Sunday, July 8, 2018

They Left When the Fireworks Started

They left when the fireworks started.

I can’t believe it. 

We have been taking our kids to fireworks since they were old enough to say ooooh and ahhhh! And, tonight, we sat in our lawn chairs at the local farm anxiously awaiting the fireworks with our nearly 18 year old son. (Our 21 year old daughter went to the fireworks in her college town.) We had decided not to attend for the live music, trampolines, and adult beverages. Instead, we sat waiting beside our car. Of course, to get the good spot, we arrived about 30 minutes early. My son and I began to notice something odd; the young families were leaving the evening event before the fireworks started. What?! Okay, I thought, maybe it’s because the little ones might not react well to being so close to where they shoot off the fireworks. Then we started seeing older couples rushing to their cars to miss the traffic. Hmmm.

The show started; it was a wonderful display of fire in the sky. In fact, it was quite different from what you typically see from far away. There were lots of low fans of light and fountains of sparkle followed by medium height explosions and a few full chrysanthemums. As we took in the glow, we noticed, yet again, the silhouettes of families walking past the fireworks. Some even walked with their back to the beautiful display. The kids were not even showing interest or registering disappointment that their parents were dragging them away from the fun. They just walked.

It saddened me. I can’t help but wonder what the difference is between the children I saw tonight and my children (born in 1997 and 2000) who still get excited when we say we’re going to the fireworks. As one family passed by me, fireworks shooting off behind them, I noticed a well-lit face in their double stroller. The little ones have had access to glowing screens from moment one. They are the same ones whose eyes are glued to the iPhone in the grocery store. They are the same ones who have a movie playing in the car on the way to the grocery store. If they want to see fireworks in the middle of March, all they have to do is tell Siri. If they want to hear some patriotic music, ask Alexa. If they want their Minecraft world to have fireworks, they build their own. If they don’t want to engage with the adults in the room, they can put on their earbuds.

This blog is evidence that I see the power of technology; I want educators to realize its promise. I also want all of us to remember what it means to sit back in a lawn chair and take in the beauty of tradition.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

The Power of Seeing Google Docs in Action

I always say that I can talk about a tool "until I'm blue in the face," but I never know its impact until I see it in action being used by students. This happened the other day. I was walking past a classroom between classes and asked a teacher if I could come in ."They're not using --- (the tool I had shown the students months ago), they're just using Google Docs to write a story in pairs." I told the teacher that I always enjoy seeing how the kids are using technology, so, if it was okay, I'd still like to sit in.

Looking forward sometimes means looking backward
I'm often surprised by the number of ways that a tool can be used. In this case, 2 students were sitting side-by-side, both  in a shared document. The document was also shared with the teacher. The students had used a graphic organizer to sketch out the plot of their story. Now, they were going to take turns typing the story, so that neither tired of the process. Student A would type, while Student B read what they had drafted. Then, they'd switch.

What happened from that moment on was priceless.

Of course, there were comments about not being able to spell, so the partner kept an eye out for spelling errors. There was the time when Student B was watching what Student A typed and realizing that they needed a synonym. Then, in another pair, Student A noted that the word they chose wasn't the right word. Let’s try… However, it was the fact that they were taking the plot seriously, while enjoying the process, that took my breath away. As Student B read what Student A was typing, Student B began to elaborate on the story. Then, Student A began to question Student A about the characters, plot, and setting.
  • How about if we…
  • Is that really we want to happen?
  • Maybe the character is ….
  • Student A: I want to say something about… Student B begins typing a transitional phrase to introduce the plot twist.
  • I'm making this up on the spot here…
  • Student B: In real life, would he really do that? Student A: This isn't real life!
When I asked the teacher if this same process had been followed in past years, on paper, the answer was, "Yes, the students take turns drafting on paper and, they often have fun picking up where the other student leaves off." The teacher clarified that the revision process is definitely not the same. As a result, the teacher says that it is refreshing to see "how much the students enjoy the creative process when hand-writing is taken out of the process."

I continued to watch and take it all in. About three quarters of the way through the class, the teacher started telling pairs of students to return to what they had written and find the points at which a new paragraph should begin -- and press Enter. Then, each student was told to take responsibility for multiple paragraphs and begin to add detail. There was not a single moan or groan in the room! They began to add detail.

Did you notice what I just typed? They had to make revisions. They had to expand upon their writing. They had to edit. And they didn't complain.

Although on the surface, it didn't seem like a big deal, it was. These students were realizing the promise of technology in the writing process. Some were even having fun doing it.

What's next? The teacher will take a look at the text and determine what skills need to be addressed next week. Then, as they study literary devices, they'll begin to incorporate these devices into this living, breathing story. I hope I get invited back to watch the stories develop.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Expectations - Defined, Communicated, and Reinforced

Expectations need to be clearly defined, communicated, and reinforced. In order for teachers to design and implement lessons that make the best use of digital tools, they need to participate in the development of district expectations and understand the implications on instructional practice. 

Teachers should be asking:
  • What does this look like?
  • What will my principal look for when he/she visits my class?
  • How can I take advantage of these tools to personalize learning, differentiate instruction, and assess for learning?
Teachers are wondering: 
Some teachers feel like every use of technology
is the equivalent of scaling a skyscraper.
  • Why are we using technology? 
  • What does a 1:1 look like? 
  • Do you think the students should be using their computers all day long? 
  • Must they take notes on the computer?
  • Will students use digital tools for reading, writing, speaking, and listening in all content areas? Or just in some?
  • You said that we should only use ____ (fill in the blank with Schoology, Google Classroom, Microsoft Teams, Canvas), does that mean we can't use other tools?
  • If you want us to use digital tools to promote critical thinking, are there tools that are better than others?
  • Do I have to use all the tools that are mentioned in PD? 
  • How much time do you expect me to spend planning for a lesson? Is there someone to help me?
  • Everyone talks about using technology for collaboration. Does that mean that my students will never talk with each other in class?
  • We have been teaching our students how to read using a variety of literacy strategies, which include marking up the text. Now you want to limit our printing, because everything is on-line. How are students supposed to use these strategies?
  • What do you mean we should have our students creating? If they create a PowerPoint, does that count? 
  • Students can look everything up now. Is that cheating?
  • Everyone says that our students should be solving authentic problems with the use of the technology. How can we fit that into our curriculum?
  • Why should they curate content? The textbook has curated it for them.
  • How can technology make communication more effective? People never talk to each other any more. 
Do you know the answers to these questions? Have your teachers been part of the conversation?  Have they seen success stories?

When the devices arrive, not everyone will be on board. In fact, a large percentage will be less-than-interested. How do you get all voices heard and limit the negativity? Do you need to bring someone in from outside to facilitate the conversation? Will your early adopters be the best persons to share their stories? Or does your culture not support that approach? Could your teachers visit another school to see what's happening right around the corner or across the state?

How will you define expectations? If you've already successfully set the stage, how did you agree upon expectations?

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The Impact of Coaches on Changing Practice in a 1:1

Research tells us that one-and-done professional development has very little impact. However, ongoing opportunities for job-embedded professional learning increase the chances of professional development changing instructional practice.  In a study done for the Pennsylvania Institute for Instructional Coaching (PIIC), teachers report that they have changed instructional practice as a result of instructional coaching.  Jim Knight's work suggests "that instructional coaching will increase the likelihood that teachers will use the practices with a higher degree of quality..." than teachers who simply attended a workshop.

What does an instructional technology coach do? In this video, Dianne Krause, an instructional technology specialist in the Wissahickon School District talks about her work. Although she does not have the title of instructional technology coach, Dianne's work reflects the Before/During/After cycle of consultation. In this interview, Dianne discusses how her role has evolved over the years - from one of showing teachers which button to push to one that focuses on collaborating with teachers on the effective use of technology. Dianne also talks about how "technology" is now more than just computers.

Sit back and enjoy Dianne's enthusiasm for the next 5 minutes.



Aguilar, Elena. (2013). How Coaching Can Impact Teachers, Principals, And Students. Retrieved from

Charner, I., & Mean, Monica.  (2016). Key Findings from The Pennsylvania Institute for Instructional Coaching (PIIC) Teacher and Coach Survey Report.  Retrieved from

Knight, Jim and Jake Cornett (n.d.) “Studying the Impact of Instructional Coaching.” University of Kansas, Center for Research on Learning.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Administrators: Setting the Vision

If change in instructional practice is going to happen, there are a series of questions that administrators and teachers must always keep in mind.

Let's start with the vision.
As instructional leaders, administrators set the vision. They must ask:
  • Why are we providing students with access to these tools?
  • How are we providing teachers with opportunities for the right professional learning?
  • What outcomes do we expect as a result of this investment?
  • How do we expect systemic change to happen?
  • What are the milestones we expect to see along the way?
Why are we providing these tools? 
  • Is it because all the other districts are doing it? If so, that's not a good answer.
  • Is it because we think it's the right thing to do, but we're not sure why. If so, thanks for being honest. Now it's time to think about the remaining questions! 
  • Is it because they will be using them upon graduation? If so, how will they be using them? Are we preparing them for that world by using technology for authentic purposes? 
  • Is it because they don't have the tools at home? If so, are we providing opportunities for students to do meaningful homework and ongoing projects for which the use of technology is necessary?
  • Is it because collaboration and communication are done more effectively using technology?
  • Is it because technology is essential for doing things never before imaginable?
  • Is it because creating new ideas means access to the most up-to-date sources and resources?
How are we providing ongoing, effective, professional learning opportunities for our teachers?
  • Do we have an instructional coach? Is that coach focused only on technology? Or is the coach someone who is focused on working with teachers to change instructional practice through the use of innovative instructional strategies? Then, when technology fits, is the coach there to support the teacher in using it?
  • When formal PD is offered, are teachers given the time to implement it and reflect on its use?
  • Do teachers have an opportunity to work regularly with other teachers?
  • Do teachers have a voice on how they want and need to use PLC time? Are they given opportunities to share what they have explored during PLC time?
  • How are teachers sharing their successes - and challenges - with instructional technology?
  • Are teachers encouraged to use technology as part of their professional planning, organizing, and communication? 
  • Do we model the effective use of technology for teachers?
 This is a big investment. What outcomes do we expect?
  • Increased test scores? You're probably looking at the wrong approach. Technology, in and of itself, is not going to increase test scores. Keep thinking.
  • Every student will be taking notes on a computer. Take a look at the research. Unless you have devices that allow your students to take notes using a stylus (one that feels like a pen or pencil and allows them to rest their hand on the screen), the neurons that we want to fire are not going to fire. Come to think of it,  are you still providing keyboarding classes? Research also says that the best way to take notes is the way that lets you process the information most quickly. So, if your students type more quickly than they write, go for it.
  • Formative assessment tools with immediate access to data. Woohoo! Yes, that is doable. 
  • Processing of content. My goodness, yes! There are so many tools available for students to read, write, speak and listen about the content they are learning.
  • Collaboration and communication - at its finest! Students can work together in person or remotely. They can communicate a message in ways never before possible - and on a timeline that still amazes me.
  • Creating is the highest level of the revised Bloom's Taxonomy, so you want them creating. Awesome! What are they creating? Movies? Podcasts? Online books? Apps for phones? Are they using this technology to design, plan, produce, animate, or publish? Create does not mean build a bulleted PowerPoint presentation. However, they could use PowerPoint, Prezi, or Keynote to effectively communicate about their creation and to explain their understanding of a topic as well as their process for applying, analyzing and evaluating their research.
How do we expect systemic change to happen?
  • What is the superintendent's role?
  • What is the role of district-level administration?
  • What is the principal's role?
  • What is the assistant principal's role?
  • What is the teacher's role?
  • What is the student's role?
  • What is the parents' role?

What are the milestones you expect to see?
  • Be practical. What do we expect to see by the end of the first year? The second year? The third year? Use backward design. If we want this to happen by June, what do we need to be doing by April, by January, by November, and at the start of the school year? 
  • How will we communicate these milestones? How will we get buy-in by all those involved?

This is no small investment - in time, effort, money, student learning. Take the time to think it through. Want to talk about it? Reach out. Let's talk.