Teachers and Students Leading Professional Learning

One of the unique ways we have found to support teacher collaboration and growth on our campus this year is through a weekly Staff S’more.  This started out as a one-way communication from admin to teachers, but we quickly discovered that this is the perfect vehicle for teachers to share their ideas, learnings, failures, and risks. It’s also a lot more interesting and has led to many more “conversation starters” than if it’s just admin to teacher. More information on how that came to be can be found in this blog post I wrote a while back.

Teacher Led Professional Learning

So we started off by approaching teachers and inviting them to write the weekly S’More. We were hoping teachers would be willing to share a little bit about what types of things they are doing in the classroom, or want to try, or just what’s on their mind. Soon, teachers began to ask if they could write an upcoming S’More, on a topic that they feel pretty passionate about. For example, next week a teacher will be writing on the topic of teacher burnout.  We are thrilled with the teacher ownership we are seeing in this! Our weekly Staff S’More has enjoyed tremendous success, with lots of views each week and conversations in the hallways that sound something like, “Hey I read your Smore article, can you tell me more about how you...”  It’s one of those rare things that just takes off right from the moment you introduce it and just seems to power itself.

Student Led Professional Learning

This week, one of our fifth grade teachers was working on her S’More feature, which is about Book Clubs.  She had some artifacts, handouts, and descriptions that she wanted to share with teachers along with her article. After a few minutes of discussing the content, she suggested the idea of having her students produce a video, in which they “taught the teachers” about how she implements book clubs. What a fantastically unique idea! Soon, I received the email below, a student-made video explaining to the staff how Book Clubs look in their classroom:

Here is a link to the final S’More for this week, our Book Clubs S’More, which includes the article written by our teacher, the student made video, corresponding instructional ideas from our principal, and additional articles, videos, and other resources that I curated which support the topic.

Throughout this year we have learned alongside each other through this S’More, on topics ranging from formative assessment, differentiation, performance assessments, technology, learning spaces, growth mindset, Genius Hour, math stations, guided reading, and so much more! And now, our plans are to continue to invite students to add to our learning through our weekly Staff S’More.  We are going to ask students to begin sharing their ideas, learnings, failures, and risks…right alongside their teachers. We truly believe that as a learning organization, we can exponentialy grow in our practice by listening to the voices of one another, and that includes our students.  We are very excited for this next phase!

Up Next

In a future S’More edition, our P.E. teacher Mr. Rob will share with the staff about the 21 Days Of Healthy Snacks Challenge, which he launched in his classes this week. He will ask some students to create a corresponding video share to with our staff about how they are engaging with the program. Is the message of healthy eating important to them? Why or why not? How are they implementing this at home, if they are? What challenges have they faced? What solutions can they offer?

I will keep you updated on our teacher and student-led professional learning journey as it continues to unfold this year! What unique ways have you found to infuse teacher and student voice within your learning community? We would love to learn from you!


The View On Atlanta – From The Hashtags



My Twitter feed this weekend has been blowing up with all the great learning going on at ISTE2014. Sadly, I was not at ISTE. But that has not stopped me from learning a great deal from all the educators who are attending and presenting, thanks to the power of the hashtag!

One of the reasons I enjoy Twitter as a professional development tool is because it allows me to connect with and learn from educators across the globe. This past Saturday, while I co-moderated our weekly chat for teachers new to Twitter (#NT2t), we discussed the power of the hashtag. Using it to follow conferences was one of the suggestions made for maximizing the potential of Twitter.  I have been doing that the past couple of days and, thanks to the connected educators who are so graciously tweeting their learning and resources, I have been able to learn  quite a bit! But, as Dewey says, we learn from reflection. So here are some of my takeaways ISTE2014…errr, while #NotAtISTE:

Genius Bar:

Someone retweeted this tweet about a student – run Genius Bar (original tweet by @TechGirlJenny):


I was pretty intrigued by this, so I went to researching the idea. I found this PDF from GenYes, which gave a lot of information about it. I played around with the idea, considered how we might fit this into our school within our current student leadership opportunities, and now plan to pitch it to my principal after I have it a little more planned out. What a find!

Google Hangouts On Air:

This tweet from @2footgiraffe includes a Google Doc with lots of great GHO tips. I have a planned GHO coming up in a couple of weeks, and this will surely come in handy for me.



Ultimate Word Wall:

So someone tweeted “We are building the ultimate word wall on Padlet”! Clicked on the link, and saw this amazing set up! What a treat for teachers to be able to use what is here, and then become inspired to build their own! I will definitely share this with teachers on my campus next year.


Saw this tweet below from @chadkafka and WOW! What an awesome way to curate tweets!! I used if for this blog! (IFTTT stands for If This Then That).

iste2Technology by Blooms:

This handy Google Doc tweeted by @Jepson contains loads of technology platforms and they are aligned with different Blooms levels. Very handy sheet if someone asks, “What technology would be best to use with ______”.  Saved to my drive.



Pinterest Board for ISTE:

I discovered this board which is being populated by many ISTE attendees. I have only skimmed this, but I am planning to spend a day next week going through all the curated material loaded onto it!

I have so many more resources saved, and I will share them out as I go through them.  All in all, I have had a very productive time the past couple of days as I learn a lot of new things while #NotAtISTE14.

Now, if you are wondering about that hashtag….it is for all of us who could not attend –but wanted to feel like we were a part of it. We were even invited to participate in various giveaways by event sponsors, and @CraigYen even set up a Google Hangout for anyone who wanted to, well, hang out!

As far as a learning community goes, it just doesn’t get any better than your Twitter PLN. The tweet below from @JanRobertson sums it up pretty well.



I hope you will join us Monday for more learning at #ISTE2014 and #NotAtISTE14 via the hashtags ! Please share your conference hashtag experienes in the comments below!



Self-Contained Classrooms: Day Designers


I am a self-contained teacher. Although I don’t really like the term self-contained. It sounds too much like working all alone, shut off from the rest of the world.  I actually prefer the term “Day Designer”.  I design days, through each content area. Much cooler. Teachers who teach one subject often tell me they would never want to be self-contained, for a variety of reasons. Some of them are:

I have 6 subjects and 3 STAAR tests. Three out of five days, I am either at grade-level PLC, Math planning with the math team, or LA planning with the LA team.  Teaching all subjects requires one to be a sort of Jack (or Jill) of all trades; having a firm grasp on each content area and the state assessments that align with them. So why do I prefer this? It’s simple. I don’t teach content, I teach kids. For me, this is the best way to do that.

I know several teachers who are currently considering a move to self-contained classrooms, or their administrators are.  So I wanted to share my experiences and some of the good stuff you can find in this type of arrangement:


I get to know my students much better when I have them all day. We develop a close bond, and I am keenly aware of their strengths and weaknesses. And I don’t just mean academically. I know personal strengths. Learning strengths. Learning struggles. I get to know them in their entirety rather than just “as a math student” or “as a reader”. I know them as learners. We just happen to learn all subjects. Because of this, I am able to design extensions and interventions that provide just the right support each of my student’s need. Because I am so aware of their needs, I am better able to target, manage, and follow them. Learning is much more personal.  The students develop a very close knit community, and truly form a classroom family.  They freely question, commend, and challenge each other-without prodding or prompting from me-and a sense of safety and inclusion is felt not only by us, but visitors to our classroom as well. I have supported the development of this type of climate in departmentalized and team-teaching systems as well, but I would have to say it seems to be just a little bit different-more pronounced- in the SC class.


I am able to adjust my schedule in such a way that learning isn’t bound to a clock. At any given time, you might see a group of students engaged in a writing conference, another group collaborating on a challenging math problem, a small group with me engaged in a reading mini-lesson, a few students blogging about their science lesson yesterday, a book club in the back of the room…We learn throughout the day in a way that makes the content meaningful, relevant, and connected. Just because it is a certain time doesn’t mean we are all engaged in the same content. Such a time fixation is a system for departmentalization and I’m not sure it’s relevant for the self-contained classroom.

This is usually the point where departmentalized teachers become very nervous. In fact, it does require me to do more follow up and individual check-ins. It also requires a good set of rituals, routines, and procedures in place to make sure student’s are staying engaged and on task. There are times when they are not, and then we have to address it. But most of the time, we are.


Some say that there is no way they would want to plan for all the different subjects. Even with good, strong team planning, one still must tinker with and tailor the plan to capture the “how” for their own classroom and students. But really, it is much easier for me than you think! I am able to fully integrate content. We engage in writing and reading during math and science. We engage in PBL units or projects that encompass multiple subject areas and actually spend less time on some things than otherwise. Integrated content helps to reinforce concepts and helps children retain material. Cross-curricular units are much easier to design and facilitate because I know exactly what we are doing in each content area.  More importantly, I know where each student is in each content area. I can use this to front load or spiral back. I am able to bring to departmental meetings an awareness of current units of study in the other content areas and ideas for time-savers and cross-curricular connections.

Time and Tool Management Skills

We are now fully 1:1 in my classroom; each student has their own device and it resides on their desk or in their own charging area. They have customized their desktop, built their bookmarks, and are completely free to use their device to facilitate their learning throughout the day. I specifically did not establish any control over this, other than our digital citizenship lessons that we have. I wanted them to make mistakes so that we could learn from them how to best manage our time and tools. And yes, they did!

Now, my students will power up when they need to look up additional information or decide to present their essay using a form of technology…This is not controlled by me, and I think it has really empowered them to become independent learners. Many times I have students finish their writing assignment early, only to go get on their device to continue working on a lesson for math. That’s difficult in departmentalized situations. We have established norms, and we revisit and revise those as we go along and learning opportunities present themselves, but as a general rule, they are encouraged to be self-driven. An important goal for me is that my students come to recognize when- and how- to take advantages of both time and available tools to support their learning. They won’t develop those skills if I am the one dictating what, when, where and how to use them. And so the self-contained setting affords us the freedom to experiment, make mistakes, and learn how we as individuals can best manage our tools and time.

Classroom Ownership

The desks are “theirs”, the lockers, the anchor charts, the reading nooks, the tables…all theirs. My students feel an ownership over the physical space, which I think helps build an ownership over their own learning and how they go about it. Radically different from just “visiting” my room for an hour and a half. I think this subtle shift in thinking is important. The physical space is often an area we overlook, but I think it really helps build ownership when they are not sharing it with another class. At least, that seems to have been my experience when it comes to elementary students.

Some other bonuses: We don’t lose time packing up and switching classes; I am able to arrange for extra learning opportunities designed to enhance their critical thinking, motivation, and “connectedness” to the global community. For example, this year my students have participated in an Hour of Code, Genius Hour, and even a Google Hangout with some computer designers. We’ve read about the start up of Khan Academy and generated a list of traits that were instrumental in seeing this creation flourish, including visionary thinking, problem solving, patience, and service to others. We make connections with and highlight these traits often in our classroom. Now, we are reading biographies and generating our own list of “Habits of Successful People”, employing these throughout our day, in whatever content area we are working in. Because I have the opportunity to design learning experiences within each subject area, I can make sure to highlight, reinforce and include opportunity for the development of these habits.  If I were not the math teacher, would I have even had reason to explore an online learning startup company with them? Not likely. Would they have recognized the same “innovative” mindset in both “Mr. Khan” and “Pa”, the father in a historical fiction book we are currently reading? Making it a point to spend time on such things in one area just seems to make things so much more meaningful and real to them in other areas. I have found the self-contained setting to be a great opportunity to do this.

I have tried to find research into the effectiveness of self-contained vs. departmentalized settings in the elementary classroom, in which areas, and to what extent. I found exactly none.   At least none since 1965.  I immediately think of the following quote by Toni Morrison, “If there is something you want to read, and it isn’t yet written, you must write it yourself”. And so, that’s a current “hmmm” I have.

There are positives around being departmentalized, teaming, and being self-contained, and each has merit. I have been a teacher in all three types of classrooms, and I would say that without a doubt, this design has been the most rewarding.  I think my fourth graders would agree!

What about you? Are you departmentalized or self-contained? Which type of structure do you prefer, and why?