Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Best Practices for New Teacher Onboarding




It’s that time of year: The time when we welcome brand new teachers into our schools, districts, and learning organizations. As experienced educators, we know how challenging the first year can be. That’s why it’s critical to have a FANTASTIC program for new teachers in place. The investment is well worth it.

When it comes to designing an effective teacher onboarding program, it’s imperative to be intentional and iterative. Learning engagement is critical to long-term memory, fast recall, and the transfer of information across contexts.

Here are a few qualities that are “must haves” in your teacher onboarding process this month:

Start with the WHY

  • Adults need to understand how what they’re learning fits into the bigger picture. Beginning here gives adults a mental schema for all the new learning that follows.

Give lots of feedback

  • Constant feedback is a must. Whether it’s manifest through observations, lesson plan reviews, or regular reflections, ensure that new teachers have a constant awareness of how they’re doing at your school or district.

Use humor

  • There’s no reason why learning can’t be fun and entertaining. We want people to be PUMPED to come to work every day, and a little bit of humor never hurts. Even the Washington Post agrees that cat memes are the universal language.

Keep it social

  • Research shows that social learning is much more effective for adults. Quick-talks from various leaders in the organization, rapid-fire share sessions, and ongoing discussions help people to feel involved in the learning.

Create healthy mentorships intentionally across the organization

  • When people join a new organization, the number of relationships they build in the first few weeks is critical to their long-term success. The onboarding process should help people to find allies across the organization to support them. This should include other teachers of course, but it should also include others. Ensure that every new teacher feels comfortable with all different types of members in the community.

Be transparent about the impact of the onboarding process on future productivity

  • High performing educators need to know that their investment in training will pay off. How does performance in the onboarding process affect overall success? Share the data with people early and often.

What are you doing to rachet up the new teacher onboarding process at your school this year?
Let me know in the comments!

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The Evolution of an Edcamper

The Evolution of an Edcamper

Edcampers are amazing people. There are thousands of Edcampers across the globe taking back their professional development.

Where are YOU on your journey?

Phase 1 - Newbie/Egg
You've never been to an Edcamp, but you're interested. You've checked the Edcamp calendar.

Phase 2 - First Timer/Chickie
You have attended one Edcamp. Maybe you even added a session to the board. You're on your way!

Phase 3 - Organizer/Chick
You have organized an Edcamp, led an Edcamp session, or become a regular attendee.

Phase 4- Bringing It to Your District/Chicken
You have brought Edcamps and the Edcamp ethos to your district or school.

Phase 5 - Codify/Chicken Wing
You are iterating on the model and empower educators around you in all sorts of ways! Yay!

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

3 Things to STOP Doing Before School Starts

40+251 Done-ish by bark, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License   by  bark 

This post might seem a little counterintuitive. As the school year approaches, most people are making lists of the countless items that they MUST DO before students enter our doors.

Honestly, I have those lists too.  However, I also want to be intentional about all the things I'm NOT DOING this year. Otherwise, I'll never be able to make time for the things I really care about.

Time, resources, and attention aren't limitless. 
We all know this, but it's nearly impossible to practice.

So, here goes. Here are the three things I'm NOT DOING this year:

1) I AM NOT WORRYING.
It's really easy to worry about all of the new things that will roll out over the course of the school year. However, such worry is counterproductive and doesn't actually DO anything. I'm going to view all my new projects as "experiments with hypotheses". I'll either validate or reject each hypothesis. Doing the experiment with integrity is the value of my work, not the outcome. I'm hopeful that being intentional about this will allow me to innovate without fear!

2) I AM NOT OVERPLANNING.
Every year, I begin with dozens and dozens of plans. This year, I'm going to use the SCRUM method again. I'm going to set my critical goals, but I'll only plan 2 weeks out. This allows me to better adjust to changing circumstances and keeps me from doing pointless work just because "it's on the plan." Remaining flexible has made me a much better collaborative partner for my team members.

3) I AM NOT VOXING.
I know, I know. Many of you out there love Voxer. But, it's not working for me. It's become a huge time suck and I can't keep up with it. I'm all about new social media- but this one's just not for me. If you need me, send me a text. 

What will you STOP DOING to make space for new ideas this year?

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

The Magic Ingredient for Professional Learning



Good professional learning matters. A lot.

Exposure to effective, empowered adult learning experiences is a powerful prerequisite when it comes to the creation of positive, relevant learning designs for kids.

However, changing the "look and feel" of professional learning in your region or district can be daunting. What if people don't like it? What if they don't get it? It's easy to be plagued with anxiety, and it's even easier to abandon more innovative designs in favor of more traditional ones.

However, there's a magical ingredient that can make any innovative PD session less scary: POSITIVE PEOPLE.

You know the type...

  • The ones who will be able to make connections between the learning and their personal experience
  • The ones who will take risks and try new things
  • The ones who will laugh in the process
  • The ones who can handle unexpected roadblocks or challenges
  • The ones who know that learning really matters because it helps kids
If you're a school leader, you need to find your POSITIVE PEOPLE. And, here's the most important part - PUT THEM IN CHARGE.

If there's an opportunity for input or informal leadership, give it to them.
If there's a chance to represent the district at a conference or event, send them.
If there's free time at a faculty meeting, let them use it.

When it comes to teaching and learning, a positive outlook not only affects our ability to process information but it also increases the likelihood of innovation.

Don't get me wrong; domain expertise is important. But, when it comes to spreading change, people need positive coaches, not "know it alls."

And besides, in today's information-rich world, it's easy to come up to speed on domain expertise. Plus, positive people tend to dig in and acquire new expertise really quickly. It's in their blood.

So, if you're putting together your plans for next year, don't forget the magic ingredient: POSITIVE PEOPLE.

PS- "Edcamper" is a shorthand term for a positive person. Just sayin....

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Pro Tip: What to Do When Organic Learning Makes People Uncomfortable #Edcamp

Edcamp Abu Dhabi by kjarrett, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License   by  kjarrett 

Edcamp leaders across the country often grapple with the tension between participant-driven behavior and a clearly organized day. Especially if it's your first time organizing an Edcamp, you likely recognize this delicate dance.

We want things to go smoothly. We want people to have a great day of learning.

We CERTAINLY DON'T want people to point fingers or ridicule us for a day of learning that completely falls apart.

RIGHT?!?!?!? RIGHT? (Yea, the voices in our head can be really tough sometimes.)

BUT, if we truly embrace organic learning, then we must recognize that it's messy. And bumpy.

By allowing everyone to collaborate and work together, we also have to allow for a bit of wiggle room. Things can run smoothly, but it's never clockwork when everyone truly has a voice. This does not mean that the day was a failure or the organizers were incompetent. It means that everyone truly allowed the needs of the room to guide the learning.

If you're facing this right now, here are 3 tips to help you have a great day:

1) Manage everyone's expectations.
It's not uncommon for Edcamps to have many newbies in attendance. At the start of the day, clearly explain that it's normal for some downtime and that a series of conversations which "sputter out" is completely normal.

2) Don't overplan.
Sometimes Edcamp organizers plan every last detail, only to later realize that this level of overplanning actually disempowers the participants. You are only there to create the conditions for learning. Participants create the learning themselves.

3) Remind people - "The only person to blame for a bad day at Edcamp... is YOURSELF."
At an Edcamp, each participant is in full control of their learning. If something isn't working, they should move and find something that IS working. By constantly reminding people that they too are responsible for making the day awesome, you'll get a lot farther.

Edcamps aren't perfect. And I think I'd like to keep it that way.


Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The Power of Human Capital - Our Most Valuable Resource

Batumi by vampa_, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License   by  vampa_ 

Human capital is the most valuable resource in our schools.

Need proof?

We spend about 80% of our school budgets on salaries and benefits for our human capital. All things considered, that's a lot of money.

And although we invest more money in our people than any other resource, there are many ways we can retain and develop that asset. Often, the things that have the greatest impact on our human capital don't cost money.

To use the famous words of Daniel Pink, we're mostly motivated by mastery, autonomy, and purpose. Put more simply, mission matters.

If we can help people further their personal missions at work, then they're more likely to be satisfied. Need particulars? Consider these strategies:


  • Have people share their areas of expertise with each other. Google calls this "Googler to Googler." I call it Edcamp.
  • Share testimonials from students. A lot. This helps people see their impact.
  • Create policies that assume positive intent. This is a biggie, and it often runs counter to our intuitions about compliance.
What steps can you, as a leader, take to make educators more satisfied in your system? I'd love to hear your ideas and thoughts below!

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Friendships & Peer Acceptance - 2 Different Sides of the Coin


At my research organization, we have a growing new tradition: Master Classes.

These classes allow people to share their expertise openly with everyone else. The process is relatively informal, conversational, and activity-based.

(Yea, it's basically an internal Edcamp Express for my organization each week.)

This past week, Kate Parkinson shared her expertise on friendships and friendship quality. She studied this extensively for her master's thesis.

Her results echoed many of the existing trends in the research, but one finding really stuck with me.

Kate found that:
"Educational interventions can help people gain peer acceptance (being well-liked), but they are much less effective at helping people actually acquire friends."

So, teaching kids to "share" and "take turns" can help them be better liked by the group. But making friends is a largely individualistic process that is more resistant to our intentional lessons. This finding gave me pause and made me realize that, as educators, we have a responsibility to not only teach kids how to "get along" but we also need to model true friendship.

And, although this can't be taught with simple lessons, I believe it can be learned over time. Perhaps we can provide models ourselves, provide models through literature, and help kids see model friends among their peers.

Just thinking out loud here......

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