Friday, December 14, 2018

And it's Inclusive Practices for the Win! Or, Maybe it Was Just Good Education?

Last summer, my school's Applied Tech department went through a major remodel and with the help of community partnerships, grants and the school district a Fabrication Lab became a reality after years in the making. The Fab Lab, as it's known around Brookfield Central, is a place where teachers can bring their classes down to create. The possibilities in the space are endless; there are 3D printers, laser cutters/engravers, CNC tools, video production equipment, vinyl cutters, dye-sublimation, and embroidery (and I'm probably forgetting something) machines that can help you bring your vision to life. I've been pretty excited about this space for some time. I had the opportunity to co-teach with the visionary behind this space last year, Tom Juran, so simply by working in close proximity to him, I got to see some of the planning. When he told me this fall that he was looking for a teacher to be brave and plan a unit that could utilize the FabLab, I volunteered one of my co-taught Physics classes. I figured Mike Mohammad would be fine with it, or at least I hoped he would. After all, we have makerspace in our classroom but the students primarily build out of cardboard, popsicle sticks, plastic cups and anything else that they bring in or that they can find. Mike has a busy semester teaching two sections of Physics with me and then two more to make for an overload. I was a little hesitant given his already large workload but my gamble on Mike's interest was accurate; he was in.

Mike has already blogged about the process and lesson design so I'm not going to re-write about the experience from a lesson planning perspective. Instead, I want to share a few stories about the big inclusive practice win took place as we built chariots for our robot spheres, otherwise known as Spheros...

To summarize the project, we looked to build our own Sphero Chariot. A Sphero is a programmable robot sphere. The chariot must hold a rider of at least 50 grams and be able to navigate a course. The Sphero could not be manually controlled but be programmed through the use of the SpheroEdu app. In the FabLab, we wanted each team to design one component of their chariot to be 3D printed and one component to be cut on the laser engraver.

Our class is comprised of 29 students and one peer collaborator for a total of 30 students. The peer collaborator is there to assist a student who receives instruction that's in line to the Common Core Essential Elements (CCEE) and is graded on his progress towards meeting his IEP goals. I'm going to call him Dave. In all of his other classes, he has an adult assistant but in Physics we were able to pair him up with a student. Simply put, it's awesome. There are two other students in the class who have similar goals. We'll call them Kerry and Nichole. There are also five other students in the class who have IEPs and three of those five require a fair amount of advanced planning on our part due to executive functioning deficits and significantly below grade level reading or math skills. Actually having inclusive groups has been something that I've had to work at. It didn't organically happen but by getting to know the students in the class and letting them know how much I appreciate their gentle nature, compassionate spirit and patience I've got a core group of peers that welcomes these students into their lab groups after a little prompting on my part.

The class was instructed to split up into groups of no more than three before we began the project. I usually allow some of the groups to be four if one of our most diverse learners is part of the group. As it turned out, we actually had three girls who work well together approach Kerry and Nicole. For that group, we approved a five person team. Inside, I was doing a happy dance...I didn't even care that group got larger than Mike and I originally planned. These kids were approach by peers and asked to  be in a group. Dave, was asked to be in a group that had included him during previous times. The "neurotypical" crowd is very kind to Kerry, Nichole and Dave but like I wrote earlier, these partnerships don't happen organically. It has taken instruction on my part throughout the semester on how to work, communicate and what to expect. It's not enough to just have Kerry, Dave and Nichole  sit in the group but we need to find meaningful ways for them to participate.

I was pleased that all three really gravitated towards the block programming. One day, I received an email from Kerry that begged, "Can I please come in during block 1? My friend Sami is going to be working on the program and she needs my help."

My friend Sami.

Kerry was begging for a pass to miss one of her other classes so she could come in extra to work on the program. Prior to this school year, Kerry wanted little to do with her regular education peers in a regular class. Now, she viewed this girl as a friend.

Dave really enjoyed controlling the Sphero and spent hours during his Guided Study practicing manually controlling the robot. This gave him some nice background experience so when it was time to program his Sphero he knew how sensitive it was. You can see in this video how his group found a way to include him during the testing.
Another favorite moment occurred with a girl who happens to received special education services. I'm going to call her Melissa. Melissa is not a good group member and I wouldn't say that's a result of her learning disability. Attendance isn't consistent, she doesn't take initiative and is one of those students who is addicted to her phone. She happened to be absent the day groups were set and got left out of the group of 4 she usually works with (I thought they probably would be two groups of two). Instead, Melissa found a group with two other girls who have similar characteristics when it comes to group work. Let's just say that Melissa OWNED this project. She organized the other two and made sure things got done. This group was consistently ahead of schedule and built a solid chariot. They had more time to program than any other group and more opportunities to revise their design. One day, I overheard another student say, "Do you think it's bad that Melissa's chariot is going to be the best one in the class?"

I exercised restraint from going full blown Mama Bear on this boy.

I interjected by saying, "Why would you ask that?" He had nothing. It made him super uncomfortable and I hope he thought about why he'd say such a thing. Did he say it because a group of girls was  dominating this project up to that point? Did he say it because maybe he knows Melissa struggles academically and was dominating this project? Or, did he say it because Melissa turned out to be an amazing group member and any group would have benefitted from her participation in this project? It doesn't matter why, as a female and advocate for students with disabilities I was annoyed he'd say something like that.

The other chariot that made heads turned was also designed and built by students who receive special education. These two boys usually pick on another to be partners and are the youngest in the class. I'm fine with them working together. One of the boys usually has difficulty communicating his thoughts and ideas. He was able to work with a peer from the engineering class to make his 3D vision come to true. He also has a home where parents work third shift and there's no one at home to tell him to stop playing video games and go to bed. Consequently, it's not uncommon for him to be falling asleep in class because he only got a few hours of sleep. He didn't show signs of being tired during this entire two and a half week project. Unbelievable.

I've heard Shelley Moore speak about inclusive practices and she uses the following graphic to illustrate what inclusion should look like. I'll be honest, the physics class doesn't look like inclusion all the time but I really work hard to spread those colored dots out as much time as I can. This was one of those projects where I felt it wasn't just an inclusive practices win but a huge EDUCATION win. Often times I look back on a classroom experience and immediately start thinking about ways to make it better from strictly a special ed perspective. For this project, I can identify things that Mike and I need to do better from a project design perspective but am so proud that the kids with very diverse learning needs were included by their peers, found meaningful ways to participate and felt a connection to the content. Everyone was successful. This is what classroom should be like. Everyone feels successful.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Creating Student Agency, Ownership and Empowerment...and the IEP

About four years ago, I began using a Learner Profile that was inspired by Barbara Bray and Kathleen McClaskey's book, "How to Personalize Learning."  In a nutshell, it was a grid that explained strengths, weaknesses, needs and preferences as it related to Universal Design for Learning. Students would go through an interview process with me, we'd fill it out together and then the student explained it at their IEP meeting. If I was lucky, the student would also use it to advocate for themselves in the regular education. After a few iterations of the process, my students began to think more about their learning, develop agency and taking greater ownership in classrooms that were designed around personalized learning principles.

So, here we are several years later. 100% of my caseload now have Learner Profile documents that are presented during IEP meetings to the team. This has been a complete game changer for student and parent engagement during the IEP meeting. The meeting itself has turned into a conversation around the student's strengths, weaknesses and what the student thinks works in terms of support. Now, the IEP meeting has turned into a positive and meaningful conversation that hits many parts of the IEP (strengths, weaknesses, supplementary aides and services). We will spend time talking goals and data but that is not at the center of conversation. At the high school level, we still need to try and close achievement gaps but we also need to teach students to identify what assistive technology, apps, extensions, whatever they need to be successful to overcome the identified weaknesses in the classroom. This is what IEP meetings should be all about and the Learner Profile addresses this.

This week I presented the following presentation at SLATE on engaging IEP meetings and shared out a number of resources to help teachers move in a direction of student led IEP meetings.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Never Miss a Chance to Say Thank You

I loved school when I was young. I had some really inspiring teachers at every level but I can't think of anyone more impactful than my 5th grade teacher, Mrs. Blicharz. Seeing as that was 31 years ago and through the eyes and memories of an 11 year old, some details may not be quite accurate, but this is how I remember it....

Sometime in early elementary school I was identified as, "Gifted and Talented." To this day I can't imagine what I was "gifted and talented" in. It sure wasn't math (more on that to come) and I doubt it was reading but nevertheless I, along with eight others, were pulled out of grade level classrooms and met twice (but I think some years it was three times) a week for 45 minutes to do stuff. And, by stuff I mean we put on plays, learned how to play chess, and played Oregon Trail. When we played Oregon Trail, we experienced it through a booklet. After all, this was the mid 80's and my school had four computers on carts. We must have done more but those were the activities that really left an impression. When we, "went to GT" it was the same time; like 10:30 every Monday and Wednesday. While we were gone, class continued. As a result of this routine, I ended up missing the same content instruction twice a week and every year it seemed like I missed math. There were some gaps by the time I reached 5th grade that my "giftedness" was not able to compensate for.

Enter Mrs. Blicharz, my 5th grade teacher. Mrs. Blicharz was not the warm and fuzzy teacher who  wore apple sweaters. She meant business and every student in the lower grades knew that.

She was perfect for me.

Up until that time, I was really good at, "playing" school. I was compliant and put a lot of effort into what I did. I was a people pleaser and I must have been a decent test taker during elementary school because I kept getting sent to "GT" every year. She, however, saw my gaps in math early in the school year and addressed them in a nurturing way. I remember staying in from recess to get a little more help with long division, fractions and early algebra concepts. I don't remember feeling like it was a punishment. As a teacher myself now, I know she really cared. She probably had two opportunities to use the bathroom a day and she was blowing one of them on me and my math gaps that were creating insecurities.

One day, I remember her saying to me, "You don't have to go down to GT if you don't want to." Maybe my parents were involved behind the scenes or maybe she and the GT person spoke about my lack of math giftedness but the way I remember it is that I had a choice and had just been given responsibility. I didn't always go to GT after that. That empowerment to take control of my own learning was an important lesson in self-advocacy for me. I was in control of my own learning and could make decisions about it.

Mrs. Blicharz was one of the first teacher who I remember seeing as a real person. She talked about her children and her life outside of school. One day, she showed her vulnerable side and it's something that has always stuck with me. As a class, we were getting ready to correct a math assignment and she was notified that she had an important, personal, phone call. A look a worry came over her face and as she was walking out the room she said, "Andi, please correct the homework with the class." Dumbfounded with my new and unexpected responsibility during MATH class, I walked to the front of the room and modeled the behavior I had watched teachers do before with perceived  confidence. We went over answers and did examples on the board. After that, she still wasn't back so I led the class in a game of Around the World...a favorite of our class. I kept that class going until recess at which time we all left. Upon returning from recess it was evident that she had been crying. I updated her on what we did while she was out and learned that there had been a death in her family, I think it was a beloved aunt. That day I saw a strong woman who was my teacher, vulnerable. She was no longer just a super hero in my daily life but a super hero who was hurting. I just loved her even more that day.

It's been 31 years since I walked through the doors of Mrs. Blicharz's classroom. I can't tell you one learning target I mastered in 5th grade however, I did leave that classroom in June with some bigger life lessons. I found a sense of ownership for my own learning and education. I discovered that I had confidence in front of others and began to think I wanted to be a teacher too. I also began to see teachers differently. They were real people with lives and loved ones outside of work. As a parent now, I realize that children this age are incredibly ego-centric and that's developmentally normal. That's why we teach perspective taking and empathy to young children. I think 5th grade was a time my brain really started to develop and I began seeing the world bigger than just what happened in my day.

I've been thinking about this post for a few years and only this week really put some effort into tracking down my beloved 5th grade teacher. With the help of Facebook, I was able to locate one of her sons who is going to share this with her.

My current principal sends the students and staff off at the end of the day with announcements and this saying:  Always search the world for the positive and never miss a chance to say thank you. Yesterday, he challenged the entire school to take 10 minutes and send an email of gratitude to someone. It felt like the time had come to finally get this post written and shared. Thank you Mrs. Blicharz for your years of service to public education. If there was ever a question about a life you touched, know you touched mine.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Personalization vs. Individualization and Special Education

Last week I had the opportunity to attend the 9th Annual Convening on Personalized Learning and present alongside Mike Mohammad, Shannon Maki, Stephanie Radomski, Matt Schroeder and Ryan Milbrath. Our session was titled, "All Mean All, An Epic Smackdown of UDL Strategies." Mike put together a comprehensive blog post right here with all our resources. The presentation went really well and we were even approached by a local administrator who asked if we'd be available to present to their staff. The feedback we received was overwhelmingly positive.

The other highlight of my week was having the opportunity to sit down with Andrew Easton, the host of the Westside Personalized Podcast, and talk about the work I do with Learner Profiles and co-teaching in a Personalized Learning classroom. The topic of personalization vs. individualization came up and that's something I really haven't thought deeply about for a few years - not since Shannon Maki and I did a full staff development around this chart a few years ago. At the time, the term personalized learning was new to our staff and we needed to provided some PD around the use of the words, personalization, differentiation and individualization.

PDI chart v3 from Kathleen McClaskey

Special education teachers are masters of individualization and differentiation but where does personalization fit into the equation? Mike Mohammad, my co-teacher, and I re-evaluate where our classroom is headed often to make sure we aren't slipping into legacy practices...which are comfortable. I heard a speaker last summer ask the question, "how many of you are masters at a practice you don't really believe in?" The speaker was referring to inclusive practices so not exactly this context of personalized learning but I think the question is still relevant. We provide a lot of choice in assessment options that challenge learners to connect learning to interests, talents and aspirations. We put students at a starting point with content and let them decide what direction they want to go and make them responsible for identifying their needs (to which we respond). We make reflection a valued part of our class and set aside time for students to reflect on their learning.

So, where do my skills as a special education teacher fit into all of this?

Recently, our students began their passion project, which will end up being the "final exam" grade for the term. They can pick anything, it doesn't even have to relate to physics because we are looking at the process they take, not so much what their topic is. One day a week is going to be devoted to this project. There are three learners in the class who fall into the category of, "alternate curriculum." I'll be honest, a lot gets individualized  for them. When the class is reflecting, this group is also reflecting but is provided sentence stems and word banks. They have also chosen the option to voice record their reflections (actually, any learner in the class could do this but they don't). Back to the passion project...My three learners who, several years ago, would have been in self-contained classrooms all day, embraced this passion project. They had no problems coming up with something they wanted to learn more about. As a teacher, I totally lucked out when two of the three picked making cookies from scratch (they mostly just have experience with frozen cookie dough and I say lucked out because the number of IEP/transition goals/objectives I'm going to be able to hit is astounding) and the third picked learning more about the baritone and woodwind instruments. I bounced between the three of them and guided their thinking to help them determine what the learning goals are going to be and what the end product was going to look like so they could start planning a map to get there. The learner who identified the music project had his mind blown when I shared with him an app on the iPad that will help him analyze decibels and then started a conversation about sound waves. In general, I feel pretty good about how learner driven everything was to this point.

This last week, the class had to do research on their topic using databases. This is where I stepped in and did a lot of individualization. To be frank, it doesn't matter if I have a way create an audio option for any articles found, they aren't going to be appropriately leveled for these learners. For these learners to be independent with their work the reading levels need to be at the elementary level. Otherwise, an adult is reading out loud, paraphrasing and honestly just telling them what they need to know. There's too much on the shoulders of the teacher and leaves the learner with very little responsibility. To combat this, I use resources like Newsela and to find articles and then assign them to students. The student logs in and often can even listen to the article. I provide some guided inquiry questions and they responded. Again, I do the searches and learners read what I find for them. Sounds a lot like a legacy classroom. The reality is, it would take an unreasonable amount of time to have the learners do the searches. This activity was completed on a day I was out of the classroom and I was thrilled to see that they did it independently. Huge win. Based on the emails I received from the learners, they were clearly engaged and started to ask new questions that can be weaved into their project.

I'm truly excited to see where these projects take these learners. They are actively designing what they want to learn about and I'm on the side making sure the route is accessible.

Stepping back and really thinking about personalized learning again, I think that my role as a special education teacher is to make sure the path the student wants to take is accessible. My role is not to tell them what they need to learn but making sure what they want to learn is available to them. We still have an obligation to make sure learning is accessible to ALL learners through UDL principles. That might mean spending time differentiating and individualizing but making sure our starting point is driven by the learner. 

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

It's the Law... (Day 2 of #iSummitWisco)

Today I attended Day 2 of the iSummit. I heard some powerful ideas and had great conversations with my co-workers but it was far from the most impactful part of my day.

About a week ago, I received an email from our assistant superintendent asking if I'd be interested and available to be part of a teacher panel to meet a delegation of administrators and principals from China. The panel was going to meet during Day 2 of the iSummit but since I was just down the street and wouldn't be missing very much I said, yes. The delegation was specifically interested in how we meet the needs of students with disabilities. Since students with disabilities aren't included in the traditional classroom, they had a lot of questions.

I wasn't alone on the panel, my co-teacher and collaborator, Mike Mohammad was there too. We have worked together for nearly 10 years making the science classroom and curriculum accessible to all learners. We've learned together, failed together and succeeded together. We've also presented and shared our story plenty of times...I understand why we were asked to speak. 

Generally we're questioned about what we do, what our classroom looks like and what sort of supports are in place. Today, we were asked to describe our class make-up, how we group students, a little about teacher evaluations and one other big thing. Something that I've never encountered before. Now, I'm going to preface this with we were communicating through a translator and sometimes I didn't completely understand what was being asked. The question was raised that was something to the effect of, how do we respond to public reaction of these students being included?

I wasn't exactly sure how to respond because, well, it's the law. So, that's what I said.

It was at this point our superintendent interjected and reiterated that here in America, it's the law. He then went on to say that all schools are in the business of promoting excellence. However, what makes America special is that we also strive for excellence but additionally strive for equity and equal access. That's part of our value system.

I know that other countries are different and have a different value system. I know that in some countries people with disabilities don't have the same access to education and opportunities as they do in the United States. However, to be in a room with people who are having a hard time wrapping their minds around this concept was mind blowing, especially since I've been spending my days in a large ballroom at a hotel celebrating inclusive practices and really thinking about ways to move to being wildly inclusive with 500 other educators. The difference between the two crowds couldn't have been more different. It was a reminder that there are different realities for marginalized groups everywhere.

After thinking more about this and my own reaction, I was taken back to when I was a junior in high school. I had the opportunity to attend an American Youth Foundation summer camp at Camp Miniwanka in Michigan. I attended a 10 day session that was attended by high school and college aged youth from all over the world. I met others from Australia, France and South Africa among other countries. None of the people I met had as much of an impact on me as Lorianne, from South Africa. Lorianne was a young adult, early 20s and black. Since this was the mid 90s she had very vivid memories of what it was like to live under apartheid and when people couldn't wrap their heads around it, I remember her looking at us and stating, "It was the law." She also shared with us, with tears in her eyes, what it was like to vote for the first time. Listening to her talk about what it was like to live like that, I couldn't help but be moved. Even though I knew what apartheid was from school and the news, I thought understood. I knew nothing.

I feel like today was sort of like that. I thought I understood what education in other countries for students with disabilities might look like...I have a feeling I have no idea.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Reflection from Day 1 of #iSummitWisco18

I have had a jam packed week or so of inspirational PD. I participated in the first ever #HiveSummit and found myself energized after watching each video. To put this in context, I watched most of them while on an elliptical at the gym and felt like I could keep on going, even after the 45 minute or so video was over. Today was day one of the iSummit. This is a conference put on by my district to celebrate and push the conversation towards inclusive education. Being a special education teacher, these are my people, my tribe that I need to learn from so I can be better equipped to have those tough conversations with people who have differing views about inclusive education.

Today, we heard from Julie Causton and Shelley Moore. Oh my goodness...Shelley Moore. I could listen to her speak all day. Her way of telling stories and driving points home was inspirational. I was trying to Tweet, take notes and pay attention all at the same time and couldn't seem to make it all happen because I was too afraid I'd miss something. There was so much to reflect on...I don't possibly have enough time here to dive into all of it so I'm picking my top three take-aways.

First, this is the most powerful reason for the WHY behind inclusive education I've ever seen. As educators, we can't teach to the middle because we'll end with the 7-10 split. You just really need to watch this short 3 minute video.

Second, we were asked to ponder this question:  How many of us are refined at a practice you don't believe in?  YIKES!  How many things to do I do everyday that I don't really believe in but do because of outside pressure to conform, please parents, keep the peace between students, look good in case an evaluator just shows up...I've been in plenty of situations where we were pretending inclusive practices were happening but in reality, it was just integration.
Image result for inclusion exclusion segregation integration

Finally, my third big thought to ponder was being intentional. For inclusive education to be successful, there needs to be intention behind it. What is the personal, social and intellectual purposes behind the learning experiences? This grid was provided to help us organize our thoughts and intentions.

Inclusion is about increasing places with purpose over time. This got me thinking about how I approach IEPs for students with intellectual disabilities, behavior and all the work I do with behavior mapping with one of my students with Autism. I feel like I've done a behavior map for every location at school but I know there will always be more because life doesn't just happen at school. I'm going to need to look at more experiences in the community. By creating these behavior maps, I'm intentionally teaching behavior strategies in an authentic environment, providing opportunities to reflect and am constantly increasing the places with purpose. After hearing Shelley Moore's message, I'm feeling more confident in what I'm doing and am motivated to keep moving forward to find more places.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Feeding Your Feedback Strategies

This week was day one of the annual Leadership Academy for secondary schools in my district. It's a chance for anyone who sees themselves as a leader or just wants to get more involved in their school to participate in the annual data dig as we sort through ACT and ACT Aspire numbers and student engagement data. As a department head, I feel an obligation to go but I also really like to know what's going on. These Academy days are also when we plan PD for the staff.

Recently I wrote how my school really shifted our early release Thursday focus last year to be more teacher centered and used this time for PLCs to meet. That isn't changing for this year but it does appear that our day just got 15 minutes longer. Hopefully those minutes can be used for those, "must dos" like epi-pen training and quick nuts and bolts. Plus, there is something to be said for a staff to connect for just a few minutes each week for celebrations. We're a big school and there are some people I only see throughout the week when we have staff meetings.

This week when we broke into smaller committees, I found myself focusing on the 4 C's, the 4 C's rubrics and how those skills can be integrated into classrooms. This built on the work we did last school year looking at the rubrics and writing, "I Can" statements and a descriptor for each of the 4C's. Our why behind this work is still a little foggy to me and I'm slightly embarrassed to admit that since I've been a part of every single step so far. Ultimately, we defined skills that students need to be successful after high school not just in an academic setting but also in a career or just life. We want teachers and students to be mindful of these skills in the classroom.
Communication:  I can respectfully ask questions and provide comments to create clarity or prompt further discussion. 
Critical Thinking:  I can use reasoning to create logical solutions to problems. 
Collaboration:  I can use feedback to prioritize and monitor individual and team progress toward producing high quality work.
Creativity:  I can generate insight and develop original solutions, persevering through setbacks. 
What I'm afraid is that it will be perceived as the staff as, one more thing. My goal, since I'm now on this committee, is to make the PD surrounding the message meaningful. I enjoy designing PD and presenting to my co-workers strategies that they can implement in their classrooms. I see this as an opportunity to have an honest discussion about feedback in the classroom.

This summer I had the opportunity to hear Garnet Hillman speak about giving effective feedback. I think if you spend 20 seconds in any conversation about how to move students forward the idea of feedback is going to come up. This is not a new idea but do teachers know how to give meaningful and effective feedback? From my work as a Destination Imagination team manager, I know all too well that it's easy to guide a student to the solution and that it's difficult to guide them through the process of having them discover the solution on their own. I see this in classrooms all the time. Teachers spend so much time writing comments on what needs to be fixed, what the next steps are and I ask who's doing the learning when this happens? Or, items are just marked wrong on an assessment with no feedback. Does that promote learning?

What I hope to provide my staff is an understanding of the why behind meaningful feedback. We need to move beyond punitive, recognize when corrective feedback is appropriate and provide  actionable feedback. This is when the student takes action to correct their own errors. During Garnet Hillman's presentation, I wrote down a dozen or so apps or websites to help teachers provide feedback. However, the strategies that I am most interested in sharing out are Mark Barnes' SE2R strategy and TAG,

S:  Summarize, include a positive or strength here
E:  Explain, include or reference the standard
R:  Redirect, direct students to reflect on prior learning or seek help from a teacher or peer
R:  Resubmit,  once the work has be revised, ask the student to re-submit

Going back to the 4C's "I Can" statements, students will need to also learn how to give quality and meaningful feedback to each other in order to develop communication and collaboration skills. I like the TAG strategy for this one.

T:  Tell What You Like
A:  Ask a question about the work
G:  Give an actionable suggestion

On the back of a scrap piece of paper, I currently have sketched out a plan on what a PD session, that's also going to double as the PLC kick-off, could look like. It's partly inspired by a Destination Imagination activity that I do with my team at every practice (and will be fun and promote laughter...I think they'll be more likely to remember with that emotion attached to it), introduces the work that has been done with these "I Can" statements and provides teachers with two, if not more, feedback strategies that they can start using right away. I'm a little nervous but in the end, I think it will be well received.


Tuesday, July 24, 2018

A Word About YouTube

I love YouTube.  There's my public proclamation of this huge repository of information. 

I am a knitter. I find it relaxing to create something pretty, reset my brain with repetitive movement and since I have close friends who also knit so it's a social opportunity (we're doing a yarn crawl this weekend...I'm so excited!). I usually have 3-4 projects on my needles; one is "social" knitting project or one that doesn't require a great deal of thought that I can do while talking; one that is a potential gift and a few that require a great deal of thinking and concentrating. Those are the ones you can find me working on in the early hours of a Saturday morning before anyone gets up at my house. It's just me, my yarn, a cup of coffee and my dog. Every now and then I come across a direction for a stitch that I don't know. There may be written directions, sometimes there isn't. Even if there is, I have a really hard time understanding what I'm supposed to do with the yarn and needles. I'm not sure what it is about my brain but that kind of learning doesn't work for me. I prefer to see and do it. Depending on the time of the day, my first impulse is to text my friend Erin. She's like my Siri for knitting. Most of the time, I'm just commenting that I don't know something because I do know how to solve my own problem; YouTube! I can't recall the last time I didn't know how to do something and couldn't find the answer on YouTube. There are plenty of knitters out there with YouTube channels that have taught me how to do what I'm looking to learn. My husband has fixed our dishwasher, central air unit and even some car repairs by watching YouTube videos.

It's no secret that YouTube has changed the way my 13 year old twins watch tv. This is where they have learned about new video games and one of my sons even taught himself how to play the mandolin a few years ago (yes, I have a child who plays the mandolin and now he plays in his school's fiddle club). I have a somewhat structured technology rule for the summer. They are not to play video games between 8:00 am and 5:00 pm. They CAN use technology if they are making or creating something. Some days, they've had a hard time filling that 8-11:00 chunk of time. So, they started cooking. We've had more cookies baked this summer than I think I've ever made in their 13 years of existence. One child made a complicated ice cream pop dessert for the 4th of July. They have since expanded their skills to include Asian inspired appetizer type dishes or DimSum that they have seen made on YouTube. Some of the dishes have turned into more of Pinterest fails in appearance but everything has been very tasty. They are starting to use words like, mince, to describe exactly how they would like something chopped. I'm finding that I need to go grocery shopping multiple times a week to keep them stocked with whatever they need.

YouTube provides our students a wealth of knowledge to learn whatever they need to do. YouTube can be an outlet for an authentic audience and be a place to share as well as learn. Learners need to feel empowered and have the skills to be self-directed to pursue their passions. This is where the teacher comes in. As teachers, I believe we need to encourage this curiosity and teach responsible use of this resource.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Personalizing Professional Development

My district has a one hour early release every Thursday. Once the students leave the staff follows whatever is planned for them. Sometimes it's a staff meeting, sometimes it's a department meeting, sometimes the district administrative team comes and speaks to us, select groups of teacher are pulled out to work with counterparts from around the district and it's also a time when all those "must dos" take place like epi pen training. Last year, our building administration tried to give as many of those minutes to PLC teams so teachers could work on what is important to them. A team of teachers and one building assistant principal outlined what that time could look like and what the expectations would be. Looking back, I think it was as successful as it could be. There turned out to be more of those "must dos" than I think anyone was prepared for and the teams didn't get as much time as we would have liked.

The first Thursday started with me doing a launch event with BreakoutEDU on effective PLCs with the entire staff. I had 16 boxes set up and it was amazing. The feedback was overwhelmingly positive. About a third of the way into the school year it was suggested that we do some sort of sharing out so we learn what all the PLCs were working on. We tossed around some ideas for sharing out without giving teachers, "one more thing to do." I suggested that we utilize Flipgrid and just have people share what work has been done. Easy-peasy and it put Flipgrid on the radar of teachers in the building and hopefully gave them ideas on how to use it in their classroom. I created a video using Adobe Spark and another co-worker did one directly on Flipgrid as models.

There was a lot of grumbling and it was viewed as, "one more thing to do." I kept my positive attitude and forged on with my vision.

My co-workers were amazing. This a perfect example of the importance of authentic audiences and  personalized PD. The videos that were produced were astounding. Teachers dove into video creation applications that they had always wanted to explore but never had time to. Every submission put the simple models to shame. The bar got raised every time another video was submitted.

If you have time, I suggest you check out some of the videos. The password is, "Espinosa." The creativity of my co-workers is amazing.

This was probably the most powerful example of why it's important to personalize education, have our students create and have authentic audiences. The teachers were working together, in like minded groups on a topic that were important to them and therefore engagement was increased. They created in a way that interested them and knew their audience.

I don't know what's in store for us during the 18-19SY. I hope that we are given time to work in our PLC teams again and anything that can be sent in an email is saved from a staff meeting to free up more time. I love the idea of teachers being able to learn in ways and from people that work for them. As George Couros wrote in his book, The Innovators Mindset, "What is essential for the success of any professional learning opportunity is to recognize that people need to more from their point A to their point B. Learning doesn't happen by simply distributing information." 

Friday, June 29, 2018

Recovering From My 1st ISTE Experience and Fighting Isolationism

Wow. Am I tired.

Wednesday evening I returned home from Chicago, which is only a quick 89 minute train ride south, after four days of geeking out at, "The Epicenter of EdTech," otherwise known as ISTE. It was a phenomenal experience. One that is not going to be wrapped up neatly in a single blog post.

My largest take away was the power of being connected. Everywhere I went, it felt like there was some blogger that I was familiar with or followed. I ran into people from other conferences that I've attended and even reconnected with a former co-worker who is now in Indiana. All the edu-famous I had the chance to meet were just as genuine in person as they seem online. I was able to meet people I follow on Twitter, have written the books I have been inspired by, and run the Twitter chats I lurk in. According to my phone's battery, Twitter has been the app sucking the most battery life in the last seven days. I used Twitter to experience all the parts of ISTE I wasn't able to. The #notatISTE18 hashtag was as interesting as the #ISTE18  because of all the content that was being shared out. Twitter became a critical tool to get the most out of my experience at ISTE. I adore Twitter because I have become connected with educators from all over the world. Most of the time I just read and "like" posts and sometimes I retweet. I'd like to get more involved with Twitter chats in the future. I often read the threads but rarely contribute.

I have some co-workers that poke jabs at me for my love of Twitter. I've been on since 2010 and while my presence has varied over the years I know that it's always a place I can go to learn from others. I have some favorite hashtags and can quickly filter the content I'm most interested in. During rough patches it was a place I was able to go and not feel isolated. In Chapter 3 of, "Shattering the Perfect Teacher Myth," Hogan writes:

When educators join forces, offer support, and hold
each other accountable, we all get better.

Fight isolationism. This might be the most valuable piece of advice that I can provide a new teacher or a teacher who is struggling. Everyone is at a different place in their lives. Family must always come first and we need to nurture those relationships that support and love us. My husband is a great guy and provides amazing support in everything I do but sometimes when I try to talk to him about some aspect of my profession it's not the same as if I was communicating with another teacher. We cannot dismiss ways to connect with like minded professionals. Not everyone can be on after school/before committees but everyone can find ways to eat lunch with a co-worker, engage in small talk in the mail room and learn what others are doing, listen to what students are saying about experiences in other classroom and follow up with that teacher. Twitter might be my preferred way to fight isolationism but it's not the only way. 

It's through connections that I feel challenged. I am forced to reflect and as a result I grow. ISTE was not just an amazing learning experience but also energizing. I find my energy in connections and relationships I have built with others. 
Image result for george couros isolation

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Super Fan...

I've been following George Couros on Twitter for years. He was probably one of the first people I started following on Twitter so when I was asked in the fall of 2015 if I wanted to attend a conference in which he was one of the featured speakers I jumped at the chance. I was part of a team from my school who attended the, "What Great Educators Do Differently" conference in Chicago and on the 90 or so minute drive I educated the group about as many of the speakers as I could. I quickly realized that I was a pretty big nerd and sort of enjoyed all the jabs my co-workers gave me. Of all the speakers listed, which included Todd Whitaker (I had read several of his books at this point and was a big fan of, "What Great Educators Do Differently"), I was most excited to hear George Couros. I found his ideas so refreshing and at the time we, as a district, were just starting to make personalized learning an expectation. While Couros doesn't specifically use the terminology, "personalized learning" the message isn't lost that the Innovators Mindset fits perfectly into the personalized learning framework.

This conference came at a time in my career when I was at a particular low point. Spending time on Twitter allowed me a place to connect with people who were excited about my profession. I followed leaders in innovation, project based learning and leadership and often found myself better about things when I got off the computer or put my phone down. I'm not going to go into detail about the challenges I was facing but let's just say that it wasn't the students or parents I served but a co-worker that made my stomach turn with constant negativity and personal attacks on not just me professionally but personally. It was really hard. I was filled with self-doubt on a daily basis. This conference came at the height of all the negativity and I got to hear Todd Whitaker's presentation about, "Shifting the Monkey." Talk about perfect timing. Then, that weekend I got to hear George Couros. He spoke about how innovative isn't about just being different it's about being networked, taking risks, being empathetic, being reflective and resilient. His book, "The Innovator's Mindset" was released shortly after the conference and I ate it up. It was a framework for the type of teacher I was trying to be and a model for the teachers I wanted to surround myself with. 

This week I'm attending the FIRST Education conference and tomorrow the keynote is...George Couros! Yay! I realize that I associate him not just with a fun weekend in 2015 at a conference but with the positive turning point where I was able to find my confidence as a teacher leader. He played a role with helping me find my voice and gave me a push to start this blog. 

I'm really looking forward to hearing him again...can you tell?
October 2015

Chapter 2 of "Shattering the Perfect Teacher Myth:" Hook Your Students

When I started Chapter 2 of, "Shattering the Perfect Teacher Myth," I thought it was going to be all about engaging lessons. After all the title is:  Hook Your Students. I was partly right. It was the end of the chapter that really spoke to me. The author, Aaron Hogan, included a piece about the invisible student which challenged teachers to find the learners who are in our classrooms who are unnoticed,  compliant and are disconnected. The reasons they are disconnected could be anything; shy, missed the information about how to join a club, communication problems, oldest or only child and doesn't have anyone at home to "mentor" them. These individuals need to get "hooked" in school to avoid becoming that invisible learner.

As a Special Ed case manager, we have meetings every February with our incoming freshman who have IEPs. When I run my meetings I try to learn as much as I can about the person, not just how they like to learn and create but also what are their passions. This information is not important just for transition and career planning but also making sure they find a place in the school. When I know more about a student, I can make recommendations for clubs and activities. In addition to all the expected clubs and activities my high school also has P.A.W.S. (an acronym for something to do with dogs but I can't recall what) and a sci-fi club. These are outlets that a student could plug into and make a connection with school (which we all know is important). Clubs and activities are one way to "hook" the students.

At the conclusion of one of Aaron's sessions last week, he challenged us to learn three things about all our students within the first month of school.

Sounds like an important challenge and one I'm going to try.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Teaching Expectations

Last week I had the opportunity to hear Aaron Hogan, author of, "Shattering the Perfect Teacher Myth," speak on two topics; blogging and his book. After hearing his presentation about his book, an Amazon order was placed.

One leadership role that I think every experienced teacher can have is to be a mentor to less experienced teachers. I was fortunate enough to have strong mentors when I was new and most of them weren't in my department. This gave me a unique perspective on the inner workings of the school. Through conversations and simply being around these teachers, I quickly began to understand issues that different departments face. In sort of a give back attitude, I've always introduced myself to new teachers in the building as someone who is here to support students, but also teachers.

The title of the book grabbed my attention because I feel like I've had this conversation with teachers a hundred times; no one is perfect. I was excited when the book arrived and chapter one provided some insight on classroom behavior. It provided some perspective I've never considered and will ultimately change some of my own practices.

The chapter begins with the blunt statement that there's a myth that, "the best teachers never or rarely have behavior problems." As a Special Ed teacher, I spend large parts of my day with students who struggle with self-regulation, difficulty with forming relationships and have defense mechanisms to deal with the difficulty with academic requirements that present themselves as, "behavior problems." Special Ed teachers do behavior mapping, social stories and believe that some students are doing the best they can at that moment with our students with Autism or trauma filled backgrounds. We go back and teach behavioral expectations constantly. We provide visual cues and foreshadow situations that we know are ripe for problems. Sometimes we have success and sometimes we need to try a different approach. Why don't we do this as classroom teachers????

Hogan addresses that teachers use strategies when a student doesn't understand a concept within the curriculum. We try different ways of presenting, different ways to interact with material and different ways to assess. When it comes to behavior, we tell them what we expect on the first day and then that's it. Or, we expect they know how to act and don't require instruction (have you ever heard someone say, "come on, you know better than that?"). He suggests that teachers establish clear expectations and teach them in a positive manner right from the beginning and then go back to them and reteach. He also suggests that teachers make a list of warning signs as a reminder to teach these expectations should situations arise. This was sort of a "duh" moment for me. Why don't we go back and reteach these expectations?

One of my summer goals is to investigate if I can use AR/VR applications to create social stories for some of my students with Autism. I'm not sure how practical it will be given the time it may take to create and I'm sure it will be engaging but will it be even be effective since it won't be "real life?" I still want to give it a try.  When thinking about whole class instruction, the use of apps like Metaverse or Co-Spaces might prove to be a memorable and novel way to teach behavior.

Going back to the perfect teacher myth, I think this idea of going back to reteach behavior just gave me another tool when I work with my co-teachers but also when I'm having a conversation with someone who just wants some advice. Looking forward to Chapter 2!

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

What I Hope For My Students

On Day 2 of Summer Spark I attended Aaron Hogan's session on professional blogging and why it's important. I didn't need convincing, I needed inspiration. After going through the obvious benefits, he gave us a few minutes to start's me writing.

The prompt I chose was, What are my hopes for my students?  Without thinking too hard about this, here are my three, immediate, gut responses.

I hope my students can manage themselves.  This is so broad. Successful people have strong executive functioning skills and can manage time dynamically. They manage a schedule, manage a project, focus in complex situations...this is what we try to teach our students. I also hope they can manage themselves in social situations or at a job. Can they carry on a conversation? Do they have self care skills to create good first impressions? Can they follow through?

I hope my students learn to recognize differing viewpoints when someone doesn't agree with them.  This does not need further explanation.

I hope my students know how to build other people up and how to ask for help when they need it. Above all else, I want the students I work with to be good people. I want them to strive to be the reason someone smiles. At the end of the year when I'm signing yearbooks or filling out GradGrams for my seniors, I leave them with my favorite quote:

My own self, at my very best, all the time.
William H. Danforth

Finally, everyone needs to know how to ask for help when they need it. I may teach them how to ask for help on a paper from a writing center on campus or I might try to teach them to understand the signs when they or someone else might need help due to a mental health issue. Self-advocacy is one of the most important skills a person can have. 

Aaron gave us some hints or "permissions" as I'd like to call them.
1) Always keep an idea list of blog topics
2) Schedule time (this is going to be the most, most difficult for me...but I'm working on it. See previous blog post)
3) Don't get bogged down in editing or wordsmithing

#3 is my favorite. 

Thank you, Aaron for giving me permission to just get my ideas out and the courage to do so. 

Monday, June 11, 2018

Making Time...

Today was Day 1 of Summer Spark, a conference I've wanted to attend for a few years but just haven't been able to make it work with my school's calendar. This year, I was able to make it work and I'm so glad that I did. 

Before I dive in and start reflecting on my big take-aways I need to acknowledge something to myself. This blog was like a failed diet the third week in January. Thirteen years ago I was a prolific mommy blogger and then my kids got older and self-conscience so that sort of went away. Two years ago I started this blog...because I have a lot going on in my head that I want to get out and reflect on. I had a decent start and then I just stopped publishing. I have many drafts but never hit, "publish." I would make excuses that I didn't have time to perfect them. I had dozens of ideas in my head for topics that I wanted to write but didn't. 

I didn't have time. 

I had the opportunity to attend a session led by the Pirate herself, Shelley Burgess, had a great quote about time. This is something that really struck me and made me re-evaluate a lot of things I say I don't have time to do. 

Time is a created thing. To say we don't have time
implies we don't really want to do it. 

Ouch. That couldn't be more true. There's a mound of clothing I need to put away and didn't  because I didn't have time (code for: I didn't want to touch it). I didn't have time this morning to work out (nope, didn't want to do that either). I still haven't unpacked the box of stuff I brought home because I just haven't had time in the last three days. Professionally, there are so many things, everyday, that I say I don't have time to do. I do want to blog. I'm no longer going to make the excuse that I don't have time. 

So, here I am. I updated the picture with a real head shot I had done last year, updated the About Me link and I'm going to eventually clean up all my tags because I'm not going to tag every post with Educator Effectiveness stuff. This is for me...not the administrator who evaluates me. Let's be honest, they wouldn't have the time to search through the mess of labels anyway.  

Back to the conference...I saw some of my big names in my PLN or the people I follow/admire on Twitter. The day started with Tom Murray, continued with Shelley Burgess, Rachelle Dene Poth, then Tara Martin and finished with learning about digital breakouts (going back to the beginning of this blog you'll see I got interested in BreakoutEDU. I now have more locks than any normal human being and run large and small Breakouts. I LOVE them).

I now have a long list of engaging apps I want to learn, books I want to read, practices I want to adopt. I can't believe there's one more day! I'm gearing up for lots of interesting PD I'm going to do on my own this summer and here's where I'll document and brainstorm. I have a pretty exciting June; this week is Summer Spark, next week I'll be at Learning FIRST and then wrapping up June at ISTE in Chicago.  Lots of learning and inspiration!