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Engaging Teachers with a Teacher Leadership Book Study

This post is co-written with Amy Illingworth, and cross-posted to Amy’s blog!

One thing we (Amy Illingworth & Mari Venturino) have in common is our love of books! We both read a good mix of education, fiction, young adult, and nonfiction books. What better way to bring together teachers than with a Teacher Leadership Book Study? Our district did just that! Read on, for how we did it and what we learned, from the perspective of a teacher participant and an administrator facilitator.

Where the idea came from

Amy:

Our large, urban school district has a committee of teachers, site leaders, and district leaders, who come together to discuss how we can use our Title II funds to improve teaching and learning across the district. In the spring of 2017, as the committee reviewed the federal guidelines for Title II funds, we kept coming back to a big idea – leadership. We wanted to find ways to support teacher leadership.

Our district has a number of leadership support structures in place, creating a pathway from teacher to administrator roles, if one chooses to go in that direction. However, we have many dedicated teachers who want to take on leadership roles without stepping out of their classrooms. With those specific teachers in mind, our committee came up with two ideas: A Teacher Leadership Academy and Teacher Leadership Book Studies. The Academy was designed to follow a small cohort of teachers through a year-long learning opportunity. For the book studies, we agreed that we would offer a few throughout the year, and that any teacher in the district could join any single book study anytime. We used our Title II funds to pay any participating teacher to attend the two hour book study discussion meetings and to purchase the book for any interested teacher.

Mari:

A few years back, I started a book club at my school. We alternated YA novels and an education-related books each month, but it fizzed out before the end of the school year. I was craving more formalized book chatter, but couldn’t keep up the interest and commitment from my very busy colleagues.

I received a whole-district email from Amy at the beginning of the 2017-2018 school year with information about a district-hosted Teacher Leadership Book Study. Although one of my goals this year is to be careful about what I commit to, this was an easy and enthusiastic “yes!” I love chatting about books with colleagues and friends, and thought it would be a great way to have conversations with teachers across the district.

Implementation

Amy:

Trying to plan a book study that would be open to 2,000+ teachers is not easy! In September I sent out an email to all teachers in our district explaining what the Teacher Leadership Book Study would be. There was a website available for more detailed information, explaining that we would read a few books throughout the year and that any teacher was welcome to participate. I advertised our first book selection, The Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros, with an RSVP linked to a Google Form. When I hit send on that first email, I didn’t know if I would have more than one teacher sign up to join me on this new adventure.

Small group discussions with teachers across the district.

I had 50 people sign up to read the first book! I ordered a copy of the book for every teacher who signed up. Teachers had about a month to read the book, and then they attended one book study discussion meeting (which I offered on two consecutive nights to break up the large group and for flexibility with busy schedules).

When teachers walked into our Professional Development Center for the first discussion meeting, they were immediately surprised because I had all of the chairs arranged in a large circle. I asked everyone to make a name tag so that we could get to know each other and refer to new colleagues by name throughout our discussion. We sat in the circle and I facilitated a discussion about the book. I would share a quote or a prompt from the book, and then open it up for discussion by anyone. We let the conversation go wherever it was going and had fun getting to know each other in this new setting. At some point, I had participants get up and form a pair with someone from across the circle, to encourage more dialogue and to give all participants an opportunity to speak, since some seemed intimidated trying to speak in the large circle.

Small group discussions about Shift This

At the end of the first book study, I asked for recommendations for future books and used teacher feedback to select the rest of the books for the year. With each new book, we had more teachers participate, reaching 90 for our last book! As the meeting groups grew, I had to change the structure. Instead of one large circle discussion, I had teachers sit in small table groups and facilitate their own discussion, with prompts provided by me. To get everyone up and moving after a long talk period, I had the entire room stand up and form a line based on how many years of teaching experience they had. We folded the line in half so that the newest teacher in the room was talking face-to-face with the most veteran teacher in the room. We did a few minutes of this “speed dating” style partner talk, with each teacher having the opportunity to meet a few more colleagues for a 1:1 conversation.

Mari:

I participated in all four of the book studies: Innovator’s Mindset (George Couros), Shift This (Joy Kirr), Overcoming the Achievement Gap Trap (Anthony Muhammad), and Lead Like a Pirate (Shelley Burgess and Beth Houf). I thoroughly enjoyed the book discussions. There were a few people from my school who also signed up, and I saw a few friends from across the district. However, I loved meeting so many new people from my district during the discussions!

Teachers participating in the “speed dating” sharing activity.

During the conversations, Amy would put up a series of discussion questions, and we would choose the direction of our conversation. My favorite part was hearing from teachers at different schools, including middle school, high school, alternative education, and adult education–the variety of voices and experiences helped me to deeply reflect on how I am best meeting my students’ needs.

One particular activity I loved was “speed dating” from Lead Like a Pirate. Amy facilitated it with a group of about 30 teachers. We first lined up by number of years taught, then folded the line in half. Amy gave us a couple minutes to answer a question together. Then we waved goodbye to our partner, one line rotated 3 spots down, and we repeated the process.

Perspective from Amy, district leader

It’s always scary to try to implement something new. This was especially true for me, as I was still relatively new to my position and new to this large district. You never know what the turn out will be or how the initiative will be received. I was especially aware of the fact that I was an administrator attempting to lead conversations with large groups of teachers. While I always consider myself a teacher first, then a coach, and finally a leader, it has still been many years since I was last in my own classroom, doing the hard work of teaching every day.

My biggest takeaway from this experience was how open and excited teachers were to have the opportunity to talk to peers from across the district about their reading and professional experiences. In the final survey I sent out to get feedback on the book studies, I read a version of this quote over and over again when I asked what teachers most appreciated, “Being able to openly discuss ideas and concerns about our classrooms and teaching methods with others who read the book.”

Perspective from Mari, teacher

My biggest takeaway from the Teacher Leadership Book Studies was being given the time and space to talk with teachers from our district. Being in a very large district with 1500+ teachers, sometimes I feel like other schools are lightyears away. The Teacher Leadership Book Study made me feel closer to my colleagues at other schools. I appreciated the opportunity to learn together, meet new friends, and continue these connections on Twitter. I realized it didn’t matter how much I liked the book, but rather the little nuggets I gained from our conversations together.

Lead Like a Pirate

We are lucky to have Amy as a leader in our district! While she may be at the administrator level, she is approachable and frequently at schools and in classrooms. Amy’s facilitation style is respectful, she is a patient listener, and her presence allows us to have honest conversations without fear of repercussions.

The books were the vehicle, Amy was our Google Maps, and we were the adventurers.

Here is just a sampling of some of the feedback from our many participants:

  • “I appreciated the theories about mindset and being a teacher that can propel change.”
  • “I really appreciate everyone’s genuineness. Every individual shared some really valuable insight, opinions, etc. and it was so helpful to hear other reactions to the ideas in the books.”
  • “I enjoyed it a lot. It helped inspire and motivate me during the year when I was starting to drag or feel overwhelmed by the job. Thank you!”

 

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First ever #EduHike!

Sunday was a very historic day, at least to me. I organized and hiked the first ever EduHike! I thought of #EduHike in February 2015, and played around with the idea in my head. Finally, last November I actually started taking steps to plan the first ever EduHike.

#EduHike – round 1

The basic concept is to pick a place, date, and time, and invite teacher/education friends to join you. No set agenda other than get some awesome people together, hike, and chat. (Post-hike food or coffee gathering is optional. We met up at an injured friend’s house after, so the non-hikers were included.) I’ve done the Cowles Mountain hike many times, which is why I chose it for the first #EduHike; I wanted a place where I was familiar, and didn’t have to think about navigating and hosting. The hike was about 45 minutes up, we spent 15 minutes hanging out at the summit, and about 35 minutes going down. Next time, I’m planning to explore a new hike, and take along someone who has done that hike already.

The #EduHike was great! I loved meeting a new friend, and seeing quite a few familiar faces. In total, we had 8 humans and 1 dog on our hike. During the hike, there was plenty of opportunity to chat with everyone. Too often at conferences and other meet-ups, we spend a lot of the time looking down at a device, and not making real connections. Or, we’re too busy Tweeting, blogging, and Voxing to sit down with our PLN and just talk. Even though a lot of the conversation was face to back-of-head (safety!), I felt like the collaborative discussions I had were productive and pushed my thinking in new and deeper directions. There’s something about being outside that allows us to relax and happily share our successes and struggles as teachers.

We made it to the top!
Maria, Megan, Riley (dog!), Kate, Meryl, Mari, Nicole, Natalie, Nishantha

I’m thankful for you all for taking time on your busy Sunday morning to join me on this adventure!

Here’s the vlog I made on the hike. Vlogging is way out of my comfort zone, but I’m determined to practice and get better (and less awkward!).

#EduHike round 2, coming summer 2016! 

PS. Interested in hosting your own? Go for it! I’m thinking about making this a thing at some point…

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Teamwork and Problem Solving with Breakout EDU

Today I ran my first BreakoutEdu game. I’ve been wanting to try it for a while, and I finally got around to researching what the hype is all about. For those of you who don’t know, BreakoutEdu is based on breakout rooms where people are locked inside a room and must use teamwork and critical thinking skills to solve puzzles to break their way out. It’s taking education by storm; but instead of locking our kids in our classrooms, they are locked out of a mysterious box. You can read more about the overall set-up here.

I was so nervous to do this! There was so much set-up and so many interdependent parts. I was less concerned about things going wrong with students (mine are very flexible and work with me when I mess something up…which is frequently), and more anxious about forgetting a specific lock or making mistakes with the clues.

3 tables contained the locked breakout box
3 tables contained helpful materials

The Set-up
I’m not good at just taking things I find on the internet and implementing them–they never go as well as I’d like, and I never feel fully engaged. After taking a look at the BreakoutEdu Beta games available on the website, I started working on creating my own game. I designed my puzzles and challenges, then purchased all my locks and tool boxes on Amazon.

I teach 7th grade science, 30 students per class. As much as I would have loved the simplicity of setting up just one box, I knew it would lead to students sitting off to the side and/or goofing off. I decided to do almost identical 3 boxes with groups of 10.

We are studying ecology, so most of the puzzles related to basics of ecology.

Origami hearts to solve locked pencil box.

Here’s what I used and the puzzles to solve each:

Lock & key: Hid a key in an envelope in the supply area. Meant to be easy to build confidence.

Directional (speed dial): Picture of a food web with a story below about one of the animals visiting their friends in different locations (ex Sammy goes up to visit his friend Sandy). The directions corresponded to up-down-left-right on the lock.

Word lock: Crossword puzzle with 5 letters circled. Unscrambled to form a real word.

3 digit combo: I borrowed the RGB puzzle from Time Warp.

Working on the crossword

4 digit combo: Bumper sticker that says “Think global, act local.” Count up number of letters in each word to get combo (5636).

Hint card: Students also got one hint card in their original materials.

Locked pencil box: This was sort of a decoy. I printed instructions for folding origami hearts, and created flat originals for students to fold and discover a code once they put the papers together. Inside the box was a blacklight flashlight (I had a sign in my room with invisible ink that read “the key is to make a trade with Ms. V” so they could trade in their found keys for an extra hint), a 4-sided puzzle that contained a hint to the location of the key, and an extra hint card.

Implementation

Love the teamwork!

I got to school at 6:30am this morning, school starts at 8:15. I had copies of puzzles to print, and most of the setup to complete. Luckily, I programmed all the locks earlier this week as they arrived from Amazon. I finished my setup at 8:11, just in time to take a few deep breaths before letting the fun begin. My classes quietly line up outside before class, and I usually like them to be inside and working on their warm-up before the bell rings; however, today I kept them outside until the bell. All I told them was “come in, your time starts now, good luck!” and let them figure everything else out for themselves.

Problem solving together

On their desks was an envelope that said “Open Me” which contained their instructions for combining table groups and the general rules and instructions. It was fun to listen to students react to the locked boxes on the tables and to get excited about the tasks. Most groups got right to work looking around the room for the hidden clues. Since I had three groups, I created a blue, green, and pink team, and all clues were color coded accordingly.

Working together as a team

After the timer went off at the end of 45 minutes (also borrowed Time Warp’s online timer with music in the background), we cleaned up and students helped me reset the classroom. We debriefed and discussed what went well, what didn’t go as well, and their favorite and most challenging parts. Since I had 3 classes participating today, we also talked about not spoiling the surprise for later classes. Unfortunately, one of my students overheard a few other students talking about the breakout box, and they already knew at least one of the combos. I told his group they had to show me the solution before I would allow them to unlock those specific locks.

Today’s breakout took
teamwork

Through the course of the day, none of my groups successfully broke into the box. I had 3 groups down to the 3 digit combo lock (RGB puzzle), and one group got really close to solving it. Even though none were successful, all of my students were positive and excited about solving problems.

Things that went well
I had 100% engagement for the entire 45 minutes! All students were able to find puzzles that suited their strengths, and particular students emerged as leaders within their groups. I heard a lot of amazing discussions on leadership, delegating tasks, problem solving and encouraging each other, and a few references to growth mindset. It was amazing to watch my students problem solve together, and especially fun to not tell them anything! I recorded each Breakout session using Google Hangouts on Air and shared the recordings with our students’ parents. Already, I’ve gotten great feedback from parents!

I had a few students who were really persistent and
came in at lunch to try a puzzle they didn’t solve
in class!

Things that can be worked on
Next time I think I can tackled fitting in new content, rather than just reviewing what we already know. Additionally, set-up wont be nearly as tiring since I’ve done this now. As for students, some of the teams struggled with staying focused on efficiently finishing tasks, not jumping from one puzzle to another, or randomly trying combos. It was so hard for me not to jump in and redirect them! The only time I had to step in was a few instances when students were trying to pry open my boxes.

I’m excited to plan another Breakout, next time for my 7th grade AVID students. We were lucky to have our AVID tutors in to observe, and I could see how badly they wanted to jump in and work on the puzzles too. I’d love to do one that includes them. I’ll also plan another Breakout for my 7th grade science later this semester.

My kids are already bugging me asking when we can do this again! Success!! 

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2015 in Review

I spent three of my five years at University of California, San Diego (UCSD) as a Resident Advisor (RA) for transfer student housing. These were my adult formative years, where I grew as a person, a student, and as a future teacher. In fact, during my third year as an RA I was a graduate student and student teacher, and my final month as an RA overlapped with the first month of my teaching career. I could write a whole blog post about being an RA, but I’ll save that for later. The point is, during the three-day equity and social justice portion of RA training each year, one of the facilitators constantly stopped us for check-ins for “where we were, where we are, and where we’re going.” I now apply that concept to my own personal reflections.

So, here is my “where I was, where I am, and where I’m going” for 2015

Where I was (December 2014)

  • Third year teacher, finished first semester teaching AVID.
  • Just starting to use Twitter, participated in a few chats. I was barely getting my brain around the idea of connecting with teachers from other states and countries.
  • I had just started presenting at conference, notably a CUE-Tip at Annual CUE (March 2014) and 2 full sessions at Fall CUE (October 2014). Alicia Johal and I applied to present at more conferences for 2015, and were honored to represent our school and district.

Where I am (January – December 2015)

Tech Breakfast
  • I currently teach 3 sections of 7th grade science and 2 sections of 7th grade AVID. On top of, that I am the Blended Learning Specialist (tech coach) at my school, which has become a whole new set of responsibilities.
  • As a Blended Learning Specialist, I host monthly Tech Breakfasts for parents to learn about our 1:1 iPads and related topics
  • I started a weekly Tech Tuesday lunch (read more here) for the teachers at my school. We meet in my room to eat together and share tech tools and goals. I leave it open-ended, although many times teachers come to me with requests of what they’d like to work on.
  • I have tried out new methods, strategies, and tools in my class that constantly push my boundaries and comfort zone as a teacher. This includes mock interviews with my AVID kiddos, green screen videos in science, and using Explain Everything for students to demonstrate their knowledge and application of scientific concepts.
  • We embarked on the EduRoadTrip journey with Justin Birckbichler and Greg Bagby in July! We have released 14 episodes and 5 rest stops so far, and have many more engaging interviews scheduled for 2016. We’d love for you to follow along on iTunes or Stitcher.
  • I began #FlyHighFri in an effort to infuse more purposeful positivity into our schools and work days. Read more about it on my blog.
  • Honestly, right now I’m a little over-committed. I am learning how to say “no” to opportunities if they are not the right timing, or if I simply don’t have the brain energy to put in. This has been a difficult process for me, and I am constantly reaffirming my decisions when I decline a request.

Where I’m going (2016 and beyond)

2016 Resolution
  • I recently got Chromebooks and Spheros from DonorsChoose, and I am excited to spend more time coding with my students next semester.
  • Now that I’m a little more comfortable blogging, I will attempt to blog every two weeks or so. I’m thankful to the #TribeofBloggers and #YourEdustory for motivation, community, and support.
  • I’m looking forward to an exciting and top-secret collaboration project with Justin Birckbichler! Make sure you follow us both on Twitter (Me // Justin) for the latest news.
  • Most of all, my biggest resolution for 2016 is to better balance my personal and professional life, and spend more quality time with my boyfriend, my puppy, my friends and family. This includes intentionally turning off electronics and relaxing!
What are your resolutions and goals for 2016? Who is going to support you and hold you accountable?
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Diving into GreenScreen Headfirst with Middle School

Problem: Two of my three science classes are participating in a field trial with the Lawrence Hall of Science (Berkeley, CA), and were a week and a half behind my other science class. I’m out for 2/3 science days next week, and want my kids back on the same lessons for my own sanity (and for the sanity of writing sub plans).

Solution: “Hey kids! We have a week and a half, are you willing to experiment with green screen videos?”

My limited knowledge comes from Mr. Justin Birckbichler, my EduRoadTrip co-host and #FlyHighFri co-creator. He has two blog posts on green screen, his blog and the CUE blog. Both of these posts help me figure out the basics of green screen, and envision an idea for the workflow for the class. We are 1:1 iPads, and I used DoInk ($2.99), but since it’s a paid app I bought it on my iPad only; the App Store is closed down to students, and I can only request free apps to be pushed to their devices. I purchased green fabric at Hobby Lobby (2 cuts, 2.25 yards each). I had a hard time figuring out the workflow, and still didn’t have a clear handle on it until we actually recorded!

I introduced it to my students with a warm-up question, “What makes Magic School Bus magical?” We discussed, and then I told them we were going to try out green screen–they were giddy with excitement. Their anticipation grew even more when I told them I had never done this before, and we were going to learn together.

Collaborating on scripts outside

The premise of their project was to form groups of 3 and create a 2-3 minute video where they creatively explain a chemical reaction. Then, their first task was to collaborate on a script on Google Docs. We spent the rest of the block period (105 minutes) outside writing scripts on the grass and on benches.

The next block we were on a field trip (yay!) and students finished their script on Friday (30 minutes). On Monday, I projected the workflow (see below), and students worked either inside or outside in their groups for 105 minutes. I had two groups record on Monday, which was a huge success because we learned how to use the DoInk app together!

On Wednesday, I had 8 groups that needed to record, so I assigned them each a “call time” for 10 minutes of recording time and sent everyone else to practice outside. For this first time using green screen, I limited my students to one background to keep things simple. In the future, I’ll allow them to record with multiple scenes.

Recording our green screen videos

My two groups that already recorded had also edited outside of class. I asked these 6 girls to manage the recording process using my iPad. Something amazing happened: they took over the entire recording process, including downloading the image from Google Drive, using the app, directing the recordings, managing props, uploading the video, and alerting the next group it was their time. I was amazed that they took on this leadership without being asked! And, it freed me up to check in with other groups and not stress about getting everything done.

Once students recorded, they downloaded their video from Google Drive and edited on iMovie. I will have my students turn in their finished videos on Friday. I know I not giving them enough time to edit to create amazing finished products, but we simply do not have time since I’ll be out on Monday and Thursday next week. In the future, I’ll build in some more editing time at the end.

 

In all, this project took 2 blocks and 2 Fridays, approximately 250 minutes.
Our whole class was excited about this project, and we can’t wait to do it again next semester!