Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Gone Are the Days of the Teacher Desk

If gone are the days of industrial age education, then it is time to part ways with one of the most prevalent symbols from that time period, the teacher desk.  The teacher desk represents a place of power in the classroom.  After all, this is the place where decisions are made!  Papers are graded! Stickers awarded!  Serious conversations are had between student and teacher!  This is the space where a teacher can make a hasty retreat to create the illusion of distance from students.  
Made during the industrial era, most teacher desks are bulky, made of drab painted metal and topped off with faux wood.  Due to never ending budget cuts these desks are still in most classrooms across the United States today.  Said desks are heavily fortified with items such as office supplies, aspirin, random items collected from students, cough drops and the ever essential stash of chocolates/candies all shoved into one drawer (as the other drawers no longer function). The tops of the teacher desks are covered with personal memorabilia, caffeinated beverages and various piles of paper.
By the time students reach high school, the teacher desk is one of the most avoided spaces in the classroom.  Why?  Let’s circle back to power.  The teacher desk is to the classroom as the Berlin Wall was to Germany; a place of power that is heavily guarded, unapproachable and a void between two entities.  Dramatic? Maybe.  The point being, just as the Berlin Wall eventually came down, it is past time for the teacher desk to be removed from the classroom.  
You may ask, but where do you put everything?  
I use a bookshelf with baskets to hold my belongings.  I also have three drawer rolling carts for classroom supplies, manipulatives and various other items.  For those that worry about securing confidential assessments or records, this is easily rectified by cabinets or closets that lock.
You may ask, but where do you sit?  
First and foremost, sitting is a luxury I simply do not have.  I am on my feet and moving about from student to student to keep my fingers on the pulse of their learning needs.  Students need to know that they are learning with you, they are not learning separate from you nor are they learning for you.  If and when I do sit, it is with the students.  Yes, with students.  Even if I just need a moment to sit and take attendance, send a quick email or if my feet just need a break, I pull up a chair to student desks and sit with students. There is something that happens in these small moments of sitting with kids.  They begin to realize that I can exist alongside them without requiring anything of them except for simply wanting to be with them.  
You may ask, what is in the space where your desk used to be?
In the space where my teacher desk once resided, now sits a small round table with multiple chairs.  I chose a round table as the shape of a circle suggests unity and thus is more inviting than the traditional teacher’s desk.  This is a community space where anyone can sit.  On occasion, I will use the small table for student led conferences or presentation space.  The choices of what to fill in this space are limitless.  However, if this space does not become a community space then one is missing the point entirely.  


Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Monday, July 20, 2015

Twitter for Educators: Accounts & Hashtags

*All ideas shared in this blog post are neither endorsed nor deemed Twitter official rules in any way! Simply ideas shared by a real teacher figuring things out as I go.

If you have stumbled upon this blog post it is likely because you already have a Twitter account, but still have a few questions. Here is an email I received recently from a colleague that likely has questions similar to yours:

Screenshot 2015-07-20 10.34.08.png

As I composed an email response to this person I found others might want to know these answers too!  So, if you are thinking of diving further into Twitter, here are some things to consider that work for me...

What is your professional goal for using Twitter? Is it to sell an educational product? Is it to network for employment? Is it to network for professional growth? Is it to learn, use, share and grow? Is it some or all of the above? Knowing your professional goal(s) for Twitter will help guide you in who you follow, what hashtags are of interest to you and what chats to engage in.

One Account or More:
Should you have one personal account and one professional account? Here is the hard and fast truth, Twitter is not private, both of your accounts will be found and seen by all.  If you are worried about someone seeing a post that you may not want them to see then you should not use Twitter to post it.  Remember that goal you created for being on Twitter? Stick to that goal, if you are posting more unrelated than related content, then you need to reevaluate your goal for using Twitter.  

Now this is not to say that you cannot post, retweet or favorite an occasional something unrelated to your goal! Actually, if you want others to find interest in you it is important to let them glimpse who you are as a person.  You simply must have a balance in what you choose to post. (P.S. I use a private Facebook account to post only things for my family and friends. However, even that is not 100% private as someone could share what they saw on my account by taking a screenshot of what I posted.  Again, if you fear others seeing it could possibly shed light on you in an unlawful way then don’t post it!) However, I do know of folks that have more than one Twitter account so do not let me stop you! Maybe it is easier to use one to post for your profession versus one for personal, just know that nothing is private on Twitter.

Why use hashtags…
Why would you use a hashtag for your profession? Simply put, to learn, use, share and grow! You can grow as an educator by searching for pedagogical or content knowledge!  Not only can you add to your toolbox, but you can add to others toolboxes by sharing what you have tried or something that you know! Be intentional with your hashtags and avoid going crazy with them such as posting only using hashtags with no content. Check out this blog post on how to have engage in Twitter chats...How To Fly with Twitter Basics. 

How to make a hashtag…
The secret to having one account for multiple uses is connecting via hashtags.  You can create your own hashtags for others to follow! For example, say you teach 2 different subjects and you want your students to post or see posts related to your classes.  You can create your own hashtag for each content you teach and then use the search feature to see if those hashtags are “taken” (this means when you search you are hoping to discover no one, or close to no one, has tweeted using your made up hashtag).  For example, I searched for this made up hashtag and discovered…
Screenshot 2015-07-20 10.57.42.png

In the search area I typed “#spanish1_stephens” and then discovered “no results” which means this is a good hashtag to use for my Spanish I classes.  Let’s say I teach Spanish 2, I can simply look for “#spanish2_stephens” and likely find that it is available to use.  Let’s say I coach, I can create one for my athletes too! You get the idea.  

Hashtag feeds are not private…
Once you create your hashtags it is important to remember that they are not private.  This means an occasional person might tweet using your hashtag, but this rarely occurs. For the most part the only people using hashtags are those interested in what you are tweeting about or those that “have to” use it (such as your students).

How do others find my hashtags...
Once you have landed on the hashtags you want others to use, you can place them in your bio line. Here is a look at my bio...

Notice the hashtags are a different color, this is because they are hyperlinked.  So others can either search for my hashtag using the search feature OR they can click on the hyperlinks in my bio and it will take them directly to the hashtag feed.

A word on bios...1) don't be an "egghead" replace that generic egg with a picture, preferably one that let's others see you as a real person and 2) make certain your bio tells a little about you/your profession in order to relay to others your goal for Twitter. By letting others know you are a real person with real interests you will increase your followers thus increase meaningful connections.

Inappropriate student tweets to my hashtag…
What if a student tweets something that is inappropriate to my hashtag? Yep, it’s going to happen at least once during the school year and it is your responsibility as the adult to help our youth learn from their mistakes.  I had it happen in one of my classes early in the year. Two students wrote something inappropriate on a whiteboard, took a picture of it and tweeted it.  The students left my class before I discovered it.  Here is what I did...I simply took a screenshot of the tweet and contacted an administrator. I explained I did not want the students to have “a punishment” (ISS or detention) but I did want them to 1) remove their tweet, 2) have a conversation about the negative impact such posts have on their digital footprints and 3) as a result of their actions students unfollowed them as they did not want to be associated with students that were seemingly unkind.  In addition, the administrator had those students call home and explain what happened, then they had a follow up conversation with me.  It was important to me that the incident became remembered as a moment of learning instead of a moment of punishment.  I made a point to tell these students, “We can choose to let our mistakes define us or we can choose to define our mistakes in how we move forward.”  In short, be prepared to have a response plan for when this happens as odds are it will.

These are just a few tips I have learned since I joined the Twitter playground in 2012. Almost all of the information shared in this post has come from personal experience.  On the occasion I did not know how to do something on Twitter, I Googled it or I simply asked my Twitter friends and they helped! If you want someone to join Twitter, here is a blog post to help them get started...Twitter Basics: Hash-Brown Selfie!

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The First Few Days: Before You Differentiate Instruction

A differentiated class will be most effective if at first you focus on creating a culture of learning. I teach high school 9-12, the bulk of my students are 9th-10th graders.  By this point in their school career they have undoubtedly developed beliefs about themselves and school.  This is why it is so imperative to spend the first few days of school (more days really as it is an ongoing effort) to lay the foundation of trust in the classroom.  

I begin by asking my students to define the word "respect" in small groups.  
In my 18 years of teaching I have learned that I cannot simply throw the word "respect" out as a coverall for a classroom expectation without first discussing what it means. Students come to us with different backgrounds and cultural beliefs.  What is respectful to one person may be seen as disrespectful to another.  It is important for each class to define what respect will represent when referenced in class.  
Students then continue working in small groups to discuss/define these phrases:
  • point chasing v *knowledge seeking 
  • fair is not always equal
*Note to self, if you are going to ask students what knowledge seeking looks like you better be pretty darn prepared to show them what they will be able to know and do for various levels of readiness while in your class (this is a blog post for another day). 

After groups discuss these phrase, I ask each small group to share out the group definitions.  During the class discussion I ask kids questions such as:  
  • "By this point in your life you have likely experienced what it is like to be given an assignment you are not ready for...how does this make you feel? 
  • "And certainly some of you have been given an assignment that is so easy you wonder why you even have to do it....how does that make you feel?"  
I also ensure I tell students:
  • "Fair is not always equal. Therefore what we do in this class will always be fair but what is fair to you may look different for the person next to you."
Undoubtedly, when I first give assignments that are different I will hear:
  •  "So this is the dumb assignment?" That soon goes away as my response is, 
    • "When someone has the ability to learn something new does this make them dumb?" 
      • They almost always answer "No" or something that equates to "no" and I reply with, 
        • "Then if you are learning by working through this assignment, then that must make you smart, right?" 
At this point I usually get raised eye brows or a shoulder shrug because struggling students have not thought of themselves this way before.  These conversations help foster growth mindsets and build trust between the teacher and student.

It takes time, patience and fairness to earn the trust of students...however, I ask the same of them for me:)  Keep your eye out for upcoming blog posts on how to build your framework for a differentiate class.  For resources to help you with the start of the school year, see below.


  • For my lesson, What's Your Definition of Fair: Out of the Mouthes of Babes, click HERE.
  • For access to my Google student survey, Who are you as a student and a learner?, click HERE for the Google form.  MAKE A COPY FOR YOURSELF BEFORE EDITING

Monday, June 15, 2015

Is it really "differentiated"?

George Couros is one of those speakers that draws you in and gets you thinking.  I have seen him 3 times now, twice in my district and once in Michigan.  He does what any great teacher should do, asks questions to get others to critically think.  And not surprisingly, he does just that with his question, "Is learning really 'differentiated' if people have different paths to all eventually get to the same point? What do you think?"  The comments that occur after that question is where things really start to take shape.  George simply provides the question to get things rolling and if you take a look at the feed you will notice he continues to ask questions to elicit more conversation.

What I love most about this question is it should have educators talking about meeting the needs of students! However, someone quickly points out that "differentiation" is "just a buzzword..." and this has me thinking of the many "buzzwords" of late:
  • 21st century learning
  • innovative & creative
  • global learning
  • digital citizenship
  • differentiated
  • data teams, data walls, data, data, data
  • PLCs
  • UbD, unpack, unwrap, standards, standards, standards
  • formative vs summative assessment, assessment, assessment
  • learning AS, OF, FOR understanding
  • grit
This blog post titled "Let's Drop the Education Buzzwords" by Levi Folly quotes Moilere:

What I have found in my doctoral research is we are indeed re-naming ideas that existed long before the 21st century.  In 1968 Benjamin S. Bloom developed "learning for mastery" and then in 1971 he shortened the name to "mastery learning" (Guskey, 2005).  In the mid-90's, Carol Ann Tomlinson started publishing articles with the word "differentiate" in the title and has since published a slew of books on the topic.  As we see, the wording or phraseology has morphed some over the years, but the idea of differentiation is not new to education.

Circling back to George's original question, 

"Is learning really 'differentiated' if people have different paths to all eventually get to the same point? What do you think?"

To answer this question, yes.  Yes I think learning is really differentiated when students have different paths to the same point.  The second half of George's question intrigues me, "to all eventually get to the same point?" Not once in my 18 years of teaching have ALL of my students ever ended the school year at the "SAME point".  In my blog post, Differentiated Instruction: Your GPS for Student Learning, I point out that "rarely do all students have the same starting and stopping points" even when trying to reach the same destination.

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, to differentiate is "to make (someone or something) different in some way".  In the case of teaching this means we make instruction different in some way to help students learn, be it helping struggling students learn the basics or advanced students learn more complex ways of applying learning. When teachers allow students the opportunity to learn different ways, then ALL students are afforded the opportunity to learn forward from their own levels of understanding, but the odds of all students ending the school year at the same point is slim to none.

And so regardless of what you want to call it, "learning for mastery", "mastery learning" or "differentiated instruction" I implore you to not dismiss it simply because it may be the current "buzzword".  The simple fact is students have different learning needs.  A one-size-fits-all approach to teaching only leaves students behind and solidifies fixed mindsets.  To put it simply, let me humanize this talk...give your students what they need to learn forward.

Differentiate. (n.d.). Retrieved June 15, 2015, from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/differentiate

Guskey, T. R. (2005). Formative classroom assessment and Benjamin S. Bloom: Theory, research, and implications. Online Submission, , April11-15.