Saturday, October 31, 2015

Connecting With Colleagues #KidsDeserveIt

Today's guest post is from Clara Galan, a former middle school teacher and currently Community Manager at TenMarks (Amazon) and formerly at Remind.

“The most dangerous phrase in the English language is, ‘We’ve always done it that way.’” - Grace Hopper

Education, like many other public industries, relies heavily on tradition. As we watch new technologies transform spaces like transportation and communication, why is so much of education stuck in the same place it was during the Industrial Revolution?

Students sit in straight rows with set bells determining when they can study single subjects, when they can eat, and even when they can move! Unfortunately, we all know this system teaches students obedience and memorization, as opposed to independent critical thinking. As an adult, when was the last time you only used math, english, or science completely independent of one another? When was the last time you used a single textbook to learn information about a particular topic? Students are missing out on the skills that are absolutely necessary in the 21st century workforce.

As we end Connected Educators Month, I’d like to stress that one of the few ways teachers can prepare students for the challenges that lie ahead is through sharing and exploring best practices with one another. It may seem daunting to take on an entire educational system, but change can happen on the individual and local level, starting in your classroom. #KidsDeserveIt to be prepared for what lies ahead, and we all owe it to them for the future of innovation.

We’ve all been there -- Sitting in a crowded room listening to a district-led professional development powerpoint. The clock ticks as the anxious thoughts of lesson plans, grading, and assessments cloud your ability to concentrate. Professional development should be tailored to you and the unique needs of your class. As students learn from hands-on learning, teachers also need to be involved in directing their own PD:

Connecting Virtually

Although you may feel isolated in the walls of your classroom or school, there are so many educators out there who want to collaborate, share, and learn with you. In fact, these educators are just at your fingertips! All teachers are pressed for time, but it’s easy to take 5 minutes a day right on your device with these tools:


Twitter may be the most obvious tool to most connected educators, but it’s not obvious to the majority of teachers. I participate in a wide variety of Twitter chats, and I often find the same people participating and sharing. This is great for building close relationships and a tightly-knit professional learning network, but it can create a sounding board effect. The true question is, how do we get more teachers on Twitter? Being challenged by new ideas is an important part of learning, and those ideas often come from new faces. #KidsDeserveIt to have all of their teachers learning and sharing from one another, not just the one “tech-savvy” teacher at school who uses Twitter.

I encourage you to find one Twitter chat on this extensive list of educational Twitter chats that you’re not familiar with and connect with new educators. In addition, challenge your colleagues who have not used Twitter before to participate in one --- here’s even a helpful guide to help them get started on Twitter chat etiquette. Get the entire faculty to participate in a chat during your next faculty meeting -- what better way to get hands-on PD?

Educator Groups

Google has a fantastic list of Google Educator Groups for educators around the world. Join groups within your community, or an area of the world that you are interested in. Many of these groups also host in-person local events. If you have a gmail account, you can easily join with your Google+ account. Edutopia also has a vibrant online teacher community, which you can access through a free Edutopia account.

Video Chats

The future is here. We can now speak face-to-face with people across the world without having to move from our classrooms. It still never ceases to amaze me when I can instantly transport myself to a classroom in Barcelona or Hong Kong without leaving my desk in San Francisco. Not only are the following tools great for teachers, but they’re also great for students. If your class is studying another language or culture, why not bring it directly to them as opposed to learning about it in a stagnant text book? I encourage you to try Google Hangouts, Skype, and Blab and find which works best for you. You can also host conversations on air on Google Hangouts, Blab, or Periscope for other educators to tune in. Check out this latest virtual recorded EdCamp hosted by ClassDojo and TenMarks. During this event, teachers were able to participate in the comments section of the Google+ page and on Twitter with the specific hashtag #EduMindset. Also, see an example of a streamed Blab show by the #KidsDeserve it co-hosts Adam Welcome and Todd Nesloney. The best thing is, these conversations live on forever on YouTube!

Teacher-to-Teacher Chats

In addition to Twitter and video chats, there are several apps that enable quick teacher-to-teacher chats and voice recordings to share classroom strategies. When I was in the classroom, the only way I could approach colleagues was by getting on the classroom landline, sending an email, or approaching them in the faculty room. In reality, this is not very practical. See some of these free apps below to stay connected to your immediate colleagues and larger professional learning network:
  • Remind: Although Remind has traditionally been used by teachers to send quick messages and notifications to students and their families, there is now a teacher-to-teacher chat feature. If you and your colleagues are already on Remind, it’s a safe and simple way to connect.
  • Voxer: Voxer is a great way to send voice recordings and messages to small and large groups of teachers. Take a look at this post by Joe Mazza to see how more educators are using it!
  • Slack: Slack is being increasingly used by tech companies and nonprofits to stay connected. You can create different “channels” for various subjects or groups, and attach photos and files.

With all of these channels, be sure to establish some guidelines with your school or network to ensure balance. Unfortunately, it can become overwhelming and consuming when you’re trying to have dinner or spend time with your family and your phone is blowing up with notifications (I’ve been there). You, as the user, have the power to turn notifications on or off to your comfort level. Overall, these apps certainly make communication more productive than sending emails.


Lately, I’ve been loving following the #teachersfollowteachers and #teachersofinstagram hashtags. So many teachers are sharing photos of their classrooms that bring their work with students to life. Many focus on elementary school, but I sometimes find good nuggets for middle and high school as well.

Connecting Face to Face

Despite what some technology companies might tell you, reforming education isn’t about slapping a tablet or an app on a teacher’s desk. It’s about changing a mindset. Countering “We’ve always done it this way” is about exploring new methods of learning that meet student’s needs and help them to authentically understand, retain, analyze, and innovate. Of course, ensuring that students (and teachers) are competent in technology is important for this modern world, but tech is only a tool. It’s a tool that needs to support a mindset and human relationships.

Thus, it’s so important to meet with fellow educators and students face to face in collaborative settings. This can be a challenge amidst busy schedules, but both EdCamps and CoffeeEdus provide opportunities for teachers to step out of their classrooms and share with one another. The unstructured environment also gives teachers the freedom to discuss their class’ unique needs, as opposed to a district-led one-size-fits all model.

Technology should support our human relationships and interactions, not replace them. I can’t tell you how many times a colleague sitting directly next to me has slacked me or sent me a Google Hangouts message. It’s a little absurd.

Collaborating for The Future

Teaching is one of (if not the hardest) job out there. Although you may be feeling overwhelmed with lesson planning, parent-teacher communications, grading, etc -- you will find that connecting with other teachers will ultimately make your life easier! You’ll discover new methods and tools that will reach your students’ needs and help you become more efficient as a teacher. District-led professional development can only take you so far -- it’s only through connecting with others in our field (who actually practice on a daily basis) that we learn the best.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Together #KidsDeserveIt

Maybe you’ve seen it? We’re sure you probably have. A school, a department, and maybe even an entire district - working in silos.

A decision is made and implemented in one department, and nobody else knows about it. Right down the road, or even the hallway, there are others with creative genius waiting to be tapped.  Waiting to be asked.  But instead a decision is made without any conversation at all.

Does your district operate like this?  We’ve all seen it before.  And we’ve seen that nothing good ever comes out of “top-down” decisions or brilliance that is kept in hiding.  

Now - hopefully you’ve seen a department, a school, or maybe even an entire district, that has the synergy. They have the organization. They’re working together. Ideas are put on the table so everyone can listen and have an opportunity to contribute.

It goes even deeper though. It’s not just about knowing the mission and vision. Are you a part of it? Can you feel it? Are you hand in hand with your colleagues, pushing forward for kids. Moving in the same direction.

Thanks to the use of technology and social media we can no longer hide out in our silos.  We can’t “close the door” and keep the awesomeness to ourselves.  It’s time that we share, that we collaborate, that we challenge the status quo.

One of our favorite quotes is, “Never doubt that a small group of people can change the world, when indeed it’s the only one that ever has.” - Margaret Mead

Now is your time.  Reach out to that colleague down the hall, send a quick email to your supervisor with a new idea asking them to collaborate, bring up some out of the box idea at your next faculty meeting, or find “your people” on social media.  Do whatever it takes to bring better ideas to life through collaboration.

It starts with one.  One person willing to stand up and say, “I want to work together”.  Will you be that one?

Sunday, October 4, 2015

When Leaders Don't Lead #KidsDeserveIt

I think it’s safe to say that every one of us has worked underneath someone who didn’t lead.  A person who was in a place of power, of leadership, but the ship was sailing without a captain.  I know for both of us (Adam & Todd), we’ve worked under administrators who scream, who went to jail, who were amazing, and one who was more like “he who shall not be named”.

The image of a ship is one that we use often.  A ship can sit on the water and float without a captain leading it.  But ships weren’t designed to just sit or rock back and forth.  Ships can also head out onto choppy water, but if there is no leader behind the wheel the ship can run ashore, hit something, or go in the completely opposite direction of where you thought you were headed.  A ship needs a captain.  A ship needs someone who can take the wheel and steer the boat in the right direction. Ships need a compass - purpose - crew and their sails pointed in the right direction to harness the wind!  But not only a ship needs a captain who KNOWS how to lead.  This quote by Saint Exupery is so true, “If you want to build a ship, don’t gather people together to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather, teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea”

One of the hardest things for a teacher is working on a campus where the leader doesn’t lead.  Leaders need to be actively in classrooms.  They need to have a clear vision of where things are headed.  But leaders also need to take the heat when necessary and need to admit failure.  Leaders need to take risks, push boundaries, and consistently make decisions that are in the best interest of every child and know when to lean on others, when to ask for help, and how to make others shine brightest.

And the same goes for district leadership.  Campus Administrators also need strong leadership from those above them.  They need someone who has a vision and stands firm.  They need someone who is willing to lead them and help them grow. What’s the message when your leader isn’t learning? They don’t ‘believe’ social media, can’t wrap their head around ‘Tweeting’ or blogging about their districts story. What do you do if your district Technology Director isn’t using any tools to connect and learn online? Where are they learning from? How can they lead a district to relevancy?

When leaders don’t lead, you lose your “superstars” and no one grows.  Those exceptional leaders and teachers will leave a campus/district who doesn’t have strong leadership. They’ll go in search of someone who will grow them, push them, challenge them.  They’ll look for a leader.  Not a warm body in an office. Don’t let your briefcase hit the ground and never move again. We must constantly be moving, growing, learning, pushing, failing, falling - and then getting up stronger and smarter than we were before!

Leaders have to lead.  They have to take control of their ships and create a shared vision and admit when they make mistakes.  For when a ship has no leader, it’s not being used the way it was designed to be used.