How to ask the questions people want to answer

[Editor’s note: This is the fourth installment in Jennifer Abrams’ ‘Personal Development’ column for eSchool News. In her columns, Abrams focuses on leadership skills for anyone working in a school or district. Read more about the column here.]  

“How was your winter holiday?”
“What are your resolutions for 2018?”
“How are you today?”

Lots of eager ears are awaiting your responses. Or are they? And are you interested in answering those questions?

Questioning is big. From The Right Question Institute to A More Beautiful Question to books like A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas and Make Just One Change: Teach Students to Ask Their Own Questions, we are all working on asking better questions.

Questions can open up conversations and they can shut them down in a flash. “Why did you do that?” “How could you have done that better?” “What were you thinking?” These are questions but they diminish the person you are asking the question of. Embedded in these questions is “You were wrong” or “You didn’t do well enough.” Those questions imply fault and judgment.

The questions I like to answer have a few elements embedded in them that open up the conversation, trust in my capacity, and assume that I can reflect and can answer them well. Those types of questions include the following pieces:

1) The person who is asking the question waits for me to answer. Have you ever answered a question for someone else? “How are you today? Good?” You just answered for the other person before they got a chance to do it themselves! Pausing and waiting for an answer is a sign of respect. Wait time in classrooms for students is a given, but often the adults are more impatient with each other. Adults need space to answer as well. Generous listeners pause.

(Next page: What else makes for a good question?)


How to find an LMS that supports student privacy and data security

As the stewards of student data and information, our school district doesn’t take that role lightly. Proud to be one of just 13 districts nationwide to receive the Consortium for Student Networking (CoSN) Trusted Learning Environment Seal—which designates institutions that have taken measurable steps to implement practices to help ensure the privacy of student data—we knew that our existing learning management system (LMS) wasn’t up to the task.

And with that, we went in search of an LMS that could support our data-privacy commitment, which has been a key focus for at least six years and a keystone of how we make technology-related decisions. While participating in one of CoSN’s working groups, I began identifying which student-data-privacy principles were really important to us as school districts and what it meant to be a district as an exemplar in that area.

Out of that work, CoSN came up with the Trusted Learning Environment, which encompasses 25 different practices within the realm of student data privacy. Missouri’s Raytown Quality Schools was part of the first cohort of seven districts to be awarded this seal, and that meant that we not only had the right policies and procedures in place, but that we were actually implementing them and displaying evidence all the way down to the classroom level.

Safeguarding data on digital terrain
As school districts, we use a lot of different systems that collect student information in one form or another. Our student information system (SIS), for instance, stores dates of birth, addresses, and other confidential data. From there, things start to get a little fuzzy and include math applications that track how well a student is learning multiplication tables. The question becomes, “How protected should that information be?

(Next page: Four tips to help districts improve their vendor relationships)


In the wake of Chromebooks, education needs to focus on collaboration

Lately, technology additions in classrooms have focused on providing each student with his or her own laptop; for many schools, it’s become the new normal to issue every student a Chromebook. This has been a great step forward in advancing how students learn, with more interactive content on Google Classroom, video materials, and document sharing.

At the same time, the screen-focused atmosphere has stunted the growth of small-group collaboration in classrooms. Students are now heads-down at their own devices, instead of collaborating with their peers. Devices have allowed classroom technology to move forward, but to foster teamwork and collaboration, the integration of technology in education still needs to progress.

Technology must help students be more productive in the classroom, not only individually, but also with their peers and their teacher. Laptops alone cannot meet this need, which can have an impact on students’ development. According to SAGE Journals, “Policymakers and researchers see small-group work as a way to improve attitudes toward school, foster achievement, develop thinking skills, and promote interpersonal and intergroup relations.”

(Next page: How to improve collaboration)


4 questions to ask about E-rate funding

Today’s K-12 schools are facing a complex web of needs, technologies, and regulations. Digital transformation has led to an expectation by students and faculty of constant connectivity to their school’s web assets. In response, schools have been incorporating programs that allow for more devices and a more web-focused curriculum. These services are critical, but they come at a great cost. Paying for internet access and securing the network do not come cheap.

The E-rate program was developed by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and its subsidiary, the Universal Services Administrative Committee (USAC), to provide federal funding to K-12 schools and public libraries across the country. E-rate gives schools access to necessary technology they otherwise may not be able to afford. In fact, 87 percent of E-rate applicants report that this funding is vital to meeting their connectivity goals.

There are two categories of funding in the E-rate program. Category one funding provides data transmission and internet access. Category two funding supports the critical infrastructure required for security, speed, and compliance, offering schools $150 per student.

(Next page: 4 E-rate questions for district coordinators and IT teams)


3 must-know’s about assessment achievement levels

In education and assessment, we use the word “standards” in a number of ways: curriculum standards, standards-based assessments, performance standards. Performance standards—also known as proficiency levels, achievement levels, performance descriptors, and more—are one way we report assessment results, and have a direct influence on decisions that affect educators and students every day.

Many of us use and discuss these performance standards without knowing where they come from. Performance standards are first a policy initiative representing student expectations of proficiency for an assessment program, and then are uniquely defined for each content and grade level, after at least one year of operational administration. Standard setting is the process undertaken by education experts to relate test scores from an assessment program to pre-defined achievement levels.

Here we explain the three basic facets of standard setting: purpose, use, and process.

(Next page: Defining the way to set standards.)


5 ways to get started with OER

It has been almost three years since the launch of the United States Department of Education’s #GoOpen movement. If you are late to the #GoOpen party, it is the commitment to expand and accelerate the use of openly licensed educational resources in schools across the country.

The commitment, in a nutshell, is to replace at least one textbook with open educational resources (OER) within one year, share in a community of practice with other school districts, and share the resources created with a Creative Commons license. While this sounds like a novel concept in writing, this movement engages every stakeholder in the P-12 educational ecosystem. And, beyond the chatter and hype of #GoOpen’s launch, there is still lots of work to be done. The work begins with implementation and how schools plan to strategically scale OER.

In the words of Simon Sinek, if you “start with the why” when thinking about #GoOpen, the answer is easy:

“To provide equitable access of educational materials that are modifiable and shareable no matter the zip code of each school.”

(Next page: How to get started.)


5 big ideas for education innovation in 2018

Last year saw a flurry of activity in support of personalized learning, new school designs, and new approaches to K-12 education policy. Looking ahead, education innovators have their work cut out for them in 2018. Some of this work requires asking hard questions. Some requires acknowledging that there’s an elephant in the room. And some requires looking beyond our current conversation to where the next waves of innovation stand to emerge. Here are five ways I’m hoping the K-12 education innovation agenda moves forward in 2018:

(1) Unpack “just-in-time supports.”

One of the core elements of a high-quality competency-based model is students receiving just-in-time supports. These same supports seem to be implied when advocates of personalized learning call for tailored learning experiences and pathways that resemble those of high-touch tutoring models. Yet we often lack a clear, systematic way to talk about what those supports are and aren’t. What does learning science tell us about the best approaches? In which instances should these supports result from students seeking out help themselves? And when should educators scaffold them in? Put broadly, how can we infuse the notion of “just-in-time supports” with an understanding of what works, for which students, in which circumstances? I worry that without getting deep into these instructional innovations and beginning to categorize them in clear ways, structural innovations to rethink time and unlock personalized, competency-based progressions will risk falling flat. This year I’ll be keeping an eye on efforts like TLA’s Practices portfolio and Digital Promise’s Learner Positioning Systems for clearer answers.

(Next page: Constructivism, accountability, and student networks)


Video of the Week: Get started with coding in your classroom

Ed. note: Video of the Week picks are supplied by the editors of Common Sense Education, which helps educators find the best ed-tech tools, learn best practices for teaching with tech, and equip students with the skills they need to use technology safely and responsibly. Click here to watch the video at Common Sense Education.

Video Description: Learning to code in school is more popular than ever, and it’s never been easier to get started. What’s more, coding can teach students skills that apply across the curriculum, beyond computer science. So, what’s the best way to get your students coding in the classroom? Here you’ll find some practical tips on how to set up learn-to-code lessons that empower students to become producers, not just consumers, of digital media. For more tips and strategies, visit this collection of coding resources.



App of the Week: Metaverse

Ed. noteApp of the Week picks are now being curated by the editors of Common Sense Education, which helps educators find the best ed-tech tools, learn best practices for teaching with tech, and equip students with the skills they need to use technology safely and responsibly. Click here to read the full app review.

What’s It Like? 

Metaverse is a platform (website and app) for creating, sharing, and interacting with augmented-reality (AR) “experiences.” Metaverse Studio, recommended for older users (13+), is where creation occurs. New experiences begin with a blank storyboard that allows for nearly unlimited combinations of scenes, characters, commands, and navigation options. Scenes can contain clues, directions, questions, web links, videos, and more. Users connect scenes to create a partial or complete experience that adjusts to viewers’ responses. Once a user creates an experience, it can be duplicated and edited to create another, so users don’t have to start from scratch to create additional experiences.

Price: Free

Grades: 4-12

Rating: 4/5

Pros: AR experiences engage users and gamify learning; ability to create experiences promotes creativity and critical thinking.

Cons: Creation takes time and is complicated for the average user; could use more in-app support features and character effects.

Bottom line: This dynamic tool allows users to create and experience augmented-reality activities while learning 21st-century skills.