Sunday, June 16, 2024

Student Voice as an Engagement Strategy

Imagine a classroom buzzing with curiosity, where questions fly like sparks and exploration thrives. Engaged learners are joyful learners. When students are genuinely invested, a sense of wonder takes hold. They delve into challenges with a smile, their eyes alight with the thrill of discovery. This joy of learning is contagious, fueling a classroom where knowledge isn't just absorbed; it's embraced. In this empowering environment, students blossom, reaching their full potential and embarking on a lifelong journey that sets them up for current and future success. 

Engaging students today is a complex task. Educators often express the challenge of keeping students focused and interested in the learning process. This can be particularly difficult in today's world, where students are bombarded with distractions and have a multitude of competing priorities. However, research provides a beacon of hope, offering valuable insights into fostering a thriving learning environment. According to a study by Fredricks et al. (2004), students who are actively engaged in lessons demonstrate a deeper understanding of content and develop stronger critical thinking skills. By implementing effective strategies, educators can transform classrooms from places of passive absorption into dynamic hubs of active participation and intellectual growth. The following passage explores some of these strategies that can ignite a passion for learning within students.

Student voice in the classroom is not just a concept; it's a catalyst for a more engaged and successful learning environment. When students feel their ideas and perspectives are heard and valued, they become more than just participants in the learning process; they become active contributors. This can lead to many benefits, including increased motivation, a deeper understanding of concepts, and a greater sense of ownership over their education. Students who believe they have a voice are more likely to be academically motivated. Teachers can tailor their lessons by listening to students to better resonate with their interests and learning styles. This two-way communication builds trust and empowers students to take an active role in their own education, preparing them to be critical thinkers and lifelong learners.

Nicki Slaugh and I shared the following in our book Personalize:

Student voice denotes any action that empowers students to express their perspectives when shaping their learning journey. The primary message here is that classroom participation is all-inclusive, promoting a greater sense of involvement for everyone. 

We see student voice as a gateway to personalization, especially during instruction. The image above details the many positive outcomes of this high-agency strategy. When asking questions, you can use the following to amplify the voices of your learners:

  • Individual whiteboards
  • Dry-erase surfaces
  • Post-Its
  • Digital tools
  • Physical objects such as clothespins or signs (these can be colored red and green for students to attach to their devices or hold up during group work)

Understanding that there is no right way to amplify student voice is crucial. While the list above provides a good foundation, keep in mind that you or your teachers might develop more innovative ways to let all students be heard, increasing engagement in the process while gaining valuable insight that can be used to strengthen Tier 1 instruction or improve Tier 2 supports.   

Students who feel their ideas and perspectives are valued are more invested in learning. This can lead to increased motivation, a deeper understanding of concepts, and a greater sense of ownership over their education. Teachers can tailor their lessons by listening to students to better resonate with their interests and learning styles. In short, student voice is a gateway to a more successful learning experience.

Take a deep dive into personalized learning by grabbing your copy of Personalize: Meeting the Needs of All Learners on Amazon. 

Fredricks, A. C., Blumenfeld, P. C., & Paris, A. H. (2004). School engagement: Importance and development. The Educational Psychologist, 39(1), 18-24.

Sunday, June 9, 2024

Personalize: Meeting the Needs of ALL Learners

Fate has a funny way of bringing together people with similar views and passions. In March of 2022, I worked with a school system in Provo, Utah. During a roundtable discussion, I was asked to discuss key aspects of personalized learning that are critical to successful implementation.  There were a lot of people in the room who listened to what I had to say and seemed to be hanging on every word.   Little did I know that a secondary principal from a different school system was in attendance who had been blazing her own trail with personalized learning and would later share the journey of her school.  Unbeknownst to me was how intrigued she was by what I shared. 

After facilitating a presentation later that day, the principal introduced herself to me, and we started a lengthy conversation on aspects of personalization.  Shortly after, I was contracted to work with that school in a coaching role.  Over the next two years, I witnessed firsthand competency-based practices that I had never seen implemented so effectively at scale. However, the firecracker of a principal saw an opportunity for her and the school to still grow their personalized practices.  That leader was Nicki Slaugh, my co-author of our book Personalize.   Once I saw personalization through her lens and that of her staff, I immediately knew we needed to collaborate. The rest is now history. 

My chance encounter with Nicki eventually led to the idea of writing this book after my first year of coaching.  Our goal is as simple as it is profound in that personalization is based on ALL students getting what they need when and where they need it to learn.  Packed with practical examples, research-based strategies, and stories, any educator can find the most effective way to personalize learning.  Here is the synopsis:

Not Just One Way

Are you an educator stuck in the traditional teaching or leadership mold, yearning for a spark to reignite your passion? Do you want to use your time better and work smarter, not harder? Personalize is your guide to transforming classrooms into dynamic hubs of exploration and discovery. This book invites you to break free from the "one-size-fits-all" approach and embrace the potential of personalized learning, where all students get what they need, when and where they need it to learn. 

Imagine a classroom where all students’ unique strengths, interests, and opportunities for growth are recognized and nurtured. Where the rigid structures of traditional education give way to flexible, student-centered learning environments. "Personalize" provides the tools and strategies to create such a space, fostering creativity, critical thinking, and a genuine love for learning.

Dive into how personalized learning can revolutionize education through real-world examples, research, practical advice, and inspiring stories. You'll learn how to leverage high-agency strategies (voice, choice, path, pace, place), technology including artificial intelligence (AI), data, and innovative teaching methods to meet each student's individual needs, ensuring that no learner is left behind. The book also emphasizes the importance of building strong relationships and a positive school culture to support these changes.

Personalize is not just a book; it's a movement towards a more inclusive, engaging, and effective culture. Whether you're a teacher, administrator, coach, or librarian, this book will inspire you to make bold moves that challenge the status quo and bring out the best in your students. 

Join the revolution. Embrace the journey of personalization and witness the transformative impact on your students and your educational career. Your path to rekindling the joy of being an educator starts here.

While we hope that the description above piques your attention, there are some features of the book that we would like to call out: 

  • This book is structured so that you can either read from cover to cover or choose a particular chapter that is of specific interest or represents a needed opportunity for growth. We did this because there is no right or best way to personalize. 
  • Each chapter is supported by research, practical strategies, and anecdotal stories for essential context. 
  • At the end of each chapter is a summary section titled “Bold Moves.” These are courageous decisions that break away from traditional methods and push boundaries. They involve calculated risks and innovative solutions to address challenges and empower student growth through personalization. The questions in these sections are meant to inspire bold actions. 
  • A digital appendix fleshes out how to effectively personalize and what it could look like across various grade levels and content areas. Get ready for lots of practical examples.
  • There is a call to action throughout the book, empowering educators to share their successes with personalized learning using the hashtag #personalize across social media networks (Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, Facebook, LinkedIn). Please tag us; we will constantly add more examples to the appendices. 

Working on this project with Nicki, a true practitioner who has embraced bold moves throughout her journey to personalize learning was such a joy.  We hope this book will inspire, challenge, and motivate you to continue to be the best iteration of yourself of those students you serve.

You can get your copy of Personalize: Meeting the Needs of ALL Learners on Amazon. There is an impressive discount on bulk orders. If interested, email for more information.

Sunday, May 26, 2024

Unpacking the Backpack

The social media landscape has changed quite dramatically when I first arrived in the space back in 2009. To put things in perspective, Instagram and TikTok were years away from existing, and Facebook was the dominant tool of choice.  At that time, Twitter was emerging as the preferred space for educators to connect, and blogs were the go-to source for relevant ideas and strategies.  My foray into the digital world began with the little blue bird, and I have never looked back.  Being a connected educator opened my mind and eyes to what was possible and enabled me to move beyond comfort and fear to evolve into a more effective leader. 

After being invited to participate in the one-and-only Google Teacher Academy for Administrators in 2010, I followed up on a goal I had set there to establish a blog. While this was one of the scariest things I ever did professionally, as I never saw myself as a writer, I decided to dive in and share my thoughts and the work in my school.  Needless to say, I have been at it now for fourteen years.  While I don’t blog as consistently as I once did, I still find it my preferred way to reflect and share what is working in effective teaching, learning, and leadership. 

As I mentioned in the opening paragraph, change is constant, especially in digital spaces. Tools come and go, but behaviors also change. We are also seeing a shift in how people prefer to consume information, from reading to listening.  From my lens, I see this as a reaction to all the demands on people’s time. Podcasts are “the” thing right now. Everyone seems to have one, and educators have several cued up and ready to go all the time. Listening to a podcast in the car or gym is much easier than reading a blog post.  While I still love to write and will continue to do so, the writing was on the wall. Thus, I decided to begrudgingly enter the space with my own podcast.

Unpacking the Backpack was born in consultation with my daughter. After coming up with a name, I used Canva to create the art. Below, you can see a description of my podcast.

Join us on Unpacking the Backpack, where we delve deep into the ever-changing world of K-12 education. In each episode, we'll unpack the complexities of teaching, learning, and leadership with a practical lens. Listen in as we:

  • Discuss real-world challenges 
  • Explore innovative approaches that are evidence and research-based 
  • Learn from educators and leaders on the frontlines
  • Gain actionable insights and strategies to navigate the ever-evolving landscape 

This is your one-stop shop for practical guidance and a deeper understanding of the incredible world of K-12.

Now, my podcast is going to be different from others. From a time standpoint, I couldn’t rationalize creating every episode from scratch. I also knew that I had a goldmine of content on my blog. Here is where I came up with an idea for how artificial intelligence (AI) might be able to help. This led me to search to see if there was an AI tool that could convert my blogs into podcasts. I was pleasantly surprised when I found that such a tool existed in the form of Leap AI.  Talk about simple.  All I needed to do was supply a link to a blog post, and in less than a minute, a professionally scripted and sounding podcast was created.  It even sounds like my voice. 

In addition to using Leap AI, practitioners will be invited to the podcast to discuss the most pressing issues in education and realistic solutions for implementation.  I am excited about this unorthodox journey into the realm of podcasting by repurposing fourteen years of written content into audio form.  

Look for it on Spotify and where all your favorite podcasts are found. 

Sunday, May 12, 2024

The Never-ending Upgrade: Why Constant Growth is the Key to Success

While I enjoy keynoting and facilitating workshops, it is through a coaching lens that I get to see how teachers and administrators are implementing innovative learning strategies with fidelity. Through their actions, I can collect evidence to show efficacy while curating exemplars I can share in my presentations. No matter where I go, I get the same message from educators on their desire for practical strategies. There is no better example than those implemented in classrooms, schools, and districts. 

“Eric, we know the why. To move our practice, we want to see how it can be done and what it could look like.”

The quote above is something I hear over and over again as I support school systems across the world. It is important to educators because it highlights the importance of moving from theory to practice. While understanding the reasons for change (the why) is important, it is equally important to see how this change can be implemented (how) and what the results might look like (what it could look like), something I elaborate on in Disruptive Thinking in Our Classrooms. Here’s why:

  • Educators need practical guidance: Ideas and strategies are often handed down from above, with little guidance on how to implement them in the classroom. Educators need to be shown how to put these into practice.
  • Sharing effective practices: By sharing examples of what has been implemented successfully, educators can learn from each other and improve their own practice.
  • Building a vision for change: Seeing what innovation could look like can help educators stay motivated and committed to making changes.

Thus, when I am in certain places, I always check in on educators who push the envelope and crave feedback so they can grow. A few weeks back, I was in Stryker Local Schools (OH), where I have been supporting the district this past year. One classroom I always try to visit is that of Larry Freshour, an elementary technology teacher. For starters, he is always craving feedback. I can’t remember a time this past school year when we had a conversation, and he didn’t mention how he was implementing an idea or strategy that he learned during one of the professional development days I facilitated. The other reason is that he thoroughly engages learners using a rotational model, immersing students in thought-provoking tasks.

During a recent visit, he had just finished up with a hook on circuits using a short video from Flocabulary.  When I entered, the class was already completing lightsaber cards in honor of May the 4th, which Star Wars fans are undoubtedly aware of and have this date marked on their calendars. Research has shown how vital relevance is to learning and Larry makes great efforts to impart authentic contexts and application during each lesson. Students were seen throughout the room creating working circuits to ignite the lightsaber. Self-regulation, pacing, and intrinsic motivation were on full display. 

Constant growth is the key to success because our world is always changing. By continuously learning new skills, adapting to new situations, and pushing ourselves beyond our comfort zones, we stay relevant, overcome challenges, and unlock our full potential as educators. This growth mindset fuels progress, keeps us engaged, and allows us to reach new heights consistently, just like Larry.