collection to save articles and websites they gather from their research. Beyond serving the underlying purpose of content curation, it builds student skills in digital literacy and learning to process information.

For students who need to create a multimedia presentation, doing the research and putting everything together into a presentation tool can be time-consuming and possibly overwhelming for some. However, when using a tool like Wakelet, students can simply place or curate all of the resources for their project into one collection and then share the link with their teacher, who can then create one class collection. A class collection helps students to gather their information and store it in one digital space that is easily accessible and also promote collaboration. Using digital tools in this way is great because the discussions don’t have to end when class does. These tools provide ways to get students talking and sharing their ideas, so that classroom collaboration can occur beyond the physical space and time.

What Can You Do With a Wakelet?

It is always fun to learn about the new features of digital tools we are using in class, whether we happen to come across them on our own or other educators share how they are using the tools in their own practice. With Wakelet, the team is invested in improving their product and does so by continuing to seek feedback from educators as it grows and explores new ways to help educators and students. One recent update that I really like is the creation of Mood Boards.  A mood board is a more visual way to organize Wakelet collections. It increases accessibility by enabling the collections much easier to view depending on a person’s preferences.  I

In Wakelet, there are now four different ways to display information: Grid View, Compact View, Media View, and Mood Boards. My personal favorite is grid view because as a visual learner, I process information by focusing on distinct patterns and layouts and this makes it easier to find what I need. It is easier to look at the images, make comparisons between resources, and quickly find a specific resource because it is easier to navigate. If you want more resources with less space taken up on the page, the compact view shows the link and includes a brief description.

Using the mood board makes it easier to personalize the board in a way that makes sense for you and your students. Media view is great for telling a story, creating a lesson plan with resources, and working on projects together. If you use other tools like Flipgrid, or YouTube, you can play these videos right from the Wakelet page which definitely saves time if presenting material in a classroom.

Ways that I have used Wakelet

1. Brainstorm Ideas: Teachers can create a collection and enable collaborators to post an idea, share thoughts, or ask students to share and create their own resources. It is a quick way to create a collaborative space for brainstorming, problem solving and creativity!

2. Curate Content: There are a lot of different materials I use for my classes in addition to keeping track of the blogs, podcasts, videos, and other websites that I explore for my own research. Wakelet makes it easy to save links, especially with the Chrome extension. It is easy to create Collections and to choose the best layout to meet your needs.  I also enjoy saving bookmarks to the Wakelet page.

3. Project-Based Learning: For PBL, my students added their presentations and resources to our class collection which gave them the opportunity to look at the other students’ work. It was a good way to also share with our global classroom peers who could explore different interests and topics.

4. Collaboration: It facilitates better collaboration between teachers, whether in the same school or for providing materials for substitute teachers or co-planning. Wakelet provides an accessible and versatile space for teachers who want to collaborate and share resources between their department or within a school. We can also empower our students to build their collaborative skills by using these digital tools in their own learning paths. It is really easy to promote anytime, anywhere collaboration with this tool.

5. App Smashing: One thing I learned about recently was the use of Listenwise and the ability to app smash these two tools together. I recently started using Listenwise in my classroom and you can create a Wakelet collection which includes Listenwise stories within the resources that you have. It’s a nice way to give students access to different content and provide options for writing, evaluating or making comparisons between the different resources or primary sources. Also, try Flipgrid shorts videos with Wakelet for a combo that offers a lot of possibilities. Create a video right within Wakelet for providing an opinion based on the theme, offering feedback on a project or discussion, or provide a more detailed explanation for a concept.

6. Student Presentations and Storytelling: Have students create their own Wakelet collection that can be used for a variety of options to build skills in the content area as they gather information. Rather than using the traditional presentation formats, whether tech or no-tech, students can add images, videos, audio, links, text and more into one easily accessible space for class. Students can also tell a story or collaborate with peers to write a story and include various formats to make it more engaging.

7. Group Projects: Finding time to work in the same physical space can be a challenge, which is what makes having tools like Wakelet even better. Whether as part of a group research project or for use as a weekly collection to store all the projects for easy access to display in the classroom.

8. Scavenger Hunts: My friend Laura Steinbrink (@SteinbrinkLaura) came up with the idea to create a scavenger hunt using Wakelet. She gave instructions and added relevant resources to the collection. Using this can be a way to engage students in more active learning and provide a variety of learning materials beyond the traditional ones used in class.

9. Blended Learning: Whether students cannot be in class because of schedule conflicts on certain days or if a substitute teacher is in the classroom instead, Wakelet can help to create asynchronous lessons and used for blended learning. Design the collection with the resources needed and directions for steps to take and students can have a more personalized learning experience and will be able to continue learning on days when a substitute teacher is in the classroom.

10. Digital Portfolios: Students can add samples of work they have done and be able to share it easily with one link. Whether students have projects done using digital tools, want to upload images of non-tech evidence of learning, or record videos, there are many possibilities. A good way to show student growth as they progress through school.

Find out more by checking out the Wakelet website or following on social media with the #WakeletWave. There are many ways to use tools like Wakelet and other platforms.

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Transforming Professional Learning With Micro-credentials

By Brenda A. Pearson.

As a lifelong educator, my professional learning experiences have run the gamut from self-study to week-long intensive institutes. These experiences have increased my knowledge, but few bridged the gap by impacting my instructional practice. The distinction between an impact on knowledge and practice is at the crux of professional learning reform discussions. Traditional professional development offerings are often lackluster and appear ineffective in supporting changes in teachers’ practices and student learning. With an estimated $18 Billion spent annually on professional learning in our nation, evidence of impact is difficult to measure and seldom reported accurately.

When I became the director of professional learning at the Clark County Education Association (CCEA) four years ago, I made it my own personal mission to turn professional learning on its head. The Clark County School District (CCSD) felt saturated with professional development opportunities that were all similar in nature, yet most did not seem to result in improved practice. I have been in a unique role as the director, whereby I’ve been able to work collaboratively with CCSD to understand the needs of our school system while simultaneously creating opportunities through CCEA member-led programs.

My ultimate goal was to create and offer research-backed professional learning opportunities that bridged the gap by impacting instructional and professional practices. The caveat: evidence of this impact had to be available.

It was through the pursuit of this goal that CCEA entered the world of micro-credentials. Micro-credentials are competency-based, enabling educators to be recognized for the knowledge and skills they use to be successful in their field. CCEA saw a need for high quality and effective professional learning that could permeate geographic diversity and align with our schools’ individualized needs. With the support of Digital Promise and Center for Teaching Quality, we released three stacks of micro-credentials.

CCEA microcredentials badge
Images courtesy of Clark County Education Association

But CCEA micro-credentials couldn’t simply be sent out into the professional learning abyss; they had to be part of a system that could support them.

Embedding Value and Recognition

A professional learning system needs to exist that acknowledges the value of micro-credentials and recognizes the educator for earning micro-credentials. This requires a two-pronged system of recognition, one that is present at both the state and district levels for Clark County.

Educator Re-certification

At the state level, educators are able to apply their awarded micro-credentials toward license renewal when the professional learning has been authorized by the Nevada Department of Education. Currently, the Nevada Department of Education is moving toward a statewide system that acknowledges the completion of professional learning hours to be applied to an annual requirement. Once this system has been finalized, micro-credentials offered through CCEA can be used toward educator re-certification.

Compensation System

At the district level, educators are typically awarded salary advancement after earning advanced degrees or completing specific professional development requirements. CCEA and CCSD released the Professional Growth System (PGS) in 2016 as an alternative to the traditional salary schedule. The PGS is educator-centered, giving individual teachers the autonomy to determine how they want to improve their practice by choosing activities from a menu of options—one of which is earning micro-credentials. Successfully earning micro-credentials can be one component of a teacher’s professional growth plan leading to salary advancement.

Acknowledging and Honoring Expertise

Leadership opportunities exist within schools and across districts. Whether these positions are embedded within the instructional day, such as literacy coaches, or outside of the school day, such as school-to-community liaisons, serving in leadership roles requires specific knowledge and expertise. Creating structures that acknowledge and honor teacher expertise can support changes in teachers’ practices and student learning.

School-Based Decisions

CCSD School Organizational Teams consist of parents, educators, community members, and support professionals who are tasked with advising and assisting administrators in making school-based decisions (e.g., personnel, budget, instructional, etc.). CCEA has created three micro-credential stacks focused on leadership, stakeholder involvement, and data-based decisions. These teams of stakeholders are challenged with school improvement while remaining mindful of the needs and perspectives of all parties.  Micro-credentials serve to acknowledge and honor the expertise that each of these School Organizational Team members bring to the table.

Welcoming Struggles and Successes

CCEA is still relatively new to the micro-credential landscape; in our case, however, the quantity of time does not align with the number of lessons we’ve learned.

First and foremost, autonomy is key. Traditional professional development is often done to the educator, not with the educator. To foster teacher professionalism, we need to believe in and invest in the individuals who work with our students. Through micro-credentials, teachers choose a goal to pursue that is aligned with the individualized needs of their school, and they brainstorm, create, and plan solutions to the barriers they witness.

Don’t underestimate the impact of grassroots efforts. Teachers experience the education system from the level of implementation. They experience the speed bumps firsthand and often have solutions to the struggles we face. Micro-credentials foster collaboration and provide teachers with a platform to share, discuss, and solve together. Solutions can be identified and implemented, building collective efficacy within schools.

Honor the expertise that exists within schools. Micro-credentials assess the competencies of educators forming levels of recognition for verified knowledge and skills. Schools rarely know and utilize the depth of expertise that exists within them. Identifying and acknowledging these experts to build a system focused on school improvement can change the landscape and future of our nation’s education system.

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Even More Ways for Ed Leaders to Make Teachers Feel as Important as They Are

If June is associated with the end of another school year, May is often associated with celebrations. One annual one that tends to get lots of attention is Teacher Appreciation. It used to be Teacher Appreciation Day, then week and now it’s the whole month of May. But in an era where we are desperately in need of recruiting more new teachers, as well as going through some of the most turbulent teacher labor issues, maybe we can’t have enough teacher appreciation.

As a former site leader and activities director, I facilitated a great deal of teacher appreciation events. We did it all from breakfasts, lunches, dinners, raffle prizes, coffees, gifts, car washes and even massages. They were all fun and well deserved. And why these are fun and do offer some appreciation, especially if students are involved in teacher appreciation, I’m still challenged by the larger implications.

Just like our other national holidays or celebrations – i.e. Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Valentine’s Day and so many others – do we end up having ceremonial gestures or actual true appreciation. After all, should we not value, appreciate and recognize our mothers, fathers, loved ones and even our teachers everyday?

This is also currently being inspired by what I see as some real travesties in schools in regards to not only recognizing teachers, but also working to keep them (especially the really good ones). It’s ironic. In an era of large teachers shortages, we often only seem to discuss recruitment and not retainment. Almost every year, I have friends and colleagues leave the classroom and their school sites to take other opportunities. Normally, these are not about compensation, but rather value, flexibility, creativity, autonomy and more.

Last May, I offered five ways for educational leaders and others to make teachers feel as important as they really are. They were Create A Culture of Teacher Support & Appreciation, Autonomy, Flexibility, Digital Appreciation and Let the Students Do It. This year, I’d like to add to that list. And, as usual, instead of focusing on one off celebrations or recognitions, work towards having a school culture and work environment that honors the hard work of teachers everyday. Here are more ideas to add to the original list:

Support Real, Personal Professional Growth

Professional Development has often been something dictated or prescribed by administrators. There is no argument that professional growth and lifelong learning, especially for educators, is more vital than ever. But how can we support teachers on their individual professional journeys? Well, if you have any teachers who want to attend professional learning events, work to find any way to support that and get them here. Better yet, if you have teachers who are involved enough to be presenting and sharing with other professionals, be sure to find any way to support that. Whether that is getting a sub, covering their classes or covering expenses. Indeed, ask them to come back and share with and train their colleagues. Indeed, I applaud those districts that are now offering teachers online and personalized professional learning options, as well as things like digital badges, annual funding to be spent as teachers see fit and more. We need to have all leaders work towards creating professional environments where all teachers have professional growth goals that they have established and can be supported.

Just Say Yes

Additionally, when teachers have those lofty or sometimes seemingly crazy ideas of new projects, courses, field trips, lessons, activities, resources, guest speakers or more, find a way to say ‘yes.’ One of my favorite educators and public speakers, Mike Smith, had a keynote intro that always read, “If it’s not illegal or immoral why not give it a try?”  It seems that all of us, but especially educational leaders, are almost trained to say “no.” We are often conditioned to be concerned about everything from supervision and safety to policies and procedures. As leaders, we need to say “yes” whenever possible to our teachers and staff regarding any idea they have. If we want them to dream big and think outside the norm, then we have to support that with our faith in them through the power of “yes.” We may have to say no sometimes, but we should work tirelessly to say “yes.” Saying “yes” is not only more difficult, but forces us to question our own philosophies and beliefs. “Yes” not only usually requires more work or effort, but it also may require risk and fear of failure. If we say “no,” we don’t have to see if an idea will fail. If we say “yes,” we are opening up ourselves and those we lead to a more vulnerable state. But it’s our blessing of the idea, as well as the leadership necessary to remove any barriers, that will ultimately lead to a more innovative and creative community.

Coach Them Well, Especially The Good Ones

Some of our best teachers are the ones who will take on everything. They will lead in the classroom and outside of the classroom. They are committee members, coaches, team leaders, project coordinators and early adopters. And as good as they are at all of it, maybe we need to look out for them. We don’t necessarily want to tell them know, but I also think we owe them the coaching and support of letting them know that nothing is more important than their health, their families, their longevity and their sanity. If they are our great teachers, we need to protect them and save them (often rom themselves). Some folks need a kick in the pants and some need different types of coaching. Just like students,

Naturally, this list could go and probably should. But the intent is to go beyond the cursory gifts or tokens of appreciation. These are all fine and make great ways for students and parents to say thanks. But for those that are tasked with leading and coaching our teachers, we can do much better. Let’s focus on authentic and sustainable ways to help all teachers become their personal and professional best. In the end, they will appreciate that type of appreciation the most.

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A Pedagogy of Possibilities: Social Justice Delivered Through Literature and Writing

We often hear that students today are apathetic about school, each other, their future and learning. As adults, we are taken aback by what we see as a genuine lack of interest in receiving an education or participating in developing a climate and culture in school that values teaching and learning. Yet, have we really stopped to take a closer look to see if perhaps, we just aren’t asking students to take on the “right” work? Are we preparing our students to be successful in a diverse society? Are we asking our students to learn and explore the concept of social justice?

The goal of social justice according to Lee Anne Bell is, “equal participation of all groups in a society that is mutually shaped to meet their needs… in which the distribution of resources is equitable and all members are physically and psychologically safe and secure.” Schools have an obligation to examine every aspect of our work to make a determination of where we are on adopting and implementing the ideals of social justice. If in the process of the assessment, we determine that we need to make changes, the process needs to begin immediately. A framework for creating a socially just school is necessary to ensure that those empowered with making decisions are aware of the implications of every action and reaction on all those are a part of the school community.

5 Aspects of Social Justice

Heather Hackman shares the five aspects of social justice for schools: “Content mastery, critical thinking, action- skills, self-reflection, and an awareness of multicultural group dynamics.” It is helpful to teachers and leaders to have key terms such as these that allow for a common vocabulary in teaching social justice. As educators, we know that we must explicitly teach new information (content mastery) in order to ensure that students have new information and perspectives that will lead to a change in behaviors. In order to take in the information and apply it to different situations, students must be taught how to look at the classroom and school and to become observers of the dynamics between different people (multicultural group dynamics). In our observation of the interaction of others, we are able to determine through the types of interactions whether an individual values another’s perspective, respects the individual and often through body language whether they are truly “closed off” to the other person.

In teaching students to study group dynamics, self-reflection must be included. The focus of the self-reflection is to determine my own role in creating the current situations within classrooms and the school community. Critical thinking is a process-oriented pedagogical approach that works directly with students to apply information to different situations and analyze how the information influences the outcomes from the process. Critical thinking is the bringing it all together part of the journey. Literature and writing are essential to this process. Finally, explicitly discussing and modeling the importance of self-reflection is the critical lens from which we demonstrate our own commitment to a continuum of our journey of embracing and applying social justice to our own lives and the systems in which we work and spend time.

A socially just school, cares about the safety of all staff and students, it ensures that all students have instruction that is appropriate, it manages its fiscal resources with an eye on ensuring that the needs of all are considered when making a decision and it believes that by creating a caring and supportive community, we will be better able to serve each other. Yet, school days are short, and the curricular demands are great. So, often, when the concept of social justice being taught is raised, everyone agrees its important, but no one is sure what to “give up” to make time for this. What if we just believed that social justice was the cornerstone of our school and infused our work with reading, writing, listening, speaking and problem-solving as much as we can about it? What if we decided that continuously exploring social justice with our students would help us to create less apathetic, more instructionally rich, safer schools? Would it help us reduce the concern about time?

Teaching Social Justice

Schools are anchored in standards. There are social justice standards available to educators to use through Teaching Tolerance. The four areas addressed are Identify, Diversity, Justice and Action. The standards are written to ensure that there is a community of action engaged in reducing prejudice in a deliberate and measured way. In addition, there is an expectation of direct and explicit teaching around not only changing our actions as individuals but also engaging in changing the system (schools and communities). There are suggested anchor standards available that bring together diversity and justice standards as well as lesson plans that are ready for all grade levels. In addition, the Teaching Tolerance site offers rubrics and tasks for students to complete to demonstrate competence and mastery of the standards provided.

Research by James Banks supports that if we wait till adolescence to introduce social justice topics, we have missed the time when young learners have developed their opinions and values, which shape their actions and thoughts. As educators, we have some freedoms with the titles we choose for books for students to read, topics for students to write about and how we ask students to solve problems. When we are selecting books for students to read and topics for students to write about, we often pick titles that we read as students and topics we were asked to write about as students. There are so many titles available to us to read, fiction and non-fiction, that allow for teaching social justice for elementary and secondary students. These titles along with so many others are anchored in Community restoration, dignity for all, forgiveness, problem-solving, empathy and creating a sense of belonging. Once we are reading about social justice, we can begin to act through writing, problem-solving, projects and discussions.

Restorative Practices

As students grow in their knowledge of social justice, we will need to be prepared for some of our more traditional approaches to discipline to be challenged as well. The work of restorative practices and other less traditional approaches to behaviors will need to be explored if we truly want to use social justice as the cornerstone of our schools. Traditional approaches in schools are based on a punitive approach which research has found generally targets marginalized students and creates an unjust approach to discipline within schools. The foundation of restorative practices postulates that the school is a community whose members are of equal importance. Restorative communities create an understanding that we are all a community and our actions impact others and most importantly impact our relationships with others. In a restorative practice community students are taught that by breaking the norms/rules, you damage your relationship with others in the community. In order to be a successful member of the community, you need to repair the harm caused and reset the relationships. The book, Restorative Practices Meets Social Justice by Anthony Normore, offers more in-depth insight into the connection between restorative practices and social justice.

As the adults in the schools, we have an obligation to engage in a process of review of where our schools are in being socially just. We need to be open to differing opinions, admit that we have bias and stereotypes that we will have to address on a near daily basis and be committed to explicitly teaching the principles of social justice to our students. It is through this work, that will learn that our students weren’t apathetic at all, just not being asked the right questions about the right topics!

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Teaching AI: Exploring New Frontiers for Learning

Imagine a small secondary school in a converted city hall next to a library and a park, on a river, in a vibrant urban core. Imagine every student conducting community-connected projects, studying computer science, and graduating from high school with an AA degree.

You’re imaging Renton Prep, a microschool at the south end of Lake Washington in bustling downtown Renton, a suburban Seattle city that is home of the Boeing 737 and the Seahawks NFL training facility.

Michelle Zimmerman (@mrzphd) is the Executive Director of Renton Prep Christian School and Amazing Grace Elementary in Seattle, schools her grandmother started almost 60 years ago.

Like her own hybrid high school experience combining dual enrollment courses and work experiences, Zimmerman created a secondary school where learners engage with integrated community connected projects that prepare them to enroll full time as juniors at local community colleges.

Renton Prep uses Core Knowledge curriculum in middle grades to build content knowledge. Students take more than 20 field trips to explore learning at the intersection of domains.

In 9th and 10th grade, students do more exploration to discover personal strengths and interests. Students “co-design learning in ways that don’t usually happen until graduate school,” said Zimmerman.

Learners at Renton Prep are given opportunities to demonstrate knowledge and skills in multifaceted approaches and Microsoft recently selected the school as the first K-12 Microsoft Flagship School in the U.S.

Teaching AI

A few years ago, Michelle began to see references to artificial intelligence (AI) in popular culture and the media. When she saw more adaptive learning programs being released she realized AI was changing both what young people should learn, as well as how they can learn. In 2016, she began researching AI implications and applications.

She interviewed industry experts on what students should know and be able to do. She scaled that back to elementary school and began incorporating learning experiences for all students.

“Robots are not rapidly taking jobs over, but mindsets need to shift,” said Zimmerman. “It’s not just how to code–machines will take over much of the low-level coding,” added Zimmerman. “The urgency is around collaboration.”

“My views have drastically changed since last October,” said Zimmerman. “It’s not just about learning to code, the ethical implications are much bigger, AI has permeated all fields.”

Zimmerman’s new book, Teaching AI: Exploring New Frontiers for Learning was published by the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) with a grant from General Motors to support the development of new resources on AI in K-12 education.

Each chapter opens with a scene featuring diverse settings and characters. Zimmerman connects the dots between seemingly unrelated topics and concludes each chapter with questions for further study.

Zimmerman concludes that the automation economy demands design thinking and project-based learning. Projects and stories of some of her tenth graders, including Sharice Lee, Rhonwyn Fleming, and Afomeya Hailu (featured image) are included.

Bringing in the voices of international educators, Zimmerman provides a practical guide to learning about and teaching with AI. Add this one to your list of books to read in 2019.,$

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This post was originally published on Forbes.

This post is a part of the Getting Smart Future of Work Campaign. The future of work will bring new challenges and cause us to shift how we think about jobs and employability — so what does this mean for teaching and learning? In our exploration of the #FutureOfWork, sponsored by eduInnovation and powered by Getting Smart, we dive into what’s happening, what’s coming and how schools might prepare. For more, follow #futureofwork and visit our Future of Work page.

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Design Thinking, or What an English Teacher Learned From Working With Web Developers

Where I’ve Been

Often it’s not until you’re pulled out of your comfort zone that you see just how limiting that comfort zone can be. As a middle and high school English teacher, I worked in what I think were fairly typical ways–I’d gather periodically with other English teachers to plan vertically and then more regularly with teachers on my grade level team. I planned most of my daily lessons alone, with the occasional experience of teaching the same grade level and having the same planning period as another teacher with similar approaches who appreciated time to talk or share more detailed ideas. Once or twice a year, there would be a meeting with the social studies department and we’d divvy up components of a larger research-based project. My hunch is that this was fairly typical practice–some occasional collaboration, but quite a bit of independent, siloed work.

And then I found myself working among web designers, developers, and database gurus at an educational technology company. Instead of facilitating a writing workshop, I was standing in front of a whiteboard attempting to understand the challenge or problem and mapping out a process for how a teacher might want to interact with an online curriculum mapping tool. I was translating what teachers might want to do with a tool to a specifications document (or my best effort at a specifications document). I was translating web developer explanations of the impact of certain functionality changes into emails to our partners explaining how curriculum writers would need to use the tools. In the classroom, we talked literature, life, and change. In front of the whiteboard, we talked user experience and SQL. There was a process, but things felt a bit messier and we spent more time in grey territory. I felt out of my element.

In addition to the differences in what I was thinking about on a daily basis, there were differences in how I had to work. While I collaborated with other teachers throughout the year, in the classroom I was responsible for everything, and the success or failure of a lesson depended entirely on me. Lesson planning, teaching, grading, communicating with families. All me. If something wasn’t done, it was because I didn’t do it. Suddenly I was on a team where I actually could not do everything. I couldn’t code. I couldn’t create mock-ups. Sometimes, I couldn’t even effectively communicate to developers what teachers might need an online lesson planning tool to do. When we faced big deadlines, during that sprint toward the finish line as you’re nearing the end of a project, I could essentially do nothing (except answer an occasional question and maybe even bring in some snacks). It was frustrating, and mostly, I felt powerless.

And yet this was the first time I experienced what it means to be on a real team. I learned how to depend on others’ skills in a way that I hadn’t before. I also learned the real value of designing something as a team. My English-teacher-brain was useful, but my ways of thinking were complemented and enhanced by the web-developer-brains on the team. I could lay out a goal or describe a problem that teachers or districts might be looking to solve through a tool, and I could even bring some of my ideas for how we might be able to go about it. But when in a room with a full and rounded team that approached the process from a different angle, we were able to design something that was more useful, efficient, and intuitive that what any one of us would have been able to dream up independently. Sometimes the problem or original goal would morph or become more refined. Sometimes my own hunches for how something might end up working turned out to be relatively inefficient. Together, we would spend hours in front of a whiteboard drawing pictures, connecting boxes, and taking turns leading the thinking or talking through “What if” scenarios. While the silences that sometimes happened during our sessions were ridiculously overwhelming (with ideas like, What if I have to go back and tell our partners that we can’t achieve something they’d really hoped for?), there was a rush when we collectively mapped out plans and pathways that would make possible even more than our partners had requested.

What I’ve Learned

While teaching, I almost always preferred to work alone, later bringing my ideas back to others, who might make a few suggestions for adaptation, with my original plan remaining mostly intact.  Post-ed-tech, however, I’ve realized the limitations of independent design and planning.  Ideation–the brainstorming or planning phase, is almost always better when done collaboratively. And experimentation–testing out those ideas–is always better done with a diversity of approaches. I’ve learned that the design thinking approach is just as useful for building the technology tools for lesson planning and curriculum mapping as it is for doing the lesson planning and curriculum mapping itself.

The Teaching & Learning Lab at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education outlines the fundamental steps of the Design Process, which likely doesn’t sound all that much different than what teachers already do:

  1. Discover–We define the challenge/goal, considering our audience, and seek out resources that might be useful.
  2. Interpret–We make sense of the research and information we’ve gathered, defining key insights and looking for opportunities.
  3. Ideate–We generate and refine our ideas.
  4. Prototype-We start experimenting and trying out what we’ve planned.
  5. Test-We see how it works, tracking learning and considering how we might refine, scale, or evolve our work.

Though it may sound similar, taking the time to work through a more specific process can broaden your approach to each step and will involve others in new, more structured ways.  Rather than simply asking what someone thinks of an idea as you make copies, this process can provide more intentional thinking to shape your work. While districts should provide more time and support for design thinking, teachers can use the process within their own teams, seek out more interdisciplinary teams, or use elements of the approach on their own. IDEO’s Design Thinking for Educators Toolkit includes a workbook that facilitates each step in the design process and can be used on a range of challenges that teachers face including those related to curriculum, classroom space, classroom and school processes & tools, and organizational systems.

Our independent thinking and planning will only take us so far, and might prevent us from being able to reach all of our students all of the time. While there is no silver bullet lesson or curriculum map, we can work towards reaching more students, while at the same time growing our own ways of thinking. As teachers, we must not only encourage our students to grow and expand their minds, but we must do the same in an effort to make even more possible in our own classrooms. Further, as we work to prepare young people for the world they’ll face, to equip them with the skills they’ll need, we must engage in work that challenges us to do what they will be expected to do–understand the layers and dimensions of any given information or challenge, think creatively, work across disciplines to make connections and solve problems, experiment to understand who is served by our work and who might be marginalized, and continue to iterate and evolve with the recognition that nothing is ever really finished. Design thinking allows us to both engage with those skills that our students will be expected to demonstrate and build learning experiences that foster those same skills. We owe it to ourselves and our students to try!

Useful resources on design thinking for schools and classrooms:

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