Over the last few weeks, I have moved into the planning phase of the prototype protocol, and have begun developing the actual website where my blogging course will live. I met with our IT Director, and discussed the various platforms that would make sense. We ultimately landed on using an existing private faculty blog that teachers currently have access to, yet rarely use. He has been in discussion with our head of school to see how we can increase traffic to this blog, and adding this component may help!
So off I went to begin building the site. I created the shell, started adding in placeholders for information and was about to begin populating when….WAIT….I NEED TO GET FEEDBACK! When I mentioned this to one of my mentors, Gerry De Fazio, who has been guiding me through the prototype protocol, she said that this is exactly what we hope all teachers will come to experience. When the protocol becomes second nature, and when we recognize the value in each step rather than seeing it as a hurdle we need to overcome, we will have found success.
I’ve decided to try something new as a means of documenting my process. I’ve created two video reflections to document my initial version and then will update with videos as I meet with more teachers.
There has been a lot of talk about how we are living through history these days. The things we document about our experiences learning and working from home will be read and analyzed by students and historians hundreds of years from now. Just as we learn about events and lives of people in the past, their journals, pictures and accounts help us better understand what life was like.
Many students have already taken the opportunity to write journals of their own, but last week we talked about the things we thought would be important to document and how.
Here’s a quick video of the collaborative brainstorm we did on Jamboards:
And our final image of all the suggestions:
Fortunately, we launched our student blogs this year, with this exact (well, almost exact) purpose in mind. We wanted to give students a platform where they could keep track of their thoughts, learning and experiences at this point in time. It will always live there, as a resource for them, and others, to look back at and learn from.
Taking all the suggestions from the students, and also being inspired by this post by Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano, I created the following image for students to use as inspiration for documenting their experiences. I hope this will bring some fun and smiles into what we know is a less than ideal time.
My last post was on March 2, 2020…ten days before my school closed its doors due to COVID-19; eleven days before we had our first virtual staff planning session over Zoom and Google Hangouts; 16 days before we began the soft launch of our emergency remote learning program; 21 days before we launched Phase 1 of our emergency remote learning program; and 7 weeks before we will launch Phase 2 of our emergency remote learning program on April 20th.
Now that we’ve lived it, we know that it would have been impossible to explain or imagine what life would be like a mere 7 weeks in the future. Which is in and of itself the point of this post. The majority of my posts on this blog have focused on documenting learning, and supporting teacher and student blogging at my school. I am not the most avid blogger, and sometimes fall out of the groove. But as I am faced with the challenges of adapting my curriculum, thinking about the “what” and “how” of teaching, and deciding what important skills I want my students to learn and capture during this time, I am challenging myself to capture this moment as well. As I have read all throughout the news and on Twitter, we are living history right now. When this started, we prepared to be closed for a week or two, then 4, and now…? Will I remember all the details of what life was like to be able to tell my children? When my students talk to their grandchildren about living through this pandemic, will they remember the various phases they went through and adjustments made to their learning? Will it be important? Just as I couldn’t imagine what life would be like today back on March 2, it is impossible to know what information will be of value or what will be remembered. All I can do is document it here, and if nothing else, have something I can look back on proudly when this is all over.
Pride is the overwhelming feeling I’ve had in the last number of weeks. I am proud of how quickly my school responded to the emergency by closing its doors to protect our community. I am proud of how eagerly (albeit with anxiety and some frustration) my colleagues and I launched a full distance learning program. I am proud of how open, transparent and flexible the administration was to making changes and adjustments to that program, based on feedback from parents, students and teachers. I am proud of how calmly and responsibly my students jumped into this new learning environment to collaborate with their teachers and peers. And I have to believe that we were all able to do this because of the work we’ve done over the last three years. If we had not worked with NoTosh to figure out what we believed to be true about teaching and learning at OJCS, we would not have been able to continue that teaching and learning as seamlessly once the building itself was closed. If we had not worked with Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano around Now Literacies and documenting learning, we (and our students) would not have been able to so adeptly respond and function within a virtual learning environment. I am SO proud of all the work we have done.
Here’s a quick timeline of the last 7 weeks:
*It’s important to note that this past year we had a soft launch of our BYOD program for students in grades 4 – 8. When we launched our distance learning program, many students already had their own devices. The majority of our families are fortunate enough to have homes with multiple devices and strong internet connections. Through every phase, teachers and administrators have been in contact with families and have been extremely supportive and flexible in expectations. We have always come at this with the understanding that financial and health conditions will continue to change for families, and no student will be penalized for missing a meeting, or being unable to submit work. Communication is always made in these circumstances to make alternate arrangements.
March 12 – last day of in-school learning March 13 – faculty meetings to plan and prepare over Zoom March 16 – 17 – PD faculty planning days March 18 – 20 – Soft Launch. Students checked into Google Meet at 8:45 and followed a schedule set by grade groupings, with each team of teachers making their own changes as they saw fit. Feedback: A LOT of screen time; families with multiple children found it challenging to have kids on different break schedules, younger students needed too much parent support and lost focus quickly. Teachers, parents, and students were exhausted. March 23 – April 3 – Phase 1 – Return to regular schedule where all breaks are streamlined across the school. Teachers are “available” during all regular teaching blocks, but have a range of online vs non-digital activities, synchronous vs asynchronous teaching. We read, cooked, sang, created, connected, prayed, and celebrated – all online! Feedback: primary teachers are starting to find their groove and understand what their students can and cannot do within a specific time frame. Morning lessons are much more productive. Middle School schedule needs to be shifted to have longer blocks, but fewer classes in a day. Shorten the learning day with optional work periods and teacher office hours in the afternoon. April 6 – 20 – Passover Break April 20 – ? – Phase 2 – A new Middle School schedule was created and will be tested. Lower School teachers will continue to make changes as needed and have been encouraged to “lighten the load” in the afternoon by scheduling more flexible, independent work periods for students to be more self-directed (for example, Genius Hour, building challenges, Phys Ed. Art, etc.) and are also encouraged to adjust as needed. Feedback: TBD
What do I hope to achieve with my students over the coming weeks?
I hope to inspire them to learn about things they are interested in learning about.
I hope to continue giving them opportunities to interact and collaborate with their peers.
I hope to create an engaging, inclusive, supportive online learning environment that they look forward to joining each day.
I hope to support them in developing the skills they will need to navigate this online world, which will undoubtedly support them in the future as well.
I hope to continue supporting them in documenting this unprecedented moment in time.
As we head back to school after our Passover break, we will begin to discuss common end-of-year events, like Sports Day, end of year trips, report cards and graduation. Just as we have worked through things as a team, we will continue to do with these events as well. We will continue to look to our colleagues around the world who are experiencing this with us. We will continue to make history.
My initial goal for my PGP was to create a set of learning modules around blogging to help teachers who are new to OJCS understand what we do, how we do it, and why we do it.
After collecting data and challenging my assumptions as a part of the prototype protocol, this remains one of my goals, but three new things have emerged that I never would have thought of had I not asked.
Create a “Blogging Agreement” between staff and administrators, so that we are all on the same page in terms of what we should be blogging about, how often, and if there are any educational hot topics that are “off the table” so to speak. How can we blog according to the OJCS way? Let’s set the floor but no ceiling.
Create some type of database of hot topics, articles, blog posts, etc that could help provoke teachers’ thinking in case they need some type of inspiration for their blogs.
Teachers who are already teaching at the school still have blogging skills they’d like to improve upon. Just because someone has been here since the launch of blogging at OJCS, doesn’t mean they feel completely comfortable with all aspects of Edublogs. Therefore, my learning modules should be both deliverable through coaching sessions, but can also be more “self-serve” where teachers can pick and choose the topic they’d like to learn more about and work their way through it independently.
Before I jump into each of these projects, I still want to work slowly and get feedback to ensure I don’t put all my efforts into something that really won’t be beneficial. Where do I start, then?
First, I’ll need to meet with my Head of School to discuss the Blogging Agreement and confirm what his “Floor” wishes are. I’ll also need to see if he has strong feelings about topics that may go against The OJCS Way.
Next, I will use Trello (a somewhat new tool for me) to make an outline of each learning module to make sure I’ve included enough in each section, and have included all the various skills teachers would want to learn. I will share this with my colleagues and ask for feedback again to make sure I haven’t missed anything or made any assumptions that need to be corrected. I will refer to courses I have completed myself, such as the JumpStart Basics unit from Cult of Pedagogy, and Ampeduca from Silvia Tolisano, as references for ways to organize learning modules for adults.
Finally, I’ll continue to brainstorm ways to house the “Hot Topics” menu for teachers to choose from. One idea I already have is to use our Faculty Info Hub blog that already exists. Teachers would then have the ability to post their own articles and help provoke the thinking of their peers. If a Kindergarten Hebrew teacher reads an article on French Immersion in middle school, for example, they may post that article and see if any our our French faculty have thoughts or opinions on the matter, which they can then in turn post to their blog.
I feel really excited about the work that is to come. I’m glad I didn’t just jump in right from the get-go, as these new discoveries make me realize that I would have missed such an amazing opportunity to give our staff what THEY need, what I THINK they need.
In my last post, I named some assumptions I had about blogging, and then challenged those assumptions by collecting data in various ways. Based on that experience, it was by far the easiest to ask people to fill out a survey in order to get high participation and feedback. Only two people participated in a padlet, two people added sticky notes in my classroom, and based on my own schedule and the schedule of my colleagues, I never had a chance to do any in-person interviews. The majority of the people I sent the Google Forms survey to filled it out, and spent time answering the questions honestly.
My next step was to take all that information, organize it in some way, and analyze it to help me make decisions about next steps. I started by looking at all the various platforms where I collected data, and writing each point on its own sticky note.
After that, I placed all the sticky notes, in no particular order, on a wall in my classroom. This felt like a good spot to model for other teachers how they could follow the protocol in their own classrooms. This was also based on the work we did with NoTosh, as I attempted to build a project nest in my own room.
Finally, I asked teachers for their help again, and invited them in to organize the data in any way they felt made sense.
If someone had spent some time with the data before them, they didn’t need to feel confined to the “categorization” that had already been made. The sticky notes were used purposefully, as a way to show how flexible the data was.
What did I learn from the responses?
Many see blogging as a great tool for communicating with parents, as a platform to share what they are doing in their classroom with a global audience, and a place to document, learn and grow from where they are now.
Most teachers feel completely comfortable with blog posts related to what they are doing in class and for sharing homework. It is posts about educational hot-topics and personal philosophies that teachers are more reluctant to write about.
One common frustration with blogging is that teachers feel parents are not interacting with the blogs in the ways they would like (no commenting, never read it, don’t follow)
Although teachers see the value in blogging, they want it to be self-motivated and not something that is “required”. They believe that blogging is personal, and it is not necessarily the right tool for everyone. When it is “top down,” the quality of the post is jeopardized, and it is harder to be meaningful.
Although teachers feel they know the basics, many still feel like they have a lot to learn and would have appreciated more training at the beginning.
So where do we go from here?
It is interesting to think more about the “top down” comments. Especially as I am working on Principals Qualifications, I understand that there are goals and visions that principals and school leaders make that they need to share with the rest of their stakeholders. I understand that there will always be critics and people who do not necessarily share the same visions or values. It is important to continue working with those teachers to find some common ground.
How long does writing a blog post take someone who is anti-blogging? Could their reluctance be due to a lack of skill?
Although it would still be mandated by admin, would deadlines by which certain types of posts needed to be posted be helpful in actually diving in and getting it done?
Could writing something out of your comfort zone actually help in changing your opinion about blogging? Would it be helpful to have a list of possible blogging topics to choose from to help the juices flow?
I think a few more conversations with people about this would be helpful. But it is clear to me that a more streamlined training program could definitely be helpful for staff who are new to blogging. Creating a set number of lessons, focused on specific skills, with specific tasks attached to them, could be helpful in overcoming some of the barriers that currently exist for our staff around blogging. If these lessons are clearly defined, while new teachers would have to go through each sessions, more experienced teachers could also choose specific lessons to attend to help develop their skill and continue climbing their own blogging ladder.
Last year, my colleague and I worked on creating a prototype protocol for the staff in our school to follow when prototyping something new. This was based on the work some of our staff had done with NoTosh.
At first we created a flowchart, in hopes that teachers would be able to make their way through and see what their next steps were. Unfortunately, it was not very user friendly. We then created a Prezi, hoping that the more interactive interface would be more appealing and useful, and would be more accessible for teachers. Again, no one used it. Following the protocol we created, we went back to the drawing board, and created a Google Slides presentation, streamlining the information, adding clickable links to flow through the protocol, and added guiding questions and examples as support. And what do you think happened? No one used it 🙁
So here I am now, taking the next steps by trying the protocol myself. I met with Gerry De Fazio, who is coaching me throughout this journey.
My first step was to name some assumptions about blogging at OJCS.
Blogging is a requirement in our school
Teachers are blogging regularly in three different ways: communication, homework, thoughts on education
Everyone loves blogging
People aren’t comfortable with blogging and that’s why they aren’t blogging
Now I needed to interview people to challenge those assumptions. Remembering that there were 2 goals for this project (my own PGP to create a blogging course for teachers, and to model the prototype protocol for staff) I wanted to model the “gathering data” step in a few different ways. I created a Google Form, a Padlet board, a post-it collection board in my class, and I will also be interviewing face-to-face.
I assume that for those teachers who I asked to participate online or by filling out post-its in my classroom, not all will participate. And that’s ok. I hope to see which option would be best to suggest to faculty.
My current role at The OJCS is part time grade 5 teacher, part time Teaching and Learning Coordinator. In the latter part of my job, I work with teachers and help them plan, create, revamp or simply brainstorm things they can do with their class. Often, this coaching revolves around different technology tools and Now Literacies.
I consider myself a pretty patient person, and like to believe that I am a good educator when it comes to children. But when discussing my goals for this year, I wanted to focus my attention to the coaching side of my job. How can I best use my time with teachers? Should I allow teachers to make meetings with me as needed and support them that way? Should I be having standing, check-ins with certain teachers with set goals in mind? Should these meetings continue for the entire year, or is there some form of “graduation”? With the support of my head of school, Dr. Jon Mitzmacher, I’ve decided to build a module with set skills, time, and lessons around Classroom Blogs. Jon asked the question, “What needs to change in our teaching when working with adults instead of children?”
During my Principal’s Qualification Program this past summer, I read When Mentoring Meets Coaching, by Kate Sharpe and Jeanie Nishimura. My partner and I ran a book talk, and I would say our main takeaway was that when working with adults, there needs to be a mix of supporting, listening and sharing of your own experiences and expertise while still allowing for these professionals to make discoveries on their own and grow their own craft based on who THEY are, not who YOU are.
This makes a lot of sense to me as I reflect to my own mentors who continue to guide me. They ask me questions, they challenge my thinking, and they push me to come up with my own ideas and opinions around education before ever sharing their own ideas with me.
But what about when we are creating learning modules specifically for teachers? How should they be organized? What skills should specifically taught? And how can we weave those moments of self-discovery and choice into the lesson so teachers are not simply doing something because they have to, but because they want to?
I contacted Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano to see if she had any advice or books she recommended. As someone who coaches for a living and has offered many different online adult learning opportunities through Ampeduca, she was the perfect person to start with.
I will start with one of these books and share my thoughts once I’m done.