In this edition of the Roundtable, I joined Darren Spyskma, Brenda Ball, and Tom Williams to discuss changing assessment practices, the power of professional learning networks, recent wins for our learning communities, and self-care strategies. This is our conversation.
Questions That Guided Our Discussion
1:30 – Who are you, and what is your current context in education?
3:30 – What are your thoughts on assessment practices in K-12 education today? What, in your view, needs to change?
13:06 – Despite the challenges of education in a pandemic, what is one win for learning that you are seeing right now?
21:13 – Why is it more important than ever to be a connected educator?
32:08 – How are you finding self-care during times of stress and uncertainty?
As of this post, I’m still appearing weekly on YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter at 8:00 a.m. Pacific Time/11:00 a.m. Eastern Time. I’d love to see you join us and would be happy to feature your questions and comments on the show!
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CHANEL JOHNSON is a STEMinist, ASCD Emerging Leader, published author, K-12 Math and Science Program Specialist, instructional tech coach, and keynote presenter based in Atlanta, Georgia.
Pushing Back on Imposter Syndrome
Chanel was only 30 years old when she was hired as an instructional coach, and her age allowed feelings of imposter syndrome to creep in. It was her job to support educators across multiple campuses, and soon she could hear the doubts: why am I here? Do I really belong here?
One day, her supervisor put it to her directly: “If you didn’t belong here, you wouldn’t be here. You have to trust the knowledge that you have and believe that who you are is what brought you this far.” Chanel says she continues to remind herself of that helpful message whenever doubts and fears about her value start to reappear.
Chanel’s #GirlDad: A STEM Legacy
Chanel credits a lot of her love for STEM to her dad, an amazing father who enjoyed showing his daughter how science and STEM affected the world around them. He was a fan of sci-fi movies as well, an affection that Chanel shares today.
Chanel started her education journey with math and science programs, and she’s never looked back. STEM studies continue to thrill her because it’s a field that’s constantly changing, and it’s open to absolutely everyone.
Chanel’s brand is built around ‘STEMtastic‘ because she sees connections between STEM and everything she does, and she’s passionate about sending the message to underrepresented communities (including Black and Latina women) that they belong in STEM work. She’s quick to point out that there’s a lot more work to be done in this area.
Chanel is an ambassador for Flipgrid and she is always happy to boost this powerful platform. It amplifies some of the quietest voices in our classrooms, and it connects educators around the world. “I can’t stop talking about it,” she laughs.
One of her recent applications with Flipgrid was Character Book Day, which allowed her to dress up as a character, read a book to a group of students, and then share that same video with other audiences. Chanel is also excited about the possibilities that Flipgrid’s AR features afford educators: find Flipgrid QR codes on papers or posters and watch linked videos appear directly on your screen. These are powerful opportunities for living representations of learning.
Chanel’s Professional Learning
“My passion will always be instruction,” Chanel says. Her core passion is learning about new approaches and strategies that support student learning and achievement. Her PLN, particularly on Twitter, has been a phenomenal source of inspiration and learning when it comes to best practices in science and computer science education.
Chanel recently completed a 2-day training for ISTE certification, and she is so grateful for the growth she experienced during that event. She spent a lot of time focusing on the ISTE standards from the perspective of students, and it helped her think through the ways that we frame learning targets and structure activities for students.
A Personal Passion: Singing
“Everything for me is about learning in some form or fashion,” Chanel says. One activity that she’s enjoyed recently is plugging into her local church choir. It’s been a joy to build her singing abilities and share those gifts with others, and it’s really increased her love of music.
Chanel credits her husband for sometimes pulling her plug and saying “Nope, let’s go.” Sometimes we need that guidance to take a break, especially if we have a strong drive for learning, growth, and productivity.
She also gains a lot of value from Microsoft’s To-Do app, which she uses to sync her task list across all devices. She loves the sound it makes when she completes another task, and she doesn’t hesitate to include “take a break” in her list as well.
Voices and Resources That Inspire Chanel’s Practice
Over on Twitter, Chanel recommends giving Christian Padgett @SoontobeEdD a follow. “He’s a young powerhouse in the education field – a master in Math instruction and instruction technology,” she says. Chanel also shouts out Dr. Natalie Henderson @DrNHenderson, someone she credits for teaching her to take care of herself and always explore her outer limits.
One education technology app that Chanel is excited about is called Legends of Learning, a free platform that gamifies math and science for young students. Follow Legends of Learning on Twitter @LegendLearning.
Chanel’s book suggestion is Switch by Chip and Dan Heath. This book provides valuable insights on the psychology of individual and organizational change.
When she’s just looking for a fresh take on the news or some juicy gossip, Chanel tunes in to The Breakfast Club podcast, but when she’s looking for something of more substance in the world of education, she listens to The Leading Equity podcast with host Sheldon Eakins. Follow Sheldon on Twitter @SheldonEakins.
Chanel doesn’t watch a ton of content on Netflix, but one show that she’s started to watch on the advice of friends is You. It’s got just the right amount of dark and intriguing to keep things interesting.
We wrap up this fun conversation and Chanel gives us the best ways to connect with her work. See below for details!
“I don’t care about Twitter, and I’ll never go on Twitter,” I heard an educator say last year.
I understand this position. From the outside, Twitter may just seem like more noise, more distraction, more nonsense that doesn’t really add anything to our lives or professional growth.
I’ll also be the first to agree that as busy professionals and leaders of families, we need to be intentional and discriminating with our time. Meaningless scrolling and shallow engagement doesn’t and shouldn’t make the cut.
But what IF Twitter can serve a valuable role in our professional growth and development? What IF Twitter can add to our lives without consuming much time?
Educators Are Learners First
In my view, the case for teachers on Twitter begins with the idea that educators are learners first. The principles of learning that we believe in for our students apply just as much to our learning and growth as they do to theirs. If we’re hungry to learn and grow, it’s wise to build an active Professional Learning Network and engage.
Twitter isn’t the only place to build a professional learning network. But it’s an awesome place to start.
The Learning Activities of a Twitter PLN
Just like our students, education professionals learn best when they learn together. The whole really is greater than the sum of its parts. When you have a question or you’re feeling stuck in a challenging situation, chances are your Twitter PLN will be able to offer suggestions and resources.
As David Guerin once wrote, “Whoever is doing the talking is doing the learning.” When we write, read, and respond to professional conversation, we’re more engaged. We’re tuned in. We can’t help but learn. And the inverse is also true.
We also learn when we take the time to thoughtfully reflect on our journey. By answering questions like What am I learning, Where am I going, and How will I get there, we gain awareness and greater intentionality about our own learning path. I treat Twitter as a journal, especially when I’m trying a new project or attending an education conference. You too can use Twitter to archive and preserve your own learning reflections for future reference.
4. Visible Learning.
When we make our learning visible, we benefit from feedback, and others learn from our stories. And we can make the learning of others visible, too. When asked why he uses Twitter, principal Chris Chappotin used the word “showcase.” Administrators are especially well-positioned to play this role in their buildings, since they can be in more classrooms and contexts than teachers.
Whether it’s a lesson idea, helpful resource, or a word of encouragement, my edu-Twitter feed is an overwhelmingly positive space. Think of it as constant connection with a cloud of education leaders and mentors. It’s phenomenal.
6. Professional Relationships.
When we engage in professional conversations, we meet others in similar fields and spaces. Twitter is a wonderful place to connect with education leaders and authors, too. It’s as easy as reaching out.
5 Ways to Increase Engagement on Twitter
I believe the number one reason that so many educators try Twitter and then ignore the platform is lack of engagement. Maybe it took them forever to work up the nerve to finally tweet something pithy or valuable, but it’s only crickets in response.
What a waste of time, right?
It doesn’t need to be. By following these five simple strategies, you’ll increase engagement and gain more value from your time on this platform.
1. Use relevant hashtags whenever possible.
If you’re new to the platform, you may regard hashtags as little more than cute decorations. But for many users (including me), hashtags can be a great way to dig deeper into a topic. Think of hashtags as rooms. Whenever you use a hashtag, you’re putting your tweet in that room for others to find. Whether it’s #growthmindset, #goinggradeless, or #formativeassessment, tag your posts so that others can find them topically. With a little Googling, you’ll find the best hashtags to use for your context and areas of work.
2. Tag others whenever appropriate or relevant.
If and when you’re sharing ideas or resources that relate to someone else’s work or area of interest, you’re doing them a service by tagging them. Educators usually like thoughtful tags — especially if it’s an endorsement, shoutout, suggestion, or recommendation aimed specifically at them. I always like being tagged by colleagues in my building, because otherwise I might miss their tweets. And authors usually appreciate being tagged in quotes from their work, because you’re helping to share their message. Again, keep it genuine. But don’t be afraid to connect.
3. Use relevant images, GIFs, and videos.
Make your tweets stand out and get noticed by adding relevant media. Again, this isn’t purely an attention game, but it is about building the kind of engagement on the platform that makes activity worthwhile. You have to be seen to be heard, especially as you get started.
4. Engage in Twitter chats.
There’s absolutely no better way to build connections with other educators than by engaging in real-time Twitter chats. Not sure where to start? Try the weekly #TLAP (Teach Like a Pirate) chat, one of the largest to take place on the platform each week. Or, next time you’re at a large conference, tweet the highlights from your learning at the conference hashtag.
5. Keep it education-only.
Make a point of only following educators, which generally keeps your feed on track with education. It’s incredibly easy to switch between Twitter accounts quickly, so I have my faith, sports, and politics conversations elsewhere. If you’re still not convinced, here are 5 Reasons to Niche Down on Twitter.
The point is, if you follow @RealDonaldTrump, @Yankees, @Netflix, and the like, your feed will get noisy, distracting, and unproductive. My advice? Keep it strictly on education.
A Simple Formula for Getting Started
There’s no time like the present to use Twitter to develop your professional learning. Once you’ve created a Twitter account, how can you go about building a professional learning network? Here are some practical steps.
Start with at least one tweet a day.
Share questions you’re wrestling with, ideas from your learning, or inspiring quotes from your reading.
Use one or more relevant hashtags (like #MSed for middle school education).
Use one or more user handles (think of interested colleagues, figures working in related areas, or authors of your quotes).
Include relevant images whenever possible.
Then, try to follow at least one more educator a day. Not sure where to begin there? Visit @MisterCavey and select Following. You’ll see nothing but educators and education organizations. You can start following them, too.
As I said at the outset, Twitter can facilitate the same learning processes that we seek for our learners: communication, collaboration, creativity, critical thinking, metacognition, and relationships. If you’ve been a Twitter holdout, consider this both a challenge and an invitation.
Happy Tweeting! I look forward to learning with you.
NANCY FREY is a Professor of Educational Leadership and Literacy at San Diego State University at the graduate and doctoral levels. She’s also an instructor at Health Sciences High and Middle College, a secondary charter school which she co-founded 13 years ago with Doug Fisher and others. The school runs from grade 8-12 with about 700 students, and her teaching practice there helps to make sure that the ideas she advocates for in her research and writing actually work in practice.
When asked about a low moment, Nancy thinks back to the time she spent teaching in south Florida. One year, Hurricane Andrew hit the area just days before school opened. The storm exacted a heavy toll on the communities across the region, causing her district to expand very quickly due to damaged and destroyed schools in nearby counties. More significantly, almost every additional student came into the district with significant emotional trauma.
It was a difficult year that even made Nancy challenge her place in the profession, partly because she felt so unprepared to offer the guidance, comfort, and support that her learners truly needed while also promoting their academic growth and development. Thankfully, with a mix of inner commitment and support from colleagues, Nancy remained an educator, and she now credits this year with giving her valuable experiences and perspectives regarding trauma-informed education.
What is Visible Learning?
Visible Learning is the terminology used to refer to the research engineered by John Hattie, who used a meta-analysis to review hundreds of academic studies in an effort to determine what truly works in education. From this research, he and his team have created an index of what he calls effect sizes: how do different interventions positively or negatively affect learning outcomes?
With close to 300M students represented in these studies, this research can say with authority what works and what doesn’t in education. Supported by the groundbreaking research and resources from Visible Learning, schools and districts no longer need to guess about where to apply their energies.
Taking Your PLC to the Next Level: PLC+
In PLC+: Better Decisions and Greater Impact by Design, Nancy and Doug Fisherlook at the power behind professional learning communities and apply the latest research to suggest ways to take PLCs to the next level. The ‘+’ in PLC+ is you – what it is that you bring to your learning community.
The book organizes the PLC+ process around five key questions:
Where are we going? What is our destination?
Where are we now? Take a situational assessment.
How can we move learning forward?
What did we learn today? How are we enriching ourselves as a PLC so that we can continue the work that we’re doing?
Who benefited and who did not? This is the essential question of equity.
These questions are grounded in four universal values:
Individual and collective efficacy – belief in our ability to effect change.
In Nancy’s view, PLCs and our perceptions of them have tended to become more restrictive over time. Twenty-first century manifestations of PLCs should actually integrate well with PLNs in the sense that every member of a PLC must remain engaged in a PLN in order to further support their own learning and allow them to better contribute to their PLC. Other strategies like micro-learning and learning walks must be parts of robust PLCs as well.
Building Literacy Through the Tools of Metacognition
When I asked Nancy for some quick advice for the literacy classroom, Nancy pointed back to John Hattie. Do you know your impact? Do you know when your students have learned something? These are the questions that must drive everything we do in literacy and throughout K-12 education.
In the literacy classroom we must also ask ourselves how we are bringing students into the learning. This goes beyond ensuring content relevance – it means that students must understand WHAT they are learning, WHY they are learning it, and HOW they will know that they have been successful in learning it. Learning intentions and success criteria must be made clear to learners in every lesson, and when it comes to English classes, progress tends to be incremental – they’re generally not leaving a 30-minute lesson with a brand new skill.
Other Areas That Are Setting Nancy on 🔥 in Education
Nancy is very intrigued by the ways that technology is being effectively embedded and woven into instruction today. She points to the ways that our views of technology in education have changed from past decades: from computer lab to essential tool. Technology tools can be a double-edged sword, however, because technology itself is no assurance of learning, and in fact, we still don’t fully understand how technology changes the ways in which students learn.
Today, high school students walk around with computers in their pockets – devices more powerful than the computers that first sent spaceships to the moon. On the one hand, these phones can be the bane of a teacher’s existence, but on the other hand, educators must better harness this technology in order to advance learning.
The questions around phones and phone policy in schools are not easy ones to answer, but we must continue to struggle and learn in this area. (Editor’s Note: Check out my exploration of this issue at On Schools and Cell Phones.)
Is Handwriting an Essential Literacy Skill?
Should pens and pencils remain part of the writing classroom? Nancy says that students should be exposed to a wide continuum of learning experiences. Evidence also suggests that the motor functions involved in writing seem to inform the abilities of young learners to break the code (decode letters and words). Young children should know how to engage in print and cursive, and older students should at least have the capacity to sign their name. Nancy shares her experience from a recent class of seniors – many of whom struggled to sign a document in cursive. Yes, young learners should learn how to keyboard, and voice-to-text will continue to change the nature of composition.
Professional Goals for This Year
Nancy’s annual and evergreen goal is to ask: How can I be a better teacher this year? If that isn’t a question you’re asking, Nancy chuckles, it may be time to look for a new profession. Lately, Nancy has been writing about the intersection between teacher credibility and collective efficacy and the ways in which these two constructs can support and promote the other.
Nancy is also intrigued by the ways that students learn about their own learning through practice tests. Do students know what they’re learning and what they’re not learning?
Personal Passions Outside of Education
One activity that ignites Nancy’s passions and brings her alive as a human being when she leaves the halls of education is her work with kettlebells. She has participated in functional fitness workouts with kettlebells and the kettlebell community for the last six or seven years, and she is consistent. “Strong is the new skinny,” she says. She hits her gym about six days out of seven, and it’s formed a big part of her personal wellness.
A Productivity Habit: Meditation
The personal habit that has been making the biggest difference for Nancy in the productivity space is meditation. She meditates for 15 minutes after waking up each morning, and she finds that she is more productive as a result. It’s time to be quiet, to be mindful, to be self-aware, and to slow down. Nancy uses the Calm app and is competitive enough that her personal streaks are important to her, and she even appreciates the badges earned over time.
Voices & Resources That Inspire Nancy’s Practice
On Twitter, Nancy is a big fan of the #G2Great hashtag and regular Twitter chat.
As far as edtech tools go, Nancy loves what smartpens do for learners and learning in the classroom. There are so many uses for smartpens that fit within UDL and increase equity for all learners.
Nancy’s all-time favorite read is Tis: A Memoir by Frank McCourt. This classic describes the life of an English teacher in New York City from an earlier time.
In the world of podcasts, Nancy’s pick is Disgraceland, which unpacks the spectacular missteps and disasters that have followed countless pop music stars. It’s a guilty pleasure and Nancy can’t get enough of it.
Susan’s teacher training focused on middle school education, but her first teaching position has been at the fourth grade level. These students come with different learning and social needs than students in middle school, so it’s taken some professional growth for her to better understand the dynamics of these younger learners and meet them where they are.
#NewTeacherJourney and the Power of Twitter
As Susan started plugging into Twitter chats before her first year of teaching, she noticed a shortage of chats dedicated to rookie teachers. That led her to create the #NewTeacherJourney chat, which typically connects on Sunday evenings at 8:30 pm EST. She’s been pleased to see the number of other new teachers plugged in, connecting, and gaining encouragement and advice thanks to this hashtag.
Susan is a strong advocate of using Twitter – not only for the purposes of connecting socially with other educators, but in order to leverage the power of the platform by actively sharing and learning from what is happening in classrooms around the globe.
Passions in Education
What excites Susan about education today are the amazing opportunities that technology is allowing learners in her classroom. She uses GoFormative to facilitate exit slips as checks for understanding at the end of lessons, Prodigy to reinforce Math concepts, and Mystery Skype to reinforce critical thinking and geography skills.
Her professional goal for the rest of this year and going into next year is focused on organization, including what to collect from students, how best to arrange it, and how best to act on it. Because so much of teaching requires thinking on your feet and making quick decisions – especially during your first year – it’s been a challenge to find the systems that work most efficiently for her. Ultimately, better organization will set her up to better meet the unique needs of each of her learners.
Susan has also been fascinated by the possibilities for learning articulated by Jo Boaler in her book, Mathematical Mindsets. In the Math classroom, this helps students understand the power of “I don’t get this … YET,” seeing initial failures as merely first attempts in learning, and adopting practices of continuous revision to improve first attempts and learn toward mastery. These concepts don’t just apply to students – they apply to educators as well!
Productivity and Recharging
Susan is a list-keeper, and for that purpose her app of choice is Google Keep. Keep is where she goes to determine what still needs to get done, what is a higher priority, what needs to be added to the list, and what needs to come off. She also recharges her professional passion in Twitter chats, and she makes it a goal to participate in at least one of those per week.
Voices & Resources That Inspire Susan’s Professional Practice
On Twitter, Susan suggests following @RaeHughart. Rae shares a lot from her practice, offers great resources from the Teach Better Team, and co-hosts the Teach Better Talk podcast.
For edtech tools, Susan recommends Class Dojo as a means to build class culture and encourage collaboration toward group goals. She also points out Plickers as a fun way to quickly and efficiently collect feedback and formative assessments across the class using your mobile device.
Over on YouTube, Susan is tuned into a channel called Pocketful of Primary, hosted by Michelle Ferré. On her show, Michelle shares all the ups, downs, and ideas from her work, and Susan gleans things of value from every episode.