Innovators, the time is now or later or never or whenever.
What does this mean, Greek! Education does change a fair amount. This change is in pedagogical practices, data tracking methods, types of testing, technology resources, social practices, and classroom management methods along with everything in-between. The tasks/skills/curriculum that we cover as educators are endless and continue to grow. So, what is the purpose of this post?
Education does change, but the core of what we do does not. We are expected to perform at a high level no matter what happens. Personal life has no place at work. This is what I use to think until my mistake. A mistake that should not have happened, but it did. I started in education after 9/11/2001; on this day, I questioned everything I was doing in life. At the time of this life-altering event, I was working in a local factory, building fans on an assembly line. I did not like this job, but it paid well and included insurance.
My mind changed on 9/11, for the better. Your mortality and achievements come to light in moments like this. I started to wonder what I was doing to better society in my current profession as an assembly worker. I was providing for my family, which is noble on its own, but I was not nourishing my soul. Two days later, I quit my job and started a harsh journey to become an educator. For 13 years, I have worked to better society one classroom at a time, one day at a time, one month at a time, and year after year. I now see my students leave school, graduate, to start their journey in life. I love working with kids and our future, but I made a mistake.
Social Media is one of the “changes,” I started speaking of in the first section of this post. At its core, the connections that can be made surpass time and location. I can follow high school friends that have chosen lives to live all over the world. This connection is powerful! As Uncle Ben stated, “With great power comes great responsibility.” This power can build someone up or break them down with one post. We have to model responsible use of this power, but we are flawed humans. Posting with emotion can cause significant detriment to individuals, even if that was not your intent.
Teachers and parents change also. They become smarter with years of service. More intelligent in time management, relationship building, and their ability to walk into the classroom day in and day out no matter their current situation. Life can punch you in the gut and make you question why you do what you do; the students are the purpose and the focus. Mistakes happen, but education is based on grace. The key to this grace is that you do not expect it, you hope when errors occur, it will be granted.
I started this career with the hopes of making a change. This change does not happen in a vacuum nor is this change a given, it takes a lot of work. In this line of work, it is hard not to take things personally, I know this first hand. The key to this change is, how do you recover from mistakes? That is the integrity of a teacher. Changes will happen even if you do not want it to, your ability to adjust to these changes is essential in your professional and personal lives.
I am grateful for your support and grace. I am thankful for the time and efforts that all teachers put forth for our students. I am thankful for the opportunities public education has given me. These opportunities come gift-wrapped sometimes and in brown paper bags at other times. These learning opportunities are not always wanted.
In our household, we have a newly crowned teenager. Before you applaud my extraordinary accomplishment, let’s talk about this further. Simon has gone from 100% dependent to 80% independent. As a parent, this is both relieving and stressful. I love seeing him become his own person, but I fear all of the mistakes I have made being made by him. As a parent, we want our kids to be safe and wrapped in bubble wrap their whole life. This practice is not a reality, and coming to grips with this reality is super tough. We will explore this topic further with relevant research and real-world accounts.
First, this phase of adolescents is not easy for anyone. The kiddo is going through so many mental and chemical changes that, in most cases, they do not know which way is up. I, as the parent, want to control or orchestrate every step of this process. Simon wants to do the same. This is where the struggle becomes a battle. Healthy Children website states, “Adolescence is the period of transition between childhood and adulthood. It includes some big changes physically, and to the way a young person relates to the world.” This world includes their family. In my opinion, the “I want to be free” aspect is the toughest. I want to be a part of everything he does, but he wants to be left alone.
Contemporary PEDS Journal wrote in July 2021, “Parents can be perplexed and worried about the behavior of their adolescent children. Real risks exacerbate the worries as adolescents venture into real-world demands.” As I look back over the things I did and somehow survived, I worry about this “behavior” aspect the most. I did some stupid things as a kid and rebelled against those who tried to help the most. As I reflect now, I can see some had great intentions. When I was told I would not or could not do something, I did it. I have counselors in high school who thought and voiced my inability to achieve anything more than jail time. I ended up with a Doctorate in Education and Leadership (EdD). I also had loved ones who tried to keep me safe, and I ended up making bad decisions. The key here is how they dealt with me. They did not say, “Told you so,” or boast. They listened and supported me. These individuals are who I hold most dear to this day.
The student who is going through this change is also dealing with a lot. In this time of uncertainty, they struggle with acceptance, balance, stress, and changes in their body. On top of this, they are trying not to make their family mad. The last one may not appear as a priority, but they want to keep the peace. Mental health is a genuine concern for us as parents. CDC writes, “Adolescence is a time for young people to have a healthy start in life. The number of adolescents reporting poor mental health is increasing. Building strong bonds and connecting to youth can protect their mental health. Schools and parents can create these protective relationships with students and help them grow into healthy adulthood.” What does this look like, and what can we do as parents?
First, we are not all experts, and we are ALL still learning. Most experts say to listen to your kiddo from what I have read. As adults, we have mortgages, doctor bills, insurance payments, bills, taxes, and everything else adulting throws at us on the day-to-day grind. These things can make your kiddo’s issue appear less then. It is crucial to understand that their struggles are as big as ours. Who likes them or do not like them, where they fit or do not fit, teachers making them work too hard parents who give too many chores, and so many other things. These items are oversized and cause stress for them. When Simon talks to me, I try to listen, but I also fail to see him eye to eye. This is where I will work to improve my practice.
An article written for Parenting and Family by Jill Suttie identifies the risks of being a teen and gives good advice for keeping them safe. She interviews the author of Born to Be Wild, Dr. Shatkin. He writes that parents “Think their primary job is to remind teens over and over that they’re not invincible and to explain to them what terrible things can happen to them if they engage in risk.” He says that teens know they are not invisible; this is where their stress lies. They are full of fear and want to be included and accepted. He goes into how the brain works and how hormones are the attacking forces. I do remember the stress when I would try something, and it would fail. I did not worry about the failure; I worried about others’ thoughts. Was it cool, or was I just an idiot? Would I ever recover from this social detriment? This was the stress I dealt with, but I did not have to battle the social media giants.
Social media has amplified everything we thought we dealt with when we were their age. If I was recorded when I failed, I knew. Cameras were not small. Today, the recordings and uploads are happening ALL of the time! Everything is documented.
We as parents need to listen and validate our kid’s concerns and struggles. This is the most powerful tool we have. I strongly believe in counseling for ourselves and our kids. There are professionals available to help either in person or virtually. Seek help and support our most valuable resources, our children.
How do we support future learners/leaders? Education is both a profession and a lifestyle. You may believe you HATE learning or going to school, but I don’t believe that is true. Learning is reality if you are alive. We all learn through necessity. If your car has an issue, go to YouTube or Google and find the “fix”. In some cases, this “fix” will cause new issues. How many times do you try to build or assemble something before you actually look at the instructions? This is LEARNING in its most basic form. Learning through doing is important.
When my wife and I decided to have kids we read all of the books. We read about parenting, baby safety practices, the newest gadgets, what to purchase, and MANY more. When our son came, WE WERE READY! Reality hit hard when he turned one month. Simon was a colicky baby. He cried all of the time. We purchased all of the “things” that we learned about to help this nonstop screaming. We learned through necessity. We learned through adversity and judgment from others. I can not tell you how many times I cried because of the stress of Simon’s constant screaming. We survived through learning and educating ourselves over this situation.
As an educator, it is my job expectation to learn. I must educate myself to be relevant. As a parent, I must educate myself to be relevant to my children. I hear from parents all of the time about how the internet is controlling their kids’ lives. The real question is, what are you doing to help your kids understand balance? Do you set limits on their devices? Do you limit their digital access? Do you allow social media and how are you monitoring their presents on these platforms? Just like when Simon was a baby I have to learn NOW how to support him while he finds balance. This is not easy and has caused a lot of screaming and crying, just like when he was a baby.
Let’s start with cell phones. My family use Apple devices and the parent controls are great. All management access is done in ios without any other apps needed. Learn more using this link from Apple. I limit time on apps, set up bedtime, end times, and start times that limit who they can communicate with. I can even remove access to the app store! I know what my kiddos do on their phones ALL OF THE TIME. I educated myself on this process and I learned how to keep them safe the best I can.
If you are an Android user I would recommend Kite, which is also free. I know there are other apps that can do the same, but this one I know works and have used. Kite settings will follow your kiddo. It works through their Google account including Chromebook’s, cell phones, Microsoft devices, and other devices that use Chrome or have a Gmail account.
How about Microsoft including Xbox? You can manage this through Family Link. This includes All Microsoft products including Xbox consoles. You can choose who they can chat with, play with, games they can play, and time limits for all devices. With this program you will know what they are doing at all times.
We have one real job as parents and educators. That job is to educate and support our kids. In this digital world we can do this by setting boundaries. In the classroom procedures are in place to keep kids safe and free of learning distractions. At home this is tough to do, but with the right tools and conversations it can be achieved.
Technology allows the time needed to assess each student then prescribe the needed resources to scaffold the student to their ZPD. Most programs that have Artificial Intelligence (AI) integration will adjust the difficulty of the questions based on how the student answers the delivered questions. An adaptive assessment may take 20 minutes to complete, but it can take that much time for each student in a classroom. This technology does NOT take the place of a well-informed and connected educator. Taking the data from the AI and comparing it with anecdotal notes and teacher observation is how we can support students best. I can already hear your thoughts! If the teacher has to do the work, why would they ever use technology to arrive at the same conclusion?! If you have ever evaluated 25+ students over a week, you will have to admit you get tired super quick, and the stories or math evaluations haunt you in your dreams. We are human; computer programs are not. This is why balance is essential. What does this look like in the classroom? In the next section, we will explore two resources of MANY. The two I have included here are, in my opinion, the best place to begin. I hope you find them helpful also. ReadingIQ is a fantastic resource that allows you to choose how the reading levels are reported and allows students to take a placement test. This is a FREE
This is a FREE digital resource in both fiction and nonfiction from Marvel, Pixar, National Geographic, and others that students will love to read. This is a great resource for teachers and meets all of the safety measures that are expected in our classrooms today (COPPA, CIPA, FERPA). Resources available in Reading IQ include all Disney products.
With audiobooks and graphic novels, students of all ages can benefit from this excellent resource, and it is FREE. I know there are a bunch of other resources like GetEpic, Tumblebooks, and many many more. This resource has built-in differentiation through the assessment and different reading levels. Finding one resource to meet all of your students’ needs can be difficult, but with this one and your small group reading practice, and written material, you will give your students options that are engaging for them and you. In math, I like Prodigy Math, and before you start yelling at the computer that all students do is play games, read me out on this one. If you assign practice to your students based on what you know about your students, this is the program for you. First off, it is 100% free and easily navigatable for most. In the planner area of the program, you can assign activities to individual students or the whole class. When assigning activities, you mitigate the loss of time while using the program. There is no placement test, but in this instance, your knowledge as the teacher is more valuable than a placement test.
If you are not assigning activities to your students in Prodigy, you SHOULD NOT be using this program. It is a waste of time if you do not spend some time. This is a powerful program, and with great power comes great responsibility (Uncle Ben, Spiderman).
The vital aspect of any technology usage is a balance. Without balance, we will either not use technology at all, which is not an option for our students, or we will lose the personal connection that is also something our students need to be successful. Don’t place a student in front of a program and expect them to learn in the absents of the teacher and a personal connection. Students need to learn in their ZPD, and technology can only help. You, as the teacher/parent, need to use your professional judgment in choosing the right tool, digital and non-digital.
What do I know about 2020? Not much, to be honest. I think I know how I was able to prioritize my learning. I think I know how I was able to support teachers through this uncertain time in education. The reality is that we all did our best at what we felt the priorities were and are at these uncertain times. The question I would pose to you would be based on the why. Why did you choose your focus? Was it based on student needs, community needs, personal needs, OR did you just do what you always do and keep moving? I feel this is where I fell in my pandemic survival methodology. I just kept on doing what I always do, support.
The world of education is never the same from quarter to quarter, semester to semester, or year to year. Our students, no matter the age, are always evolving. John Hattie, a researcher, well known in the education world, states any effort made in educating a student will see growth. The growth rate can change based on the strategy used and the action placed. The ultimate goal is to hit that .40 Effect Rate, which means one year of teaching equals one year of growth, but more is even better.
How does this equate to adult learning (andragogy)? For me, adults are my students/learners who I am always trying to reach. The idea of supporting individuals that are in all areas of the learning curve can be challenging. This is mostly due to where they are in their technology understanding, pedagogy understanding, and content knowledge. This is referred to as TPACK. TPACK stands for Technology, Pedagogy, AND Content Knowledge. Balance is critical here, even in virtual learning.
In most cases, this balance is more evident in a virtual setting. Most teachers know their content and even how to deliver that content (pedagogy), but the technology aspect is foreign when it becomes the only way to provide the learning. This is where the keep on keeping on concept for me comes into the mix. I have been in this position for eight years (EdTech.) From the very beginning, I have preached that technology is NOT the lesson, nor should it be the focus. Technology is an enhancer, both for good and the bad.
Technology is a great enhancer. If you know your content and know your students, and somewhat understand tech, you will do fine. Issues happen when technology is forced into a lesson when it is not needed. If the lesson can stand alone without tech, there is a possibility that tech could enhance the validity of the learning opportunities for students. I have seen tech used in a “because I have to use it” manner and it becomes a distraction to the learning process. Tech has to be purposeful in its usage, and it should be in the planning, not just thrown in at the last minute.
My shift happened when teachers learned about technology to apply that knowledge in a real-world application. Virtual teaching became just TEACHING, and with the switch came all of the “what ifs” associated with the virtual learning/teaching environment. Not all aspects of the change we’re trying, and we even were able to see some remarkable growth. The reality is, acceptable teaching practices are good no matter the modality that is used. There were clear front runners in virtual teaching. Teachers who had a “with it” quality in the classroom could transfer that practice into a virtual platform. I will focus on what they did to be successful with the hopes you can learn from their examples.
Training your teachers should always be the first step in the process of a new venture. This would be the same for a new technology resource or new pedagogical practice. Once you have the “product” identified, you need to follow a few steps.
Education, as a whole, is different. Each person sees this change in a different light, positive or negative. The ones who see this change as unfavorable or in a negative light typically change their minds after they have all of the tools needed to be successful. Professional development is the #1 way to support and change the outcome of any new venture. I know this is not something you can just snap your fingers and have to happen overnight. Teachers need to know they are supported, period. Meeting your teachers where they are at is the goal, but you also need to know where they need to be at the end of the prescribed training.
Beyond the training, you need to have follow-ups. From my own experiences, if the training is a full-day effort, you need something for the teachers to complete on their own. Teachers want to work time along with the training. Building in processing time helps the learners practice the skill. Not all learners learn in the same way. Some learners need time for “hands-on” learning, while others can learn from listening to lectures. Mixing these two learning modalities help solidify the learning objectives.
Lastly, movement is critical. Donal Blaney stated, “The mind can only absorb no more than the seat can endure.” Make sure movement is also a part of the effort in learning. Even a short “processing” time where learners get out of their seats and discuss critical aspects with other attendees is essential. Cooperative Learning techniques allow for interaction within a controlled, goal-oriented conversation. Sentence stems like:
1) What was one thing you took away from…?
2) Tell your partner two things you believe will be problematic when implementing…?
How can you troubleshoot the solution to these problems?
What suggestions would you have in troubleshooting these problems?
After staff has an opportunity to share, ask them to summarize the conversation back at their table. This is a simple processing skill that can be used throughout the day. Movement helps along with the processing from the learning goals of the day.
After the training, it is vital to have your teachers build. Teachers who did very well in this shift from seated to virtual learning had a plan. This plan included a clear and constant schedule. This allowed parents and students to be prepared each day at the right time. If the meeting started at 8:30 a.m., the teacher was present 5-10 minutes before so students could join. This would happen 3-4 times throughout the day for direct instruction. This schedule was shared out with parents and students alike, so all were informed. Students could use various methods to keep this schedule in Infront of them, but the key is that they knew when and where they needed to be daily.
Second, organize your resources, students, and teacher. If the teacher indicated, the students would need a whiteboard and marker for session “X,” the students and teacher would have that within arm’s reach. This includes all materials which were clearly outlined in the schedule mentioned in the first step. Resources also provide problem-solving the “what ifs.” What happens if you get kicked off of the video meeting? If the connection is the issue, try to turn off the device and restart. Other aspects would be added as the learning continues.
The third would be support, support, and more support. Offer office hours for smaller group support. Make sure this time is also scheduled and focused. If your plans call for direct instruction of a newer concept, then you would follow that up with “open” time where students can join and ask questions as needed. If students don’t join, it is okay; just be available for the entire time if they chose to join after the start time. Also, stick to the time allotted. If you set the time to 30 minutes, then close the virtual room at 30 minutes. Consistency is key and allows for procedures to be set and expected.
Other notable considerations would be in the area of rules/expectations. Outlining how a student should act when in a virtual meeting is key to seeing what you expect. It is tough to hit a target when you can’t see the target. Modeling the expectation is a great practice. Once the expectations are set, you should cover the consequences if those expectations are not met and how the student(s) can redeem themselves. This is a fairly open process and should be tailored to what is needed to mitigate distractions in your virtual classroom. Community building is key in seated and virtual education.
Lastly, which should be first is/are relationships. Relationships will make or break the learning environment that you build. Relationships are the bedrock that anchors all aspects of your classroom. Students and parents need to believe you are a team with the same goals in mind for your students. Supporting the virtual classroom with curriculum, digital resources, and pedagogy is only the beginning of the process. Building the community within your classroom should always be job one.
The pandemic has caused some areas of the “norm” to change, but not all change is bad. I have seen teachers who do okay with technology become experts in virtual learning. They may not recognize this, but I have. The pandemic has allowed teachers who have been somewhat reluctant to use tech a chance to become better. These changes have not been easy, and the shift may not have been ideal, but we worked through the struggle.
Resilience is a virtue we as educators preach to our students. It is a lesson we have all learned. Being able to keep moving when times get rough. Being able to find the “good” in all. These traits make us humans and better teachers. I am constantly amazed at what I see. Teaching is and always has been a profession that changes, as it should. Our students are ever-evolving, and their needs change at the same time. As educators, we meet this need daily. This is the way.