Thursday, October 24, 2013

Good Grief! Be Supportive of Teachers When Implementing Tech

Post by Leanne Wagner: Leanne is in her 23rd year of teaching, all at Bettendorf High School. She taught social studies for 20 years before moving into her new role as Teacher Librarian.

The following is an article I wrote for the November 2013 issue of ISTE’s Learning and Leading with Technology.

So your district has approved a 1:1 initiative for your building.  You've chosen the device, solved the financial part of the equation and you are one week away from handing every student in school a device that you hope will transform the way they learn and that teachers teach.  Simple, right?  Not so fast.  Although you've made a convincing argument for using technology in the classroom, have you considered the reactions of the very people who will be most instrumental in making this transformation occur?  How are you going to support teachers dealing with the emotions that will result from this type of implementation?

As we began our 1:1 iPad implementation at Bettendorf High School in Bettendorf, Iowa, USA, in September 2012, I noticed that staff members were experiencing a variety of emotions and reactions to the change.  The more I learned about what they were feeling, the more it reminded me of the five stages of grief described in Elizabeth Kübler-Ross’s  book  On Death and Dying.  Kübler-Ross suggests that people who are grieving generally go through five stages—denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance—when they lose someone close to them.  Every person, she writes, will deal with this grief in his or her own way, but there will be some commonalities.

I’m not suggesting that the emotions and feelings teachers experience when implementing a 1:1 initiative are as deeply felt as the profound grief of losing a loved one.  And I wouldn’t say that educators necessarily suffer this transformation in stages.  But there are parallels when administrators, teachers, and even students are asked to make this type of shift.  Recognizing these reactions and knowing how to respond will go a long way toward minimizing the negative impact and creating a positive progression to the common goal: the transformation of learning and teaching.

What they might be feeling:  There is nothing wrong with the way I teach! This is only a phase, and it will eventually go away.  Adding a computer to my classroom isn’t going to help my students as much as reducing class sizes would.

Why they might feel this way:  Teachers are professionals who take pride in the way they deliver information and how they interact with students.  Let’s face it, people who choose education as a career have passion for the subjects they teach and enjoy helping young minds discover the same excitement they felt when going through school.  To teachers, learning is a lifelong skill and something they enjoy.

How to support them:  Celebrate success while pushing the bar higher.  Find those pockets of excellence in your building and share them with others.  Use a variety of staff to present examples of innovative lessons at department or building meetings or include examples in regular newsletters and announcements to staff.  The more exposure to innovative examples of integration teachers have, the more comfortable they will become, and the easier it will be for them to take risks and try something new.  Success innovation is contagious.  It is crucial that administrators and technology integrationists capitalize on the fact that teachers will do what is best for their students.  Given enough time and support, teachers will blossom in this environment.

What they might be feeling:  Just what I need—an administrator coming into my classroom and telling me what is best for my students.  I know my students better than administrators do.  Why don’t we spend the money on more teaching power?

Why they might feel this way:  Teachers want to voice their concerns and be reassured that administrators understand the significance and extent of the changes.  It would be easy to interpret this type of reaction as evidence that teachers are too old to change, stuck in their ways, or just whining.  But the fact is, they just want to be heard.

How to support them:  Teachers need time to be able to learn new tools, talk with each other, and plan for the use of technology in their classrooms.  Carving out specific, dedicated times for these conversations to take place is integral to the transformation of learning and teaching with technology.  If possible, combine mandated or required activities with professional development that is dedicated to technology.  If that’s not possible, protect the meeting times so that other subjects don’t override the tech PD.  Staff must be assured that they will have time to discuss, plan, and experiment when it comes to implementing technology.

What they might be feeling:  If I am expected to change the way I teach, you need to take something away.  We are going to need better support from administration on the discipline issues that will occur because of the devices.  Something has to give, as I don’t have time to learn all of these new programs and applications.  Are we going to get paid for our time?

Why they might feel this way:  Teachers are used to being in control of their own classrooms, but with the integration of technology and the changing instructional paradigm, some or most of that control is transferred to the students.  This is a difficult concept for both teachers and students.  Some students also have difficulty because they are used to the teacher disseminating information and now are being asked to not only find information but also apply that information and creatively display their understanding.

How to support them:  Involve new and veteran teachers in the professional development program.  Use a “train the trainer” model and have members of the teaching staff receive additional opportunities so that they can turn around and help “tutor” their colleagues.  As these tutors feel more comfortable in their roles as peer coaches, expand the number of trainers to offer even more resources for staff.  Teachers will seek assistance from peers they trust.  Therefore, the more staff you involve in this model, the better.

What they might be feeling:  I am never going to be ready.  There is no way I will get through all of the content I am supposed to teach.  How will I ever be able to troubleshoot a device that I don’t understand?  My students will know more than I do, and I will be embarrassed.  How will I ever have time to learn all of the applications that are available?

Why they might feel this way:  Teachers have dedicated their lives to helping students learn.  This internal drive causes pressure and a feeling of inadequacy and ineffectiveness.  They realize that technology integration will be worthwhile but are doubtful of their ability to be effective.

How to support them:  Encourage teachers to step out of their comfort zone.  Make it clear from the beginning that it is OK to fail when trying something new.  Create a risk-friendly environment where teachers are comfortable stepping out of the norm and potentially having a lesson fail on the first attempt.  These experiences are opportunities for growth and should always be encouraged.

What they might be feeling:  How did I ever teach before?  I feel rejuvenated, and I can’t wait to get to work in the morning.  I can’t believe what my students are capable of doing.  Did you see this project my students created?  How can I share my students’ work with my colleagues?

Why they might feel this way:  With some successes under their belts, teachers feel a sense of accomplishment.  Teachers and students alike are thinking and creating out of the box.  Classrooms are a buzz of activity with teachers and students collaborating in all parts of the learning process.  Creativity and critical thinking have become the norm in the classroom.

How to support them:  Professional development (PD) is crucial to keep everyone on track.  PD should not end when the devices are handed out.  PD should increase and focus on a deeper integration.  Create a culture where the PD opportunities are consistent, flexible, and differentiated.  Consistency is essential.  Schools should offer PD throughout this process and at a variety of times, places, and paces.  Tech support should be available so teachers don’t feel like they are stranded on a desert island.

Offer individual, small group, and even large group PD sessions.  At times, teachers will want to work alone, but other times they might want to seek out colleagues they can learn from without feeling intimidated or embarrassed.  Small or large, topic-focused or interdisciplinary—a mix of groups is important to allow colleagues to share ideas and individual teachers to get extra one-on-one help.

Differentiation is a key component.  Just as classroom instruction needs to reach all types of learners, PD offerings need to address the full technology spectrum.  The professional development system should support all levels of technology proficiency and allow for growth.

Teachers aren’t the only people who will feel the impact of changes in instruction.  Administrators and students may also go through some of these stages.  Many times, students expect to be spoon-fed information because it is easy for them to sit through a lecture, but it takes effort to be involved and engaged in the lesson.  Administrators, like teachers, were often taught in a more traditional setting.  It can be difficult for an administrator to visit a classroom and hear multiple conversations happening at once, see students out of their seats, and get a feeling of organized chaos.  Regardless of who is going through the stages, there is no correct path, only a desired destination:  transformation of learning and teaching.

"He who learns from one who is learning drinks from a flowing river"  - Native American Proverb

Saturday, October 19, 2013

One Chance? Make Your Impact

Post by Mike Dynes: Mike has been a high school band director for 20 years, serving students at Bettendorf High School the last 11 years.

Like any other teacher, I am always trying to reflect about the impact that I am having on my students.  Did my rehearsal go as I thought it should?  Are we ready for our next performance?  What can I do differently next time in order to reach more kids, help them improve, and inspire them to grow as both people and musicians beyond their perceived capabilities?  As I near the completion of my Master’s Degree in Educational Leadership, I have learned that there is a significant parallel between school administration and teaching students.  I have also been forced to reflect on my own personality and teaching more than I ever have before.  In both cases, I have realized that some of the most important aspects of each job really boil down to effective communication, building meaningful relationships, accountability to high expectations, and a “win-win” mentality that is continually focused on student’s best interests.  Most recently, I have found myself reflecting about the presence of these specific qualities in my teaching and myself.

At the request of our principal, I've recently been spending time reading Dave Burgess’ book, “Teach Like A Pirate.”   One of the things that has resonated with me the most about that book was the idea that we get basically one chance to try to instill a love and passion for our curriculum in students.  In my case, there may never be another person that comes along in their life with the opportunity to foster a lifelong connection to music.  Personally, I see this as both a great opportunity and responsibility.  It is a heavy load on my shoulders to consider that if I don’t do it for them, no one else will – and they will miss out on something that can have such a profound effect on their lives.

When I am up in front of kids, directing an ensemble, as well as in any of the other classes I teach, I try to bring it with 110% effort; demonstrating my true love and passion for the things that I'm trying to teach them.  For me, this comes in the form of holding students accountable to very high expectations.  I play extremely challenging, college level music; demanding perfection in technique and musicality.  Being a music director is never about the final performance or rating for me, it has always been about the process of creating something beautiful with kids that they can be proud of.  The most amazing experiences for me as a teacher come when the band is performing at a level that conveys the true emotional and spiritual connection to a piece – it literally brings tears to my eyes.  It is one of the proudest moments for me as a teacher and the higher purpose of music that I attempt to instill in my students above everything else.

One of the greatest things about being a high school music teacher is the ability to have the same students for four years.  The relationships that I get to develop with kids are just as important as the curriculum to the success of my program.  I know that all good teachers in any content area have meaningful relationships with their students.  However, students and directors in music programs are really like members of a big family.  Students become invested in each other’s lives – both from a personal and team perspective.  They form life long friendships with others rooted in a mutual passion for music and without barriers due to class or ability level. 

There are weeks that I end up spending more time with my students than their parents and assume what I would consider to be a familial role in their lives.  It is during the many hours of rehearsal, performances, lessons and bus rides that I truly get to know my students; their interests, passions, fears, problems, and future goals.  The countless hours of work with them allows me to discover their personalities, and they also learn about me as both their teacher and an individual; my family and experiences, the kinds of things that I'm passionate about, my idiosyncrasies, and what drives me.  This interaction is what makes the experience dynamic and real for them.  Music is an extremely personal art form, and it is inevitable that this also makes its way into our relationships.  As we learn more about each other, we are then more able to form mutual goals and expectations, know when to push each other or pull back, and interject personal experience into the numerous teachable moments that present themselves during our interactions.  Being involved in music becomes about so much more than playing an instrument.

Every spring during pre-registration, and again in the fall, I personally go through a ritual of looking at rosters to see which kids have signed up for another year of band, as well as those that have not.  Of course there are many variables as to why students choose not continue being involved in the program, but the primary reasons at our school seem to be schedule conflicts and other interests or opportunities pulling them in different directions.  I find myself spending a great deal of time in conversations with students, parents, counselors, and administrators trying to work out issues and uncover reasons behind why a student chooses not to continue in music. 

Like any other music teacher, I have so much of myself invested in my students that it is difficult not to take it personally when a student decides to drop out of the program.  A lot of time is spent reflecting on where I may have let these kids down or how I did not sufficiently meet their needs.  I do my best to be understanding in these situations and offer potential solutions or alternatives.  Sometimes it becomes an all out “fight” to keep a student involved in music.  I’m sure that this is sometimes viewed as selfish on my part, but does always have what I believe are the best interests of the students in mind; not wanting them to let go of that passion for music or have it disappear from their lives all together.   It is an emotional issue that I take home every night.  It eats away and consumes me; detracting from my ability to be a good husband and father. 

The power of the relationships I have with students was really solidified for me a year or so ago when I had a student confide in me about a serious incident in her life:

One Friday evening, as the rest of the band was changing into marching band uniforms for a football game performance, one female student sat quiet and disengaged in my office.  I could see that she was holding back tears and after asking her what was wrong, a story unfolded where she confessed to being the victim of a sexual assault.  As a new father to a baby girl, my initial instincts took me into father figure mode.  I wanted to defend her and punish the person that inflicted such harm on one of my “family members.”  As we talked through her feeling about what happened, it was difficult for me to contain my own sadness and anger.

I spoke with my principal about the incident, and we discussed various avenues for her to pursue, both from a legal perspective and obtaining crisis counseling.  During our conversation, he also helped me to realize that this student confided in me solely because of the relationship we had built.  She needed to tell someone who cared and would listen in a non-judgmental way to help her to move forward.  In the end, she decided not to take any action; something that was initially very troublesome to me.  I realized, however, that because of our strong relationship, I was the one that needed to help her find the closure that she really needed more than anything.  I followed up with her on several occasions and we would discuss her feelings about the incident and its impact on her.  To this day, I believe that she would tell you that her trust in me helped her to find resolution in a potentially life altering situation.

It is not often that I get chance to consider how my job as a teacher has impacted others.  For all the students’ lives that I have touched throughout the years, I am sincerely hopeful that I have instilled a love for music and all of its benefits in at least some of them.  At the end of the day, I don’t view myself as any different from the numerous other dedicated teachers in our school.  Like others, I am working hard everyday to set and hold my students to high expectations, develop meaningful relationships with them, and consider their needs as the primary focus for everything I do.  I am extremely fortunate to be able to do all of that through music – something that fills my own life with a great sense of joy and accomplishment.  

Saturday, October 12, 2013

A Reason to Show Up

Post by Diane Lichtenberg: Diane is in her 30th year of teaching & coaching volleyball at Bettendorf High School. Last year, Coach Lichtenberg led her volleyball team to its first state championship in school history. (Team pic below)

Ever since I was in elementary school, I knew I wanted to be a P.E. Teacher.   I have always loved sports, games, and exercise.  I am fortunate. I have a job I really enjoy.  I get to go to work each day and help students learn the meaning of commitment, discipline, responsibility, hard work, and success.   One of the unique things about teaching physical education and coaching is that I get to teach many life lessons through sports and games.  Now that’s what I call “FUN”!

When you look up the word success in the dictionary, it simply states, “a favorable result.”  We all want to be successful in what we do and we want our students and athletes to have success as well.  I am in my 30th year of teaching and coaching. At the end of each season I have the players answer a series of questions about me as a coach and about the season in general.   One of the questions I ask the players is, “If I were to see you 5 years from now and ask you, “What do you remember most about your high school volleyball experience, what do you think you would say?”   Not one player has ever answered that they would remember our win/loss record.  Kids get involved in sports for a number of reasons.  Winning isn’t the only reason. At the top of the list should be because “it’s fun.”  Success isn’t just measured by wins and losses or A’s and B’s, there is so much more to it than that. 

“Success is about the journey as much is it is about reaching the destination.  Success is about uniting a group of individuals to pursue a common goal.  Success is about overcoming individual differences in order for the team to achieve its potential. Success is about the number of athletes and students who have enjoyed their overall experience.   Success is about teaching through sports, the life skills necessary to be a winner.” - Source unknown

I believe there are several keys to help athletes and students succeed.  These include good communication, the use of goal setting, having high expectations, and incorporating FUN into your coaching/teaching. 

Communication- At the beginning of the season, I hold a parent meeting to go over our volleyball handbook, in which the players, parents, and coaches roles are defined, team rules are listed, and expectations are explained. I hold individual meetings with each player to go over their individual goals and to define their role on the team.  It is important that the players have a realistic picture of where they will be contributing on the court and what areas they need to focus on to improve their game.  It is also important to communicate with parents.  I put out a monthly calendar of events and send out a weekly newsletter to parents.  Through the use of journals, I am able to communicate individually with the players.  The girls write down their weekly goals, reflect on their game, and address any areas of concern they have.  In the classroom, the ground rules and expectations are laid out on the first day of class.  I challenge myself to learn all of my students’ names by the end of the first week of the term.  One of my favorite ways to communicate with my students is during fitness time when we are power walking.  I like to talk to the students and learn a little about them, what their interests are and work to improve their level of fitness at the same time.

Goal Setting- Setting individual and team goals is very important.  The players must have something to push for each time they enter the gym for practice or competition.  The team also has to have a vision of where they want to go and what they want to achieve.  They need to set long and short term goals that are realistic and measurable.  During class, I challenge the students to improve their level of fitness each day, to set goals for themselves for their fitness testing at the end of the term, and to get into some healthy habits while they are young to help them lead a longer and more productive life.

High Expectations- I believe you have to set the bar high.  The students/athletes will rise to the standards that you set for them.  One of the things I preach to my team each year and to my own children is, “Part of being an athlete is self-control and discipline.  You are an athlete twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, and twelve months a year.  Therefore, you must set an example for others to follow.  You represent yourself, your family, our team, and Bettendorf High School.”   Students/athletes have to realize that the decisions they make not only affect them but they also affect the others around them. There have been a few times over the years that my players did not live up to these standards.  That is really tough to handle.  It was very disappointing for me as a coach, humiliating for the athlete that made the poor choice, devastating to the family, and a real disappointment to the teammates they let down.  As tough as the situation may seem at the time, we move on and hopefully some lessons were learned. I will continue to stress the importance of doing the right thing and reminding everyone that whether they are on the court, in the classroom, or at home with their families, they need to be respectful and treat others as they want to be treated.

Incorporating Fun- I believe that good team chemistry is essential for a team to be successful.  I do a lot of team building activities throughout the season.  The variety of activities we do help make the season fun, allow the girls the opportunity to get to know one another, and make each player feel like they are an important and contributing part of the team.  We have an overnight activity where the team is involved in a low ropes-course, they prepare meals for one another, perform skits, take part in fun challenges, and earn prizes.  Other things we do throughout the season include having theme color days where everyone wears a certain color that represents something special, i.e. wear red because we have to play “with heart”, team dinners, pep bags, riding in the Homecoming Parade, movie night, and dress up on game days.  In the classroom, I like to mix up groups throughout the block, pre-select teams, set up challenges for bonus points, and incorporate some fun elementary games to lighten things up once in awhile.

A shocking statistic I learned from Rose DuBois while completing my Master’s program was that by the time a person is 18 years old, they will have heard 150,000 negative comments. Wow, that’s depressing!  She shared this information to remind us that we need to be positive with our students and athletes.  We need to point out things that they are doing well and praise them daily.  She described it as the “See it, Say It” technique.  It’s simple, if you catch someone in the act of doing something good, let them know it.  The reason for this is twofold.  First of all, the student will feel good about themselves because of the praise and recognition, and secondly, it points out to the others in class a job well done. Another point that DuBois made that hit home with me was, “Give your athletes/students a reason to show up tomorrow.” It is so important to be a positive role model, an effective leader, and a person that can help them to become a positive thinker.  We can help our students learn how to handle stress, we can show them the importance of hard work, dedication, and what it means to be part of a team. 

A quote I try to live by each day is, “Give the world the best you have, and the best will come back to you.”  I like to be prepared, organized, creative, and ready to give 100% in everything I do.  I want my students to look forward to coming to class each day.  I want my volleyball players excited about practice and game day.  As a teacher and a coach, I have the ability to impact a lot of people.  Some kids carry around a lot of “baggage”.  They don’t have very positive home lives, don’t have much confidence in themselves and don’t always have a lot to look forward to.  Being involved in exercise, doing something good for their body, gaining confidence when they’re successful at a new skill, and having fun in class might be the best part of someone’s day and I’m glad I can help make that happen.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Power of a Positive Learning Environment

Post by Jason Hamann: Jason is in his 2nd year of teaching special education at Bettendorf High School.

My name is Jason Hamann and I teach in the Level III program at Bettendorf High School.  A Level III teacher works with students with multiple significant disabilities including Intellectual Disabilities, Autism, Behavior Concerns, Communication Issues, or any combination of the above. 

Providing routine and consistency for my students are essential elements of my position.  My students live in a variety of different settings including at home with their families or in apartment settings with roommates and 24-hour care providers. 

I’d like to share the story of one of my students. For this blog, I will refer to him as Ben. Ben moved into the Bettendorf School District and more specifically, my program last March.  When he first arrived he had a difficult time in the transition.  There were many negative emotions, incidents of anger toward others, misplaced aggression toward school staff, and a general uneasiness about his new situation.  To say the least, he was a very angry young man.  As the 2012-2013 school year progressed, we made some inroads in developing a rapport, but he was still deeply mistrusting of us.  Were we going to treat him like previous teachers had and try to have him removed from the school if he misbehaved?  Were we going to be in his life today and gone tomorrow as he had seen so many times before?

Now let’s fast forward to the beginning of this school year.  We are now seeing an entirely different side to Ben.  The young man who didn't outwardly care about anyone in the school, and hated to be here now has a different, generally more positive attitude.  We are seeing the caring and compassionate side of Ben.  He now goes out of his way to say hello to some of our wheelchair-bound students.  He wants to help other students whom he feels may have circumstances more challenging than his own.  He has a group of friends that he eats lunch with every day and hangs out with outside of school.  He has a girlfriend and is even talking about attending the Homecoming Dance!!

What is the difference?  How is this change from such a negative and angry young man to someone who is caring, compassionate, and helpful possible?  I believe it is because of the positive, nurturing classroom environment that my staff and I strive to provide.  The entirety of my time is spent “seeking first to understand”, as Covey put it, why Ben is upset and then working with him to help him through his difficult, most challenging moments.  When he does have a difficult day, or a difficult period of time in a day, my team does not hold a grudge.  We allow him to have a clean slate the next day.  We stay consistent in our expectations of him and provide boundaries for him, while being flexible when we need to be.  We seek out opportunities for him to be a leader and to build his self-esteem.

I know there will be challenging days throughout the school year, every student has them, but I am confident with the team we have at Bettendorf High School and the positive environment we are providing, we will be able to help Ben further grow and mature into a wonderful young man!!