Overcoming my fears

Teaching is a personal endeavor. Each and every classroom we walk into is different and exudes the personality of the teacher within. Because education is so personal and teachers work extremely hard, change can sometimes be difficult to come by.

Teachers care deeply about providing the best education possible for our students, but our profession involves an incredibly large volume of work. Often, we cling onto what has worked for us in the past simply because creating something new will tip the delicate balancing act that we’ve managed throughout the years.

I see a sea change coming in education. I think we are at a breaking point in which blended learning is on the cusp of changing our practice. A lot has changed in the last 10 years I’ve been a teacher. I have slowly seen technology catch up to the specific needs of educators.…Read More

3 ways our school uses data to drive instruction

For the last six years, data has been part of our “secret sauce” here at Bronson Elementary School in Bronson, Fla. Many of our students come from economically disadvantaged homes so we know we need to continually work harder than most schools to help our students succeed academically—and data helps us do this.

Our teachers and administrators are constantly looking at data trends—including data over periods of time, across grade levels, and for individual teachers and subgroups of students—to help drive instruction and student achievement. Specifically, Bronson uses schoolwide data to determine core instructional needs and proficiency targets. We use grade-level data for insight into groups for intervention, classroom data to support differentiation in the classroom and teacher effectiveness goals, and student data to identify intervention needs and IEP goals.

The data we analyze is collected from various sources, including the Florida Standards Assessment (FSA) in reading and math for grades 3-5 and the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test Science for grade 5. We also use diagnostic data that we collect three times a year using the i-Ready program for reading and math in grades K-5.…Read More

Want to be a stronger digital leader?

In a rapidly changing world, educators have been forced to self-examine and come to terms with approaches that are inefficient and irrelevant–from outmoded ways of setting up classrooms to equating school success solely on standardized metrics. Innovation and transformation in schools can’t happen unless we tackle entrenched practices and mindsets in bold and specific ways.

How can we best harness the positive aspects of technology to improve student learning and the schools we work in?

As a first step, we need to disrupt the status quo that’s embedded in the education system by developing new ways of looking at things that transform the world. We create permanent change only by identifying and communicating what shifts need to occur as well as illustrating how effective these approaches are at improving education. When we apply principals of efficacy to the Pillars of Digital Leadership, we’re well on our way toward integrating technology with confidence that learning will be transformed.…Read More

How to bring global learning to your classroom

The sun was high overhead as we stood in the open, slowly baking in the hundred- degree heat, which was abnormally hot for late October, even by southern California standards. It was late in the afternoon of day three of our expedition, and we weren’t sure what to expect as we got out of the van.

As one of 26 middle school teachers participating in EarthEcho International’s Water by Design Expedition, part of an annual program sponsored by the Northrop Grumman Foundation that leverages exploration and discovery to bring STEM education alive, I had been ferried about this bustling metropolitan area to learn how Angelenos use and manage their water. We were in good company, joined by various scientists, experts, and explorer and EarthEcho Founder, Philippe Cousteau, Jr.

Our destination was the terminus of the Los Angeles aqueduct, near the Van Norman Bypass Reservoir in Sylmar. Try to picture several hundred cubic feet of water per second cascading–no, raging–through a 12-foot diameter cement channel down the hillside and then leveling off in front of us. The snowpack in the Eastern Sierra Nevadas that feeds the aqueduct was abundant last winter, and the torrent of meltwater that had traveled over 400 miles to reach its destination was an astounding sight. I knew that I could use this powerful image with my students, along with the story of the aqueduct’s construction, as an engaging example of how people can engineer solutions to complex, real-world problems.…Read More

15 metrics every superintendent should know

From interoperability to dashboards, data accessibility is one of the most prevalent topics in edtech circles these days. For superintendents, simply knowing what to look for can be a challenge. These 15 metrics can provide significant value for any district leader.

Technology usage rate
Why it matters: A recent report on software usage and waste found the education sector to be one of the worst industries at using the tech it’s paying for, with a whopping 47 percent of enterprise-software licenses either unused or rarely used. Many technology budgets are jammed with line items that sounded good at some point, but never really took off. If those funds could be allocated to more meaningful pursuits, the average district could be looking at six figures or more of unexpected funds.

Questions to ask:
1. Which apps, licenses, and hardware haven’t been used at all in the past year?
2. What is the average cost per login for your niche, low-user-count applications?
3. How much functionality overlap exists between disparate systems?
4. What percentage of your larger investments, such as information management systems, is sitting dormant?…Read More

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.…Read More

#7: The 4 essentials of a successful Genius Hour

[Editor’s note: This story, originally published on January 26th of this year, was our #7 most popular story of the year. The countdown continues tomorrow with #6, so be sure to check back!]

What are you passionate about? What do you want to do more than anything in the world? Well I hope you said what you are doing right now. This is not always the case. Some people hate what they are doing. They may hate it because it pays too little, but being a teacher doesn’t make me very wealthy and I love what I’m doing. More importantly, people may hate their job because they would rather be doing something else. This is where I think we can do better in education.

As educators, we can help our students find and explore their passions. Once they discover what they’re truly passionate about, the learning and engagement will never stop. The best way for students to explore their passions is through Genius Hour.…Read More

What student choice and agency actually looks like

Student agency, which we might loosely define as students’ ability to influence their own learning, undoubtedly plays a critical role in education.

Many schools and districts see the value in it, but it has often been difficult to achieve. Shifting to an approach where each student directs their own learning — rather than the traditional teacher-led approach — does not happen overnight. The mere idea can be intimidating, and figuring out ways to develop ownership through teaching and learning practices compounds the challenge.

There are, however, a variety of schools using blended learning to increase student agency, and many of their practices have been captured and shared through The Learning Accelerator’s Blended and Personalized Practices at Work site. Understanding more about how other schools are empowering their students through choice and agency can make the idea less intimidating and the challenge of implementation less complex.…Read More

These Google Forms turn video from passive to active learning

For as long as I have been a teacher, I have been showing videos in class. While not a revolutionary idea, back when I first started I would show a video related to the lesson and hand out an accompanying question sheet to make sure the students were focusing on the main ideas. I would call out helpful reminders like “Number 3 is coming up!” to ensure that students were paying attention.

They were not.

My high school students were sometimes doodling on the paper, staring out the window, or hoping to just get the answers at the end from myself or a friend. But the content was so good and so relevant! I thought. These were primary source accounts! How could students not be engaged? What could I change to make the topic and delivery more relevant? That’s when the lightbulb went off.…Read More

How a small district turned every student into a music composer

There are moments in my life when the world slows down long enough for me to have incredibly emotional experiences linked to music. Those moments are pure joy. My goal as a music educator is to facilitate opportunities for my students to connect in that very same way.  I’m a music teacher for Montana’s Big Sky School District, so it’s thrilling when my students embrace powerful moments tied to music that really reach deep, and then find a way to lock into them for the rest of their lives.

One of the purest ways to imbue students with these amazing experiences is through music composition. Spending seven years as music teacher in Big Sky’s rural community, I encounter daily the educational benefits that a small school district offers students, particularly in its abilities to offer more intimate backdrops for learning.

Sadly, though, our less-populated rural areas lack resources—human and otherwise—and this deficit positions our school music programs in circumstances that are less than ideal. Rural communities don’t necessarily have a symphony or a spectacular venue that help our kids discover the “moment” that hooks all musicians. Without exposure to the important outside influences that help shape musical futures, we rural districts are essentially making music by ourselves, operating in a bit of a vacuum, which can prevent students and educators from accessing beauty through music.…Read More