Sunday, January 21, 2018

Teacher Certifications That Will Build Your PLN and EdTech Teacher Toolkit: Turn Your Favourite Platforms into Professional Badges

Don’t diss the badge collectors! Sometimes you see in an email signature, professional blog or website, a teacher that appears to have done everything. This may prompt a number of thoughts: Wow, this person is motivated! Wow, this person couldn’t possibly apply all of that to their practice! Yikes, that looks daunting! While you should undertake these programs with the aim of continuing your learning, there’s nothing wrong with thinking ‘that’s not too long, I can get that!’ After a recent barrage of discussions with colleagues and others in my professional learning network (PLN), I’ve decided to offer arguments for why educators should be a badge collector.

Below this professional tirade is a short description of the following programs:

Let’s start with the PLN. In the past I’ve heard educators show disdain for networking, devaluing the practice as self-serving and something done in business. Although I have met educators who build their networks for clicks and likes, I would argue the majority want to share, learn and engage. Basically, as you take these online programs you are building your professional network. Some require that you join a Google+, Facebook, or some kind of online professional community. This is where you interact and engage with others to get your students (and yourself) connected and more global and open-minded. I’ve had the good fortune to have has my students in Japan engage with students in North America and Asia. This is priceless. As an example, an eductor in the US and I (here in Japan) have students working on government and election campaigns. After viewing campaign commercials on Flipgrid students in the US will electronically vote on a Google Form. Thank you to my PLNs on Flipgrid and Twitter. It’s also pretty cool when you go to a professional development event and finally get to meet that people face-to-face, but with a relationship already established.

Stay Current by Getting Updates. Let’s build on the PLN idea. When you are a member of these communities you will get the newest information first. Whatever platform or company it is, when you are certified there is usually a closed group that you must be invited to join. When something new comes out, or there is an update, or perhaps even beta testing, you may be in the loop before many others. You can embrace (or be a part of) the change! Way cool.

Access to Great Resources & Experts. Again, PLN. (are you seeing the pattern?) When you are stuck needing a resource or an idea you will have more people to reach out to for support. If it is a very specific learning community, such as National Geographic, you’re more likely to get a very narrow body of resources. More often than not, someone will respond with resources. Worst case scenario? You get too much stuff to sift through. Nice problem to have, right? And you never know when there is an expert in your field who has done the same training and is part of that community.

Get Your Name Out There. Many for-profit and non-profit education organizations appreciate the time you’ve spent learning and earning these badges or certifications. Having these badges demonstrates the faith each organization has in your abilities to navigate and apply their platforms. Should you be one, like myself, who enjoys presenting at professional development events, these badges are proof that you know what you’re doing. (advice: stay up-to-date before presenting - the apps do change!) Sometimes you may have a company, such as a popular Google Partner called EdTechTeam, that will waive your event fees if you attend as an EdTechTeam Presenter. When organizations such as Edcamp, Coffee EDU, and ASCD know your name you may just be invited to present or coordinate.

Career Opportunities. You’re not selfish for planning your next move. Many educators are happy to be in the same place for their career, while others want to bounce around. Both are fine. Duh. Many of these networks not only offer classroom connections, professional interaction, and teacher learning, but also job postings. Although I don’t entirely believe in the idea of “it’s not what you know but who you know”, people will often give someone a look if they have had positive online interactions.

Free (or cheap) is Always Nice. Often these certifications are free and will only you cost time. If they cost, usually they are inexpensive. (the GCE1 and GCE 2 exams are $10 USD and $25 USD respectively) Additionally, you may get free stuff. If you take the time to become a Flipgrid Certified Educator you will get the Flipgrid Classroom version, and all of the platform options, for free for 45 days. (at the time of this writing)

If you have further questions leave a note in the comments section. Good luck and have fun with your professional learning journey!


Flipgrid Certified Educator, Flipgrid Ambassador. A simple but effective student voice video platform with a variety of teacher controls. The program will teach you how to navigate the platform. This platform is becoming very popular, very quickly. The platform also has other badges when you reach certain milestones, such as a certain nuber of views or responses.

Common Sense Educator. A digital citizenship initiative for kids that include educators, administrators, and parents. A massive range of resources. The program will teach you how to navigate the platform and resources. Many high-quality lessons and guides.

National Geographic Educator Certification Program. A program aimed largely at teachers of sciences and social studies, though it would benefit any classroom teacher.

Seesaw Ambassador. A program for this learning management system that requires you to update yearly. (I respect programs that require some basic recertification process)

Adobe Education Exchange. (click the 'Learn' tab) A range of courses using Adobe products. Some are free, some are cost-bearing. You’ll have to have the products to complete the training.

Flipped Learning International Ambassadors. A program with different levels that gets deep into the flipped learning model.

Certified BrainPOP Educator Program(online course registration link is here) On-site and online certification programs. BrainPop travels around with certification workshops, but you can apply for the online course and they express that when the next cohort comes up they’ll get in touch. Just fill out the Google Form.

Blue Ribbon Educator (Tynker Coding for Kids). See other types of Tynker training on offer here. A platform based on coding for kids. You’ll have to have access to the platform.

Google Certified Educator (Level 1 and Level 2), Google Certified Innovator, Google Certified Education Trainer *see the entire Google for Education Training Center landing page). These are all time intensive, but highly valuable. I recommend any educator to do the Google certifications to whatever level they aspire to. You will become a Google apps ninja and have access to several learning communities. For the GCI training, you will have to travel and do a couple of days of training. There are three to four cohorts per year. If your aim is to build your PLN, joining any of these (or more than one) will be the quickest way to meet a lot of people.

Apple Teacher. This is also valuable, particularly if you are using Apple devices and apps in your classroom. There are modules based on creating content, which I believe is a very important thing for teachers to learn to do. (and model for our students) This is not so time intensive, but worthwhile. *Update: thanks @Dan_Ferreira_Jp for the suggestion to like Swift Playgrounds in the Apple Teacher program, for those who are keen about coding. (we should all get an understanding of coding!)

Apple Distinguished Educator. This is only open every two years, and like the Google Certified Innovator program, quite competitive. It is more competitive and, in fact, quite exclusive. This has its pros and cons. Your Apple PLN will be much smaller than your Google PLN, but likely to have more engagement with specific individuals. It is a good program, particularly if you are using Apple devices and apps in your classroom. You will have to travel and do a few days of training.

Microsoft Innovative Educator. A series of badges and points using Microsoft applications.

*TED-Ed did have a TED-Ed Innovative Educators program, so keep your eye out for an update!

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Simple and Effective Ways To Improve Your Teaching: A Book Review of Rushton Hurley's "Making Your Teaching Something Special: 50 Simple Ways to Become a Better Teacher"

(purchase from EdTechTeam Press or Amazon)

*After reading, if you’re inspired to share, please offer an idea (or more!) to this padlet.

Rushton Hurley has given us a witty, thought-provoking, and inspiring book for all educators. Teachers, administrators, and I would also suggest parents, would all benefit from reading this incredibly entertaining, and remarkably insightful book.

If you’ve been looking for a no-nonsense book with practical ideas to improve your teaching practice, then Making Your teaching Something Special is a must read. In fact, if you’re in the field of education, this book is a must-read. For the new educator, it will inspire you to think more deliberately and plan the habits you want to develop your craft around. For the veteran teacher, the ideas, suggestions, and real-life anecdotes will reinforce the great things you are already doing, as well as remind you of the essential practices you’ve for some reason “let slide”. Additionally, you will leave each chapter energized, and with a determination to add something new to your teaching habits.

Making Your teaching Something Special is divided into five 'Areas', each with short chapters, which makes the book a nice pick up, put down, ponder, and plan - a bonus that you don’t often see in books for educators. At the end of each 'Area' there is a series of questions for educators to discuss and explore, be it for a staff meeting, a study group, or an administrative team meeting.

In this post, we’ll look at the five 'Areas' that Hurley outlines, while keeping in mind my comments here only scratch the surface of what is in the book. When you finish reading (or now), have a look at Hurley’s non-profit and get your students involved in creating high-quality learning resources that can be used by others.

In Area 1 Hurley discusses rapport with students. I imagine any educator would agree that building positive (yet professional) relationships with students is critical to student success. How do we quickly learn names and deal with feeling embarrassed about forgetting? Are we really aware of how we address our students when talking in one-on-one or with an entire class? Hurley discusses strategies to build that positive relationship with individual students, but in a way that allows that trust to echo throughout your classes. (ultimately building a positive reputation for yourself) How do we deal with student discipline, work with parents, and build communities within our classrooms? The chapters in this segment also offer advice to the teacher for how to deal with our own misgivings and the inevitable situations that arise in an environment in which we work with a lot of people - and varied personalities - each day. 

Area 2 explores the world of assessment, and overall deals with the question ‘Are our assessments effective?’. Are we really pushing our students to be fascinating? Are we giving them pathways that foster intrinsic motivation and genuine curiosity? Something in this section that struck me is an area I’ve been pursuing in my own teaching - are we guiding students to understanding how to ask a good question? An important point in this ‘Area’ suggests that we offer more opportunities to evaluate the work of others, an exercise that helps students consider what a quality and creative piece of work really looks like.

In sum, beyond the great ideas, Rushton Hurley is clear about one thing: education is a ‘people business’ and the person has to be at the center. Not all strategies may work for your context, but they can be modified as such. And yes, there is work involved, but with rewards that will benefit everyone involved. Hurley also discusses his past strategies of using pre-tests. (which are easier with digital tools such as Google Forms, Quizlet, and other survey-generating software) Ultimately, for myself, the reflection on assessments we give is an critical takeaway. Are we really thinking about the purpose of an assessment before we give it? It sounds obvious, but busy teachers often try to keep their heads above water and I would argue that meaningful assessment is one area that can suffer early on. 

Although I don’t buy into the antiquated ‘sage on the stage’ approach to teaching, Area 3 addresses a critical skill every teacher should develop: delivery. How much do we vary our review and introduction of a new topic to a class? Are our methods varied and engaging? Hurley provides several great approaches to beginning a class in such a way that students are curious, thinking, and engaged for the beginning - setting the tone for the rest of the lesson. His advice is actually quite simple. Be unpredictable. Rushton Hurley, remember, is a veteran teacher, and as such addresses other considerations like getting the attention of students, setting them up for interest rather than boredom, and using language that implies all learning in the course is valuable. Yet another area where I feel teachers can fail is modeling academic honesty. As a teacher of History and Individuals and Societies I feel an inherent responsibility to show my sources. How can I expect my students to do if I don’t? Again, obvious, but it took time for me to develop this important habit. (Chrome extensions and online citation tools don’t allow for excuses anymore: see these tutorials) Another great takeaway from this section is a reminder to ask engaging questions, and provide strategies that allow for all students to answer questions in a comfortable manner. (without having to stand out) Hurley reminds us that it’s a good thing to have students come up with ideas that we didn’t - and celebrate them! We don’t have to be complete masters of our subjects. (even when we strive to be) Finally, know when to stop helping. 

A few of my own resources (feel free to copy and/or share):
Area 4, Collegiality and Professionalism, is aimed at how we can engage our teaching communities more effectively, locally, nationally and globally. Hurley gives us many strategies to step out of our four classroom walls and seek learning opportunities. Although a teacher of 20 years, having started at a new school last August I found I was faced with some of the challenges discussed in the book. I needed help navigating how the school functions, not to mention some good conversation in my subject area. Had some of the suggestions in Making Your Teaching Something Special been in place, it may have been that much easier. Regardless of your situation, he suggests, it’s on us to seek those professional discussions. (and perhaps create them through organizing an Edcamp or CoffeeEDU) (I’ll add attending a Google Educator Group event - or starting your own GEG) These kinds of events are usually half to one day, or in the case of CoffeeEDU, just an hour. You decide. These kinds of events are invaluable to expand your PLN. (professional learning network)

Taking advantage of the internet age is seeking out ideas online - using or adapting the zillions of great ideas already out there. (don’t forget to cite your source!) There is a tremendous economy of sharing online, and if you don’t tap into it you’re making a mistake. Stretch your thinking to use the resources beyond teaching content, but also to develop skills. Hurley also suggests using student-created material to drive some of your professional conversations. What did you like, dislike, or would change if you were to give the same assessment? A lot of learning can come from such a discussion. (check out Hurley’s select list of select list of videos for this purpose) This section also emphasizes the need to question old processes. In one anecdote he discusses how a student could benefit from using the same assignment in two classes, but develop different skills. A very important chapter here is dealing with mediocrity - getting professional selves out of the doldrums and continuing to learn and improve, and maintain an awareness of the attitudes, words, and body language we put out there for the whole world to see. 

Logistics is the fifth and final Area. Rushton Hurley can’t stress enough (and neither can I) how important it is to know all of the people that make your school move. The first faces most of us see after an interview are the staff in the main office; without them doing their jobs we can’t do ours. It’s that simple. We’re all working together. Hurley’s comments go far beyond this in the book, noting the connection these people make between faculty, students and parents. He notes gaining an understanding of the community resources available that may help with certain unforeseen circumstances that can arise. Also in this final area, Hurley discusses preparation for working with parents. It will always pay off to keep records of information on students and communication, and he gives examples and strategies that will help teachers develop positive and productive relationships with parents.

Finally, access Rushton Hurley’s website, and more specifically the 5-Day Teacher Challenge, to find practical strategies to improve your teaching!

Other topics of discussion you will find in the book:
  • Offering (meaningful) extra credit 
  • Ready to go activities
  • Tying service to learning activities
  • Maintaining a good balance of comfort/discomfort in your journey to be your best
  • Trying new things that other teachers do without comparing yourself
  • Dealing with disagreement, debate (and sometimes arguments)
  • Developing professional habits when you may not agree with school protocols
  • The benefits of clearly identifying your classroom needs
  • Working with organizations outside of the school that you can benefit from (or assist!)
  • Finding inspiration!

Happy teaching! (and don't forget the Padlet!)

Making Your Teaching Something Special: 50 Simple Ways to Become a Better Teacher (2017)
by Rushton Hurley

EdTechTeam Press, Amazon or search via ISBN:
ISBN-10: 194516736X
ISBN-13: 978-1945167362

Monday, January 1, 2018

How can we truly innovate in our schools? An Overview of the Popular Book 'The Innovator’s Mindset' by George Couros

by George Couros (purchase from Amazon, sign up for Couros’ “The Principal of Change” newsletter, and learn from him on Twitter - @gcouros) *The thoughts in this post merely scratch the surface of the contents of the book.

Innovation has been a buzzword in education for quite some time now, but as Dr. George Couros sees it we often don’t have a clear definition of what “innovation” means prior to declaring that we are ‘innovative’. He rightly emphasizes that using technology is not innovation and, argues that we need to question what we do and why, and in this context, we’re talking about what we’re doing in our schools and with education in general. (without limiting the discussion to technology) Couros draws our attention to the visual (on the right) you may have seen before, which is credited to Bill Ferriter (@plugusin), stressing the point.

George Couros gives us a great example of how education can stifle innovation. For those who haven't heard the story, the demise of Blockbuster Video (or the old VHS / DVD rental shops) still teaches us heaps. Blockbuster missed its chance to innovate and paid the price. The Onion had a ‘mocumentary’ online as far back as 2008, a telling example of the importance of innovation in any field or industry. (see the hilarious video here)

Fixed vs growth Mindsets. Unsurprisingly, Dr. Couros discusses the difference between fixed and growth mindsets, and the need for educators and curriculums to accommodate student failure to foster success. However, he stretches this thinking further, challenging us to move beyond the simple idea that “failure is good”, and explains the need to help learners develop an unwillingness to give up. (in his words, resilience, and grit) *Following Dr. Couros' lead, I'm including several excellent Sylvia Duckworth sketches found in the book and elsewhere. 
The Iceberg Illusion is a great visual showing us
what kind of commitment success requires
Couros cites Dr. Carol Dweck’s own innovative discussions on growth mindsets. You can learn more from this short YouTube video by John Spencer that shares Dweck’s ideas on fixed vs growth mindsets. (I quite liked this one from Better Than Yesterday as well)

The growth mindset discussion left me questioning what I was doing about my own professional growth: Would I want to be a learner in my own class? Truthfully, not always. How can I challenge myself to be a more innovative teacher? How can I adapt the tools to build better learning? Couros again has a great visual produced by Sylvia Duckworth. (@sylviaduckworth) See the visual below and a deeper explanation of each of the following characteristics here

  • Empathetic
  • Problem Finders
  • Risk-Takers
  • Networked
  • Observant
  • Creators
  • Resilient
  • Reflective

A key section of the book addresses a critical factor in adaptive, innovative schools: leadership. The emphasis is on relationships leading to innovation. In this, he shares a scenario in which a good idea is killed off due to a fear of the implications for the entire organization. Another area in which Couros points out relationships are crucial for innovative schools is that amoung teachers, with reference to the sharing economy. He compares “the classroom teacher” vs “the school teacher”. A school culture in which people share resources and ideas will inevitably lead to better learning, more interaction, and most likely a greater pool of well-developed ideas. (and that a non-sharing teacher may be a great teacher in the classroom, but doesn’t amount to much help beyond their four classroom walls) For school leaders he suggests:

  • Spending time with smaller groups of people and asking what they want to learn (students, teachers, staff)
  • Shadow students
  • Manage things, lead people (which Couros quotes from Steven Covey)

Couros outlines the characteristics of the innovative leader as:

  • Visionary
  • Empathetic
  • Models Learning
  • Open Risk Taker
  • Networked 
  • Observant
  • Team Builder
  • Always Focused on Relationships

See his ideas in more detail here and another Duckworth sketch below.
Are you this kind of leader? Keep in mind, leadership isn't simply school administration
We are all leaders in some capacity.
Creating a culture of innovation will require some debate, discussion, and inevitable disagreement. Speaking of cultures, and referencing Devorah Heitner (author of ‘Screenwise: Helping Kids Thrive (and Survive) in Their Digital World’ - see her website Raising Digital Natives for great advice and her highly engaging book) Dr. Couros notes how a culture of compliance in schools limits us in our ability to help students learn to be curious, self-directed, and engaged. Conversely, we can empower our students by allowing them to do things, which will lead to greater engagement. Achieving this kind of environment or school culture has to be a shared vision throughout the process. Leaders should be focusing on the strengths of their constituents to build confidence (by fitting jobs around skill sets), and then work on the weaknesses. This makes complete sense. When leaders ignore their people, their people will be disengaged. (I have personal experience with this, which led me to leave a school and take my skills elsewhere to a place in which I could contribute as well as develop my teaching craft) An incredibly important point is the need to demonstrate a genuine concern for your staff. What are their interests? Their goals? Their hopes for their professional future? A leader likely does not know what their people want and what they are thinking, so they should be asking. Couros notes that, ultimately, leaders must model and mentor. So what should a leader (and a teacher) be looking for in classrooms?

  • Voice
  • Choice
  • Time for Reflection
  • Opportunities for Innovation
  • Critical Thinkers
  • Problem Solvers/Finders
  • Self-Assessment
  • Connected Learning

See Dr. Couros’ more detailed explanation here and yet another excellent Duckworth visual.

Asking and answering the question "Is this obvious in my classroom?" for each area
intimidated me, but I have clear ideas for improvement.
The technology piece comes back into play later in the book, with a philosophy that reminds me of a Google for Education t-shirt I once received which reads “Less tech-ing, more teaching”. I love the statement. (not to mention laughing out loud when I read “Are your school devices really just $1000 pencils?” in the book) It directly suggests that technology are tools, but we need a plan for it. This is what George Couros is saying about technology. He goes deeper to point out that the technology tools available to us today can transform and personalize learning. Schools do need to carefully plan how technology is used, as well as what technology is used. This plan should include finding, developing and celebrating in-house to district level talent to help develop the skill sets of the wider teaching community. Couros goes into greater detail, but essentially, we have to ask ourselves what is best for students and how is learning improved with the technology being employed.

More is Less. In this section, we are given a bit of a crash course in building a culture of innovation. Many teachers will no doubt appreciate his argument that we need more depth and breadth of what we do, rather than check too many curriculum boxes. Don’t read into that statement too deeply - Dr. Couros does not undervalue the importance of curriculum. Rather, he is stating that fewer and well-focused initiatives will more likely lead to effective change. (and fewer initiatives will be less likely to burn out your faculty and keep the team on the same game plan) More time and freedom to explore will lead to new and better ideas. He breaks the levels of ability into three stages:

  • Literate = can use the tool or device
  • Adaptive = technology can be used to replace “low tech”
  • Transformative = you can do something you haven’t done before

In the process, he suggests that leaders allow faculty to seek out and explore tools that may be useful for learning. Moreover, he comes back to an earlier point and reminds us that innovation isn’t limited to technology; we should also be thinking about structures and direction in learning.

The final parts of the book is an appeal to educators to join the sharing economy. Innovation comes from ideas being shared, reused, and revised. (but give credit where it’s due, as George Couros does consistently throughout The Innovator’s Mindset)

Embracing an Open Culture means that we as educators can't isolate ourselves from a connected world. It’s already here and has been for a while. It can be overwhelming, but hiding from it will limit the effectiveness of the 21st-century educator. Couros points to Chris Anderson on TED. He gave a popular TED Talk, "How web video powers global innovation”, that is well worth a look.  A sharing economy will allow us to self-teach and innovate. George Couros offers these insights to sharing:

  • The bigger the group, the more potential for innovation
  • There is visibility to see what other people are doing
  • There is a desire to change, grow, and improve

Some final (and insightful) thoughts from Dr. George Couros:

Dr. Couros leaves us with another great visual (below), this one developed by himself, called The Networked Teacher. You can see it on his website which comes with a detailed explanation of how it can be interpreted.

*You can subscribe to Dr. George Couros’ blog "The Principal of Change” at Learn from him on Twitter (@gcouros).