It's time to chase Innovation instead of reacting to the status quo.
I Remember When...
I was a student in elementary school, and around this time of year I had a pit in my stomach. Now I couldn't define the pit, but it would come around. Parent/Teacher conferences were nearing and I was stressed out. Looking back now that made no sense considering I was a good student with no real difficulties in school.
Now the pit has returned. No longer am I worried about what my parents may or may not hear from my teacher. I am now preparing, no bracing myself for the 2 day, 24 hour experience that will leave my voice raw and my backside so sore. Now please don't misunderstand me. I am not against parent teacher conferences. I believe that they are so important for me as a teacher to understand the world my student is coming from. To get a glimpse into what life at home is like allows me to be able to help guide that student a little more. Unfortunatly the conversation that happens in my 12 minute bread crumb basically goes like this:
Me: Hello, I'm Mr. Williams your child's teacher
P: Hello Mr. Williams! We have heard ___________(insert child's real feelings here?)
Me: Before I get started, is there any questions you have for me?
P: How is my kid doing?
And there's the pet peeve question! Like my toddler standing in her crib saying "daddy" 100 times until I come to her, that question rings through our school's hallways and classrooms. The most uninformed, blanket question.
And it's my fault! I'm not communicating to my parents well enough, and the parents aren't connecting to their students to be able to have a specific conversation about their child's learning in the now 8 min we have left!
So I decided to think of a change. I decided it was time to flip the conference like I had flipped my classroom.
In working with a colleague at the school we came up with an option to have students share the information with their parents, using Google Forms, Google Sheets, Google Docs and a Sheets Add-on called AutoCrat. What this does is has students share information by filling out the google form (example assignments, summaries, goal statements, progress statements, etc.) which then creates a digital package that is emailed to the parents, providing a great deal of information about the student's learning.
The tough part is putting together everything at the beginning, but once it is created it is able to automatically send the information to the parents.
Testing worked really well with the model and add-on. I was able to create a professional letter template, import the information I needed using <<tags>>, and provide a platform for parents to pose specific questions back to me in preparation for the conferences.
What this does is eliminate the "how's my kid doing?" question and puts information into the hands of the parents. Like flipping a classroom, parents are prepared with the "lesson" before classtime has happened so when the come to "class" a.k.a the conference, they are able to speak specifically to what their student chose for them to see.
I am optimistic about this process. See the infographic I created below for the full understanding of Flipping Parent Teacher Conferences including videos on how to create your form/sheet/doc/autocrat setup.
Here is the link to the piktochart itself:
Context: Dropping out of the nest
First, watch this video.
If you have never watch that video before, I'm sorry. The intense stress and awe of these little goslings has probably brought your heart rate up. If you are having a heart-attack, don't finish reading this post before you go to the hospital!
Sometimes, in fact a lot of times, teachers are like these ducklings. They have found their warm nest that they have created, reusing the same curriculum, worksheets and ideas that they started with x-years ago. They don't want to make the jump. As a technology coach though, making the jump, no the PLUNGE is a part of my job description. Schools that are bringing Technology Coaches into their hallways are investing in the learning of both the teachers and the students. Like the little gosling, teachers are able to take that leap out of the nest and fall into a new way of teaching. (Of course, falling off a cliff is not encouraged.)
Below I have 5 simple steps to help Teachers take that leap like the little gosling from its nest!
#1. Be the Example
No matter how many emails, texts, tweets, voxes, or any other digital form of communication I do, teachers still find ways to miss what training or message I might be trying to communicate. So what I have done is adopted a habit of using whatever tool I might want to integrate into classrooms within my presentations. If I am showing a strategy, providing a real world experience for teachers, then they can get inspired to do so. For Example, I created a presentation in SWAY, a presentation program on Microsoft 365. I didn't tell the teachers that was what I had done, I just did it. At the end of the training, the teachers were more interested in the presentation and how I did it than the topic that was being covered!
Be an example and show them the way.
#2. Surprise them
Some might think that there are no surprises in education, especially if you have been teaching for a long time. Teachers have war stories of students, their actions, decisions, failures and celebrations. Yet with technology, surprises can happen everyday.
As a tech coach I try to find something (app, strategy, idea) that is off the wall, for all intents and purposes, impossible and I throw it out there as a training session. Recently is was using Virtual Reality in the classroom through Google Expeditions. The idea of bringing VR into the classroom is a stretch for our school, no one really had said anything about it until I came on as tech coach. The first responses when teachers looked through their Google Cardboard 3.0 viewers was, "Woah! This is incredible!" and "I think i'm going to be sick, we are underwater and it feels like I'm getting sea sick", and "Could you take us to New Orleans? I'd like to take a look at home".
Shock and surprise are not strategies that you want to depend on all the time because then you will get lost in the "what if" and forget about what is here today. However, it does provide some inspiration and excitement that can go along way in teacher's willingness to stretch their teaching and planning.
I have found that listening has been a STRONG way to help teachers integrate technology into their classrooms. That's right, not talking, LISTENING. Teachers have the ideas, and like the little gosling, just need some encouragement to let those ideas burst out of them. By spending time listening to teachers we can give them a sounding board to verbally process their ideas. Sure, they might ask for advice or ideas, but the reality is, sometimes they just need a pair of ears to listen to.
4. Take the laugh for the teacher
It's rare in life that you get the "video game" experience where you can try something and if it doesn't work there are no consequences. Now I'm not encouraging trying something illegal or inappropriate. What I am suggesting though is providing an opportunity for teachers to take the risk. As a technology coach, I am able to speak from a different perspective with administration about different strategies and ideas than a classroom teacher. (Again, this can vary by school, admin, location, culture, etc.) For example, if a teacher wants to try to enhance differentiation in their classroom buy using a robot that will film their lessons, I have the ability to come to the admin with this crazy idea (see #2) and justify it's purpose into practice. I am providing support, an extra voice, or a shield for the teacher to propose a "crazy" idea because oftentimes those ideas get lost to fear.
Seth Godin wrote in his book Linchpin, "Why aren't all waiters amazingly great at being waiters? I think its fear, and I think we're even afraid to talk about this sort of fear. Fear of art. Of being laughed at. Of standing out and of standing for something."
Teachers can be hesitant not to jump out of the nest because they are afraid. They are afraid of what the idea might do to their reputation, their relationships or their job status. As a technology coach, my hope is that I can provide them the opportunity to embrace or conquer that fear, supporting them and giving them an extra voice in the endeavour. So they don't have to do it on their own.
#5. Attempt to do The Impossible
Okay this one is a little vague. But think about it. If you had the time to create, to try, to fail, and to blaze a new trail would you? There is a Chinese proverb that I read that said, "The person who says it cannot be done should not interrupt the person doing it." This is such a true statement when working with teachers. Teachers who have found they are so stuck in their "warm nest" purposely give into their "lizard brain" and stay where everything is safe and known. For some this might seem frustrating, but for me, and hopefully for you Tech Coach you find this inspiring. That you would be the one to go out and attempt the impossible. Even if you fail, you are showing people that it's okay to discover, innovate, explore and experiment. That they don't have to fit into the box that they have become so comfortable with, but they can go jump out of the nest and see what is beyond the safety of home.
Remember... if the gosling can do it... you can too!
Taylor currently serves as a Coordinator of Innovative Learning for a mid-sized school district in Texas. He is a speaker, writer, and coach for all who are in conflict with the status quo.