Lead the Way

I think student empowerment begins with teacher empowerment. It is up to mentors, teachers, and parents to expose children to the transformational power of online communities. As Derek Muller explains in his new clip called Learned Helplessness, school has become something kids have to endure and therefore kids develop a learned helplessness around learning. Many students do not see learning and achieving their passions as something that they can do for themselves. Watch the clip below:

I’ve always been energized by collaborating on projects and working off each others’ ideas to create better ones. However, all of my experience until now has been face to face. Global collaboration is new to me and I’m wondering How’d I not think of this before?!

There are several projects and professional learning happening this year at my school that has shown teachers the power of connecting to a greater community using the web:

  • Our 1st and 4th graders participated in the If You Learned Here global collaborative project. It was an exciting experience connecting and contributing to a project housed in the cloud between participants. Our students enjoyed sharing about their school, as well as learning about other schools around the world. Recently the 1st and 4th graders met up to peruse the collaborative ebook that served as the project’s final product, and the prideful buzz in the room was contagious.
  • Our 4th graders are in the middle of a project called Together in the GCC and it has led to making connections with teachers and students from Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Oman. The kids eagerly gather research each week in preparation to create videos and share their finding with the GCC community. Equally enthusiastic are the teachers, who collaborate each week to share ideas and tips. When first starting the project, I found participants through Twitter, as well as emailing schools and asking that they forward the project description to their 4th grade teachers. We began communicating via email and Google Hangouts, but now easily converse about the project using Google Chat. We have formed a powerful partnership and hope to continue the project and make it better each year.
  • I recently helped plan a unit with Jodee Junge for her 3rd grade class to learn about human migration. We will use Flipgrid to gather migration stories from teachers, parents, and Jodee’s and my PLN. By hearing of others’ migration experiences, we think it will evoke empathy within her students and enable them to better internalize the concepts and causes behind migration.
  • This year I have taken on the roll of New Faculty Coordinator and am utilizing my new skills and ideas for online collaboration. I am using Google Classroom to facilitate discussion, share tutorials, and even create assignments such as Make a Twitter account, connect with each other,  and follow your new school.  I shared Jeff’s Twitter tutorial, as well as a clip of him talking about how the internet is a mass of communities.  I also shared the recent Where There’s Smoke Podcast about Communities that included Jeff as the guest speaker. It gave many of the teachers, most of whom are beginning their first international teaching post, a sense of calm in knowing that the pulse of the community is not where it was created, but in the hearts of the members and that the community can still flourish even if it is apart. I also surveyed the teachers to get an idea of their experience with the Google Education Tools, which you can’t live without at our school. Knowing what they need, I have been creating and sharing short screencasts showing them how to effectively use Gmail, Calendars, and Drive. The best part was that a few of the teachers responded with other tricks and tips and agreed to create a screencast of their own. Little by little, these new teachers have ‘friended’ me on facebook and are sending me emails and opening up with their fears, anticipation, and excitement. I am getting lots of great feedback and am confident that we are creating strong, supportive bonds without ever having met.
Photo Courtesy of Mike via Flickr
Photo Courtesy of Mike via Flickr

These projects and learning experiences have opened me and many others at my school, to new ways of creating student centered approaches to learning. It is important to show teachers and students the possibilities of connecting to other learners around the world. Once we allow our learners to be back in the ‘driver’s seat’ of their learning process and goals, we can leave Learned Helplessness behind.




Photo Credit: Amy L. Riddle via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Amy L. Riddle via Compfight cc

I’ve learned that collaboration is a key component in a 21st century school. Collaboration within a school between all stakeholders is essential, however these partnerships are only the tip of the iceberg. Real learning and motivational power can be created by globally collaborating with learners seeking the same content.

Collaboration locally or across countries creates a ‘positive interdependence‘ that I first learned about at a training for Kagan Cooperative Learning. As I am assisting 4 classrooms with the participation in a global collaboration project, called If You Learned Here, I am realizing that this is the perfect positive interdependence situation.  Positive interdependence only works well when it’s alongside personal accountability. It is important that individuals take part in the learning first with the understanding that what they learn and create is needed by his or her learning network. Our students are very motivated to provide examples from their school lives so that others may learn about where they live and work.

Feeling motivated by the outcome of the If You Learned Here project, I had the idea to revamp the 4th grade (very dull!) Gulf Cooperation Council social studies unit into a regionally cooperative project. I contacted a fellow CoETaILer teaching at ISG Jubail, Alexis Snider, to see if her 4th grade team would like to learn with us. Following many of the successful components used in the If You Learned Here project, the Together in the GCC project was started.

Right on time, Kim’s Step-by-Step Guide to Global Collaborations was posted to provide detailed reminders that I might have overlooked due to the excited frenzy of a good idea. I am having a great time planning this unit (no, really!), but because it is a bit late in the year, so many schools and teachers are already committed to their schools current mapped out units. Our plan B, is to go ahead with the project, with or without classrooms from all Gulf countries, and have students from participating classes take on the roles and provide research for the missing countries. On the bright side, it will be invaluable to have a trial run before including hundreds of students when we start recruiting at the beginning of next year.

Speaking of collaboration, another KEY to the success of a global (or regional) project, is access to other educators via Twitter. Using hashtags to notify likeminded people, like #edtech or #coetail helps to reach out to a large audience in order to find participants.

Me watching as my Twitter post directed anonymous gophers, ligers, and ducks to my project overview.
Me watching as my Twitter post directed anonymous gophers, ligers, and ducks to my project overview.

My face says it all here. My eyes (or the door, if you want to go with the original key metaphor) have been opened to the educational possibilities that collaboration tools like Twitter, Google, Flipgrid, Padlet, and MANY more are providing us. A very cool realization.



Agree to Disagree. For now.

It looked much more blue in person, I swear!

On a walk with my husband, I pointed out how odd it was to have a light blue car.

“What?! That car is clearly white, Randi.”

“Noooo, that one is white. This one is light blue.”

We stopped to take pictures of each car to further examine this difference of opinion in “better” lighting at home.

The very white car, for comparisons sake.


the dress

This timely debate ironically occurred during the Great Dress Debatewhich I had read about that morning on Glennon’s Momastry Blog. She calls this dress The BEST peacemaking tool she’s seen in a while. As interesting as the science is around why the dress is seen differently, the part of this debate (as Glennon mentions) that stands out, is the need to adjust our communication skills to allow for a space in the middle where we can give value to another point of view, but disagree politely.

Because the job of a technology integrationist heavily relies on the relationships you build with teachers, I give special attention to these types of lessons.

I recently had a conversation with a colleague who is frustrated by many of the new technologies I have suggested for use in his history class. After reading a post by Ann Durham, Adjust or Go Home, I was inspired to point out that he has an international fearlessness that he doesn’t apply to his technology use.  He argued that he is not a ‘bandwagon’ kind of guy and that the tools I am showing him will be “in and back out” in a flash. While I admit that the education system on the whole does cycle through way too many bandaid approaches, the use of technology to access, share, and create resources beyond the walls of school is here to stay. But… sensing his increased frustration, I instead listened and accepted his point of view (while politely disagreeing).

I believe that if we teachers don’t begin to update our teaching methods to provide a 21st century pedagogy, we will be outdated, irrelevant, and out of a job in the near future. Although this is my belief, I know that many people need to see and experience the value of these changes before they go through the trouble of learning them. Doing old things in new ways with a tech tool here and there, does not show the real value of technology to a teacher. But then, how can I make a believer out of one who won’t try?

This question, reminded me of a conversation with John Burns, Director of Innovation at Shekou International School. He advised me to start with the early adopters, the ‘LEADers’ of the group and showcase their work and accomplishments in order to bring the ‘wood be doing’ folks on board.

So, although I hate to skirt a good debate, after reading and reflecting this week, the path is clear. My best method for teachers who are not yet convinced that technology (used in the right way!) would add value to their classroom practices, is to showcase the results of the teachers in our school who already have an Innovator’s Mindset. At this point in our school, there is still room to politely disagree about using tools to flatten walls and globally connect – but that is changing.

Our minds are built to make sense of the world using our surroundings. Just like our minds interpreted the dress color differently, those of us who have been teaching a long time with ‘tried and true’ practices are still interpreting our classroom and students’ results as a success. But what they don’t see is that even though students passed their memorization and paper/pencil tests, they will enter higher education or the workforce at a disadvantage because they are without 21st Century Solution Fluencies.





Death by Comparisons

Comparisons are crippling and recently I have been in a few situations where either myself or another person was completely ignorant of the truth because the information gained from comparisons wasn’t accurate.

I have several friends who have decided to close their Facebook accounts because the constant stream of highlights from other peoples’ lives makes them feel inadequate. An article featured on Fast Company, “Want to be happier? Stop Comparing Yourself to What You See on Social Media,” makes the point that a different perspective is needed when viewing the success of others compared to your journey. You can set goals by “realize[ing] that the comparison is not about the person, but a tool to tell you what you want in life” and letting it be an inspiration.

For me professionally, I think this is great advice. When reading through other CoETaIL-ers blogs, instead of thinking what their doing that I’m not, I need to look at them as my community of colleagues who are little by little teaching me how to be a 21st century educator. Including myself as one of the ‘nodes’ in this community also means that I too have, and must, make contributions.

These hesitations of mine make me wonder if my students last year felt the same way when blogging and sharing our thoughts with other classrooms. At the time I felt that the pressure to present their best writing to ‘strangers’ created much needed accountability, however maybe I should have taken the time to dig a bit deeper into how they felt about the transparency of their thoughts. As I create and align the digital citizen course work this year, I am going to keep in mind the lessons around community and the reasons for blogging. If we can teach our youngest contributors that being a part of a digital network is about collaborating, learning and sharing with the community – maybe they won’t be as fearful to proudly write about the journey, no matter how far along, because there are lessons others could learn.


A downside noted in the resource Social Networking and Peer Relationships is that the “use of social networking sites has been reported as leading to lower psychological well-being for some girls (Devine, & Lloyd, 2012).” Also noted is that “kids may compare themselves unfavorably to others when reviewing online profiles; (online profilers have been found to overly represent positive and under-represent negative aspects of their lives) (Qiu, Lin, Leung, & Tov, 2012).” These warnings emphasize the need to teach about social media, digital footprints, and network communities in school.

When researching tips to revise my digital citizenship units, in answer to the cautions above, I came across a post on Getting Smart. Amos Goldie listed these among his top 5 tips to Protecting Your Digital Footprint:

  • Periodically check whether the ONLINE “you” matches the REAL WORLD “you.” Like checking our real world appearance in the mirror every once in a while, it’s important to know how other people see and judge the online “you.” One of our assignments directs students to post “What three words come to mind when you see my online profile?” and then analyze the responses they collect. Often, students are surprised by the image they are putting out there. Be mindful of how you represent yourself.
  • Never compare your REAL life to other peoples so-called “perfect” ONLINE lives. We all put our best foot forward online – it’s human nature, and it’s called “curating” your identity. Unfortunately, when sensitive teenagers find their life doesn’t measure up to their peer’s shiny, happy “curated” lives, they can suffer social media-induced loneliness and depression. Don’t envy others’ seeming happiness – it’s often a mirage.

Most people consider their devices and social media for only social purposes, when surprisingly there is so much more to be gained by using them. Vicki Davis, in her post A Guidebook for Social Media in the Classroom, gives a tough love message about the necessity of teaching social media best practices to keep your students from damaging their digital footprints and reputations.

Between my own mixed emotions about sharing and learning, as well as the many resources I have read, I have come across an important element that I missed when previously teaching digital citizenship to my students. I focused so much on the positives of being a part of an online learning community, that I overlooked the emotional implications of that membership. It’s an important lesson in community and collaboration where some (myself included!) might have to adjust their ‘perspectacles‘ in order to consider themselves part of the learning community, flaws and all.