Sunday, December 26, 2021

Top Posts of 2021

With 2020 in the rearview mirror, the consensus was that 2021 would be a much smoother ride.  Most people would agree that this was not the case.  During countless coaching visits, I saw and heard firsthand the myriad of challenges being faced in classrooms, schools, and districts.  Through it all, though, educators found a way to forge ahead in the midst of adversity.  It sure wasn’t an easy path, but the resilience, dedication, and determination of people who have committed their lives to serve children of all ages have and continue to be on display.  I, for one, cannot thank them enough for the sacrifices made and the resulting impact on kids.

Writing this past year has been bittersweet for me.  On the one hand, I continually empathized with educators as the struggle was, and continues to be, very real.  It is difficult to honestly know this feeling if you are just up on a stage and not in classrooms or buildings.  Context matters, especially when doling out advice.  On the flip side, I have witnessed some of the most extraordinary practices that have been implemented with fidelity.  This is no small feat considering the environment that a pandemic had and continues to create.  Through a coaching lens, I was able to generate topics for posts that I thought people would find value in and appreciate.  Writing provides me with an avenue to both reflect on my practice and celebrate that of others.

Speaking of celebrations, I had one on a personal level with the publishing of my latest book in April. Disruptive Thinking in Our Classrooms was one of my major pandemic projects, alongside with becoming a master at cooking charbroiled Gulf of Mexico oysters on the grill.  Since the book became available, I used this blog to create supplemental content while expanding on many of the concepts with additional insight.  All of these posts and accompanying original images have been curated on Pinterest.  In addition to these resources, there is also a comprehensive study guide and an impressive bulk order discount through ConnectEDD Publishing (email info@connecteddpublishing.com).

Without further ado, here are my most popular posts of 2021 in no particular order.  Instead of sharing a summary of each, I have decided to include the unique image that was developed to accompany the content. 

How to Make Learning Stick

Pedagogical Leadership

8 Elements of Effective Coaching

Learning Recovery Through Acceleration

Making Headway with Remote and Hybrid Learning


Thanks for all you do, and wishing everyone the best in 2022!

Sunday, December 19, 2021

A Systematic Approach to Social and Emotional Support

It goes without saying that the COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on youth across the world. While learning recovery remains a needed area of focus, virtually every educator I come in contact with explains that students are a year or two behind socially.  In some cases, the extended time at home during remote or hybrid learning has led to the development of concerning behaviors that weren’t prevalent at scale in the past.  All of this has led to a dramatic increase in discipline issues and a significant amount of time having to be spent on classroom management and establishing routines. It is frustrating for teachers and administrators alike.

To make matters even more complicated, the emotions of students are all over the place.  These stem from a variety of factors, including isolation, excessive time on social media, watching parents struggle financially, and the impact of the virus on the health of family members.  Uncontrolled or unchecked emotions lead to negative impacts on learning.  It’s tough to learn, let alone concentrate if the mind is being pulled in numerous directions.  The combined social and emotional hurdles are making a challenging year even more difficult. Truth be told, this isn’t an issue that is only impacting kids. Efforts need to be made, and an array of supports offered to ensure the well-being of staff, especially those on the front lines who are in direct contact with students daily.

Let’s start with students. For SEL to be more than a buzzword or fad, it needs to be embedded into school culture.  A focus is excellent, but it’s the actions that truly matter.  To begin, a relational foundation has to be established.  Here is a quote I shared in Disruptive Thinking in Our Schools:

“It all comes down to relationships. Without trust, there is no relationship. Without relationships, no real learning occurs.”

If we want to get students to open up to us, then efforts need to be made to build their trust. While this is important, it is also critical to embrace a practice strategy to identify, monitor, and support kids dealing with social and emotional issues impacting their learning and that of their peers.  My colleague Venola Mason developed a practical approach called Pause & React. Here are some of her thoughts:

What I’ve noticed in classrooms across the country is that educators are using the first days and weeks of school to build relationships and connect with students.  However, as the school year progresses and more attention is paid to academic content, there is less of an emphasis placed on maintaining these critical relationships. Oftentimes, students who experience trauma or other difficulties are overlooked until their situation becomes very severe, leaving teachers unsure of how to turn things around.    What I arrived at to help address this need is a practical and straightforward resource for approaching relationship-building—a tool I call, PAUSE & REACT. It’s meant to be simple—not another thing to add to a teacher’s plate, but an intuitive and structured way to leverage and strengthen relationships with students. 

Be sure to check out this article that outlines the specifics behind Venola’s Pause & React tool.


SEL has become an embedded coaching component in my own work with districts and schools.  Teachers and administrators are in need of practical strategies that can be easily implemented daily and across the curriculum. Below are some to consider:

Daily meeting: Many educators have heard of the Morning Meeting, where students engage in various SEL activities prior to the start of content-related lessons.  I love this strategy but feel that it should rotate throughout the day, so it isn’t occurring during the same time or period each day.  

Lesson planning/activities: While Daily Meeting is a great start, SEL should be emphasized across the curriculum.  HERE are some great ideas from the HMH Shaped blog.

Digital surveys – During a recent coaching visit with the Juab School district, I saw a teacher begin the day with a digital survey that included the following: How are you feeling today? Why do you feel that way? Do you need to conference with the teacher? While the rest of the class worked on a choice STEAM activity, the teacher conferenced with those kids who needed non-academic support. This is a great strategy that can be implemented in classrooms and across a school.

Personalized learning: Sound pedagogy can be the most proactive approach out there to meeting kids' social and emotional needs on a daily basis. In every personalized model, an opportunity for socialization or conferencing with the teacher can be included.

Family engagement: SEL should never be the sole responsibility of teachers.  Consistent programs and outreach to families highlighting strategies and resources that can be used at home to identify and support students are paramount.  

While students get most of the attention, educators are also in desperate need of social and emotional support.  Many teachers are at their wit's end, and who could blame them.  Sari Beth Rosenburg shared the following:

Teacher morale and mental health are suffering as school board meetings intensify and the pandemic rages on. They are facing renewed attacks on the very content that we teach while school shootings are becoming more frequent again after a respite during the pandemic. It should come as no surprise that teacher morale and mental health are suffering as a result. In fact, we are seeing a growing teacher shortage in America, bordering on a national crisis. It is crucial that we find ways to support teachers, especially as student mental health is also suffering as a result of the pandemic.

As someone who spends a great deal of time working side by side with teachers in schools, I couldn’t agree more.  In a previous post, I outlined an array of detailed strategies that administrators can leverage to lessen staff load, including mental health days, covering classes, getting rid of meetings, grading grace periods, and eliminating non-instructional duties. Grace and empathy can be shown through electronic polling to see what they need. Bigger lifts included finding ways to add additional time for planning or securing outside counseling services. At this point, it is critical to consistently show you care no matter your role in education. 

We cannot ignore the other educators who need social and emotional support, including counselors, coaches, instructional aides, administrators, or anyone else who serves students.  While they are typically more behind the scenes, some are suffering as well. Here is where Central Office, boards of education, families, and community members can step up.  Extending breaks, thank you cards, substituting, or food items can go a long way to help all educators cope a little bit better. 

A systematic approach employ’s a Maslow’s before everything else lens.  If we don’t take care of all of our people – students, teachers, support staff, administrators – our education system could be damaged in ways that will be felt for generations.  

Sunday, December 12, 2021

Unlocking the Potential of Students

What are you good at and why?  I am sure a list of things comes to mind. Now think about how this list of items plays out in your daily life. We all have strengths, and a common reaction is to leverage these as much as possible.  I see this a great deal in my work coaching leaders. While there are many approaches that have varying value depending on the situation, there is a natural tendency to stick with what one believes they are particularly strong. There is nothing inherently wrong with this per se, but by doing so, we run the risk of capping our potential when it comes to achieving goals and growing. Feedback and accountability for growth through a coaching cycle help to unlock strengths that we might never know existed. 

Learners in our classrooms are no different.  They all enter school at various grade levels with a perception of what they are strong at, which can cloud their ability to grow.  The same can be said with perceived weaknesses that act as a limit on their capacity to learn.  All kids have greatness hidden inside them. It is the job of an educator to help them find and unleash it so that they can find success in the classroom and beyond.  There is no one best way to unlock potential. Below are some ideas to try in your classroom, school, or district.



Clarity

Students want and deserve to know why they are learning something, how they will use what has been learned outside of school, and what tells them if they have successfully achieved the specified goal for the lesson, project, or assessment.  If they are unclear about the purpose of the task or how time is being used, it becomes more challenging to empower them. 

Passion surveys

Finding out what really motivates and inspires kids can be one of the best uses of time an educator or school engages in if the act sparks changes to practice.  These passions can be integrated into daily lessons through anticipatory sets and projects or dedicated genius hours at the school level.  They can also be leveraged to make changes to curriculum and course offerings.

Personalization

I have written a great deal on this topic and even included an entire chapter in Disruptive Thinking in Our Classrooms.  These approaches focus on competencies such as time management and self-regulation to develop greater independence. Strategies such as station rotation, choice boards, playlists, and flipped lessons allow students who are already competent in the standard to move ahead and engage in more challenging and relevant activities. They also enable the teacher to work with those students who need more support, which sets the stage for their potential to be unlocked. 

STEAM activities

Kids crave purposeful work grounded in interdisciplinary connections. When content is taught in isolation, a common outcome is students' lack of engagement, becoming either compliant or complacent. This inhibits potential.  When developing lessons, activities, and courses, think about how they will connect science, technology, arts, and math.

Portfolios 

Traditional assessments never tell the whole story and can mask what students actually know or can do. It is also common knowledge that not all kids respond to conventional summative assessments.  Portfolios are a great way to measure the growth of time while also allowing creative freedom by demonstrating what has been learned.  

Feedback

When it comes to unlocking the potential of all kids, feedback is a true gem when it is timely, practical, specific, and addresses progress towards a learning goal.  It can also be used to challenge kids to unleash their creativity or push them outside of their comfort zone.  How students analyze, discuss and act on feedback is as essential as the quality of the feedback itself. 

Pertinent resources

While the strategies above take some planning to integrate effectively, educators can also harness an array of resources to assist with unlocking the potential of learners. I'm pleased to be partnering with Verizon to share a resource that I highly recommend -  Verizon Innovative Learning HQ. The online portal offers an accessible, one-stop-shop of free resources such as AR/VR apps, immersive lesson plans, and professional development from Digital Promise. The sky is literally the limit while also saving precious time. 

In the words of Joyce Meyer, "Potential is a priceless treasure, like gold. All of us have gold hidden within, but we have to dig to get it out." It's time to lend kids the tools to unearth theirs. 

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Sunday, December 5, 2021

Time is the Best Resource You Have

These are challenging times, and I cannot express my gratitude enough to dedicated and resilient educators who continue to show up for kids and each other.  As someone who is in schools and classrooms on a weekly basis, I am tasked with validating the excellent practices taking place while also providing practical feedback for growth.  During my coaching work, I almost always recommend to administrators that they poll their staff to see what support they need. Educator voice is critical and even more so now as people are burnt out and emotionally drained. It’s no shock that their number one response is time.  I also hear this when I am facilitating targeted workshops.  While this is undoubtedly important, it is also vital to gather input on professional learning and resources that are needed— more of this down the road.

There is only one thing a teacher can control, and that is how time is used when students are in class. While there is always an innate need for more, it behooves us to think about opportunities that already exist to improve lesson effectiveness while also meeting the unique needs of learners that lead to better outcomes.  Personalized strategies such as station rotation, choice activities, playlists, and the flipped approach maximize the amount of time that is already available.  Data is used to group, regroup, provide targeted instruction, pull individuals for intensive one-on-one support, and differentiate to especially help at-risk learners.  These pedagogical techniques also naturally align with MTSS and RTI models, which you can read about in more detail HERE.

Now I know what some of you might be thinking.  Personalized learning sounds great in theory, but from a practical standpoint, it takes some time to plan when implementing for the first time.  I can’t argue with this point, but it is also a farce to say outright it can’t be done at all grade levels. Hence, the realist in me routinely recommends a modified approach to how time is used no matter the grade level.  Here is the strategy:

  • Facilitate a mini-lesson that chunks the content.
  • Provide the whole class with an activity that you would typically have already planned.
  • While the majority of the class works on the assignment, pull small groups of students or individuals for targeted support.
  • Close the lesson.

That’s it in a nutshell.  No extra time is spent planning, but support within the period is provided to those who need more help, especially at the secondary level, where the physical space might not cater to station rotation. If the goal is to improve learning and close achievement gaps, it is essential to reflect on how time is spent during class, something that I emphasize with a great amount of detail in Disruptive Thinking. From here, specific requests can be made for professional learning support on personalized strategies. 

While easier said than done, administrators can look for ways to provide time to teachers for planning and professional learning aligned to some of the ideas shared in this post.