Sunday, September 17, 2017

It’s Class Load, Not Just Size, That Matters

As the school year launches for students across the nation, questions from passionate and innovative educators come into my networks on how to effectively support student learning. One common thread comes from innovative educators who have several classes of students and are trying to figure out how to manage all the demands placed upon them. They know that learning is not effective if you don't get to know your students. Or, as Jeff Bliss reminded us a few years back, you need to touch a student’s freakin heart before you can reach their minds.

There are definitely ways technology can help with this. For example, Thrively is a terrific tool for getting to know what students care about and how they thrive. Google Classroom is becoming very popular for tracking student assignments. But it's more than the data. It's all about relationships as students reminded us in an Education Nation panel where they shared advice like:
  • I can't learn from you if you are not willing to connect with me.
  • Caring about each student is more important than teaching the class.
  • Every young person has a dream. Your job is to help bring us closer to our dreams.
  • We need more than teachers. We need life coaches.
  • You should be trained not just in teaching but also in counseling.
  • Tell me something good that I'm doing so that I can keep growing in that.
  • When you can feel like a family member it helps so much.
  • You need to love a student before you can teach a student.
  • Our teachers have too many students to enable them to connect with us in they way we need them to.

Advice for educators

Angela Maiers agrees. She works with educators around the world to help them liberate genius in their students, has this advice for teachers: “If you don’t first secure students’ hearts, you don’t have a shot at their brains.”

She has three concrete suggestions for doing that:
  1. Greet every student by name as they enter the class, and then remark on something about several students in the first two minutes of class.
  2. Commend at least five students in each class period for their contributions to the discussion.
  3. Take two minutes at the end of each class to reflect on what everyone learned today.

    Roadblocks to building relationships

    However, Maiers laments that she often encounters teachers who “don’t have time” for such frivolity, or proclaim that it’s “not their job” to be “friends” with the students.

    When it comes to secondary school or teachers of subjects like technology where they see many classes, it is quite possible teachers respond this way with good reason. They literally “don’t have time” or the mental capacity to do so. They are set up for failure.

    Dunbar’s number  

    That’s because it is not uncommon for teachers to have a schedule of 15 - 25 different classes a week. This translates to anywhere from 450 - 750 students.

    We know from science that the number of individuals with whom a stable inter-personal relationship can be maintained caps at around 150. This limit is a direct function of relative neocortex size. This is according to anthropologist and psychologist Robin Dunbar, whose work refers to the average social group size.

    Dunbar’s number is applied to several other areas such as number of relationships you can manage on social media vs number of “friends.” It also stands to reason that this number could be applied to how many students an educator could manage relationships with as well. With a load of more than 150 students, it simply becomes too complicated to manage at an optimal processing level.  

    When applying Dunbar's number to teaching that number drops. There is a cognitive limit to the number of students a teacher can maintain and have a consistent interaction with before the edges start to fray and these lose track of students. Once you pass that number, as one student put it, what you'll see is "the teachers focus on the top two or three who they can use to show themselves off and the bottom five who they have to keep in line or else chaos ensues."
    The answer for Dave who wrote about this on AcademHack, is that 45 - 60 is the number of students teachers can realistically get to know very well.

    Sure, teachers can use various strategies and harness the power of technology to try to keep track of more students, but it is difficult at best. When we know it is absolutely not necessary or in the best interest of students to give an educator more than 5 classes or 150 students the question becomes: Why do they?

    Such large student loads is not a necessary evil and should not be business as usual. There are better ways to do scheduling that respect students, teachers, and the importance of knowing the whole child to reach them effectively.

    The solution

    If we want students and teachers to succeed, increase the time students spend with their teachers and limit the load. It’s a simple solution where everyone wins.  

    This is not a secret. We see it in independent schools and there are excellent public school models such as Big Picture Learning who put this idea into action with powerful results. Not only do they have one of the highest attendance rates, but there is also a 98% college acceptance rate.

    What's your number?

    How many students can you "really" reach? 45? 60? 150? More? Use this article to start important discussions where you work if you have a large class load. When you do, be prepared to suggest rethinking this practice with practical solutions and models that more effectively support student success and teacher effectiveness. Not sure how to do that? Read this article with 8 strategies to get your principal to say yes.

    Wednesday, September 13, 2017

    A Common Sense Approach to Watching How Gender Stereotypes Impact Student Development

    Educators know that when it comes to gender roles, the media can do a better job of promoting more positive, accurate gender representations that give kids the freedom they need to be themselves. Parents agree. According to a study done by Common Sense, they are concerned about what their children see in the media.

    5 Qualities Parents Want for Role Models

    Here is what the Common Sense study shows Americans want for their children in terms of role models.
    Female Roles
    Male Roles
    Skillful communication
    Skillful communication

    This comparison shows the ideal role model looks pretty much the same regardless of gender and the responses were from parents across various ethnicities.  

    The Bechdel Test

    It is helpful to be intentional when thinking about the shows students are watching through what it is adults see as important qualities of role models. A popular way to look at this is via the Bechdel test which looks at the following criteria:
    • It has to have at least two women in it...
    • who talk to each other, about...
    • something other than a man.

    A large number of programs don’t pass the test much less engender the values parents want as role models for their children.  Common Sense Media has a strategy to change that with a system that will rate programs based on how well they develop positive gender representations.

    Gender Equity Guidelines from Common Sense

    These criteria provide a powerful lens through which to speak with children about what they are viewing. Where are examples of each of these qualities in their favorite programs. Which programs are ones that represent these qualities? Who is making these programs? Why? What is important to these producers? What are they saying on social media? What does the media say about them? What drives them?

    Key Findings on Gender Representation in the Media

    It is important to be aware of which gender representations are positive and which are not.  Key findings Common Sense Media lays out include:
    • Media promote the notion that girls should be concerned about their appearance and should treat their bodies as sexual objects for others’ consumption.
    • In adolescence, media use is associated with more tolerant views of sexual harassment and more support for the belief that women are at least partially responsible for their own sexual assaults.
    • Youth of color may be particularly vulnerable to the effects of media use on gender-role development.

    Combating Gender Stereotypes

    The good news for educators and parents is that there are several ways to combat gender stereotypes and promote positive gender representations. This includes:
    1. Presenting counter-stereotypes
    2. Talking to children about media content
    3. Providing media-literacy education

    So, for example, shows that counter-stereotypical content challenge gender stereotype. In her book, “Screening_gender_in_childrens_TV,” Dafna Lemish provides these suggestions:
    • Presenting female characters who are
      • strong and capable…
      • who are not obsessed with their appearance and with attracting males
      • who initiate and lead, and
      • who enjoy outdoor activities, sports, science, and technology.
    • Presenting male characters who
      • collaborate with girls,
      • respect them as equals,
      • demonstrate empathy and emotions, and
      • resolve conflict in nonaggressive ways
      • Lemish, D. (2010). Screening gender in children’s TV: The views of producers around the world. New York: Routledge

    Teachers Have an Important Role

    There are activities in which teachers of subjects such as social studies, language arts, and library could engage their students. For example, challenge students to find such characters in historical or current events. Challenge students to find examples of this in books or digital media. Ask students to write or revise current stories and present characters in such ways.

    Additionally, innovative educators are becoming increasingly aware of the research around the importance of media-literacy education which can be used to activate and improve children’s critical-thinking skills so they can be better prepared to analyze and challenge media messages. (Pahlke, Bigler, & Martin, 2014; Puchner, L., Markowitz, L., & Hedley, M. (2015); Wade, Wilksch, Paxton, Byrne, & Austin, 2017). These media literacy programs are linked with a weaker internalization of media ideals, increased awareness of discrimination in the workplace, a greater ability to identify sexism in the media, and an improved ability to respond to peers’ sexist comments.

    So what do you think? Are these guidelines useful? Might they help shape what content providers create? How are you addressing the positive representation of gender roles with your students? How are you helping to educate and support parents in this work?

    Sunday, September 10, 2017

    #XQLive Brought to You By @XQAmerica - Thoughts from an Innovative Educator

    Following the airing of XQ: The Super School Live program my social media feed blew up a bit with comments  from my educator friends on threads like this one. The program featured a project spearheaded by Lauren Powel Jobs (aka Steve's window) and Russlynn H. Ali, who served as the Education Department’s assistant secretary for civil rights during the Obama administration. The show was a joint effort between the XQ Institute and Entertainment Industry Foundation which last tackled standing up to cancer and is now focused on rethinking education. 

    The XQ Super School Project sets out to inspire communities to help reshape high school so it prepares every American student for success in college, career, and life. More from the XQ Team here.

    If you didn't watch the one-hour, star-studded program that appeared ad-free on all four major networks, check it out below and then come on back to find out what some of my colleagues thought about the program and my reactions.

    You don't impress me much

    For the most part, those in my circles were not impressed. There was an immediate distrust and suspicion around such a polished and produced program. To some it felt like an indoctrination video filled with propaganda. 

    I get the distrust and suspicion. Public school educators have been under attack for so long, it is almost a knee-jerk reaction to trust no one. Adding to that, innovative educators know the importance of media literacy and watching what is presented with a critical eye. Furthermore, for the modern educators out there, we know all the wonderful things happening with some of our teachers who are bringing innovative practices into classrooms that are truly designed to address today's learners. They are supporting students in learning coding, robotics, engineering, making, 3D printing, VR, AR and more.  Of course this is important, but is it enough and are enough people doing it? Where do those things fit in, in a culture of a common core and standard assessments? 

    Another issue many had is the program felt like an infomercial where celebrities were paid to promote the charter school agenda. 

    I'm not sure.

    A different take

    I watched the program and reviewed the website and charter schools don't seem to be the focus. Of course, there could be a hidden agenda, but this was not evident in the program. For background, public school educators don't like charter schools because, among other reasons, they misguide the public about their success, and are allowed to have regulations lifted that other public schools might also benefit from if given the opportunity.  My take, on the celebrities was that this was a part of the charitable work they do through EIF which uses the power of celebrity to raise awareness and funds for critical health, education, and social issues. 

    The program focus was not to give answers, but to rethink. To do that, instead it asked how schools could address important questions like: 

    Frankly, these are the type of questions that are not often enough driving the work of our schools, so I am all for inspiring a nation to think about and talk about these issues.  

    XQ Super School also points to problems in our schools such as that fact that too many students find school boring and irrelevant. We often disregard student voice. We need to rethink one-size-fits all assessments. We aren't moving around enough and engaged in the arts. We can learn by getting up from our school desks.  

    The program paid a tribute to teachers in a variety of ways from bringing in the voices of public school educators who are principals and teachers, to inspiring viewers to say #ThanksForTeachingMe to those educators who had an impact.  

    There was also an, "I wish I had learned" segment where celebrities pointed to important things they were not taught in school, such as financial literacy, self care, and fluency in languages other than English.  

    It is for these reasons, that I will reserve judgement on XQ Super School program and focus on the importance of getting society on board and aware of the idea that we do indeed need to rethink school and the more of us doing that, the better.

    Saturday, September 9, 2017

    The 3 Hottest Posts on The Innovative Educator

    Haven’t been keeping up with The Innovative Educator? Don’t worry. That’s what this wrap up is for. 

    What’s hot? Starting the school year off right!

    Rounding out the top is a checklist for effective professional learning opportunities where I outline those things that you want to ensure you do or experience at a learning event. These are things that are all too often forgotten like a proper method to greet participants, posting wireless info, instructor name, hashtags, and important urls, etc. 

    So what are you waiting for? Now's your chance. Take a look at the posts below and click the link to read one(s) that looks of interest to you.

    Aug 27, 2017
    Aug 23, 2017
    Aug 13, 2017

    Find something you like? Share with others on Twitter, Facebook, email or whichever platform you like best.

    Thursday, September 7, 2017

    #NYCSchoolsTech Educators Discuss #BackToSchoolNYC Ideas on Tonight's #NYCSchoolsTechChat

    twitterchat 17 promo.jpegWhat are your back to school ideas for students and professional learning? Join us tonight to discuss with other teachers the best back to school tips, tricks, and strategies that you can put into practice this school year.

    #NYCSchoolTech teacher Eileen Lennon (@eileen_lennon) moderates with me throwing in my two cents.

    You can prepare for the conversation by thinking about answers to these questions:

    Q1 #NYCSchoolsTechChat - We’ve been #BackToSchoolNYC for 2 days. Share something useful that you did or learned.
    Q2 #NYCSchoolsTechChat -As #students come #BackToSchoolNYC what’s most important for them to do or know during the #1st5days?
    Q3 #NYCSchoolsTechChat - What innovative lessons are you looking forward to implementing when you go #BackToSchoolNYC? Share links.
    Q4 #NYCSchoolsTechChat -  Share links to your favorite books, sites, spaces, resources for #BackToSchoolNYC Success.
    Q5 #NYCSchoolsTechChat - Share links to learning opportunities you plan to attend as you head #BacktoSchoolNYC this year.
    Q6 Give a shout out by RT, like, or reply to someone who has inspired you w/good ideas in today's #BackToSchoolNYC #NYCSchoolsTechCha

    Chat details are below:
    • Meeting date/time: September 7th at 7:00 pm
    • Topic: "#BacktoSchoolNYC
    • Your Host: @eileen_lennon (@NYCSchools)
    • Co-Host: @InnovativeEdu (@NYCSchools)

    Remember to respond using the hashtag #NYCSchoolsTechChat and include the number of the question you are answering in your response i.e. A1 and your answer.

    We hope you can view the chat live, but if you are unable, please visit our archive at Note you can also participate in the chat at that link or if you have an iPhone download the app at (coming to Android soon).

    Sunday, September 3, 2017

    #BacktoSchoolNYC Lessons from An #NYCSchoolsTech Educator: Onboarding for A Successful 1:1 Implementation

    Ever wonder what it takes to successfully prepare for back to school in a building where there is a 1:1 iPad implementation? Llianna Villegas opened the doors to PS 96 in Manhattan to show exactly how this works at her school.  The school is a part of the Verizon Innovative Learning program which works in partnership with Digital Promise to provide all middle school students with iPads that can connect to internet at school via the internet and away from school via a data plan.

    This means distributing, maintaining, and ensuring effective instructional use of devices for all students. Ms. Villegas helps set the stage for success with a well-organized process which she has refined in year two of the program.

    Here’s how it works.

    Onboarding starts the week before students report to school. There is a day for grade 6, 7, and 8.  Each grade focuses on the specifics needed for those students i.e. for grade 6 there is an orientation; for grade 8 there is a focus on high school applications.  For those who are unable to go through the process, there is a make up opportunity.

    Here are the flyers parents received:

    Onboarding is a four-step, two-hour process. Here is the overview:

    Ms. Villegas uses Trello to outline what will happen during each stage of the onboarding process. There is a station for each step.  save image
    Station 1/Step 1: Check in!
    Here is what happens at this station. save image
    Here's what parents and their children experience.
    Parents enter the building and are welcomed at a greeting table where they get checked in and pick up materials.
    Ms. Villegas explains the process.
    Station 2 / Step 2: Review forms with Ms. Villegas
    Here is what happens at this station. save image
    Here's what parents and their children experience.
    Ms. Villegas brings parents through a review of the contracts, forms, and information connected to the program.
    Ms. Villegas explains how they are using research to inform their work. 

    Station 3/ Step 3: Pick up iPads:

    Here is what happens at this station.

    save image

    Here's what parents and their children experience.

    Students pick up their iPads.

    This student shows the groovy case that lets you securely hold your iPad and also converts to a stand when using it at your desk.  

    Station 4/ Step 4:

    Here is what happens at this station.
    save image

    Here's what parents and their children experience.
    Google Classroom Experience / Meet Teachers
    Ms. Villegas explains how Google Classroom works.

    This clear and organized method will help ensure that back to school at PS 96 will with kick off to a smooth start. Students are set with their learning tools in hand and ready to begin a successful school year.