Saturday, March 25, 2017

Personalized Toolbox of Learning from PD to the Classroom

Personalized Toolbox of Learning from PD to the Classroom
Thoughts by LaLonnie King (Texas) and Valerie Zemaitis (Indiana)

Katie Martin states in #IMMOOC Season 2, Live Session 4 that in order to be innovative the first step is to decide what you want your students to know, understand and be able to do. Once there is a shared vision of the needs and wants, you find the tools to achieve those goals. Then we need to look for evidence of those tools making an impact. She said this evidence can be found if we use George Couros’s 8 Characteristics of an Innovative Classroom. We, as teachers and administrators, need to have these characteristics modeled for us, if innovation is expected of us.

The challenge of this blog is to focus on how these characteristics are being used in our professional development.

We can agree that we have had a lot of professional learning as educators. What turns out is we have been given a lot of tools to use. George confirms this belief when he stated in IMMOOC Live Session 4 Season 2 that it is called the “Teacher Platter”, rather than the “Teacher Plate”. Every teacher has that kitchen drawer or tool kit with so many tools we forget what it buried in there. Do you remember the excitement when you first gained that new tool and how to utilize it with the students?  We use it for awhile and put it down when the next “tool” is shared with us. We now have so many tools that our tool boxes are unorganized and overflowing. Teachers are forgetting some of the best tools that were just shared with them because of another new tool. Educators have so many tools and resources,  but they  always want the one “tool” that will have the greatest impact; an impact on our students, in our kitchen, or when we make a repair. It is time to go on an “innovation diet” and clean out our drawers so we can be effective at using the few that have the biggest impact.

Wouldn’t it be ideal if professional learning and development involved one or more of these characteristics from the 8 Characteristics of an Innovative Classroom? Training sessions that are innovative by nature will have the greatest impact on us, and in the end positive outcomes for our students! How would professional learning look if these characteristics are used? What we need is a shared document that we can continually add to and take ideas from as we choose tools for our district, campus, or classroom.

The chart below has a few ideas that are being used in our schools in Texas and Indiana, or include ideas that we would like to see being used in school. Each item is a starting point that can be developed and created to fit your specific needs.

The key to learning, whether adults or children, is that the tools we use need to be chosen carefully so the impact matches the expectation set for those specific tools. We do not necessarily have to use the same tool to get the job done. Learners of all ages should be motivated through investigation and have the chance to create questions while being challenged. The environment should be a place where the learners can take risks and try new things. Teachers and students who are able to embrace this culture will be more positive and more empowered to make the learning their own which is the true intent of every teacher when they bring a tool to the classroom.

If your school district practices innovative professional learning, we would appreciate it if you would please share below.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Stay focused and move forward with a Pilot's Mindset

There are many mindsets in education: fixed mindset, growth mindset, pirate mindset and innovator's mindset. How about a pilot's mindset?

I will assume someone has already jumped on this type of mindset and there is probably already a book about it. This post is writing blindly not having come across any of these writings at this point.

The inspiration for this blog occurred when I noticed a familiar phrase to pilots of Aviate, Navigate and Communicate. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) uses this phrase of priorities for pilots in command to use in time of emergencies.

A.N.C. is used to stay focused and remember to navigate the plane.

Sometimes we get caught up in something and forget to fly the plane which has devastating results. Aviate means to maintain control. Navigate is to be clear on where you are and where you want to go. Communicate refers to all stakeholders needing to be aware of the plans and needs. All stakeholders are needed to ensure the success of the journey.

ANC is something we all could use to help stay focused on our journey for doing what is best for all students to reach a desired destination.

Schools and airplanes have similarities as a vehicle to take people on a journey to a desired destination.

The need for a highly qualified and caring team.

Schools and airplanes require highly qualified personnel to be in control because the journey must be safe and the destination is nonnegotiable.

It takes a team of trained and caring people to reach a goal successfully for a large number of people on the journey. Some passengers need more accommodations than others.

The need for fuel.

We will not forget to mention the amount of money it takes to run these vehicles to make this journey happen successfully. We need to feed the machine so it keeps running successfully and keep up with updates and changes. Programs, equipment, furniture, technology, salaries, and benefits are very costly. Both vehicles are being forced to be innovate by thinking within the box as there is never enough fuel.

The need for an alternative route.

If a chosen route isn't working it is ok to have an alternative route. It is ok to dump something if it isn't taking you on the route intended. Don't continue a path blindly if you know it isn't working. John Hughes wrote the movie Planes, Trains and Automobiles because he personally experienced a difficult time getting to Chicago from New York where a one day trip supposedly lasted five. We need to continually reflect on if what we are doing is indeed the best route toward the intended destination.

The destination is non-negotiable.

Passengers choose where they want to go. Pilots do not get to choose anything different. We want students to be productive contributing members of society. Changing what we do or adding programs is not good if it does not take us to the intended purpose or destination. If and when we take off and pursue something new it needs to be with purpose. It needs to take us to the desired outcome for the students.We need to remember that take off is not mandatory. Do not leave if it doesn't take us where we want to go.

The need to take risks. 

Journeys will have some disturbances along the way. We need to stay focused and proceed cautiously deciding what is best for the passengers, not just about what is best for us. Clouds and storms can be risky to enter, but make sure the probability of success for students is on the other side when we take that risk.

Stay ahead of the game.

As we move along in our journey, we must always have the destination in mind. We do not reach an end point in education as we are to always grow, but it is imperative that we stay focused. We need to be aware of the world around our vehicle. We need to know the needs along the way. We need to be ready to adapt to the changes of "weather". The best flights are not ones that are run on autopilot.

We need to stay focused.


Schools must continually move forward and not accept status quo.


We must continually reflect on our direction for students and ensure it will take us to a desired goal for students.


We need to remember that it takes a team working together to do what is best. It doesn't happen working alone on an island. All stakeholders need to be working toward the same goal so it needs to be clearly seen, heard, and visible at all times. What is the destination if everyone is working toward a different direction?
Created by @vrzemaitis using @Canva

Saturday, February 25, 2017

A Litmus Test, The Golden Rule and Buy In

The Golden Rule. Can this be used as our Litmus Test to determine if what we are doing is right for all students? We need to take a step beyond this commonly accepted test. We need to look at the experiences we provide for students and question if it matches what we find successful for ourselves.

Let's use this Litmus Test of the Golden Rule to check if the experiences we offer students lead to their eagerness to come to school everyday? How do we change the mindset of having to go to school to looking forward to it?

What makes me look forward to joining a chat on many Saturday mornings? It isn't just one chat on Saturdays that I enjoy. It is #satchat, #satchatwc and #leadupchat. During the week it is #Learnlap, #tlap, #sldunktank, #LoyfulLeaders, #WGEDD and eager for #IMMOOC. Using the Golden Rule, what makes me excited about these chats and how can I provide the same things for my students? (Please note that there are no grades involved with this learning and growing.)

  • We seek out those that inspire.
  • We are encouraged to inspire in return.
  • We want to find a tribe that shares our passions.
  • We join chats because the topics are authentic and have meanings to our lives.
  • We grow the best when we are able to hear or see examples from others.
  • We grow when we have an authentic audience that provides some type of feedback.
  • We have to admit we love when we are welcomed into a chat.
  • We feel great when we are acknowledged. Some of us Tweet and never gain a response. We are present, but no-one notices we are there. Doesn't it make a difference when someone welcomes us by name or just takes the time to acknowledge a tweet with the heart.
  • We join the chats because it gives us a purpose to reflect and refine new meanings.
  • We are all welcomed, no matter the position and state because it is the belief that we all can contribute something valuable and learn.
  • We don't mind jumping into a chat late because we are eagerly welcomed because we know we are better together. 
  • We all respond because we know that there are no wrong answers.
  • We enjoy celebrating amazing statements or experiences shared by others. (Thank goodness for memes to show our excitement.)

Are we providing these experiences for our students?

This Litmus Test of using the Golden Rule can be applied to find the right Climate, Culture and Curriculum for all students.

My thoughts can only improve with feedback and input from others, but the following is a start.

The As of Climate. 

Collaboratively we need to creative a climate and foundation of CARE.
The As of climate pertains to all stakeholders of students, parents, teachers, staff, administrators, community, and global partners.

Acknowledge. Greet everyone daily.
Appreciate. Recognize those that inspire great things.
Applaud. Celebrate successes together. (Does everyone love memes to celebrate or is it just me.)

The Bs of Culture. 

The culture is a continual JOURNEY.

Build on our best. We believe we can always be and do better.
Build on learning. We can always learn more through challenges.
Build connections. We believe that we are all welcome and better together.

The Cs of Curriculum. 

Curriculum should be more about development of skills through content of themes in a global setting. No explanation is needed for these six Cs of "21st century" skills. (We need to come up with a new title for these skills before the century escapes us.)

Critical Thinker.

Created by @vrzemaitis via GoogleSlides
Challenges to these thoughts are welcome, amendments appreciated and collaboration to improve invited.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Cruise control should not be used to stay the course.

Continuous quality improvement puts you on a never ending journey.

Not only do I want to be on this journey, I want to do it with others that have the same passion and purpose. The journey is improved when others join you for the ride. Those other passengers include students, parents, teachers, administrators and community members. We are better together. However, I am discovering that with so many ideas of where to go and how to get there we become overwhelmed, overloaded, and lose our focus and even burn out. We actually are lost even though we are enjoying the ride with others. It is alright to change our course, because in the end, we do not want our journey together to end. But we must often take the time to remind ourselves why we took this journey together in the first place. The further we get from where we began (Our "Why")  the more we can get lost. We are then on a journey that is not taking us on the destination in which we originally set off.

Today I reflect on a conversation with my fellow passengers for positive improvement. They are the PLN from Twitter in today's @LeadUpNow #leadupchat conversation on saying NO. I decided to stop and pause on my journey to take in what others had to say and how it can relate to me on my journey before I continue to move blindlessly forward.

Today I decided to say no to the routine of cleaning on Saturday morning and grading papers because I was about to refocus the direction of my journey. Blogging at this moment is going to be more valuable on my journey in the long run.

Passionate educators have trouble saying no. I don't think we say yes because we want to prove we can do it more than we say yes to see if it is indeed something worth trying or testing if it is going to be awesome for our kids. We are skilled at taking risks. But there are so many things to say yes to. We need to have a mantra, a purpose, a vision, a mission, an overarching belief.

We need to have our GPS set toward a certain destination.  It needs to be reviewed often. It needs to be seen and heard. It needs to be our brand. It needs to be so apparent in all we say and do that people already know our answer before they ask their question.  It needs to be so apparent that they know that it is time to get in and join us or leave the journey altogether.

There was a point in the conversation where @LemarrTreadwell threw in a comment that really made me think. Why are we really saying no and why are people on the journey with us saying no? Is it because it isn't going to take us on our intended destination or is it because they lost sight in why we started in the first place and have learned to enjoy the cruise control; or status quo. It is easy to fall into a life of routine that has made life easier and comfortable.

Did we change the journey to be about us rather than the kids when we said no?

How do we get ourselves and others to get back on track? How do we get others to say yes when we know it is the right thing to do? How do we know that it is time to just let them out on the curb and keep on moving?

One thing I believe is that the purpose of our journey together needs to be loud and clear. We need to look back where we started often. We need to routinely make time to revise our "Why" and ensure what we are doing is indeed heading in that destination, toward the purpose we intend.

Happy to be along for the ride. Happy travels. @vrzemaitis
Created by @vrzemaitis using Canva

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Positive Outcomes in 2017

Today's blog continues my conversation on US being the agents for positive change originally inspired by Todd Whitaker in What Great Teachers Do Differently.

Another inspirational post on Twitter came from @JessicaCabeen. Twitter has helped me see the value of continually providing positive opportunities and relationships with my students. This is something I have been focusing on this 2016-2017 school year (besides growing in having a student led classroom inspired by Paul Solarz).

My TOP 5 action plan based on Cabeen's post.

3. Learn 3 things about a student a week. 
     The first week of school we all do "get to know you" activities, but then it is over. What a great idea to continually do an activity throughout the year to show kids we care. I will ask students for input, but having a Friday's Focus on a different student each week will help our class appreciate each other beyond that first week of school.

Do you already do something similar? What ideas can you share with us?

7. Learn a new way of teaching and try it. 
     One thing my students can say about our classroom is that you never know what to expect each day. We have learned how to utilize many new ways of learning this year and we will continue to try new things. It helps us look forward to coming to class each day. Twitter is great for giving me new ideas for us to try. On my list of new things is student blogging, student created video reflections and lessons of learning, as well as student created assessments and rubric criteria.

What way of teaching makes your students excited to come to class and especially want to learn?

9. Make a class mantra.
     I especially am looking forward to starting with this tip when the students return this new year. I will have them look up mantras and share their favorite ones and then come up with one we can follow this year in pursuing positive outcomes.

Does your class have a mantra that I can share with my students?

11. Encourage parent participation.
     This tip helped push me to actually launch my Classroom Facebook page. I have one set up, but haven't been actively sharing it with parents. I see it as a way for them to see the positive experiences we are having, but to include them in conversations we are having along the way. Asking for parent input will take our conversations to a different level and I am looking forward in seeing how we can grow from their input.

How do you include parents? Any tips for me as I pursue this new endeavor? What has been your favorite way to get parents involved in your classroom?

14. Make sure student voice is valued.
     Building on having a student led classroom does give them voice. However, I not only have to remember to provide these opportunities but show them that what they have voiced has value in hope that it will encourage them to do more.

How do you show students that their voice is valued?

I would appreciate any feedback, tips, or advice you can offer. I do appreciate the value of collaboration.

Friday, December 30, 2016

A New Year's Goal in #ONEWORD2017: PROACTIVE

One Word.

Via Twitter
I may have missed the whole conversation, but have been inspired by a few posts following the hashtag of #JoyfulLeaders on Twitter. This blog is being written because of one post in particular from @BethanyHill found to the right.

My family has traditionally taken time on New Year's Eve to choose our one word of the year. A word to reflect and grow on. A word that will help us improve on a weakness from the previous year. We frame these words and as we see them in passing are reminded how we would like to grow in the current year. Words in the past have been: perseverance, persistence, positive, frugal, and servile.

When I saw the post from Bethany I discovered a new way to choose my one word for the new year after reflecting on my power, purpose and passion. This will be something I will incorporate today; New Year's Eve with my family and something to include my students in when we return after Winter Break.

After much reflection over the days since I have seen this post and written many words; the word that stands out is: PROACTIVE.

Created by ME on Edu.Buncee

Being proactive:

  • takes action; not complacency. 
  • requires problem solving; not dwelling on problems. 
  • needs voice; not compliance. 
  • needs a leader; not a bystander. 
  • is successful if acted on collaboratively; not alone on an island. 
  • moves on strengths, passions, and purpose; not dictations. 
  • is guided by an ultimate goal; not reactions to daily problems.
  • must involve risk-taking; not passivity. 
  • takes an unfamiliar path; not routine. 
  • must be deliberate; not accidental. 
  • requires consistent action; not waiting until action is required.  
  • In the end, being proactive will leave a lasting impact
  • In the end, the proactive person and those around those actions are changed.

Take the case of Indiana Jones and Bilbo and Frodo Baggins. They continually move toward a goal even when hit with conflicts along the way. They do not forget their purpose. In the end they are changed along with those around them. Other superheroes only react when needed such as Superman, Batman, Spiderman, and even Luke Skywalker.  Although people love all of these characters, those that are proactive are changed in the end.

I choose to be PROACTIVE for positive outcomes for my students in the year 2017.

Borrowed from

Saturday, December 3, 2016

How did my CLASSROOM get to be so LOUD?

It is LOUD in here,  and I LOVE it!

What have I done?! The inspiration of the many authors, bloggers, keynote speakers, and tweeters have helped me transform the learning experience for my students. What have I done? Who helped me get there? and How do I explain to others why this change is the direction we want for our students as opposed to some of the traditional methods that have remained the same over time?

What have I done?...
... can be explained when I give you a snap shot of what is currently occurring in my classroom. In this Eastern Hemisphere Geography unit, the students need to formulate a broad understanding of the location of countries and capital cities using latitude and longitude. They need to identify major physical characteristics, describe their formation, compare and contrast natural resources, and describe limitations climate and landforms have on a people's way of life.

We began to achieve these objectives by analyzing different types of special feature maps. At this point of the year, students know they have to become curious about what they are looking at and determining what they want to know. They have learned that finding ranks about the features is a good place to start. What is the highest point? What is the longest river? Which leads them to ask: Where does that river begin, where does it end, and why? Why is that highest peak not in a major mountain chain and how did it get there?

Empowering the students to be curious and ask the questions for their learning experience seems to be more exciting than reading a few pages in a chapter and answering review questions found at the end. Students then compose a list of physical features that need to be explored further. Groups prepare a Tour of Africa and present the important facts of their chosen land features.

Using Peardeck we review what we discovered and those that learned the information can show what they know and those that may have missed it will learn from them.

Discovery Education gave me the idea to give the students 5 pictures of different places in Africa along with 5 different coordinates of places. Students analyze each using resources they discover will give them the information they need to know. Then they develop their skills on matching which picture would correspond to which coordinate. Here is a reaction of one group discovering that their detective work was successful.

More activities continue along the way, including video and journal reflections on how they are developing their unique 21st Century skills, especially collaboration. One students needs to work on asking for help, one to share with others their ideas, one to work on taking more of a leadership role, one to work on accepting that working with others, hearing what they have to say, and compromising can lead them to greater ends.

These mentioned activities and more leads to the ultimate goal of groups as research committees collaboratively preparing a presentation for a commercial realtor on where a company should place its factory and why. They have to think about resources, including human, and if they are there for mere profit or humanitarian aid.

No book used once.  No teacher lecture and notes. No video to watch. No map worksheet to label and color. No chapter 14 section 2 reading and review at the end. No  multiple choice test.

Who has inspired me?...
... begins with Todd Whitaker. I asked him a question related to his book, The 10 Minute Inservice: 40 Quick Training Sessions that Build Teacher Effectiveness. He told me to join Twitter and I would get my answers. Linda Ashida was the first to respond with the perfect answer on teachers observing teachers for professional growth and it all snowballed from there. In his book, What Great Teachers Do Differently: 17 Things that Matter Most, Whitaker states that teachers are the variable for change and improvement. Teachers must stop saying that failure of students to succeed has been their own choice.

Matt Miller influenced me to Ditch That Textbook and by following his blogs and Tweets I now have a bag full of tools necessary to move away from traditional teaching. He also inspired me to summarize what I read using sketchnotes to form new understandings which would help me apply this new knowledge.

George Couros has inspired me to blog after reading one of his from The Principal of Change entitled, "I Don't Have Time For That".   It helps me make meanings of what I am learning and to be accountable for my plans of moving forward. He has helped me develop the skills for innovation in his book, Innovator's Mindset : Empower Learning, Unleash Talent, and Lead a Culture of Creativity. If I can model these skills, then so can my students. He reminds me to stay focused on the purpose for students and reflect on how I can be innovative to do something new and better to "develop learners as leaders who will create a better present and future creating a better world."

Paul Solarz has made an impact in helping me gain a student led classroom where they take pride in their learning in his book, Learn Like a Pirate: Empower Your Students to Collaborate, Lead, and Succeed. We have worked on developing a place we want to come everyday which includes team building, reflecting and growing on 21st century skills. I have let go of much of what I have done before and you will hear kids answering each other's questions. "I have a Q(uestin).... We have an A(nswer)". Students place suggestions they discovered which will help others be successful on a "Tip Board". Those that are struggling will go to this board for answers. Students recap at the end of the hour to ensure they are on track and remind each other what they need to do for the next day.

The Twitter world has helped me lay the foundation which is needed to make the students perform in this innovative classroom. The foundation of care and trust needs to be present first and foremost. I cannot forget my very inspiring friend, Dr. Scott Fech with his wise words including, "Love first, learn much, laugh often, then teach". "People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care" is perfectly stated by Theodore Roosevelt.  Sean Gaillard has influenced me to mock his #CelebrateMonday in our #ThankfulMondays using Buncee. We mimic Renee White's #TootlingTuesday and Beth Houf's "High Five Friday". We take pride in our school as we get involved in things outside our classroom.

How do I explain that what happens in our room is the direction we want to go?...
.... has not occurred yet as this transformation is new, but I am predicting that first question will come soon and I want to be ready which is why I am writing this blog. It is not uncommon for students to leave for family trips and want multiple days of "worksheets" ahead of time. Many parents who support their children at home want to know which "pages in the book" to go over in preparing for a "test". Parents call wondering if their child can have extra worksheets at home to "enhance" their learning, or ask why there aren't more grades (since we do not do daily worksheets or reviews). Why are they working in groups? Why am I not following IEP by not doing preferential seating by the teacher, giving notes on my lectures, or chunking their multiple choice tests? and Why is it so loud in your room?

I am adding personalization to this answer, but Paul Solarz has a great basis using the letters of PIRATE. "Pirates don't give up when the wind blows them off course; they adjust their sails and continue toward their destination".

P = Peer Collaboration. We learn through collaboration because we are a whole using each others unique strengths. We are learning new skills to grow on our weaknesses being encouraged by others and are responsible for each other in the end. Isn't this our ultimate goal in making a difference in the world?

I = Improvement Focus. Students in my class reflect on goals of specific skills; not on how to reach an A. Isn't our goal to have "incremental improvement" which is personalized? Do we want to improve our knowledge of locating countries or knowing how to find the resources that will help us find that answer? My students are reflecting on how they want to grow in their unique "weakness". If we encourage differentiation and to be life long learners, why do we want all students to achieve the same end of an "A" and then say they are done.

R = Responsibility. In the collaborative work the students are being empowered to have choice and voice. They are also taking on a leadership role, being problem finders and solvers, and in the end becoming more self-sufficient. Isn't independent life long learners the mark we want to achieve once they leave our room?

A = Active Learning. How do we learn and grow best? The research has been long supported that 90% of what we teach is what we remember. Who should be the "we" in that sentence? The popular phrase rings true, "Teachers should no longer be the sage on stage, but the guides on the side".

T = Twenty First Century Skills. What is ultimately more important for students, knowing the specific content or achieving 21st century skills to know how to apply it independently? To be successful in their career it will be those skills that will make the biggest difference; skills to discover, reflect and refine for continuous quality improvement.

E = Empowerment. Do we grow best doing status quo or when an obstacle is placed before us? Our best growth has occurred when we became uncomfortable and an opportunity pushed us past our status quo level. Students being empowered to take control of their learning experiences will give them the opportunities for continual growth.

I would appreciate your thoughts and suggestions. I am new to this transforming, innovative learning experience. I am looking for tips on how to answer those parent, teacher, administrator questions, such as: Why is your room so loud?