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Telling Our Story

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The inspiration for this idea came from a leader in New York, click here for story.

One of the most important things we can do as educators is tell our story. We share all the learning and positive things that are going on in our schools and classrooms because we are doing great things and they should be told! And as the saying goes,“If you don’t tell your story, someone else will”. As a teacher, I have mostly done this through a weekly newsletter which I send out via email and in backpacks for those who do not have access at home to email. I also have used the website to share information. But sometimes I have noticed that the newsletters are not always read, or don’t always make it home, and the hit counter on the website sometimes reflects that there were no visits that week. Can you relate?

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Image from socialmedia.com

So, I wanted to try and make this sharing of information more interesting, and what better way to do that than to have the kids do it themselves! After tinkering around with a few ideas, my class and I settled on video newsletters. These are written and produced by the kids. My only job is to hold the iPad and hit record (and that could also soon be turned over to a student) and then of course to email the videos out. Sounds good right?! But how do we get it done? Well, we are still learning, but here is our early process.

First, we brainstormed ideas for what topics would be included as standard in each video newsletter. The major focus is on our learning each week. So, we identified Language Arts, Math, Science, and Social Studies as standard segments, each about thirty seconds to one minute long.

Next, we decided to include a segment each week on “Book Recommendations”. It is also about thirty seconds. We also liked the idea of including a “character trait” to focus on each week in our video. We could also use that segment as a reflection on something we are currently talking about or going through, such as this past week and the conversations we’ve been having about making sure we are staying focused these last few weeks of school. So basically this is a segment that is related to character, but could be flexible. Our morning meetings usually reveal what this will be each week. If we are having an ongoing conversation about something, for example, we might talk about including this.

Finally, we know there are always weeks when we do something different and we wanted to include those as well. Things like field trips or other activities would be included as they come up. We also have different adventures we always seem to find ourselves involved with and we want to include those as well. For example:

1. A couple of weeks ago we participated in a global challenge issued by a principal (@GustafsonBrad) on my Twitter. The challenge basically was to take a “squiggle” he posted and create something new and original out of it, and then tweet it to the hashtag @stuconnect which he had set up for this. Some will be chosen to receive art sets! Here is the original Squiggle, along with one my students’ creations:

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2. Last week, we participated in Teacher Appreciation by writing special notes on these cards that were posted by the U.S. Dept of Education and then tweeting pics to the hashtag #ThankATeacher.

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3. We recently started using Go Noodle to have some fun brain breaks during our day. Boy do we like this! It has become a great addition to our classroom!

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4. Mother’s Day gifts we made! (But we didn’t give away what they were, just that we have something up our sleeves!)

5. We learn new technology, and might want to include a favorite website or app that we are using, such as Kid Blog.

6. We put up our new Standards Boards each six weeks, and we would like to have a segment on these soon, maybe give a tour of them and talk about how we use them.

These are a few examples of additional segments we might have during a given broadcast. It really just depends on the week and what we decide we want to share.  We also have to choose carefully, because we want to keep these videos to around 5 minutes in length, so we are learning to be very purposeful when telling our story. This is the basic overview of the things that go into our classroom video newsletters each week.

After creating this rough sketch of what we would include as segment features in our news, we talked about how we would assign “reporters”. We decided that these would become our new classroom jobs, and rotate them each week. We have a student who is particularly skilled at creating videos, so he volunteered to be the producer and also train others along the way to do that job. Yay!

Here is how we go about putting it together:

On Monday, students are given their jobs. So for example, if John will be reporting on Math, he knows that by Friday Film Day, he needs to have written out about a 30 second summary of what we have been learning in Math. He will also decide if he wants to include an artifact in his report to help support his segment, and if so, which one. It is up to them to write these features and have their script ready to go Friday.

We hung a long piece of blue butcher paper on a wall in the room, and that is where we film. I just call each student back, quickly go over what they will be saying, and then I record them. It takes about 1 minute to do this for each segment, and we usually have about 6 segments, plus the intro/conclusion.

After each segment is recorded, our producer uploads them to our You Tube channel. From there, he downloads them, arranges them, adds text slides, and cuts them for clarity and length. And viola! We have a video! My job is to review what he has put together, make suggestions, and act as a second editor for things like spelling and grammar on the text slides. Then we all watch it, and I email it out.

I also made sure I have parent permission to share these, and we do not include our names.  We did talk about having reporter names, but decided to just forego that.

Below is our second video newsletter. Each week, we identify ways we could improve these. After watching this one, we know we need to make sure the volume is high enough, and that background noise is reduced as much as possible. We also tried to add special effects this time. But, we think they are better without these, because some of our words were cut off toward the end. It’s a learning process!

We have received compliments on our new newsletters from our parents! Below is a comment we received last week from one of the dad’s in our room:

Great job kids. I really enjoyed this look into the classroom. Keep up the good work. – Br.M.

We currently use One True Media for this newsletter. However, they will not be in existence anymore after May 30. My friend and IT Specialist Kirsten Wilson (@teachkiwi) recommended the app called “TouchCast” as an option for future recordings after OTM goes away. I don’t know anything about that particular app, and neither do my students, so we have something new to learn!

If you are looking for a fun new way to tell your classroom or school story, I recommend you try a video newsletter! I am hopeful that this might expand to a grade level or even schoolwide newsletter!  What others ways do you have of connecting with parents? I’d love to hear your ideas!

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The Greatest Classrooms I’ve Seen

I have just finished my first semester as an Assistant Principal. Let me tell you, when they say things will change..they aren’t a’kiddin! So many new adventures have come my way in just the past few months, both expected and unexpected. I must say, though, that one of the most joyous parts of my job is when I am able to visit classrooms and observe great teaching and learning! My new school is full of talented educators. If I have said, “Wow, what an awesome teacher” once, I have said it a thousand times. No matter how long one has taught (I taught for 15 years) when you visit someone else’s room it is inspiring and eye-opening. Yet despite all the differences in style and approach, there are some nuances…some intangibles that consistently appear in those high-performing classrooms. So today I wanted to record and share 7 things from the greatest classroom’s I’ve seen.

Love of Learning.
The teacher is truly a lifelong learner. Often times, he or she is trying out something new, implementing a new strategy, or sitting next to students and learning right alongside them. There is an excitement about learning. The focus is not on grades, or timelines, or a state test. It is simply a joy of learning and that joy is directly passed on to the students. Whether it is a math lesson or a trip to the outdoor garden, the teacher is enthusiastically leading students to be inquisitive, to wonder, to develop a love of learning for learning’s sake.

Student Voice.
While the teacher does remain the instructional designer, students are frequently able to choose how to best tackle an assignment, how to demonstrate their learning, which tool to use as they investigate and problem solve, and allowed the freedom to make the work their own. Students help establish the expectations, give feedback to each other and the teacher, and their own unique perspectives are sought out and highlighted. Even though they are working on the same standard, their work and their learning doesn’t look the same. This is not true 100 percent of the time, but it is true most of the time.

Confidence.
Students in these classrooms are not hesitant to share their thinking. They will respond to questions such as, “What do you think” and “Why do you think that” because they are not responding to True/False type of questions. They are learning through experiences and through each other, often through ongoing conversations, so mistakes are not something to be avoided. For the most part, students don’t sit quietly for fear of getting it wrong. They will take a chance and if they make a mistake, well that’s just part of it. Their teachers model this same level of risk-taking when it comes to their own learning and teaching, not being afraid to say to their students, “Ok guys, this is something new for me, let me know how this lesson goes”. They will go out on a limb with a new idea in faculty meetings and team planning sessions and throw their ideas out there for discussion. Often times, these lead directly to a new approach.

Reflective Practices.
A look through a reading journal, or a student’s blog, or even quietly eavesdropping on a conversation uncovers students who are reflective about their learning. They think about what they have learned and how that relates to something else they have learned. They try to make connections and they see how their work is changing and improving as time goes on. Both teachers and students readily, and frequently, reflect on the day/week/year and are always seeking ways to continually grow. These teachers are also willing to examine things that might not be going so well school-wide. They stay focused on our vision and if something isn’t working they have a suggestion for how to get things back on track or an idea for a different approach.

Creativity
Because individuality is honored, you will find in these classrooms some very creative students. They are willing to take the risks that come along with outside-the-box thinking and designing and create some remarkable artifacts that demonstrate their own learning. Their teachers take a similar, creative approach to their lessons. You can tell that this is not a lesson that existed in their repertoire a year or two, or ten, ago. They are always thinking of fresh approaches to learning and this seems to permeate the room and the kids latch on to that. Their teachers are not really any more creative than you or I, they simply seek to make each learning experience remarkable. They most often begin with the end in mind and then map out the lesson so that it fits these students, this class, rather than relying on something they have used for years just because it works for them. Their own passion for learning leads them to find new and unique ways to develop their craft.

Self Regulation.
The greatest classrooms I’ve seen include students who are self-aware and regulate their own learning. If they need to work in a different spot, they move. If the glue they are using isn’t working, they know where the supplies are and have the freedom to use those as they need. There is a level of trust here. They have tools, such as planners or other organizers, which allow them to manage their time and assignments. They use rubrics and exemplars in such a way that they are aware of the expectations and can self-evaluate. Rather than trying to control everything, their teachers spend a good part of the first semester setting up classroom rituals and routines so that he/she can focus on individual and small group instruction without constant interruptions. The expectations are high and they are not a secret to the students. Most of the time, the student can tell you how they are doing on an assignment based on the guidelines in the rubric, which they have read and interpreted throughout the process. In the words of Maria Montessori, “The children are now working as if I didn’t exist”.

Affirmation.
Teachers in these classrooms affirm students. Not just as learners, but as individuals. Students know that they are valuable and that their contributions to the classroom (and the world) are important. They are an integral part of the classroom community, which the teacher establishes through things like lesson closings, classroom jobs, and collaborative conversations throughout the day. To echo one of the theme’s at my school this year, “They Matter”. Kindness is seen in their interactions with one another. I will use the words of one student in one of these classrooms because he put it best, “I have a lot of friends in here. Basically everyone”.

These are just a few of the things I think are important to create and deliver purposeful, life-changing experiences for students as we take them through the content and standards of our particular field. What about you? What are some of the things you see when you visit classrooms that work? I would love to read what you might add to the list!

*UPDATE: I noticed I did not mention anything about access to technology, or furniture, or room size. I also realized as I reflected that these great classrooms are led by 20somethings right out of college as well as more seasoned teachers, some close to retiring. But that’s a whole other post….