6 Reflections on Innovation Boot Camp at the Friday Institute

Last week, I had an awesome opportunity to present at and attend the Innovation Boot Camp held by the Friday Institute at NC State University.  The focus of the Boot Camp was for educators to share how they are achieving blended learning in their schools.


There were so many fantastic people there, and I learned some new tools as well as new ways to use tools I was familiar with. Here a few things that I learned that I thought were worth passing along.

1. Newsela

I presented a session where I showed teachers my blended unit called The Grown Up Project. I designed the unit while taking a MOOC-Ed course through the Friday Institute. You can check out my project at the provided links, but it seems that most participants seemed to really fall in love with Newsela. If you are not familiar with Newsela, it is essentially a site that posts current news stories but adapts them to five different Lexile levels to targets a wide range student reading proficiencies. My admiration of Newsela and its work is well-documented in this blog post.

2. Digital Field Trips

Teika Clavell (@teikaclavell) shared her awesome digital field trip about zones of the ocean.. This piktochart she provided can help you build your own field trip. I especially like the steps she provides. I am currently working on tour of American poets with two teachers I met in her session.

3. P.L.A.Y.D.A.T.E.S

What is a P.L.A.Y.D.A.T.E.? It stands for People Learning and Asking Y: Digital Age Technology Exploration. Essentially, it is a scheduled time for colleagues or students to learn about digital tools of their choice. For me, I am wanting to set up some P.L.A.Y.D.A.T.E.s for teachers in each of my schools next year to learn more deeply about technology tools with supportive colleagues. Thanks to Debby Atwater (@atwaterd) for sharing this idea.

4. Seesaw

Seesaw is a learning portfolio tool that embeds nice formative assessment functions that you’ve probably seen in other tools, such as multiple-choice and drawing responses. I am not yet an expert on Seesaw, as attended a short discussion of it. However, it looks promising, and the presenter, Kerri Brown Parker (@bplibrarian) provided a great guide for exploring it.

5. Kaizena

Kaizena is a google add-on that allows you to give feedback on student writing. I had heard of some teachers using it in my school system, but this was the first opportunity to play with it. Kaizena allows you to give verbal feedback via audio recording on student work. In my group, one teacher joked about giving the same feedback over and over again to students, but, Kaizena actually helps with that. You can record audio comments and mini-lessons that can be reused over and over again on different students’ work. The most powerful part of Kaizena is the capacity it has to provide timely and personalized feedback compared to traditional paper comments. Thank you to Ashley McBride (@ashleymcbride86) for teaching me.

6. Canva Presentation Mode

Canva is one of my favorite tools for designing infographics. I highly recommend it because it is user-friendly and makes great designs. I learned in the Tool Slam that Canva now has a presentation mode, meaning you can build your whole slideshow in Canva. That’s something to be excited about. Thanks to Chuck Elliot (@mrchuckelliot) for sharing.


I'm weak at listening.

I’m Weak at Listening. Here is My Workout.

I recently had the amazing opportunity to participate in a Better Conversations seminar with instructional coaching leader Jim Knight. He shared ten habits for improving conversations that day which you can find in The Reflection Guide to Better Conversations.

I have been reflecting about my use of each habit, and I have to confess that sometimes I’m terrible at listening (Habit 2).

According to the book, “Next to having empathy for another person, becoming a good listener is paramount for effective communication.”

I feel like I have empathy down, but my listening needs to get in shape. Here are my bad habits and my plan for improving them.

Bad Habit #1: Technology

My laptop and phone are probably my biggest obstacles to better listening. I find that I can easily be sucked into the digital world so easily that I ignore the people right in front of me.  At work, this normally looks like me being distracted by a new e-mail while I’m trying to have a coaching conversation. The illusion of efficiency is at the heart of these distractions — “If I multitask, I can accomplish more.” The truth is that rarely does multitasking help me accomplish much in a satisfactory manner, and oftentimes, it leaves me feeling more stressed and scattered.

Exercise #1: Remove the Technology

During conversations, I will close my laptop when it is not needed for the work at hand. If I need my laptop, I will close  my e-mail to limit distractions.  I will not pull out my phone or even leave it on the table.

Bad Habit #2: Rescuing

Coaching is about empowering others, rather than telling them what to do. However, I still struggle with trying to rescue others when they are struggling. Oftentimes, I find myself searching my mind for resources, solutions, and suggestions. Although that type of thinking is honorable and compassionate, it actually detaches me from listening. Once I’m no longer listening, I might make suggestions that are completely off-base because I only heard part of the issue when I detached. It is much better for me to ask more questions, so the teacher can begin forming their his or her own potential remedies.

Exercise #2: Ask More Questions.

When my mind is racing to find solutions, I will reframe those thoughts by asking questions. Questions can open up the conversation, helping my conversation partner generate his or her own solutions.

Bad Habit #3: Fear of Forgetting

Sometimes in the middle of a great conversation, I will think of a tool, a conversation, or an idea that I want to share with the teacher. I try to hang on to it in my memory, but eventually I will just blurt out what I was thinking — even when it’s not related to what the teacher was talking about at the time.

Exercise #3: Take and Make Notes

I find that taking notes helps me listen better in conversations. It also allows me to make notes of the things i want to remember to discuss before the conversation is over. Some people really feel “heard” when someone takes notes about a conversation. However, it is best to ask before taking them, since some teachers might find it uncomfortable. Always offer to leave your notes with the teacher after the conversation, so they have a record of their thinking as well as any ideas you wanted to share.

What are some of your own “bad habits” when it comes to listening? How do you try to be a better listener?