Category: Instructional Tools

Reduce, Reach Out, & Respond: A Concise Communication Strategy for Organizational Leaders

There are five hundred fifty seven thousand things going on in any given moment in my school community (I haven’t actually counted…that’s just a rough estimate).  How ‘bout yours? Same? That’s what I thought.  Also, there are many people whose lives are deeply impacted by each of those things in any given moment.  So, it couldn’t be more important to communicate effectively.

Like you, I don’t have all of the answers.  In fact, sometimes I feel like I don’t have very many at all.  I’m thrilled to be learning that its not always immediate answers that people are looking for…sometimes it’s simply immediate communication.  And on top of that, it’s often just the basics that make the most impact, especially if those basics lead to ongoing dialogue and authentic partnerships.

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, or if you know me, you know that I can be long winded at times (possibly an understatement).  I have a lot to say and I enjoy saying it!  Over the years I’ve worked to understand and adapt that love of comprehensive communication to meet my needs and the needs of my various audiences.  I’m not fully there, but I’m certainly on the path.

I communicate with diverse groups of people on a daily basis and I’m learning that each group, and often times each individual, has different needs.  There are some standards, and there are only so many hours in each day, but I’m working hard to refine my style to meet as many needs as possible…including my own.  Here’s a process that’s been working pretty well lately from a organizational leadership standpoint…I’m calling it R3 (reduce, reach out, & respond):

1. Reduce: See if you can say or write what you’re trying to communicate in half as many words as initially come to mind.  I bet you can.  People are busy processing lots of stuff all the time.  Easily digestible messages are often better received.

2. Reach Out: Put as few things on to-do lists as possible.  If you don’t have answers, turn and reach out to those who might.  Also, do so quickly.  Even directly as someone I serve is sitting in my office asking a questions that I can’t answer I’ve found it effective (and appreciated) to turn and quickly shoot an e-mail or make a phone call to someone who can.  It keeps the ball rolling, shows progress, and again, keeps a task from ending up on a list instead of in motion.

3.  Respond:  Don’t leave your office at the end of the day with any e-mails in your inbox that have not been addressed in one way or another.  With each day I’m getting better at quickly sorting through the hundred plus e-mails I get.  I’m finding that one of the keys to effective organizational communication is making sure to respond to each response-required message before I leave the office each day.  Again, immediate answers are great but not require, it’s a demonstrated commitment progress that helps build strong partnerships and drive positive progress.  You should never hear, “Did you get my e-mail?”

As you can imagine, this is a work in progress for me.  Sometimes I nail it and sometime I fall short.  I’m always working on it.  If you’ve got a moment, let me know what works for you…your input is welcome and appreciated:)!

Live. Learn. Lead.

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Dream Big. Work Hard. Be Well.

Blog Gone Effective!

In my experience, blogs are great tools for perpetuating cultures of collaboration.  Digital environments seem to be extremely comfortable spaces for sharing.  We see it daily as our otherwise reserved friends and family update their social media pages.  In education, I’ve found that people are less inhibited and more willing to offer a peek into their thoughts, ideas, and practices when they’re given the opportunity to do so by way of a thoughtful and positive blog post as opposed to a live presentation or a classroom visit.  I do know educators who thrive in classroom visit and live presentation scenarios.  However, a truly collaborative culture is all-inclusive.  I’ve experienced learning communities in which those who are comfortable with live sharing become the only ones to share.  Conversely, in communities facing that challenge, those who are not comfortable sharing tend to sit in the back, isolate themselves in their classrooms, and avoid opportunities for collaboration.

It’s important to understand that these are not hard and fast rules, only possibilities to consider.  In considering all relevant possibilities education leaders can work to break barriers that might otherwise encumber the collaborative learning cultures they strive for.  It does take a village to raise a child, and two heads really are better than one.  We so frequently insist on these collaboration axioms because they’re true.  After much critical thought, related data collection and analysis, and ongoing reflective practice, I would assert that blogging is one viable option for bringing communities together in purposeful collaboration, and perpetuating cultures by which otherwise unlikely contributors feel comfortable enthusiastically showcasing their work to the benefit of all stakeholders.  As educators, our collective goal is to enhance student achievement and attitudes toward learning so that the students we serve are prepared to meet and exceed their potential as contributing members of an increasingly complex global community.  When we share, we expand our ability to meet that goal.

Conveniently, there are multiple free and cost effective hosting services like Weebly and Edublogs that are extremely easy to use, both for strategic classroom instruction and professional learning.  To begin with, consider purpose.

Who is your audience?

What are your targeted short and long-term goals?

While perpetuating collaborative learning is the overarching theme that I’m suggesting, what will your path to that end look like?

Will teachers be blog managers or strictly contributors?

Will you involve students as contributors?

What other roles might they play?

How about parents and other critical partners?

In part, my blog is designed to showcase the incredible ideas and practices of my colleagues so that they are increasingly aware of each other’s expertise.  The lens through which I attempt to reveal those ideas and practices (along with my own personal and professional experiences) is my authentic perspective.  The intention is to connect individuals who would be interested in expanding on that perspective, and integrating those ideas and practices into their paradigm through collaborative reflection, planning, and implementation.  Learning and connecting with learning partners is my primary purpose.  The authentic expression and modeling of that purpose is key to the effectiveness of my blogging efforts.

What is your purpose?

How will you reveal that purpose to your audience?

How will you develop it into share objectives and actions with those who would be your partners in learning and growth?

As you contemplate these questions in the development of your blog, carefully consider the structure and the procedures that you intend to put in place for its effectiveness and sustainability.  One of the most important things that I’ve learned so far on my blogging adventure is that blogs need proper feeding and care.  It takes a focused effort, a significant time commitment, and a passion for digital collaboration to manage a blog with any degree of success.  A blog is a tool, and like any other tool its effectiveness is dependent on its user.  Blogs can be used to communicate content, expectations, resources, calendar events, etc., individuals or communities of contributors can manage them, they can provide real time access to developmental artifacts for reflective processing and adaptation, they can be literary or graphic, they can be whimsical or academic, most importantly however, they can be highly effective in perpetuating learning and growth.  After spending this past year using a reflective learning blog to support and encourage collaboration in the communities I serve, I can confidently assert that the time and effort I invested have been returned exponentially in the progress I’ve been a part of.  I will continue to work at developing my site and my skills, and I strongly encourage other educators to get on the blogging bandwagon.  If you’re already an education blogger, if you are considering it, or if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me for collaboration…I’m always looking for new learning partners!

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Dream Big.  Work Hard.  Be Well.

When Creative Play Turns Into Video Production

This morning my four-year-old decided to wake up extra early.  It was quite a feat, given that we all went to bed extra late last night.  Adding insult to injury, my wife was up every hour on the hour with our runny-nosed infant.  Even as my mind raced to come up with some good reasons why it should be her turn again, I knew that I wasn’t nearly that clever.  I rolled out of bed.  My feet hit the floor with a bit of a clunk.  My shoulders stood up before my neck or head, bringing them along for the ride.  I followed the sound in the dark.  “Momma?  Momma?”  He was calling for her.  Didn’t that mean anything?   I knew it didn’t.

When I arrived at his bedside (little brother sawing logs next door) I naively asked if he wanted to rest some more in Momma and Daddy’s room.  I crossed my fingers, threw salt over my shoulder, held my breath, and visualized all kinds of pennies and rabbits’ feet…all to no avail.  The words didn’t come out right away.  It appeared as if he was considering the invitation.  I hoped.  In hindsight I think he must have simply been shaking that last bits of sleep off before dropping the, “I want to go downstairs” bomb.  He followed that classic with, “and I want apple sauce, milk, yogurt, and a Fiber One bar.”

I ached for my bed.  It called to me.  The whisper of my pillows slithered through the hallway and shimmied in through the boys’ cracked bedroom door, “Seth…we miss you.  We miss your head.  Please come back and lay down!”  I could almost feel my face resting against a revitalized “cool side.”  Alas, it was but a dream.  I was awake, and it was “go-time.”  Then I remembered yesterdays’ post.  “Be present,” I told myself.  Life is short.  I get to sleep every evening (for a little while at least).  However, I don’t get to wake up and play with my buddy every morning.  A burst of energy shot through me.  I picked the kid up, and down we went.

This one loves to draw.  We collaborated on some farm animals.  I did the rough sketches and he did most of the coloring in.  He told me what to draw, and while my technique admittedly leaves much to be desired, it was good enough.   As we worked he began to tell the story of three farm friends.  Turns out, “Cow-iobi,” “Pig-iobi,” and “Sheep-iobi,” were best friends.  One day when Cow-iobi was walking near the barn, he saw Pig-iobi climbing down from a tree.  On the last climb, Pig-iobi leapt out of the tree, only to get stuck on the fence.  The two friends had to think fast.  What would they do?  It wasn’t long before they remembered that “Sheep-iobi” was a real handy guy.  If he could come to the barn with his hammer and screwdriver, he might be able to set Pig-iobi loose from the fence.  As luck would have it, that’s just what happened!  The three friends celebrated.  They were filled with joy, and in being so filled, they proceed to jump for it (joy, that is).

This morning our creative play reminded us that friends always help friends, a wonderful lesson to remember in my estimation.  We had so much fun drawing, coloring, and making up a story, that we decided to produce a short film about the farm friends’ adventure, another reminder.  Extending learning based on learners’ interests is a great way to promote longterm engagement and achievement.  Little brother joined us before long.  Then came Momma and baby.  We all sat together for a while, playing and creating the Berg Brother’s debut production.  So, without further glamorization or adieu, pop your corn, find a cozy spot, and enjoy the film that critics are calling the breakout hit of the holiday season!

The Berg Brothers proudly present:  “Farm Friends in ‘Stuck on a Fence’.”

Dream Big.  Work Hard.  Be Well.

 

A Fun *Way to Celebrate The Incredible Work Our Teachers Do

One Way

One of my favorite things about being a school administrator is that I get to spend lots of time with a whole bunch of phenominal teachers and a ton of incredible students.  It’s been an amazing growth expirence for me as an educator.  From a leadership perspective, I belive that support, encouragement, and celebration are three key ingredients for perpetuating healthy learning communities in classrooms, in school buildings, throughout districts, across entire states, around the country, and globally.  It’s one of my core values.  Twitter has been helping me transtate that value into action in my school community and beyond.

You may have already known that it’s quite easy to email a tweet.  If you didn’t, now you do.  Check it out.  Below is a tweet I sent from our 6th grade band concert.  A rocking musical event!  Focus on the three dots next to the word “more.”  Clicking on those dots provides a drop down menu that offers a couple of options.  The “Share via email” option is your Huckleberry in this case.  Click it, and you’re off to the races.  My admin team and I have been taking pictures of some of the great instrcution happening in our builidng.  We’ve been tweeting them, displaying them on our website, and sharing them through our facebook page.

Via Email

One of the practices that’s brought us a lot of joy and helped to further connect us with our community of rockstar teachers is following up with an e-mail of acknowledgment/apprecitation.  I highly recommend it.  It helps to perpetuate an ongoing diologue, it invites collaboration, and it reminds everyone involved that the great work happening in the classrooms and the hallways of our school is what it’s all about!

If you want to take it a step further, use a hashtag to archive as you go.  We’re using #rcshms (Rochester Community Schools – Hart Middle School).  In doing so, we can backtrack, share at any given moment, revisit with individuals and groups, or even scrapbook if we want!  It’s an easy way to chart your course.

Some Awesome Ways

Make It Fun, Make It Relatable, Make It Interesting

Bike Math

This teacher brought his bike tredmill into school to deal with ratios.  He gave the students some information about the size of the tire, then asked them to do some computations.  They were able to visualize the concept as they worked.  It was engaging.  It brought fun and energy into what might have otherwise been a stessful and even intimidating learning expireince for some.  The shared enthusiasm for learning and application was palpable!

Get Creative, Connect To Application

Creative Math Tools

With some rulers, some tape, and some string, this teachers was able to help his group connect the curriculum to natural environment application.  He introduced the lesson with a story about how he actuatlly used the same set-up in a building project that he did at home over the summer.  His students had an opportunity to use the makeshift tool outside of the classroom.  They got a taste of how math applies to everyday life, and how deeply connceted innovation and imagination are.  It was good stuff!

Give Options, Tap Interests And Abilities

Childrens Book

Guitar

These pictures represent some of what this incredible Language Arts teacher uses to promote her students’ achievement…their interestes and abilities.  We’ve got art, we’ve got music, we’ve got passion and engagement!  Allowing students to deisgn their pathways to achivement in the creative writing process fosters a sense of autonomy, and a allows for feelings of competence as their work unfolds.  Also, it’s fun for them to share their talents with one another.

Put Them In Other Peoples Shoes

MapLenssound room

Facilitating a process by which students are encouraged to view the world from multiple perpectives is a great way to help them expand their own.  Above you see three examples of activites in which students had opportunities to think/work from a lens other than their own.  Writing about potentially adopting the metric system from the perpective of a chef, being hired to design a sound-efficient living room, or deciding where to live based on actual historical events, each perpetuates authentic learning and growth.

*This post represents the first in a new series I’m calling “ways.”  When I see, read about, or otherwise come across great ways to engage learners in development and growth, I’m going to consider adressing them under this category.  I anticipate that the focused reflection will enhance my learning process as it relates to application, and I hope that readers will benefit from the updated organization.  As always, input is welcome and appreciated!

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Dream Big.  Work Hard.  Be Well.

 

#PLNpals: Celebrating the Magic of Social Media Networking

The other day I heard someone say something like, “The mad rush of modern technological innovation is really messing with my flow!”  The ability to receive hundreds of e-mail messages each week is pretty cool if you appreciate the inherent connectedness it’s accompanied by.  It’s pretty un-cool if you don’t appreciate the inherent workload of sorting though, thinking critically about, and responding to hundreds of e-mails each week.  It’s arguably a perspective thing, and like most everything else, it’s not black and white.

Along with the frenetically paced and regular advancements of technology come some incredible benefits and some tremendous challenges.  However, like it or not, this is the world in which we live.  I say, go with it!  Let’s work to maximize those benefits and overcome those challenges.  In fact, many incredible people are doing just that.  They’re doing it in part by building, nurturing, and celebrating networks of like-minded others around the globe.

I’ve been blogging, and combining that effort with the development of a twitter PLN for about a year now.  I began with the notion that my growth and development would be enhanced by learning about/listening to educational leaders who participate in social media professional learning, and that my self-reflection might have a positive influence in their lives too.  I had no idea that that was simply the tip of the iceberg!  Truly, engaging in this network of amazing thinkers, leaders, and visionaries has been transformative!

It’s the connections, the positive bent, the myriad opportunities to be involved in highly authentic, critical, and relevant dialogues, and the fact that the great majority of educators and organizational leaders who choose to participate in Twitter/blogosphere networking are highly collaborative.  Talk about an abundance paradigm (I’m a big Covey fan)!  Individuals in this group of learners celebrate each other’s ideas and accomplishments as if they are their own.  The excitement is palpable, the humility is inspirational, and the collective strength of thousands of passionate, open-minded, generous people is contagious.

One of my favorite opportunities is when I get to meet my PLNpals (which is what I’ve begun calling tweeps as I build relationships with them).  A couple of weekends ago I was at Oakland University’s Edcamp (run by Stephanie Dulmage – @steph1234 & John Bernia @MrBernia).  I met a ton of people who I’ve been working with for some time.  It was awesome!  Two of the thought provoking #COLchat leaders Michele Corbat (@MicheleCorbat) & Rodney Hetherton (@RodneyHetherton) were there with the amazing Schwartz Creek Crew (#COLchat a great educhat out of Schwartz Creek, MI).  Michele and Rodney were some of the first people I met on Twitter.  I’ve spent a ton of time with them, sharing ideas, support, and encouragement.  Meeting them opened the door to more interactions that will no doubt lead to ongoing collaboration.  It’s the next step, and maybe more importantly, it’s how our students function.  Working in, understanding, and growing with a social media PLN is a great way to view the world through the lens of a modern learner, and consequently, a great way to design/model effective growth opportunities for the children we serve.

There are so many great examples of amazing educators reaching out with their students to incorporate this kind of networking into the learning lives of their students’.  Below is one of my favorites.  Follow the incredible Arin Kress (@ArinKress) and start reading her blog with this post (and keep going from there): http://hatechalk.blogspot.com/2013/11/future-plans-global-classroom.html

While you’re at it, get on board with:

@MrBernia

@steph1234

@MicheleCorbat

@RodneyHetherton

Ask them about the chats they lead and are involved in…read their blogs…share their ideas and offer yours.

This is the first of many posts I intend to write that will highlight the work of my #PLNpals, and offer links to the invaluable resources they put forth.  They are what I feel is great about social media networking.  One of the best and most authentic Twitter collaborators I’ve come across is the great Tom Whitford.  In my estimation, one of the most important @twhitford quotes is, “I am grateful for meeting friends here on Twitter & then having the opportunity to meet them F2F at Conf & Edcamps PLN =Growth.”

I hope to meet Tom one day.  I hope to meet you. Thanks to all of my wonderful #PLNpals for allowing me to join them on this journey of learning and growth!

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Dream Big.  Work Hard.  Be Well.

 

Great Ideas Are All Around – Keep Your Eyes Open!

The Point: 

Collaboration is one essential key to growth and achievement.  Great ideas are all around us.  When we engage in thinking about (and working on) those great ideas with others, we enhance connected growth opportunities for ourselves, and everyone else involved.

The Story:

The wonderful Arin Kress has initiated a great collaborative learning project through her blog http://hatechalk.blogspot.com, and complimented the effort by engaging the Twitter-sphere with #videoblogchallenge (follow Arin of Twitter @KressClass & do yourself a favor…read her amazing blog)!  I’m extremely excited to be participating in this first challenge.  The challenge is simple:  Go to Arin’s blog, watch the video, create a blog post based on the video, and attach a link to your blog in the comment section of the #videoblogchallenge post that you’re working on.   I love this idea for several reasons.  To begin with, it’s a wonderfully creative idea for engaging multiple learners!  I happen to be a huge fan of wonderfully creative ideas, and I’m an equally huge fan of video use/production in the classroom.  Specifically, I really appreciate how effectively using and/or creating videos can engage learners in the writing process.  Through the #videoblogchallenge Arin is grabbing my attention, making participation fun, and giving me something to think about as I work to conceive of, create, revise, edit, and polish a blog post.  I’ve thought critically about blog purpose and design for some time now, spent hundreds of hours in development, and written several dozen blog posts, and I’m still a novice.  Blogs are phenomenal learning tools, however, it takes a lot of focus and motivation to create and maintain one.  Imagine how the #videoblogchallenge could work to enhance that process for you and your students.  Might you show a video to introduce the concept of blogging to a group of fifth graders this fall?  How about having rotating groups of third graders create videos each week for an ongoing digital conversation about geometry?  Where does Arin’s awesome idea take you?

Next, I believe that it’s attitudes and initiatives like Arin’s that perpetuate the most effective professional development opportunities available.  We all know that education can be a very isolating business.  There is so much to think about and do on a daily basis.  It’s easy to get stuck in a classroom or an office.  By offering the #videoblogchallenge up to her Twitter PLN Arin is rallying a community of like-minded educators around critical reflection and active learning.  What a great model to take back to each of our school communities!  When done well (and with intention), both blogging and Tweeting can bring people together and move common goals forward.  Here I am, on my own time, processing an idea that came to me through my Twitter PLN, wondering how it can positively affect growth and achievement in the community that I serve, engaging in a really fun learning activity, writing a blog post, making connections, and having an ongoing dialogue with Arin and others.  This is great PD (not to mention extremely cost effective)!  How might this model transform some of the PD in your community?  In my experience most educators would agree that interest, collaboration, fun, self-pacing, individualization, and convenience are some worthwhile components of quality learning.  Also, digital environments can be great platforms for otherwise hesitant communicators to feel comfortable expressing themselves.  This project has so many rich and effective pedagogical components.  I hope that it inspires you in the way that it’s inspired me!

 

So, here’s the video followed by my #videoblogchallenge post (you don’t need to watch the last 30 seconds):

It’s amazing how quickly life changes.  In one moment I’m comfortable moving along my path with every bit of confidence that things are looking up, when all of the sudden…the escalator just stops.  It’s that shift into an unexpected challenge that can throw me off.  If I took a moment to relax and think, I might realize that I could simply walk up the rest of the way to get where I’m going.  However, it’s hard to relax when things don’t go according to plan.  I have to be somewhere, do something, meet someone, finish some project, etc.  Who has time to relax and think?  So often the answers are staring me directly in the face.  An escalator is literally a moving staircase, which means that when it’s not moving…it’s literally a staircase.  If I had approached a staircase I would have simply walked up the stairs, but I didn’t, I approached an escalator – and I expected it to escalate me!  This video reminds me that life is unpredictable.  Thankfully, I’ve been alive long enough to understand that adaptability is essential.  I know that plans are frameworks we use to achieve desired outcomes.  As necessary as it is to make those plans, it’s necessary to be ready to change them.  My wife and I are constantly talking about our belief that we’re surrounded by opportunities, and that being prepared to take the ones that fit us is the best way to achieve our goals.  As a husband, a father of three, and an educational leader, adaptability is an extremely important component of that preparedness.  I love the excitement that the two stranded escalator riders expressed when the repairman came to their rescue, and the disappointment they expressed when his escalator broke down.  I wonder how this scene would have played out if the three of them put their heads together to make a new plan by which each could continue on his/her individual path, and then took collaborative action to implement that plan with a continued willingness and ability to adapt as it unfolded.  My guess is that it would have been more effective.  Great video Arin!  Thanks for the challenge:)!

Some Things to Consider:

1.  Finding ways to collaborate can enhance initiatives that would otherwise be developed/implemented in isolation.

2.  Keep a “Great Ideas” journal.  We are surrounded by great ideas.  When educators keep their eyes open and gather ideas for use/adaptation they enhance their abilitie to engage all learners.

3.  Read http://hatechalk.blogspot.com & follow Arin Kress on Twitter @KressClass…you will learn and grow!

4.  Explore video production/use for classroom instruction and professional development.  Check out some more thoughts and ideas at http://bergseyeview.edublogs.org/category/instruction/instructional-tools/video-production/

5.  Expand/engage with your Twitter PLN & Blog (read and write)!

 

Your input is always welcome and appreciated…happy learning!

 

Seth

Taking Risks, Working Together, & Failing in order to Succeed

 

Reasonable Risks, Crossing Bridges, & Collaborations are Keys to Learning & Growth

I keep hearing about how important it is to promote the taking of “reasonable risks” in our classrooms and school communities.  The theme of “failure” as a learning opportunity is hot in the education dialogue right now…as it should be.  After all, where would any of us be without it?  Failure has arguably brought us every great innovation, idea, and achievement that we have.  It can be an incredible motivator, a wonderful teacher, and a tremendous character building resource.  No risk, no reward.  I’ve mentioned before that I’m a believer in axioms.  They generally make sense because they tend to be time tested.  I could declare that eating mashed potatoes with every meal makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.  However, it most likely would not make axiom status, in large part because it’s not true.  It doesn’t work.  As tasty as mashed potatoes are, it probably is not in anyone’s best interest to eat them with every meal (especially if you’re a butter fiend like me).  On the other hand, when people get to bed early, they set themselves up for reasonable amounts of sleep (and tend to stay out of late night trouble), and when they wake up early, they have time to get things done.  So many people have found this practice to be a good model for health, wealth, and wisdom that early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise became an axiom. I digress in an effort to illustrate that no risk, no reward holds true as well (statistically).  So, earn a penny by saving one, stick with birds whose feathers are similar to yours, keep your chin up, get out of the kitchen (if you can’t stand the heat), imitate people you wish to flatter, strive for less (it’s actually more), treat people how you want them to treat you, behold beauty in your own way, don’t try to change a leopard’s spots, if you’re looking to save nine stitches…stitch one (in time), face the music, and for goodness sake…take risks!

My two-year-old has an aptitude for risk taking.  Ironically, I frequently find myself calling after him with words like, “no,” and “stop,” and “don’t,” in a loud, sharp voice, and with a reddening face.  I don’t want the kid to get hurt.  But there in lies the art of modeling reasonable risk-taking and supporting our learners in taking reasonable risks.  It’s the reasonable part that they need to understand.  How can we help our children and our students develop the essential critical thinking skills that allow them to determine whether or not any given risk is in fact reasonable?  I would suggest that we will have done our jobs if those we raise and teach are not only able to be reflective and grounded enough to cross each bridge as they come to it, but that they will be able to evaluate how to cross, if an alternative route is called for, or if crossing is in fact not the reasonable option at all.  Then, I would like to think that they will have the courage and resourcefulness to follow through with whatever conclusion they come to.  Finally, if/when they fail…I hope that we’ve been effective enough teachers that they are able to celebrate that failure as a step on the path to success.  Truman Capote said, “Failure is the condiment that gives success its flavor.”  I like that.

After multiple previous failed attempts…

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my 2-year-old risks life and limb to successfully cross the shaky bridge at the park!

I’m currently engaged in an exciting project with two incredible educators who I recently met on Twitter.  Together with Ashlee Logan (@logan_ashlee) and Aaron Koleda (@aaroNKoleda) I’m co-founding and co-moderating a Twitter chat focused on ways that educators can use videos and video production for best practice instruction in their classrooms and school communities.  The idea was born out of an informal conversation about Ted Talks, a combined love of collaborative learning, and a collective desire to grow by taking reasonable risks!  Given that we each live and work hundreds of miles apart, the three of us would have little chance to know each other if not for our individual efforts to reach out (a reasonable risk).  I’m relatively new to Twitter, but I’m quickly finding that the magic isn’t in having access to the limitless flow of ideas and resources.  Rather, it’s in the opportunity to meet like-minded individuals, connect, and engage in relationships that extend past one hundred and forty characters.  Ashlee, Aaron, and I met recently for the first time in a Google “Hang Out.”  It was awesome! Having bounced our ideas and enthusiasm back and forth on Twitter for a few weeks it was wonderful to be face-to-face (to-face), even through a video chat.  The next step is continuing to develop our #vidEDchat concept.

We’ve set up a blog and a Twitter account, we’re collectively brainstorming format, guiding topics, logo design, and connected resources, and we’re actively communicating the upcoming maiden voyage of #vidEDchat to our respective PLNs (August 14th from 9-10am).  Our intention is to recruit as many collaborators as possible to join in on our journey to explore how videos and video production can enhance learning.  We hope to enlist experts like Brad Waid (@Techbradwaid) & Drew Minock (@TechMinock) from www.twoguysandsomeipads.com to join when we discuss augmented reality, Todd Neslony (@TechNinjaTodd) at www.toddneslony.com to help us explore how videos and video production play into flipped instruction and project based learning, and chat pros like Michele Corbat (@MicheleCorbat ) & Victoria Olson (@MsVictoriaOlson – http://techteacheronamission.weebly.com/) to provide feedback as we work to develop the concept.  One of the most important aspects of this effort to each of us is that it’s a shared effort.  I’ve not met anyone on Twitter who isn’t there to connect.  The collaborative energy is outstanding.  My incredible #vidEDchat partners and I are more than ready to cross the bridge from shooting off and reading Tweets to building authentic relationships by which we can perpetuate ongoing and meaningful collaborative learning.  We’re excited at the prospect of joining forces with as many others as are so moved to join us!  Two of the axioms at play here are no risk, no reward & the more the merrier.  The reasonable risk is that we’re putting ourselves out there, exposed in the Twitter-sphere, ready to push through the roadblocks in developing an idea we believe in.  The hope is that others find our collective work as meaningful as we have, and that by growing this chat we’ll be exposed to learning that will take everyone involved to places we couldn’t have otherwise imagined!  As educators we will continue to practice and model this type of action and learning, not only for our children and our students…but for ourselves!

Summer Learning Happened So Fast!

 

Keeping Kids Engaged All Year Round

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THE POINT:

Kids will engage in learning over the summer if they are given exciting opportunities to do so.  Finding creative ways to connect students with their peers and their parents through playful exploration motivates them to keep the learning wheels turning.  With passion, play, and purpose it is possible to avoid the summer lag!

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THE STORY:

I’m really dating myself by using a Grease reference for the title of this post, but it just seems to fit so well!  For you younger readers who aren’t making the connection…rent the movie Grease (it’s with the guy from Pulp Fiction).  To the point though, I have to admit that when I got the, “Hey all, our first Harlan Citizen Science meet-up is tomorrow,” text from the incredible Elisabeth Stayer, I thought, wow…already?!  I love that we just left the buildings and already this amazing group of educators from Birmingham Public Schools’ Harlan Elementary are coming together with students and parents to begin sharing the learning they’ve each been doing as Harlan Citizen Scientists over the past two weeks.  Mrs. Stayer and her colleagues organized this wonderful project around the book Citizen Scientists: Be a Part of Scientific Discovery from Your Own Backyard by Loree Griffin Burns, with Photographs by Ellen Harasimowicz.  Check it out at http://tinyurl.com/pg7cbvq.

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From the title you can imagine that the book outlines ways in which children can use their curiosity and imagination to learn through exploration and critical thinking.  I was honored to be a part of the filming of the Harlan Citizen Science video that was used to introduce the concept to students at the end of the school year.  There was an assembly at which Mrs. Stayer and her team passionately outlined the plan and introduced Harlan students to the supplemental materials, including an awesome reflective learning blog.  Later, they distributed Citizen Scientist journals (that they created) to students who wanted to participate.  They gave parents the option of buying or borrowing the book.  There were 20 copies ordered and put in a plastic box in front of the building with a sign out sheet.  Harlan Citizen Scientists are trustworthy people.  How cool is a makeshift summer library based on the honor system?  Leave it to a media specialist and a group of highly passionate elementary school teachers!

Check out the blog for the video and more information about the project at http://blogs.birmingham.k12.mi.us/harlancitizenscience.

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Meanwhile, Tuesday’s meet-up was a big hit!  The incredible Brianna McKinney and her awesome, curious toddler greeted me as I pulled into the Harlan parking lot.  We barely had a chance to say “hello” before the cars started to roll in!  Together with the first group of Citizen Scientists we walked to the outdoor classroom where we began to discuss explorations, observations, and ideas for next steps in unfolding the mysteries of backyard bugs and bird nests.  Did you know that the Black Capped Chickadee is the most common bird found at feeders during Michigan winters?  Neither did I.  Now I do!  I think I’ll put a winter feeder out so that I can get to know this round little breed a bit better.  Did you realize that some ladybugs look like taxicabs?  Some people even call them taxicab ladybugs.  The really funny part is that they’re scientific name is Propylea Quatuordecimpunctata.  We got a few good laughs trying to pronounce that!  We decided to stick with taxicab ladybugs.

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In no time, Mrs. Simonte, Mrs. Stayer (along with her wonderful toddler and some Fig Newtons), and a whole bunch of other Harlan Citizen Scientists had arrived to confer and collaborate.  We looked over each other’s notebooks, we shared drawings and notes, we extended our research using iPads and iPhones, and we explored the field and the playground…hunting for butterflies, beetles, flowers, and dandelions.  We had so much fun!  We learned, we laughed, we thought, we talked, and we planned.  The student and their parents were excited.  I was amazed by the critical thinking that was taking place on that playground, and during summer break!  Some of the students were making lists and drawing pictures, some were talking about connections they had made and information they had learned, some were flipping through the model text, and others were serving as an authentic audience for their peers.  This is a group of real scientists!  The program, along with this first successful meet-up, inspired me to go home and continue the Citizen Scientist explorations I’ve been doing with my sons.  The learning is fun, the engagement is amazing, and the positive modeling is phenomenal.  I love that one of the kids is wearing a “The Future is Mine” t-shirt while being supported in an effort to actively develop himself as an engaged learner.  Well done Harlan Citizen Scientists…keep up the great work!

THE TAKE:

1.  Kids will engage in learning over the summer if they’re given exciting learning opportunities.

2.  With passion, play, and purpose it is possible to avoid the summer lag!

3.  Parents are excited to get involved in their children’s summer learner.  Giving them structures makes it easy for them to do so.

4.  Collaborating with colleagues to develop learning initiatives is a great way to move those initiatives forward.  Two, three, or more heads are better than one.

5.  Using model texts is an effective way to introduce and perpetuate learning.

6.  Giving students ownership can enhance their learning experience and outcomes.

7.  Exciting science opportunities exist right in our backyards!

8.  Teachers actively and authentically engaging in learning with their students can be an extremely effective motivator.

9.  Fun learning is engaged learning.  Students enjoy being explorers.

10.  Getting together a few times during the summer to perpetuate continued engagement is not a difficult thing to do; the benefit out ways the burden.

Blog Gone Effective: Using Digital Environments to Foster Collaborative Learning

Blog Gone Effective!

Using Digital Environments To Foster Collaborative Learning

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In my experience, blogs are great tools for perpetuating cultures of collaboration.  Digital environments seem to be extremely comfortable spaces for sharing.  We see it daily as our otherwise reserved friends and family update their social media pages.  In education, I’ve found that people are less inhibited and more willing to offer a peek into their thoughts, ideas, and practices when they’re given the opportunity to do so by way of a thoughtful and positive blog post as opposed to a live presentation or a classroom visit.  I do know educators who thrive in classroom visit and live presentation scenarios.  However, a truly collaborative culture is all-inclusive.  I’ve experienced learning communities in which those who are comfortable with live sharing become the only ones to share.  Conversely, in communities facing that challenge, those who are not comfortable sharing tend to sit in the back, isolate themselves in their classrooms, and avoid opportunities for collaboration.

It’s important to understand that these are not hard and fast rules, only possibilities to consider.  In considering all relevant possibilities education leaders can work to break barriers that might otherwise encumber the collaborative learning cultures they strive for.  It does take a village to raise a child, and two heads really are better than one.  We so frequently insist on these collaboration axioms because they’re true.  After much critical thought, related data collection and analysis, and ongoing reflective practice, I would assert that blogging is one viable option for bringing communities together in purposeful collaboration, and perpetuating cultures by which otherwise unlikely contributors feel comfortable enthusiastically showcasing their work to the benefit of all stakeholders.  As educators, our collective goal is to enhance student achievement and attitudes toward learning so that the students we serve are prepared to meet and exceed their potential as contributing members of an increasingly complex global community.  When we share, we expand our ability to meet that goal.

Conveniently, there are multiple free and cost effective hosting services like Weebly and Edublogs that are extremely easy to use, both for strategic classroom instruction and professional learning.  To begin with, consider purpose.  Who is your audience?  What are your targeted short and long-term goals?  While perpetuating collaborative learning is the overarching theme that I’m suggesting, what will your path to that end look like?  Will teachers be blog managers or strictly contributors?  Will you involve students as contributors?  What other roles might they play? How about parents and other critical partners?  My learning blog (Berg’s Eye View) is designed to showcase the incredible ideas and practices of my colleagues so that they are increasingly aware of each other’s expertise.  The lens through which I attempt to reveal those ideas and practices (along with my own personal and professional experiences) is my authentic perspective.  The intention is to connect individuals who would be interested in expanding on that perspective, and integrating those ideas and practices into their paradigm through collaborative reflection, planning, and implementation.  Learning and connecting with learning partners is my primary purpose.  The authentic expression and modeling of that purpose is key to the effectiveness of my blogging efforts.  What is your purpose?  How will you reveal that purpose to your audience?  How will you develop it into share objectives and actions with those who would be your partners in learning and growth?

As you contemplate these questions in the development of your blog, carefully consider the structure and the procedures that you intend to put in place for its effectiveness and sustainability.  One of the most important things that I’ve learned so far on my blogging adventure is that blogs need proper feeding and care.  It takes a focused effort, a significant time commitment, and a passion for digital collaboration to manage a blog with any degree of success.  A blog is a tool, and like any other tool its effectiveness is dependent on its user.  Blogs can be used to communicate content, expectations, resources, calendar events, etc., individuals or communities of contributors can manage them, they can provide real time access to developmental artifacts for reflective processing and adaptation, they can be literary or graphic, they can be whimsical or academic, most importantly however, they can be highly effective in perpetuating learning and growth.  After spending this past year using a reflective learning blog to support and encourage collaboration in the communities I serve, I can confidently assert that the time and effort I invested have been returned exponentially in the progress I’ve been a part of.  I will continue to work at developing my site and my skills, and I strongly encourage other educators to get on the blogging bandwagon.  If you’re already an education blogger, if you are considering it, or if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me for collaboration…I’m always looking for new learning partners!

Digital Backpacks: From Learning Experiences to Experiencing Learning

Last week my partner Joan Roettenberger and I facilitated a workshop focused on DIGITAL BACKPACKS (DBs) or e-portfolios.  We worked with an incredible group of k12 teachers who came with a variety of backgrounds, and who are currently teaching in a range of classroom situations.  The session was structured around building a group DB of our own to illustrate its potential for learning and give participants a sense of what students experience when working with this engaging tool.  I was thrilled with the result.  More importantly, I was thrilled with the process and our ability to think critically about it…before, during, and after.  Check out some of our learning artifacts from the 2 ½ hour session at http://tinyurl.com/c2tbh9n.

Using DPs allows learners to chart their progress over time.  One of the key concepts that came out of the great article we picked apart at the workshop (linked to our DB under “3 Exploring Some Info”) was assessment of learning vs. assessment for learning.  Thanks to Brad Wilson (@dreambition on Twitter) for tipping me of to the article and a bunch of the other great resources listed on the wiki space linked above (see “Resource Links” in the menu on the left).  Traditionally, learning is assessed at the “end.”  DBs allow teachers and students to think critically about the learning before they engage in it, at all stages of development, and as they deal with outcomes.  They are also great for engaging parents and other critical learning partners in the process as well.

ONE REALLY COOL APPLICATION:  Laurie Cooper and Patty Solomon, two of the incredible teachers I collaborate with sent home QR code refrigerator magnets that link directly to each student’s DB.  Parents can scan the code at their convenience.  It allows them to view their student’s developmental artifacts at they’re posted.  It has parents asking their students about that development at home.  It encourages families to play active roles in the curriculum.  It gives them an invitation into their child’s daily life at school and opens pathways to enhanced learning.  Visit the site, check out our session and the resources, and let me know if you have questions, further input and examples, or want to collaborate on some DB developmental work…it’s something I’m excited to continue exploring!