I read “Ditch that Textbook” by Matt Miller early in 2016. It was among several of the “Dave Burgess Consulting” titles that I had on my nightstand. It only took me a short time to finish the book, mark up the pages with post-its and notes and knew I had to share this book with my staff.
With our professional learning days accounted for and the end of the year approaching, I decided to launch a twitter based summer book study that teachers participated in on a voluntary basis. I sent out an email and was floored that the majority of my staff wanted in! We extended the invite to several other teachers and before we knew it we had our staff collaborating with teachers across the country on the topic of revolutionizing their classrooms!
The first week was simply introductions. Teachers shared their position and a selfie of themselves with the book. It was an easy way to get acquainted with the hashtag, meet the educators participating, and dip our toes into the twitter book study waters. The teachers below are just some of those that participated!
The remaining weeks of the book study focused on each chapter of the book. There were opportunities for goal setting, resource sharing, and celebration of success. Teachers shared their favorite educational book titles, hashtags, digital resources, and more. Staff set goals for integrating technology in meaningful ways in the fall. Mystery Skype Sessions, Twitter Chats with authors, Hyperdocs and digital badges were all shared as goals for teachers. It was uplifting to see many ‘likes’ and “retweets” of their posts as others validated their tweets and learned from their posts!
I embedded some digital badges in the study to recognize those that participated as well. A the conclusion of the study, they were awarded a participation certificate (linked below).
It was empowering to see how many educators sought to be connected and learn through the summer months. In Matt’s book he indicates the importance of being connected for so many positive reasons: inspiration, motivation, challenge, camaraderie, apps, humor, and collaboration (pages 97-98). Each of those elements was evident during the book study. As teachers used their time on vacation to learn and grow, they were filling their teacher tool belts and making their classrooms better places to teach and learn!
Inspired by the video created by Soul Pancake, I wanted to translate the effects of the experience in the ball pit to the staff in my building. In the video, two strangers sit and discuss question prompts written on various balls. Through the experience they come to common group, develop relationships, and communicate on a deeper level. Plus, sitting in a ball pit is fun, unique and out of the norm for most adults!
So, with a baby pool and plastic balls already in our storage room from our school carnival, I set to replicate the experience as an ice breaker to our staff meeting. The ball pit wasn’t as big as the one from my inspiration and the staff weren’t strangers to each other, but we did learn a lot about each other!
As teachers or staff members sat in the ball pit, they pulled questions and prompted answers from their partners. Questions included light-hearted questions to get-to-know each other and education related topics focused on sharing strategies and best practices. Some questions included:
- What’s your proudest moment as a teacher?
- Why did you become a teacher?
- How do you de-stress after a challenging day?
- What are you most passionate about?
- What content area, skill, or concept do you enjoy teaching the most?
- What is your favorite technology tool to use in the classroom?
- How do you connect your students to others outside the walls of your classroom?
- If money were no object, what would you want to add to your classroom to improve student learning and engagement?
- What’s your favorite read aloud?
- What website do you visit most frequently?
- Use only one word to describe your classroom.
- What is one thing you would wan the public to know about teaching?
Some questions were also just plain silly to bring some laughter and levity to our experience:
- Would you rather be hairy or bald?
- What would you name your yacht if you had one?
- What’s the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning?
- What would the title of the book based on your life be?
- If your personality was an animal, what would it be?
The ball pit ice breaker was a perfect introduction to our staff meeting. With a little humor and fun, we learned about the teaching practices and lives of our staff.
If you do an analysis of my work day, you would see something different everyday. My job may include meeting with staff to discuss an observation or evaluation, meeting with parents to discuss a concern or create a plan, working with students or addressing any of the other myriad of items that come across my desk: answering emails, balancing building budgets, ordering instructional supplies, developing professional development activities, hiring staff, completing state reports, monitoring lunch time, visiting classrooms, greeting students at the door, dropping handwritten notes, recognizing positive behavior, and so much more.
So I get asked at times how I have the time to blog and tweet. The answer is simple. We all have the same amount of time in the day. I choose to make time for these meaningful practices. My blog is an outlet for me to reflect on best practices and share my experiences, ideas, resources, and thoughts with other like minded professionals. It is part of being a connected educator. In addition, my blog models reflective learning with my staff and shows that I value reflection and sharing of educational practices. During a recent Danielson flavored evaluation training, our presenter focused on the key elements that make a great teacher. Whereas 3C (engaging students in learning) was the most important in his presentation, he stressed that excellent teachers also grow professionally and share their learning and expertise with others. Why would I expect that from my staff, if I am not willing to walk the walk and talk the talk? So, I make the time to blog. I share my blog posts with my staff and in many cases with our students’ families and with the greater community. It creates a ripple effect.
A principal I have connected with on Twitter challenged principals to share their practices that create ripple effects of learning. Beth Houf encouraged school leaders to create a twitter challenge, tweet or post the wonderful things occurring in their buildings, and overall enthusiastically share the awesomeness occurring in our buildings. You can read her initial post here. I’ve taken the inspiration I’ve seen from connecting to other principals to create staff twitter challenges. In the month of December, staff have a calendar to challenge themselves to tweet and share resources, ideas, and celebrations from their classroom. The inaugural twitter challenge was focused on student engagement and encouraged staff to tweet, retweet, and post articles, pictures, and items related to student engagement.
In addition to self-paced and individualized twitter challenges created for staff, our most recent staff meeting was a collaborative team twitter treasure hunt. Staff was asked to go throughout the building searching for examples and models of key artifacts that support school goals and professional learning. Staff worked with partners to find examples of a culture of readers, student engagement, celebrating student success, fostering physical fitness, and more. As teachers found this evidence and took pictures, they shared them on twitter at #dgstweets. Following the twitter treasure challenge, staff assembled to debrief, view the tweets, and discuss their takeaways.
As incentive to grow professionally by completing these challenges, staff are given surprise incentives that are either inexpensive or free. They range from a casual day, to coverage for their classrooms, to candy or a certificate of participation. I’ve included these below along with access to editable word documents that can be customized.
You can view this moment of serenity certificate at: dgstweets
You can view this certificate that was given to teachers upon completion of their first challenge at: dgstweets certificate
Staff were given a pirate treasure box of candy once their first challenge was initiated. You can get an editable word document of this at: dgstweets Twitter Challenge Treasure
So what has come out of all of this?
- It has created a culture of positive personal professional learning in which teachers access twitter and/or blogs to seek to connect and learn with other educators and professionals. Teachers share their ideas with each other as well as staff in other buildings in our district and districts across the nation.
- Teachers connect with parents, promote a positive culture, and reflect on their instructional practices. It has taken away the concept that we work in isolation and fostered open and collaborative learning amongst the staff.
- It has provided me an outlet to provide feedback and be present in the classroom during times I can’t physically be there. As an instructional leader and coach, I have gained a stronger understanding and insight into classroom instruction.
- In some cases, it has created a ripple effect in which parents have created twitter accounts to follow classroom learning.
As a principal, I am always seeking new ways to engage my staff in professional conversations and learning. After brainstorming, a light bulb went off after a conversation I had with a friend about her experiences with speed dating. During our most recent professional learning time together, I paired teachers in two parallel rows and posed questions related to our school goals and SIP plan (and that were worded according to our school rock star theme). After each question, teachers rotated and a new reflection question was posed. This activity that included 8 questions, was scheduled for 30 minutes and could be shortened or lengthened to accommodate the number of questions or time constraints.
This approach was successful for many reasons.
1. Cross-Curricular collaboration occurred across content areas and grade levels offering staff members exposure to varied perspectives and points of view.
2. Unique ideas were shared amongst staff members that may not get the opportunity to collaborate in common PLCs on a regular basis.
3. Support staff, student teachers, new teachers and veteran teachers were able to participate at equal levels.
4. Meaningful ideas and activities were shared to motivate and empower staff
5. Active learning that required participation from all staff members
1. As an educator, what rock star are you most like and why?
2. What is your best rock star teacher quality?
3. How will you get your temp back and get into the school groove this year?
4. How will you get your students to have more ‘voice’ and take center stage in your classroom?
5. Parent Communication is key. In what ways will you provide a ‘back stage’ pass into your classroom and learning activities this year?
6. You’re all members of VIP PLCs. How will you ensure your time together is an effective jam session?
7. Every rock star needs an entourage. What strategies will you use to foster a classroom learning community?
8. Time for special effects. What is a technology application or idea you are excited to use this year?
I recently read Hacking Education: 10 Quick Fixes for Every School by Mark Barnes and Jennifer Gonzalez. It was a good read with some quick and effective strategies that could be easily implemented.
The book revealed 10 strategies to improve school function and efficiency:
1. Facilitate meetings “in the cloud”
2. Develop a Pineapple Chart (I’ll provide more about this in a minute)
3. Develop Teacher Quiet Zones
4. Track Records (data binders)
5. Empower Student Tech Gurus
6. Engage new teachers with Marigold Committees
7. Do the “In Class” Flip
8. Develop Book Nooks (free books for students)
9. Establish Glass Classrooms with social media (twitter, blogs, edmodo)
10. Monitor student data with a 360 Spreadsheet to get a sense of all facets of a child both academically and emotionally.
Of these “hacks” the Pineapple Chart stuck with me as a strategy to embed professional learning into our days without making “professional development” an event or another meeting. This concept is something I continue to develop through weekly Twitter reflections for my staff at #royalreflection, weekly memos that include “Blogs, Tweets, and Pins, Oh MY!” for staff to review, and monthly book reviews of professional readings. Most recently, I offered my staff coverage of their classroom if they had the desire to observe in a colleague’s classroom. Research supports teacher peer observations as an effective form of improving instructional practices. For this professional learning to be effective, if needs to be an embedded part of the school culture and ongoing.
This is where the Pineapple Chart comes into play. In its most simple form, the pineapple chart functions under the symbolism of the pineapple.The pineapple is a symbol of welcome. When it’s displayed on welcome mats and door hangings, the intended message is “Come in! All are welcome here!”
Pineapple Professional Learning Opportunities are a way of putting a welcome mat out for a classroom and letting others know that you’re doing something worth doing today, and if they’d like to come by to watch, your door is open!
As a result of reading this book, I created a Pineapple Chart for DGS. The pictures below show this board in our teacher work room.