Saturday, September 17, 2016

Digital Literacy and Digital Citizenship: by Design

Dear Teachers,

This week's topic for that grad program I keep writing about is "Creating Significant Learning Plans," and I'm back in at least somewhat familiar territory. My district has been using Wiggins & McTighe's Understanding by Design (2005) model of curriculum design for several years, so this week's assignment to use UbD to plan a course was not a completely foreign topic to me. One part of UbD that was new information, was the "WHERETO" acronym, as that one hasn't made an appearance - or at least an appearance that I've paid attention to - in the documents we use in-house. As a means of outlining a learning plan, "WHERETO" is a pretty useful mnemonic. It addresses the key points that a curriculum designer should keep in mind, and also reminds the user to keep the "where are you going" part in mind as you're planning learning experiences. WHERETO stands for:
W - Where the unit is going and What to expect
H - Hook the students and Hold their interest
E - Equip students, help them Experience the key ideas and Explore the issues
R - Opportunities to Rethink and Revise their understanding
E - Allow students to Evaluate their work
T - Be Tailored to the different needs, interests, and abilities of learners
O - Be Organized to maximize initial and sustained engagement and effective learning
For those of you unfamiliar with Understanding by Design, it is a "backwards design" model, much like Fink's 3-column table model I described in last week's post, where the planning is done by thinking of the end goals that a person wants to accomplish. "Begin with the end in mind" is the key to effective lesson design, so UbD always starts with identifying the desired results. You have to know what it is you want your learners to know and do as a result of any particular plan, as well as what learning activities will likely get them to that point of understanding.

Source: Understanding by Design, 2nd edition, 2005;
In Fink's model, I looked at the learning goals that would help achieve the big, hairy, audacious goal (BHAG) of the course. Each learning goal - foundational, application, integration, etc. - serves as a building block to reach that ultimate BHAG. My goal is the same this week (whether or not I call it a BHAG): it's that "Learners will be equipped with tools to improve their own digital literacy and digital citizenship, and will create authentic opportunities for their students to develop positive online habits." Established goals that support the overall course purpose are selected from the ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) Teacher Standards. There are several things about UbD that I prefer to Fink's, and perhaps it's just because I'm so much more familiar with UbD, but I do like the fact that including the established goals or standards make it clear that the purpose is seen as beneficial by more entities than just whoever is writing up the plan. When I use ISTE Standards as the established goals, that seems to lend some credibility to why I'm even writing the plan in the first place.

I like Fink's model for its simplicity; its style is something my very linear brain appreciates. However, I like UbD for its emphasis on Essential Questions, as those questions keep the focus on inquiry as opposed to just giving students factual information. I also like UbD for the emphasis on transfer tasks, so that we don't get focused on just facts or "stuff." Transfer goals help students to independently apply their learning in other situations, rather than just regurgitating information that matters only to one set of circumstances. So my hope is that after completing my course, learners would look at other units with an eye to improving their own and others' digital skills.

I actually love having had the opportunity to think through a course that will address my twin favorite topics of digital literacy and digital citizenship, and I'm very hopeful that I can work with our wonderful new Professional Learning Department to implement the course. Both Fink's and UbD have given me some great ideas for structure for the course. Getting this course set up on Canvas or Google Classroom for teachers to utilize and make meaningful connections to their own goals (T-TESS and otherwise) will be my next goal - and the rumor is, one of my next grad school courses will help me do just that! 

For today, the Understanding by Design plan for my course looks like this:

Course Title: Understanding and Teaching Digital Literacy and Digital Citizenship

Course Goal: Learners will be equipped with tools to improve their own digital literacy and digital citizenship and will create authentic opportunities for their students to develop positive online habits.

Stage 1 - Desired Results
Established goals
3. Model digital age work and learning: Teachers exhibit knowledge, skills, and work processes representative of an innovative professional in a global and digital society.
a. Demonstrate fluency in technology systems and the transfer of current knowledge to new technologies and situations
d. Model and facilitate effective use of current and emerging digital tools to locate, analyze, evaluate, and use information resources to support research and learning

4. Promote and model digital citizenship and responsibility: Teachers understand local and global societal issues and responsibilities in an evolving digital culture and exhibit legal and ethical behavior in their professional practices.
a. Advocate, model, and teach safe, legal, and ethical use of digital information and technology, including respect for copyright, intellectual property, and the appropriate documentation of sources
c. Promote and model digital etiquette and responsible social interactions related to the use of technology and information
Students will understand that…
Digital literacy is a form of literacy that is as important to today’s students as traditional literacies are
“Digital literacy” involves many principles, including but not limited to technology skills
Digital citizenship is a component of a person’s overall citizenship
Digital citizenship involves more than just “not cyberbullying”
Essential Questions
What does it mean to be “digitally literate”?
Why is it important to understand and to teach digital citizenship?
How are digital literacy and digital citizenship related?
How are digital literacy and digital citizenship best taught?
How are empathy and digital citizenship related?
Students will know…
The reasons why digital citizenship and digital literacy are crucial components of a student’s digital-age education
The best ways to incorporate digital literacy and digital citizenship education into their curricula
Students will be able to…
Identify areas in their curriculum where they can naturally address digital literacy and digital citizenship.
Embed digital citizenship and digital literacy skills in what they are teaching already
Create their own positive digital profile
Guide their students in creating positive digital profiles
Stage 2 - Assessment Evidence
Performance tasks
Students will:
Explain how they will use specific places in their curriculum content to explicitly address digital literacy or digital citizenship
Develop areas where their own students can “do” digital citizenship by practicing positive contributions to online discussions, creating a positive online presence, using social media for an authentic cause, or other means of contributing something positive to the digital landscape
Demonstrate their own competency in digital literacy and digital citizenship by using Twitter, Facebook, or other social media tool to communicate what they are learning
Other evidence
Students will:
Reflect on their own digital literacy and digital citizenship, and make plans for improvement where needed
Reflect on the impact to their students of embedding digital literacy and digital citizenship instruction in what they are already doing in their classrooms
Stage 3 - Learning Plan
Learning Activities:
  1. Ask learners to reflect on specific instances/consequences of their own and others’ good and poor digital citizenship/literacy to hook students into considering the importance of good digital habits H
  2. Introduce the Essential Questions and explain the performance tasks W
  3. Learners read and discuss relevant articles, blog posts, and studies about digital literacy and digital citizenship. Learners reflect on their reading through blog posts or other social media E
  4. Learners will research and review different approaches to teaching digital literacy & digital citizenship (i.e. signing pledges; fear-based programs; only certain subject areas should “own” digital citizenship; listening to a guest speaker or attending an assembly; hosting “digital citizenship week,” effectiveness of one-shot lessons; various packaged curricula) E R
  5. Learners will evaluate the pluses and minuses of each of the above ways of teaching digital citizenship E R E-2
  6. Learners will identify places in their curriculum that would be natural opportunities for their students to learn about digital literacy and digital citizenship R T O
  7. Learners will reflect on how empathy is a key component of digital citizenship. E R T
  8. Learners will post final reflections about where digital literacy and digital citizenship can be seamlessly embedded into the learning that is already taking place in their classrooms, and their personal goals for including digital citizenship and digital literacy instruction in their curriculum E-2 T O

Hope you're all having a lovely weekend and are thinking as hard about digital literacy and digital citizenship as I am. ;-) 


Fink, L.D. (2003). A self-directed guide to designing courses for significant learning. Retrieved from

ISTE standards for teachers. (2008). Retrieved from

Wiggins, G. & McTighe, J. (2005). Understanding by design, 2nd ed. ASCD

Sunday, September 11, 2016

This Week's Struggle: the BHAG

Dear Teachers,
Remember last week when I wrote that "the person doing the work is the person doing the learning"? Well, I've apparently been doing a LOT of learning this week, as I once again have faced a challenging grad school topic. This blog has become my outlet for reflecting on All Things Grad School. I love the program, and love what I'm learning in the program. At the same time, I have struggled mightily with many of the assignments, and continue to be stretched and challenged in ways that often make me want to say "Uncle." The current class I'm wrestling with is titled "Creating Significant Learning Environments."


This week, the task has been to create a BHAG - a Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal. I was not familiar with that term at all before this class. (Another thing I'm learning in this grad program is that here is apparently an endless list of Terms I Am Not Familiar With.) In a previous class I had to come up with a WIG - a Wildly Important Goal. The BHAG and the WIG are related, but a bit different. I'm not sure I'm able yet to articulate the precise ways that they differ, but I try to be patient about things being fuzzy before they come into focus. (I am an "All Shall Be Revealed in Time" kind of person, I guess, if there is such a thing. I tend to be okay with a state of not-knowing, as I know that there will come a time when things make sense to me. I have collected the dots, but not yet connected the dots, another point we have touched on in class this week. But I digress...)

If you know me at all, you know that my twin passions are Digital Literacy and Digital Citizenship. I am widening my perspective on my Innovation Plan from focusing only on student-created content to developing a course for teachers that will help them gain a better understanding of the importance of digital literacy and digital citizenship. I want better digital citizenship for the entire universe, so that kids have way better role models than what they often see now for how they should interact online. That goal seems perhaps the tiniest bit too grandiose. So, my ever-evolving BHAG for a course for the grown-ups is:

Learners will be equipped with tools to improve their own digital literacy and digital citizenship, and will create authentic opportunities for their students to develop positive digital habits.

So while students are working to create content that will help others in the community learn basic digital skills, the adults in the district will have an opportunity to take an online course that will help them to better understand the issues involved in integrating digital literacy and digital citizenship principles into their teaching. I'm thinking that could be a pretty powerful combination towards bringing about improved digital literacy & citizenship for everyone in our community. Also, because many teachers will likely have technology goals as part of their teacher evaluation system (T-TESS), this course could provide a natural support for some of those goals.

I learned about a 3-column table model for planning courses. The 3-column table uses Fink's (2003) Taxonomy of Significant Learning to look at the interplay between different kinds of learning:


Once the Learning outcomes have been determined, then the other two columns (Learning Activities and Assessments) are filled in. As of today, my 3-column table for my Digital Literacy/Citizenship course looks like this:

Learning Goals
Learning Activities
Assessment Activities
Learners will identify areas for personal improvement in understanding digital literacy & digital citizenship.

Learners will identify and articulate why all teachers should incorporate digital literacy and digital citizenship instruction in their subject areas.

Complete an assessment tool such as

Use the student-created site CLICK (developing at for learning tech tips

Develop a rationale for why and how digital literacy and digital citizenship should be taught.
Create an infographic or other digital product outlining 3-5 personal goals for improving digital literacy and/or digital citizenship.

Learners will identify and assess  different approaches to digital literacy and digital citizenship education, and will  assess how the two concepts are related.

Analyze different approaches to digital citizenship education.

Explain the relationship between digital literacy and digital citizenship

Determine personal  digital literacy/citizenship goals.
Create a plan for linking and teaching digital literacy and digital citizenship in the learner’s situation.
Learners will be able to identify, analyze and evaluate examples of digital literacy and digital citizenship, and will develop authentic engagement opportunities  for their students.
Identify ways to weave digital literacy and digital citizenship into what is already happening in the classroom, without either seeming like an “add-on.”
Discuss and critique a successful, authentic integration of digital citizenship into a lesson.
Human Dimension/Caring
Learners will evaluate the impact of good and poor digital citizenship on all community members.
Locate examples of negative/detrimental posts and reflect on the impact that this type of interaction has:
-on the writer of the post;
-on the recipient(s) of the post; and
-on digital culture.

Locate examples of positive interactions, beneficial social action,  and/or constructive disagreements and reflect on the impact that this type of interaction has:
-on the writer/originator;
-on the recipients; and
-on digital culture
Reflective blog post on how good and/or poor digital citizenship has impacted self and others. Discuss ways of becoming a digital culture change agent.
Learning How to Learn
Learners will locate, evaluate and compile resources that will help them to identify current and future opportunities for digital literacy and digital citizenship instruction.

Learners will recognize opportunities for teachable moments in digital citizenship in everything they do.
Organize resources that you have identified as being especially helpful to you in increasing your understanding of ways to teach digital literacy and citizenship.
Reflect on your role in facilitating your students’ positive digital habits.
Share collected resources with others using a Symbaloo, LiveBinder,, or other digital curation tool.

For purposes of the assignment, I used this worksheet and this one to help guide my thinking.

My school district's Initiatives for 2016 are:

  • Build, support and value an innovative, learning and mission-driven organizational culture
  • Close opportunity and achievement gaps through pervasive LEARNER focused support
My innovation plan of creating a web site of student-created content that teaches digital literacy skills helps to address these two initiatives when the learners are students. With this new BHAG for teachers, I have a way to impact organizational culture by supporting adult learners in the development of their digital literacy & digital citizenship. This is what being a digital culture change agent is all about!

Any thoughts on the need for digital literacy & digital citizenship instruction? You know I'd love to hear them!



Fink, L.D. (2003). A self-directed guide to designing courses for significant learning. Retrieved from  

Tuesday, September 6, 2016


Dear Teachers,
Earlier today, I had quietly been composing in my mind a fun little letter about getting accepted to the Google Innovator program. I had only told a couple of people that I applied again, and I was SO EXCITED about springing it on everyone how I'd kept it all a secret. Today was the day that we found out who got in. My "other" letter was going to be full of upbeat enthusiasm and, likely, lots of exclamation marks! Toronto! Oh boy! I've never been to Canada before!

Sadly, I don't get to write that exultant letter, as my idea for digital literacy was not accepted to the Google Innovator program (for the second time). I'm sad. I tried really, really hard not to get my hopes up... but, well, they were pretty UP. I knew that my first submission, back in May, was not as strong as it could have been, but I really felt like this latest one had a good shot at acceptance. And it would have been really cool to go to Toronto in October... Well, not to be this time either.

So, right now, a bunch of people over on Twitter are celebrating (which I totally would have done, had things gone differently), while a bunch more of us are licking our wounds. I know that only a few people are accepted each round. One woman got accepted this time and it was her SIXTH time to apply - there's some perseverance. Maybe this whole exercise is just designed to teach me to get a thicker skin. Which I'm sure I could use.

At this particular point in time, I'm not sure what I would change about my submission. I thought I made a pretty good case for my dream of a website of student-created content for improving digital literacy. You who know me, know that digital literacy & citizenship are my THING; I'm not sure how I will change things for the future. You get 10 slides in a presentation, one minute for a video, and 500 characters each to answer a few questions. I'll really have to think about a fresh approach for the next time.

For now I'm just going to go pout for a little while. I have to remind myself that things are really coming along on this project in my district; lots of people seem to love my idea, even if Google doesn't right now.



Saturday, September 3, 2016

Today's Learning Philosophy

Dear Teachers,

Some of you know that many (MANY!) years ago, I was an Early Childhood teacher. In teacher school, I of course studied various teaching and learning philosophies and theories. Those theories led me to believe, as a brand-new preschool teacher, that "children learn by doing," and I always had active classrooms with centers-based learning that provided children the opportunity to play and explore. For example, if the children were learning about health, I set up a mini-hospital in the "home living" center, and gathered ace bandages, stethoscopes, needle-less syringes, etc. and let the kids have a great time. And they did have a great time! My students would probably still tell you, if they remembered me at all, that their preschool experience was a positive one, they felt great about coming to school, and they had terrific 4-year-old self-esteem. I was very young.

What's missing there, you may have noticed, is that although I set up the environment for "a great experience," I'm not sure I could honestly say that my students LEARNED all they could have. I went to college before there was such a huge emphasis on standards-based education (or maybe I was asleep the day they covered that), and I initially taught in private school situations where the word "rigor" just never came up. I'm happy to say that my teaching style and learning philosophy have both evolved quite a bit over the years. They both look a lot like George Couros' (2016) illustration of learning:

I might have sampled a bit of Behaviorism in my early days of teaching, too, but that system of rewards and punishments went out the window when I had my own children (yet another Blog Post for Another Day). I am definitely NOT a behaviorist. This view was confirmed when I read Moore's Three Views of Behaviorism (2013), but it was having kids that taught me something very profound that I was aware of at only a very superficial level pre-motherhood: People Are Different. I know: you're shocked, right? Everyone learns, processes, responds, develops, reacts in hugely different (and sometimes completely unexpected) ways. And that's for kids who grow up in the same family and originating from the same gene pool! Add to the mix a wide variety of human experiences, good and bad, and it seems there would be an infinite number of ways that people learn, and no one-size-fits-all philosophy about it. You have your kids who like to jump in and get their hands dirty (literally and metaphorically). You have your kids who like to sit back and watch for awhile as they get the lay of the land. You have the kids who can't wait to get "on stage" to show off what they know, and those who would prefer to crawl into a hole and disappear if they are ever called on. You have those who like to learn in a group and those who prefer to work alone. Setting up an environment that optimizes learning for everyone is, obviously, quite a challenge! But here are a few things that I believe about learning today (remember, I'm still somewhere on that tangled-up piece of learning yarn):

"The person doing the work is the person doing the learning." One of my fabulous co-workers says this frequently. When my team and I plan our annual multi-day Ed Tech Success Initiative (ETSI) training, we frequently go back to this statement to make sure that we facilitate meaningful experiences for the participants. We expect the teachers to fully engage, to write about what they're learning, to converse about what they're learning, to experiment with technology, and to get uncomfortable with their previous understanding about what good technology integration looks like and how it can impact their students. Even for shorter training sessions on various topics, we would never try to teach without teachers having the tools in front of them to play with. I can't imagine trying to teach, say, a class on Google Docs without teachers having the freedom to explore things on their own. I often admonish teachers, especially the tech timid ones, to "be fearless clickers." For many things in life, but ESPECIALLY for anything technology-related, I know from my own experience that clicking the wrong thing and making a huge mistake is the way I have learned just about everything. There's nothing you can do that can't be undone, I tell people, and no, you won't break Microsoft or the Internet if you click on the wrong thing. You might, however, learn what you should have done instead, and discovering that on your own by doing the wrong thing will make you remember it better than anything I would ever tell you about it. So maybe it's also true that "the person making the mistakes is the person doing the learning."

Learning is a social endeavor. If I am looking at a task, I can usually figure out an approach and a solution on my own. But if I am struggling with a concept, I need to hash out my understanding by talking about it with others. When my team plans professional learning or works to get a better understanding of how we can support the curriculum, the combination of our thoughts and ideas is always better than anything I could have come up with on my own. When we work together, it's the very definition of synergy, and one of the best things about working with a team (especially the one I'm on. They are beyond amazing). "define synergy"

It has been so exciting, time after time, for each of us to start with our individual ideas about how to approach something, and then to come up collectively with a product that none of us would have reached on our own. You have probably seen this in your students, too, if you are the kind of teacher who facilitates group work (and I hope you are). As a teacher, I know I need to set up lots of opportunities for this kind of social learning; as a learner myself, I have experienced repeatedly how much more powerful it is when I learn in concert with others.

Deeper learning occurs when learners have opportunities for reflection. If I attend a conference, I always try to write some reflections about the sessions that I go to, because I know with the sheer quantity of information I'm trying to take in, I likely won't remember that "aha moment" without writing it down and reflecting on what I learned, what I hope to do differently as a result, how I could incorporate that new idea into my situation, who I should share the learning with, etc. A few years ago I had the good fortune to become acquainted with Learning Forward, the professional learning organization that has standards for teacher professional learning. My understanding of adult learning improved significantly from my exposure to that organization, and I try to incorporate many of the kinds of activities that they espouse in order to make learning stick for teachers. "Chunk and chew" is one method: break up the learning into smaller bites, learn a little bit, then talk with a neighbor, write something, do an activity, or SOMETHING to help you process that new learning. The professional learning experiences that I plan have significantly improved since becoming "Learning-Forward-ized" - I am much less committed to cramming everything I possibly can into a one-hour session and more focused on providing meaningful learning experiences and reflection time. Do I sometimes forget and go back to "Oh wait! Let me just tell you one more thing!"? Yes, probably; but I am steadily making my own progress toward focusing on the learners and giving them more time to process and reflect on what they've experienced and learned. Reflection can also take the form of teaching others what one has learned.

Learning should involve choice, ownership, voice, and authenticity. This "COVA" model is used in my graduate program, and frankly, I love it. Within certain parameters, I have freedom of choice in how to complete my assignments. I feel complete ownership of the process of my own learning, and I have been given the freedom to use my voice in the way I see fit (for example, the letter-writing style that I have developed in this blog). Finally, the assignments all seem very authentic to me; everything in my program is designed to help me launch my innovation plan (more on that below). Kids, too, need these four elements. I see evidence of student voice and choice in some classrooms when they have "show what you know" assignments, but unfortunately "show what you know" often only comes in the form of an assessment. Students need to feel ownership of and investment in their learning. Finally, the learning needs to be authentic! There's nothing worse than a fake assignment, and I bet you can all tell what those are. "Fake Reading," for example, involves those awful online "reading improvement" programs; there is NOTHING about those programs that remotely resembles how real people actually read. Students need to be spending their time on creating real content that makes a difference to others (and to reading real books... also a whole other blog post). Learners can't be kept from learning when it's something they are truly, authentically interested in - and will be presenting to an authentic audience.

Teaching and learning is a partnership that is based on relationships. I would not go so far as to say that NO learning ever takes place in a classroom without relationships, but I firmly believe that students who have good relationships with their teachers learn better. Relationships are built on trust, mutual respect, and a basic sense of affection for one another; if I'm not sure that my teacher basically likes me (or at the very least, likes teaching), I'm always going to be a bit unsure of myself when I venture forth with the answer to a question or turn in an assignment. As a learner, I want to know that my teacher has my best interests at heart and is going to respond to me with high standards, kindness, and encouragement, rather than with apathy or even punishment. Students need to trust their teacher that making mistakes is okay, and when they have confidence that their teacher likes and is pulling for them, they will likely be bigger risk takers. I've already said that my best learning has come through mistakes; I need to communicate that - even celebrate it - with my learners. I need to show off my mistakes when I make them and model how to respond when something comes along that is unexpected, or that I just flat don't know. I need to model how to respond when technology is a great big FAIL (in my line of work, I get that opportunity a LOT). ;-)

In this information age, no one can know everything. I am just as likely to learn something from someone in the classes I'm taking as I am in the classes I'm teaching. I say frequently that one of the reasons I love my job is because I literally do learn something new every day. I learn from my colleagues and classmates, sure - but I also learn from my children and grandchildren. It seems they are always coming up with a trick or website or app that I need to try. Which kind of brings me around to my Innovation Plan.

I have this big dream of creating a website of student-created content that will help students (and others in the community) with basic digital literacy skills that they might not be learning in other avenues. My Innovation Plan, "Improving Digital Literacy through Student-Created Content" or "ILDTSCC" is just too big a mouthful, so my new-and-improved project title is CLICK (short for Collaborate - Learn - Instruct - Create - Know). From 18 syllables down to just one! As I think about how my learning philosophy relates to my plan to take over the world for improving digital literacy, I need to consider both MY role with the teachers who have committed to this project, as well as THEIR role with the students who will participate.

In CLICK, students will... the "work" of learning by creating content. They'll have to decide on a topic, with the help of their teacher or librarian, and consider which tool would be the best for conveying their information. I can facilitate this process by allowing their teachers (my "committed sardines") flexibility in how they approach the task with their students. I recognize that content production can and will look very different in different situations, and it's likely that the different teachers involved in the program will have very different ways of facilitating the content creation. The teachers and librarians most interested in the program, of course, are the ones who are probably already comfortable turning control of the learning to their students. I need to be sure to convey to the adults that I really don't have a lot of preconceived notions of what the student's content will look like, and there aren't really any wrong answers. I will learn as I go along, I'm sure, what additional information the adults will need in order to feel successful in their efforts. The main thing about doing the "work" of the content creation is that the kids will learn and own that concept much better themselves: it's the magic of learning by teaching!

...participate in a social learning endeavor, have opportunities to receive and give feedback, and reflect on their learning. When the first students are first creating their first projects, it might not seem quite so social, although there certainly could be some cooperative content creation going on. The power of the project will be in seeing who uses that content as the website develops. My hope is that high school kids will have a committee that reviews and curates the content, and that ultimately there will be some kind of social component to the website. Students, for example, would be able to leave a positive comment ("This tip helped me with an assignment" or "I never knew how to do that before!") or a thumbs-up. So along with learning about creating digital content and learning digital literacy skills, they will also be learning about how to behave appropriately in an online community. As content develops, new ideas for content will likely emerge based on what has been produced already. Because the site will potentially be accessed by all members of the student community and beyond, the learning will be both multicultural and multi-generational. How cool is that?!

...use the COVA model to create content that will help others. CLICK is all about student voice and choice, student ownership of the work, and having an authentic purpose and audience. Teachers involved in the program also have choice and voice in how they want to approach the content creation with their students. I'm optimistic that there will be a LOT of learning going on as students are given the encouragement and freedom to create authentic content that will make a difference not only to their peers, but also to parents, grandparents, and even teachers.

...develop relationships with not only their teacher, but with other students who are involved in the project. I envision opportunities for older students (eventually) to mentor younger students in their content creation, and for the students involved to receive special recognition for being part of the "creator community." In my biggest dream for the website, students from across the state, nation, and world will also make contributions, so participants will embrace their role as local, global, and digital citizens. It's these relationships that will likely help students feel connected to the program long after they submit their last piece of content.

I guess all of this lands me squarely in the cognitive-constructivist camp of learning theory. I'm not a radical constructivist as described by McCoughlin (2014); for example, his assertion that "in non-RC teaching, teachers continue to pretend to know everything" is really over-reaching. The basic characteristics of a classroom based on cognitive theories as described by Yilmaz (2011) really resonated with me: an emphasis on the active involvement of the learner in the learning process and creating an environment that encourages students to make connections with previously learned material are two examples.  I also agree with Bates' (2014) assertion that the social context of learning is critical, which is a constructivist tenet. I believe that students build knowledge through active participation with their environment, and that they construct meaning through authentic interactions and problem-solving.  Education and Education Theory are iterative processes, always being improved upon and modified in the hope of helping learners. I hope I am iterating - slowly, painfully at times - toward better teaching myself so that others can be more successful learners.

Hope you've had a good couple of weeks of school. I look forward to hearing from you soon!



P.S. A brief annotated bibliography is here.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Happy to Be Here

Dear Teachers,
It's hard for me to believe, but I've been in my current role of Instructional Technology Specialist almost 10 years. It was 16 years ago that I started in this district as a middle school librarian. That means I'm starting my SEVENTEENTH year in the district. I can't say it seems exactly like yesterday, but it definitely doesn't seem like close to two decades.

Where does the time go, anyway?

When I started back to work in 2000, I had been home with my kids for several years; they were 9 and 7. Now they are 25 and 23. I was married to the wrong person at the time; now I've been married to the right person for over 11 years. The best people I've ever known work in my school district, and I'm proud to call them all acquaintances, and many of them capital-F Friends. My current co-workers are beyond amazing, and I'm incredibly grateful for the opportunities I've had. As grueling as being back in grad school can be, I love what I'm learning. I have ideas that seem to have a good chance of coming to fruition. Life is by all accounts pretty good.

Tomorrow begins another school year. You may have not liked children all that much back in May, when the last school year was wrapping up and it was all you could do to drag yourself into your classroom or library every day. But tomorrow. Oh, tomorrow: I know how excited you all are to get to meet your new crop of students and to see how the year will unfold. Into your room tomorrow will walk all kinds of students... those who have every advantage, and those who have never once had an advocate before you came into their lives. They will need you in ways you can't imagine, but I know you: you will rise to their every need and do more than many people would ever dream possible.

I went to yoga this morning, and when my sweet yoga instructor greeted me as I was signing in and gave the usual, "How are you?" my reply came out unbidden: "I'm happy to be here." But I've kind of been contemplating my response all day today.

Happy: I WAS happy to be there. People at yoga always seem to enjoy being there, I make some amount of progress in stretchiness, and I always feel better when I leave than when I went in. I am the kind of relentlessly optimistic person that others probably find annoying sometimes; I can find the silver lining in any cloud.  "Happiness is a choice" sounds like a trite aphorism at times, and I do believe that some people are just wired for optimism or pessimism. But I also think everyone does have at least some degree of choice about how they view and respond to their surroundings. I am basically content, and I count that as a gift.

To Be: The older I get, the more I value the opportunity to just get to live and breathe on this planet. Time moves faster every year; it seems like it was just five or ten minutes ago that we were celebrating Christmas, and here we are almost at the end of August already. What a gift it is every day to wake up and smell coffee and have dog hair to sweep up and get to laugh with coworkers or have dinner with friends and go to bed with my best friend of all. To BE, to exist, to live: when you step back from it, is there anything to say besides WOW. My father died at the age of 44, so I've already had 12 more years than he had. I hope not to squander any time here in this precious existence.

Here: on this planet, in this city, in your home and your school. At yoga, at a great job, even sitting in traffic. Of all the places we could have ended up, we are HERE! Tomorrow your HERE will be your classroom; your students' HERE will be their school, your room. What a great place to be! Make your students' HERE the best place it can possibly be for the next 10 months or so!

Happy. To Be. Here. 

Happy to Be, Here. 

Happy, to be Here. 

Yes. Yes I am. I hope that you are, too. Have a great day tomorrow, everyone!



Sunday, August 14, 2016

Crucial Conversations About Digital Literacy

Dear Teachers,

At last I am coming to the end of my current grad course. It's been something of a brutal five weeks, with coursework that has been challenging to me in addition to my personal whirlwind of professional learning delivery, including multiple Google-related classes, three sessions at the Summer Elementary Academy, training, a week of ETSI, New Teacher training, and many campus visits. Whew!

I've read several books for this class. My second-favorite, Influencer, was all about the Psychology of Change, and the six sources of Influence necessary to effect real & lasting change in an organization. My Influencer Strategy report is here. My favorite-favorite was the one I just finished, Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High. I had heard the title of this book mentioned in passing from several people in my district, and I'm so glad that my class gave me the push to read it. The book provides fabulous advice for holding all kinds of conversations in different arenas of life. The seven principles of Coaching for Crucial Conversations from the book (2011, p 215-216) should be extremely useful for me in my current plot to take over the world project to improve students' digital literacy (Improving Digital Literacy Through Student-Created Content=IDLTSCC for short). Each of the seven principles has an accompanying skill or skills, and the crucial questions that one should return to when applying each principle.

Principle 1: Start with heart. At the beginning of my current class, we created a compelling Why Statement, and I see that my plan keeps circling back to that why. I appreciate having had to articulate that why statement, because if I lose sight of the reason I'm committed to my project, it won't have much chance of succeeding. My why is this: Digital literacy is not only a crucial component of a student's success as a lifelong learner, it is also, according to Angela Maiers (2016), a human right. Don't miss that part about the human right: students without digital literacy skills will not be able to be full participants in society. Maiers continues, "Students’ lack of mentors and role models for how to behave in the digital arena puts them at risk personally, and impinges their ability to create a permanent digital record of their character and potential to be taken seriously in the world. More importantly, it puts their freedoms on the line." That's a pretty compelling reason to recommit to my own plan.

I want better digital literacy and digital citizenship for all God's children, but I would settle for starting in my little corner of the world. I want students not only to learn digital literacy skills from each other, I want those content creators to recognize the enormous power for good they have by making positive contributions to digital society. I want them to understand that their online actions impact other people - and that they should want to impact other people positively. This project is my tiny antidote - or at least an inoculation - to the negativity that one sees in the online world sometimes. Don't think that negativity can change? I beg to differ! Nobody thought 30 or 40 years ago that smoking would be banned in public places, and look where we are on that one. You and your students can become digital culture change agents starting today!  

Principle 2: Learn to Look. Being a keen observer of both the content of people's conversations and the conditions - how people are reacting to the content - provides opportunities to open up dialog about the process of the whole IDLTSCC plan. I will need to be aware of body language, people (including me) becoming too quiet or getting loud or insistent, and the general climate of a gathering whenever we meet to discuss the project.

A "crucial" conversation has high stakes, strong emotions, and differing opinions (p.3). It would be a mistake on my part to think that my idea is so non-controversial that no one would ever have a dissenting opinion about it! I need to be sensitive to others' opinions, suggestions, and uncertainties about the plan, and to be aware when people might not feel it's safe to challenge me. In general, I try to be very open to others' ideas, and if any of you who are reading this ever sense that I'm being defensive or not listening to suggestions, I hope you'll pipe up! There was one quote from the book that I particularly loved: "The pool of shared meaning is the birthplace of synergy (p. 25)." To me, that means when we all get our ideas out on the table and feel heard, that's when the magic of collaboration really starts to happen - and there is nothing better than that! I did discover that my Style Under Stress might include using too much humor to deflect tension at times; that is something that I am aware of and am actively going to try to get under control. It's hard to break a lifelong habit, but I'm determined to try!

Principle 3: Make it Safe. People need to feel as though it is safe to offer criticism, voice concerns, or even just ask a question. I like to think that I listen and am approachable, but I need to be open to the possibility that other people don't always share that opinion. "Making things safe" does NOT mean watering things down a message to the point where nothing gets accomplished; it means that both parties' mutual purposes have been acknowledged. All parties must assume positive intent. That's so hard, especially if there has ever been a pattern of perceived negative intent. Here's a little trick I try to remember. Whenever I get an email from someone who rubs me the wrong way (it's never from YOU), I walk away and come back to it later. When I open it and read it a second time, I imagine that it is from one of my best friends. Nine times out of ten, the content is much more benign than I might have thought on the first read-through. Assuming positive intent helps everyone to feel safe in the conversation and can lead to much more productive outcomes.

A commitment to mutual purpose creates a feeling of safety, and the acronym CRIB will be useful in establishing that mutual purpose. It stands for Commit to seek mutual purpose; Recognize the purpose behind the strategy; Invent a mutual purpose; and Brainstorm new strategies. In this particular instance, the mutual purpose is allowing and enabling kids to create content about digital skills they possess in a way that teaches others those skills. Hopefully all participating teachers and librarians will already recognize that mutual purpose. If we need to invent another mutual purpose, I also hope that all those involved will be open to brainstorming new ideas and strategies for making the program successful. I commit to being respectful of new ideas and approaches, and to fostering a climate that allows a free exchange of ideas among the participating educators.

Principle 4: Master my stories. Stories are our interpretations of facts, and when dealing with other people we often make assumptions because we don’t have all the facts. I thought the most interesting “crucial question” to ask myself during the process is “What am I pretending not to know about my role in the problem?” - wow, what a lot of insight answering that question requires! My role in problems (the thing I might “pretend not to know") will most likely be in the area of communication. I’ve gone over and over my plan and goals so many times that I could tell the story in my sleep, but that doesn't mean anyone else has spent as much time on it! I may take for granted how clear the plan is to others. Even those educators who have read my blogs and other updates about the project likely don’t have nearly as clear an understanding about it as I might believe they do. So telling my story clearly, with no victims, no villains, and no helplessness, will be something I’ll need to watch myself for. Conversely, I’ll need to monitor the stories I tell myself about what other people are doing (or not doing). It’s tempting to attribute certain behaviors to an assumption (i.e. a story), but there are usually many other options for why someone is doing something than the story I might choose to believe. Assuming positive intent can help to frame a story/assumption in a positive way.

Principle 5: STATE my path encourages us to speak persuasively, not abrasively. STATE is an acronym for Share your facts, Tell your story, Ask for others' paths, Talk tentatively, Encourage testing. This principle allows people to be both totally honest AND completely respectful (avoiding a “Fool’s Choice” of being one or the other). The three ingredients are confidence, humility, and skill - and I’m not sure I have enough of any of those at times for a hard conversation! Confidence and humility can actually be good friends, assuming the confidence does not lead to OVERconfidence and arrogance. I like to think I will be confident enough to have an opinion on how to proceed, but still humble enough to recognize that others may have very valid suggestions for improvements or other directions the program might take. We have wonderful teachers in our district; I would be a fool not to be open to other viewpoints! Talking tentatively does not mean to water down what I’m saying, but rather to avoid being dogmatic. It means giving the other person the benefit of the doubt, and allowing others to see that although I’m confident about my plan, I certainly don’t know everything.

Principle 6: Explore Others' Paths. No idea I ever have on my own will be as good as an idea that has iterated through a group of smart, committed individuals. I'll need to continue to ask for others' input and suggestions on making the IDLTSCC program much better than it would be if I were on my own. This is a time for genuine curiosity about what others are thinking, especially if anyone seems to be moving toward Silence or Violence. It’s all about being open and actively seeking the opinions and suggestions of others. It’s exciting to think about that happening, because the more people feel a shared ownership of the plan, the better chance it has of becoming part of the district culture and continuing long after individuals have moved on.

Principle 7: Move to Action. After all the discussing (and hopefully very little cussing!) it will be time to take action. Principle 7 of Crucial Conversations reminds me very much of the 4th Discipline of Execution: "create a cadence of accountability." This is the step where people make an account of what they have done so far and make commitments about what they will do next. “Who will do what by when” is the way Crucial Conversations puts it: specific, defined steps will help everyone to understand what they should concentrate on next.  Teachers committed to the IDLTSCC program will commit in weekly meetings to the content that they will have their students produce over the next week.

Another component of the plan that I hope to create is a student review panel made up of some of the older students. This panel will decide how to categorize and tag the submitted content, whether the video is of sufficient quality to be added to the collection, whether it is redundant, etc. It will give older students some experience in managing a rollout and will allow them to mentor younger students. The younger students should enjoy getting feedback from “the big kids.”

[Click for more]

As the school year begins, dear teachers, I am excited to see the direction that my - now OUR - project leads us and our students. I wish you all an excellent start to your year. Happy creating, everyone - I'll be in touch soon!



Maiers, A. & Moran, N. (2016, April). Digital literacy is about power and privilege. Retrieved from 

Patterson, K,, Grenny, J., McMillan, R., & Switzler, A. (2011). Crucial conversations: Tools for talking when stakes are high. New York: McGraw-Hill.