teacher evaluation

Educators: The lessons we learned in 2016

5 educators reveal their most inspiring takeaways of 2016 and the technologies they’re most excited about.

[Editor’s note: This story is Part 3 of our 3-part series on Lessons Learned in 2016. Click here for Part 1 on Superintendents. Click here for Part 2 on Principals.]

Educators made much of their learning opportunities in 2016, whether through professional development sessions, webinars, product demos, or even conferences. But when we asked educators where they learned the biggest lessons related to education and technology came, they largely told us it came from the classroom, through everyday interaction, failure, and perseverance among the students they see every day. Here, five school-level educators (teachers, coaches, and librarians) share their lightbulb moments during the past 12 months—and why they’re excited for the future.


Working on the Weekend

One lesson I learned this year, thanks to technology, is that there will be programs and applications you have set aside to learn about on your own time. As a teacher and tech coach, that’s hard to do, particularly with family obligations. However, in order to understand how these programs can be leveraged in the classroom, you may have to dedicate a weekend or two to exploring and playing around with the programs before introducing it to a class.

It’s easy to try to implement something new in the classroom without really understanding it and then giving up after the first failure because it is “too hard,” because “no one understands it,” or you “just don’t have time.” But on the flipside, we don’t tolerate that mindset with students, so we shouldn’t allow it in ourselves. In 2016, among other things, I took the time to focus on learning the ins and outs of ClassFlow collaborative learning software. Now I’m able to help other educators in my school implement the tool in their classrooms to create a digitally collaborative environment.

Next year, I plan to look at my growing list of websites, software, and subscription services and pick a few to dive into on my own. The goal? To truly evaluate and understand how they can be used in the classroom. No excuses necessary. Eve Heaton, Instructional Technology Coach, Beaufort County School District (SC)


Stepping Out of the Comfort Zone

2016 was a year of firsts for me as an educator. I changed schools and grade levels, and ventured outside my comfort zone more than once. After 10 years of teaching, I was set in my ways on many things. This year proved to me that even seasoned teachers can change. Teaching a new grade came with challenges: new Common Core Standards, new Next-Gen Science standards, and implementing full Daily Five. What stands out most to me, though, were my efforts to get my learners to collaborate with each other using technology. I strive to have my learners engaged and take ownership for their own learning. I understand the benefits of group learning, but the noise factor always seemed daunting to me.

Despite my apprehension, I tried a new online tool called pivotEd this year, which changed my thoughts on learner collaboration and assessment, because I could monitor each learner’s experience and connect in real time with each of them as they navigated through an assignment. A double bonus with pivotEd was that students could sign in through their Google accounts. My learners loved using it too, which made my job even easier! This web-based program was just what I needed to safely step out of my comfort zone and successfully have my learners collaborate. Malissa Etie, Third-grade Teacher, St. Catherine School, San Jose, CA

(Next page: Educators’ lessons learned 3-5)


Hitting the Right Notes

One of the things I love about teaching, and especially about being a librarian, is that I am able to learn something new every day. Sometimes it’s from a website, a fellow teacher, a webinar, or a conference—but my favorite lessons are the ones I learn from my students. This year, I learned just how much children connect to music.

It started when I discovered videos by Emily Arrow about books from authors who would be attending a local book festival. Her songs—based on the books Leo: A Ghost Story by Mac Barnett and Be a Friend by Salina Yoon—were instant favorites among students. They loved the stories, but would come to the library requesting the song. Shortly after, I discovered a whole collection of books from Cantata Learning. It made perfect sense to add many of these titles to our book collection right away. I turned to my fellow teachers to help choose books supporting science, social studies, math, and even some folk songs for music class. The teachers love using the books to reinforce the curriculum, and the students love learning the songs. I enjoy watching student learn through song and carry what they learned from the book with them as they continue to sing wherever they go. That is the power of music! —Karyn Lewis, Pre-K–5 Librarian, Meadow Wood Elementary, Houston 

technology teaching

Answering the Big “Why?”

In 2016, the biggest lesson I learned is that having explicit and intentional conversations with students about their own education helps build relationships and puts meaning behind the assignments they’re doing. I’ve always used the term “constructing knowledge” when talking with my students about learning and the experiences they will eventually have beyond high school. This explanation reframed their understanding about the “why” behind completing a specific assignment, doing research, or taking an assessment. I was surprised to find out that many of the educators I worked with had rarely used this term with their students—despite the teachers themselves being proponents of constructivism.

Education should be about students constructing knowledge to build their own personal view of the world, yet we rarely let them know that. This year, many of our students engaged in videoconferences through Generation Global, a platform designed to connect peers across the world and promote meaningful dialogue. This practice shows them that people across the globe, who they may see as “the other,” aren’t so different from themselves. Constructing knowledge is about exploring new thoughts and opinions. What better way to do that than connect with peers from other nations and ask questions?

So next time students ask the simple question, “What do I need to know?” teachers should frame the experience of education as an exercise in constructivism. Doing so empowers students to be active learners and dynamic thinkers, not just consumers of information. —Craig Perrier, High School Social Studies Curriculum and Instruction Specialist, Fairfax County Public Schools, Fairfax, VA



Breaking out of the Box

The greatest challenge I face is getting students to “think outside the box” when it comes to their learning. Learners are always looking to teachers for solutions instead of taking charge of their own learning. They expect each content area to stay in a nice, tidy box that is tied in a bow. I’ve learned that one solution to this obstacle is interdisciplinary lessons. Cross-curricular learning pushes students’ boundaries and forces them to become thinkers who must look at all content areas as tools in their intellectual toolbox. They must find the tool that works best for each of them as individuals.

I have been using Kids Discover Online to build cross-curricular lessons for my students. Kids Discover provides learners with valuable and relevant resources to construct and piece together the information to answer the questions that they are exploring. Building a classroom centered on this philosophy affords me the opportunity to create a seamless curriculum where students see that in the real world, math, science, language arts, social studies, and other subjects blend together without boundaries. It creates a flexible framework for learning that enables students to focus on critical thinking through big ideas, collaboration through teamwork, and creativity through problem-solving.

When we empower students to learn in this manner, they are more likely to solve problems using all the tools in their intellectual toolbox. They evolve into problem-solvers who work with a flexible framework in which all skill sets are used to tackle problems and brainstorm solutions. Instead of being boxed in by preconceived notions that one content area will provide the best solutions, they grow beyond the walls of the classroom and become the innovators of our future. —Amy Cramer, Teacher, South Park Elementary School (PA)

Sign up for our K-12 newsletter

Newsletter: Innovations in K12 Education
By submitting your information, you agree to our Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policy.

Want to share a great resource? Let us know at submissions@eschoolmedia.com.

INNOVATIONS in K-12 Education


Sign up for our K-12 newsletter

Newsletter: Innovations in K12 Education
By submitting your information, you agree to our Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policy.

eSchool News uses cookies to improve your experience. Visit our Privacy Policy for more information.