Monday, June 22, 2020

A #cyberPD Announcement: Maybe Year 10 Needs to Be Different


For a decade, #cyberPD has been an anticipated summer event to connect educators near and far in collaborative professional conversation. Through blogs, Twitter, and various digital media, participants share thinking around a common professional title featured for discussion. Though the main event is in July of each year, the conversations and connections carry across the year. Since #cyberPD's first event, we've grown from a group of less than 15 to a community of over 150 educators.

We have found this community to be powerful and the conversations have helped us grow in our journey as educators. These conversations have pushed us, made us uncomfortable, and allowed us the chance to see things from different perspectives. It’s amazing to think that #cyberPD was a pioneer for online book clubs and this community made it possible!


Yet, here we are today. When we got ready to “share our bookstacks,” COVID was in full swing and teachers were juggling remote teaching, staying healthy, and their family. Then, when we began to get back to the 2020 #cyberPD planning, we were shook by the death of George Floyd and heard the call across the country for an end to systemic racism. Educators are once again in the forefront of these discussions wanting to be part of the change. It seems this is a time to dig in to listen and learn, a time to lift the voices of BIPOC educators, and a time for each of us to pursue the learning we need to take action.

Therefore, after much reflection and conversation, we have decided to not select a book to read together as a community in what would have been our tenth year. We want to leave space for the important issues at hand. We want to be here for each other, to support and learn together -- no matter what your focus and goals are for this summer!

We want to thank each of you for your role in making #cyberPD the event that it has been since 2011. It is the community that has made it strong. We know that each member of our community is already busy pursuing opportunities to continue to grow into all that our students need from us.
We hope that you will continue to use the #cyberPD hashtag to:
  • stay connected as a community
  • seek support
  • share professional books you are reading (maybe even make some connections with others doing the same reading)
  • post resources (articles, book titles, webinars, videos, etc.) around questions you are pursuing that may be of interest to the #cyberPD community
  • amplify nuggets of insights, surprises, and quotes from what you are reading and learning
  • pose questions, confusions, and challenges to our community
We know that books, conversations, and this #cyberPD community can help us on that journey.  We look forward to continuing to learn alongside each of you.

We need to stay strong together. To help each other move forward. To change. To BE the change. 

Thank you for your kind understanding,
Michelle & Cathy

Thursday, April 30, 2020

(More Than) Three for Your Library: Lighten Up with Picture Books

When the #stayathome began, I asked my son who teaches third grade, "What do you think might make some great read alouds for our students right now?"

"Maybe they just need books that will make them laugh," he replied without missing a beat.

I was ready to solve the world's problems with picture books.  Isn't that what you do?  However, he had an excellent point.  Our students are away from their friends, there is much uncertainty, and all the joys of being five, seven, or nine have been placed on hold in many ways.

Since then, our #stayathome orders have been lengthened.  We are all trying to learn to teach in this new abnormal.  (Sorry, I just can't call it our new normal as there is nothing normal about it.)

Thankfully, my picture books are here with me.  If I had been in the classroom, instead of my current role, my picture books likely would have been left on the shelves of my school.  I probably would have filled a bag or two for good measure, but I would be without a lot of them.  With libraries being closed right now too, the challenge of getting books is amplified.  We've been grateful to have these books at home over the last month+, but it always makes me think about teachers who may be home without their books.

Yesterday, I hosted a Zoom opportunity to talk about picture books.  It seemed a good idea to lighten things up a bit - okay, maybe I needed to lighten up a bit.  Picture books not only solve any world problem, they also lighten things up.  They're good therapy.  I tried to consider that we are all stuck at home without access to books.  Some of the titles you see in the S'more are only available for delivery, but many are available digitally.  I found several of these titles available digitally in our local library - some weren't even currently checked out.  That's a win.

Here's what you'll find in the S'more:
Five New Picture Books:  There are many great picture books coming out right now.  While not as easy to obtain in this crisis, it is possible to order them for delivery and a few can be found digitally.  Yep, I might still be ordering books on occasion.  You've gotta support small businesses - and authors right now, right?! These are five titles I currently love. 

Five Books to Lighten Up:  My son made such a good point that I went to my shelves looking for lighter titles.  I was pleased to come up with a nice stack of funny books.  It was hard to reduce this list to five, but you'll find a few suggestions here. 

Five Digital Resources for Remote Learning:  When this situation began I started collecting resources on a Padlet.  It seemed the first thing we tried to figure out as teachers was how to maintain the read aloud.  Before authors and publishers started granting limited permission for use, I went on a quest to find some ways to get stories to kids.  This search included some of the spaces we all know and love such as:  Storyline OnlineTumblebooks, and BookFlix.  You'll find a few others, I have since discovered in the S'more.

Five Digital Spaces to Remember:  Many of us have subscriptions to digital spaces that provide books, articles, and other reading material.  These spaces are important to remember right now.  (Of course, you'll want to check into copyright:  COVID-19 Reference from SLJ:   Multiple Publishers Fair Use Policy.)  Here are a few I have found helpful in this situation.

I hope you find this resource helpful.  If you have something new, something light, or something digital you love right now, please share some of your favorite's in the comments below. 

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Three Read Alouds for Your Library: Let's Make Them Digital

In the first days of teaching our students from our homes, the scramble began for read aloud.  I have always found the read aloud to be the glue of my classroom community, but this has sealed the deal on that.  In our remote learning environment read aloud is till holding our community together, making us laugh, leading our instruction, and mentoring our writers.

With the temporary adjustments made by many publishers, teachers are finding ways to still read aloud with their classes.  Whether it be on temporary video or in a live session, many teachers have discovered their learners love seeing them.  Read aloud can certainly help maintain connection while we are away from our classrooms.  With libraries closed and books at home limited, bringing books into the living rooms of our children's homes is as essential as reading aloud in our classrooms.

Of course, as teachers, the number of books we have at home is limited too and reading aloud every day, when it requires video recording or gathering a large group, has its challenges.  There are a variety of created materials and websites that can help fill the need for read aloud at this time.

Here are three I love for your digital library:

Saturday by Oge Mora  I was excited to find one of my favorite books of this year available in read aloud....and by the author!  That's a win.  This story talks about a Saturday that doesn't go quite as planned.  As all of us are stuck at home, I think we'd love a Saturday as disastrous as this one.  Kids will love the repetitive structure of this day that has gone wrong - but then turns right.  I found this read aloud on a post by Romper:  Famous People Read Aloud.

Of course, this post led me #operationstorytime in YouTube.  Oh my goodness!!!  So many read alouds tucked in here!!!





Big Bad Baby!  by Bruce Hale and illustrated by Steve Breen.  This one made me laugh.  I hadn't seen it before, but loved all the trouble caused by Big Bad Baby.  Sometimes a little lighter picture book can certainly help us all right now and this book might be just what everyone needs.  Who knows?  Maybe one of your students is home with Big Bad Baby right now.  Ha!

I found this one in a collection of others in this post by We Are Teachers:  The Big List of Children's Authors Doing Online Read Alouds and Activities.  Check it out!



The Bear Ate Your Sandwich by Julia Sarcone-Roach.  I stumbled on another book that I love available in read aloud.  I found this one on Brightly Storytime.  This book is about a bear, tempted by a truckload of berries, who begins on an adventure that takes him right to your sandwich.  Or was it bear that ate your sandwich?  Hmmm....

Of course, I love finding a favorite picture book available for kids in read aloud, but I also appreciated the way Brightly is able to show picture and text together on the screen.  The words are bolded as the reader reads aloud.  What a great way to give our youngest readers the opportunity to see print.  You'll find other read alouds available at Brightly Storytime.




If you have favorite stops for digital read alouds, please share them in the comments below.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Collaborating with Colleagues in a Pandemic: Don't Forget Voxer

My kids have always made fun of me for my love of Voxer. "Mom, it's just a walkie-talkie," they'd giggle as if I had stepped back too far in time.  They'd laugh as I chit-chatted with friends over the app.

Voxer has remained one of my favorite apps across time.  If you asked me to pick five apps and delete the rest from my phone it would likely make the cut.  You see, Voxer lets you have conversations with people that maintain the back and forth, but allow for people to respond as they are able.

I first fell in love with Voxer when working with my team years ago.  So many times we'd get a good conversation going in the hallway or during a meeting and, you know teaching life, we wouldn't be able to finish it. Voxer let us finish it - and it let us finish it together.  It wasn't that one team member talked to another and wrapped up our next steps, it was that the group kept the conversation going until we found the next step together.  Since then, I've maintained my love for Voxer for keeping up with friends near and far.  I've solved some tough challenges with friends on Voxer.

Now, in this remote learning situation, I'm once again reminded of the power of Voxer. In school buildings there are rhythms to schedules. You know the better times to try to reach out and talk with others. In this situation, there is no way to predict someone's schedule. In Voxer I'm able to reach out and have friends respond as their day allows. We can still continue the back and forth of conversation, but slowed down a bit in time.

Voxer also makes it easier to explain your thinking or get different perspectives. Texting can be limiting as it can be hard to explain things in detail or hear the tone of words. Additionally, all of the time on screens makes Voxer a welcome relief.

If you're looking for ways to stay connected, solve problems, or have conversations in groups, don't forget Voxer. It may be just a "walkie-talkie," but it's my favorite walkie-talkie.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Technology Will Not Save Us

This morning as I made a cup of coffee my iWatch sent me an alert:  "Make it happen today."  While I appreciate my watch's optimism, it sounded a little disconnected from the times.  Don't you know I'm under stay at home orders?  Don't you know we are working from home?  Don't you know we are in the middle of a pandemic that is so tragic I am just happy to have gotten myself up most morning?  That's technology.  It attempts to know us, but it doesn't really know us.  

So here we are teaching from home and wrestling with all kinds of new questions.  At the same time, resources to make it all easier are being sent our way.  Companies are opening their platforms so that we can utilize their sites.  It's a little hard to not feel like a kid caught in a candy store.  There are are so many sites that usually have fees for use that have opened.  As I review these sites, I just can't help but be reminded that technology doesn't really know our learners.

You see, I've been fortunate to walk alongside teachers during this unusual time.  I have been so awed by the way they work to find resources that meet the needs of their learners.  As teachers, we understand that putting kids on a program might give them something to do, but it doesn't necessary give them something to learn.  Computer programs can't know a child's preferences the way we can.  Computer programs can't connect learners to their peers the way we can.  Computer programs can't build that love for reading that so delicately must walk alongside the development of skills.

I was recently reviewing a site that touted being "scientifically researched."  Oh, that can mean so much.  I couldn't help but think about the difference in learning for a child jumping on this program and one who has the opportunity to continue to read, write, and connect with their friends and learning community.  I couldn't help but think about the teachers I've been working with who are finding ways to maintain those next steps in building concepts of print, develop knowledge of letters and words, grow the thinking of their readers, support next steps in writing and help young learners continue to progress during this crisis.  In these first weeks, we've been discovering ways to maintain what we know to be essential for our literacy learners while adjusting to their situations.  We are supporting learning in the midst of crisis.

So while sites open their doors, we continue to look for ways to connect our students with their community. We continue to think of ways to support the literacy development of our young learners. We continue to find ways to get students away from their screens as not all learning has to happen there - and right now we could all use a screen break. We continue to value choice and learner agency as we empower students to have opportunities to create instead of consume in this new learning environment.  Most of all, we continue to walk softly and nudge learners forward knowing that now, more than ever, we have to meet them where they are.

You see, technology will never know what we know about our learners. Though it is helping us in this crisis, technology will not save us.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Good Problems: So Many Resources, So Much Time

I'm still taking in our current situation.  We have tried to stay in this weekend.  Actually, our family began over a week ago trying to limit the places we were going and to stay at home more.  It hasn't been easy.  I've been cooking way more than I like.  (Waaaayyyyy more.)  We're a house full of introverts and readers, but we're already getting stir crazy.  The weather here hasn't helped.  It's still too cold to walk or sit out on the patio.

So....I may have found myself on social media more than I should be.  Of course, if you're a teacher you know the resources getting posted are something.  There are websites and apps opening their content for these weeks of shutdowns.  There are authors finding ways to share about writing moves and read their books.  There are teachers and educational leaders creating and sharing lessons and other possibilities for remote learning.  There are lists of collections.  Honestly, I'm guessing it will continue as we all have more time to create content since we are stuck inside.

I've been truly so impressed by the way everyone has come together.

And yet....

It's all a little overwhelming.

And here's the thing: it's not all going to be good for our kids or their learning.

I'm truly grateful for all that is being shared - truly - but yesterday I couldn't quit thinking about it might feel to teachers.  As an instructional coach, my hope in this time is to support teachers as they need it; to help them puzzle out the tricky parts of this situation and provide resources when requested.  Teachers know their kids best - and that's the most exciting thing about this situation.  They're still going to be able to tailor instruction for their learners.

All of the resources available remind me of years ago when we first started dabbling in the digital world.  When I first started using digital tools with my students, I could hardly contain my excitement.  Every single time a new app came out, I had to give it a try.  Not all of them made it to my classroom, but many did.  My kids were pretty tech savvy (for the time) and able to adjust to the new tools.  Of course, updates happen.  Companies quit creating apps.  I got wiser.  I then began to look for apps that could do a lot - and that would stay.  I started to work from a solid core of apps.  I found myself more focused on tools that would let us work flexibly in ways that enhanced our learning.  I found myself in a less is more way of thinking.

The plethora of resources available right now reminds me of that time long ago.  As an educator, I just had to press pause yesterday.  There are so many resources being shared.  I decided the best thing to do was to create a Padlet with the resources I am seeing that might be useful - many of them will not.  I do not plan to share this collection (there are a million lists out there).  My hope is to just have it ready when people reach out with specific needs they are trying to fill.  It's to help me find the resources I think will be useful in continuing to support learners.  It will give me a place of reference when colleagues reach out with a particular need.

We're all working to find our way in this unprecedented situation.  If we let what learners need be our guide, the next step will be easier to find.  Know if you need something, I'm here trying to figure it out beside you.  I'd love to hear how you are managing all the resources.  Which ones are you finding the most useful?  What's working?  What are the challenges you face?

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Keeping Learning Going When We Aren't Gathered at the Carpet

Who knew we'd be talking about "social-distancing" in 2020 and closing schools to slow a virus?  It has made for an interesting week that I didn't expect in my career.  That being said, I've been amazed at the way everyone has stepped up to make the best decisions we can for kids and families.  In the last few days, we have done a lot of work to prepare our students to move from face-to-face learning to an eLearning environment.

As a 1:1 school, we are fortunate to have many things in place that will support our students during this time.  Additionally, teachers will still be able to tailor instruction to their students in ways that wouldn't have been possible years ago.  I've been so fascinated by the way companies have stepped up and opened websites, the way authors and illustrators are sharing their talents, and the way teachers and educational consultants are sharing content.  That being said, I have been thinking a lot about how we create an environment for learning vs. a checklist of to-dos for our students.

How do we leverage learning over tasks?  It's true that there are so many ways this situation will be made better by all that is available, but there are also many cautions.  Do we introduce new learning or reinforce old?  Is it possible to introduce new content?  How might we differentiate for our students?  How do we balance student workload?  How do we keep our communities connected?  How do we support parents who will already be juggling a lot with their own work situations and kids at home?  Oh, the questions that can take us down the rabbit hole quickly.

I've been telling myself that all we can do is make the best decisions we can in the space we find ourselves. As we plan for our learning communities, here are a few things I am keeping in mind:

Consider Technology Kids Know:  There are many new environments opening for students, but our learners will be most successful in the spaces they have already worked.  If your district has an LMS, learners will be able to use the platform.  If kids are used to blogging on Kidblog, they'll be ready to stay connected during this time.  If they're used to saving work to Google folders, this will be a great way for them to share work with you.  If learners have used Flip Grid, leverage it for lessons.  (etc.)

Remember Routines & Structures:  As classroom teachers, our workshops have a flow that learners know and understand.  We start with mini lesson, students have opportunities for independent practice, and then we share.  Our days follow predictable routines and, as teachers, we work to balance the heaviness of our content across the day.  The closer we are able to align to those structures and routines we've set up, the easier it will be for students and families.  Additionally, I've been seeing a lot of parents and teachers talking about creating schedules for the day.  This is such a smart way to think about managing our time --- especially as we all hunker into our homes for a few weeks.

Think About Learning vs. Doing:  It would be easy to put together lists of to-dos for kids, but I'm fascinated to think about all of the ways we can support actual learning.  We can create videos to explain new ideas, make charts that support key understandings for reference, and in some learning systems find ways to build discussions that connect our learners.

Be Selective:  Thankfully there are so many great resources being shared right now and so many companies are opening platforms for this timeframe.  I have been collecting these resources in a Padlet so I know where they are, but I will only be using those that make sense for where we are in learning.  There are some very well-known experts sharing content, but only we know our kids.

Maintain Connection:  We've had a lot of conversation around feedback and connection.  It's a little different to not be gathered for a mini-lesson.  It's a little different to not be side by side with learners.  It's a little different to not be sitting in a circle to share our work.  The more feedback and connection we can maintain the more likely our learners are to feel supported and stay engaged.  Parents will also need a bit more connection in this current situation as well.  This will look different for each of us, but play a big part in the success of this time.

This isn't a situation any of us planned for in our careers.  Additionally, it comes with some heavy weight beyond just the learning time.  We each need to give ourselves, and our students, the grace to know we may have to work a bit to find our way.  All we can do is stand where we are and gently step.

I'd love to hear the ways you are working through next steps for your learning communities.