Category Archives: Reading Reflection

Reading Reflection: The Connected Educator

I recently started the Connected Educator by Sheryl Nusssbaum-Beach and Lani Ritter Hall. I’ve been fortunate enough to connectededtake ecourses from both of them through Powerful Learning Practice. They have both inspired and supported me in so many ways, so I was very excited to read their book.

After completing the first two chapters one thought that kept going through my mind is that all preservice teachers should be reading this bookIt sets it up so clearly what it means to be a connected educator and how important it is to be a part of multiple communities. I can think of many instances in my first year of teaching that I would have liked to turn to a personal learning network for support and ideas especially because I was still getting to know many of my colleagues and building relationships. (Don’t get me wrong, I had incredibly supportive coworkers, but when I was  still building trust, I didn’t always feel comfortable asking certain questions.)

One aspect of the first chapter that has really hit home for me is the DIY mentality that Sheryl and Lani talk about. I took some time off from education to be with my son, while I had the best intentions to stay on top of things, being a new parent became my main focus for a while. Now that life has calmed down a bit and I’ve rediscovered my passion for education, all of my learning has been DIY. I try to get on twitter at least once a day, I’ve been reading blog posts again and I’ve signed up for several newsletters, all of these things have helped me catch up and stay current with all that is going on.

Throughout reading Chapter 4, I found myself highlighting and agreeing with a lot of it. The main focus of this chapter is building relationships and how important they are if we want to begin to change our schools. This one quote really struck me, in a section talking about making changes, how it affects us to let go of a practice and the importance supporting one another:

“Working in teams ensures that individual issues are addressed rather than ignored  often without putting at risk the speed of adoption, morale, or achievement.  Make time for members in your learning community to talk through and adjust to change initiatives and the transformation taking place in order to build a community that will last and be effective.”

This is so important and I think it is a vital part of the process that gets forgotten when changes are being globalconnimplemented. Many times teachers are told how they have to change their teaching practice and how they feel about this change is not considered or addressed.

Another aspect of this chapter that I thought was really important was the idea that if we want our students to be connected global citizens, we have to model this for them. I think this was an area I fell short of when I was working through my teaching transformation and I’m sure if I was still in the classroom I would be working towards this. Our connections as teachers give our students ready made connections in a safe network. By showing them how we built trust with our PLN, we are modeling safe relationships and the power of reaching out and making connections.

As I read chapter 5 I was introduced to a tool that I haven’t used before and other ways I could expand the uses of tools I use already. I found Sheryl and Lani’s advice very practical and Sheryl makes a great point when she says:

“However, I feel it is a disservice to children when educators become so enthralled with the tools that they lose sight of what is most important-the learning. Our focus should always be on what we can do with the tool. Tools should be used to serve the learning. Blink, and online tools change, so be careful where you invest your time.”

While this points out the importance of mindfully using tools, for me it also brings up the importance of teaching students how to be adaptive, tools are constantly changing. We don’t know what tools our students are going to be using years from now. This is the primary reason I introduced new tools to my student by letting them explore and learn on their own. I would do a short quick lesson on the main points and then give them time to play.

The last few chapters focus on creating a learning network and community for yourself and your school. They realistically bring up all aspects of developing a Connected Learning Community, and how you can push past obstacles and encourage the development of this community.  The advice and resources come from Lani and Sheryl’s direct experience with building and supporting Connected Learning Communities, so you know it has been successfully applied in real situations.

In the beginning of this post I said all preservice teachers should read this book, after completing the book, I think anyone involved in education would benefit from reading this book. For teachers there is practical advice on growing their network and how they can use that network to support their teaching. The activities at the end of each chapter ease the reader into becoming a Connected Educator and help educators that are new to the tools feel comfortable with exploring. For administrators and leaders, the final chapters are key in supporting the development of a Connected Learning Community. If you’re looking to change the culture of your classroom or school, this book will be a valuable tool! 


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Reading Reflection: Understanding Common Core Standards

I started my reading list this week with Understanding Common Core by John Kendall. I’m currently developing my course for Powerful Learning Practice on using Common Core and integrating 21st Century skills, so I’m approaching all of these texts from that perspective.

After completing the first three chapters, I have to say I agree with a lot of Kendall’s points.

  • I see a clear need for a common plan. Kendall talks about the benefits of everyone being on the same page and how important it is for our students. It allows teachers to know what to expect when students come into their classroom which allows them to use their time more efficiently. 
  • I used to worry that the common core would tell teachers what exactly to teach and how to teach it, but Kendall points out that this is not the case. He says “…it is more important than ever for teachers to creatively engage students with effective instructional strategies and adapt content to the needs of individual learners. If standards establish the “what” then teachers determine the “how.”” 
  • Another benefit that Kendall points out is this: “…Common Core State Standards are specific enough that districts will not need to rewrite them.  Thus, more effectively a lesson plan addresses  a Common Core Standard, the more valuable it is and the more exchangeable it is.  As a result, educators’ support networks will expand considerably”. At a time when more and more teachers are turning to the internet and creating personal learning networks, I see a wealth of information being shared and teachers having many places to turn for lessons that will work in almost any classroom. 
  • The Common Core has also been set up to cover 85% of the total standards that states my put into place.  This allows the state to add content, but Kendall points out that states might want to wait to add extra content and allow teachers to use that “extra” space to transition from previous standards to the Common Core. 
  • According to Kendall the Common Core also allows schools to move from Carnegie Units(measuring achievement by hours spent in the classroom) to a more individualized plan for the students, that allows them to move on as they meet certain standards. He provides an example of a school that is doing just that and states “Clear, shared descriptions of expectations enable schools to personalize the learning experience for each student while showing that the students have reached a standard expected of everyone.”
Some things that stuck with me through the second half of the book: 
  • Assessment, for some reason I had envisioned that high stakes test would stay the same, that kids would be tested once a year on all of the standards that they were supposed to meet. (Which I do not like at all…) While reading though, I learned that there are two consortiums are currently working on assessments, the Partnership for Assessment Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and the Smarter Balance Assessment Consortium (SBAC). Each of them are approaching the assessment in a different way. After quickly looking into both consortiums, it looks like they have each begun piloting the future assessments, and have sample questions available. (PARCC Member States, SBAC Member States). There is so much information available for these different consortiums and I want to learn more, so I’ll probably try to do separate posts on each. 
  • The Crosswalk activity and transition documents, I think these activities would be helpful to teachers as they make the transition from their individual state standards to Common Core. As a former classroom teacher, I have in the back of my mind that feeling of..another thing to add to the to-do-list…but I think these are ideal activities for professional development, where teachers can work each other and talk about what they are seeing and brainstorm together.  I think they would be more powerful if it was a collaborative effort and not something assigned to teachers. 
  • Kendall pointed out several organizations that have developed supportive materials for educators implementing Common Core. 
I finished the other half of this book fairly quickly. I had been kind of skeptical about reading a book about Common Core and honestly, I thought I would struggle through it. That wasn’t the case at all, Kendall is straight to the point and clear with his explanations. I also discovered a wealth of resources that I will be able to use as I develop my course. I think any teacher that is working on the transition to Common Core would find this book helpful. 

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