Let’s Talk About Engagement


I am excited this week to be co-authoring a post with my friend and partner in all things EdTech Melissa Wilson. Melissa is an English teacher and Instructional Technology Coordinator at Neuqua Valley High School. We will be cross-posting this story on her blog “#Whatsup Wildcats”. If you’ve never had a chance to explore Melissa’s blog I highly recommend that you change that today. Melissa provides some incredible insights about teaching and learning that happens every day at Neuqua.

We are in our second year of 1 to 1 with Chromebooks, and we have been amazed by the incredible engagement we’ve witnessed as teachers have enhanced and transformed their instructional practices. Our classrooms are full of students engaged in a variety of activities enhanced with a variety of digital resources. Teachers are facilitating and our students are collaborating, communicating, creating, and thinking critically on a daily basis.

We’ve enjoyed visiting classrooms and observing, but we needed something more. We wanted to encourage teachers to come together and share how they are engaging students.

We believe that one of the most rewarding professional development activities is when teachers find time to talk to each other. Powerful things can happen when educators from different departments have time to sit and talk to each other about teaching and learning.
With this in mind, our first CAFE Connect was born with these two questions to guide us:
  • How has student engagement evolved in your classroom this year? 
  • What digital resources or strategies are making the difference for your students?
We shared these two guiding questions, scheduled the days we would be in the faculty cafeteria, and created a list of resources we’ve seen teachers using this year. No formal presentations, just teachers talking to teachers.

Melissa and I enjoyed two days of questions, classroom stories, and educators exploring resources to support engagement. Together, we reflected on this collaborative experience:
  • Teachers are excited to have a chance to share how and why they’ve used certain tools to support engagement. 
  • It isn’t just about the technology. Some of the best discussions centered on facilitating shifts in and out of the technology on the fly. Face to face collaboration and communication still matter! 
  • Simple strategies like adding a Pear Deck slide at the beginning of a lesson to ask for questions/reactions to homework has made a big difference for student advocacy. Pear Deck has become a powerful tool for engagement and classrooms are using it in a variety of creative ways. We even have some teachers using Pear Deck as a type of backchannel for questions during student-centered activities. 
  • Students are utilizing similar engagement resources throughout the day, so they are becoming more familiar and confident. 
  • Many teachers are utilizing or plan to utilize Flipgrid to amplify student voice. It is a quick, easy way to ask ALL student to take ownership of their learning and verbally share out with the class.
  • Variety was a common word both days. We had some great discussions about how often you should use one tool. Does engagement fade if it is used too much? We did not reach a solid conclusion, but most agree that have a few different engagement tools is essential. 
  • Another great discussion topic was how one tool can be used in a variety of creative ways. For example, Google Autodraw can be a tool for reflection, a resource to introduce a new topic or part of the learning process. Students are using Autodraw for sketchnotes, memes, vocabulary graphics, infographics, and more. 
  • It has never been easier to document student work in various ways: images, videos, writing, and so forth. Resources like Screencastify, Padlet, Flipgrid, Peardeck, and Adobe Spark make this possible, while Google Classroom provides a seamless platform for submitting evidence of learning. 
  • The Share to Classroom extension can be used to promote student advocacy. Students can share their screen/work with the teacher, and the teacher can then digitally answer questions and support the students. 

The best part of the day....connecting and laughing with our colleagues. What a great way to end the week. Thankful to work at such an awesome place. #whatsup


Building an Instructional Coach Mindset

What are your must-have ingredients in a recipe for learning? Is it just about the technology and the content or is there something more?

Here today, gone tomorrow? This can be EdTech as many of us know it today. This can be good when we are able to move onto something better or it can be devastating when we've invested so much time into learning a tool does what we need it to do. This is why we believe that sound teaching pedagogy will always trump the power of any technology tool when we create a recipe for learning.

The best teaching and learning recipes start with ingredients connected to strong pedagogy concepts before adding in the technology ingredients.

Today, we try to always start supporting educators and students by asking "why" questions. Sometimes, when we don't know why we are doing something, we always have to ask why are we still doing it? Maybe we need to look at changing the recipe, before moving forward? Without a reason why we need technology, we rarely see technology have a solid impact on improving the teaching and learning experience.

It is important for any educator or group of educators to first explore how they might approach the instructional goals before adding technology to the plan. Once we have a pedagogical plan, we are ready to find the right technology that we can add to our teaching and learning recipe.

These two resources are great places to start exploring how we can create great learning experiences.

We also always try to emphasize that the best EdTech does not have the power to make a bad lesson great. EdTech can even make a good lesson worse. A strong teaching and learning plan must always come first or the power of instructional technology is to often wasted time.
I hate wasting time!

Here are a few of the resources that might help EdTech and Instructional Coaches build their recipe cards to best support teachers and students.
Here are a few additional resources that can support an Instructional Coaching Mindset.
What courses/concepts/skills/resources do you think are essential for an Instructional Coach's Mindset?

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