How to Leverage the Summer Months to Move Forward as a School

Beth Campbell

Beth Campbell is an instructional technology coach for the Pleasant Valley School District in Bettendorf, IA. During the summer, she is an instructor at the University of Iowa in the graduate department for Library and Information Science.

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After hearing George Couros speak last fall, and listening to Allison Zmuda this spring, I’m kicking around the ‘how to move forward’ question for our elementary buildings. Personalized learning. Innovation Mindset. Understanding by Design. All three concepts are critical to help our students be successful problem finders and solvers in today’s world. How do you transfer an idea into reality? How do we work together as colleagues to answer the ‘what do we do next’ question?

This summer each of our elementary school staffs are forming voluntary Innovation Tech Cohorts. Our purpose is not to just learn new technology, but to form partnerships that create a continual cycle of improvement and innovation for teachers and students.

Step 1: Culture and Conversations

In order for positive change to occur, the elephant must leave the room. The culture of the staff can make or break progress. In order to be successful, we must have a climate that is open to new ideas, yet respects the individual. Colleagues who can disagree without taking it personally, and who can see different perspectives, will find change easier.

The power to move forward comes in taking our egos out of the equation and putting all heads together. Allison Zmuda says, “Avoid falling in love with your own ideas.” Together we are better.

Step 2: The Why

As a building tech cohort, we will be working across grade levels, friendships and hallways to champion the ‘why’. Why are we doing what we’re doing? When an idea surfaces, can we explain why it matters? Will it make a difference for our students? Does it align to grade levels above and below?

By openly and deeply discussing the why, we begin to teach with the end in mind, and see that our innovation is part of the bigger picture. Not only should we be able to articulate the why, but so should our students. Asking the question will help us prioritize and set goals as we move forward.

Step 3: Using ‘Mental Muscles’

As the group wrestles with innovations we want to explore, our mental muscles need to be getting a workout. Our profession can sometimes get caught up in the pretty stuff: the fluff of clever fonts, colors and templates. I’m not saying there is anything wrong with the packaging, but where are we putting our time and energy? Grit, perseverance, resilience, courage, creativity, humor and empathy matter. Are we working to develop our own mental muscles?

Are we willing to move past ‘we’ve always done it this way’? Are we open to continuous learning, and willing to take risks? Can we ask the hard questions? Are we open to change, and willing to put these behaviors on the table as critical tools of our trade?

Step 4: Commitment to Growth and Feedback

Moving forward, can we commit to helping students grow through quality feedback? By using the personalized learning quadrants of voice, co-creation, social construction and self discovery, we have four specific ways to look at feedback.

Voice teaches the students the process of giving and receiving information, while co-creation enables the student and teacher to figure out the criteria for evaluating work together. Social construction adds the layer of dialogue that allows students to gain additional insight from others. When we help students self discover, they are able to see their work through a different lens.

Where do we go from here? Being successful involves a shift in determining what is the highest priority for our students. Will we have all the answers? No, but as Allison Zmuda says, “Celebrate the journey.” We need to start the conversations.

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