Focusing of what we CAN control-4/26/2020

Yesterday, I concluded a very long week with several Saturday morning Twitter chats. One of those chats was hosted by #CrazyPLN and was about hope. It was moderated this week by Hal Roberts and Laura Brower. Hal Roberts is the author of "Make Waves- Be a Relentless, Radical, and Riduculous Leader of Significance. Although I have not YET read this book, it is in my "to be read" pile, I was drawn to the focus of this week's chat: hope.

As the chat began, Hal and Laura provided us two definitions of "hope". As I read these definitions, the second one really struck me. Why you might wonder. The past two weeks have been probably the most exhausting and frustrating of my career. In our district, we have been plagued by constant roadblocks as we attempted to bring synchronous learning to all of our 189,000 students. In my elementary school alone, we have over 1000 students. But when I closed the books on this past week and the week before that, that wasn't my focus. Instead my focus was on how blessed I feel to work with so many amazing colleagues who are so dedicated to their students- who "keep going no matter what" to do what's best for their students.

As we shared our own definitions of "hope," Laurie Jones shared another striking definition:

"Hope is a focus on the things you CAN control, not the things you CAN'T!"

In our present world, there certainly is a lot that we can't control. For the teachers in my school, controlling whether our synchronized learning platforms would be able to handle the capacity of our large school system was definitely something that they COULD NOT control. So teachers in my school focused on what they could control- providing awesome asynchronous instruction to the students.

1. The Power of Video

The first grade team in my school have become video masters. Rather than relying on synchronous lessons, they have curated a library of instructional videos to help their students learn anywhere and anytime.

Ms. Tenney, one of the first grade teachers, has led this effort with pre-recorded math videos. No matter what they are learning about, I love how her videos engage the students and even give them instructions for when to pause the video, try it out and then resume the video afterwards. She uses a combination of live video, powerpoint slides and video clips to engage her students virtually. Watch her cookie sharing and her equal shares videos and you will be impressed too. Even as an adult, I found myself engaged while watching these videos. Even better, every activity has a follow up activity for the students to work on as a check in afterwards.

This entire team was new to video prior to the extended closure. But they have embraced it. All of this hard work now will give them so many opportunities in the future to flip instruction for their young students.

2. Staying informed with Google Forms

The fourth grade team has also embraced ways to connect with their students asynchronously. One of the ways they have done that is to have their students complete end of the week reflections each Friday using Google Forms.

In these reflections, students share with their teacher not only how much effort they are putting into their daily assignments, but also how focused and productive they are during distance learning. They conclude this reflection by setting a goal for the following week.

Using this important information, teachers can monitor their students' prior week's engagement and their current week's goals. Likewise, students can build their metacognitive skills and self evaluate their skills as they continue using distance learning. These fourth grade teachers acknowledge that distance learning requires a lot of "perseverance and time management" and use these reflections as a way to connect to their learners and empower them. Thanks to Ms. Biberaj for sharing this with me.

3. Using Google Sites to House a Virtual Library

Our fabulous librarian, Mrs. Oberdick, like all of our specialists, misses her students. Unlike classroom teachers, specialists have not had the opportunity to connect synchronously with students yet. We all miss our students greatly and are looking for new ways to connect with them. Mrs. Oberdick used a Google site to accomplish this purpose.

She created an awesome Google site to house her virtual library. Inside of this site, she not only shares lots of library resources, but she also has library lessons for our primary and upper elementary students and reading choice boards. She has read alouds for students to enjoy and even an entire page of parent resources.

She has truly created a virtual space that students and staff can visit, much like her physical library, and find resources and learn more about books. Since this site is housed inside our district's walled garden, you will just have to take my word for it.

I am so proud to represent all of these amazing educators as my school's tech coach. Their dedication and perseverance inspires me and makes me want to do "whatever it takes" to support them. My virtual office hours where teachers reach out to me both synchronously through Blackboard Collaborate Ultra and asynchronously through email are truly the best parts of my day. In fact, this past Thursday, I was honored to share with my fellow specialists how to use Flipgrid to asynchronously connect with students. One of my fifth grade teachers said, "We need to focus on the programs that do WORK and worry less about the programs that do NOT work." I couldn't agreed more. I sincerely hope that our synchronous learning is successful this coming week, but know that we can do this! We not only have amazing asynchronous tools at our disposal to connect with our students, but even more important, we have that growth mindset and know we will do "whatever it takes."