Professional Development

Far beyond the tools

I continually make decisions thinking I know so much, only to learn within a few short years how little I actually knew. Today I realized just how little I understood about becoming an instructional tech coach when I first started down this path eight years ago.

When I decided to leave the classroom to pursue a technology integration position, I felt I had given myself ample time to grow, to reflect, and to mature in the craft of teaching, as well as in my use of technology. I was adamant that I was not going to leave the classroom until I felt ready to support others meaningfully. When I left the classroom, I "knew" I had invested the time needed to get there.

Even with that measured, mindful approach, I still feel as if my first few years were centered around evangelizing those who had not yet encountered the wonders of the technologies I had discovered. I wasn't aware of it at that time, but reflecting on my practice, the tools were undoubtedly the focus of my work.

Today I was fortunate to attend a powerful session on the instructional coaching offered by Tammy Gibbons. It was a marvelous experience for me, interweaving the perfect mix of thinking, learning, and doing.

As I reflect on the activities, the conversations, and the messages that Tammy so masterfully delivered throughout this workshop, I realize just how little of my work today is focused on the tools we employ.  Yes, I talk about technology every day with educators. I march out new tools and offer ideas for ways to utilize them. However, that is the least important of my interaction with teachers. 

Today, the central focus of my work with teachers is on them. I focus on their readiness to take on a new challenge, to take a risk, to shift their thinking, or to challenge long held beliefs and practices. My focus is on providing just enough support to enable them to make a lasting change, while walking delicately along the line that allows them to be doing the hard work of growing.

My practice today is so far beyond the focus of tech tools that I sometimes wonder if I am really doing the job I was initially hired to do. Perhaps I am not spending enough time exploring all of the newest services, tools, and sites that are constantly coming online. Maybe I am not exploring and scouting the booming educational technology industry sufficiently. These are ongoing considerations for me as I reflect on my performance in my role.

The message that was hammered home for me in today's workshop, though, was that coaching the human being in front of you, helping them to become the best educator that they can be, really is the workthat I should be focused on doing. And that is the work that will have an impact on students far beyond the tools that utilize.

Growth IS the Focus - Leveling Up Professional Practice in 2016

Happy New Year!  Gearing up for my own return to work with students and teachers after a much appreciated holiday break, I have been reflecting on the goals I will carry with me into my work with educators and students each day.

In the world of educational technology, it is easy to get caught up in trends, passions, new tools and innovative products.  I am guilty of this myself!  This can lead us on tangents that are exciting, fun, empowering, and energizing, but all of these can also become distractions to the real goals we have for our instructional environments, teachers, and students.

The question we have to constantly ask is, "How is this helping us move toward our goal of improving instruction and learning practices?" And we have to be really honest about the answer to that question!

As I was saying, I have been reflecting on where I will put my energy as I return to school. For me, I have found that the focus and the message that I will carry into my work focuses solely on one major idea: Growth!

No matter where you (or those you support) are in your/their journey to learn to use and meaningfully integrate technology into professional practice, "growth" is a goal to which we can all subscribe. And the beauty of setting growth as a goal is that growth, while at first just a goal, becomes a habit. It must start out with intentionality where we strategically put ourselves in a position to grow and try new things (especially in the world of educational technology).  However, with each small step a new world of opportunity opens up for us and eventually growth just becomes a lifestyle.

Trust me when I say that I did not start on my own journey thinking I would one day be an advocate for the use of technology in the classroom (I would take a day on the water, out in nature, and far away from a computer any time). For me, I noticed that my students with the least interest in what I was teaching (I believe it was the interpretation of lyrics as poetry at the time) were drawn in by the movie project I offered to them as I was first trying out some video editing software that came on my new personal computer.  My initial growth step (learning to use video editing software) led to an encouraging discovery with students, which led to some study and exploration, which eventually carried me on my own journey of learning to use the technology meaningfully.

If you are somebody who needs a model to help guide your personal growth, I strongly recommend a close look at the SAMR Framework.  It is the most useful, practical, common sense framework to explain both how we generally adopt new technologies, as well as how we can meaningfully integrate them to improve instructional practice.  A simple Google search will turn over lots of great starting points, but I appreciate Kathy Schrock's guide to SAMR.  It's a great starting point.

If you are still in need of a good professional resolution for the new year (or the remaining school year), consider setting "Growth" -- specifically growth focused on how to meaningfully bring tech into your classroom -- as a front-running idea! I know I'll be pitching that same idea to the teachers I connect with daily.

Making the Most of the Tools You Have

Tonight I'm going to be leading a webinar on the Intel Teach Live series called The Dangers of App Overload.  If you would like to register to join and follow along live, here is the link:

Before I write any more, I want to say thank you to Naomi Harm (@naomiharm) and Vanessa Jones (@vkajones) for the opportunity to connect and share tonight.  It is an honor! Thank you for the opportunity.

This blog post below is inspired by my reflection on and preparation for tonight's webinar.

Something I hear more often in my work than I would imagine, and something that forces me to reflect on the question of how well we are using the tools we have available to us for teaching and learning is this comment that I will sometimes get a version of from teachers:

"So, I used to use this tool that I could use for lots of different projects.  Is there an app for that now, or something that is just like it?  It was called Photo Story. It was great."

Now, for those of you reminiscing about Photo Story, here is the reality.  Photo Story has not been updated since 2006.  As late as 2013 I can still find posts of people successfully installing and running Photo Story, but after that I'm not sure that there is quite as much success (except for those of you still rocking the XP).

If you don't know Photo Story, it basically allowed users to create a Photo Slideshow complete with instrumental music, transitions, voice overs, and text.  By today's standards that maybe doesn't sound that impressive.  Remember, this software was available at a time when merging and mashing media was, well, complicated.

Anyhow, the bigger picture is this.  When I engage teachers in the question of why they loved Photo Story so much, the response is generally pretty consistent.  

1 - It was easy to use.

2 - It was easily adaptable.  

3 - It was reliable.

Teachers could learn the software once and then apply it to almost any media project or presentation.  Want to tell a digital story?  Use Photo Story.  Want to create an engaging version of a science lab report?  Use Photo Story.  Want to impress your parents and students with photos and music from the spring concert?  Use Photo Story.

The landscape looks VERY different today for teachers.  Back then there was definitely a lot of software available at the time when Photo Story became popular. The trouble was that the software was most often not free (at least the well designed, easy-to-use stuff was not often free) and it was a laborious process to have it even installed on computers.  Today, there is an ever-flowing stream of high quality, innovative, well designed free software, and it is all a button tap away from being installed on your tablet for use in your classroom. Apps are easy to acquire, easy to use, and there are generally several to choose between.

This leaves us with a new challenge, and it  relates closely to the topic of digital distraction. It is incredibly easy to find new tools, use new tools, and replace new tools with newer tools.  

Buggy app?  Switch to a new one.  Not fond of the advertisements?  Switch to a new one.  Clunky layout?  Switch to a new one. Friends (or students) using something else?  Switch to a new one.  We are switching our tool set so frequently that the reality is we never really get to be truly proficient and productive with the tools we use.

So, maybe our new tools are easy to use. That's generally a given as no app can make it very long in a design-conscious marketplace.

Are they adaptable, though?  Well, if Photo Story could be considered adaptable, so could nearly ANY creative app today.  Whether it is iMovie, Pages, Notability, Explain Everything, the Google Apps Suite, or anything else you can imagine, the adaptability of the tool is in the mind of the user (and in my case, the mind of the teacher framing the instructional goals).  These tools have the power to be used for a wide variety of instructional reasons.

The last question, though, is if these apps are reliable.  And that is an interesting question.  Software and apps today are more reliable than ever.  Developers get more feedback from users today (or at least can get the feedback and data if they choose to) more quickly than at almost any other time in history.  So, the apps themselves are very reliable.  The follow-up question, though, is if we, the end users, are committing to the tools reliably.  If we are fickle consumers and users of these apps, especially the apps that we use in our classrooms with students, then we will NEVER get to a point where we can determine the reliability or the adaptability of these powerful tools.

As educators, we must focus on how to make the most of the tools we do have readily and reliably available to us.  Teachers are the most creative people I know.  They can make meaningful lessons out of almost any set of resources.  We now just need to slow ourselves, commit to the tools we do have, and then make magic happen in our classrooms.

I hope that in 10 years some teacher says to me, "Hey, do you know of any apps that I can use with my kids that is just like Explain Everything.  That app was great.  My kids did so much with that!"

Then again, in 10 years I hope that no teacher is still saying to me, "Do you know if Photo Story is still available for download?" :)



I Am Tech Fluent. Are You?

In his last post on Getting Tech Into Ed, Dale asked readers when we can stop treating technology like it is an add-on to our work as educators.  The point is well made and has caused me to reflect on why this "tech first" mindset dominates the conversation when we talk about innovation and new instructional practices.

My experience as a student learning Spanish fits well here.  I took four years of Spanish in high school. I even spent two weeks in Mexico surrounded by native Spanish speakers.  Yet, when I arrived to college and realized I had to take Spanish to earn my teaching degree, I freaked out.  I knew very well that I could not understand, speak, read, or write Spanish.  I bombed my introductory Spanish class and narrowly escaped my summer re-take of the exact same course.  (This, by the way, is NOT reflective of my academic story in any other coursework I completed.)

How is it that I could have invested that much time into learning a language and yet walked away with nothing more than a dwarfed vocabulary of random words and a few notable catch phrases that I probably am not using in the appropriate context?

The reality is I was not striving to become fluent in Spanish. My goal was simply to pass; to jump through the hoops to get to my goal of going on a trip, graduating, and earning a degree.  The Spanish coursework was simply a stepping stone to where I wanted to be, not an opportunity to learn a second language, grow culturally, and open an avenue for communicating with a whole world of people who speak a language other than English.


Something in the answer to this question ties closely to my thoughts on why so many educators struggle to move beyond the view of technology as an add-on to educating students.  

Learning to utilize technology for any purpose, including for instructional use, can be a lot like that learning a foreign langague.  In our district we spend a significant amount of time sharing the SAMR Framework with our teachers.  We celebrate movement and growth as it relates to the use of technology to push innovative instructional practice in the classroom.  However, the use of technology for the sake of using technology (categorized as Substitution in SAMR) is not a practice or mindset we encourage teachers to commit to long-term.  Using technology to do things you could very well do without technology is a necessary first step, a place where the journey to more meaningful uses of technology begins. (Kind of like learning to say things to friends in Spanish that I could just as easily say to them in our native language wasn't the real purpose for learning the language.)

It is in the Substitution and early Augmentation phases where users become increasingly "tech fluent."  They start building basic vocabulary, exploring the structure of software and apps, developing confidence, finding some minor successes, and asking questions about what is possible.  They begin to learn lessons of what works and what to avoid when it comes to using technology.  They begin to experience the early advantages of their commitment to become fluent in the language.

This stage of learning a new language or skill set is delicate.  This is where patience, support, and guidance become so important.  It is in these early stages where technology users can gain momentum or lose a sense of purpose entirely.  This is the point where we can help people to see that once they become proficient in their use of technology (as well as their willingness to take risks and try new practices), the possibilities are boundless for them and their students.  It is also the point where we can allow them to flounder, lose focus, and begin to view the use of technology as just another way to do what they have always done.

In this light, I acknowledge that my acquisition of a second language has been stunted in Substitution for well over a decade.  By this point in my journey I should be fluently conversing with parents and students in my district who are English Language Learners.  I should be confidently planning trips to Spanish speaking nations with little concern about a language barrier.  I am not doing this today, though, because I did not commit to meaningfully learning the basics so that I could access the full advantages of being fluent.

In a world where technology has impacted every facet of life, where opportunity and possibility have few limits for those who are fluent in the use of technology, and where the use of technology is flooding academic institutions and experiences across the world, what will your story of "tech fluency" be in just a few years?  If you invest the time to learn to meaningfully use the technology today, what possibilities will exist for you and your students once you have "learned the language?"  It is worth the investment of time and energy today, but not for the purpose of jumping through hoops or fulfilling PD requirements.  Instead, make the investment because you and your students deserve to have all of the amazing educational opportunities that exist (both with and without the use of technology).

In making this commitment, find supportive people who will aid you in your journey.  If you do, I guarantee that  in relatively short order you will become "tech fluent" and you will be able to see well beyond the technology.  You will instead start focusing entirely on what matters and what we all care most about: student learning!



Technology Integration - Seeing What Tech Use Could Look Like with Technology Integration Matrix

One of the biggest hurdles many of our staff members encounter in the use of technology in the classroom centers around the idea that they aren't even sure what technology integration might look like.

This isn't in relation to the tools they can use.  While most of them probably could name a few of the tools that are available to them, the bigger struggle is actually envisioning how the tool can be put into instructional practice to yield an educationally relevant outcome.  Essentially, if our teachers could see the technology in action in a classroom, being used by real students and teachers for real educational tasks, they could begin to imagine how they might use these tools. 

The Technology Integration Matrix (TIM) may provide some assistance in helping educators to see what is even possible through the use of technology in the classroom.  The TIM, created by the Florida Center for Instructional Technology, provides a database of searchable, sortable videos that allow viewers to see technology in action in the classroom.  The beauty of the resource is that the videos can be searched and sorted by grade level, tools used, and subject.  They are also classified on two key scales -- Characteristics in the Learning Environment, and Levels of Technology Integration.  While we do not use this language within our district, the Characteristics in the Learning Environment can fairly easily be translated into Danielson language, and the Levels of Technology Integration can easily be fitted to the SAMR framework (Substitution covering the lowest two categories, Entry and Adoption). 

We truly encourage you to take a deeper look at this resource.  It is ripe for use at PLCs, staff meetings, and even for collegial learning sessions in your building.  Videos are short, focused, and can generally create some sort of reaction from educators about the value the technology provides.  It is an excellent way to start thinking about what is possible as the technology makes its way into your classroom(s).

The resource is available here:

This video introduces the Technology Integration Matrix and might be valuable as a starting point to help introduce staff members to the tool.


Presentation: Assistive Technology and Purposeful Use of iPads

Today Patty Hovel, the Related Services Coordinator in our school district, and I will be co-presenting for the Parents United Consortium of SE Wisconsin.  Our presentation will focus on the purposeful use of iPads in schools, the changing landscape in our classroom and the changing roles of our teachers and learners, and the process for determining if an iPad, or any assistive technology, will aid a student in their formalized learning journey.


If you are interested in accessing the presentation resources, they are available here:


Just wanted to share with everybody.  Sounds as if we may have just under 100 people in the audience today, but perhaps this is a topic that interests others in our online community.  Patty is incredibly knowledgeable about technology, the process for selecting assistive technology, and the role it can play in the classroom.  She is a wonderful resource and I'm excited to be presenting with her today!

Get Connected -- It's Connected Educator Month!

For as many people as a teacher comes into contact with during the day, anybody who has been in the classroom knows that teachers can often feel very isolated from other professionals.

Much of it has to do with the physical design of our school buildings. Much to do with the logistical design of our school day.  Part of it is that so much of our day is spent with and preparing for our students that little time (or energy) is left to connect with other adults in meaningful ways.
During this month, we want to raise awareness, though, that you don't have to go it alone!  Make this the moment when you intentionally reach out to others to connect professionally.  Ask a question.  Share an experience or a practice.  Offer advice, or seek it.  The world is more connected today than ever, and the beauty is that those connections are more flexible and adaptable than ever before!  Connect when you have time or can fit it into your schedule.  There are so many of us who slip these connections in just before bed, or at a late hour when we are up thinking about "educator issues" that just won't let us drift off to sleep.  Maybe that's a moment when you can commit to giving it a try without worry of trying to fit another thing into an already packed day.
Remember the old adage, "Many hands make light work."  Never have there been more connected educators willing to throw in to a fellow educator (albeit an absolute stranger) for the good of the cause.  For those of us who have reached out and started connecting, it's amazing how rejuvenated, supported, and, well, connected you feel to others in your profession, and also, beyond your school walls.  The perspective gained can be empowering and enlightening!

Where to Start?

There are SO MANY great places to start, but being Connected Educator month, one resource I'd love to point out the Connected Educator website.  From book clubs to events to discussion groups, you'll find it all here.  The beauty is that you'll find others who have taken the step forward to become a more connected educator, meaning you'll find people with the same goal of reaching out and trying new things.
On this site you'll also find an amazing tool -- the edConnectr.  After a few minutes of inputting my personal educational interests, areas of educational expertise, and topics I'd like to connect with others on, it put forward a graph of other connected educators I may want to connect with, and as much personal contact information as the person was willing to include. 
Take a look at my graph at right.  

Each pin represents a person or group that I can connect with to start a conversation.  Upon review, I knew a few of these names, but many were local people that I have not yet met.
Perhaps it is time for you to create an edConnectr graph, just to see who there is to connect with.  Take it one step further, and challenge yourself to reach out and connect with somebody, just to try something new and to begin connecting yourself as an educator.

So go on -- give it a whirl, make a personal commitment, and see if you can get connected this month.  
And yes...these resources came to me from people I have connected with in my own Personal/Professional Learning Networks -- and it is THESE relationships that have made getting connected such a value added to my professional life!  Thank you to all of you who I have been able to connect with over the past 8 years!  It has been an absolute life changing experience for me.