How to collaborate effectively as a department and across departments.


In order to spicofficejuggler-1024x974e up staff meetings,  @BradmCurrie suggests using the last 10 minutes to conduct staff smackdowns. This is where 10 staff members get one minute each to introduce a new website, tool, or strategy (usually surrounding technology.) They showcase the tool and then talk about how they would use it in class.

For example, using a teacher could use Today’s Meet or Google Drive to showcase how back channeling could enhance class discussion. Back channeling can be very powerful if modeled and used appropriately. It is important to have digital citizenship conversations with students and staff any time you get a chance. Make sure that parameters are set and providing a set of questions, an agenda or conversation starters can provide structure to the back channel for first timers.

I would like to do smack down challenges next year at staff meetings. I think this would be great at admin meetings as well. I love to hear about new, innovative tools and strategies. This is a positive way to end a meeting and provides applicable information amain things well as cultivates a culture of collaboration. It is important to live your vision and mission. Teachers need to be inspiring and take risks in the classroom to be innovative. If we do not foster that culture and environment at the building level in professional learning and meetings, we are not walking the walk. I hope to get better at this but I also understand with all the demands of the classroom and accountability, sometimes this falls off. By putting a structure or protocol in place, this might help keep the “main thing” the main thing- teaching and learning!

With the help of colleagues, this year we have been offering teachers the opportunity to come to the media center during their lunch time and learn about how to use Google Apps in the classroom. We found corporate sponsors to provide the lunch for teachers and collected door prizes or give-aways from vendors. The last Thursday of the month, teachers explored Google Drive, Calendar, Forms, Mail, and more. We average about 30 teachers a month, which was about half the staff. We were very pleased with the turn out. A half hour was enough time to introduce the topic, discuss possible uses in the classroom and dabble a bit. We then put all the resources in a shared folder for staff to access in the future if they wished.

Next year we are providing students with Gmail addresses. With this step, we would like to use lunch time again with a larger focus on pedagogy and use of technology. I would like to flip some of the direct instruction and support so that there is more time to discuss appropriate use of tools as well as provide time to integrate the tool into a lesson. We will be doing considerable training with staff surrounding Google Calendar, Mail, Search, Google+, Sites and Groups before the school year. For Lunch and Learns, our focus will be on the Google Drive and using the collaboration features.

DRAFT Schedule:

  • September: Innovative ways to use Google Docs Comment, Chat and Sharing settings to create a collaborative environment in your classroom
  • October: Learn how to use Google Scripts and add-on Doctapus to push out and manage student assignment (Go Paperless)
  • November: Use and teach students how to use WeVideo to create, share and present their learning
  • December: Check for understanding, exit tickets, surveys and more using Google Forms
  • January: Improve efficiency using Google Templates
  • February: Expand outside your four walls with Google Hangouts
  • March: Improve quality of search results with advanced search option in Google
  • April: Use Google Sites to create student learning portfolios
  • May: Explore the world of Add on in Google Drive- Top 5


One Size Does NOT fit all!

If this is true how do we create learning opportunities for teachers that are

  • Meaningful
  • Flexible
  • Timely
  • Differentiated
  • Purposeful

Trying to think differently about growth and utilizing time in a way that honors ALL teachers is difficult- I am sure as difficult as asking teachers to differentiate to meet the needs of all learners in their classrooms. Recently we had a staff meeting cancelled and I realized in order to meet the state requirements for professional learning hours, we needed to make up that time. I have been thinking a lot lately about our professional learning team time and how it could be made more effective and how to approach next year’s professional development plan in a way that allowed flexibility. I want our teachers taking ownership of their growth and learning but I realize that support will be necessary. That level of support varies tremendously.So how do we meet the needs of 50 staff members?

My thoughts….staff-meeting if i die

Create a menu of sorts outlining various ways to learn and leave it open to teachers to choose. I began by putting places I go for learning  into a spreadsheet. I thought I could at least start there, but I am struggling with the best platform for providing ideas for professional learning, supports or tutorials for those new to those places, building in some level of accountability for state reporting and evaluation and making the tool accessible and easy to navigate. Although I do not have a solution for what this will look like in the end, I am going to use the flipped staff meeting to start to collect ideas and resources from teachers that will help me create a system that will work for them.

Any thoughts, ideas or suggestions welcome! Going to ask my PLN next…


Typewriter What is Your StoryParticipating in #satchat and #satchatwc via Twitter today has me reflecting on the different ways we should be using digital storytelling to tell our story as a school district, but more importantly, how we should be creating opportunities for students to tell the story.  There is such  incredible learning going on in our schools, and we need to leverage technology to help spread the word. For the last few years, educators and educational institutions have been portrayed as stagnant places where children lose their sense of wonder, fall behind and are bullied. Without the stories of what REALLY goes on in our schools, people are left to believe what’s out there.
So what are some ways or tools we can utilize to tell our stories? Here are 5 I find intriguing…
  • School Twitter Account @CAPS_CHS
    Setting up a school Twitter account is easy but keeping it relevant source of information is a bit more challenging. I have the support of two teacher leaders who help tweet about events, announcements, achievements and more. I would like to try featuring some student tweets on our school Twitter feed and run monthly contests highlighting points of pride. By using Vine, we could have Twitter video contests providing short 6 second videos or utilize different tools to allow for longer videos. We could connect to Instagram for photo contests and student blogs/websites for just about anything else.
  • School Video Newsletters
    For years schools have sent home weekly newsletters, but Sadly as a parent, I only skim those for important dates and announcements and often miss the pieces highlighting what was going on in the classroom. However, I never miss when I see my child in a picture or a video. I would love to see weekly newsletters become electronic with highlights showcased through students’ voices. Maybe there is a student from each grade level or content area who records a description of what was learned that week. This can be layered over pictures so parents can see the learning and hear about it through the voice of the students. Video doumentaries are also a great way to showcase the learning for a week.
  • Student Blogs
    I love the idea of student blogs using EduBlogs. Blogger, WordPress, etc. These can serve as a learning portfolio. A school can choose to highlight a student blog of the day. This type of initiative provides students the opportunity to tell their stories and provides them with authentic audiences. I also love the idea of students seeing their own growth as thinkers and writers.
  • School You Tube Channel
    Highlighting students through video is very powerful. There have been many occasions where I wish I could share some of the great lessons, projects, performances, etc. with the community, parents, students and a larger global audience. I need to get better at using video and finding ways to share that video.
  • CommunityCAMP
    Next year, I would love to see if we could organize an EdCamp for the larger community, where our focus was 21st century learning. High School is vastly different from when we went to school. The community needs to see how we utilize technology to enhance learning opportunities and growth. This would be a great way to showcase OUR Story- It could be the theme! Staff and students present ideas and tools that parents and the larger community could utilize in their lives.
Below are the highlights from the #Satchat April 14th that has me thinking about different ways to tell our story so someone else does not tell it for us.

question2A thank you to Matt Schaefer (@SchaeferCHS), a colleague, for reading my blog and challenging my thinking by sharing the “Downside of Grit” by Alfie Kohn. This would be a perfect companion piece to Duckworth’s TED Talk for students and teachers to explore. After reading the article, I am left with a few questions to think about when growing grit in students:

1. What happens when students do not choose positive or productive goals? How do we guide goal setting without stealing creative ownership? Students need to have ownership so that they are not just compliant but genuinely motivated.

2. For how long should one persist if the passion for the goal is lost? Is this in essence the lack of grit we are seeking or is there a time to fold? I love the reference to the proverbial Law of Holes in this article: “When you’re in one, stop digging.” I spoke of creating an environment where failure is is something we learn from, does this undermine grit?

3. How do we build a framework for students that encourages stops along the ways to reflect, reevaluate and adjust when appropriate?

I would agree that the buzz-worthiness of grit in education is disturbing and could be used as a tool for compliance, but I would challenge Mr. Kohn that growing grit in kids can be about implementing democratic, collaborative experiences where kids don’t give up when things are difficult. That kids are taught to be resourceful, critical consumers of information and work together to find answers to their questions. I do not agree with intentionally boring students to build persistence, but I do believe modeling and encouraging behaviors like perseverance, ambition, and tenacity with the growth mindset fosters learning and learning is our job.

If we commit to the idea that students need to be gritty to increase their odds of success in the world, what does that mean, what does that look like? As a leader, I need to do more than have conversations with staff about providing opportunities for choice, creativity, innovation and passion. I need to model this by affording teachers to be passion driven, innovative, creative and allowing time to foster those relationships with students. What this looks like….

  • loosening up of pacing guides
  • celebrating innovation
  • allowing failure
  • reflection
  • cultivating passion
  • creative scheduling
  • saying yes
  • new classes
  • finding funding
  • telling our story
  • rewarding growth (not on standardized tests)

I believe one of the most rewarding and beneficial tools for me in my growth as a leader has been finding an authentic audience. Conversations with excellent educators in my building, blogging and building a PLN on Twitter has given me confidence, opportunities to reflect and helped me to develop beliefs about where we need to go in education. Being intentional about affording teachers and students authentic audiences that will help them grow and develop passions and grit is going to be a priority for me in 2014. That would be a great Twitter Chat #miched #edchat ; how to find authentic audiences for students.

Rigor, relevance and relationships were my “Big 3” when I began my leadership role about 7 years ago. I would say my “Big 3” have certainly changed but not all that much just in order- relationships, relevance and rigor. I may call them different things but the three R’s are still very important to what drives my work. Although relationships and people are the most critical elements of a successful school, relevance is something that is far more difficult to attain but equally as important. As for rigor…

“Rigor is defined as thno student ever minee difficult and unpleasant conditions or experiences that are associated with something; harsh inflexibility in opinion, temper, or judgment; an act or instance of strictness, severity, or cruelty.” Rigor is important but a little overrated.

As I stated in my previous post, passion based learning or teaching sets the stage for growing grit. It is the relevance to what we do. Students need to know the why. For generations educators have been asked the age old question, “Why do we need to learn this?” We should be able to answer that for students. As the information age becomes part of our past thanks to Google, it is increasingly important for people to ask why and why not questions. We need to foster questioning in our students.  The answers to those questions provides the relevance that students need in order to be curious, inquisitive and gritty.

Students need to see what passion looks like. Teachers need to model passion for their content and for learning. Passion is necessary to grow grit.  5 ways to instill passion in your students and in your classroom:

1. Give students choice

2. Celebrate innovation and risk taking – be ready to take the risks

3. Take time to discover students’ passions

4. Find students authentic audiences for their passions

5. Provide time for creative thought and inquiry

Wordle: GRIT

Grit seems to be the new buzz word in education these days. I am not sure this is a new concept for educators or not, but I have seen a decrease in student drive or motivation. When we talk about things like rigor, common core, text complexity, etc., I often hear things like “The students don’t do the work we give them now,” or ” I will lose the bottom 30% of my students, how can I push forward if they don’t get it?”

I believe in our genuine attempts to help student learn and grow, we have, at times, done them a disservice by doing the learning or thinking  for them. As a result, many of students have thinking fatigue. Students are shutting down when they face difficulty or struggle. I see this in my own children. At the beginning of the year when the district went to a new math series, my daughter shut down at night when she faced the “stretch you thinking” question at the end of the assignment. She knew the math, but struggled with the real wold application and setting up the problem. The problems, more often than notm were multi-step problems requiring real thinking. When she faced frustration,we began telling her that the learning was in the struggle. She doesn’t ask for help anymore but it took months.

According to research by Duckworth, grit is a better predictor of success than intelligence. I took the grit test and it seems I am 70% grittier than most (I am not sure how I feel about that.) It is our responsibility as educators to prepare kids for the future and grit is necessary. How do we grow grit? After considerable reading, below are ten strategies we should use to grow grit in our students.

1. Teach the growth mindset (The Learning is in the Struggle)

Carol Dweck’s Mindset is a great read about the power of the growth mindset versus the fixed mindset. We have to teac

Dweck Mindseth students that they are not born with skills, traits and qualities that are fixed, but that they can grow and change.

2. Show growth to students and reward the work

Too often we provide students feedback that reinforces the fixed mindset by assigning a summative grade at the end. We need to recognize and celebrate resilience and perseverance in students that work through struggle. Grades should reflect the learning.

3. Model Grit

Let students see us struggle with something- maybe reading a tough text, writing a poem, or solving a problem. My kids are baffled at my grit when playing Candy Crush:)

4. Track your grit

If we are going to teach the growth mindset, we need to show the growth. Measure student grit by giving them a short pre-test -maybe provide them a problem with no answer and time how long they try to solve it. To be fair, let them know you are looking for how hard they try to solve the problem not looking for the answer. Tell the students you are interested in growing their grit and then allow them to track their grit.

5. Reflect on their grit growth

To follow up with number 4, allow the students to reflect by writing about how their grit is growing (literacy.)

6. Challenge students

When we challenge students, we need to make sure we make our challenges attainable. This means differentiating for your students. Their is nothing more discouraging then a challenge you know you can not overcome.

7. Set long term goals

Students have to set long term goals that are meaningful to them. This will be difficult to do. Model examples of good long term goals. Share the SMART model as a framework.

8. Provide small victories along the way

When setting long term goals, small victories will keep students engaged and motivated. Celebrate the victories to help establish the growth mindset.

9. Create an environment that allows failure

Students need to be allowed to fail and learn from failure. The classroom environment should foster risk taking and tolerance.

10. Lastly and most importantly, Passion Based Learning

Part 2 of 3…

Other Resources:
Angela Lee Duckworth TED Talk
Dweck, Carol S. Mindset. London: Robinson, 2012. Print.

Feverishly tapping on the keyboard, opening and closing windows, internet sites, annotating and recording important attractions, restaurants and hotels for our upcoming vacation,  I realize I have been engrossed in planning for about 3 hours. The two older children are watching TV mindlessly and the youngest is playing dress up in my closet. It reminds me of a study I read about in the journal Pediatrics about caregivers being absorbed in mobile devices while interaction with the child(ren) declined. Although this study was conducted in fast food restaurants, I am hyper sensitive to my usage and level of distraction with my own children. I realize I am asking, “what?” when I’m connected forcing them to ask me the same question one to three more times while I try to multi-task- FAILURE. We have all seen the research on multitasking but for some reason I still live in the land of denial.

I am finding the balance of being connected and unplugging difficult. I try hard to put the phone away when I get home from work and open the computer only when the kids go to bed; however, I am pulled to the iPad when my parents want to Facetime, or when I want the kids to look up an answer for homework. I think this debate over blaming technology for disengagement is tricky. I can not deny that being connected has caused me to disengaged at times when I should have been present, but technology also has afforded me opportunities to connect inter-personally when otherwise would have been impossible. Top 3 examples how technology has enhanced or afforded interpersonal relationships-

1. My grandfather lives in Florida and he is a 96 year old WWII veteran. Although he can not get around that well, I have fond memories of him visiting everyone of his 20+ grandchildren and great grandchildren every year in a motor home. This past year, my grandfather friended me on Facebook. He wanted to continue to share in our experiences and interact with all of us. He decided that he needed to meet us where we were and he did. For the last year, he has posted pictures, commented on important events and shared stories. Without technology, this would not have been possible.granpa

2. Facetime: Family is very important to us. Unfortunately we don’t have a lot of family in Cadillac, so we use Facetime to stay connected. All of the kids love this feature and know how to use it. This technology makes what would be phone conversations, a vehicle for all kinds of interaction. We dance, sing, play games, watch sporting events, concerts and much more. It allows distant family and friends the opportunity to be a part of special moments and for us to enjoy those moments with them.

3. Professionally I feel very fortunate to be building a strong Personal Learning Network (PLN) that inspires, supports and pushes me to be a better leader and person. Education can be a very isolating job- shut the door and do your thing. Although collaboration and teaming are encouraged, it is difficult to find the time and the right people. I found that Twitter has provided the learning environment that works for me. I can get great ideas and positive feedback from hundreds of people in a few clicks. I still very much prefer a great one on one conversation with a colleague, but sometimes that just is not practical.

I am sure there are many more examples of how technology supporting interpersonal relationships. I realize there are concerns about being connected and I share many of those concerns, but if used with intention, I believe it can be a powerful tool in establishing and enhancing great relationships. There is a balance and I will continue to work at striking it daily.