Support: What’s Your Definition?

My head has been spinning lately. I’m approaching the end of my admin licensure program and I’m in year two of a new position at my school. Year one was easy: make some simple changes and get big results. Year two is a different story. A very different story.

I’ll spare you all the details that have made this year a challenging one, but one thing that has come up over and over in the past few months is the idea that administrators need to support teachers. I don’t disagree. Everyone wants to be supported in their work, particularly teachers because teaching is hard.

But I’m starting to wonder if perhaps teachers and administrators are working off of different definitions of the word support. The dictionary says that support means “to bear or hold up, to sustain or withstand without givingway, to undergo or endure, to sustain, to maintain.” For what it’s worth, it also lists some synonyms for support: to suffer, bear, stand, or stomach. I’ve worked with some colleagues over the years where I’m sure my principal felt like those words were more applicable in dealing with them. ūüôā

I posted a question about this on my Facebook profile a couple of months ago. The responses were not identical, but there were definitely some trends. Most of the answers centered around the things that principals can do to make their teachers feel warm and fuzzy: writing them notes, asking about their weekend, being visible in classrooms, etc. Some also talked about their administrator defending them to parents or other stakeholders.

One concern I hear a lot from teachers is that they don’t get much feedback in their day to day. For me, once I achieved tenure in the district, I got observed (and thus got formal feedback) once every three years. If you ballpark that each school year runs about 180 days, that means my principal saw me teach and gave me feedback on approximately 0.2 percent of the time. Not even one percent! In fairness, this was the system we were expected to work in and my principal was actually in my classroom more than once every three years. Many of my non-teacher friends get evaluated annually; people who stock shelves in a retail store get feedback once a year but people educating our kids don’t? (No offense to retail folks! My point is that teachers need more feedback.)

So, if a teacher definition of support means connecting with them and telling them they did a good job, is that it? And does that work for everyone? And if a principal does those things, does that still allow them to have hard conversations when necessary and give critical feedback as well? Are there other necessary elements of the teacher-principal relationship that are missing.

What else do you need from your administrator?

Jump Start Your Workout (And Your Classroom)!

A couple of months ago, I started working out again. I’m one of those people who works out a lot for a few weeks, then loses interest and doesn’t work out for six months. It wasn’t a New Year’s thing; I started in December instead of with everyone else in January. It wasn’t a weight loss thing either; I just wanted to be healthy and strong.

Part of being successful and consistent in working out is finding a routine that works for the individual. Some people are early morning gym rats like my husband. Others race to the gym after work before picking up the kids. Neither of those worked for me. I found my best time is right after putting my son to bed. I’m awake, I have energy, and nobody else can bug me.

I also had to discover that I hate cardio.¬†Well, I already knew that actually, but I found out that what I really enjoy is lifting weights. Not only that, but just walking or jogging here and there didn’t give me the results I wanted. Now, I still get some cardio mixed in there, but my program is much heavier on weights than anything else. And you know what? My body is not¬†the same as when I started. Most people probably don’t notice, but I notice a difference in how I look and (more importantly) how I feel.

Anyone who has ever tried to lose weight or get in shape will tell you that they struggle with plateaus, those points where they seem to stop making progress. No matter what they do, they can’t seem to lose another pound. The body has gotten used to whatever it is they were doing and has refused to budge. Many trainers recommend cross training and changing things up to continue to see results. Surprise the body with changed routines and it will respond.

In many ways, teaching is the same. It’s easy to fall into the same “plateau effect” where things might feel in control but aren’t really going anywhere. While it’s okay to pause to take a breath during those times, it’s dangerous to get comfortable there. Just like we have to surprise our body with new workouts or foods to jump start our metabolism, we have to jump start our teaching with new ideas and strategies to keep us moving forward.

Teaching on autopilot and expecting results is the same as those people you see at the gym who do the elliptical on a low speed while reading a magazine. Yes, they’re moving, but if they’re really trying to improve, they’re going to have to be on that thing 24 hours a day. Yes, your kids are learning something, but are you really making progress?

If we don’t defeat the plateau in the gym, we keep those last ten pounds in perpetuity. If we don’t defeat it in the classroom, we keep our kids from reaching their highest potential. But remember, just like we can’t just keep doing the same thing in our workout routine and expect to see results, we can’t keep doing the same with our students. If you’re not seeing the results you want, change your routine.

What’s the “ten pounds” in your classroom? What are you hanging on to even though it isn’t working? Take a hard look at what you do in your classroom (and your workout) and only keep what is truly effective. The next time you plan a lesson, stop and think: what am I trying to accomplish and is this the most effective way to get there?

For the record, those are not my arms in the photo. Maybe someday?

MMEA Resources

Here are the resources from the three sessions I’m presenting at the MMEA Mid-Winter Clinic this week:






Wise Words from the Wayward Son

Those of you who know me personally, know my musical tastes are very eclectic. My favorite time to listen to music is in the morning while I’m getting ready. In any given week, you could hear anything from “Piano Man” to Pitbull coming through the door. Earlier this week, my Spotify mix featured the classic tune “Carry on My Wayward Son” by Kansas¬†(I’ll pause while you get that one¬†stuck in your head).

I’ve listened to that song hundreds of times before and I know most of the lyrics, but for some reason I heard a new line this time. In the second verse, the line goes, “And if I claim to be a wise man, it surely means that I don’t know.” This struck me because of everything I’ve been reading, thinking about, and working through the past few weeks.

A couple of weeks ago, I traveled to Stone Mountain, Georgia (home of 30 Rock‘s Kenneth Parcell), for a training dealing with building capacity in teachers. The biggest priority for these trainers was building awareness and reflective ability on the part of the teacher. They described four stages that the reflective practitioner goes through as they develop.

We begin as unaware teachers, practitioners who are doing the best we can with what we currently know. We aren’t aware that there are more efficient ways to do things, better ways to get our kids to learn. As we progress through the next stages, we (hopefully) ultimately end at the refinement stage. This is the “sweet spot” of teaching and learning. Refinement teachers are responsive to their students and their curriculum and can pivot on a dime to adapt to their needs right then in the moment. Every child gets what s/he needs when they need it.

As you can imagine, this takes time and practice to get to this point. It’s important to note, however, that the four stages of reflective practice don’t exactly correlate to years in the profession. I’ve worked with first year teachers who are closer to refinement than some twenty year veterans. It really comes down to how intentional we are in the classroom.

So, back to my bathroom jam. What struck me the most about the lyric was that it reminded me of so many teachers I’ve worked with over the years. The teachers who we view as “experts” often doubt their own expertise. They are constantly growing, learning, changing despite getting better results than many of their colleagues. On the other hand, the teachers that self-identify as¬†experts, or perhaps more accurately, see expertise as an “arrival point” rather than a state of mind, often have much more work to do.

Nobody’s perfect, especially teachers who are fighting an uphill battle to educate children despite difficult home lives, unreliable political climates, and full moon/lunar eclipses/barometric pressure changes. Every year is a new battle with new players and new challenges. None of us can afford to get complacent and think what we’re doing is “good enough.”

I challenge you to find an area, no matter how small, where your teaching could improve and take some solid steps to go there. Not sure where to start? Find a coach, a principal, a colleague who you can process with. Have them watch you teach and give feedback. Pay extra attention to your students and see what needs you discover.

And then go listen to some sweet tunes and dance in your bathroom…

Preparing For That First Year

Think back to your first year of teaching. ¬†For some of you, it’s an easy request as it wasn’t long ago. ¬†For others, you may have to dig in the memory a bit. ¬†I don’t remember my first day of teaching,¬†probably because it was a nerve-wracking blur. ¬†I do remember highlights, though, and that will suffice for now.

As I write this, I’m taking a break from planning a new teacher induction program. ¬†My job is to take brand new baby teachers and help them have a successful first year (and hopefully come back for a second). ¬†I’m calling on a lot of my own knowledge of things that were good and not so good from my own first year (perhaps it’s fortunate¬†my first year wasn’t that great, so I have lots of ideas for what NOT to do), but I’m also consulting outside sources.

One such book is called Your First Year: How to Survive and Thrive as a New Teacher, written by Todd Whitaker along with his two teacher daughters (Whitaker is also the author of books like What Connected Educators Do Differently, School Culture Rewired, and a handful of books talking about what great teachers, principals and others do differently).  The book is a quick read (a must for me) and gives some pretty solid advice for newbies to the profession about how to not only survive but even thrive in the first year of this crazy job.

The authors give a great deal of emphasis to relationship building and classroom management for the new teacher and spend very little time talking about curriculum and instruction. ¬†While some might see this as odd, I think it’s brilliant. ¬†Not that teachers don’t need to plan great lessons (actually, they do), but if you don’t have the respect and cooperation of your students, you can’t expect much magic to happen in that classroom.

Behavior management is one of the most difficult things for first year teachers, though I actually like to think of it as behavior¬†prevention instead. ¬†If I invest time up front with structure, procedures, and respect (not necessarily in that order), I will have very little behavior to “manage.” ¬†There was a running joke between¬†my behavior para and I when I was in the classroom that if I ever sent a student to the office, they must have really screwed up in class! ¬†There were many years I could count the number of students I removed from class on my two hands. ¬†And that¬†was¬†teaching 400 kids each week.

Why? ¬†Because I had routines in place for students to follow so they knew what to do most of the time. ¬†I had lessons planned that kept my students moving and engaged to keep them from having down time (what’s the saying about idle hands….?). ¬†My students knew if they messed up in class, I wasn’t going to tolerate it but I would let them try again when they had pulled themselves back together.

I know the time I have with these new teachers is invaluable.  I also know their minds will be spinning a hundred miles an hour with excitement, anticipation, and honest to goodness fear as they think about everything that is coming their way.  What do I leave them with that is a good use of their time and helps start the year off on the right foot?

What do they need to hear in August and what can wait until later in the year?  How do we give them as much information as possible while not making their brains explode (in a bad way)?  But how do we make their brains explode in a good way because of all of the mind-blowing discussion or ideas?

I’ll be tackling some of those questions and others over the next few weeks. ¬†In the mean time, what would have been the most helpful for you in that first week as a new teacher?


Note: Clicking on any of the links in this blog post will take you to for purchase. 

Happy Birthday, Twitter!

Though it seems hard to believe, Twitter is officially a decade old! Ten years ago today the first tweet was sent and the rest, as they say, is history. According to some quick Google searching, there are roughly 320 million people using Twitter as of 2016. Crazy, no?  Even crazier still, another site estimates that roughly 500 million tweets are sent EVERY DAY. Mind blowing!

For myself, I’ve technically had a Twitter account since 2008, but have only been actively using it for just over a year. In that time, I’ve added over 800 followers (most of which are educators) and followed over 900. I’ve made so many new edu-friends that I’d have lost count if it weren’t for that handy little counter on my profile. And the amount of knowledge I’ve gained in such a short time from the fabulous people? Immeasurable!

My second year of teaching (2007)

My second year of teaching (2007)

When I think back ten years ago, Twitter was just in its infancy and so was I. Not as a¬†person, obviously, but as an educator. My teaching career turns ten this year as well. Back then, I was a brand new grad ready for my first job. I spent that first year as a middle school choir teacher, and let’s just say the experience was not exactly a highlight of my career.

Many things have changed since then. I escaped the middle school hormones and spent the next eight years teaching elementary music. I earned a master’s degree, another teaching license, and dozens of post-graduate credits. And now I’ve spent almost a year as a technology integration specialist.

If you had told 2006 me that that’s the path my career would take, I’m not sure I would have believed you. ¬†So what, then, about the next ten years? As someone who wasn’t sure she’d make it to year ten, now we’re talking year twenty?!

I have no clue as to what the future holds. Will I still be in education? Still working with technology? I can’t even possibly imagine what technology could look like ten years from now, though I’m excited about the potential.

Or who knows? Maybe I’ll be off traveling the world on my yacht after my startup/book/blog/____ hits the big time… ¬†ūüėČ

Beginning to Power Up – Prepping for a 1:1 Rollout

Many districts have made the move toward 1:1 device access for their students. ¬†This can look different in every district; what devices are used, what ages of students are involved, whether students take devices home, and other variables make each 1:1 deployment unique. ¬†Because of these differences, there really can’t be a “one size fits all” handbook when it comes to starting this type of program. ¬†There are, however, books available now that try to provide some guidance and answers for teachers and districts as they navigate this new frontier.

Power Up: Making the Shift to 1:1 Teaching and Learning, written by Jen Roberts and Diana Neebe, does just that.  Both authors are teachers who have experience teaching with 1:1 access for their students.  While their two teaching assignments and 1:1 programs do not look alike, these differences allow them to provide more varied examples for teachers to learn from.

I just picked up this book for my Kindle a few weeks ago and finally had a chance to start digging in. ¬†I’m about a quarter of the way through it, so I’m certainly no expert. ¬†But I work in a district about to embark on its 1:1 journey and thought it might be a helpful resource. ¬†So far, I have quite pleased and plan to share many of the ideas in the book with the teachers I support.

The first thing I love most about the book is that it is written by teachers. ¬†The book is accessible and because you know the authors are “in the trenches,” it gives them much more credibility. ¬†They are also very honest with their experience. ¬†They aren’t preaching for teachers to change their entire curriculum in the first year and they don’t claim it will be easy, but they do provide some valuable tips for teachers to make things easier that they themselves learned along the way.

I also appreciate the abundance of ideas for class activities and assessments they share throughout the book.  They provide a longer example to begin with, but then share snippets of additional assignments that teachers may choose to use instead.  This is particularly helpful for teachers who are new to integrating technology and helps to get their minds spinning about all of the possibilities.

One wish I would have for the book so far is that I would love to see more examples for younger grades.  Both Neebe and Roberts are secondary level teachers, come with a wealth of experience, and their ideas in many cases could still be modified for younger students.  Still, as someone who has spent the majority of their career in K-5 settings, I would appreciate more examples of ideas for successful 1:1 implementation with those students.

I’m excited to continue reading the book and look forward to sharing more learning!

Out With The Old…

Think about your favorite lesson to teach. ¬†We’ve all got at least one; the one we look most forward to teaching every year and can’t wait to dust off. ¬†When did you first start teaching that lesson? ¬†Last year? ¬†Five years ago? ¬†More?

Does the lesson look the same now as when you started teaching it or have you made changes? ¬†Most likely, the first time you taught it, there were some bugs. ¬†Maybe a direction was unclear or there was a step missing that, once added, made the student’s work go much more smoothly. ¬†The great part about accumulating experience is that we get the opportunity to revise our work and continually make it better.

Here’s the thing though. ¬†If that favorite lesson is more than, say, five years old, there are so many things we’ve learned about learning and teaching that your lesson is most likely in need of a revamp (and very possible that it might even if it’s newer than that). ¬†Much research has shown us that the way many of us were taught is actually relatively ineffective. ¬†That’s not to say we didn’t have great teachers; in fact, it’s likely one of those great teachers who inspired you to pursue this career in the first place. ¬†Even our best educators need to update their material once and awhile.

Think of it this way: how¬†likely would you be to go to a doctor who hadn’t gone to a single medical conference or medical practice seminar in the past twenty years? ¬†Would you want them using outdated medical tools, practices, and procedures on you or your loved one? ¬†Of course not! ¬†With medicine, we want the most up to date knowledge so we can care for our health effectively.

Education is very similar. ¬†Though the stakes may not seem quite as high as in medicine, using practices that don’t support what we know about how students learn actually makes it that much more difficult for our students to learn. ¬†We need to use what we’ve learned about education to make better choices.

Before you teach your next unit or lesson, consider the following images:

What do you notice? ¬†What do they have in common? ¬†All of them shift the focus from the teacher as knowledge bearer/giver and student as passive receiver to a model where the students are actively learning with the teacher as facilitator or guide. ¬†You’ll also notice that there is an increase emphasis on personalizing learning for the student (and using technology to help with this as needed). ¬†Kids don’t need the same things, so they don’t get the same things (I will grant that this gets a little stickier¬†to understand¬†when we have a push in education for “standardizing” everything – more on this in a later post). ¬†In the 21st century classroom, the teacher’s role becomes more of a coach, guiding kids to the outcomes while pushing them to do the real “work” of learning.

I hear a lot of teachers argue that these ideas don’t match what was when they attended, and they’re right. ¬†Schools in years past prepared students for jobs that already existed. But schools today must prepare students for jobs that can’t even be imagined yet. Kids today have unprecedented amount of knowledge at their fingertips within seconds. That changes the type of information they need to know going forward, and the type of skills they need to have to be successful after graduation.

This is a hard concept for some¬†teachers to get behind. We are trained to be in charge of the classroom and make all of the decisions about student learning. ¬†But don’t worry; giving students choices is not the same as letting them be in charge (My two-year-old gets to make choices, too, but he is certainly not in charge). ¬†In fact, I would argue that allowing for student voice and choice actually requires¬†better classroom management skills because those things can only happen within a strong classroom structure so students can feel safe and free to learn and explore.

Again, remember we are preparing students for life after our classroom. ¬†Life is full of¬†making choices. ¬†If we want our students to make good ones in the real world, they need practice. ¬†And what better place to practice making decisions that probably aren’t life altering than in the classroom with the support of a great teacher/coach?

These changes likely won’t happen overnight. ¬†I don’t expect you to overhaul your entire curriculum over the weekend. ¬†But as you sit down to plan your next week, consider the following and see where you can make a tweak or two:

  • Is there room in your lesson plan for a chance for students to make a choice or two?
  • How can you allow them to be creative, collaborative, critical thinkers with strong communication skills?
  • How can you provide differentiated learning for students of varying ability or readiness levels?
  • If your lesson includes lecture, how can you shorten, minimize, or toss it out altogether for something more engaging?

You just mind find your changes addicting.  I can guarantee your students will!


Voxer: Professional Development in Your Pocket!

Many educators out there have been touting the merits of social media sites like Facebook and Twitter for connecting with fellow educators for promoting ongoing learning and development. ¬†I agree with them, and I’d like to add another app to the list: Voxer. ¬†It’s a free website as well as an app for iOS and Android and it will literally change your professional life.

Voxer is essentially a walkie-talkie where you can either listen to people talk in real time or hear their recorded messages later.  Messages can be sent to individual people or multiple users can send messages back and forth in a group conversation.  The result?  You can listen to colleagues from around the globe asking questions, providing solutions, and offering support in real time.

I discovered Voxer a few months back after joining in on some Twitter chats with some fellow Minnesota educators. ¬†I was added to the group and at first I wasn’t sure if I liked it. ¬†Then I was added to¬†another group that made me almost give up Voxer entirely – the group was huge and I couldn’t keep up with the messages! ¬†But then I found the #TOSAchat group and it has been the best thing that has happened to me as an educator!

The group is active, but they make it okay to come and go as you please. ¬†We use a hashtag system, which allows users to know the topic of the message so you can skip over it if it doesn’t apply to or interest you (this was me when some of them were talking about some standardized testing issues in California when I’m in Minnesota).

Just like Twitter, some people actively participate in the voice chats, while others prefer to listen and lurk. ¬†You can record voice messages or you can write text messages. ¬†You can like another person’s message and you can forward them to a variety of other apps to store them for later reference.

I take advantage of my commute time by listening to Voxer messages while I drive. ¬†Time that would normally be “wasted” in the car is now time I use to enhance my practice and connect with other educators. ¬†No other social media can do that! ¬†Others listen during breaks during the day, others at night during Twitter chats. ¬†Because you can listen to messages any time, you can hop in and out as you please.

Have a question? Throw out a message in the morning and you’ll likely have a response later that day. ¬†Just need to vent? ¬†Throw out an “edu-rant” and get support from like-minded colleagues. ¬†Want to celebrate a major “edu-win?” ¬†Share it with your pocket pals who will be more than happy to celebrate with you!

The friends I have made and connected with the past few months have literally changed my life. ¬†Being the only TOSA in my district can be a lonely life sometimes, but I know I’m not on my own because I have an entire network of fellow coaches in my phone who support and challenge me to grow every single day.

Your first step is installing the app and creating an account. ¬†Next, you need to find the right group. ¬†I have seen lists floating around Twitter of all kinds of groups around a variety of topics. ¬†Many times Twitter chats will also have a Voxer group on the side for continued discussion. ¬†If you’re having a having trouble finding a group, reach out to me on Twitter (@halversonandrea) and I will try to help you find a group that meets your needs.

Give Screencasting a Try!

A lot of teachers ask me what my top tech tool is. ¬†It’s like desert island for geeks: what one tool could you not live without if you were stranded with only one thing? ¬†While it’s hard to narrow down, I think my answer right now would have to be the screencast. ¬†They can be used by any teacher at any level and be extremely effective and efficient when done well.

What is a screencast? ¬†Basically, it’s where you record what’s happening on your screen (a broadcast of your computer), usually with some sort of audio recording. ¬†Some screencasting tools also allow you to record a web cam as well, meaning you can also see the person doing the recording while you watch. ¬†Screencasts can be created on virtually any device, though some particular screen recorders work better on particular platforms.

Screencasts have a tremendous amount of value in the classroom!  A common use of screencasting is to operate in a flipped classroom model.  The teacher records a video segment teaching a lesson, the students watch the video as homework, then the teacher helps the students work through problems and questions the next day in class.  The lecture moves outside the school day and the in class time is spent working directly with students.

Screencasts can also be helpful when planning for a substitute. ¬†I used to love creating screencasts for when I knew I was going to be gone. ¬†When I was teaching a class, I couldn’t always count on getting a substitute who knew my content, but I always had someone that could click a link or press play. ¬†I could leave directions for a particular activity or process, record a greeting for the class, or explain difficult concepts that my students needed to know about in my absence.

Or what about students who are absent? ¬†How many times have you had to sit down with a student and reteach an entire lesson because they missed it? ¬†Or a student who was in class but just hasn’t quite grasped the material yet. ¬†Both of these students can stay in the classroom, watch the video on some kind of device, and then be ready to join back in with the rest of the class. ¬†The teacher, meanwhile, is free to move around the room helping other students working in real time.

Students can also use screencasts to show what they know.  Want kids to explain a process and show you they understand?  Have them create a screencast where they walk through their knowledge, hopefully with visuals of some kind.  Want your students to do a slideshow of some kind but not want to sit through 30+ presentations?  Have them create a Google slideshow then record a screencast to talk through their presentation.  Then have students share their videos for the teacher and their classmates to view.

My favorite screencasting tool by far is Camtasia.  You can pause recording, edit out mistakes and add so many fancy features to make your videos look amazing.  But for the beginner screencaster, I would recommend checking out Screencast-o-Matic, Screencastify, or Snagit.  The last three products are free; Screencast-o-Matic works best on computers (Mac or PC) and the other two both work on the Chrome browser (Mac, PC, or Chromebooks).

Never made a screencast before? ¬†One tip¬†is to plan out your video ahead of time. ¬†Have any windows open that you need and are ready to go rather than having to wait for software to load. ¬†Make sure you have a quiet environment where you won’t be disturbed; this helps keep you from having to edit your video or re-record later. ¬†Finally, keep your videos SHORT! Screencasts are generally more successful¬†when they are less than five minutes, but even better when they are less than three. ¬†Consider chunking your content into smaller bits to allow you to record shorter videos. ¬†You will appreciate it when you are recording the videos (and so will your viewers).

Have you tried recording a screencast before?  How have you used it in your classroom?

Overwhelmed by Social Media? Meet Nuzzel!

One of the comments I hear from teachers all the time, particularly if they are new to social media, is how they feel overwhelmed by the sheer amounts of information that can flood your news feed every day. ¬†I’ve often heard it described as trying to take a drink from a fire hose. ¬†I’d say that expression is generally pretty accurate.

The best way to get connected and really learn from others is to follow a lot of people. ¬†When you don’t follow many people, you don’t see as much in your news feed. ¬†On the other hand, once you start down that road, it can become impossible to read everything that comes into your feed.

Some Twitter fans use other sites or apps like Tweetdeck or Hootsuite to organize their feed into different lists or groups, but I’ve never really had much success with that. ¬†I know I won’t be able to see and read everything, but I’ve always felt like I have been¬†missing good information that could really benefit me as an educator.

Enter Nuzzel!  One of my fabulous #TOSAchat colleagues introduced it to me last week and it has CHANGED the way I do social media, particularly Twitter.  Available for both iOS and Android, Nuzzel is an app that shows you the most relevant tweets from a given time period, such as the past 24 hours.

Not only that, but it tell you how many of your¬†social media friends have shared it. ¬†Now you can know exactly what everyone is talking about (or tweeting about) because it shows up first on the list. ¬†You can view the tweet (or connected blog post), share it out again on social media, or export it anywhere (like Evernote where I personally like to store info for later reference – see blog post about Evernote). ¬†There’s also a “friends of friends” screen so I can expand my search out to beyond just my own Twitter circle.

I can still go back to Twitter any time I want and take a sip from the firehose, but Nuzzel allows me to focus my searching and see the best of what’s out there with just a few taps on my phone! ¬†Almost everything I’ve read through Nuzzel has been worth retweeting because it has been just that good. ¬†If you tweet, you MUST use Nuzzel!

Nuzzel Website

Nuzzel for Android

Nuzzel for iOS

Start Asking Why

Why? ¬†I have several friends who have three-year-olds that seem to do nothing but ask this question all day. ¬†It is probably their least favorite word in the entire dictionary. ¬†But the word “why” is powerful, when used in right way.

Toddlers ask why because they are curious. ¬†They want to understand everything around them and they’re trying to make it fit into their existing world view. ¬†Eventually, though, they grow out of this phase. ¬†By the time they hit school age, they are likely still curious, but it isn’t the only word out of their mouth. ¬†By the time many of them get to¬†high school, the only time they likely ask “why” is when an adult is telling them to do something.

What about teachers?  Do we ask why?  I would say that we do, similar to the high schooler above, when administration or some other authoritative body tells us to do something (think one size fits all professional development or state-mandated testing).  But what about in the classroom?  Do you ever ask your students why?

Today I read an article about some new ideas in teaching mathematics (read it here). ¬†The first strategy the author mentions for changing how we teach is asking students why. ¬†In this case, the teacher is specifically asking why students think a certain way¬†or¬†why their answer works or doesn’t. ¬†They don’t just look for the answer, because the answer doesn’t reveal anything about how the students got there. ¬†It could have just been a lucky guess.

If students know that when they give an answer the word from the teacher will be¬†“why,” it forces them to pay attention to their work and be more thoughtful in their response. ¬†This likely won’t happen the first few times, but eventually the students will start thinking in this way and will be able to articulate the why behind their thoughts.

Why is important for teachers, too. ¬†It’s easy to ask when something is being asked of us or imposed upon us. ¬†But what about the things we put upon ourselves? ¬†How much of what you do in the classroom is of your own choice and how much is dictated by others? ¬†The answers to that question will vary greatly depending on the teacher, school, and district, but the fact remains that some teachers do a great many things that nobody is forcing them to do.

Simon Sinek’s 2011 book,¬†Start With Why, talks about how the “why” is one of the most important aspects of a successful corporation (and, I would argue, school). ¬†Everything we say and do should tie back into our inner “why,” that part that really resonates with who we are. ¬†Everything else is distracting background noise.

About five years ago, I remember standing in an Office Max with a friend during workshop week and she was worrying about her to-do list she hadn’t completed and open house was later that evening. ¬†One particular item of concern was a magnet that she had intended to print out for every family that included her contact info. ¬†When I asked why she was worrying about it, she told me¬†she had always done it and the parents would be disappointed if she didn’t do it this year. ¬†Really? ¬†Unless she had retained a student from a previous year, I was pretty sure that no parent would ever notice or care. ¬†So who was this really for?

If you work in a school, your “why” is likely to do what’s best for kids. ¬†At least I hope it is. ¬†And if it is, then your decisions become fairly simple. ¬†Does a magnet with all of your contact info really help kids learn better? ¬†What about creating new bulletin board displays every month? ¬†What about grading¬†every single homework assignment you give them?

None of these things are inherently bad. ¬†I’m sure there were some parents that appreciated the contact info magnet. ¬†But is it worth stressing yourself out over in a week where you’re already incredibly busy?

I’d challenge you to start asking your students why every day. ¬†You might be surprised at how insightful they are. ¬†And maybe, every once in awhile, you might take a look at your own practice and ask why. ¬†Keep those things that are absolutely vital to making learning happen for kids. ¬†If you have time for more, by all means go ahead. ¬†But be okay to take those things off your plate that don’t fit with your why.

I Get to Be a Clinician?!

Five years ago, I had never presented at a conference before. I had led staff development sessions and training in my own school, but never on a bigger stage. But some music teacher friends of mine were hosting the regional conference for MKMEA ( in Columbus, Ohio, and they encouraged me to submit a session proposal. I put together a session about using technology to enhance music advocacy in the classroom and community. I was excited, but really nervous as I had never done anything like this before.

The first session went well. The feedback I got from participants was generally positive. They were excited to have someone who knew both music content and technology skills who could blend the two seamlessly. If I had to pinpoint any negatives about the first experience, it was that my session was scheduled at the same time as a couple of my friends, which meant we couldn’t be there to support each other.

Fast forward to 2016. I’ve presented at a few different conferences and I’m now working in technology full time. I don’t really get too nervous before sessions if I’ve had time to prepare ahead of time. I’ve even been thrown in as a presenter the day before a workshop and made it work. I often propose multiple sessions to present when I’m planning to attend a conference.

But yesterday, I had another first. I received an email from a music group inviting me to be a clinician in their 2016-2017 workshop series. I’ve never been asked to do this before, and I’m extremely excited. I feel honored and validated that someone values my work enough to invite me to come share my ideas with other people. I can’t wait to work out all of the details and start to plan the session that I will share with the excited music educators in their group.

And in true karmic fashion, the workshop will be in Columbus.

Shoving New Ideas Into the Old Box

This past week, I virtually attended #FlipCon15. I’d never been before and didn’t know much about it, but the idea of a virtual conference intrigued me. What isn’t to love about learning new stuff while sitting on the couch in your pajamas?

The idea of flipping your classroom isn’t exactly new (FlipCon15 is the 8th annual conference), but the idea is novel for many teachers. It was great to see so many teachers attending a professional development event dedicated to such a new way of teaching. I forget the exact number, but I know there were hundreds of teachers in attendance, live and virtually, from around the world.

Pretty cool, right? Yeah, mostly. Except I found myself getting frustrated as I was listening to many of the attendees’ questions during the sessions. Questions like:

  • “How do you do grading?”
  • “What about extra credit?”
  • “What about cell phones in class?”
  • “What about kids who are unmotivated?”

I actually overheard someone in a session at #ISTE2015 say, “Wait, so you just expect kids to learn stuff from your video?” Um, yep. That’s kind of the point. Did you read the session description?

Now, there’s nothing inherently wrong with these questions themselves, but I fear the teachers asking them are missing the boat. The idea of flipped learning forces teachers to think about teaching and learning in a whole new way. ¬†Gone are the days of standing in front of the class lecturing for the entire period and expecting students to just “get it.” ¬†To me, part of the point of flipped learning is to get the lecture part out of the way so you can work more in depth with your kids and really help them where they struggle. ¬†Lecturing during class leaves little¬†time for that.

I think flipped learning also raises the bar for teachers. They have to be much more intentional about how they use their class time if the “instruction”¬†moves outside the classroom. ¬†Let’s face it, just about anyone can stand in the front of the room and lecture for 30 minutes. ¬†But think about your favorite teachers from your own school career: did any of them stand in the front and just lecture? ¬†I doubt it.

One of my favorite college music professors had a demonstration involving a rubber chicken and in another lesson provided words for Mozart’s Symphony 40 (It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s a Mozart…). ¬†I took this class over 10 years ago and I still remember those lessons¬†like I was a college sophomore again (Thanks, Dr. O!).

The teachers asking those questions are trying to fit the new information about flipped learning into the structure they already have in their head. ¬†But that’s exactly the problem. ¬†This isn’t what they already know. ¬†It’s a completely different way of¬†managing student learning in your classroom.

But what about grading? ¬†How¬†many points will students get for watching your video? ¬†What if they don’t do their homework? ¬†How can they earn extra credit? ¬†My answer: who cares? ¬†Will the world end if students do an assignment that isn’t graded? ¬†What if they’re given a choice about how they learn so they’re automatically motivated to do it instead of forced to or bribed with a grade?

So, what to do? ¬†In the words of Frozen, “Let it go!” ¬†Let go of the way you’ve always done things, even if it’s only for one lesson at first. ¬†Every presenter I heard at FlipCon said the same thing: they learned by trial and error. ¬†Even if they’d been to the conference before, they still made mistakes and improved along the way. ¬†But first and foremost, they paid attention to what their students needed.

Get out of the box. ¬†Kick it down the stairs and rip it to shreds. ¬†Instead of trying to figure out how to incorporate flipped learning (or anything else) into the old structure of how we “do school,” maybe start thinking about how to best reach kids with the time you have and let the rest fall into place as you go. ¬†Good luck!

Twitter for Schools: Tell Your Story

Right before school ended this past spring, I presented to my building colleagues about joining Twitter and using it to build their professional/personal learning network. ¬†A few of them joined, but I know most of them were in “OMGIjustneedtosurviveforafewmoreweeksuntilsummerbreak” mode¬†and weren’t ready for the information. ¬†So when I traveled to #ISTE2015, I saw a handful of sessions talking about using Twitter in education and I knew I wanted to check them out to get some tips about¬†using it more efficiently and how to get more teachers on board.

One session I attended, “Creating a 140 Character Culture: School-Wide Twitter Adoption,” talked¬†about using Twitter for personal use as a connected educator. ¬†More than that, they talked about how schools can and should use social media in general to tell their story and promote what they do. ¬†While some educators and administrators might think they don’t have time for social media or that it should be avoided for safety, public relations experts would disagree. ¬†There are many quotes out there all saying something to the effect of, “Tell your story so nobody else tells it for you.” ¬†This is becoming more and more important as schools are often the target of public scrutiny, and outsiders are quick to tell our story because we don’t advertise¬†what really goes on after the bell rings.

In addition to getting all teachers on board with social media, the presenters recommend using a schoolwide hashtag that everyone posting about the school can use.  This helps anyone searching for social media posts to find all of the good things going on at your school.  This could be done on the smallest level with only one or two teachers or it could grow to become building-wide.

Another reason the school hashtag is helpful is because of tools like TagBoard, TweetBeam, and TwitterFall.  TagBoard collects social media posts from various sites (includingTwitter, Facebook and Instagram) and collects them in one feed, so long as they use the specific hashtag.  The result?  A neat display of everything amazing happening at your school.  Some schools even use something like this on a display screen in the school, perhaps in the front office where parents and other visitors are waiting.


TagBoard pulls from many forms of social media

TwitterFall and TweetBeam are similar, but they have different visuals and so might be better suited for different types of displays. ¬†I particularly like the look of TweetBeam but there is a cost involved (TagBoard also charges for its “presentation mode” which is what schools would likely want to use for display purposes).

So create that hashtag and share it out!  Get teachers, students, and parents tweeting about all of the awesome things your school is doing.  What a great tool to promote your school!  Plus, how excited will your students be to see themselves pop up on a TweetBeam screen in the office?  I plan to get back on the Twitter bandwagon this fall and use some of these ideas with my new colleagues.  Hope to see some new hashtags popping up in my feed!