Thursday, September 20, 2018

Educating in the Moment of Urgency

Lately I've been thinking about the impact urgency has on the educational process. There are times curve balls are thrown at our otherwise normal day and we have to adjust to move forward or to help others move forward. It seems there are three big categories that cause a sense of urgency to come out:

  • When things fail. Whether it be the wifi going down, a lesson plan flopping, or a student dealing with a broken relationship. Failure often brings on an immediate need to educate differently. 
  • When things need a quick response. Sometimes it is a deadline, sometimes it is a waiting student or boss, other times it is understanding of a potential issue that needs resolved before it becomes a failure. 
  • When people procrastinate. We want the quote "Lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part" to be true but honestly it just isn't. Part of life in the world of education is dealing with the crisis of procrastination.
This year as I have worked to aid our teachers in implementing the Canvas LMS I am realizing that much of what I do happens because of a sense of urgency. This sense of urgency changes who I am as an educator. When I have time to sit and develop a process or idea, there is more substance and value to what I create or think up. When I am constantly feeling the need to put out fires, I never feel truly in control of myself or the path of my day. Truthfully, it is the nature of the beast right now but I've had this huge realization of how it impacts educating our students. 

When things don't go as planned, the teacher has to kick a field goal when they were really hoping for that touchdown. While it is still possible to win a game with field goals, the task is harder because you are still going through all the same motions but making less points at the end of the possession. (Forgive the football analogy but it is football season and I am a fan). A field goal feels like a letdown to the coach much like a change in lesson plan feels to a teacher. 

There are times we are not in control of the urgency in our classrooms or school systems, we feel reactionary at best. No one wants to remain in that sense of internal conflict but how we respond to urgencies impacts the culture for those we come in contact with as well. If I moan and complain because I don't like something, I'm influencing others to feel the same. If I'm constantly pushing back and refusing to make a quick response, the stalemate can cause a snowball of repercussions. When I am just not preparing enough for a situation I am forcing others to succumb to my frazzle. 

None of us wants to have to make decisions that are not well thought out and that is what urgency can lead to. Finding ways to minimize urgency in education is the ultimate goal but to also set concrete goals when finding ourselves in that frenzy is helpful as well. Here are 3 things that help me when I am in a situation that I did not sign up for but can't be ignored:

  • Enjoy the punt. There is beauty in the kick. Something didn't go as planned? It was a big giant flop for the day? I give it 10 minutes and if I can't fix it in that time, I go to plan B...whatever plan B might be. But always remember there is value in your plan B as well, plan B's can win games. Don't get so caught up in what didn't work that you miss out on what does work. Always strive to fail forward. 
  • Weigh the outcomes. When I was growing up, my mother had these decorative brass scales that sat in our living room (the room for company) and no one was allowed to touch them. When I need to make a quick decision I think of those scales. Against my mother's wishes I mentally start placing the pros and cons in the appropriate side of the scale and I weigh the consequences of my decision. I know there will be things I didn't consider but sometimes I just need to know I have done my best at discernment and I make a decision after thoughtfully weighing the choices. 
  • Be the hero. Procrastination of others that impacts you can be frustrating because there is a face associated with the issue- someone we can blame. I've often found that procrastinators live in a constant level of panic that I can't even fathom. If you want to feel like you are a super hero, help a procrastinator in the midst of procrastination. Most the time they realize their lack of planning doesn't have to be fixed by you so they are very appreciative of your willingness to drop things to help them. 
After a few weeks of being in my new position, I can tell you that there is a lot of satisfaction in helping others in the midst of educational urgency. I can also tell you that I want to do everything in my power to get people out of that kind of culture or reactivity. I believe we are better educators when we find our balance between urgency and getting stalled in overthinking. We all fall somewhere along the spectrum and learning how to move one direction or the other and discerning how best to react in situations benefits not only us as educators but our students as well. Educating in the moment of urgency has ripple effects that can cause lasting impact. 

Monday, September 10, 2018

Why an LMS? Why Canvas?

During the last school year our school announced that our upper school teachers would be required to use the learning management system (LMS) named Canvas in 3 significant ways forward:

  1. All objective assessments would be delivered through the Canvas LMS
  2. All students have the option to turn in papers digitally
  3. All grades would be done through the Canvas grade book
With any change comes push back and fear. For us, all stakeholders have had to learn a new system- teachers, administrators, students and parents. Below are the benefits each group of our stakeholders can experience from using Canvas:

Benefits to Administrators: 

  • Analytics- By creating expectations for students to take assessments using Canvas, we also have the ability to start to see patterns of each student's learning and possible gaps in mastery of concepts. While we are not a full fledged competency-based school in the way we teach, we now have a place where administrators can quickly have access to class averages on assignments and even dig deeper to see individual student results. 
  • Compliance- In some ways using Canvas diminishes the silo effect that education can sometimes cause. When administrators can only get into a classroom for a few observations a year, Canvas allows admin to take a quick glance at assignments and quizzes to make sure all teachers are compliant to the goals and expectations put upon them for their curriculum.
  • Scalability- We are in a school system where we have multiple educators teaching the same course to grade levels. By having those educators work together to create their Canvas-based curriculum it takes workload levels off everyone and allows systems to be in place regardless of the size of classes. Blended learning works well with Canvas. In our middle school math program we have been able to effectively increase class size by using this platform for students to navigate their daily needs. 
  • Accountability- The realtime aspect of Canvas allows administrators to immediately see if lesson plans are both accurate and up to date for students with just a click of the mouse. 

Benefits to Teachers:

  • Mobility and Accessibility- Students now have the ability to access their assignments easily as long as they have access to the internet. Being a 1:1 school with 100% at home connectivity (one of the upsides to living in Chattanooga, TN- home of the fastest internet in the country), this means our students now can access things without the excuses of "the dog ate my homework, I lost it, or I didn't know I had homework." 
  • Deliver Content Instantly- Teachers now have the ability to deliver information to students instantly. Perhaps a classroom discussion spurs a teacher to remember an article they want to share. Utilizing an LMS allows the teacher to quickly upload it to the course for immediate and future reference. 
  • Personalization- Canvas allows educators to assign things to individual students, give individual students multiple attempts to take a quiz, share different resources with different student groups, all without other students knowing that differentiation is taking place. This allows some students with IEPs to feel less self aware of their learning issues because others aren't aware that any accommodations are taking place. Have a student that can breeze through the curriculum? With mastery paths being utilized within Canvas, teachers can meet those needs by creating deeper learning or allowing those students to go further with their learning.   
  • Multimedia Learning- The use of Canvas allows teachers to share videos, audio recordings, as well as continue robust face to face engagement with students that might be graded outside of a computer-based assessment. Sometimes students may not grasp a concept during a lecture but a teacher can upload a video of themselves or someone else teaching the concept and students can stop and start the video to make sure they have the concepts before moving on. 

Benefits to Parents:

  • Transparent view- Parents have the ability to see exactly what their students are seeing by pairing with them. They can view the courses, the calendar due dates, and grades all from one location. In a world of constant connectivity, parents have the ability to know 100% what the expectations are for their child's classes because it is all listed in their Canvas courses. Nothing can be placed in a grade book without first being added as an assignment in Canvas.
  • Click thru to assignments- Parents have the ability to see a grade or a "missing" label and then click directly through to the assignment to see the details. They can see everything their student can see, they just can't complete the assignment with their parent account. 
  • Parent portal for accountability- Parents can set up to receive notifications regarding their child's account. If they choose to use the Canvas Parent App, they can have the app push them information straight to their phone about course grade levels, missing assignments, when a grade is above or below a threshold they deem important to know, and any announcements about a course. If they use the web browser access, they can set themselves up to receive emails for the same types of information in order to hold their children accountable in their learning process.

Benefits to Students:
  • Single sign-on- One of the things we wanted to streamline for our students is giving the ability to go to one place and have fewer log-ins and passwords to remember for their educational process. Canvas allows our students to use their Google accounts for single sign-on capabilities. There are no longer multiple platforms and passwords to remember because all information and access goes through Canvas for our students. 
  • Consistency- Students now know they can go to Canvas and click on "calendar" to see all the things due on any upcoming date that has already been assigned for any class they are taking. Students know that their "Upcoming" section represents a week glance. Students know that their "to do" list means things that they need to get done. Students now have one platform to go to see information shared by their teachers. While each class may look differently, based on how the teacher set their own courses up, the student experience remains significantly the same for access and turning in assignments. Now students aren't sharing a document  via Google Drive in one class but uploading to an LMS in another. Their experience and the expectations feel more the same from class to class. 
  • Collaboration- Canvas allows for discussion boards and it connects with the school Google suites account for all students. This allows students to work together on a Google doc or slideshow, for instance by adding information or comments. Students also have the ability to participate in "peer grading" through the Canvas LMS platform. 
  • Communication- Knowing that a teacher is communicating through one platform helps students to realize the importance of checking for communication more often. Canvas allows the students to expect all communication in one localized place- the place where they also see their assignments, turn in their assignments, and take assignments. 
  • Immediate Content-  Canvas allows students to place their virtual hands on content quickly and efficiently based on teacher sharing. Students no longer have to go back to their locker to get a handout or call a friend because they lost the details of the homework assignment. Students can immediately access the content of their courses as long as they have access to the internet. 
With any digital plan, there are sometimes bandwidth issues, accessibility of device issues, quirks, and a learning curve for all users. It's not all benefits but as we are now a month into the school year, the benefits of this endeavor seem to quickly outweigh the detriments for our students.