March 28

Lead the Way

“They were leaders but didn’t know it until they had the chance to lead.” (2016. Hacking Leadership. Joe Sanfelippo and Tony Sinanis)

Each morning my day starts with a small group of 5th Graders on our BTES News Show. Their job is to update the script, check all batteries and cords, fill out the job board, rehearse lines and record the school’s news. The news will be comprised of weather, a daily highlight, and possibly a themed focus. If you were to walk in my room while this going on, it will look a bit out of sorts and sound LOUD, productively loud. All students will know their role for the day. Most importantly, the student manning the computer with the recording program is the one in charge. Because the job board is erased each day, jobs change daily. Again, when an outsider walks in it looks like…mass chaos. Yet, the team members know exactly what their job is and how to get it done.

The best part of this process is watching students emerge as leaders. Some come to me ready to take control of all of it while others appear as shy individuals who need to observe before they jump in. No matter how they arrive, they are in a situation where they can lead. As the mornings continue on, they find their niche and excel. Those unexpected moments of success and leadership make this program so successful.

Let’s shift the leader thinking from students to teachers. There are opportunities for leaders but some may appear to be the same folks selected for those positions. As a coach, I love to observe from a distance and locate the quieter leaders. They are experts in their field, often share ideas in small groups and the outcome of their lessons is mind-blowing. How do you pull these leaders out of their shells?

  • Build a relationship with them and name their strengths.
  • Locate ways in your community their talents can be showcased. Is there an event coming up they can be part of?
  • Knowing their talents, pick one and ask them to lead a small training during a grade level meeting. Starting off small will give them the confidence for larger groups.
  • Design a project together. Co-teach the lesson but, as the coach, slowly back away and become their support.
  • Reflect and celebrate. Point out how they acted as leaders and share that knowledge with the team and administration.

Each day we are given a chance to support students of all ages in our building. When we stop and show them what they can accomplish the sky is the limit.




February 28

All the Flyers

With new Digital Learning Integration Standards of Learning in Virginia (DLISoLs), instructional technology coaches needed a way to share these with teachers yet embed them seamlessly into their curriculum. Many changes have happened over the last three years, as we all know, but how could it be done? The focus of my department has been the 4 Shift Protocol by Scott McLeod  For the last 9 months we have been focused on the combining the 4 shifts + DLISoLs + current teaching practices = interdisciplinary projects reaching all types of learners.

It’s quite simple when you focus on the high flyer teachers. You know the ones you have conversation that starts with “After our conversation about your upcoming content, I have an idea we can discuss.” Their response is “Awesome! I’m in! What are we doing?” You collaboratively

4th Grade students created a float based on Virginia driven by the Root robot.

plan it. The kids run with it and the final product blows you away. The results lead to sharing of the project through your school videos, social media outlets and conferences. After all, it was that amazing EVERYONE needs to know about it. As long as only the high flyers are listening, this is all wonderful. On the sidelines are the teachers that want to dive into projects that are this engaging but not as large or in depth as what they are hearing about.

How do you take the same passion and excitement of the big project and high flyers and share it with those who want the same excitement yet might feel apprehensive and unsure of where to begin?

Begin with reminding them they are the expert in the content. A few questions will guide the conversation and create a plan for success:

  1. What will success look like?
  2. What activities have your students enjoyed?
    1. small group/individual work
    2. craft building or robotics
    3. digital/coding
  3. How much time do you want to devote to the project?
  4. What is your end date?
  5. What support would you like from me, the instructional technology coach, throughout this process?
    1. co-teach the whole project
    2. split groups of kids in classroom and another space
    3. coach joins teacher in the class and acts as an assistant

Kindergarten students learning how to use Ozobots prior to have it drive over their names they wrote.

Once you have your answers, create a map that makes sense to you and the classroom teacher. Options might be a live Google Doc where you both add information, a timeline of ideas on Google Slides that map out it out so that the students will have a framework of the task.

However you choose to work with the teacher, reiterate that you two are a team working towards the same goal. Pose questions and ideas and listen to the answers. Listen with an open mind so that the teacher understands their value. Finally, the most important part to remember is that just like an educator-student must be created to build trust so must the educator-coach relationship. Ask the hard questions. Ponder the ideas. Document the process. Celebrate the success.

February 12

Eyes Wide Open

In a time where we are teaching the world to respect, learn and appreciate all the uniqueness of each person, why not start with the children. They begin their lives accepting anyone who befriends them. Look at any kind of play time. Kids will talk to others if they have a fun toy, neat outfit or partaking in a game they may enjoy. At some point, they learn we are different and their mindset may change if outside forces sway them. As an educator, I plan on doing my part to continue their acceptance and friendship to all who offer it. This can be uneasy terrain. Opinions can come across as facts and persuade a teacher to not go near that terrain. Thankfully I have found colleagues who support and encourage my thinking. We are achieving this through two projects, which can be implemented in any school.

A few years ago, Rebecca Gratz and I where heading to FETC , Future of Educational Technology Conference, in Orlando, Florida. While spending a little bit of time at Magic Kindgom we rode It’s a Small World. Think for a moment about the ride. Where does it take you? What do you see, hear and feel? Mr. Disney wanted to create a global journey for his visitors. As we admired the atmosphere we asked ‘How did he travel around the world? If we were to look at a map, what would his journey look like?’ This question ballooned into an amazing project. We brought this back to our class that contained 12 different native languages. Showing the students videos of the ride, you can find many on youtube, they needed to look at the characteristics of each part of the ride and discuss where in the world it is. This opened the door for classmates to discuss their culture, dress, language, food and music. A safe space of speaking of who they are as well as questioning from their peers was opened up. What started as a question turned into a cultural project where students used all of the Cs. The final project contained Ozobots traveling through a map of the world, powering the large clock using Hummingbird Kits and a student-led, county-wide student makerspace showcase.


Let’s move from languages to representation. As you look around your class, are all of your students represented in your studies and readings? For the past two years I’ve been honored to be part of a wonderful Black History Month learning experience. Each week is assigned a theme (STEM, Arts, change makers and peer change makers) where a team of educators have developed a slide show for each topic. The weekly slide show contains an individual who has impacted that week’s topic. Teachers are given images, books and links to videos of their their accomplishments.

Mrs. Marietta reading an excerpt from The Holly-Day After

We wanted to include more than the regular education classes. To add to the experience, our music teacher paired musicians with the focus of each week. These songs were added to our daily news show and then studied in class. A select group of students added a special segment where they shared a few facts about the Person of the Day. Finally, the icing on the cake comes when we have a guest speaker each Friday capping off the week.


After more than 2 decades in the field of learning, it still amazes me how an idea, paired with passionate and caring educators can lead to a place where student empowerment takes it to the next level. The students involved in these projects are learning the content, but more importantly the focus is on respect, camaraderie, and open hearts to embrace their world around them.

May 10

Connecting Through the Distance

‘I don’t have to do it because it’s not going to be graded.’ This is not the comment that any educator ever wants to hear. Learning is, well, amazing! We teach our students to new skills and to be curious. This has been lost along the way as a student goes through schooling and all of his or her thoughts are graded. During our Corona-time, it made me think of how to engage students so that the love of curiosity and learning is what drives students like him everywhere.

This is the perfect time to remind them. Create learning experiences that are about learning and not a grade.

PLANNING: Before we plan for distance learning, we need to go back to the framework of what makes a good lesson. It must have a clear objective, standards-driven, directions, teacher lead, and independent practice. Transferring this to a digital format, these goals will still be met but not in the way you have come accustomed to.

Yes, the objective and goal must still be stated:

  • but in a way that a student can read (typed description)
  • listen to (audio recording)
  • watch (videorecording).

Think of how you best connect with your students and how they best connect with you. Chances are the first two will be the most comfortable for adults. Our insecurities may lead the path on not showing our faces on screens. Now take a second to think of all of the virtual meetings you’ve had with family and friends over the last few weeks. How did you feel after seeing those faces, watching their reactions when you shared a story, sharing your latest art project or enjoying dinner together. Videos make you feel better and it will do the same for your students.  (For the best video option for your students, contact your IT department as the preferred method varies from one district to the next.)

DELIVERY: You’ve stated the objective, goal, and directions. Now for the delivery. In your classroom, it may have independent work that consisted of hard copy activity. This isn’t feasible during this time as we don’t know if the home has a printer or ink but that doesn’t mean the worksheet still can’t be used. Students can use a sheet of paper to

  • write down their answers
  • take a picture and submit their work for evaluation-not to imply a grade but to make sure they are working correctly

What if they don’t have a camera connected to a device, parents are working, etc? Post the answers to assigned work in your digital classroom. Will they look ahead at the answers? Probably. Imagine the student who looks to the answer then figures out how to solve the problem. Other than a formal assessment, people are always searching online for answers. This is a life long skill that they need to master. As a technology coach, I do quite a bit of backward planning with my teachers, isn’t this the same path?

TECHNOLOGY ACTIVITIES: Let’s spend some time on websites. This might be the easiest way to reinforce a skill. Pick an objective. Find the site for the students to practice, link them with an exact page with directions on what to do and how to interact with the page. Remember to include any log in the information needed as well as a helpful guide for the site. The educator can sign in to their administrator panel to view student progress, offer feedback, and the next possible steps to continue or extend their learning. This is a youth’s wheelhouse so find the sites that will excite them and connect it to the curriculum.

There is a time and place for these sites and they do provide practice but now I challenge you to have the students become creators. Find the sites that have them build something. Build a code to move a character through an ancient land. (BrainPOP Creative Coding, Scratch, Scratch. JR [iOS mobile devices], Minecraft and many more) Build a plane and fly it while adjusting wind speed, materials, and distance.

As learning and teaching continues down the path of distance learning, remember this is the path less traveled for educators who spend their careers in brick and mortar classrooms. This is also the time to take chances. Assign the activities that need students to gather things outside, create videos with their pet, and build with items the children have in their homes. Enjoy the freedom of teaching in an unconventional way.

April 10

Curiosity Encourages the Cat

Until know, educators have been in control of their classes. From the minute students arrive, the time is calculated by a scheduling team, state standards, county requirements and extra activities that must be done. When complete, we celebrate. When incomplete we highly encourage completion in a variety of ways. Our control has been taken from us. We can only share what we would like them to do, create videos to teach and hope they are viewed, offer websites to support the skill and possibly some worksheets to print out.

Living with 2 school age children and a now a high school graduate, it will be one of the biggest parenting challenges I’ve faced. Optional activities, prior to a developed distance learning plan, were never posted so those young minds have been stagnant for 4 weeks. When asked about the new instructional plan, the comment was ‘It doesn’t matter if I do it. It won’t be graded.’ How can the love of learning be revitalized when our students are not in our classroom?

As you plan your lessons and activities, remember it’s not possible to recreate your classroom. Now is the time to share all those wacky, crazy, out of the box activities you have been yearning to do. Ignite the desire for learning you have and know is in your students.

Students may not want to sit at a computer for long periods of time working on websites and worksheets. They may prefer to create with their hands. Below are some ideas that break the mold of traditional classroom activities. As you build your lessons and add activities to your digital classroom, ask yourself, what is an unconventional way to show what you know?

Skill Creative Activity
measurement create a homemade egg dye out of food; build a rain gauge
comparison create a ‘Would you rather’ game for a specific topic (presidents, locations, historical events, or numbers)
computation  use homemade Play doh, chalk, car window paint, and use windows or cement to work out math problems
geography Create a Mystery Skype game to learn about locations on a map; if technology is an issue, write questions on index cards and challenge your family
living systems and scientific investigation use vegetables in the fridge to grow more food; use a chart to record progress
Reading Skills listen to audio books, borrow books from the library (possible curb side pickup) and use these questions to guide your reading