A new approach to the “PD Day”

If I die - Staff Meeting

I will be honest,  I have led some bad PD in my day. I have read powerpoint slides, provided “click here, click there” how to sessions, all of which have been a one-time, one-size fits all approach.  Did my participants learn? How do I know they learned?  (both questions, I failed to ask – or maybe was afraid to ask?)

On the other side of the gamut (things I am more proud of) I have co-facilitated district edcamps, provided short Just In Time Training (JITT) sessions (small group),  coached educators 1:1, and am currently facilitating a cohort model  through the Innovative Instructional Leadership Program.

This year our district goal is:

100% of all teachers will CREATE or REDESIGN and IMPLEMENT at least 3 lesson plans per year that inspire learners to achieve at high levels as measured by student ePortfolio artifacts.

October 19, 2016, was day 2 (of 4) to help support educators in this process.  As we (instructional coaches/curriculum director/myself) were designing the activities we wanted to model good instructional practices.  We know a day of sit and get does not work in our classrooms, why would we incorporate this on our PD day?

In our PD sessions, have been focusing on personalized and deeper learning that engage/empower kids.  We are using a Deeper Learning Protocol (DLP) based on the works of Scott McLeod (McLeod) and Julie Graber (@jgraber). (Called Trudacot)

Our October 19 agenda with results/evidence:

TableTop Group

Our Workgroup Table Toppers!

1 – Create District Teams Our first decision was to create district teams with representation of 2 educators from each level (K-2, 3-5, 6-8, and 9-12) We also wanted to mix disciplines.   Our teachers are with PLCs on a weekly basis. We wanted the opportunity for them to connect with other educators and learn about their implementation and results.    We felt this would be a great opportunity to build cross district relationships and could potentially lead to new sparks!

2 – High energy starter – We started the day with an epic game of Rock, Paper, Scissors – tied to Growth Mindset  (Thank you George Couros for the idea!)

And the winner is…

3. Lesson Speed Dating –  Educators shared examples/artifacts of student work from created/redesigned  lesson plans.  We kicked it off this activity with 1 teacher from each building sharing what they implemented in their classroom to the entire staff. Then, within our groups, we did 3 rounds of sharing (each 8 minutes a piece)

Script to help guide the discussion
My lesson was…
My area of focus from the DLP was…
What I observed/assessed in student learning (ELO) success was…
What I observed in regards to student engagement was…
If I focus on this DLP area again, I would…
Questions or Comments?

Short Video in Speed Date in Action

While this focused heavily on the innovative things our educators did to deepen learning and engage/empower kids it was important to also highlight the learning.   After the speed date was done, we  had all staff analyze the following artifact with these questions:

  • What facets of the DLP does this artifact integrate?
  • Does this artifact show evidence that the student has met the essential learning outcome? (I Can Statement)
Artifact snapshot

This is an example of an 8th-grade artifact (In ELA) who emailed me earlier that week for some support on a digital citizenship project they were working on.


4. Going Deeper into the DLP ( In this activity, we wanted to give educators a blended learning experience with plenty of voice/choice, to study and create a learning artifact regarding a single DLP Facet.  We had 15 groups and assigned 3 groups to each facet. (Facets we focused on: Authenticity/Relevancy, Creativity, Communication, Collaboration, Deeper Thinking).  Below are the instructions we used for this activity.  This will allow you to see the activity looked like (Built on Google Sites)

We allowed educators to choose their learning space.  I observed during the reading portion and video watching portion – some educators chose to sit independently (away from group) while others decided to do everything together. (Both AOK!) Only 1 group chose to sit in rows!screen-shot-2016-10-21-at-6-44-30-pm

Educators were to make a digital learning artifact that represented what they understood about their assigned facet. (We provide NO How to’s here)  We also recognized opportunities to build artifacts (not digital) to represent their knowledge.  Included was a small maker table if they chose that path!

Our little maker table!

Our little maker table!


The last portion of this activity was to do a Gallery walk and reflect on the learning experience.  Since everyone had access to the padlet, the workgroups began looking at what everyone else had created.  (which is a great formative assessment for us)  It was fun to see the creative ideas come through!  Some created mindmaps, slideshows, videos, screencasts, drew posters and took pics), ect.  It would have been fun to do another short speed date – first with each Facet teams to share their creation and then the teams select 1 project to go to be presented to the district group. However, we simply ran out of time.  (We may revive this idea, the next time we meet)

We also circled back to the growth mindset conversation we started with, and asked educators to take a silent moment to reflect… did they ever have a fixed mindset moment during this experience? Did they ever observe a team member in a fixed mindset?  Growth Mindset

5. Work time to recreate/design lesson to be implemented and student artifacts to be collected by the next PD day in January.   We gave educators approximately 2 hours to do their own creative lesson planning.  Educators then, submit a broad scope of their lesson re-design and include ELOs and DLP Facets they will be using.  Coaches will follow up with staff throughout the next several months.

6. Evaluate our Lesson – We wanted teachers to evaluate our lesson.  (Google Form)  Right now a little over 40% of  educators provided feedback.  Many reported they liked the groupings and enjoyed the sharing of lessons and ideas. By far the great improvement we need is to give more time to share and create!

We also are sitting at a little over  70% engagement rate. I WISH we had comparison data to sit and get PD!  But unfortunately, we don’t.  However, we do plan on taking feedback from our educators and improving the professional development day in January!


Final Reflection

I am very happy with the result of our efforts and felt we met our goals.

Did we give our educators a different  district-wide PD experience? YES!   One that has multiple activities that activated multiple senses?  YES!

Did we go beyond reading powerpoint slides and give educators an applied experience that made learning visible? Assessable? With their peers?  YES. YES. YES.

Did our lesson include opportunities for learner voice/choice? Collaboration? Communication? Deeper Thinking? Creativity? Integrate meaningful technology?  Again All YES!  However, some were to a greater degree than others.

Do we need to improve for the next time? YES!  We are far from done and are already brainstorming for PD # 3 in January!

What are some awesome things you have done on PD days in your district? Share your ideas or provide feedback to this post!

Note: This blog post is in direct correlation and will serve as evidence of my 2016-17 professional goals:

Design Thinking in Instructional Design

I have been intrigued with design thinking for some time.  Several years ago, we visited Shattuck School’s (Faribault MN) We Create center.  School leaders shared they had created their learning space (oh my it was wonderful) using the design thinking process.  Last year, we took a trip to the Mayo Clinic Center of Innovation and I  learned how they were using the concept to create innovative products/processes/systems/spaces to better serve their patients  Their motto – Think Big, Start Small, Move Fast.

Think Big, Start Slow, Move Fast!

Think Big, Start Slow, Move Fast! – Mayo Clinic Center of Innovation’s motto!


What I love the most about design thinking, is the human-centered approach. Through empathy interviews and observations, teams define problems (some not clearly visible) and ideate solutions based on  those findings.  Then, create a prototype of a solution to test with customers.    This process is utilized by all types of companies/organizations  – from health care to entrepreneurs.

This fall,  I am an adjunct prof in a graduate level course called Real World Learning Design.  Realizing that companies/organizations were using this methodology to innovate and solve problems (or create new products)  – I wondered – could I embed this methodology into my course?   I learned that schools were using the approach to redesign learning spaces. Could the same process be used to redesign learning? After all, shouldn’t students be at the center of our instructional design?

So, I did ton of reading over the summer.  First with Tim Brown’s book Change by Design, then with John Spencer and  A.J. Juliani’s book Launch.  I curated a huge bookmark folder of online resources and lurked #DTk12chat.  Then I stumbled on Stanford’s d.school’s Crash Course and other materials!  Having never participated in a design thinking experience, this provided an excellent roadmap to applying it into my course. (not just as a facilitator – but as a learner with my students!) Did I mention they have a creative commons license on their materials? Thank you d.school!

The past 3 weeks, my students (teachers) completed empathy interviews with their students around learning.  The key point to empathy interviews, leave your assumptions and bias at the door.  You need to go into the interview with a “beginner’s mindset” and not lead students into answers.

Teachers also observed their students outside of their classroom . It was eye-opening for some of my teachers to go into other classrooms and to watch their students. For some, they might be more engaged in one classroom – for others – maybe there was an obvious disconnect.  Led to questions… Why?

Fast forward to tonight.  As the stories came out, it was apparent we had quite a few common themes in all of the interviews.  (From grade 2 to high school) The first pic below is what we found as common themes.


2016-10-05-17-13-09 2016-10-05-17-13-13

Dear Teachers!

2016-10-05-20-24-49 Design thinking pictures


Some improvements I would like to make the next go around:

  • First F2F day, my students need collaborative time to create questions.  (maybe at least 4 common questions).
  • Have students send me at least the first interview for feedback.  Most of my students either recorded videos or podcasts of their videos.  There were times where they would “lead” students to answers and I believe getting feedback would make the experience better for the students
  • On the second f2f day, I need to create time constraints.  We probably spent too much time sharing our empathy maps/findings when we could have spent ideating and creating solutions. I would also like to explore different ideation strategies.  We also did not have time to go in and refine, refine, refine.
  • I am not sure I am happy with the timing.  Some of my students have already started the implementation of the lessons.  But, I still think there are opportunities to interject what is learned into experiences/activities with tweaks.  (I had one student share, how he began to change things already based on what he learned from his students.)
  • I need to either bring norms to the table OR create norms with the class.  Like – No “Ya Buts” when ideating.  Have signals for when people do so.  When other ideas emerge – let people go off and work out ideas.
  • I love the new “learning lab” space in our HS.  I think we should consider making it even more collaborative and functional.

One of my big aha’s is how design thinking is directly correlated with all of the Innovator’s Mindset characteristics.  I feel I have a deeper understanding – especially the traits of empathetic, observant, and problem finders after this teaching/learning experience.

George Couros - 8 Characteristics of the I nnovator's Mindset

George Couros – 8 Characteristics of the Innovator’s Mindset


Next Steps
Teachers will be designing and implementing learning experiences based on their definition of real world learning. They also will have an opportunity to take what they learned through their empathy interviews and implement  (their learning design prototypes) within their students.   They will collect student evidence of learning, get feedback and analyze and present their results.  I can’t wait!

Overall, I am very satisfied with the turnout.  Could it be better – absolutely!  I will definitely be using again in my next course – Innovative Instructional Leadership.

Evidence of Impact:
Here are a few of my student’s blog posts after going through the empathy interview process.  What I value the most about these posts – is their thoughts and desires to get to know their students better, to build upon teacher:student relationships and design better learning student-centered experiences.


One last note, since my cohort actually meets in my school – we decided to leave all of our materials up for our other teachers to see and invited them to share their ideas.  (with post-its and all!)  The more transparent we can be with our learning, the more opportunities there are for everyone to learn!

Dear Teachers

Goal 2 – Deepen my understanding of today’s educational environment

Learning today and Leading tomorrowWhy this is important to me: As a technology director, my 21-year career in education is somewhat nontraditional. My path originated from the “technology” side. First with a two-year electronics technology degree (1996) and then followed up with  a bachelor’s degree in business information systems (2005). Both degrees helped me become a better “technologist” and gave me a great foundation in implementing information systems within our organization.  A foundation that has deepened through numerous applied  “on the job” experiences. Then in 2010, my education lightbulb went off.  While my master’s major was in information and communication technology – my emphasis area was a 15 credit graduate certificate in eLearning.   While the “e” part in e-learning was easy for me (technology) it was the instructional design process in e-learning that was completely transformed my understanding and vision where technology and instruction can coexist to deepen and amplify learning.  

Of all the areas of my job, this (instructional innovation) is my passion. I not only want to continue to grow my understanding/skills in this area, but also support the growth of educators across my district/region/globe.


Action Steps

Instructional Focus/Professional Development Action Steps

  • Complete the design of the Innovative Instructional Leadership graduate program and publish courses with creative commons licenses so that others may use and/or adapt.
    1. Right now my students are in course 4 – Real World Learning Design.  We are off to a great start.  I would like to work on creating more engaging f2f sessions while modeling the effective use of technology with instruction/learning.
    2. Timeline – May 2016
  • Conduct JITT Trainings (small group) – Create/design purposeful PD for educators around district goals while modeling good instructional practices.  Collaborate with instructional coaches on design and delivery.  
    • Possible topics:
      1. ePortfolios (done)
      2. Making thinking/learning visible
      3. Using the SMARTBoard as a student station (differentiation)
      4. Maybe focus on the competencies – creativity, collaboration communication, critical thinking/problems solving, community service, careers,
      5. Student-centered learning
      6. Differentiation to personalization
    • Timeline at least 5-6 times per year starting in Sept.
  • Deeper/Personalized Learning (district wide) – This year I have been able to collaborate with our curriculum director and instructional coaches on all school PD.  We have 3 days in all and kicked off our first day during workshop week around deeper learning.  I want to work on modeling engaging learning experiences during these meetings.  I also want to find ways for educators to share what they have learned!
    1. My contributions to the Aug PLC day (presentation, website) Deeper Learning  Action plan (I used google forms with Autocrat to generate information from a google form to this google doc)
    2. Timeline: We will have another session in October, and one in March.
  • Improve presentation skills, facilitation skills, and coaching skillsCoach Clipart
    • Cognitive Coaching Certification
      • So far I have received 1 day of training out of the 8.  One of the things that I have observed, in these sessions, is that the trainer uses some great instructional practices I would like to try during JITT’s.  I would also like to try coaching at least 5 people.  I think this model could also be useful on a larger scale – not just for classrooms – but potentially other leaders.  
    • Implement at least 5 new small group/large group PD strategies that engage learners

Learner-Centered Action Steps

  • Develop understandings of the early learning environments.  Of all the different age levels and groups, I am least familiar with understanding the learning environments in grades PK-2.  I would like to gain a better understanding of great pedagogical practices in these grade levels.
    • Attend/participate in an Online Course: Building Rigorous & Robust PreK-3 Learning Environments – this is a FREE 18-week course through MESPA/MDE.  
      • Notes from kick-off day – One thing that I learned from this day – is there are many similarities in what we want in PK-3 classrooms and. HS classrooms.  
    • Observe understandings in PS Walkabouts
    • Potentially design PD around this (Instructional coach and/or principal)
    • Visit innovative early learning schools (Austin? – October?
  • Participate in Renegade Leadership Book Study to learn more about the environments in other schools.


Resources Needed (dollars, people, resources)

  • Training – Cognitive Coaching
  • Training –  Online Course: Building Rigorous & Robust PreK-3 Learning Environments
  • Work with #wsucohort1 teachers to practice Cognitive Coaching Skills
  • Find at least 1 early ed teacher to work with to design/create rigorous/robust PK-3 learning environments.  (I may need to work with Primary principal  and instructional coach to find someone)
  • Seek to find pk-3 innovative schools/classrooms outside of Byron to observe interview.
  • Find opportunities to collaborate on the development of PD with building principals
  • I’d like to try and co-facilitate a district book study (Innovator’s mindset?)
  • Reflection of progress (self and with others)





Notes, Agendas, Presentations, Pictures & Videos, Survey Feedback, Reflection/Blog posts, Voxer discussions

Improving My Leadership Presence

As I shared in my previous post – The Transparent Technology Director, I have decided to be completely transparent in my goals for the year. While I am still developing my 360 evaluation tool,  in the next few blog posts, I will be sharing my 2016-17 personal professional goals.  I dwindled the list down to 5 goals in COSN focus areas of leadership, instructional focus/professional development, stakeholder focus, digital communications, and information technology management.

In each of my goal blog posts, I will share my goal, why it’s important to me, action steps, resources needed, and predicted deliverables/evidence of learning.  As always, your feedback is appreciated.

Goal 1 – Increase my leadership presence at Byron Public Schools

  • Why it’s important to me –  Last year was a great learning year for me.  I was charged  with evaluating our district’s 1:1 initiative, and worked with district instructional coach’s on providing more Just In Training Time sessions for the district.   Within both of these items, I was able to re-connect with district teachers.   From these connections, I began a journey of learning more about our district’s classroom environments.  I LOVED being invited into classrooms and observing learning in action.  There were other times, I went in to observe classrooms with principals.  In any of these situations, I found it  helped me understand where I can be a better support for our classrooms and schools.  I would also like to improve my presentation skills.  I am, by far, most comfortable in small group, 1 to 1 settings.  However, in large group settings – I feel I feel I am not quite as confident as I wish to be.  I would like to  learn strategies that can captivate large group audiences.  I specifically am looking to improve my storytelling skills – as well as facilitation of large group staff development.  (NO SIT AND GET – or at least very little of it!)  
Leadership Presence Traits

Image Amy Cuddy Ted Talk  Your body language shapes who you are

  • Action Steps
    • Increase visibility within Byron Public Schools classrooms.  Work with each principal and schedule “walk-abouts” to observe learning in action.  While it is a challenge, I would love to be able to see 100% of Byron Classrooms by April/May. Keep a running doc of reflections in each building.
    • Conduct and record at least 20 interviews  classroom/learning stories to share with our community. (4 or 5 per building)
    • Find opportunities to observe large group presentations/PD.  (Good ones) Reflect on strategies  used to engage the audience.  Mix observations with F2F and online (TedTalks is a great place to observe!).
    • Design and implement effective in-house PD sessions (JITT and Staff Dev days). Take time to reflect – what worked, what didn’t work. – Revise and retry. Create survey to be shared after each session to improve efforts.
    • Find opportunities to shadow 5 leaders outside of my district to gain insight on leadership qualities/strategies of presence.  Reflect and assess skills/strategies I can improve based on what I see.
    • Schedule at least 1 #mnlead chat around “Leadership Presence” and possibly a follow-up Google Hangout on Air interview with leaders to discuss these traits/strategies. (by January)
    • Continue to challenge myself with experiences outside of my comfort zone. (ongoing)
    • Create a mid-year reflection/evaluation in January – share with superintendent
    • Improve skills from the Leadership Impact Quotient Assessment
      • Results from Sept 18 self-assessment (below)- I would like to work on my communication and emotional agility  based on my self-assessment data. 
Leadership Impact Quotient Assessment

My results from the Leadership Impact Quotient Assessment

  • Resources Needed (dollars, people, resources)
    • I would love coaching and continuous feedback on my speaking skills.
    • Continued opportunity to present within our district.  (with feedback on areas of improvement)
    • Connections of people to observe/shadow outside of district (It doesn’t just have to be in education either)
    • Opportunities to observe great presenters outside of Byron (could be travel
    • Work with principals to schedule walkabouts.
    • Schedule time weekly – to reflect on goal.
  • Research
  • Deliverables (complete by May/June) –  Interviews, Reflections/Blog posts, Survey Data, Meeting Dates, Agendas, presentations. Before/after Self-assessment
Leadership Presence Wheel

Leadership Presence Wheel – via orachoaching.com

The transparent technology director

Transparency Quote

This fall I will be creating an implementing a  360-degree survey to receive feedback on my performance as a technology director for Byron Public Schools.  I originally looked at using Marzano’s District Leadership Evaluation tool.  I have to admit, as a technology director, I had a hard time identifying with this tool and found that it would require quite a bit of word-smithing to make it applicable to my job. I also wanted to be completely transparent with my goals and professional growth this year.  For me, that meant using my blog as a place to publish my goals, measurements, artifacts, and reflections of work. Instead of putting this behind a locked site, for only me and my Superintendent to see – my  ePortfolio would be completely public.  (Thanks @gcouros for the inspiration!)

Why?  I want to become a better leader in my field.  Putting my growth information behind a locked site for only a few to see is not going to give me the feedback I need to grow.  Making this decision is not easy… I am putting myself “out there” for criticism.  However, having a growth mindset, I am ready to take that criticism and  grow from it.  (Do I have reservations/fears about this  – you better believe it!)

I began looking for an evaluation framework for the tech director role.  Two sites immediately surfaced  that I felt did a fairly good job  to possibly measure what I bring to Byron’s table.

  1. ISTE Admin Tech Standards (I also like some of the coaching standards – especially teaching, learning, assessment)
  2. COSN’s Framework of Essential Skills of the K-12 CTO

At first glance, the COSN framework is quite comprehensive and has many strands/sub-strands.  Essentially, it takes the tech directors position (they call it chief technology officer or CTO) and break it down to bits.  My concern in using this as a tool for myself and others – it’s too big.  If I were to create a survey tool from this framework – it would take too long for my end users(who are giving me feedback) to complete.  I also found that I was more inspired to use ISTE’s standards. It was much shorter and  I could really see areas where I could grow and become a better LEADER.  I am going to co/mingle some of the frameworks/standards.

My goal is to create 1 survey  and seek feedback from staff, district leadership/board, peers, and key vendors.  I do not want to create a survey for each audience type.  I want the survey to be short and sweet with some open ended areas for feedback/suggestions.  I am planning on using the following scale. (click this link to provide feedback on the scale)

Tech Director Scale

Need your advice! I have created a doc to collect overall feedback from you.  Note, the ePortfolio section at the top right of this blog.  I am just starting to build that out and could use your help.  What am I missing? What resources do you have to share? Do you have any comments/advice?

Are we there yet? Evaluating 1:1 and 21st Century Instruction

Are we there yet?

One of my goals for the 2015-16 school year was to research the impact of our 1:1 iPad program on 21st-century instruction.  This was year 3 of  1:1 iPads in grades 7-12.  It was time to see if we were making an impact.   Even though 21st-century instruction is a “dated term”, it is still the term we coined in the report.  Maybe technology infused pedagogy could have been a better term – but honestly, what we are really looking for is student-centered learning that is amplified using technology.

The research would include feedback from parents, students, and educators.  Because our program is a 1:1 in only grades 7-12, I also needed to look at the differences of our 1:1 classrooms vs. non 1:1 classrooms.  This was a change from our 2014 survey.

The first step in this process was to redesign a couple of surveys to ask questions to around these instructional practices.  The parent survey had very little revisions, the student survey had a few revisions, and the teacher survey had significant revisions.

I decided to send the newly designed teacher survey to one of my favorite email groups – KIC – a technology integration group based out of the Minneapolis- for feedback.  From that email, I received quite a few responses, but it was  Dr. Joel VerDuin’s (@jverduin), Chief Technology Officer of Anoka-Hennepin schools, that gave me excellent advice!  He suggested that I also include focus group interviews. What a brilliant idea! How to archive these interviews – why not record (with my iPad!) and include them in the report?  These powerful video interviews with students, teachers, and samples of student work could further tell a story of how technology was impacting our classrooms.  It goes beyond graphs and charts and makes these new learning environments visible!  To deliver the report, I needed a tool that would work with text, graphs, and EMBED video – so I chose Google Slides.  I altered the page setup (8.5 x 11) and begin to organize my work.  If anyone needs a printed copy – a PDF can easily be downloaded and printed.

Below is the results of my research.  While we have had some great success, we still have a tremendous amount of work to do.  We are by no means “there” yet and will be creating new goals based on the findings of this research.  Take a peek at the videos.  Some teachers are at the beginning stages of new learning environments, while others have been working at it for a while. This also does not capture all of the great things our teachers are doing – just a small sample!     All worthy of celebrating!

Link to Presentation





Ripples: Influence, Impact and Connected Leadership

I have been reflecting about influence, impact  and connected leadership today.  How do others influence me? How do I influence others?  How far does one’s influence/impact reach?   When I think about influence, I think of ripples.  The first ring of impact is quite visible and deep but is the smallest in diameter. The rings continue to grow, but may not have as much depth and impact as that first ripple effect. Of course the ripple effect is going to differ based on the kind of impact.  The impact of a stone will have a larger ripple effect than a single rain drop. We are constantly being influenced by other sources.  What started as one ripple, may be morphed by the influence of another, and another.  Even external disruptions like bugs and boats – (technology) – will have also cause a ripple effect on the original impact of the ripple.

Riplle Picture

Flickr CC – aislinnv – https://www.flickr.com/photos/aislinnv/292440405

Today I presented at the Symposium of Women Educational Leaders conference a session called Learning and Leading with Social Media.  This presentation is a compilation of many influencers from my PLN that has had an impact on me for many years.   Even last night, as I was finishing my presentation, I sent out a single tweet.

Tweet from Apr 25.

Tweets and ripples

That tweet was picked up and retweeted by Kory Graham (@korytellers) who in turn sparked some tweets by  @ShellTerrell  @pammoran  @RosaIsiah  @teachwithsoul  ‎@AllysonApsey @Jennifer_Hogan @JennBinis and then tweets from Australia @mlobrien1 and New Zealand @vanschaijik started coming in – offering to help and support.  This wasn’t just a sprinkle of support -but a pouring of support from women leaders from all across the globe. (View the storify  conversation)  

As I presented my thoughts of connected leadership to  admin and aspiring administrators in MN today, I began to wonder – what kind of ripple am I creating?  Am I making an impact?  Or a ripple of influence? My PLN, I have created and interact with, continues to mold who I am professionally, what I believe, and where I will take action. My hopes is to  pay it forward with drops, rocks, ripples to support other educator who are willing to make their own ripples with their peers, pln, and most importantly – students!

Innovation and the 4 PLC questions

PLCs have become a staple in schools across the US.  No matter where you are in your adoption of PLCs – it’s undeniable that there is power in teachers talking about students and learning.  I spent some time with my MN PLN friends Ryan Cox, Kristin Daniels, and Eric Simmons a few month ago talking about this very topic.   We even presented some ideas at the Fall MASA conference and the Ties conference  last year.  But, as I have been reading and discussing George Couros’s book – Innovator’s Mindset – I once again coming back to those 4 questions and ways we can use PLCs to catapult innovation into our classrooms and schools.

Below I have listed the 4 PLC questions and have shared ideas and conversation starters to further explore those questions with innovation.


PLC Question #1 – What is it we expect our students to learn?

I think it is important for all of us to think about what it is we want our students to learn in school.  We are accountable to meet certain standards and I think sifting through all of those standards and picking out the critical standards is very important work.    

But is that it?  Are we going to be satisfied with our students leaving our classrooms, grade levels,  and school being proficient only in content?   While we want our students to know content, we have much more responsibility than that to ensure that we are developing today’s and tomorrow’s learners/citizens.  Just knowing stuff, isn’t enough. Once our critical ELO’s are determined, the exciting/transformational innovation can occur when educators take the time to connect core content to real world (job, life, social/emotional, local/global citizenship) experiences.  Identifying subject area critical ELO’s also opens the door to interdisciplinary opportunities.  Students are reading in science and social studies – how can we take advantage of this time to assess reading?  

And finally, what is it our students want to know or are curious about? What are the opportunities to connect content with their interests?

PLC Question 1 - with a twist

Innovation opportunities with PLC question 1

PLC Question #2 – How will we know when they have learned it?

Once we pick our critical ELOs and design learning experiences we need to determine how we will know students understand what we originally set out to teach them.  This question has all to do about assessment and with assessment brings multiple opportunities for innovation.  The first that comes to mind is formative assessment (assessment for learning).  As we apply curriculum, we need to do small checks to see if students understand what we are trying to deliver.   We use this information one of two ways.  We either give students feedback to improve their success OR we alter something in our instruction to better meet the needs of our students.  There are a variety of ways to do formative checks to find what students know.  Technology can also provide an opportunity to innovate formative assessment.  Instead of a one sized fits all system, we can now tailor assessment according to the child’s needs at the child’s pace.

Some of the more recent things that I see that are exciting are technologies that making thinking visible.  Drawing pictures, telling stories, and creating products (go makers!) to showcase what a student knows can be a very rich form of assessment.  Even if a student makes something with their hands, they can take a picture/video and explain their thinking very easily with today’s tech tools.  These thoughts can be shared with parents, other students, and even at a global scale for feedback.   This moment of learning can now used as artifacts  to measure growth over a long period of time.  

Assessment AS learning brings incredible way to innovate assessment – as the student has more ownership of the learning.  Do you provide students with an opportunity to own their learning?   Do they take more time to self assess/reflect on their work?  Do they recognize their strengths  and area where they need to improve?  As we move content into “real world” experiences – I believe it is these types of artifacts and  reflections that can help us understand if students understand the real world skills we are trying to provide them.   I firmly believe – that the ePortfolio IS the assessment of the 21st century.

Assessment for, as, and of learning. Image credit – http://www.edu.gov.on.ca

How will we respond when some students do not learn?

One of my favorite videos is Todd Rose’s Ted Talk – The myth of average.  

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4eBmyttcfU4  He offers a few critical findings from neuroscience that help us to re-examine assumptions about learning and new strategies to consider when designing learning opportunities for our students. Do you design your content and assessment to the edges or to the average?

If you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree - it will live its whole life believing it is stupidThere are numerous ways we can begin to innovate when learners do not understand what we are trying to teach them.   First – have you provided flexibility in how a student can meet the assessment you have provided?  As we go down the road of personalization, we need to consider multiple paths to show learning and meet our learning goals.   Universal Design for Learning  offers some powerful strategies for educators to meet the needs of all learners by creating flexible paths to the how, what, and why of learning.  

So often, I see interventions being exactly the same thing that did not work the first time (or second) for students…only MORE of it.  And so the boredom and frustration begins.  How open are you in creating  multiple paths in learning? Do students  have an active role in the decisions about their learning? Will this bring more buy-in to meet the course goals?  

There is no doubt that relationships between the student and teacher can be key here.  The better we know our students, the better we can customize their learning and connect learning to their interests.  Are learner profiles beneficial option to get to know our students quicker?  (last year’s ePortfolio might help too!)  

What about the pace?  If students do not learn, do you fail them – and move them forward, only for the same students to get further behind and never catch up? At what point is this not acceptable?  I realize that there are grade level standards but these are conversations we need to consider to meet our students needs.  

And finally, technology continues to evolve and provide more flexible paths for learners.  Does having content online help our struggling learners by giving them 24/7 access to their teacher?  What technologies provide flexible paths to content?  NewsELA is an example of a website that allows learners to read current events at their reading levels.  

How will we respond when some students already know it?

Designing for the edges not only supports our struggling learners, but also supports the learners who already understand the curriculum.  Essentially,  I see 2 options.  

First option – provide opportunities for students to go deeper with the learning. Technology that taps into student creativity can be fun!  (Enrichment worksheets are not fun)   It’s time to let our students creativity shine!  How do we continue to allow student to go up the blooms ladder?  Can we connect learning to making? Can students design something  they are passionate about?  Maybe they like art, or music, or basketball.  Is there anyway to tie the learning targets to their passions?  Maybe you give students a couple of options, and also allow a “Create your own path” type learning activity/assessment.  Students would need to present their ideas to you and there may need to be some sort of negotiation to determine if that idea is valid.  As I think of innovation – this is the cream of the crop – our students as innovators by implementing original ideas to meet learning goals!    

Option two – Let them move on to the next lesson/unit.  This is one area where blended learning can be of service to teachers and students and allow students to get through the content at their pace (which is much faster than those who struggle).  So what happens if you have students that get through the content quite quickly?  Is there an opportunity for a genius hour type project?   Or maybe there is another path for students to connect their learning to the real life experiences mentioned in question 1?  

So what are your thoughts?  Is innovation with PLCs a viable option?  What ideas do you have to bring innovation to scale in your schools?  What innovative ideas can you share aligned to any (or all) of the 4 PLC questions?

So you’re looking/hiring for a tech job?

Today I had an opportunity to attend a coaching seminar with Rick Olson – Don’t Just Manage – Coach.  While doing so I had an opportunity to reflect on how we hire and coach technology support in our school districts and possible improvements to the process.  While I am going to focus on hiring tech support – I believe the ideas in this post could be beneficial for hiring anyone with in an organization.

Hire Wisely

“Hire attitude – train skill.”  This is a statement I have heard quite often and am becoming a bigger believer in it.  I believe the look for’s for Fixed/Growth mindset are critical here so we need to be sure to ask questions during the hiring process that will allude to this.  While I realize there is a certain level of expertise that comes with the job of technology support – I would much rather hire a technician that might be lacking experience in a skill or two if they have the attitude and drive to improve their skills.  Having someone completely skilled – with a cruddy attitude – is not going to do your school or department any good.  Negativity and doubt can weigh heavily on a system.  If you are a tech, and are looking at getting a job – be sure you update yourself on the topic – and Carol Dweck’s book Mindset.  But, just don’t bring it to the interview and then wallow back into a fixed mindset when you are done – – – you need to start living it.

I also have two other takeaways for  hiring great staff.  Do phone interviews first.  This may eliminate wasteful time at an actual face to face meeting. We have been there – the paperwork looks awesome, but the actual person isnt a good fit after the first 2 questions.   You should be able to get a sense of attitude from the phone call. I also think it is a great way to find good people who’s skills might be missing in a few areas.  Maybe you have a couple of people on the fence – this may be an opportunity to learn from them a little more and if the attitude is there-  give them a shot!   The other idea was one that was shared from the audience.  Send the interviewees a scenario and have them ready to talk about it at the interview.  While they can google all they want – provide an opportunity for those critical thinking skills to shine during the interview process.


Are you a coach or a boss?

Are you a coach or a boss? Image Credit – http://insidehrdq.com/

Develop our people

This does mean that we need to think about having opportunities to develop our tech support. Do you have a career advancement process in place? Could this bring better more talented candidates to your table?  When your ready to hire and the notice goes out – is opportunities for advancement/growth listed?   I often think of Dan Pink’s book Drive.  The 3 big things that lead to motivation in the workplace are incredibly intrinsic =  autonomy, purpose, and mastery.  I think the first 2  – should be fairly easy to relate to techs and tech support. We need techs that can create solutions to problems and tech support is our purpose.  (we also need to highlight customer support is our purpose as well)  But – mastery may be one area that is a little blurred in our districts.  Gone are the days -”I want to work for a system and stay there and stay at the same level for 30 years.”  Are there opportunities for advancement/growth within your district?  Some of the things I have been tooling is the idea of certifications and advancement. Maybe we need to start investing in our techs and provide them with the skills they need to do the job.  Most other businesses in the world do this, do we need to create the same opportunities for our staff too?  How often do your techs submit for staff development funds? How often do you plan the actual development for your support staff? Has your techs created a learning network outside of your district? How about a PLN?  I also have to highlight we also need to be a learning organization. Not all learning has to come from external resources – are there opportunities for our staff to go above and beyond the job description? Do we recognize and honor that work as well?

If attitude is everything - what does your say about you?

Image credit – msmoem.com

What do YOU bring to the table? How do you impact your team?

One of the things that Rick shared today is that our staff are boss watchers.  If we want good customer support – we need to model the same things with our staff.   We set the pace of attitude.  If you’re having a bad day (we all do) be careful how you portray that attitude to your staff. If we really value customer service, we need to model it even when the conditions are tough.

Are you empowering your team to help with the problems you face?  Change that is done to people is  more difficult than change where people have a voice in the solution.  How often do your reach to your team to create solutions? How often are you listening to them for problems?  One of the big takeaways from today is that we have be like coaches.  Many times that means asking questions rather than giving blanket statements. We also have to be open to the answers we received – it might be difficult to take but if you have a growth mindset you need to embrace that feedback to make your department better.


What strategies do you apply to develop a top notch technology team?  I’d love your feedback!

What if?

I have been participating in #ossemooc Innovator’s Mindset book study.  This week’s blog hop challenge asks us to ask ourselves what if?  SO, I decided to play along.  Below are some blue sky questions that may or may not challenge the status quo of school.  I will be honest  – its this kind of stuff that “trips my professional trigger”.   Collaboratively coming up with solutions  to the questions below (and having the time and resources to act on them) would be a professional dream.


#ossemooc What If Challenge

#ossemooc What If Challenge

  1. What if the Carnegie unit disappeared from schools?
  2. What if student schedules were interdisciplinary and personalized according to their needs?
  3. What if we focused less on “what you know” and more on “what you can do to improve the world with what you know”?
  4. What if learning experiences outside of school, could be used to meet standards inside of school?
  5. What if our communities had a vested and shared interest in the success of our students and meaningful partnerships  were created to fully leveraged for maximum impact on student learning?
  6. What if higher ed partnered with k12 schools in teacher prep programs?
  7. What if learners had more significant and meaningful input into their educational experience?
  8. What if every educator was connected to a PLC (f2f) and a PLN (digital)?
  9. What if every student was connected to a PLC (f2f) and a PLN (digital)?
  10. What if “Assessment As Learning” trumped “Assessment OF learning”?
  11. What if schools were held accountable by holistic measures… not just standardized tests?
  12. What if every student, that graduated from high school, had significant resume worthy job experiences including internships, community reviewed business plans,  patents, and published work?
  13. What if every student  could articulate their human potential?
  14. What if we had time to ask with students, teachers, administration, board, parents, and community to ask…..What if – to help redefine what school is for?
  15. And more importantly…. What if we had time and resources  to  create solutions and act on those “What if’s”?

So there you have it!  What did I miss? What are your What if’s?  

STOP STEALING DREAMS: Seth Godin (16:57)


School vs Learning by George Couros - Sketchnote by Sylvia Duckworth

School vs Learning by George Couros – Sketchnote by Sylvia Duckworth