Category Archives: Blog

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. 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?

How Developing your Digital Presence Advances your Teaching and Career Opportunities

Just ten years ago, I remember an administrator telling our faculty  to never do anything online that would reveal our identities. The world of the Internet was considered “dangerous” and something that could only get us into professional trouble. Things have changed quickly.

Today, although we should be cautious of how we interact online, the intentional development of a professional digital presence can help educators grow professionally in many ways. Strategic interactions online can lead to increased effectiveness, powerful professional relationships, and thriving careers.

Here a few tips for establishing a professional digital presence that will help you grow.

  1. Create “Landing Pages” that Communicate Your Work


  • Is your school website up-to-date? Does it represent the work you do with students and adults? Many of us struggle to regularly update our school websites during our busy days, but an out-of-date website provides a poor picture to the outside world of how committed we are. The irony is our hard work is usually the reason for forgotten updates. It doesn’t matter. Perception is reality to stakeholders and potential employers.
  • Invest time in developing a LinkedIn profile. A well-presented LinkedIn page acts as a digital resume for many employers. It promotes your brand through establishing your work history, values, skills, and accomplishments. In addition, it is a convenient way to curate your work history and accomplishments when it becomes time to submit a resume to a new potential employer.
  • Consider creating your own blog. A regularly updated and professionally-focused blog can detail your passion for teaching and learning as well as strategically share aspects of your personality.   No matter what position you apply for today, it is likely that your potential employer will “google” you.
  1.  Develop Professional Learning Partnerships
  • Engaging in PLNs (personal learning networks) via platforms like Twitter, Voxer, or MOOCs enables educators from across the world to learn from one another. Many educators may feel alone trying new practices in isolated situations (superintendents, head principals, “singleton” content-area specialists like art or engineering teachers). Oftentimes, online connections between educators in similar roles can lead to the development of ongoing virtual PLCs. These professional learning partnerships can build confidence when educators want to experiment with new innovative approaches, and they can support us when we encounter struggles.
  • As for career advancement, exchanging expertise builds relationships with others while also teaching them your strengths. These relationships result in professional networks who can help you “get your foot in the door” when seeking a new position.
  1. Use Social Media to Find New Opportunities
  • In a time of reduced funding in many schools, teachers have gained supplies from using sites like Donors Choose or tweeting their projects to influential followers.
  • Look for programs that will enhance your skills. If I didn’t follow ASCD on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites, I may not have learned about the ASCD Emerging Leaders program. Since joining the program, I have enhanced my leadership and advocacy skills. I have also written widely-distributed blog posts. There are numerous opportunities if you are digitally connected.

Coaching for the SAMR Model

Many of you may be familiar with the SAMR model for integrating technology into instruction. If you haven’t, SAMR is simply a continuum for assessing the depth of how technology is used. SAMR stands for: Substitution, Augmentation, Modification, and Redefinition. To explore those ideas a bit more, check out the SAMR in 120 Seconds video below.

SAMR makes a lot of sense to me as a way to assess how technology is used in a lesson. One of the issues I’ve had with SAMR though is how it relates to coaching. Simply assessing the way technology is used and reporting that to a teacher feels evaluative to me. As I thought about this through the lens of the coach, I wondered how we could shift the SAMR identifiers into coaching questions that would help teachers reflect on the use of technology in their classrooms and engage them in thinking about their next steps.

I worked with my colleague Kathy Bonyun (@literacychick) to develop these differentiate SAMR coaching questions. We used these questions in a digital leadership training we gave in our district, and the questions have since been refined by our district’s digital learning team.

Check them out, and let me know your thoughts. Do any of the questions seem out of place? What would you add? Have you used SAMR as a model for coaching? Share in the comments.

Questions to Shift Your Focus Using the SAMR Model

Technology Implementation Level No Technology Integration Observed S








Characteristics/ Look For’s No indicators observed Work can be completed without the use of technology. Work requires technology to be completed. Work requires students to effectively search for and collect online resources that they share with the teacher and other students. Student work requires technology use so that students can complete tasks previously not available (would have
Coaching Questions to move teacher to the next level Have you considered using (______) to have students write/take notes/read? What would be different?
How could use of your (_____) enhance this lesson?
What forms of technology would engage your students?
Instead of _____, how might you use __________?
Which technology tools might make this task more streamlined?
What might be new technologies that could enhance your lesson?
Have you considered students discussing on blogs or discussion boards? What would be the benefit? What help would you need?
Collecting student data can be time-consuming. Kahoot, Infuse Learning, or Socrative can collect student data. When could you use something like that?
Have you considered making comments on student work digitally?
How could students collaborate digitally?
What are ways that students could integrate multiple media in presentations?
How could you further leverage the use of technology to have students write for real audiences?
Aside from writing, how would your students respond to communicating what they’ve learned through podcasts or video casts?
How could students present to audiences via the web? Could you use Screencasting, Skype, etc?

How would this project change if  students worked in teams to produce a video to demonstrate their research on _____?

What’s next for you?
How can I best support you in pioneering innovation at our school?
What are new technologies that you believe will impact student learning?

**Resources for PLC

Questions for teachers at any level:
Did you hear how your colleague, ______, has ______? What are your thoughts about that?
How would you feel about partnering with our digital learning facilitator/instructional coach/media specialist?
In what ways do you see technology engaging students? How could we possibly utilize that for learning?
Tell me how you felt about your lesson.
How did the use of technology aid students in reaching the learning targets?