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FETC 2018: Expert Strategies to Improve Learning and Leading

An FETC 2018 Round Table Discussion

Hear more from these and other innovative analysts, thought leaders, and educators at the 2018 Future of Education Technology Conference (FETC), January 23-26 in Orlando, Florida. Learn more here.

In this week’s special series, presenters from the upcoming Future of Education Technology Conference will share their best insights, advice, and strategies in response to key EdTech questions. What should educators think about when planning for education technology implementation that will meet the needs of today’s and tomorrow’s students? What new leadership skills or strategies are needed to take EdTech – and other aspects of education – to the next level? Read on below for insights:

What does a student-centered learning environment look like?

Student-centered learning has long been at the heart of special education and service provision for students with disabilities – with a focus on meeting the needs of individual learners. However, this approach to instruction has become increasingly prominent in general education settings. This crossover of practice benefits all students.  Ideally, it includes an environment rich in flexibility. This begins with the seating options and tech devices available, to adaptive and accessible instructional materials. Students are directed toward print text, digital text, and multimedia content that is scaled for various cognitive levels.

Options for output are varied and multimodal, with choice and opportunity for maintaining engagement. Light-tech through high-tech supports is available to all, targeting reading, writing, content and physical access.  Each student learns the tools available, the flexible instructional materials and the supports, and is directed to master those tools and materials that benefit and guide their own learning needs. As the tools and instructional models change, the focus remains on individual student needs and goals.

~ Kindy Segovia, Assistive Technology Supervisor, Kent Intermediate School District (Mich.). See Kindy’s FETC schedule here.

In a learner-centered environment the focus shifts from the mastery of content to the mastery of learning itself. Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is an approach to the design of learning environments that has the development of learner expertise (the mastery of learning itself) as its primary goal. Contrary to the misconception many general educators have, UDL is not about only meeting the needs of diverse learners.

Instead, UDL is based on the premise that all learners vary along a continuum of ability. Recognizing this variability requires flexible designs that provide multiple options for learners to engage with learning, access information, and demonstrate understanding.

With a careful balance of challenge and support along each of these dimensions, every learner is mentored or coached to become an expert learner who is purposeful and motivated, knowledgeable and resourceful, and strategic and goal-directed. Such a learner is no longer a “student” who has education happen to him or her but a “learner” who has agency and takes an active role in the design of the learning environment and other decisions related to his or her own learning.  

~ Luis Perez, Inclusive Learning Consultant, Eye on Access. See Luis’s FETC schedule here.

My colleague, Lynn Fuin-Hetten, and I have been exploring this very question on the Shift Your Paradigm podcast, interviewing leaders and learners from learner-centered environments around the country. These environments come in many different shapes and sizes and should be distinguished from school-centered learning environments.

Many of us educators speak about learner-centered education, but through the lens of the dominant school-centered paradigm: age-based cohorts, standardized curriculum and assessment, required credit hours and seat time, and the like.

This model will not serve our learners post-K-12 to become successful citizens and lifelong learners. As Education Reimagined suggests, our times call for a shift in the way we look at education – from school-centered to learner-centered.

In a learner-centered learning environment, learning is competency-based; personalized, relevant and contextualized; socially-embedded, and open-walled. At the core of these elements is learner-agency. Learner-centered learning environments have some or all of these elements. Through our podcast project, we have found excellent learner-centered models in schools such as Iowa BIG, Portfolio School, Design39Campus and Pike Road Schools.

~ Randy Ziegenfuss, Superintendent, Salisbury Township School District (Pa.). See Randy’s FETC schedule here.

In five years, what should assessment look like in our schools and classrooms?

Different! Of course, “should” is not the same as “will,” so my hope that you’d never see an entire class sitting in rows with a test booklet and a No. 2 pencil for 90-minute stretches may be unrealistic. And just changing the booklets and pencils to a laptop isn’t progress.

Truly, if we move away from assessment of learning, to assessment for learning and as learning, it should be harder to identify when you’re looking into a 21st-century learning environment ― you won’t see the stereotypical classroom scene of “testing day.” It should look like a busy space full of students doing different things, both individually and in groups, with and without teacher guides, reading, coding, making, creating, and, and, and! The assessment would be happening in many forms, with many tools to capture the learning, share it with teachers, parents, and everyone with a stake in that student’s achievement.

~ Andrea Keith, Director of Market Strategy & Engagement, FreshGrade. See Andrea’s FETC schedule here.

Assessment is changing in schools and I think that five years from now we’ll see a larger emphasis placed on formative assessment. With formative assessment, we’re gathering information in real-time that can inform instruction. My book #FormativeTech discusses the concept of checking for understanding with digital tools.

Within five years I think schools will dramatically increase meaningful data collection by shifting from collecting answers to multiple choice questions to thinking about what other type of data provides actionable information. Screencasting and video reflections are just two ways assessment can shift to provide a better set of information for teachers and a more complete picture of student understanding. I believe this type of technology use will give students more ways to “show what they know” and demonstrate their understanding.

~ Monica Burns, EdTech and Curriculum Consultant, Class Tech Tips, LLC. See Monica’s FETC schedule here.

Bonus Response: Educator and author Matt Renwick isn’t presenting at FETC, but he shared his expert insight with us:

The future of assessment is representation. Traditional assessment, such as grades, percentages, levels, and scores is a distortion (at best) of what the student knows and is able to do. What does an “A” mean? The interpretation depends on the teacher, on the school, and on the student and family. This is a recipe for inequity.

With the advent of technology to capture images, video, and audio as evidence of student learning, teachers can now provide an unfiltered view of student learning. There is no question whether or not a student is a fluent reader after listening to them work through an article. Video and images can now recognize all the ways students are smart, especially our more active and creative students. When you can see, read, and hear how a student is progressing in school, why cloud this visibility with a score or grade?

Matt Renwick, Principal, Mineral Point Elementary School (Wisc.), and author of Digital Portfolios in the Classroom: Showcasing and Assessing Student Work.  

What is your advice for educators to improve their communication skills?

This is a compelling question in itself because it’s my belief (as Marshall McLuhan said) that “the medium is the message.” Our new forms of communication tools and media are changing the very nature of these types of (much-needed!) skills, and our hyper-attention to response time and reachability might cause a certain strain on our attention and focus. To improve communication skills, we first need to connect with true, authentic voice, and pay attention to ways in which we might want to use our voices with certain purpose. With mindfulness in mind, what does it mean to truly connect, in this age of augmented reality and artificial-intelligence-assisted communication?

It’s my view that one of the greatest abilities that we have, as leaders and co-creative collaborators, is the ability to listen, to empathize and to understand. Everyone is a storyteller, and there are stories all around us. My #1 piece of advice: If we can combine the ability to deeply listen to others, to attend to what is happening right in this moment, with natural curiosity and creativity, in dialogue with others around us, we fuel our communication abilities, because we’re then creating truly valuable connections.

~ Caitlin Krause, founder, MindWise. See Caitlin’s FETC schedule here.

The following response is excerpted from Jennifer Abrams’s Learning Forward blog post, “Principals, here’s how to have hard conversations with your younger teachers.”

Once you understand the basic steps for approaching a hard conversation and understand the challenges posed by generational differences, you will be in great shape for handling these difficult discussions with great skill. To get you started with improved success in hard conversations, try these three strategies for crafting your message, so it is well received despite being difficult.

  • Start with a sense of respect – Don’t begin with “We have an issue.” We are colleagues beyond this interaction, so acknowledge that fact, as well as your respect for the person, and the need for the conversation. “You have my respect for…” “I appreciate you and I hope you know that…” or “We have worked together for more than a decade, right?”
  • Watch out for adding your feelings – If you are sharing your feelings in the conversation because it is an interpersonal issue (“When you said this to me/about me, I felt….”) that makes sense. When you add your power or become too maternal in the conversation, it gets “triangulated.” “Because you did this, we are going to have a problem…” or “I am very disappointed in you…” adds you to the conversation instead of staying on the subject.
  • How you end the conversation matters – Make sure you include a show of respect, an appreciation of the person, and acknowledgment of your mutual interest in the school’s work. Lastly, give some information about how the issue will be followed up.

~ Jennifer Abrams, international education and communications consultant. See Jennifer’s FETC schedule here.

Empathy. It’s an overused term, but it is intertwined with effective communication skills because the most effective communication requires us to also listen. Communication isn’t just broadcasting; it’s a two-way conversation. We need to make sure what we are communicating is relevant to the intended audience, and we do this by using empathy.

As an example, I as a superintendent may need to communicate to our stakeholders the power of technology to support inquiry, helping our learners develop the lifelong skills they will need for a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous future. I can communicate ideas through various means to various stakeholders. I might speak to the staff at the annual opening convocation, a staff meeting or a professional development. I might share teacher and student work on social media. I might meet with our Congressmen in Washington to advocate for E-Rate funding. The power of communication comes when I listen to the response to my communication and engage in a robust conversation to develop a deeper understanding and the next iteration of ideas.

~ Randy Ziegenfuss

Bonus Response: Educator and podcast host Jon Harper isn’t presenting at FETC, but he shared his expert insight with us:

I think far too often we think that what we have to say is not going to be of interest to anyone. And we are wrong! Each one of us has a unique story to tell. Stories are how we connect with one another. We remember stories. They stick with us because we can relate and remember them.

Therefore, to improve your communication skills, you need to find ways to start sharing your story. You can start with something simple like sharing your story with a friend over coffee. Next, you could share at a staff meeting or a local Edcamp. Eventually, you will work up the confidence to present at a conference.

Think about the people that you think of as great communicators. The ones who capture your attention in meetings, at conferences or via social media. You enjoy listening to them because they share stories, not because they have accomplished great things or have earned advanced degrees.

In closing, I have included the link to a wonderful 8-minute video from Chris Anderson, TED Talks Curator, on TED’s secret to great public speaking.

Start soon. Start today. Start now. I look forward to hearing how it goes.

~ Jon Harper, Vice Principal, Sandy Hill Elementary School (Md.) and host of My Bad on BAM! Radio Network






This post includes mentions of a partner of MindRocket Media Group the parent company of edCircuit

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