Wrap it up! Parlay Ideas, Laos and Mind Maps

PARLAY IDEAS

I am a true believer in the power of collaboration. One of the things I like the most about being a tech coach is the opportunity to work along with virtually any teachers willing to.

Parlay Ideas Logo by https://parlayideas.com/

In a previous post, Migrating toward collaboration, I talk about Parlay Ideas, a tool we learned about when planning one of our final COETAIL projects. After playing around with the platform and training other teachers on it, I wanted to try it at my school. It allowed me to co-plan with my colleagues, coteach with them and interact with the students in meaningful sessions.

I loved the results, and so did the Spanish, English, and Social Studies teachers, as it helps build classroom community and have meaningful and inclusive student-driven discussions.

I recorded some of these sessions that you can watch on the link below. Enjoy!

Parlay Ideas Student Rollout Session for English

I also recorded a short video showing the Parlay Ideas Summary Report.

 

LAOS

I am not a quotes person. I don’t use stickers on WhatsApp or share memes on Instagram to show my thinking; I’ll instead try to explain it myself. But some are worth sharing as they perfectly summarize our thinking. The image below is one of those.

By https://www.mariebeecham.org/. Follow her on Twitter @mariejbeech

If you have followed my previous posts, you probably know that I have been trying to use my writing, experiences, and voice to create awareness of equality, diversity, and inclusion in education. Privilege is a big part of it, and we tend to focus more on the perks than on the removal of the barriers, which is way more important.

I recently was part of a very intense interviewing process as part of my application for an MYP Math position abroad. After almost 15 years living in Panama and seven years in education, I recently accepted the offer to teach at Vientiane International School in Laos. I am thrilled to join their community and get to Laos for the first time. I feel validated with this opportunity and what it represents for me, especially knowing what it takes for minorities to accomplish this. I feel like the emotion of obstacles and barriers is possible.

 

MIND MAPS

When we started COETAIL, one of our first posts was about our communities. I remember using diagrams.net to create a mind map to show our different groups, networks, and communities.

When preparing for my interviews, it wasn’t straightforward for me to visualize my professional journey. Even when a yet short career in the educational world, mine has been filled with many different roles.

A friend and recommended creating a visual representation of this journey, and after some pen and paper sketching, I knew diagrams.net was perfect for this. Here is the result:

Stay tuned for my final project!

Better together!

 

Almost a year and a half ago, I started my COETAIL journey. I have enjoyed it, and I could confidently recommend it to any teacher. It is a demanding program but worth the effort. It has helped me grow professionally and personally. The well-structured course plan, combined with the nature of the resources, challenged me to question my beliefs, unlearn, and continuously learn again. COETAIL purposefully creates an ideal scenario for constantly trying new things and reflecting on our practices. You will find yourself well-informed, provoked to make changes, and equally important, empowered to make them happen.

Another essential aspect of COETAIL is community. In COETAIL, you are not alone. Your facilitator will guide the path for you and provide meaningful feedback, and your cohort members will always be a source of inspiration and motivation. I valued this community aspect tremendously. Being part of such a diverse group of international teachers living abroad in more than ten different countries (with many time zones) even made us learn to find the best slot of time to collaborate and, even better, learn from each other’s perspectives.

This sense of community starts with the required comments on our peers’ posts. For me, it takes significant effort to comment on their posts, sometimes even more than writing my own, but the process represents a big part of the learning journey. You get to experience the initiatives, strategies, perspectives, and struggles of all of your cohort’s members and their respective schools.

I have found myself as one among many others going through similar situations. When I published my last post, Speak up! I shared it with my family and some friends outside of the International school world, and their reactions were encouraging. One of my COETAIL peers also shared a similar story with me that you can read in this comment, and after reading it, I knew that the situation I spoke about in my post is more common than I initially imagined.

These interactions take place via email, too, which gives them a more personal feeling.

I come from a family of educators on my mother’s side. Sharing with them doesn’t necessarily grow my community but creates awareness and helps them better understand what I do and the struggles I face as a minority.

 

After reading the post in my book club group, some of my friends decided they wanted to get more information about this, ask more questions and decided to meet through Zoom to talk more about it and educate ourselves on the topic.

I had forgotten about my Twitter, to be honest. With COETAIL, not only did I start using it again, but my followers increased a lot, with about 50 new followers since I started tweeting my COETAIL posts.

Twitter worked as our cohort communication tool as well. We reached out, ask for help, shared resources, encouraged each other, celebrated, and more throughout their messaging tool.

Another way that I have taken advantage of my blog entries is by posting them on my Linkedin profile. It is an excellent opportunity to review my content, improve it if needed, increase my connections, and sustain engagement within my PLN. It comes in handy now that Linkedin is adding more social network features.

For my final project, I met with many of my colleagues here in Panamá and worldwide. Here are some of them helping me out with my Podcast project:

Billy. Private sector professional.

 

Spanish teacher in India

Susanna. MS Science teacher at ISP.
Gabriel. Panamanian local podcaster.

Finally, I realized that even when I have met some of my COETAIL peers virtually, I never had the chance to interact with many of them outside our blogs. I decided that I wanted to make that happen and organized to meet and get to know each other better, share our projects, and offer help.

Here is the whole meeting Video.

After doing this, I am sure it needed to happen long ago. I suggest COETAIL organizers consider taking advantage of our now normalized video conferencing calls to create spaces in which more natural interactions are possible within our cohorts.

 

Speak up!

Sometimes I feel like it has only been a couple of years since I entered the international school world, but it has already been five. Reflecting on my journey through corridors supposed to overflow with multiculturalism, diversity, and equity, I realize how this applies mainly to the student body but is not entirely true for the staff. There is a long way we still have to go. “We” meaning teachers and all the machinery that makes international education what it is today, including directors, recruiters, administrators, and recruitment platforms, to name a few.

I have not yet had the opportunity to enjoy the advantages of being an international teacher hired as an expatriate, so my perspective comes from a local employee’s lens with full knowledge of international hires’ benefits. My situation is even a little more singular since I am a foreigner hired as a local, which is not uncommon; the expatriation process has to occur to be considered a foreigner. It does not matter what your credentials or experience are, but from where you were “imported.”

Let’s exemplify it. I am Venezuelan and have been living in Panama for some years now. I am a Computer and Systems Engineer with a Master’s Degree in Education. Let’s suppose that my twin brother, Luis Carlos II, with the same credentials as me, lives in Venezuela. An international school in Panama decides to hire us both. My twin brother will receive an offer quite different from mine. He will receive a paid ticket to move to Panama, and the school will cover all legal expenses for visas and work permits, housing included. At the time of relocation, the school will pay the accommodation expenses. The school will cover transportation for the first days until he gets a car. He will not pay taxes from his salary, and if he travels with a partner, he will likely receive an extra amount of money for the dependent and children. Besides that, bonuses for renewing their contract at the end of each year and fixed annual bonds for debt consolidation in their country of origin, like mortgages or education loans, to mention a few.

While Luis Carlos I, who was already in Panama, will have a lower salary, the tax deduction will apply to me. I will not receive bonuses nor housing despite the money that the school will already have saved on air tickets, legal procedures, etc. The only difference being that I was already here, in Panama, and my twin in Venezuela. And that is how the international schools’ recruitment works.

 A few days ago, a co-worker, previously in the same situation as me and now an expatriate in an international school in India, sent me the link to an article that made me think even more about this issue. The title, “Are you white enough?” says a lot on its own. 

As a local hire, I have tried to get a job as an ex-pat in other countries, but the recruitment fairs are expensive and involve traveling. A local hire’s contract doesn’t include the option to request four days off to attend these fairs as ex-pats do. Two years ago, an international school recruitment fair was held for the first time in Latin America and for the first time in Panama. Since I did not need a hotel or ticket to go to one of the cities where these fairs usually occur, such as Bangkok, Hong Kong, London, Cambridge, or San Francisco, I decided to attend. 

As international teachers who have been through this process will know, these fairs are intimidating. Fortunately, I wasn’t alone; my partner, also a teacher, went with me. Hundreds of candidates and dozens of schools recruiting. We had the opportunity to be interviewed for positions at a school in Mexico. We applied to other schools too. You get in line in front of the table with the recruiters for that school. You watch other people in front of you, maximizing those minutes you get to try to sell yourself the best you can. When it was finally our turn, the interactions mainly looked like this: 

  • “We cannot hire Venezuelans”; 
  • “Are you Luis and Eduardo? Your profiles are perfect, but with your Venezuelan passports, it would be almost impossible to hire you.” 
  • Or simply a finger was pointing to a note written at the top of your resume: “Venezuelan.”

I encourage you to take the time to enter any international school website and see how they boast of having more than 40 nationalities in their student body and more than 30 nationalities in their staff. A bit contradictory, right?

Some time ago in COETAIL, we were exposed to an interesting article about Bobbie Harro’s Cycle of Socialization. Here you can read The Cycle of Socialization, and here you can see a previous post of mine and a video based on the article.

There is the possibility that later it will be me who enters the international school circuit. I can’t stop thinking that I will contribute in a certain way to perpetuate this cycle. I hope it will also help by weakening the paradigms of hiring based on skin color, nationality, sexual orientation, and native language. Whatever the outcome, I wanted to use this opportunity as a personal intent to break the core of this cycle, putting fear and conformity aside, using my voice to inform, combat ignorance concerning this issue, question the system, and speak up!

Taking Coaching Online

In my previous post, I described the implementation of the coaching program at our school and how we created a Coaching Menu infographic with a list of our offering options. We had previously created a presentation to roll it out as a team of coaches and coordinators.

We included our beliefs:

 

From Coaching at ISP presentation created by ISP Coaches and Coordinators

Some types of Coaching Models:

From Coaching at ISP presentation created by ISP Coaches and CoordinatorsWhat coaching is and is not:

From Coaching at ISP presentation created by ISP Coaches and CoordinatorsTeacher and coach commitments:

From Coaching at ISP presentation created by ISP Coaches and Coordinators

The differences between a School Leader and a Coach:

From Coaching at ISP presentation created by ISP Coaches and Coordinators
From Coaching at ISP presentation created by ISP Coaches and Coordinators

What working with a coach can look like:

Some differences between Tech and Instructional Coaching:

From Coaching at ISP presentation created by ISP Coaches and Coordinators

And more…

These worked perfectly for the rollout, but we soon realized that teachers forgot the presentation, at least for Middle School, and didn’t have a place to share our Coaching Menu. We use Google Classroom for communication purposes. It has worked very well, but constantly adding information to it will send notifications directly to teachers’ inboxes which may overwhelm teachers and dilute admin messages in the stream.

That is why one of my colleagues shared the idea of building a Coaches’ website. I created it by adding some of the presentation information and our previously created Coaching Menu, bios, testimonials, resources, and more. This website will eventually be rolled-out and serve as a repository of our resources, keeping it under our consolidated suite of Google Workspace products.

Here the link to the website, and below some images of how it is looking right now.

The home page on mobile view

@mrluisc

Meet your Coaches Pages. Laptop view:

Resources and Testimonials. Tablet view:

Podcast page. Phone view.

Looking forward to deploying this website, and I will be back with more information on the results!

Coaching À la carte

My role at school this year as a tech coach and integrationist is new, at least formally. We had coaches before, but we never tried to implement a whole coaching program with a team of coaches per division. I haven’t had the opportunity yet to do this in person as the priorities under these circumstances have shifted to on-demand support and training and “putting fires out” for students, teachers, and even parents. 

In two days, we will be back on campus with students for the first time after precisely one year of teaching online. After such a long time, transitioning back to school creates a lot of stress for the staff, even more, when we are still not vaccinated. Coming back doesn’t mean we coaches can enter classrooms and interact with teachers as there are still many restrictions due to biosecurity safety measurements. Still, I want to be prepared for when that time comes.

The instructional coach and I were brainstorming ways to be ready when we regain some sense of normalcy, even if that means next school year. We wanted to promote what we can offer to teachers, being careful not to add more to their (already full) plates.

After the brainstorming session on “what we can offer,” we ended up with a long list of uncategorized options for teachers to choose from whenever they needed or felt ready to work with us. But this list wasn’t easy to navigate at all.

What we can do:

  • Coaching Cycles
  • PD
  • Co-planing
  • Coteaching
  • Modeling
  • Lesson structure
  • Engagement
  • Cooperative learning
  • Rigour
  • Tech integration
  • Data collecting, analyzing, and applying data
  • UDL
  • UBD
  • SBG
  • Rubrics
  • PBL
  • Inquiry
  • Differentiation, modification, accommodation, interventions
  • Student Feedback, teacher feedback
  • Observations and feedback
  • Research
  • Unit building
  • Assessment
  • Lesson Design
  • Blended Learning
  • Learning walks
  • Student training (skill, app, tool. software, platform, protocol)
  • Cross-curricular lessons
  • Parent support
  • Units, presentations, assessments, visual appearance

We decided to create categories to make it more structured.

Categories:

  • Coaching Cycles
  • Blended learning
    1. Build & create relationships
    2. Identify priority standards
    3. Create assessments as a performance task
    4. Design learning experiences
    5. Document student journey
  • Data
    1. Analyzing
    2. Applying
    3. Organizing
    4. Including
    5. Documenting
  • Cooperative Team Work
    1. Engagement
    2. Cooperative learning
    3. Grouping
    4. Norms and protocols
    5. Accountability
    6. SBG
    7. Co-planning
    8. Coteaching
    9. Modeling
    10. Department support
    11. Learning Walks
    12. Unit building
  • Assessment
    1. Differentiation, modification, accommodation, interventions
    2. Units, presentations, assessments, visual appearance
    3. Authentic
    4. SBG
    5. UBD
    6. Cross-curricular
    7. Choice
    8. Rigor
    9. Formative and Summative
  • Lesson Structure
    1. Flipped Classroom
    2. Choice Boards
    3. Unit design
    4. Modern Classrooms
    5. Self-paced
    6. Accountability
    7. Asynchronous/Synchronous
    8. Engagement
    9. Differentiation, modification, accommodation, interventions
    10. Protocols and norms
    11. Timing
  • Feedback
    1. Teacher observation
    2. Student observation
    3. Feedback and action plan
  • Marzano High Yield Strategies
    1. Identifying similarities and differences
    2. Summarizing and note-taking
    3. Reinforcing effort and providing recognition
    4. Homework and practice
    5. Non-linguistic representations
    6. Cooperative learning
    7. Setting objectives and providing feedback
    8. Generating and testing hypotheses
    9. Cues, questions, and advance organizers
  • School Initiatives
    1. Inquiry
    2. UDL
    3. UBD
    4. PBL
    5. Responsive Classroom
    6. MTSS
    7. SBG
    8. SRI
  • Interventions
    1. Reading
    2. Writing
    3. Math
    4. Behavior
  • Technology
    1. Engagement
    2. Tech integration
    3. PD
    4. Differentiation
    5. Student/Parent/teacher training

Creating categories helped us refine our offering, but the visual still wasn’t useful.

I have always been passionate about design. It doesn’t necessarily mean I am good at it, but I have learned how to do a decent job. As educators, this is a great skill to have, and under virtual scenarios, visuals gain even more relevance.

COETAIL made me aware of the importance of design, visual structure, colors, and more when going through our Visual Literacy course. Since then, I always think of ways to improve the way I present information.

The list was an excellent opportunity to put all this into practice and create an infographic that presents this information in a more appealing and easy-to-digest format.

Here is the final result: our Coaching Menu.

The Podcast Project

by Luis Carlos Moreno @mrluisc

Podcast popularity has been increasing over the past few years and is making its way into the educational world. I have entertained myself with many of these audio narratives but haven’t brought them into the classroom… until now. I believe they represent an appealing way for both teachers and students to blend project-based learning with digital media analysis and production skills.

I am developing a unit that will walk students through the process of storytelling, interviewing, and podcasting. The final product will be the original podcasts created by students and myself.

by Luis Carlos Moreno @mrluisc using slidesgo.com

I will prioritize the following ISTE STANDARDS FOR EDUCATORS in the Knowledge Constructor and Creative Communicator categories for this unit.

Knowledge Constructor

3a – Students plan and employ effective research strategies to locate information and other resources for their intellectual or creative pursuits.

3d – Students build knowledge by actively exploring real-world issues and problems, developing ideas and theories, and pursuing answers and solutions.

Creative Communicator

6b – Students create original works or responsibly repurpose or remix digital resources into new creations.

6d – Students publish or present content that customizes the message and medium for their intended audiences.

As a teacher will be focusing on the following ISTE STANDARDS FOR EDUCATORS in the Collaborator. Designer and Facilitator categories.

Collaborator

4b – Collaborate and co-learn with students to discover and use new digital resources and diagnose and troubleshoot technology issues.

4c – Use collaborative tools to expand students’ authentic, real-world learning experiences by engaging virtually with experts, teams, and students, locally and globally.

Designer

5b – Design authentic learning activities that align with content area standards and use digital tools and resources to maximize active, deep learning.

Facilitator

6a – Foster a culture where students take ownership of their learning goals and outcomes in independent and group settings.

6c – Create learning opportunities that challenge students to use a design process and computational thinking to innovate and solve problems.

This podcast project will allow me to put into practice my learning during COETAIL. I will plan this unit from scratch, using the Authentic Purposeful Learning Experiences unit planner (APLE) from COETAIL and considering one or more educational technology frameworks.

This project offers many opportunities to connect with related COETAIL topics such as research in the digital age, copyright, intellectual property, and giving students the flexibility to choose tech tools, topics, and, most importantly, create new knowledge. 

As we are still in quarantine here in Panama and the future outlook does not look positive, I plan to carry out this project online. If meeting with the students in person is not an option, I will record our Google Meet sessions and ask them to keep track of their learning through a digital journal. The conclusive evidence of this unit will be the resulting podcasts. 

This unit will require some shifts in my pedagogy, starting with asking students to be part of the planning process. For the duration of the learning experience, I will consciously try to be a learning peer instead of an instructor, and I will complete the majority of the tasks alongside the students.

Students will get familiarized with the elements and techniques of podcasting and storytelling.  They will research and practice effective interviewing techniques, record sound, audio editing, choose a topic,  and produce their original podcasts.

I will improve this unit with the help of my PLN colleagues from different countries around the world. Ideally, the two homeschooled students that will experience this unit for the first time will have the opportunity to meet and learn from two podcasters (one in Panama and one in Laos). I have considered trying to connect them with one of the Homeschool communities in Panama when they publish their podcast to create connections and receive feedback from their peers’ audience.

So far, this is my Podcast Project Unit.

One of the rubrics I will be using below. There is a separate one for the script.

 

 

Light, camera, action!

NEW PEDAGOGIES

In most of my recent posts, I have talked about what we are doing as a school in general and sometimes as a division, department, or individually. In the end, it all adds to what we are doing as a school, and, to be fair, my perspective is just one opinion in a broader scenario.

In chapter five of A Rich Seam: How New Pedagogies Find Deep Learning from Michael Fullan and Maria Langworthy, they share the Continuum of New Pedagogies figure:

This image works as a rubric to evaluate our practices individually or as a community. If I have to use it to assess how we are doing in my Middle School, I would say that we are doing a fantastic job. We are not at the Advanced Stage in all four areas, and we are not consistent, but teachers are repeatedly hitting many of these standards.

 

DOCUMENTARIES

I have observed and consumed the new knowledge created as a result of diverse learning experiences at ISP in which the planning hits many of the advanced stages for these significant areas: Pedagogy, Tasks and Assessments, Tech Use by Teachers, and Tech Use by Student.

Let’s refer to a specific recent event: the Documentaries Unit in grades 7 and 8 English.

For the second year, students took part in this project created by my colleague, María Clara Fernandez. The first time she asked me to help her revise the learning unit.

One of the simple things I love about this unit is the use of slidesgo to put together a slide deck that is visually appealing and engaging and at the same time shows every step in such a creative way.


Another essential aspect to mention is the checklist students can use to guide their process and understand the expectations. That will work later to assess students more authentically.

Then, when it comes to the assessment part, it is not only guaranteed that students have options and tools to create new knowledge, the script, the documentary video, and their Digital Writing Notebook, but they have also mastered their learning.

One of the big things about Deep Learning is the connections to students’ passions and real-world issues. For this assessment, students can pick ideas from the ones presented, including the UN sustainable goals, or choose their own topic.

The teachers offered students many resources and examples.

As we have learned in previous COETAIL courses, students are instructed and encouraged to understand and put into practice Copyright and Fair Use when creating their documentaries.

This year, my colleague asked me to train students on the use of some tech tools that they could use to create their documentaries. I wanted them to have more than one option and have tools for different levels of expertise or that, when combined, could make a semiprofessional outcome. So I trained students on Screencastify, Adobe Spark, and some students in the use of Olive.

Check out some of the topics students picked for their documentaries:

This is one example you can watch about J Balvin.

Yesterday, when I attended the presentation of some of these documentaries, it was evident how this learning experience represents the right steps toward putting Deep Learning into practice.

So light, camera, action!

Mistakes are beautiful

Listening to Brené Brown in her presentation, Daring Classrooms, I found myself unconsciously raising my hand every time she asked the audience a question. In many of the examples she used, I could see myself reflected as a student, teacher, colleague, and more.

In Spanish, the word “courage” – or “coraje” – has two meanings: bravery and anger. When we perceive that we are mistreated, when we feel hurt, or find it difficult to achieve an important goal, we feel anger. 

Anger is an emotion present in conflict situations, whether with others or with ourselves, and it is usually perceived negatively. However, well-managed anger can also be beneficial. Anger energizes us and provides strength to undertake tasks that we find difficult. It helps us defend our rights and points of view. It helps us resolve conflicts. It provides us with information about situations and people. Anger informs us of unfair, threatening, and frustrating situations, helping us find alternative plans of action. It seems then that the two meanings of courage in Spanish are not connected, but they are. Anger can put us in a place where we become courageous. Identifying these emotions to manage them adequately brings us to Social Emotional Learning, but this post is not about that.

In her speech, Brené makes it clear that every single act of courage requires absolute vulnerability. It is not easy to be vulnerable. We are educated to do the opposite: be strong in front of others, wear a shield, build a wall, or fake it until we make it. 

I will never forget when I started teaching Math for the first time in Middle School. I wanted students to feel safe to participate, take risks, share their thinking, and answer even when wrong.

Then it hit me. I had been preparing myself so hard to teach a perfect class that there wasn’t coherence between my everyday practice and what I expected of my students. I wanted them to be vulnerable, but I wasn’t modeling that behavior.

Let’s be clear. Me trying to teach a perfect class doesn’t mean that I didn’t make mistakes. I was far from that. My issue was not being vulnerable to accept the mistakes, to embrace them, and more importantly, to take advantage of them.

I clearly remember having this conversation with a colleague and friend. At the end of our talk, he took me on a walk to an Elementary School classroom. He explained that the teacher of that classroom had dealt with this exact scenario in a very creative and easy way while pointing at a bulletin board situated at the top of the classroom’s front wall.

Mistakes are beautiful.

The idea was to provide students with a piece of paper and ask them to write on one side some things that they were afraid of doing. Then they will crumple it up into a ball and throw it to the front of the classroom all at the same time. It was a symbolic act of throwing away all of their fears. After that, they picked the ball of paper up and tried to mark the seams that the paper’s crumpling left. The result was an improvised piece or art. We used the drawings as a class to create a bulletin board like this:

This activity and the conversation we had about it started changing the way we all participated in class. It was a simple yet powerful experience. Since then, I was more conscious of the power of vulnerability as a teacher. 

My then-boyfriend, the same colleague who showed me the bulletin board, worked in the Elementary School. Some students found out we were together and were curious to know more about this. As we, apparently, looked similar (I still have some students and colleagues calling me Mr. Eduardo), they started asking if I taught previously in Elementary School. I knew where this was going, and I was terrified. Even when our school has a policy on inclusion, it was unclear if it was safe to share. We even have parents complaining to the ministry of education to shut down LGBTQ programs created by students.

When I was getting ready for my first day of school as a Math teacher, I created a Google Slide with facts about me. I wanted to include a slide with my partner, just as many teachers do in their standard “about me” introductions. . I asked my principal if I could include my partner in my presentation, and the answer was something like, “I don’t know.” I then inquired with Human Resources and was discouraged by a similar reply from them. Feeling frustrated, sad, and unsupported, I gave up and deleted the slide.

When students started asking about my colleague, I decided to share with them that he was my boyfriend. This act was a turning point in my teaching. I was consciously vulnerable. I didn’t feel like I would have any school support if something went wrong with this, and still, I did it. Luckily it turned out to be not only the right thing to do but something that my students and I needed.

The interactions students had with me starting that day were so genuine. They were so real and empathetic. As a school, we have little representation of LGBTQ staff, and when I decided to be brave and honest to my students, it made it real for them. If I could share this, they could communicate without the fear of being judged. It didn’t take long for some of my students to start openly talking about themselves during my class time, and that was worth every piece of vulnerability and courage that it took for me to share with them.

We can teach courage. We can learn to be courageous and model it so that we develop daring classrooms. We can be vulnerable by being real humans in front of our students, colleagues, and administrators.

I am vulnerable every day that I show myself as I am, and every time I leave behind the facade created during so many years of my life. 

This post is an example of that. 

Brené Brown shared this when talking about daring classrooms:

“If you are brave enough, often enough, you will fall. If you are brave, in your classrooms, in your life, with your partner, with your kids, with the people you care about, if you are brave, you are going to get hurt.”

I am ready to fall.

Planning Matters

I have many reasons to consider myself a lucky person. Today, I focus on the fact that I can work with professionals who motivate me. I have colleagues who have become my friends and inspire me to be better every day, even in circumstances where we have not met physically for almost ten months. One such person is Susanna Potter, a fantastic Middle School science teacher, colleague, friend, and occasional neighbor. In this post, I will address, among other topics, a recent planning process that we had around a unit and its assessment.

In our school, and I imagine that in other schools too, it takes a lot of effort and consistency to implement work structures that eventually become habits and standardized processes. Generally, these structures vary over time due to many factors: the need for adjustments, schedule changes, rotation of specialist staff, new principals, new school administrators, a pandemic, to name a few.

In the last five years at ISP, I have assumed four different roles, seen three directors’ administrations, adjusted to a different schedule each year in Middle School, and more. We are even getting ready for the possibility of adopting yet another plan for hybrid teaching in a few months. Maintaining collaborative planning structures that support inclusion processes, English as a second language students, differentiation, technology integration, etc., is challenging, especially when the learning curve for online teaching took so long and so much energy from everyone. However, we are doing much better now.

Recently, in Middle School, a group of teachers has met to establish agreements around different topics like:

After reviewing our rubrics and reaching agreements related to Standard Based Grading (SBG), we have devoted time to our unit planning template.

The creation of institutional paradigms of the organizational culture is created based on a mission – a vision. The answer to why we do what we do is known. As a group, we have established points that answer those questions.

Despite these advances, there are still areas for improvements, such as better template design and a more formal technological integration framework as shown in the Eduro A.P.L.E. planning template, which has an established space for the ISTE standards. Even without a designated area on the unit planner template for ISTE standards, these are evident in learning experiences. In reality, teachers manage to expose students to them even when neither party is aware that they are doing so.

Now, how do we make this a reality? Let’s look at a real-life example. 

The science department, the instructional coach, and I recently met to review a unit’s planning and assessment.

You can check the unit planner here → Unit Planner – Matter & Its Interactions (SY20-21)

To be more specific, let’s use the summative Performance Assessment.

It started as a Google Doc → Unit 2 – Matter – Assessment.

 In Middle School, we have begun attending weekly professional development sessions on Universal Design for Learning (UDL). 

Following the Universal Design for Learning Guidelines, focusing on the Action & Expression layer, we looked for some tech tips and tools to make assessments more accessible, engaging, and meaningful.

When creating assessments, as a tech integrator, I want to help teachers identify what tech tools to use and how to:

  • Improve the navigation/wayfinding/UI of their assessment
  • Add discrete scaffolds like sentence starters, visual graphics, translation, or text to speech tools.
  • Provide multiple ways for students to share their understanding through voice, text, pictures, video, etc.

With all of these in mind, we started refining the performance assessment.

  • In the beginning, we were trying to decide if it was better to have the assessment just as it was in a Google Doc or if it was a good idea to change it to Google Slides. Google Slides was the best option because it is easy to create models, which the students needed to do. It also can be presented in a more visually engaging way.
  • We not only reworded some questions but also added keywords and decided to include sentence starters.
  • We wanted to offer more ways for students to present their work rather than only a written answer. Including more options usually represents more work and preparation for the teacher. If we offer a tool as an option and the students are not familiarized with it, teachers need to frontload with training on the tool. Choosing Google Slides helps with this too. In this case, we decided to offer students the opportunity to upload a picture, video, or voice recording. We can link tutorial videos in the slide where they need to provide evidence of their understanding. We thought about separate tools like Flipgrid, but to keep teachers sane when grading, it is easier if the students upload their pieces of evidence directly into the assessment slide deck.
  • I have talked about a tool when offering PD to our staff called Talk and Comment – Voice notes anywhere. This extension is convenient when providing feedback within Google Slides and Google Docs, especially if it is long essays that require lengthy explanations that are better understood when talking. But besides that, it works to add audio to our slides for students who struggle when reading or prefer to listen or read-and-listen. It takes whatever you record and puts it as a comment in your Google Doc or Slides.

The results after our co-planning meeting and Susanna’s final adjustments:

  • The assessment was created with Google Slides instead of a Google Doc. Here is the whole Assessment Slide Deck.
  • “I can” statement used (NGSS).
  • Video on the first slide explaining the whole assessment slide deck.

  • Symbols on slides

  • Videos explaining the icons. Example of the microphone one.
  • Hyperlinked tasks and color-coded index

  • Rubrics

  • Provide options for response methods

  • Audio instructions
  • Self-assessment

  • Extension Challenge

There are many other things that I am not mentioning here that cover many of the Universal Design for Learning Guidelines. There are ISTE standards that are covered, even unconsciously:

  • 1c Students use technology to seek feedback that informs and improves their practice and to demonstrate their learning in a variety of ways…
  • 1d Students understand the fundamental concepts of technology operations, demonstrate the ability to choose, use, and troubleshoot current technologies, and are able to transfer their knowledge to explore emerging technologies.
  • 4c Students develop, test, and refine prototypes as part of a cyclical design process.
  • 6a Students choose the appropriate platforms and tools for meeting the desired objectives of their creation or communication.
  • 6c Students communicate complex ideas clearly and effectively by creating or using a variety of digital objects such as visualizations, models, or simulations.

There is a lot of fantastic work that teachers like Susanna are doing when putting together digital learning experiences like this one. Is there room for improvement?? Yes. We could make these projects interdisciplinary, connected to the real world, and collaborate with communities outside of the school community whilst solving real-world problems.  .

But teachers are doing a phenomenal job, and I’m appreciative of that.